WHAT IS BUILT, ENDURES... AND WHAT IS LOVED, ENDURES (I)

By Leyenn

 

 

 

1st August 1998

    *Don't ask me why I wrote this. Whyever I did, I don't know, but I like it. It's a bit mushy. You have been duly warned.

    The premise is that, basically, Sheridan defeated the Shadows at Z'Ha'Dum and got away before he blew it up in said episode. He also didn't record the message for Delenn at the end of that episode, thus leading her to believe that he had chosen Anna over her and pissing her off rather. A huge misunderstanding ensues which leads to them hating (well, maybe not quite) each other for three years. (I'm putting all this in here as I don't know how clear I made it in the story, by the way.) This is their first meeting after that catastrophe.

    The year is twenty-two sixty-three; The place: Earth, at the largest joint Earth-Minbari conference since that rather failed one around, oh, sixteen years before that we won't mention....*

 

 

 

 

 *****

"Ah, Ambassador Sheridan. Glad you could make it."

    At the sound of *that* name, the former Minbari Ambassador to Babylon 5, now Chosen of the Grey Council, turned from her bodyguard's attentions. The unexpected mention of a man she had known - had loved - struck down to her heart, as it always did when she wasn't prepared, even as she realised it couldn't possibly be him. The man being addressed as Sheridan was older by far than John would be, with a stoop to his otherwise proud gait. His hair had little more than a trace of the dark honey-blond shade she would have known anywhere. But still, when she saw his face clearly, the resemblance to that other Sheridan was striking enough to cause her to stall for a moment.

    "Satai." She blinked out of her shock and smiled professionally at the Earthforce General addressing her. After Sinclair, Lefcourt had been her first Human contact and as such he seemed to collect an air of familiarity around her. Delenn found it both refreshing and doubly annoying, seeing that she didn't really like the man. But then she hadn't allowed herself to become more than a passing acquaintance to any Human since-

    "Satai Delenn, may I introduce Ambassador David Sheridan." Lefcourt smiled proudly. "The Ambassador is back out of retirement especially for this conference." Delenn smiled at him without really seeing the man. *David...* She shook herself out of that reverie with a realisation. *John's father.*

    "Ambassador; Satai Delenn of the Minbari Grey Council." Lefcourt was either oblivious to her distraction or pointedly ignoring it.

    //It is an honour to meet you, Satai.// Sheridan's words, although correct, were toneless, and he bowed in the manner of someone going through a step-by-step guide with no understanding of the real meaning of either speech or gesture.

    Delenn courteously returned the bow, but the forced manner of it rankled slightly. She hated formality anyway - a remnant from Dukhat's teaching, she suspected - and because of it she paid the least attention possible to the courtesies of the other newcomers. If she had paid a little *more* attention, she would have missed the tall Human standing unobtrusively near the doorway: as it was, her gaze fixed upon his in a way that both healed her heart and broke it in that one instant that she noticed him.

    "And this is my son, Captain John Sheridan of the EAS *Phoenix.*" David's words registered somewhere in her brain, but Delenn made no conscious acknowledgement of it.

    Until he stepped forward, and she found herself face to face, without warning, with the man she had tried to forget and forced herself to remember over the past three years.

    "Hello, Delenn."

    No ceremony, no forced bow or misspoken greeting. Simply that soft tone that she had tried so hard to shut out of her thoughts for so long and had never quite succeeded in doing.

    "Captain." She tilted her head in his direction, buying herself time to make the decision. She hadn't know he would be there: but now he was here, so was she, and they both had a choice. They could be polite, courteous and indifferent with each other, ignore their previous relationship and leave the reception without the personal contact that had scarred them the first time. If she had learnt nothing in the intervening period, Delenn would have chosen that safe option - but three years is a long time to be separate from part of your soul once you know where it is, and seeing him again had, rather ungracefully, pulled out all the emotions she kept hidden and thrown them back in her face. *If you lose this chance, you'll regret it,* she warned herself. Another part of her mind tried to ignore it, but the greater part belonged to John Sheridan and that had always won over her self-preservation.

    She looked up for a moment, straight into his eyes, and then lowered her gaze from his face. A look of surprise shot across his features: he knew what that gesture implied. She kept her eyes down for a long moment to ensure he realised it wasn't accidental.

    When she looked up again she could almost hear the confusion roiling in his mind. *The only one a Minbari of her rank would look down to would be...* She smiled inwardly at the amazement - and at the same time, hope - flashing in his eyes. *Oh, good God...*

    "Shall we?" One of the Generals - Morrison, Delenn remembered offhandedly - offered her his arm. She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw John grin at that breach in Minbari protocol. As a rule, Minbari didn't go for tactile contact - especially with one of Delenn's stature, and he saw her warrior caste guardian bristle slightly at the unknowing insult. Delenn was too polite to mention it, of course, and Sheridan privately thought she enjoyed flouting the strict Minbari rules from time to time.

    //Still a lot to learn,// he commented to her with a smile as they walked with the group through the reception. Delenn looked up, a little astonished at his casual use of her language.

    //For all of us,// she answered with feeling, her eyes reflecting her meaning as clearly as they always had.

    //I've learnt, Delenn,// he said softly. //And I'm sorry.// She locked eyes with him, and he wished suddenly she were on his arm and not that of a General who had no comprehension of the honour she did him.

    //So have I, *zha'Mir*. And so am I.// She followed Morrison away before he could respond to that endearment she had always used with him. He wasn't sure of its meaning, but 'Mir' was Delenn's family name which implied he was linked to her somehow. He thought he'd once heard her say it meant 'Future of Mir', but it had been so long since then he couldn't be sure. He stood silently, trying to recall it and watching with amusement when the General unwittingly compounded his inadvertent error in courtesy by asking Delenn to dance. She turned her head ever so slightly in Sheridan's direction; he smiled at her, and the best sight he'd seen in years was when she smiled back at him in the way she always had, that way that excluded all others, before shaking her head at Morrison's request.

    Sheridan watched them disappear onto the balcony, emotions spinning too fast through his mind to make coherent sense of them and go after her. He'd had the advantage: he'd known she would be there when he asked to attend the reception with his father. From her reaction he was pretty certain that Delenn hadn't had any idea that even David Sheridan would be there, let alone that she would come face to face with John himself. But even that small advantage hadn't prepared him for the turmoil when he saw her again. He remembered the last time they'd spoken as clearly - as the cliche went - as if it were yesterday. The look of pain on her face as he accused her, told her he didn't and couldn't trust her... No matter that it had all ended peacefully enough, no matter that he'd chosen correctly, seen through 'Anna's' deception and defeated the Shadows on their own turf.

    Delenn had lied to him. That was all that mattered. All that *had* mattered. He'd been so stupid, so arrogant-

    God, he'd missed her.

    After his confrontation with Delenn, he'd left the station with Anna and returned to find that she had gone during his absence. With Justin's death, the threat from the Shadows had dissipated: there had been no sense of duty left to hold her there. He'd considered going after her, knowing his own actions hadn't helped the situation between them. He had made no attempt to explain why he'd left with Anna, so angry with Delenn at the time he hadn't given any thought to her reaction. Hell, he'd practically put her on a ship and piloted her back to Minbar himself. As it was, Lennier had done that part.

    The one time Sheridan had tried to reach her, he'd been so messed up over killing... what was left of Anna that he knew as soon as he spoke he'd only made things worse between them. Delenn had taken his accusations hard; she had seemed convinced of his hatred for her and nothing he had had to say had changed that stubborn view. Within minutes of speaking they were arguing, and finally he remembered - with more remorse than he remembered even killing Anna - her tear-stained face as she shut down the comm channel. Trying to reach her again immediately turned out to be a mistake: he'd been faced with Lennier, who was frosty with him to say the least. The young Minbari's poignant and rather graphic warning had - along with Sheridan's pride - prevented him following her to Minbar. Ivanova, so he remembered, had tried desperately to convince him to go, but by then his arrogance had taken hold and he'd convinced himself that he and Delenn were not meant to be.

    He'd known he was wrong, of course. From the moment he first thought it, but back then he hadn't cared. It didn't help matters that after four months away, Delenn had sent another Ambassador to Babylon 5 in her place. Sheridan had taken that as the final sign that she wasn't coming back; pride, stubbornness and a conviction that their relationship had been a lie had succeeded in keeping both sides apart. Delenn was sure he had felt nothing for her, had shown his true feelings only in their last meeting, while Sheridan held with fierce morbidity to the lie that she'd told him, the choice she had hidden.

    After a week of more agonized soul-searching than he admitted to anyone, Sheridan had come to a decision. The coup back on Earth had gone well once Clarke lost his power base in the Shadows; the way was clear for Sheridan to return. He'd recommended Ivanova for promotion to B5 Captain, citing her work in keeping the station free from Clarke's forces, and gone home to a hero's welcome.

    Accepting command of a new Hague-class explorer, the *Phoenix*, had been one of his proudest moments... Yet a small part of him had missed her at his side, wanting her there to share in his glory. It felt hollow without her there - but he countered the notion with the certainty that he wasn't welcome in her life and ignored it. His pride and joy in the way Babylon 5 had been, the ship had one distinct advantage over the station. It was a place he didn't have to remember her; where every time he turned a corner he didn't expect to see her walking towards him, didn't feel she should have been there beside him in every meeting. No one there knew of his relationship with the - former - Ambassador. There was nothing to tie him to the thoughts of her, nothing to bring home the guilt and pain he felt over a love gone so terribly wrong.

    But after three years, he found that forgetting was a lot harder than he remembered.

    * * * * *

    Delenn glanced at Sheridan, half praying he would follow the General who was leading her away. She needed a flash of normality right now, after spending the last week among Earth dignitaries - and even now, she still associated John Sheridan with normality. But, if it was going to be like that, she could find other ways...

    "May I ask why your son is here, Ambassador?" she enquired politely as David Sheridan looked back through the balcony doors. He turned to her and smiled a little in embarrassment at being distracted, but it was Morrison who quickly interjected;

    "If you don't wish him to be, Satai-"

    "No, no." She covered her reaction to the offer. "It's all right; I simply wondered why he was here. There are no others of his rank here, I noticed." She searched the room from her vantage point on the wide balcony, wondering if there were and she had simply missed them.

    "No, there aren't." David sounded quite proud, Delenn thought with a private smile. John had always been that same way when people he trained and commanded achieved something. She swallowed the memory before it made her say something she regretted. *Not this early in the evening, Delenn. Later, it might not be so obvious,* she promised herself and left it at that.

    "Captain Sheridan has just brought his ship in for refitting," Lefcourt informed her with an attitude of 'indulging the guest'. "He was given leave to attend the conference on - on what grounds?" Delenn hid her amusement at the oversight.

    "He asked specifically to attend the reception," the former Major - now General - Ryan informed his colleague. "Nothing was said about the conference itself."

    "And no one thought that unusual?" Now Lefcourt had gone from annoyed to downright alarmed. Delenn - very privately - thought that if he made one more paranoid attempt to guard her safety, she was going to throw herself off the balcony just to prove him useless.

    "Surely not everyone here will be attending the conference, General?" she asked in the most innocent voice she could manage, forcing back the fantasy for a few moments.

    "Well, no-"

    "Then there is no need for concern," she assured him smoothly. "From what I know of Captain Sheridan, he would not do anything to disrupt these talks. I have studied him-" although she refrained from saying exactly how much- "and his career, and I believe Earth means a lot to him. Am I not correct, Ambassador?" She turned to Sheridan's father for confirmation, and after a slightly amazed silence he nodded.

    "Uh, absolutely, Satai. Earther to the core. Oh, I-"

    "I know you didn't mean it that way, Ambassador," Delenn assured him with a warm smile. "I don't offend easily," she added encouragingly. She liked David Sheridan; whether because he reminded her of his son or because of his own particular warmth, she wasn't sure. She remembered her own father with as much fondness as John had always spoken of his, and the two of them seemed quite similar to her mind.

    //Not to add any offense,// came a voice from behind her, "but perhaps I could trouble the Chosen One for a dance?" She turned in surprise and hidden delight, only just holding herself back from stepping naturally into Sheridan's arms. The strength of her attraction to him, after the bad feeling they had had between them for so long, surprised her. She was accustomed to thinking with her head, but just this once in her life she forced herself to leave the decisions to her heart. If her love for him could endure for this long, it deserved a chance.

    She just hoped he saw it that way too.

    "I believe," Ryan was saying, "that the Chosen One is not a student of Earth dances. She might find this music slightly..." He searched for a way not to sound insulting to Delenn.

    "Fast?" Morrison suggested. "Satai Delenn has already declined to dance with anyone tonight, Captain." Delenn heard the unspoken meaning behind the General's words - *If she won't dance with us, what do you think she'll want with *you*? - and bridled even though Sheridan couldn't be seen to react.

    "Later," she promised him with a dazzling smile. "When the music is slower." He returned her smile with a curt nod, turning to leave. //Wait!// The request was out before Delenn knew she'd said it, and she smiled a little coyly as he turned enquiringly back to her. Only then did she realise how desperate she sounded. "Please, stay." She made a face and dropped back into Minbari. //Keep me company out here? I'll go insane soon with all this formality.//

    To his credit, he managed not to laugh. "Of course." She rewarded him with yet another smile as he reached to take her arm.

    "Would you like another drink, Satai?" Morrison motioned to her empty glass: when she nodded he gestured for Sheridan to refill it. Delenn frowned inwardly: she didn't like the fact that Morrison could order John around, especially when he seemed to be doing it to get the Captain away from her. She also didn't like to think - didn't want to think - that Morrison had designs on her, but he certainly seemed the type. She had had enough males acting that way toward her to know a worm when she saw one. John shot her a look of concern, but she shook her head ever so slightly. *I can handle it.* He nodded imperceptibly and took the offered glass from her hand. His fingertips brushed hers, and they shared a lingering glance before he quickly turned away and disappeared indoors. David waited for a short second, just long enough to excuse himself with a nod, and then followed his son.

    "John." Sheridan grimaced: the voice behind him was clear with disapproval. He pretended nonchalance, absently filling a tray with refreshments to avoid that stern gaze.

    "John, listen to me."

    Sheridan paused and took a deep breath. For a moment, Delenn's picture floated in his mind and he smiled privately before turning.

    "Yes?" He tried to make it sound unforced, but the word came out through gritted teeth.

    "Don't get involved, son. Not right now." At John's snort of disgust, David caught his arm to keep him from leaving. "*Listen* to me, John. Whatever you're thinking, you've a good career here, your family. This is a *big* initiative for the Minbari: if you screw this up with her..."

    "I'm not *about* to screw up!" He lowered his voice self-consciously at the curious glances afforded his temper, fighting the urge to say that Morrison was far more likely to offend Delenn than he was. "Look, Dad, don't think I don't appreciate the advice. I do. But sometimes you just don't know what you're talking about."

    "John-"

    "Leave it, Dad. Okay?" Sheridan yanked himself away, scowling bitterly when David followed him back to the balcony. He was about to give out the full force of his anger when Lefcourt clapped him on the shoulder, steering him quickly out as if to diffuse the situation he saw between father and son.

    "There you are, Captain!" He smiled, but there was warning in his eyes. *Don't blow this for us, John.*

    Sheridan sighed. Everyone was far too uptight about this entire deal: yes, it was important - important enough to warrant Delenn's return to Earth after nearly eighteen years - but still, someone needed to remind the Earth government that the Minbari weren't as stoic and hung up on formality as they seemed to think.

    Especially their leader. He smiled at her as he handed over the refill, discreetly observing the changes that had occured in the past three years. Her hair was longer by a few inches, and perhaps a little curlier; it seemed darker, but he doubted Delenn would bother to dye it differently. Her dress looked more regal than the attire she had always worn as Ambassador, covering a slightly slimmer figure than he remembered. He wondered - No. Delenn would be above pining for him, especially to that extent. Her sense of duty, if nothing else, would have kept her from endangering her life that way-

    He wasn't sure what alerted him at that moment rather than any other; he'd paid very little attention to the conversation arond him, too busy studying Delenn, but now he was suddenly on guard. His view of her was obscured by Morrison, about to pour something from an incredibly familiar bottle into Delenn's glass.

    "*Kahien,*" he said suddenly, as clear and loud as he could manage the tight inflection on the word. Delenn jerked her gaze to him, startled and alarmed at his warning. The Minbari warrior guarding her was instantly alert, watching Sheridan for a denial of the accusation he'd just made.

    "Poison?" Delenn gave the bottle a horrified glance, stepping back a pace. Her voice was quiet, shocked.

    "Alcohol," he corrected her as he took the glass from her shaking hand, afraid she might drop it. //You couldn't have known,// he assured the two Minbari in their language.

    Delenn stared at him, confused. //Then how did you...//

    //The bottle belongs to my father.// He flushed slightly, irritated that he hadn't noticed it being passed so near to Delenn. //If I'd been paying attention...//

    //You honour the Chosen One with your vigilance,// Delenn's guardian spoke up. //You speak our language well.// His tone was one of approval. Sheridan smiled, inclining his head in respect.

    //I had a good teacher.//

    Delenn blushed at his praise, but the warrior didn't notice.

    //You have saved the life of Satai Delenn. You show more honour than many would credit Humans for.// This time Sheridan gave a deep bow of acceptance, but his eyes fixed on the Satai even as he replied.

    //I do my duty. There is nothing I would not do for Delenn.// He smiled at her, and Delenn felt her heart rise into her throat at the warmth in his eyes. So much time had passed between them, but the look he reserved only for her was still the same.

    "Captain Sheridan!" She watched with some amusement as military training kicked in and John swung to face the General.

    "Yes, sir."

    Lefcourt scowled. "Would you mind telling us why you just accused General Morrison and your own *father* of poisoning the Chosen One?"

    "With respect, General-"

    "Captain Sheridan was simply acceding to my request," Delenn put in smoothly. Lefcourt scowled, but said nothing as she continued. "I'm afraid I know very little about Earth tastes; I merely asked the Captain earlier-" she was sure they would remember her conversing with Sheridan in her language- "if he would mind observing in case I were to choose something that... might not agree with the Minbari palate." She flashed a smile in Sheridan's direction. "The words for 'poison' and 'do not drink' are very similar in my language, as I'm sure you can imagine. I think perhaps the Captain could benefit from some practice of the inflections used?" He regained enough composure to nod, bowing his head at her explanation.

    "I think so. I... apologise for any alarm I may have caused you, Satai." He was rewarded with that radiant smile he'd had the misfortune to miss for three years.

    "If you would like to make up for it, I believe I could manage to dance to this music." Sheridan grinned. "Certainly, Satai." He offered his arm and she took it without a thought; Sheridan tipped his head to acknowledge the dignitaries around them and led her inside to the dance floor. Those already on the floor cleared a space for the two of them as they stepped through, but to Sheridan's relief they soon crowded back until he and his charge were safely lost in the melee. The last thing he wanted was to be on show as the only man who'd managed to have her accept his dance offer - and he was sure plenty had tried that night.

    The music was slow, but fast enough not to be too romantic, which was a plus as he seriously thought he would have kissed her by that point otherwise. He tried to show her the usual position for dancing, but Delenn was having none of it. Instead she put both hands on his chest, forcing him to put his arms around her waist to keep them together on the crowded floor.

    "You're shaking," he said softly in concern. "Is everything all right?" Delenn looked up from studying the patches on his jacket with slight irritation.

    "Do you *know* what alcohol does to Minbari?" He nodded mutely. "Well, then you would be shaking too if you'd come that close to it."

    He grimaced. "I take your point. But you're safe now, Delenn." That sounded far too melodramatic for him to actually have said the words, even to him. She smiled at his protectiveness but said nothing, instead tracing the outline of a metallic star on his lapel.

    "You have made quite a career for yourself in recent years, haven't you?"

    "So have you," he answered with equal levity. "First Entil'zha, now not only back on the Council but Chosen One... You've been quite busy."

    "Not busy enough to forget you," she said softly. He looked away and she became suddenly uncomfortable. "I-I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"

    "It's all right. Really. It's just..." He glanced around and lowered his voice. "This isn't the place. We need some time alone, just the two of us. We can't talk about this properly with - everyone - here."

    "Not to mention your father," she added ruefully. Sheridan looked up over her crown, noticed the silhouettes on the balcony watching them, and gave a wry smile.

    "He has quite a lot to do with it, yes. He and my mother have been trying to fix me up with some young woman or another since I got back. They're convinced that since it worked with..." he paused, aware that that was something of a sore subject between them. "Well, they figure it'll work with someone else. They just have to find the right someone."

    "And your sister?"

    The music ended, but they made no attempt to leave the floor as it switched to a slower, more melodious tune.

    "Liz remembers you," he said quietly, and smiled. "Not that I've let her forget." Delenn gave him a quizzical expression and he grinned.

    "I talk about you all the time, apparently. Not in Dad's hearing, though, or Mom's. Liz was on Babylon 5 when you - when I saw you the first time. She says..." He trailed off, embarrassed and worried at bringing up the topic.

    "What does she say? Is it about me?" Unheeding of his quiet protest, she placed one hand against his cheek and turned his face to hers. "John?"

    He sighed. "She... When I showed her the tapes of the Council meeting, she said she'd only ever seen me look at one other person that way before."

    Delenn smiled. "And who was that person?"

    He swallowed hard. "Anna."

    She looked down, tears forming in her eyes. "Oh, John... If I'd known-"

    "You did know. We both did, but we were stupid and arrogant enough to let it go." He paused, wanting more than anything to kiss her right then and there and to hell with his father's advice. "I'm not like that anymore, Delenn." He pushed back the tears burning his eyes. "I love you, I've loved you for so long... I can't let you go again..."

    "I know. Oh, John, I'm sorry-"

    "Shh." The music had finished again, and he noticed Morrison discreetly nearing them as the floor cleared. Quickly, he tightened his arms around her. "Did you drink any of that alcohol?" She looked up at him, shaking her head in surprise.

    "No, I-"

    "*Did* you?" His motion toward the General was quick enough to seem accidental, but Delenn caught his meaning and he saw the decision on her face. *To lie or not to lie...*

    "For your own sake, Delenn," he whispered. "You might not want to know, but Morrison has his eyes on you-"

    To get away from *that*, it was no decision at all.

    "I don't think so... but being that close to it has given me a headache." She spoke as loudly as she could manage without seeming incredibly obvious. "I feel a little dizzy; I think I should lie down for a while." She directed the opinion at her bodyguard, who by now was standing before her with no heed for discretion. "Captain Sheridan will escort me, if you would give my apologies to the others-"

    "No need, Satai." Morrison gave her a look of total concern, but Delenn saw the hidden annoyance that she would be leaving with Sheridan and not him. She supposed an alliance with the Minbari leader would be precipitous for Morrison's career: the thought only made her lean more heavily into Sheridan. "Are you sure it's nothing serious?"

    "Nothing a little rest can't cure," she promised with a weak smile. Sheridan was glad that Morrison retreated almost immediately or he would have hit him. They were out in the corridor by the time he heard the General's strong overtones announcing her apologies for leaving. They turned a corner, and Morrison's voice faded completely from their hearing.

    "Nice," he commented with a smile. "Yet another of your skills; lying with being seen to lie."

    "It's an acquired talent," she said softly as they stepped into the lift that would take them directly to her apartment. "Sometimes I can be so skilled that I even fool myself." She looked up into his eyes with such an expression of sadness that without another word he leaned over and kissed her tenderly.

    "John..." She pushed him lightly away, and he backed against the side of the spacious compartment. Delenn shook her head, ignoring his apology. "It's all right. I didn't mean to - to push you away completely. It's just... It's been a long time. I'm sorry."

    "Don't be." He reached out for her, and she settled against his chest. "I wasn't trying to rush you. If you need to start over..."

    "I think we both know that won't happen," she chided gently. "We were too close to throw that away, John."

    "But we did," he answered quietly. He didn't want to be the one to bring up the subject, but it had to be dealt with. "We threw it away three years ago, Delenn."

    "No!" She looked up at him in horror, violently shaking her head. "That isn't true. If we had, do you think I would be here now? Do you think I would allow myself to be hurt again if I didn't still love you?"

    She'd said it now. She loved him, still loved him, had always loved him - would lay herself open to be hurt again and again forever if there was a chance he felt the same.

    "I-"

    At that point the lift halted, and he shut his mouth abruptly as the doors opened. He stepped out: Delenn's bodyguard was there. She seemed unfazed to see him standing rigidly in place, addressing him as if she had expected him to turn up sooner or later.

    //Vannar, there you are.// She glanced at Sheridan, who seemed about to speak. "Is there something wrong?"

    He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously as he pulled her to one side lest the guard hear.

    "It's just - my suite is on this floor. It might be better if we went there - less interruptions, and-" He stopped short. "Never mind."

    Delenn had been about to decline, but she saw the unspoken compassion in his eyes. *And you could leave if you wanted to.* That surprised her slightly before she reprimanded herself: John Sheridan was not a man to force anything. *Perhaps if he was, we would not be in this situation,* she couldn't help but think sadly. However, she was used to pushing back her thoughts of him and the distraction lasted only a moment before she allowed him that concession. She nodded tersely and turned back to her bodyguard.

    //Vannar, I will be with Captain Sheridan if you need me. There may be a problem if the Earthers discover this, so if you could... have them believe I am in my suite?// He bowed without hesitation and she smiled, although it wasn't in her eyes. //Thank you, Vannar. I will see you at the conference tomorrow.// The Minbari said no more, and she was glad of it as she turned back to her other companion and gestured hesitantly for him to lead the way. Fortunately, Sheridan's suite was almost straight down the corridor and it took only a moment for them to be inside. They stood rigidly across from each other, and for once she knew the meaning of the expression; 'so near, and yet so far.'

    "Delenn?" She looked up at him, and he noticed for the first time how tired she looked. "Did you mean it? Do you..." He swallowed. "Do you still love me? I don't know how you could, after-"

    "Neither do I," she agreed sadly. "But yes, I meant it. No matter what you might think of me, John, I'm not a liar."

    "I know." He shifted uncomfortably in the silence that followed, then motioned stiffly to the couch. "Can we talk?"

    She nodded, but he noticed she waited for him to sit before doing so herself. Even when she did, it felt strange that they weren't curled up in each other's arms the way they always had been; instead they sat at opposite ends of the couch, tense, like strangers who didn't want to share the same room. A vision of Londo and G'Kar flashed through Sheridan's mind, and he cleared his throat.

    "I knew about Anna."

    She turned to him, confused. "Pardon me?"

    "Anna." His words were disjointed, trying to be clear. "When I went to Z'Ha'Dum with her. Before I left the station, I knew she was one of them. A Shadow. I didn't tell you." He stopped, waiting for her reaction. Finally, tonelessly;

    "How did you know?"

    He looked down at his hands. "Stephen told me. Anna had some - some scarring behind her neck like Bester's-" he started to say 'lover' and stopped.

    "We were lovers," she said softly, so softly he wasn't sure he heard right.

    "Sorry?"

    "You were going to say 'Bester's lover'. We were lovers once, the two of us." She turned her gaze on him, and he saw tears running silently down her face. "Weren't we?"

    He didn't trust his voice; just closed his eyes and nodded wordlessly. But it wasn't enough to quell her doubts, to take away her pain and humiliation.

    "Did you love me?"

    That was the question, wasn't it? The big one. Had he loved her, or simply used her? Had he ever truly wanted her for his own in the same way she wanted him?

    "Yes." He got up and knelt on the floor in front of her, holding her hands in his. "I did love you, Delenn. I still love you now, you only have to look at me to know that." And look at him she did, albeit through so many tears she could see little more than a blur.

    And saw, for the first time in years, the eyes of her lover.

    He gathered her to him, and if he'd thought she was crying before it was nothing compared with now. She wrapped her arms around him so tightly, he thought for a moment she might never let go until he died. Even when he lifted her from the couch and placed her in his lap, she made no move to loosen her grasp: only clung tighter to him and cried into his shoulder. "Where did we go wrong, John?" She could barely speak through the hot tears on her face. "Why did everything go so terribly wrong for us?"

    He stroked her hair, trying to soothe her. "I don't know, Delenn. I really don't know." There was no answer, at least none that he could give her. So many things had conspired to break them apart, so many misunderstandings driving the wedge further between them. He looked down at her, aware that he was probably crying as well by now.

    "Did you ever know that I loved you, Delenn? Did you even think I did?" There, when she shook her head, he found the heart of the conflict. "Oh, honey..."

    "You never said!" She looked up at him, defiant even now. "You never told me... I told you, you *know* I did, and I thought..." A sob broke her anger and she pressed a hand against her mouth to stop it. "I *thought* you loved me, but there was such hate in your eyes-" Despite what she was saying, she buried her face in his shoulder to stop the tears.

    "I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair. There wasn't much else to say. He couldn't take back the way he had looked at her then, the anger - and, yes, perhaps hate as well, he admitted painfully to himself - in his eyes when he had yelled at her, shook her-

    God almighty, he'd *hurt* her. Actually, physically shaken her. Knowing his strength when he was angry, he'd probably bruised her quite badly. He found himself gently massaging her shoulders, soothing the injury he'd caused there despite knowing it must be long gone.

    "I'm sorry, Delenn," he said again. "I should never have let you think that I felt that way. I should have left a message, spoken to you, anything..."

    She shook her head, determined to absolve him of the blame. "It wasn't you - If I had told you about Anna-"

    "I would have gone after her," he said firmly. "I was angry because you were *right,* Delenn. Angry at myself, mostly, because I'd let you get close enough to know me that well. I thought I was..." For a long moment he couldn't say anything, and although his eyes were closed he felt her palm against his face, pressing her cheek to his. He turned gratefully towards her, his voice quiet and close to breaking. "I thought I was being unfair to Anna, because I might still have saved her and I loved you so much I could never have gone back to her..." It crossed his mind that the last time he'd actually cried had been at Anna's funeral, but right now he didn't care if he *was* crying. Hell, Delenn wasn't going to notice.

    But she must have done, because a moment later he felt her wipe away the tears on his face: whether they were his or hers or a mixture of both, it didn't matter anymore. He opened his eyes and took her hand, his fingertips tight on her palm, holding it against his face as if it were a priceless gift.

    "I love you, Delenn. Please, please tell me I haven't ruined everything - I'd do anything for you, you know I would. Just give me another chance." For a moment she didn't react and he swallowed a soft sound of pain.

    At that, Delenn looked up, and she saw in his face just how very much it meant to him that she said yes. A single tear followed the track of another on his cheek, his hope spiralling away in her silence. She smiled then, sadly, and with infinite care leaned closer and stopped it with a kiss. He looked up, the last remnant of a plea in his eyes, and she saw along with it the truth: that John Sheridan was the one man she could never live without.

    And she nodded.

    He smiled as if he'd seen an angel, his eyes sparkling through the tears that threatened again. They sat that way for a long while, with Delenn on his lap, her hand in his and his arms around her, before he released her hand and gently brushed away her drying tears. He spoke as he did so, but his tone was more controlled now, almost conversational.

    "You know, you *were* right. I would have gone to Z'Ha'Dum after her before we were ready, and it would have cost us everything."

    "It cost *us* everything," she murmured sadly. He smiled at the distinction.

    "Not everything, Delenn. Otherwise we wouldn't be here now, would we?"

    She smiled very slightly. "I suppose not."

    "Then there's still hope for us?"

    There was a long pause before she nodded slowly. "There's still hope, if you can forgive me." He backed off a little to see her better and stared.

    "Forgive you? Forgive you for *what*?"

    "I... When I didn't tell you about her, about Anna... I told myself I was trying to protect you, but I - I just wanted to keep you with me - I've never been loved that way before and I was so afraid of losing you..."

    He sighed tiredly at her, shaking his head in disbelief, and carefully pressed her head against his shoulder with one hand resting on her crown. "There's nothing to forgive, Delenn. You did what you thought was right, I know that now."

    He touched her chin and lifted her gaze to his. "I thought, for a long time, that you did it to... Oh, I don't know. To control me, to keep me from being an equal in that damned war of ours. It took a long time to realise, but then-" He cleared his throat again. "Someone said something to me, I don't remember what it was. You know when there's this one instant sometimes, and it just completely changes your outlook on things?"

    "I know. I felt like that when you -" she couldn't say it, but he knew immediately what she was referring to. *When you hurt me.*

    "I'm sorry for that, Delenn. It was unforgiveable, no matter how angry I was." He slid one hand under her hair, behind her neck to support her as she looked up to him. "Did I... I mean, I didn't... Was it bad?"

    "Lennier was very angry with you," she confessed quietly. "I told him I had fallen and injured myself, but I know he didn't believe me."

    He stared at her incredulously. "You *lied* for me? Even after what I did to you, you *lied* for me?" She nodded. "For God's sake, Delenn, why?"

    "Because I love you. Why else?"

    Sheridan felt shock register in his mind: he'd thought Delenn had told her aide of their conflict, never imagining she would try to hide it, let alone for his sake.

    "But Lennier hates me! I thought it was because he knew..."

    "He knows... only what I told him. That you and I were not - not suited for each other, and that we realised that before you left for Z'Ha'Dum. I told him I was returning to Minbar to save us both the embarrassment of dealing with each other after what had happened." She looked into his eyes, a tragic reality revealing itself in her mind. "If I had stayed..."

    "I would have come back for you," he said softly. Delenn bowed her head, crying, and he pulled her close to calm her. "I was going to come to Minbar, but things got so wound up when we spoke that time-"

    "You said you wanted nothing to do with me," she murmured quietly. "You said-"

    "I know what I said." That came out harsher than he'd wanted and he quickly apologised. "I remember everything I said to you and everything you said to me. You gave as good as you got, you know."

    "I know." She faltered. "I'm sorry, John. I didn't mean any of it."

    "You meant it at the time," he pressed gently. "So did I, then." He gave a rueful wince. "Up until you shut off the channel, anyway. And then there was Lennier, and after that I... I guess I tried to make myself believe I meant it. It made things easier to think that you wanted me out of your life."

    "That was *never* true," she answered sharply. He put a finger to her lips.

    "I know that. I always did, but my pride didn't." Delenn sighed, watching her fingers as she brushed them through his hair and shook her head regretfully.

    "That is all it comes down to in the end, isn't it? Pride."

    "On both sides," he agreed. Delenn trailed her hand down to his face, curling the back of her fingers against his cheek. A memory flashed in his mind of their first kiss, before everything had thrown them so out of control, and he instinctively leaned into her embrace as she reached up to him.

    "I'm tired of hating, John." Her voice was a whisper. "I don't want to be proud any more..."

    His answer had more to do with actions than words, but she knew he felt the same way and smiled her relief as they moved briefly apart. He replied with a warmth that made her heart leap, and then there was no time for words as he kissed her again, passionately, needfully; a remembrance and renewal of their love, complete when he lifted her smoothly into his arms and carried her into the bedroom.

    * * * * *

    It was into the early hours when they finally slept; Delenn had curled up to his side with her arms tightly around him, as if she were afraid he would leave partway through the morning. Sheridan smiled down at her peaceful features: she'd meant it in more than one way when she said she was tired. Delenn had never wanted power as long as he'd known her, and the demands of ruling an entire people were obviously taking their toll. He wondered how long it had been since she'd relaxed as deeply as she was now. *Three years?* She'd told him, during their brief whispers between loving each other, that there had been no one else in their time apart; hastily he had assured her the same was true for him, but if it had been that long then she more than deserved to rest for a while.

    The alarm chimed his usual wake-up call: he removed a strand of hair snaking its way across his chest and smiled absently. Smoothing it back into place behind her crown, he slipped out from under her embrace to cross the room. Delenn hadn't woken - or at least hadn't moved - since they had both fallen asleep, and he was loathe to disturb her when she was sleeping so soundly, but he needed a drink before he faced the morning. Discarding the complementary gown of the hotel for his own worn-in bathrobe, he padded as quietly as he could to the kitchen. When he returned, coffee in hand, he found her lying in the spot where he had been with her back to him, her face nestled in his pillow. For a moment he thought she was still unaware he was there, but he knew Delenn and her breathing was too controlled for her to be asleep. He smiled tenderly, placing his cup on the dresser and walking over to sit on the edge of the bed beside her.

    "Sleep well?"

    Delenn gave a hazy, half-asleep smile, opened her eyes and lazily turned over.

    "Mmm... let us just say, it paled in comparison with some of the other things I was doing last night."

    He grinned. "What, like pretending you're interested in my Dad's ramblings?" Delenn just laughed at that and grabbed his hand, pulling him down to her.

    "You know what I am referring to," and she smiled seductively, running her fingertips down his shoulder. "He is a good man, John, and I'm sure your mother loves him very much, but I prefer a younger incarnation of the Sheridan charm." She drew his face to hers and kissed him then, and he lifted her to lie on his chest as they continued to kiss.

    Delenn raised her head to come up for air, and with another light brush against his lips broke away completely, slightly piqued and more than a little amused.

    "How did you know I was pretending?" Sheridan shrugged, his expression deadpan.

    "Written all over your face," he assured her, before grinning at her horrified expression.

    "I was that obvious?" He could only bear to have that look on her face for a moment before he released her from the joke.

    "Only to me, I think. I know that look - and anyway, everyone else would be too polite to say anything."

    "Or too uptight," she put in with a grimace.

    "You noticed that too?" He sighed dramatically and traced a finger along the top edge of her crown. "I *tried* to tell them, I said, 'the Minbari *aren't* that anally retentive,' but they *insisted*..." He laughed at her curiosity. "'Anally retentive' means stuck up, obsessed with protocol. No character."

    "In that case, the term fits some of your generals quite well."

    "And my Dad."

    "I was trying to avoid mentioning him."

    "Don't." He sat up, propping himself on one elbow. "I know how bad he can get." He smiled wryly. "Why do you think I stayed clear of diplomacy in my career?" He still smiled, but Delenn knew him well enough to see the resentment behind his eyes. She followed his movement, concerned.

    "John? Is there something wrong between you and your father?" He sighed and looked away for a moment, knowing he couldn't lie to her. Too much of that had already been done in their relationship.

    "A little something," he admitted.

    "And does this something have a name?" He shot her a look of amazement, dropping heavily onto the pillow and studying her with a raised eyebrow.

    "Were you always this perceptive?"

    "Only with you," she answered honestly, nestling into his shoulder. "A name?"

    "Laurel." He scowled. "She's some diplomat's daughter. She was around somewhere last night, but I managed to avoid her-"

    "We will not go into *how*," Delenn said with a smile and a kiss that he returned before letting out a tired sigh.

    "Mom picked her out for me." At her expression he shrugged noncommitantly. "I know how it sounds, but it's true. Liz had her third kid recently, and since then Mom's been... broody, I guess you'd say. She thinks I should be married again by now, after what happened with Anna..." He paused to see her reaction, but Delenn obviously felt the episode long past. If anything she was smiling to herself, as if she were amused by some private joke.

    "And what do you think of this 'Laurel'?" Sheridan smiled at the simultaneous defense, apprehension and yet nonchalance in her tone.

    "She's nice enough," he responded carefully. "A little less forceful than I like," he looked at her with feeling, "and not wonderfully self-possessing, either. Very dependent - her father's off-planet a lot, so she kind of 'latched on' to my parents."

    "And as the opportunity presented itself..." Delenn murmured knowingly with sympathy and amusement in her eyes. Sheridan nodded at her understanding.

    "Indeed." He gazed upward, seeming to consider something - someone. "She's quite pretty, I suppose. Quite plain, but pretty at the same time." He looked into Delenn's exotic features, the contrast suddenly all the more evident. She sat up slightly, interested despite herself in the physical comparison; he smiled and lightly fingered a curl of her hair. "I prefer longer hair: her's is shoulder length - straighter than yours, too." He studied her for a second. "Is your hair darker, or is it just me?"

    "Your eyesight is failing," she informed him mock-seriously before breaking into a smile. "You were telling me about Laurel."

    He returned to studying her, smiling amusedly. "You're very interested all of a sudden."

    "I like to know who I'm competing with," she answered reasonably. Sheridan laughed.

    "She doesn't compare to you, Delenn," he assured her with a tender caress. "For one thing, I'm not interested in her in the slightest." He winced. "Unfortunately, the situation vice versa is something of a different story."

    "She cannot have you, you know," Delenn said equably, laying her head on his chest and huddling into his arms. Sheridan pulled her tighter against him, so close she felt his heart beating against her cheek.

    "I don't want her to, Delenn," he told her in a vehement tone. "The only one I want to belong to is you." She began to laugh and he blinked, looking down at her. "What? What's funny?" Delenn looked up to meet his gaze and then sat up fully with a shake of her dark head.

    "I think you misunderstood me," she said gently. Before he could reply she leaned over and kissed him lovingly to assuage the doubt clouding his eyes. "You say only what I would expect from you, John-" He started to speak and Delenn put a finger to his lips. "Shh." She regarded him fondly for a moment, lightly stroking his cheek. "Do you know, you are exactly as I remember? As kind and gentle as you always were, but you still know nothing of Minbari customs." With a tenderness he had missed for so long and remembered like nothing else, she leaned over and kissed him gently on the forehead, smoothing a lock of hair from his temple. It had grown a little longer since she had last seen him, she noted absently before her mind drifted back to the present.

    "You see, John... When I said that she could not have you, I did not mean it in the sense that you thought I meant it." She hesitated, wondering how to put into words what she knew. "Do you remember that I told you, when we were first involved with each other, that Minbari spend three nights together when we become... close?" When he nodded, she carried on; "We spent two nights together, then."

    "Two?" She was about to clarify when he held up a hand. "Wait. The White Star." She smiled and he knew he was right. "And the third night would be - last night?" When she smiled again, he got the sudden feeling of something momentous having happened to his life without his being totally aware of it. Delenn, for her part, was patiently letting him take his time over it. Finally, she seemed to realise he needed a helping hand. Lifting her head, she took his hand in both of hers and placed it on his chest before asking in a carefully neutral voice; "Do you know how Minbari are married, John?"

    For a minute he stared at her: comprehension spread slowly over his face and he opened his mouth to gape at her.

    "Married?" His voice was incredulous. "You mean - last night - the ritual was... we - *Married*?" Delenn nodded, looking exceedingly pleased with herself.

    "So you see, whoever your family chooses for you, they cannot have you. Unless they would have you commit adultery, which is punished quite severely in Minbari society." She smiled happily and huddled backed down to his side. Sheridan lay still in silence, and after a few minutes she felt a spark of doubt.

    "John?" When he didn't reply, she sat up and repeated his name. He turned his head, but he seemed to be looking past her. "What's wrong?" She touched his cheek, aware that her hand was shaking. "Do you not want to marry me?"

    He blinked in astonishment, as if coming out of a trance, and looked straight at her. "What?" But he didn't wait for her to say it again, just sat up and pulled her to him. "No, no, Delenn, it's not that. I do, I want to... We've wasted so much time, both of us - I don't want to waste any more." He backed away and looked down into her eyes, tilting her head up to return his gaze. "You just shocked me a little there, hmm? I'm not used to your traditions, although..." At her not entirely appeased expression he smiled and carried on. "All right. You want the truth?"

    "I don't want you to lie to me," she answered. He felt that connect and winced. Delenn looked down, shocked at her own words. "I'm sorry. That was- I shouldn't have said that."

    "It's true, though," he said gently. "I did lie to you, Delenn, or I at least didn't tell you everything. You did the same for me, but-" she began to protest the way the conversation was heading and he quickly shook his head. "*But,*" and his voice was firm, "that's in the past. It's over. Finished. We both made mistakes and we've more than paid for them. Right now, I'm more interested in what's ahead for us."

    Delenn smiled and nodded. "As am I. And the truth you were about to tell me." She gave that curious glance she knew he couldn't hold out against and he grinned ruefully.

    "Okay. The truth is, I was trying to find a way to ask you... I guess it's not such an important question now, but..." He trailed off and took a deep breath. "No one on Earth would consider us married, and since we're under Earth law right now, I figure-" He stopped and reached behind him to the bedside table. Delenn hadn't noticed the small box there, guessing he must have unpacked it while she was sleeping.

    "I've had this for a long time; three years, actually," Sheridan confessed, avoiding her quick, shocked glance. "I always meant it for you, to ask you when I came back - but it didn't work out that way, so I guess I'll have to - Would you marry me, Delenn? If I asked you to?"

    She didn't trust herself to say anything, only nodded as he handed her the box, took out the ring and slid it onto her finger. When he was finished, she looked up into his eyes, and without a word kissed him fiercely. He drew her completely against him, burying his face in her hair as they broke apart and held each other close.

    "I love you, Delenn." His voice was a whisper against her ear. "I always loved you, even when I was stupid enough not to tell you so. I should have said it then, but at least I can say it to you now." He lifted his head and cupped her face in his palm, turning her toward him for another kiss. "I'm honoured that you chose me for your husband, Delenn - even if you didn't tell me first," he teased and she blushed. "In fact," and she thought he sounded decidedly amused now, "not only am I honoured to have married you once, but I would like to do so again - if you felt so inclined-"

    And Delenn pulled him down to her and kissed him intensely, and no more was said on the subject for a long while.

 

 *****

 

 

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