CEREMONIES I: THE GOOD WITHIN THE BAD

By Leyenn

 

 

 

   The fun never stops! Here we are on number five, and things are starting to get a little off-beam as much as I try and hold it to the series. I'm doing my best! Anyway, not really any sex but don't stop reading, there is a part two! Did you think I'd leave you in the lurch? No such luck. This is pretty long, a two-parter taking place through 'Ceremonies Of Light And Dark' and 'Sic Transit Vir' - well, my versions anyway. :)

 

 

 

 

*****

   Sheridan took a bite of breakfast, following it by a hurried mouthful of coffee as he sat down at his table. "So, what kind of a ceremony is this?"

   Delenn smiled reassuringly, pushing a plate across for him. He remembered her mentioning a ritual of some sort last night - meditation and candles, roughly translated in the quasi-Minbari part of his mind. He'd had to develop one in order to understand her, after a while, and he had to admit he found her culture at least close to as fascinating as he found her. He did find, though, that when she started talking about 'rituals' and 'ceremonies' he started to pay less attention to the words and more to the lips they were coming out of. He sighed inwardly, realising that she was already explaining this new idea to him and it hadn't even reached his ears let alone his brain.

   "I'm sorry." He finished his coffee, reaching across to take her hand. "I'm not paying attention. Again."

   She sat back, looking at him ruefully, and frowned; more in concern than anger, though, he realised. "Is everything all right?"

   "It's okay." She didn't believe him, of course: as if he could hide anything from her by now. He smiled, squeezing her hand gently as he put down his mug and stood. "Nothing major. Just some little details I have to clear up with Garibaldi this morning. The irritating side of independence," he muttered ruefully. Delenn smiled, following him up from the table.

   "It cannot be avoided, John. And the ceremony will help." She gave him a look of only slightly restrained amusement. "Not that you yet know anything of it, of course, as I am sure staring into your coffee is far more intriguing to you."

   "I was not," he protested lightly. They both knew he was lying, but it didn't matter. He couldn't help teasing her, though, as she tried to clear the table and he pulled her back into his arms. "Not at the coffee, anyway."

   She relaxed back in his embrace for a long moment. "You spend too much time staring at me," she admonished with a smile. He chuckled and kissed her crown.

   "Well, Ivanova would definitely have something to say if I started watching *her* every other minute, so I guess you're stuck with me."

   "I think I can endure it," she assured him, turning her head for a moment to flash him that warm smile. He returned it, leaning down to kiss her, capturing her mouth for a long moment before she drew back.

   "So, you will agree to the ceremony?"

   He gave her a half-serious look. "You don't fight fair, Delenn."

   "So I have been told." Her eyes sparkled. "By you, I believe. Will you agree to participate?"

   He sighed heavily. "I'm not gonna refuse, am I?"

   "I cannot force you to take part, John. It is important that the Nafak'cha be performed willingly by all involved for it to have the best effect."

   "And what effect is that?" He'd already agreed, and she knew it, but she smiled patiently and tried to explain again.

   "The Nafak'cha is a rebirth ceremony. It allows us to put aside past concerns and to look forward to what we must do in the future. It is a time for meditation-"

   "I knew it," he muttered in a mock-pained voice. She shot him a look.

   "It is a time for us to reflect on what has gone before, and to prepare ourselves for what is coming ahead. With the coming darkness I think it is even more important now that we do this, John. We *must* be able to go forward without fear, without the pain we carry with us now." She turned and looked up at him, and she didn't have to mention anything she meant. "The rebirth ceremony will help us to do that."

   "It's not a private ceremony, then?"

   She smiled gently, knowing that was acceptance in his voice. "I have put together a list of those I think should participate. I left it on your desk yesterday," she reminded him carefully with a gentle touch on his cheek. He sighed and dropped his shoulders, looking down at her in his arms.

   "I really have to start paying attention, don't I?"

   She smiled in amusement. "Given how much time I spend with you, I am surprised it takes so long for you to understand what I have to say. Londo would be most disappointed," she teased. He raised an eyebrow and she smiled, sliding her hands up to his shoulders. "He believes that you are more... sympathetic... to the Minbari than to others. Specifically the Centauri."

   Sheridan snorted derisively. "Nothing new there. I'm more sympathetic to the *Drazi* than the Centauri, and that's saying something with all the trouble they tend to stir up." He shrugged and kissed her lightly, then frowned suddenly. "Londo isn't on that list of yours, is he?" She looked at him, and he got his answer. "Why *Londo*? He's the last person I'd invite."

   "And you will find he is the first on my list." She smiled and gently kissed him, tipping her head at the chrono display. "Go. We can talk more of it tonight, and you will be late to work."

   "You don't have any meetings this morning?"

   Delenn smiled and slipped out of his arms, giving him a playful push toward the door as it slid open obligingly. "No, I have nothing until this afternoon, and yes, I will meet you for lunch."

   He grinned. "I'm that obvious? I don't see what Londo's got himself worked up about."

   Delenn tossed him a tired glance, but he could see the amusement sparkling in her eyes. "You are only obvious to me, John. Now go." She gave him a soft kiss. "I will see you at lunch."

   *****

   

   He couldn't believe this was happening. He'd only left her this morning, only kissed her goodbye and seen the warm, happy smile in her eyes when he'd agreed to the rebirth ceremony. Oh God, how could this be happening?

   He couldn't believe it. If he believed it before he knew what he was going to do about it, he'd go mad. *Delenn...*

   "John?"

   He spun round, even knowing that smooth, serious voice couldn't be hers. His mind still hoped, though; maybe he wasn't listening properly, maybe he was asleep and she sounded different in his dreams...

   But she didn't, he knew that, and he knew it wasn't her standing in his office doorway with that grim expression.

   "Marcus says he might have some idea where she is. Or rather, he knows some people who might. He's gone to check it out." Sheridan nodded silently; after a moment's pause, Ivanova spoke again.

   "She'll be okay, you know. They won't hurt her until they get what they want, and I know you're not going to give it to them. They won't risk losing their advantage."

   "From where I'm sitting, they've got enough of one to afford some risks." His voice sounded harsh: he sighed heavily and tugged a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Susan. Everything's just... a little numb, right now."

   Her eyes darkened, sympathy and anger in equal measure. "If they hurt her, you know I'll kill them all personally. And it won't be pleasant."

   He smiled grimly, and there was no humor in his voice. "How about we make it a twosome?"

   "I was thinking those cruisers might want to give us a hand." She felt better, he was sure, releasing the anger a little: it made it easier to cope, too, knowing she was ready to back him up if anything... untoward... were to happen to Delenn's abductors when he got his hands on them all. And his PPG. And a tray of those nice, long, razor-sharp surgery tools from Stephen's office.

   He deliberately turned his thoughts from that, berating himself and knowing how horrified Delenn would be if she were to find out how barbaric he could be. And right now, he reminded himself firmly, he needed to find her. He wouldn't care how angry she was, if he had to kill the whole damn fucking lot of them to get her back -

   "Captain."

   His head shot up, a half stride taking him to the screen even as Ivanova rushed over. "What is it, lieutenant?"

   "Mister Garibaldi wants to see you, sir. He says he's found something."

   

   The next hour went past in a blur: he didn't have time to thank God for the miracle of having Marcus there, and even Ivanova had a sincerely good word for the Ranger's skill in... extracting... Delenn's whereabouts. The cruisers gone - temporarily, of course - and Garibaldi leading, the genius idea of a faked reactor leak had its desired effect... up to a point, at least.

   He could see her the instant they got out into the open, thrust in front of one of the men with her hands bound behind her: hostages were all very well, he guessed, but expendable when your own sorry ass was on the line. Shots were firing indiscriminately, wounding as many of theirs as they did the kidnappers even as he edged forward: he saw her moving, wanted to run to her, to yell at her to get down and keep back from the fire fight...

   An irony to the highest degree, his rational mind noted as her panicked scream echoed in his head.

   "*JOHN!*"

   He spun round, reacting only to her voice, not seeing the knife until he felt it as he instinctively caught her in his arms. He couldn't honestly have said what he felt in that instant; only that the blind fury that overtook him was far more productive than any grief or concern right then. He managed to lower her to the floor, gently despite the burning rage pounding through him, but it was all he could do to let go before charging headlong after that *bastard* who'd dared to hurt her. That they hated him was one thing, that they wanted the station back was one thing, but that they'd taken Delenn, *hurt* Delenn...

   That was another thing entirely.

   *That*, he would *not* stand for.

   They'd already moved her when he finally got back to Garibaldi, standing in the middle of what had been the battleground with his PPG still at the ready. He pulled it up at the sight of his captain, noting that the man securely in his custody was obviously not waking up for a while: Sheridan threw his now unconscious and bleeding load unceremoniously down on the deck, only just restraining himself from punching the bastard again before he looked up, his eyes blazing.

   "How is she?" He ground out the words as Garibaldi dropped down to cuff the man.

   "They took her to MedLab. Ivanova went with her." He dragged the unconscious prisoner roughly to his feet, thrusting him at a deputy. "Put him with the rest." The other man nodded curtly without a word, aware that Garibaldi was already chasing down his CO at the other end of the corridor.

   "Captain-"

   "Michael, if anything happens to her-"

   Garibaldi caught him by the arm. "Stephen's already got the trauma team standing by. She's in the best hands."

   Sheridan sighed, his stride slowing just a hint as he ran a hand through his hair. "I know that. I know. But..." He shook his head helplessly. "God, did she have to do this?"

   "You'd be the one in MedLab if she hadn't. And most likely dead," Garibaldi reminded him. "Wouldn't you do the same for her?"

   "If she'd've given me the chance." He scowled, picking up his pace to a near-run to catch the closest transport tube. "I just wasn't expecting this, Michael. I thought, once we'd got them out in the open..."

   "It went cleaner than we prepared for." Sheridan's eyes blazed at his words, and Garibaldi held up a hand. "We didn't lose anyone, Captain. Maybe I'm just a downright pessimist, but that's always what I go in expecting."

   Sheridan glared at the tube doors, as if urging them faster up through the levels. "Michael, if you're wrong..."

   "You mean if I'm secretly an optimist? Short of a mind wipe, ain't gonna happen."

   Sheridan gritted his teeth to reply: the tube doors opened then, and Garibaldi let out a quiet sigh of relief. *Should've known never to try cheering the guy up about these things.* If MedLab were even one floor further, he was pretty sure they would have lost someone - *him*, and likely the tube along with him.

   "How is she? *Where* is she?" He managed to track Sheridan by that desperate tone, wondering inwardly just how far this relationship had advanced for them to be *this* close without any heed for the decorum they had tried so hard to maintain. Okay, so these were pretty exceptional circumstances, he reminded himself as he watched a nurse lead Sheridan into a private side room. *Uh oh.* Usually they took discretion to beyond artful, but at this rate *everyone* was going to catch on much quicker than he would have liked.

   He rounded the corner, just missing the nurse and for now letting her go and spread the news. If it got out, it got out, and right now at least it would give Sheridan the time he needed with her. Not that she could hear him right now, Garibaldi reminded himself ruefully. He considered Delenn a friend even without her surprising connection to his CO; he was only imagining how Sheridan felt watching her now, silent and still on the bed with her aide hovering watchfully over her.

   "Lennier." The young Minbari looked up, and Garibaldi made a non-too-subtle gesture. "Give 'em a few minutes. She's not going anywhere."

   His eyes were dark, his head shaking immediately. "I cannot-"

   "I'll take care of her, Lennier." Sheridan's voice was quiet, almost absent, his pained gaze never leaving Delenn's sleeping features. There was a long pause; finally the Minbari nodded, albeit slowly and with a little reluctance, and followed Garibaldi from the room.

   He'd watched her sleep so many times, Sheridan reflected as he stood over her bed. She often fell asleep before he did, especially if they had not had time to make love before succumbing to mutual exhaustion, and during the early, careful nights of their relationship he had taken to staying only long enough for her to rest before slipping out of her quarters. She didn't look any different now, albeit lying in a med bay rather than his quarters and without him nestled beside her. She still looked beautiful, still seemed as if she would open her eyes and reach for him to hold her as if nothing were wrong.

   Oh, God, why had he let this happen?

   He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself: glancing at the chronometer he ran a quick hand through his hair, surprised at the readout. She hadn't been gone that long, surely? The ceremony should be over by now, from the preparations on his desk that he'd finally taken the time to read, but she was in no condition to conduct it now. Somehow, bizarrely, that hurt more than anything else: that he hadn't protected her, hadn't gotten her out in time to keep his promise. He took her hand in his, leaning carefully on the bed and absently stroking her soft skin with his thumb.

   "I'm sorry, honey." He could see Lennier watching him, Garibaldi shaking his head tiredly through the window as Ivanova approached. He was glad she'd been there - he wouldn't have left Delenn with anyone else, not even to catch that bastard. If he'd lost her, and he hadn't been there...

   "I'm sorry," he whispered again. "Please be okay, Delenn. You have to be, I can't live without you now..."

   "John?" That firm, feminine voice again, that he seemed to have so much trouble distinguishing from hers recently. Ivanova came quietly into the room, coming to stand behind him. "I just talked to Stephen." He tensed visibly and she squeezed lightly on his shoulder, trying to ease it. "She's gonna be fine, John. The knife missed anything vital, but they need to take her to surgery to finish up now. Come on."

   He nodded vaguely, not moving even though some of the tension left him: Ivanova sighed quietly behind him and reached over to move his hand, and it was only when he turned to look at her that he realised how many people could see him here. Were watching him here, more to the point.

   "It couldn't be helped," Ivanova reminded him gently. He looked back up at her and sighed, nodding reluctantly.

   "I just didn't notice..." His attention moved back to the bed for a long moment, his voice trailing into subdued silence. All he'd thought of was Delenn, terrified she would be permanently injured or worse... just kept replaying the moment in his mind, willing her out of the way, for the knife to miss...

   "John." He turned and looked at her, his eyes weary and hiding fear. "Get some sleep. I'll call as soon as she's out of theater." She gave him a determined frown. "Go."

   He managed a brief smile at her no-nonsense tone: not even Delenn could quite master the unspoken threat behind those words. "Okay. You'll call-"

   "The instant," she promised firmly. "There's nothing you can do here, John. You're exhausted, give it a few hours at least."

   He sighed, ruefully accepting her words and nodded mutely in submission: turned back to Delenn, tenderly stroking her hair for a moment as he leaned close. He didn't dare kiss her properly, she looked so small and peaceful: it always woke her and he didn't think he could handle not seeing that happen. Instead he held the hair back from her forehead and replaced it briefly with a gentle brush of his lips, closing his eyes for a short, quiet moment.

   "I'll be back soon, honey. I love you."

   Ivanova waited, surprisingly patiently, for him to say that short goodbye: she had to shoo him out of MedLab eventually, waiting as long as he could still see her as they moved her through to theater. He was pretty sure Marcus tailed him home to make sure he got there at all, but he was finally too tired and wound-up to care right now.

   He gave it an hour, then two: desperate for a drink but not daring to endanger her when he saw her, he spent most of the time pacing and staring at the walls, willing someone to call. He couldn't manage rest, let alone sleep: he got as far as his uniform stripped off, piling it neatly on the bed and pacing the living room as he shrugged into a shirt. The comm bleeped suddenly: his hand snapped up to answer, his palm stinging as he slapped the link.

   "Sheridan."

   Ivanova didn't bother to try being polite. "*She's awake, John. Lennier's with her now.*"

   He shot out of the door, only just managing enough restraint to grab his neatly bound bundle and keep from racing down the corridor to the transport tube. He wouldn't have left at all, but for Susan's insistence and his remembered promise to her: she had wanted this ceremony, had made all the preparations, and not one thing short of the station exploding was going to stop him from completing it for her.

   The tube halted only a few paces from MedLab: the doors opened just in time as he barrelled through, a grin breaking on his lips as he saw the others standing there. Ivanova flashed him a silent smile and gestured to the room: Lennier stood to the side of Delenn's bed, obscuring her features from his vision, but he relaxed as he noticed the young Minbari speaking in what seemed to be a light tone. She was okay... He let out a deep sigh of relief, unaware of how tense he'd been until he forced himself to release it.

   The room had no door, given that it was only an emergency bed before moving her to a private room: he could still see his crew outside through the large window, but it didn't matter - they wouldn't hear what he knew he had to say to her, and they'd find out soon enough anyway. Lennier nodded coolly to him, looking surprisingly calm at leaving him alone with Delenn: Sheridan reminded himself that this was a Minbari ceremony, that the young attaché could have no idea what he really had planned. The bundle in his hands weighed heavily all of a sudden: he laid it to one side of the room, patting it down with some reluctance before turning toward her. She was watching him intently, about to speak; he needed only a step to be by her side, his hand reaching for hers.

   "Delenn."

   She had seen him enter the outer room, out of the corner of her eye; knowing he would be here as soon as he could, she had been sure that she had heard him with her in her sleep. She matched his smile without thought as he said her name now, her fingers closing tightly around his. She had feared so much for him in that awful instant, calling his name out of instinct and terrified beyond belief that she would lose him to that madman's knife. The same knife that had buried itself deep in her own back, as it turned out, and had laid her here when all she wanted was to have him hold her after such a dreadfully long, awful ordeal. Her eyes stung as she remembered Lenann's aide; John's hand tightened around hers and she swallowed the tears, smiling gratefully up at him as he put a soft hand to her face and leaned over to kiss her with an aching tenderness that assured her of his own fears. She had hated that more than anything: the thought of how terrified he would be of losing her and how desperately she had wanted, hearing him over the comm screen even that once, to take away the pain she alone heard in his angry voice.

   "I've got a little surprise for you." His voice now was gentle, and he was smiling softly. She gave him a quizzical glance; opened her mouth to speak again, but he touched her lips with a finger. "I thought, if you couldn't come to the ceremony, then the ceremony should come to you." He glanced at the uniform he'd piled neatly on the nearby table, his eyes tired. "I know what it is I have to give up... something that meant a great deal to me, but it has to be done." His fingers laced through hers, hoping he was doing this right. She hadn't mentioned anything specific about the ritual, but Lennier had given him some idea. "What I've never told anyone before... well, there isn't much you don't know about me, so..."

   He smiled, and to her surprise looked slightly nervous. Was it the ceremony? He was often confused by her traditions and rituals, as much as he loved her and tried his best to understand. She had not had time to explain the intricacies of the Nafak'cha to him - was he concerned that he would make a mistake?

   "You know I love you." He sounded infinitely more certain of that, and her hand tightened reassuringly around his. Did he know she couldn't reply? It didn't seem to matter, from the tender smile on his features as he gently stroked her hair. "I love you more than anything in my world, Delenn." He wrapped both hands around her smaller one, leaning close to the bed. "What I want to tell you - what I have to tell you..."

   He paused again: a loving hand reached out to touch her face, and she wondered if it were against the rules of the ceremony to reply without words.

   "When you were hurt... when you were in my arms..." He took a long breath, the memory still deeply painful. "I wanted to kill that guy with my bare hands."

   Her fingers squeezed his in comfort; a reassurance that she was safe now, in his care. He smiled warmly, if a little uncertainly, squeezing her hand gently in return.

   "I just... I realised that I've told you so much... about me, and how I feel about you, but I've never told you-" He stopped, looking down for a moment with an endearingly nervous expression, before taking in a quiet breath and looking deeply into her eyes.

   "I want to marry you, Delenn."

   That, as the Humans said, knocked the breath out of her - literally as well as figuratively. She loved him, yes, desperately, but - *marriage?*

   His voice was quiet as he continued, sounding as if he wanted to explain. "I've wanted it for a while, and I think - well, it's about time you knew."

   *Marriage?!* How could he contemplate that now? Knowing how others would react, how many problems they would face, what they would have to go through in the future...

   But to be married to John, to be his other half in name and in the eyes of everyone the way she could never be now... Oh, Valen, it was such a wonderful thought! Even though her people would never agree, even though many from both sides would disown them both for even the thought - it would be worth it to be with him, to live with him, to be constantly and openly at his side the way she longed to. For that, how much was there that she wouldn't give? She would sacrifice anything that was hers for them to be joined so completely.

   How could she tell him? Did he know she couldn't answer his unasked question? Communication was forbidden for the *Noi'cha*, the leader and guide for the ceremony, until all the participants had performed the rituals. What could she do now? Even among Minbari, proposal of marriage had to accepted or declined - but it was hardly a question of that. Of course she would marry him! Fear overtook her as she worried that he might take her compulsory silence as a rejection. She held tightly to his hand, begging him to understand how desperately she wanted to speak, to tell him...

   He leaned close to her, and she saw in his eyes that - as always with him - her worry was for nothing. He knew her answer, had known it before he had even admitted the question in his mind.

   "I know you shouldn't talk now. Lennier told me that's part of the ceremony, but..." He smiled and opened her hand in his, gently stroking her palm, their own private language that needed no words. "You don't have to say yes, Delenn. You already did." The sadness and obscure pride in his eyes concerned her for a moment, until she realised what he meant. His eyes strayed down the bed, toward her waist, and he reached out tentatively to lay one gentle hand on the covers as he looked back and his gaze met hers.

   "But I think you should have a better reminder." His eyes smiled down at her; that tender look she knew so well. "I want you to. After all this..." He smiled ruefully. "I don't have one right now, but I will. Soon."

   A better reminder... Elation ran through her as she realised what he meant by that. She was hardly ignorant of Human practices now, after all, and John would know by her reaction that she understood his meaning. She smiled, radiantly: he leaned close to her, so close she could feel his breath on her cheek, and released her hand to reach up and absently stroke her hair.

   "I love you." He took her face lightly in his hands, and his lips brushed her forehead with a tenderness so deep it was almost painful. "I'll be back soon, honey. As soon as I can." He smoothed her hair back once more, his eyes serious as he straightened and squeezed her hand briefly. "Try and rest, hmm? I want to know you're gonna be okay."

   She nodded, ever so slightly, hoping it didn't break the rules of the ritual to reassure him so much with so little. Sheridan smiled back at her, his hand sliding reluctantly out of hers; her eyes fixed on his elated and loving smile, and his emotions resounded in her mind even as he left the room.

   *****

   

   It was early morning when Sheridan reappeared in MedLab; ushered through to the private room Delenn had been given and somehow a little surprised to find Lennier standing beside her as Franklin finished up his morning examination. He shook off the subconscious idea that they should still be alone whenever they saw each other: even knowing that both Lennier and Franklin now knew of their relationship, it still felt a little odd to walk casually over and kiss her good morning the way he did when they were alone.

   To Delenn, however, the knowledge that there was anyone else with her vanished the instant John Sheridan stepped into the room and into her vision: dressed not as she was so used to seeing him in Earthforce blue and tan leather, but in the smooth lines of a very... very *Minbari* uniform. She had designed the new attire, at least the basics of it herself, with help - but she had not imagined, looking at him now, that it would look so perfectly *right* for him to wear it. Or so handsome, she admitted with a slow, appreciative smile that was hurriedly covered as she caught Lennier's glance toward her. Black suited him, she thought privately; made him look leaner, calmer somehow - so much more like the warrior he was inside. Even the way he walked was different, however subtly: more confident, assured, even if he was just a little self-conscious about leaning over to greet her with a quick kiss.

   "Good morning." He smiled down at her, taking her hand lightly in his own as he glanced at Franklin. "So, how is she, doc?"

   "Healing okay," Franklin assured him as he adjusted the dosage on an injector and gestured for Delenn to hold out her arm. "This is just a painkiller, since it's likely the wound will be tender for a few weeks yet. I wouldn't recommend any strenuous exercise, Ambassador," he informed her with just the smallest hint of a smile. Sheridan coughed politely, unable to help grinning at Lennier's innocent expression. Delenn managed, by some force of will, to keep a calm and polite smile as she nodded at Franklin's advice.

   "Thank you, Doctor." She glanced up at Sheridan, knowing the question resting on his lips. "How much longer will I need to stay here?"

   Franklin turned back from checking her monitor with a slight shrug, and Delenn noticed with obscure satisfaction that he addressed she and John together. It amazed her, sometimes, how those Humans close to them had adapted so easily to their relationship. Lennier had known for far longer, and yet she knew he was still uncomfortable to see them together: perhaps because of how he had discovered their secret, she reminded herself ruefully. Seeing John, a Human man, in the middle of making love to his friend and mentor in a decidedly Human fashion had probably given him some very disturbing emotions to deal with. She had tried to talk to him about it, but Lennier could be as stubborn as John when he wanted to keep 'himself to himself', as the saying went - and there was no way she could persuade Lennier in the way she usually persuaded John.

   Still, she reminded herself as Franklin checked another readout and made a thoughtful note, he remained close to her no matter his opinion of her private activities; and he cared equally for her, so his expectant expression told her as Franklin completed his workup.

   "I'd say you'll be ready to go home in about ten days, maybe a week if that rib heals fast enough." He glanced briefly at Sheridan, remembering that the captain had not been able to stay during Delenn's examination the day before. "The knife missed all her major organs, but it was embedded very deep in the bone. We had to remove a small section of her rib to allow it to heal without risking infection. It *will* heal over," he overrode Sheridan's sudden concern, "but it's gonna be painful for a few weeks and pretty tender for a while after that. And when I *do* release you," he shot Delenn a firm stare, "you are not to go back to work for a full week. No buts," he waggled a stern finger at the protest on her lips. "Home or here, but you do not work. You need to heal, and the only thing that'll let that happen is rest. Going home will let you get some *gentle* exercise, but no more than that."

   "Yes, Doctor." She sounded so meek and accepting that Sheridan had to chuckle; Delenn shot him a glare, but it softened with the light in his eyes.

   "One day, I'm gonna teach you how to be a *proper* patient. You don't complain nearly enough."

   "You leave well alone," Franklin shot back at his captain. Sheridan grinned mercilessly: eventually, Franklin threw up his hands and shook his head with a helpless sigh. "Well, I have rounds to be doing. I'll check in on you later, Ambassador."

   Delenn smiled, inclining her head delicately to him from where she lay very slightly propped on the pillows. Lennier had insisted she have some kind of support, considering she would not sleep at the accustomed angle even given her injury, and she had agreed rather than try to explain to him that apart from the White Star, the last time she had slept at the 'accustomed' angle had been over a year ago.

   Franklin having slipped out of the room, she turned her head toward Sheridan only to remember that Lennier still stood unobtrusively on the other side of the bed. She wondered, although she tried to push it away, if he were actually uncomfortable with the idea of leaving her alone with John.

   Well, he would have to come to accept it, she reminded herself as she felt a slow, discreet caress on her palm and a smile crossed her face. After all, she and John were to be married now. He would be her husband, and Lennier - like all the others - would have to come to understand if not accept that fact. She *would* marry him, whether her people and her clan approved or not: the only difference would be that it would be only a Human ceremony and that after that, she would be Human in name as well as body. Strangely enough, the idea didn't concern her as much as she had once thought it would, when she had first realised where her feelings lay for this handsome, generous Human man and had come to understand what she might be required to give up for him. She understood now, and in that understanding it seemed no longer to have the power to frighten her as it once had. And John's hands wrapped around hers, strong and yet gentle, as they had been yesterday when he had caught her so suddenly; a calming, confident force that buoyed her up whenever the doubts surfaced.

   He smiled at her again, ignoring Lennier's presence, and she couldn't help but return it as he slipped one hand from hers, stroking a finger lightly across her palm as he did so and making a soft warmth rush to her face.

   "Lennier, would you excuse us please." Her voice was quiet, and she glanced only briefly at her attaché. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him nod and move toward the door.

   "Of course, Delenn. Captain Sheridan." He bowed formally and quickly left the room. Delenn smiled, distinctly amused, as a not-so-quiet sigh of relief relaxed John's stance and he pulled up the nearby chair.

   "So, how're you feeling?"

   She smiled; leaning on the bed, he was close enough for her to touch his smooth face. "Better for having slept. There is only... it aches," she admitted after a moment. "Nothing more."

   "Good." The idea of her in pain made his throat close up in anger. He'd already beaten the guy senseless - Franklin had said he wouldn't be waking up for a few days yet, let alone walking - and he didn't want Delenn to see him angry, but sometimes there was no help for it.

   "John?" She must have noticed his expression, he told himself with an inward curse and a reminder that Delenn read him like a book - with all the pages laid out and available at once. He had only to show a flicker of an emotion and she would see it. Soft fingertips brushed alone his jaw, up to his cheek, and he smiled reassuringly.

   "I'm fine. Really. I just - I was up early this morning. I don't sleep well without you there." He grinned suddenly. "And I had a few errands to run... Speaking of which, I have a present for you."

   "Oh?" She smiled innocently, despite knowing almost certainly what it was. Sheridan flashed her a mock-serious face, playing along with her light teasing.

   "Damn straight." He fumbled in his pocket, pulling out a black velvet box that he held out to her. "No fiancee of mine has ever walked around without an engagement ring, and there's no way I'm making you the first."

   "Ever?" A look of curiosity touched her features. "How many times have you done this?" He looked suddenly uneasy, and her curiosity deepened to discomfort. "John, that was not supposed to be a difficult question."

   "It's not." He winced sheepishly, tentatively meeting her concerned gaze. "At least, not really. It's just..." A quiet sigh escaped his lips. "I didn't want to do this now. I should have told you before."

   "Told me what?" Despite her own confusion, she hated to see him so uncomfortable because of her. "Please, John. Don't be afraid of me."

   "I'm not." The response was just a little too fast: he sighed. "Not of you, Delenn. Of what you'll say... what you'll think of me. I couldn't stand to lose you now." He could see her wanting to reassure him again and plunged on, looking down at her hand held fiercely in his. "Twice. I was married before - twice..."

   Her mind reeled. Why hadn't he ever said anything? They rarely discussed Anna, that was true, but only because of the pain it caused him to think of her fate and his insistence that it should be behind him now. But surely once, even just once in all that time he could have mentioned *this*?

   "What happened to her?" Her voice sounded strangely calm, preparing herself for the same pain that always filled their conversations when he thought of Anna.

   "Her name was Elizabeth Lochley. She was... we were at the Academy together. Earthforce," he added by way of explanation. "It... didn't work out."

   "'Work... out'?" Her uncertainty was bordering on trepidation, hoping she didn't understand the way she thought she did. What was he saying?

   "We split up." He pulled his hand from hers, almost fearfully, not wanting to look at her in case her features reflected his own pain at the mistake. "After three months we could file for divorce. We went together - it was over pretty much straight away, and then we graduated and..." He shook his head tiredly. "Well, I haven't heard from her since. Haven't thought about her, only-"

   "Why now?" Anger began to well behind the hurt in her tone. "Why, after all this time-"

   "Because I love you!" Pain echoed in his voice as well as he grabbed her hand, tightly, trying to make her understand. "Because I want to marry *you*, Delenn. Because you're everything to me, and if I'd thought of it before I would have told you, I swear." He pulled her other hand into his, gazing earnestly into her eyes. "It's hard to forgive a secret, Delenn, I know that but please... I didn't do it to hurt you, I would never hurt you. I just... didn't think of it. Honestly."

   "You didn't want her." There was a note of sorrow in her quiet voice, sounding distant. "You married her... and then you didn't want her..."

   "We didn't want each other." He reached out and turned her face to look at him, concerned; the terribly lost look in her eyes made his throat burn as he understood her mounting fear. "Oh, honey, no. No, no..." He pulled himself up onto the bed, leaning close to her, anxious hands stroking her hair. "Oh God, please don't think that. It won't be like that. It could never be like that, not with you, I promise. I love you so much..."

   "And you never loved her?" The fear and hurt in her voice brought tears to well in his eyes.

   "No, honey. No, I don't think I did." He stroked her hair slowly, tenderly, wanting to soothe the awful uncertainty in her eyes. "I love *you*, Delenn. You. I never felt like this with her, or with Anna, or anyone else. Not the way I do now." He didn't care that she saw the tears in his eyes, hearing the thick emotion in his voice. He wanted her to understand, to know how desperately he needed to reassure her. "I could never be without you, Delenn. *Ever*. I don't know what I'd do..."

   "Shh." Even now, the need to ease his pain overwhelmed her own. This wasn't his fault, any more than it would have been hers in the same situation: she knew John hadn't been celibate before her, or even before Anna. "It's all right. I..." "No." She looked up at him, saw a regretful smile on his lips as he leaned down to kiss her softly, filled with love and the understanding she couldn't find in herself. "It's not all right, and you don't understand. I know that. But it was a long, long time ago, and I've changed a lot. Anna changed me, and you've changed me - more than you could ever imagine." His hands clasped hers again, entreaty clear in his eyes. "There's nothing else I can say to make it right, Delenn. I know that... But there are things I can do to try." He placed that tiny, velvet box in her hand again, closing her fingers around it, and kissed her softly on the lips. "I'll let you think about it." "John-"

   But he was gone, leaving her alone with her thoughts and a silver ring.

   *****

   

   Delenn sighed heavily again. Was she doing the right thing? She had lain here for hours, forcing herself not to call him, knowing he would be working and should not be disturbed. If he heard her voice he would come rushing to her, no matter what crises battled for his attention, and despite the very public idea she was contemplating now there were still so many who could not be allowed to see his devotion to her.

   And he *was* devoted to her, she reminded herself again. More so than anyone had ever been. Among her people, romantic love was hardly an unknown quality... she had never experienced it herself with another Minbari, but she knew many friends and relatives who had and still did, even after decades together. But somehow - somehow, between Humans, it was so *different*! So much more intimate and intense and tangible. Minbari never showed such affection as John had shown for her, not physically; attraction and desire were things she had never seen among her own people. The expression of sexuality was pleasurable, of course, but never so passionate and physical as with Humans - with John.

   With her husband, if she wanted it that way.

   She examined the ring again, turning it over in her fingers. It was smooth silver bearing a sapphire of deep, velvet blue; simple, perfect and more striking than anything else he could have given her. Where had he found such a beautiful thing? Surely he could not have bought it this morning, but if he had had it before he would surely have given it to her last night. 'A better reminder,' he had called it. The best reminder she could have of how he felt about her, how devoted he was to a life with her. She knew, in her heart, that her uncertainty was unfounded: that of anyone, John was the one who would never turn away from her. She had told him secrets worse than this, and he still loved her and wanted her. To mistrust that was impossible, and she knew that.

   'We didn't want each other.' She heard his words in her head again, replaying the conversation over and over. But she wanted him, desperately - that could never change. And if it did, would she be so hurt that the possibility were there for him as well? Oh, this was so complicated...

   She loved him. That was more certain than her life.

   He loved her. She knew that too. Whatever else he said or did, that could never be a lie.

   She slipped the ring onto her finger.

   

   She was sleeping when he glanced through the low window into her room, pale hands clasped lightly on the soft blue covers with that small black box set beside her on the bed. He tried not to think about it as he nodded to the Minbari guard on duty - a precaution he had insisted on, despite her protests.

   He wanted her to say yes. He wanted her to be wearing his ring, to tell him by her actions if not her words that she believed his devotion to her. He wanted that above anything, but he would love her no matter what she said. Even if it were no, one day he would make it possible for her to...

   "Oh God, Delenn." Emotion choked his throat as he saw the delicate ring on her finger, taking her hand tenderly in his as he sank down into the chair. "Thank you..."

   "John?" Still half-asleep, her fingers instinctively grasped his and the warm touch of silver brought a smile to his lips.

   "Hey, sweetheart."

   She smiled back at him for a moment: a frown touched her features as she woke fully, blinking past the haze of sleep to touch his face in concern at the hidden tears in his eyes. "John? What is it... what's wrong?"

   "Nothing." He grinned suddenly, pressing her hand to his face. "Nothing's wrong, love. Nothing at all." He squeezed her fingers, holding her left hand up in his and glancing over at her with a strangely subtle smile. "I see you did some thinking."

   "I love you." There was no hesitation in her voice as she smiled up at him, stroking his face tenderly. "And I trust you." Her eyes told him that was the truth. "What else is there?"

   "You getting well," he teased with a light kiss. "Then I'm going to show you exactly how much *I* love *you*..."

   "Mmm..." She smiled as he kissed her again, still gentle but slowly and deeply this time. "I was under the impression that such... celebrations... occurred *after* a marriage."

   "It's optional," he assured her as he nuzzled light, soft kisses against the corner of her mouth. "And I haven't run out of ideas in over a year, so don't start worrying now. You just get well."

   "I am trying," she assured him half-playfully. He chuckled.

   "You're doing much better than me, I'd be stir-crazy by now being stuck in here."

   Delenn gave a soft laugh; a subtle wince tightened her smile for a moment as the movement jarred her injury, and Sheridan's hand squeezed hers gently in sympathy.

   "Is it hurting?"

   "No. Just... a little. I should remember not to move so much."

   "Are you sleeping okay?" He sounded concerned: not that she hadn't expected it, especially now. "I can come and stay with you tonight, if you like. I have a late shift tomorrow."

   "You should rest," she protested even as he shook his head slightly.

   "I'll grab a few hours this afternoon. I'll be fine," he assured her firmly. "Hell, I'd only be up at all hours doing paperwork anyway. I might as well have a better view while I'm working." He gave her a pointed smile and she blushed demurely.

   "Then at least I can do something worthwhile lying here."

   He chuckled, waggling a teasing finger at her. "Ah, not coping as well as you make out, are you?"

   Delenn frowned sheepishly, managing to look just a little frustrated. "You could not imagine how tiring it is to lie here all day and do nothing. If I have to be here for so long, I would like... something... to do?"

   He nodded, looking as if he understood. "I know. I remember being kept in hospital for three weeks when I was a kid; I smashed my leg falling off a horse and had to go into traction. It was pretty bad, even though I loved being off school at the time - I nearly went insane after the first few days. And *I* didn't have anything I felt like I should be rushing back to," he added with a smile, giving her a serious glance to remind her that he read her as well as she did him. "If it's much comfort, everything's pretty much holding together out there. Lennier's doing fine," he reassured her confidently. "You've taught him well enough to manage for a few weeks, and everyone's pretty much answering to me now anyway."

   She frowned, squeezing his hand in silent support for the responsibilities that weighed even heavier on him now. In another man, those words might have sounded proud, even arrogant: but she heard the fatigue and scepticism in his voice that another might miss - or, she reminded herself, that he might not allow another to hear. John could be such a private person, even with her sometimes: it took a lot for him to show such vulnerability, a measure only of how desperately he was trying to cope now.

   "I will be well again soon," she assured him tenderly, wanting to take that painful exhaustion from his face. "And I am always here, when you need me. You're not alone, John."

   His smile grew immensely grateful, and he raised her hand in both of his tenderly to his lips. "I love you, you know. So much..."

   "I know." She turned her hand to caress his face, smiling fondly. "My Drala'nai. So concerned for everyone but yourself."

   "I wish you were home with me." His voice was quiet, as if it were a terrible confession to make. "I was so scared I was gonna lose you..."

   "That will not happen." She tried, *needed* to reassure him of her presence, but he shook his head painfully.

   "It might." He looked down, speaking hesitantly. "I had a - a nightmare last night. That I wasn't fast enough to find you, and-"

   "John." Her grasp on his hand was suddenly, painfully strong. "Don't. You should not put yourself through this."

   "I've nearly lost you so many times. So *many* times..." He didn't seem to be listening to her, lost in his own thoughts. "But when I saw you on that screen, with that madman... I was so scared, Delenn. I really thought he'd kill you." He took a deep breath, and it trembled slightly as he hid his face in her hand. "Then when I heard you, when I turned around and you were there... oh God, you scared me. The whole thing..." He closed his eyes; she pulled her other hand from his to stroke his hair, trying to soothe him as he put his head lightly on her breast.

   "John, please. Don't hurt yourself like this."

   "I need you," he murmured against her palm. Delenn closed her eyes, hearing the pain in his muffled voice.

   "I'm here, John. Look at me." She forced herself to sound firm, commanding. "Look." He lifted his head, slowly, and she tenderly cupped his face in her hand. "I needed you as much, John. And you were there. I'm safe now, because of you." She smiled as he looked up into her eyes. "I will be here, John. And," she slipped her hand down to link her fingers with his, "we will be together. In everything."

   A smile touched his lips as he understood, and he leaned forward to kiss her wordlessly: in thanks and love, and anticipation of her meaning. "Yeah, we will."

   *****

   

   "*MARRY?!*"

   Sheridan winced. He'd figured he should tell Ivanova as soon as possible, if only to limit the damage, but he was beginning to think it hadn't been such a smart idea.

   "Maybe not straight away. Maybe not for another year, or more. We have a lot to work out first."

   "At least you got that right."

   His eyes narrowed. "What's *that* supposed to mean?"

   "Come on, John. How often do these things happen? I heard of one walking testosterone overdose who married a Narn, but a Human and a Minbari?"

   A bitter rage built up in his throat, his voice unnaturally quiet. "I didn't do it because she's Minbari, Susan. I did it because I love her."

   "I wasn't-"

   "Weren't you? You sure sounded like it."

   Ivanova gave him a cool stare. "If this is you as a married man, you'll excuse me while I go get a transfer. Oh, damn, nowhere to go - maybe I'll just shoot myself in the head instead."

   "You're not exactly making this easy on me," he retorted with exaggerated patience. Ivanova snorted.

   "That's because it *isn't* easy. And if you think *I*'m being unbearable, you'd better go tell Delenn this whole thing is off right now. Because I'm nowhere *near* as harsh as the rest of the galaxy's gonna be when they hear about this!"

   Sheridan glared at her: threw up his hands and backed up toward his desk with a shake of his head. "You know what? Just forget it. I guess asking my best friend to be happy for me is just too much to ask." He pulled out his chair and dropped into it, shuffling a random pile of papers to cover his anger. "I'll see what I can do about that transfer."

   "John." She leaned up against the desk and stared at him, knowing he'd crack sooner or later. He held out longer than she'd expected, but later was better than nothing. "I am happy for you. You think I'm not happy? Look at me. I'm ecstatic." He gave her a cool stare, raising his eyebrows at her deadpan tone. She shrugged and flashed him a tiny grin. "Really, I am. You deserve this. So does Delenn, don't think I haven't noticed that. But right now, marriage?" She gave him an incredulous shake of her head. "You're both nuts."

   "We were nuts when we started this. If you're gonna insist on logic then we've been nuts every day since then, and we should have finished it a long time ago... but somewhere along the line I fell in love with her, Susan. And for reasons I really don't understand most of the time, she loves me as well."

   "Love is one thing, John. Commitment is another. Trust me, I know."

   "Not with Delenn." He sounded as if it were denial in his tone, but he knew it was true. His love was his commitment to her, just as hers was to him, but he couldn't explain that to Ivanova. He couldn't explain it to anyone - not even himself, completely. "This was supposed to happen, Susan."

   She snorted. "Oh, you believe in fate now?" He gave her a cool look and she sighed, acknowledging his feelings with a tired sigh. "Look, I'll give you that. Fate, destiny, preordained by a fairy queen or *whatever*, it was meant to happen. You can have that - and for all I know about the universe, hell it's probably true. All I want to know is why did you have to book Fate for a performance when we've already *got* the Furies staring down our throats?!"

   Despite her flippant tone, he could tell she was serious. His eyes were dark and haunted for a moment as he looked up at her, and his voice was deathly quiet. "You even need to ask?"

   A quiet look of regret crossed her face, and she sighed. "No, I guess not."

   "It'll take some getting used to." He shuffled his papers to the side and put down his pen, running a hand through his hair and glancing at the small silver picture frame on his desk. No matter now much garbage he managed to accumulate, that stayed. Especially now. "I know you're not used to this... to *us*, but that's just the point. We've been hiding for too long." He smiled involuntarily, remembering the first morning after they'd broken away from Earth: he'd coaxed Delenn, in a decidedly undiplomatic fashion, into giving him a picture of her to put in the frame, and although she didn't quite understand the need she had eventually acquiesced. Well, cried for mercy had been more like it, but he had gotten the photo. That simple silver frame had adorned his desk since he was twelve years old, the first time he'd stayed at home when his father had been away on a long assignment: holding first a picture of his parents and Liz, then Anna, and now Delenn. The same frame, the same reminder, and the same depth of love that meant he needed her close to him in at least some fashion. He'd taken Anna's picture out months ago, but he hadn't asked for Delenn's until he could keep it openly with him. They had few physical keepsakes of each other, and he reminded himself to remedy that: in light of circumstances, it was even more important now. If he lost her, if it ever happened, he wanted more than memories. "It's time we stopped considering everyone else and started thinking about us for a change." He sat back, locking his gaze on the frame, but his mind was already in MedLab. "People are going to talk whatever happens. There's no way we can hide this now." He looked up at her with a wry smile. "Even if we wanted to."

 

   Hiding, in any case, turned out to be the last thing they were capable of: Delenn had decided to keep her Ambassadorial suite, but since she would need some help anyway over the next few weeks it had seemed the perfect time to move into his quarters - even if it did announce their permanent attachment rather more loudly than anyone might have liked. Lennier had taken to moving what she needed at night, given that there wasn't enough room in either of their suites for both of their belongings and it would not do to conduct Minbari business in Human surroundings: Delenn was sure he was still uncomfortable with her attachment to John, trying to ignore his conspicuous absence in MedLab on the morning Franklin finally released her. John, of course, came to greet her; hovering protectively in that way she found just a little endearing and that he tried hard not to show as the doctor passed a final scan over her back.

   "Well, I'd say you're free to go, Ambassador." He gave an amused smile and gestured toward Sheridan. "She's all yours."

   Sheridan flashed him a grin. "Thanks, Stephen."

   "No problem." He glanced back to Delenn, fitting the scanner back into his tray. "Come back tomorrow and I'll check the dosage on that medication." He made a quick gesture toward the small package she held in her hand and Delenn nodded, obviously eager to leave the room that had confined her for most of the past week. Sheridan tossed her a private grin at such impatience, slipping his arm around her waist and careful not to put pressure on the still tender injury.

   "C'mon. It's finally peaceful enough out there to get me the day off, so at least we can start settling you in." He didn't add, in front of Franklin, that his quarters were near enough hers by now anyway. She smiled and nodded: the doctor cast him a quick look, catching his eye for a moment.

   "Just make sure she rests. Any vigorous movement could strain the injury, and I'm sure neither of you wants another week in here."

   Delenn smiled: Sheridan looked a little sheepish, knowing he'd spent more time in her room than C&C since the kidnapping. "I'll make sure she keeps things quiet," he assured Franklin with a slight glint in his eyes. Delenn shot him a look: he chuckled and hugged her gently against him, ignoring the glare. "Come on... We'll go home, you can sit down, I'll order in some lunch and then you can watch me unpack."

   Franklin grinned as he passed them going out into the main MedLab. "I thought she'd moved into your place?"

   Sheridan rolled his eyes. "She has."

   He didn't, as it turned out, spend much of the day unpacking after all: having a day off and Delenn's company, alone and comfortable, for the first time in a week proved too much of a temptation to slave over her belongings instead of herself. The vid, lunch - when it arrived - and a half-hour's half-hearted box exploration filled most of the day, until at dinner Sheridan did insist on cooking - much to Delenn's trepidation. She managed to hold back from feigning exhaustion, unsure if eating his cooking was really going to be beneficial to her recovery, but did at least manage to convince him to attempt something simple with her guidance.

   "I am not an invalid," she reminded him with some pique. He smiled and leaned over the counter to give her a light kiss.

   "I'm under orders to keep you off your feet, and that's exactly what I'm gonna do. Even your temper won't match Stephen's if he finds out I've done something wrong," he teased with a quick grin. Delenn scowled, settling herself more comfortably onto the stool as she watched his efforts. To be truthful, so long as he had someone to watch over his infinitesimal but potentially disastrous mistakes, Sheridan could actually create a decent meal: Delenn, however, had no intention of spending every night teaching him to cook, and she was beginning to grow just a little irritated by his continued insistence that she wasn't to stand - or move, or lift anything, or breathe if it wasn't necessary...

   "*You* have never seen my temper," she told him archly. "But if this continues..."

   He raised his eyebrows, bemused by her tone: she met his gaze and sighed.

   "I'm sorry. I'm just tired of being..."

   "Babied?" He smiled and pulled her hand up to his lips as he swung into the opposite seat. "Just for tonight, then, I promise. I don't know that my cooking's the best thing to be convalescing on anyhow," he added to ease her irritation. The warmer squealed its agreement, and a smile crept onto her lips at his sudden expression of panic.

   "You are not really such a bad cook," she assured him affectionately. He snorted, plainly not holding to her belief as he struggled to make sure he'd left nothing on the heat.

   "Well, you and my mother could have some good arguments about that." He pulled two plates from the cupboard, turning the couple of steps to set them on the table. Delenn had gone suspiciously silent, he noticed after a moment, looking so distracted that even when he went to help her to the table she didn't protest. She helped herself to the meal, as did he, but where they usually spoke or at least touched during dinner she seemed quiet, almost withdrawn.

   "Delenn?" He laid his hand on hers, concerned. "Something wrong?"

   "Hmm?" She looked up at him.

   "Something's bothering you. Is it..."

   "No." She shook her head, flashing him an absent smile. "No, it's not that." The kidnapping had been traumatic, of course, especially the resulting panic and the death of Lenann's aide, but that had not really weighed on her mind for a few days now. "I just..." She sighed. She should be honest with him, particularly now. "You never really mention your family. Not like that. I hadn't thought..."

   "How they'll react to you?" They *had* discussed this before, but never as deeply as he would have liked - or deeply enough to allay her fears, he realised with some regret. "I won't pretend it doesn't matter, love. They're family, after all, but... well, so are you." He smiled, kissing the ring on her finger. "Even if it's not official just yet."

   She smiled back at that, but it was tinged with more than a little disquiet. He sighed ruefully, briefly dropping knife and fork to hold her hand in both of his.

   "Delenn, listen to me. I told you before, and I mean it now, you are my first priority. Of course I want my family to like you - and I'm sure they will, if we give them a little time to get over the shock that I got married without telling them..." he smiled and squeezed her hands, and despite her misgivings he saw a tentative smile. "But you... you mean more to me than anything, Delenn." He gave a wry chuckle. "Just ask anyone on this station - when those bastards had you I went *crazy* trying to find you."

   "I knew you would not let anything happen to me," she assured him tenderly. He grinned, holding her hand tightly to his lips.

   "You just remember that. I-"

   His link chirped: a lifetime of training made him answer, and he cursed that he hadn't left it in the bedroom as the alert voice came through. "*Attention all personnel near Green Two. We have an assault in progress. Repeat, we have an assault in progress, Green Two.*"

   He blinked, not expecting the announcement of such a secure location. "That's just one level down. Near Londo's quarters." No wonder they were putting out a call. He pushed back his chair, dropping the fork onto his plate and meeting her worried eyes for a moment to reassure her as he stood. "I'll be right back."

   She nodded, starting to rise with him, but to her concern he was gone from the room before she could reach his side.

   She waited patiently, absently finishing her meal and glancing idly around the compact quarters. Boxes still filled the main living room: despite her earlier anger at his fussing, she had had to admit that after a week lying mostly still in MedLab she had been too tired and stiff to move much that morning. Rising carefully from the table, she managed to hold back a long stretch, feeling the movement pull at her still-healing wound; although she was still taking a small amount of medication, she was relieved to feel more of an ache than the actual pain that had dogged her the first few days.

   John had been gone for nearly a half hour, she noticed by the time she started to clear the remains of their dinner and caught sight of the chrono. What could be wrong? In such a heavily protected part of the station, it couldn't be taking this long for Security to reach him. The Ambassadorial wing was supposed to be guarded at all times, although she reminded herself ruefully that Londo had made nothing short of a galactic incident of the idea that he might have to cope with Narns guarding his passage home each day. She would have something to say to him, though, if his idiotic reluctance had endangered her fiance...

   The comm unit clicked on: she turned, testing the muscles of her back, pleased to find them loosening from her continued movement. "Yes?"

   "It's me." John was smiling, but ruefully and half-wincing. She noticed the screen was close up to his face: concern welled in her throat as she stepped toward the machine.

   "John? What happened? Are you all right?"

   He forced the grimace to become a smile again, although he shifted uncomfortably away from movement to his right. "I'm okay. Just a little banged up, that's all." He hissed quietly for a moment and she tensed, concerned at his nonchalance when he was obviously hurt.

   "What happened?"

   He shrugged, although it was blatantly lop-sided, tiredly shaking his head. "As far as I can tell, there was a Narn waiting for Vir when he came out of the transport tube nearest Londo's quarters. Haven't worked out for sure how he got past the guards, but I've got a pretty good idea." He scowled at someone, again to his right, and she caught a brief glimpse of hands and a crisp white bandage. Sheridan forced out a breath; she turned her attention back to his face as he continued to speak. "Zack had to shoot him to put him down, but right before he died he mentioned a 'Shon Kar'." She started at the words and he nodded. "Yeah, I know. Although why Vir is something I haven't gotten an answer to yet."

   "You're hurt." It wasn't a question, just a statement of fact and a slight reproof. He shrugged again, but there was a dull pain in his expression that she had come to understand intimately in the past week.

   "It's not much. Caught me where I wasn't looking, that's all."

   "I'm coming down to MedLab." Her tone brooked no protest: he sighed and shook his head, then caught her forceful look and gave her a small smile.

   "Okay, okay. Don't rush yourself, though," he ordered, lifting a warning finger to the screen. He didn't expect her to heed the advice, though.

   He was still sitting in the main MedLab when she entered: he smiled ruefully, unsurprised when she rushed inside the room and gesturing wryly with his free hand. "Hey, honey." She came up to his side, gazing with concern at the bandage swathing his right arm. "Just can't keep away from the place, huh? Just when they thought they'd gotten rid of you..."

   "John," she warned. He sighed and took her hand, ignoring the supposedly discreet curiosity of the nurse attending him. If they were going to be married, he'd be damned if he was going to be hiding it anymore.

   "It's fine," he assured her firmly. "Just a scratch."

   "It's a little more than that," his nurse reprimanded with a half-smirk. Delenn frowned: Sheridan sighed, wincing as a firm tug checked the bandage.

   "It's nothing to worry about. Give it a few days it'll hardly be noticeable." He slipped down from the bed, rotating his shoulder slightly to test the injury and hiding a wince. Delenn caught it: he smiled reassuringly and drew her in against him on the other side. "I'm fine, hon." He leaned in close to her, lowering his voice in her ear. "Just sorry we got interrupted, that's all."

   The nurse flashed him a flatly amused look, obviously overhearing: she patted his arm just below the injury and pulled his sleeve loosely down to cover it. "No fooling around on that arm," she warned him. He rolled his eyes; had to hide a grin of sudden pleasure, though, when she turned to Delenn to give the same advice. He hadn't really expected people to accept them so easily, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise. Maybe some good had come out of the last few days...

   Then Delenn laid her left hand on his good arm, the other tucked into his elbow, and he smiled knowingly as he withdrew from the grasp and wrapped his arm around her waist. More than *some* good, then.

   "Come on." He smiled down at her, taking her hand and feeling that slight but definitely noticeable difference of the slim ring on her finger. "Let's get home, huh?"

   Delenn smiled and nodded: his own hands busy, she accepted his pain medication from the nurse and let him guide her out of the main MedLab facility. The tube wasn't far away; it was getting late into the night now anyway, and no one passed them on their way back to his - *their* quarters.

   He noticed ruefully that she'd cleared away the remains of their dinner: even tried to clean the mess he'd made of the kitchen, which only proved how worried she had to have been at his continued absence. She headed for the now moderately tidy area, waving him back as he tried to follow.

   "Sit." Her voice was commanding. "I'll make some tea."

   He flashed a mock frown. "Delenn. You're fussing over me."

   "Think of it as repayment," she returned easily, searching out their usual tea mugs from the cupboard. He scowled playfully and she smiled, knowing he did understand her concern. "You should take your medication," she warned as he shifted on the couch and tried to hide a wince. He rolled his eyes at her, but he did at least accept the mug from her hands.

   "I've had enough of Stephen and that damned nurse telling me what to do," he reminded her in a tense voice, tossing a glance at his arm. "It's not fatal, you know."

   "I know that now." The words were soft, her gaze clouded as she looked up at him: he sighed heavily and took her hand as he sipped his tea, wishing at least that he could lift his arm far enough to hold her.

   "I'm sorry, Delenn. I didn't mean..."

   "I know." She smiled and moved her grasp on his hand, threading her fingers through his own. "We are both tired. It's been a long day."

   He nodded, admitting to her adroit comment. He *was* tired, after all, and the medication he'd swallowed with his tea seemed to be taking some kind of effect already.

   "Come on." He took a final mouthful of tea and stood carefully, pushing himself up on his uninjured arm before offering it to her. "Not exactly what I had in mind for tonight, but..." He shrugged one-sidedly and reached down to take her reluctant hand. "We can at least get some sleep for now. I'll make it up to you," he promised with the flash of a smile. She looked at him speculatively, her gaze resting on his arm: he chuckled and squeezed her fingers, pulling her up from the couch. "Don't start doubting me, Delenn. One little scratch hardly takes me out of the running."

   "It is more than a scratch," she admonished quietly. He sighed and nudged lightly at her cheek, tilting her head up to lay a lingering kiss on her mouth.

   "It's hardly life-threatening, Delenn," he reminded her again. "I'm sorry we got interrupted, but it was happening right under my feet. I couldn't just do nothing, you know that."

   "I know." She smiled tiredly, shaking her head in submission. "I'm sorry. I think I am just too tired for this, tonight."

   "Probably." He chuckled wryly and slipped his arm around her, heading for the bedroom as her head dropped idly onto his shoulder. Luckily, she'd been sleeping there long enough that anything she needed for the night was already arranged and not subjected to the bad case of packing that had afflicted the rest of her belongings. They'd never really bothered dressing for bed, anyway, given that whatever time they had to spend together invariably ended with them both naked and exhausted with very little regard for clothing. Delenn paused to slip off her overdress, draping it over the chair beside the closet before unfastening the deep lilac robe and simple underwear beneath. She turned back, looking curious to see him still fully dressed, and then smiled as she stepped up to him.

   "If you wish me to help you, why do you not say so?" She laid gentle hands on his chest, sliding up to unfasten his collar. "If I am to be your wife, John, you should learn not to be so stubborn with such things." She pushed the now open shirt down from his shoulders, appreciative hands gliding over his muscles before dropping it onto the chair and drawing him close. "And I would like to do this more often, I think."

   He smiled down at her, good arm around her waist and the other hand resting carefully on her hip. "I bet you would." Delenn laughed, laying her hands on his stomach and softly kissing his chest.

   "You need to rest," she reminded him, stepping back for a moment. He watched as she tugged the belt from his pants, sure her fingers were wandering even if she did seem focused on the task.

   "Delenn..." He laid a hand over hers, stilling them with a rueful grin. "You shouldn't do that if you think we're going to sleep right now," he reminded her lightly as he stepped back to the bed. "God, having you here I'm gonna be *exhausted*..."

   A smile touched her lips, her hands resting on his shoulders as she watched over his efforts. There was a spark of amusement in her eyes, considering for just a moment the suggestive note in his voice and the thought of how long it had been since they'd been able to spend a night together... but his arm was obviously stiff, and she could tell from the already vague look in his eyes that the painkillers had only added to his fatigue. She was still recuperating from her own injury as well, she reminded herself, and it was already late in the night after the hour or so he'd spent in MedLab. There would be time for that later... so much time, the few small boxes in the bedroom corner another reminder of that new commitment between them.

   "Delenn?" She turned her head back to him and he smiled up at her from the bed. He'd had enough success in undressing to be sitting in his boxers on the duvet, gently tugging on her hand to pull her down to join him. "Thought I'd lost you for a minute there. You okay?"

   "Fine." She glanced once more at the small pile for a moment and then turned abruptly, snuggling deep into his arms. "Wonderful."

   "Mmm..." He smiled and kissed her, shifting his weight to yank the bedclothes out from beneath them and cover them both. "At least we have time to unpack, I guess," he teased as he caught the direction of her gaze. Delenn gave him a mock-serious stare.

   "Surely you could simply have taken the day off, without resorting to injuring yourself."

   "On this station? You're kidding. You know this break isn't going to last, they never do." He grinned and leaned down to kiss her. "But while it does...."

   She laughed, sounding joyfully amused: he grinned and captured her mouth passionately under his, and for a moment he forgot the dull ache in his arm -

   - and then he got entirely too eager and rolled over, yelping suddenly at the sharp stab of pain that arced up into his shoulder. Delenn, much to his disgust, only laughed softly again and gently pushed him away.

   "Get some sleep." She sat up slightly and laid a hand on his cheek, soothing his hurt expression with a warm smile. "I am here now, John. You have me here. Nothing will take me away now, for tonight or any night to come." She pressed a soft, tender kiss to his lips, caressing his hair as she lifted her head. "Sleep."

   He smiled, nodded: she smiled back and settled down beside him, tucking one arm under his and draping the other lightly across his chest to grasp his hand. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep, lulled somewhat by the painkillers and the warm body close by his side, his final, satisfied thought that he would never need to go without that again.

   He woke again a while later, turning over slightly and aware that Delenn had moved while he was sleeping: not far enough to think something was bothering her, but still she was not in her usual position and it was rare, unless something *was* wrong, that she would move so far from him during the night.

   "Delenn?" He glanced over at her, a little concerned. Her eyes shone in the darkness and he sat up, propping his head briefly on his unhurt arm. "You're still awake?"

   "You were tired." She turned her head, meeting his eyes. "You needed to sleep."

   "And you don't?" She went silent, looking down at her now steepled fingers, and he sighed heavily. "Delenn." He covered her clasped hands with his free one. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be gone the whole evening."

   "I was worried."

   "I know." Though his arm was stiff now, making it difficult, but somehow he managed to lie down again without tearing anything and pull her toward him. "Come here, love. It's okay now."

   She didn't need any more encouragement; rolled over to huddle tightly up against him, reaching up to touch the bandage on his bare arm. "Is it still painful?"

   "Just a little heavy," he assured her. "Must be the painkillers. I'll be fine," he assured her worried expression. "I've had worse than this. And I've been taking care of myself for a long time now."

   "Is that not part of being alone?"

   He looked a little confused. "Yeah, I guess."

   "But you are not alone anymore."

   He looked down into her eyes. His voice was deep, suddenly, as he met her gaze and gently stroked her cheek, almost apologetically. "No, not any more." How did she think he could forget?

   "I was worried," she repeated softly into his eyes. "You cannot expect otherwise, John. Do you think it has ever been easy for me to see you hurt?"

   "No." The word was quiet, bordering on pain, and it hadn't been long enough that she didn't immediately know what was foremost in his thoughts.

   "You understand." She knew better than to make it a question, her gentle fingers sliding up to stroke his cheek in return. "I know what you do is dangerous, John. I know that *you* are dangerous, when it is necessary-"

   "Not to you." Pain flared in his eyes as he held her tighter. "I couldn't put you in danger, Delenn. Not deliberately." Half reassurance, and still half apology for her recent ordeal.

   "I know." She smiled to reassure him, hugging him gently. "And you know that was not what I meant."

   He sighed, sliding a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I know." There was a pause as he looked down at her. "Am I dangerous, Delenn? Is that how you see me?"

   She smiled warmly; sat up, leaning over his confused expression. "You are what you must be. We both know that, even if you refuse to acknowledge it."

   "I don't want to let you get hurt," he protested weakly. Delenn, to his surprise, laughed softly.

   "I would be a fool if I believed you could ever do that." She leaned close and kissed him, turning her head to speak softly in his ear. "And so would you, my Drala'nai."

   "I love you, Delenn. I just..."

   "You will never hurt me," she assured him calmly. How could he doubt her? He knew it as well as she did: he would never do anything that hurt her, in any fashion. He had to remind himself sometimes - a lot, over the past week or so - that she didn't need protecting, especially from him. Delenn was his fiance, but that hardly meant she was helpless. How many times had she saved *his* ass? This was supposed to be a marriage of equals, not a fairy story letting him run off and play the hero without her. That was half the reason he'd asked her to marry him, he admonished himself: because she was there for him, *with* him throughout everything. Because she could hold her own - and his - against whatever darkness was likely to be coming. He couldn't hurt her, and he doubted much else could either - physically, maybe: he'd certainly seen that, but there was only one thing he could imagine hurting her inside. "I'm sorry I left you alone," he said quietly. Delenn lifted her head, looking at him with a small smile.

   "It's all right. I understand why you had to go..."

   "I wasn't trying to get myself sliced open, you know." He smiled as he said it, trying to reassure her with his humor.

   "Your life is dangerous, John. *Our* life is dangerous, and always will be." She smiled in return and kissed him lightly as she huddled into his arms again. "I will always worry for you. I know you," she looked up at him tenderly, "and I know you have been taking care of yourself for a long time." She smiled gently in apologetic amusement. "But I love you, and sometimes... they do not like to mix."

   Sheridan chuckled wryly. "I know, honey. Believe me."

   A gentle hand brushed lightly, tenderly across his cheek as she drew herself up to kiss him. "Do you think I am... dangerous?"

   He flashed her a grin, his free if slightly numb hand sliding suggestively down her back. "Only to me, I think."

   "I will not hurt you," she teased with an equally suggestive smile.

   "Torture me, maybe..."

   "Perhaps." Her eyes sparkled. "Whatever pleases you."

   "We're both gonna regret this in the morning," he reminded her as he saw where the sparkle in her eyes was headed. Delenn only smiled, stretching up - very, very carefully - to capture his mouth with hers.

[END]

 

*****

 

 

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