THE BABYLON PROJECT: THE ONE AND THE NEXUS (I)
This is, primarily, a J&D story. However, for the purposes of making it not suck, there is plot - yes, I said plot - along the way. What that is, you'll have to find yourself. However, some scenes may be short and others very long - I suppose I could say I was trying to do it movie-style, but then I guess God doesn't look well on out-and-out liars. Truth is, it worked out that way. It should be enjoyable anyway.
Now settle down, grab yourself some popcorn and enjoy the romantically edited version of the first Babylonian encounter.
'You are a nexus. You turn one way and the whole galaxy has a tendency to follow.' - Justin to Sheridan
Delenn stumbled down the corridor, brushing away the helpful aides who rallied to their tired and angry Satai. Instead she fell through the door to her private chambers, stopping only to pour herself a glass of water. Her hands trembled, and her fingers wouldn't grip the glass properly. *Lenonn was dead!* She dropped the glass on the table, uncaring when it tipped and the clear liquid pooled out. *He was dead!*
He was dead, and their hopes for peace with him. There was nothing that could be salvaged now; all that was left was war, and more death - on both sides.
Delenn put her head on her folded arms, angry, grieving - and, though none would see it, afraid. Lenonn had been the one other who saw things in her way: who saw the devastation, the butchery, the atrocities around them committed in the name of justice.
"There is no justice," she said softly. Her voice, choked with tears, sounded childlike in the spaciously empty room - a room befitting a Satai. "There's no justice at all, Lenonn. Nothing at *all*...."
Her thoughts held by grief for the old Anlashok, she remembered little of the prisoners until almost an hour later. She lay on her bed, shrouded still in the grey robes of the Council, and wanting to cry. She had long ago run out of tears: her people needed her to be strong. She needed *herself* to be strong. She sat up, stood straight, and walked into the bathing room. She took a cloth from the cabinet and freshened her tired face, looking into the mirror to check that she looked presentable -
She saw Lenonn.
She whirled around, knowing it was impossible...
And she heard the Human's voice again, calling Lenonn's hidden command. "*Isil'zha! Isil'zha!*"
Abandoning her quarters, she ran.
* * * * *
Sonovar was in charge of the prisoners. It had taken a while to let them go, of course: for one thing they had no ship, and the Earthers could not be allowed to take a prime specimen of Minbari technology, even an escape pod, back to their people. They were letting them go, oh yes - no one would dare disobey the Satai.
But it didn't mean they were being sloppy about it.
The command had been given: therefore it was with considerable surprise (not confusion, for the Minbari were taught not to be curious, and thus they paid no thought to the reasons) that Satai Delenn appeared on the cargo deck where they were holding the Humans.
//Satai.// Sonovar bowed his head in respect. //How may I assist you?//
Delenn cast her all-encompassing gaze over the bay. It obviously didn't meet with her satisfaction, and she turned to Sonovar with a frown.
//I wish to see them.//
Sonovar bobbed his head, stalling. He was a loyal follower of the Council, but that did not by any means exempt him from fearing them.
//That is not possible, Satai. We are in the process of releasing the last-//
//I wish to see them.// It was not a suggestion.
//With respect, Satai, the Narn has already been released.//
Delenn frowned further. //And the others?// When he made no reply, she stepped closer. He towered over her, but he quailed inwardly at the movement. //The Humans, Sonovar. Where are they?//
//The dark one was released a short while ago,// he admitted. //He was sent to an outlying colony. We are preparing to send the other to-//
//Take me to him.// There was no response. //*Now*, Sonovar.//
The warrior nodded. //Yes, Satai. This way.//
The chamber was small, dark, and sparse: there was no evidence, save the obvious wall design that they had been unable to remove, that he was on board a Minbari ship.
Nonetheless, Lieutenant John 'Starkiller' Sheridan knew. And he was, at that moment, searching for any information he could find before they let him go - presuming that was what they were going to do. They had taken the doctor, Franklin, a while ago, but he had no way of knowing exactly how long it had been. G'Kar had disappeared almost immediately. Presumably they had let him go, as the Narns were - supposedly, anyway - neutral in the conflict. He hoped they'd let Franklin go as well... he doubted it however the order they had received, judging by his captors' reactions, had been unusual.
"And leaving Humans alive would certainly be unusual for the Minbari," he muttered to himself. He stood up and glanced around again, trying to remember everything that might come in handy once he left. If he did leave. If they weren't going to shoot him first.
If they didn't know who he was.
"Oh, Lord," he growled under his breath. Why had he ever accepted this damned peace mission? The Minbari hadn't tried again since he'd been there: they obviously hadn't had very high hopes for it.
At the moment, the door cycled open and the warrior, whose name Sheridan had managed to work out as Sonovar, entered. Behind him, silhouetted in the light from the corridor or wherever they were, was a shorter figure in a heavy cloak. It was hooded, and it reminded him-
*The one in the corridor. With Lenonn's body.* His wits came back to him. *Their leader.*
The figure stepped inside, moving slowly. Leisurely, it seemed to him. Superiority was clear in their stride. The hood moved a little as they studied his face, and Sheridan caught a glimpse of bright green eyes shining with interest behind the dull cloak. They, whoever it was, spoke. The warrior answered, beligerently it seemed, but he was overruled. A moment later the lights came up, and the cloaked figure stepped even closer to Sheridan. To his surprise, he was just as curious about it as it was about him: he felt something strange about it, about this encounter. As if it were the beginning... the start of something huge, something world-shaping.
//Find somewhere else for him to stay. Quarters somewhere.// Delenn looked over the Human again, her oft-hidden curiosity coming to the fore. //Don't bother clearing them. He isn't leaving.//
Sonovar bowed his head. //Yes, Satai.// When her gaze remained on him, it became evident that he was supposed to carry out the order immediately. However, loyal as he was, he was not about to leave his leader alone with the enemy, no matter how battered and exhausted. //Satai,// he reminded tentatively. Delenn looked up, about to reprimand him, but finally simply nodded. She turned to the door, stepping out of the portal before glancing just once more back at the Human. She couldn't resist; she felt drawn to this male, this - this enemy. She raised her head slightly and for a split second, unrecognised by either, their eyes met and the Universe, in its own way, began the slow binding of two souls.
* * * * *
Sheridan entered his new cell, or whatever it was, with some trepidation. It had become clear to him once the leader had left that whatever the orders were, they weren't fatal. Therefore, if he was not in danger of losing his rather mortal grasp on life, the question became: what was going to happen to him?
The thing he had realised shortly after he stopped being overly glad that he was, for the forseeable future, alive (even soldiers see more use in living than dying) was that he wasn't a lot of use to them if they couldn't communicate. After that, it had come to him in fairly short order that therefore, they had to have some way of communicating. Thinking of Lenonn, he considered the idea that there were other Minbari who spoke English. It was a disturbing prospect: it meant the Minbari had resources that Earth had no idea about. They certainly had very little grasp of the Minbari language or as the peace envoy, even unofficially, Sheridan felt sure he would have known about it.
After the warrior had placed him in his new surroundings - 'placed' being the delicate word for it - he was surprised to be left alone. The feeling generally came about due to the Minbari-ness of the room; it was decorated in distinctive style, and other than the lack of sharpened implements he could see no sign of any changes. It was as if they expected him to...
"Oh, Lord." He sat down hard on that revelation. He'd heard - unreliably - that the Minbari tortured their prisoners. He hadn't believed it at the time, but still... He swallowed hard, and with an effort stood up. If they were watching him, which he had no doubt they were, they were not going to have the satisfaction of seeing him crack under the pressure of a rumour... Even if it happened to be true.
He circled the room slowly; exploring, learning, mentally noting everything that he could garner about their lives, their culture. They didn't seem overly warlike, but then he supposed there wouldn't be much in the way of weaponry supplied to a prisoner's cabin.
The kitchen looked relatively normal; there was a carafe on the table, but Sheridan didn't touch it. He knew without looking that no utensils would have been provided: enemy or not, the Minbari were smart. However, the bedroom gave him a small shock - the bed was hiked up against the wall at an odd angle that would make it impossible to use, and the only linen provided was a small triangular cushion that served as a pillow. The Minbari, Sheridan had noticed, had an affection for triangles. It even stretched to the walls, one of which he found particularly interesting. The wall itself had a triangular niche cut out, surrounded by a strange decorative arrangement, and in the centre was a space for a small candle. The candle, obviously, was missing. Nevertheless he found it somewhat intriguing, wondering what the elaborate arrangement was used for.
There was movement behind him and he swung round, battle-ready. It was the warrior, Sonovar, and the short, grey-cloaked figure from earlier. In the light, Sheridan could see that the cloak was designed carefully so as to hide every trace of the individual underneath; he could have worn it and the resulting picture would have been the same.
Delenn looked up at the Human. He was tall, much taller than her, and he seemed perfectly ready to attack if it became necessary. Sonovar, in response, had stepped in front of his Satai and Delenn was obliged to walk around him to keep the prisoner in sight. *Prisoner,* she thought with a trace of distaste. The Humans took prisoners: Minbari considered it a weakness, and for warriors especially it was the sign of a job sloppily done.
*But still,* she reminded herself, *this may be our only chance to stop this genocide.* For that, she could ignore her personal distaste.
Sheridan regarded his visitor warily as they stepped closer. 'Stepped' probably wasn't the right term; whoever it was under the robes seemed to flow with a gentle grace that was totally at odds to the impression he was trying to form. He wanted to believe that these Minbari were vicious, uncontrolled killers; that they were without morals or conscience or even, perhaps, intelligence. This robed leader was contradicting that, and he didn't like it all that much. He liked it even less when they drew up close to him, barely two yards from where he was standing, and studied him intently. He disliked being the subject of someone else's thoughts, and the hostile atmosphere wasn't helping a whole lot.
Delenn stepped back from the Human, keeping him within her vision. She didn't need to look back to know Sonovar was still there, and so all her attention was on the man before her. *He doesn't look like a killer,* was the first thing that came to mind. He *must* have killed some of her people - it was war, and he was a soldier. But he didn't look like a murderer, and she doubted many other Earthers did either. It raised a mountainous pang of guilt, but she quashed it immediately. She'd had a lot of practice at that.
She circled him again, all the time taking in new information about him. He was taller almost than Sonovar, though not as tall as Dukhat: he had curiously light hair, one of the Human's strangest characteristics although, from the Centauri, she was familiar with it in some fashion. His face was, by some standards, handsome, and even considering his situation he looked remarkably composed. And his eyes... they were a bright blue, the colour of the noon sky in high summer, and they seemed to call to her the same way they had in the corridor. Impulsively, she stood back against the couch and reached for her hood, flipping it back.
Sheridan blinked, lost for a moment in the gentle, curious eyes of his captor. He hadn't really considered the notion of their being female, but that was most definitely what she was - and a striking one at that. The crest that grew from the base of her skull was smooth, much less intricate than the warrior's, and a light grey. She had no eyebrows, but it didn't look wrong; her skin was smooth, and she looked young... almost too young, to be leading an entire people. Her features were without doubt alien, but there was something distractingly different about her eyes. They were green, alive with colour and curiosity - but vaguely dulled with guilt, despair. It was as if a shadow passed over her face and for a moment she looked away, unable to face him. It struck Sheridan that this was the leader not only of the war, but of the failed peace. She was desperate, she had lost, and she was tired of war as much as the Humans. And try as he might, when he saw the regret in her eyes he could not hate her. It made him angry, but he could not hate her.
For the first time, Delenn met her prisoner's gaze fully. And for the first time, she felt a small twinge of hope. //Sonovar.//
Without turning, the warrior answered. He was poised on the balls of his feet, balanced in the traditional hand-to-hand combat position. //Yes, Satai?//
//NOW!// She almost bellowed the word, whirling on him in anger and opening her back to the Earther. Sonovar started, but the Human made no move. Instead, more to his own surprise than theirs, he found himself moving off a little and waiting. The warrior looked once at Delenn, then him, and nodded rather uncertainly.
//I will be outside, Satai.// Delenn waved him out, annoyed that he did not follow her order immediately and even more angry that he did not feel what she felt from this stranger. If anyone could save the peace Lenonn had died for, it would be this man.
Only then did it occur to her that only Lenonn had learnt their language, and had spent months in the learning. She had snippets of words, but nothing useful. She was trapped between a war that spoke in her own tongue, and peace in a language she knew nothing of.
"Pretty loyal guy you've got there," Sheridan observed. Delenn frowned: the sounds were words, but they made no sense to her. There was a moment of despair, and she saw quite clearly that the Earther realised their predicament as clearly as she did.
Sheridan sighed, and leaned back against the wall. It would be impossible to do *anything* if they could not get past the language barrier. He'd rot and die in this Minbari hell-hole of a ship, while it ran through space carving up his people, his family, his world. *I won't let that happen,* he swore vehemently. *Not while I have a chance to stop it.* He thought of Anna, and all those old movies she enjoyed so much...
And on impulse, finding it distinctly humourous, he fell back on the old-style way of working around such situations. He sat down, warily, on the nearest couch. Never taking his eyes from the Minbari, he moved his hands slowly. "John," he said firmly, tapping his chest.
Delenn looked at him; he repeated the gesture. "John," she said uncertainly. His name? It must be. Gingerly, she repeated the movement and spoke aloud. "Delenn."
"Delenn?" John, as she now knew he was called, nodded. "Nice name."
He made her name a query, but she didn't understand the other words. But, she reminded herself, even one word was progress.
Sheridan looked around, trying to figure out what to say next. At least now he knew her name - that, at least, was progress. He wasn't surprised when she continued to watch him; taking advantage of the fact, he went to the carafe on the table. It seemed an age since he had had anything to eat or drink.
He lifted the jug and looked around for a glass. There was none. *Oh, great. More charades.* "Water," he said. Delenn gave him a blank look. "Water," he repeated, pointing to the carafe. She seemed to know what he was getting at, but the idea wasn't as simple as he'd first thought. She stepped up to him and carefully - obviously she didn't trust him yet - touched the container.
"Water," she repeated dutifully. Sheridan frowned and shook his head, but that also received an uncomprehending stare.
"No. Water." He dipped a finger into the liquid and held it up. "This is water."
//Ne'a,// Delenn said softly. It seemed to click for him then that the idea would work both ways.
"Neya," he repeated. His accent was wobbly, seeing that he couldn't discern hers, but he thought he got the word out.
//Ni. Ne'a.// She put an accent on the 'a' and he said it better the second time.
"Ni. Is that 'no'?"
//Ni?// She looked up at him, confused. John shook his head.
//Ni.// She considered it for a moment, then shook her head. //Ni,// and shook her head again. She paused, and looked to him for approval. Sheridan almost laughed at the irony and nodded.
"Yes." He nodded again. "Yes. Right. Correct."
"Y-yess," Delenn answered. Then she too nodded her head. "Yes?" Sheridan nodded. She took a leap and tried what she imagined was the right word in Adronato. //Vish.//
"Vi-sh," John repeated. Delightfully, she nodded, and he was struck by the innocence of her. He had no *idea* how old she was, but right now she seemed nearly a child. It wasn't a good quality in a warrior, and he suddenly felt sorry for this Minbari woman. She didn't deserve to be leading a war fleet - she should be a scholar, or a priestess. There was too much life and curiosity in her to let it waste away committing the atrocities of her people.
//Vish,// Delenn answered. //Jhin.//
"Jine. Good?" he guessed. Delenn made no reply. He decided mentally to stick to things they could point at for now. "Water," he said again. He made a motion to pour the jug, and Delenn looked at him in alarm. It was strange, the movement he was making, as if he was about to pour water on the table. Delenn wasn't stupid, however, and it only took two tries before she realised what he wanted. Withdrawing a safe distance to the kitchen, she opened a cabinet and took out two glasses.
John looked at her with the hint of approval when she brought them back to the table. She put them down, and he picked one up.
"Glass," he said firmly. Delenn repeated, chosing not to confuse the issue with the Adronato words for now. It was more important that they could converse - the language wasn't important. He nodded, and she understood that she had it right. He poured the water into his 'glass', and then into the other when she pushed it forward. No doubt her warriors would consider her crazy to sit down and drink with the enemy, but if she listened to her warriors' opinions she would get nowhere.
Sheridan, however, found it more than a little strange to sit opposite this woman - this *Minbari* woman, and drink with her. He was fairly sure it wasn't poisoned, and when she took a sip it reassured him on that score, but the situation was uncomfortable to say the least. This was, after all, the woman who was controlling the destruction of his people, who it seemed would not rest until the Human race was extinct... and yet, when he looked at her, there was no hatred in her eyes. She seemed more accepting of his opinion than the embodiment of it.
Cautiously, he reached out and picked up the glass again.
He pulled out the chair and with slow, deliberate movements, sat down at the table across from her.
It was the hardest thing he had to do in the entire war, but he lifted his glass and drank.
And the peace talks began.
* * * * *
It was a few days until he saw her again. It was an *uncomfortable* few days until he saw her again; not because of her, but because he had a hard time adapting to living in Minbari surroundings. The bed was the worst: it was impossible to sleep on, and he switched to sleeping on the slightly-more-comfortable couch rather than risk breaking his neck falling from the sloping monstrosity.
He was sleeping, or at least attempting that state, when she opened the door. He faced it - a wise precaution, for no matter how innocent Delenn seemed, he didn't trust her people - and so stood up immediately. This time there was no escort with her, and he saw that the corridor behind her was dark. "Must be nighttime," he muttered to himself. Delenn frowned in confusion, but let it pass. She seemed unsettled - although in a being as alien as she was, he reminded himself, the reaction could have been anything.
She was unsettled.
"This - war -is - a - mis-take." The words were said so clearly that for a moment he was more stunned by her use of English than their import. It came to him relatively quickly, however, and he struggled for a reply she would understand.
"*Yes,*" she replied firmly. She lifted her head, and her eyes glistened. Then her lips parted, and he had to sit down again. "I. Want. Peace."
"Peace," he reaffirmed. He honestly tried, but it still sounded sceptical to his ears. He hoped Delenn wouldn't hear it: her convictions might rest solidly on his replies. "Yes."
She came to the opposite couch and sat down slowly. "Peace." She reached out a hand to him; a gesture, not intending for him to take it, but to indicate him.
"Yes." Sheridan nodded, keeping his voice steady as he spoke for Humanity's salvation. "We want peace too."
Delenn suddenly smiled, and he was dazzled by it. Even Anna didn't smile that way: with total conviction, total joy from her heart. It was the first time he had seen Delenn really express any emotion, and it made her seem all the more real... as a person. It had been only a few days, but he was shocked to find that he already considered her a person, not just an enemy. He didn't even think about everything she had done - he shook the thoughts off. Personal feelings aside, he had set out for peace and he would get it.
Things went much faster after that. Sheridan still wasn't sure that Delenn spoke for all of her people, but she spoke for herself and she spoke from her heart. He told himself that she was their leader, that she spoke for them whether or not they agreed, but deep down in his heart he wasn't sure it was true. Truly, after nearly five months aboard her ship it didn't seem to matter. At first part of him had wanted to be out there, fighting, but it had faded with time and determination had taken over. He wanted peace, Earth *needed* peace, and he was doing all he could. It worried him from time to time, but Delenn was capable if nothing else. He was sure that when the time came, she would convince them.
"Failing that," he chuckled, "she'll just command them." It had come to his attention that the Minbari served Delenn not out of complete devotion, but out of fear. She could obviously be a formidable woman, and although he had only seen her in action with her crew a few times, he could testify it was true.
"John." He turned around, not at all surprised to see her in the doorway. As always, Sonovar was outside. Sheridan could just see the warrior's shoulder and crest around the corner of the door. Since her nighttime visit Delenn had not again come unguarded to his cabin, nor had he been allowed to leave his cabin without her and her escort, although he privately believed she was tired of the constant supervision.
"Hello," he said formally. The table where they worked was as they had left it the day before. Papers, in English and Adronato, were strewn over it. Delenn had apparently given Lenonn the means to learn English, and with his lack of success she had invoked Sheridan's help as a tutor. He saw the sense in it: neither could agree to anything substantial if they didn't speak the same language, but it was still time-consuming and he hated it. Not the work; if he was honest with himself (which he wasn't) he actually enjoyed it, but he knew that every day meant more deaths... on both sides. He didn't like the Minbari, but he saw what the continuing war did to Delenn and he didn't like that either. To her credit, she had shared everything he wanted to know; casualty reports, mostly. The first weeks had seen him ask for reports on exact areas and ships, but he had given up on that. It only made him feel more helpless.
"We are not without help," Delenn said quietly, as if reading his thoughts. She could see the heartache in his expression, and it hurt. She had grown to like John. There had been a period, when he revealed his full name to her, when she had stopped coming to him; it had passed. She hadn't liked it, but it had been more from the fact that she knew him to be different to what they said of Starkiller. It had taken her a week, and she had been determined not to go back to his damned cabin, but when she had walked into Dukhat's sanctuary...
:::He is the One:::
Delenn blinked, anger clouding her words. //I do not care. He is Starkiller!//
Kosh said nothing. Ulkesh was not there, but Delenn perversely wished he was. She believed that the other Vorlon would have sided with her; Kosh was something of a renegade among his people, she gathered.
//He is STARKILLER!// she said again. Anger coursed through her: she was shaking. //He murdered my people-//
:::It must end:::
She turned to face him, and before she could speak she was held in a glaring beam of light. She saw her ships, ploughing through the Earth defenses as if they were shattered crystal, obliterating the surface until it sparkled with life no longer. Then they turned, graceful as they had come, and left in hoards to chase down the refugees. Lasers fired: ships were carved like *temshwee* carcasses, spilling life. They fired again and again, Nial ships head-to-head with Human fighters until there was nothing left. The Human race was dead.
And then something dark, something horrible, something *monstrous,* flew across her vision. It screamed, and it was a howl of furious joy. It was *alive*, and it was evil.
A ship, one of hers, flew into sight: the nightmare spider spun on its axis and obliterated the cruiser with a shot. The screams of dying people, *her* people, filled her ears, and she realised with a horrid certainty that it would come true - and it would be her fault.
When she had returned, almost at a run, to Sheridan's cabin, he had apologised almost the second she was through the door. She had come to understand, after hours of painful discussion and translation, that he was more honourable than she had thought. He had acted not to destroy, although yes, it had been a priority, but moreover to save the lives of his people. It was the same motive that had brought him to Lenonn, and the same that motivated her. He was still distant, and still untrusting, but it could be dealt with. It would take time to erase what she had done to him and his world, but for the first time Delenn dared imagine it possible.
"We will succeed," she told him again. She had said it numerous times, and every time it seemed he was closer to believing it.
Sheridan smiled very slightly at her words. "I guess so."
Delenn couldn't help a small, confused smile. "You do much guessing," she told him lightly. He even grinned at that.
"I don't like to commit. It's a failing of mine."
She sat down, and he took his preferred seat across from her. He never sat, or stood, at her side. They were always facing each other, a subconscious affirmation of their status as opposing parties.
"You must commit here." She stabbed a finger at the all-important document: their drafted peace terms. "Your people have none else to speak."
"For them," he finished.
"I do not understand."
He smiled. "To speak for them, you should have said. And it's 'no one', not none. That's a different word."
Delenn sighed. "Your speech is difficult."
"You don't have to be flawless," he reminded her. "Just enough to speak to the government." Now it was his turn to sigh as he picked up her latest batch of reports. "*Damn* it!" He shoved the chair back, and it clattered to the floor. "This has to *stop,* Delenn!"
"I know," she assured him tiredly. His anger always made her feel guilty: it was her fault, her war. It didn't matter that she had tried to stop it: she had caused it. That was blame enough.
"Delenn," he said urgently, "can't we - can't we *do* something? Can't we start *now*? Pretty soon we're going to hit Earth, and then God help my people." He threw the reports on a low table and sank into the couch. "Promise me," he said hoarsely, "*promise* me that when we get to Earth, you'll let me go. Promise me I'll fight with my people. I want to fight with my people."
She didn't speak. She couldn't; she just nodded. "I promise it. But-"
"I can do it." Anger made him irrational. "Don't you worry. Besides, one more won't make a difference, will it? Not with your damned invincible weapons, your superior technology. We won't stand a chance."
"Please..." She turned away, refusing to provoke his anger.
"You're not supposed to plead," he accused her. "Not *you.* *We*'re the ones dying, fighting for survival against a damned undefeatable enemy. You could stop it, if you wanted to. You have no reason to plead for survival - you're all safe and untouchable, your damned Council, all so bloody uninvolved-"
"John," she said softly, but he shook his head furiously and launched himself at the table. It was light and fell easily, and she backed away from him. He had done this on several occasions, and she was glad she had removed the surveillance from his rooms. He had more sense than to hurt her, but the other Councillors hardly saw him in the same light.
He swung round to her, anger and despair almost glowing in his eyes, on his face. For the first time, she faced the possibility that she might have been wrong. At that moment, he seemed very capable of hurting her.
"Damned Minbari!" He snarled at her, stalking her, backing her up against the altar. "Bloody, superior barbarians. That's all you care about, isn't it? Your superiority, your being better than everyone else. Well maybe you're not. Because you know what? Being able to kill someone doesn't make you better than they are. It just makes you *bigger.* There are people," he swung an arm in what was possibly the vague direction of Earth, "people, out there, dying. *Dying,* because *you* were angry for *one moment*! Is it worth it? Is it, Minbari?" He was holding her by the shoulders, shaking her. "*IS IT*?!"
"NO!" Tears came to her eyes, the first in almost a year, and she sank against the wall in fear and regret. "No, it's not worth it. It's not..."
He let go of her and she sank to the floor, forcing herself not to cry. Sheridan stared at her, as if she had suddenly become Human before his eyes. His anger was gone, and he felt horrible - as if he had been caught beating up his kid sister. Without thinking, he dropped onto the floor in front of her and held her shoulders, gently this time. She started to cry properly, and he instinctively let her come into his arms. It was only when he felt the cold, hard touch of bone on his cheek that he remembered who, and *what,* she was. He pulled away, horror, disgust and confusion marring his expression that a moment before had been serene as he held her. He stood up, backing away from her; she looked up at him, entreating, as he stumbled into the couch and sat down in shock.
"I-" she started, but the words wouldn't come.
"Don't," he whispered quietly. "Just- don't. No one else knows." He looked up from staring at his hands, as if they weren't his, and his eyes were hard. "Keep it that way." He stood up and went into the washroom, and she didn't need him to speak to know that he expected her to leave. She followed him a little way: he closed the door, and she turned and fled.
* * * * *
John Sheridan was trying very hard to sleep. He hadn't rested properly since being brought aboard this damned ship, but tonight was different. He was sure something was happening among the Minbari, and he knew they would be reaching Earth soon. He'd even had a visit from Delenn that afternoon, which had become unusual. It had been almost ten days since she had left his cabin, and although he had had messages from her a few times - brought by Minbari who, he had been surprised to find, thought the same way Delenn did - he had not seen her in person for all of that time. He had been on the Valen'tha, as it was called, for over five months now and he was getting more than restless, He was growing angry, and he was growing worried.
He would have liked to say that the war worried him more than anything, but it wasn't true - at least in a direct sense. It was Delenn.
He still wasn't sure what had happened that day. He knew he hadn't believed her to be anyone else - Anna for example - and he knew he had felt something more than compassion for her. But he had a hard enough time calling her 'friend' - *how* could he feel anything else for her? There was Anna, for one... besides, she was *Minbari!* Interspecies relations, yes; relation*ships*, no. It didn't happen.
But it *had* happened.
And John Sheridan, who was hopeless with relationships at the best of times, had not the faintest idea what to do about it. He didn't *want* Delenn, that was for sure, even if he could-
"Ugh." He sat up, trying to feel disgusted. The fact was, he wasn't. He felt a little strange - all right, a lot strange - curious, confused, even a little angry... but no, not disgusted. That only angered him even more, until he resolved that he would get no sleep for yet another night. He stood up and poured a drink, opening one of the food packets Delenn's messenger had brought him. He was about to eat when the door opened, and he looked up.
Delenn stood before him, dressed in her formal Grey Council robes.
He set down the spoon-like implement the Minbari used to eat, and stepped out from the kitchen. "Water?" he offered.
Delenn shook her head. "Come with me."
Sheridan stood his ground, but he picked up his jacket. "Why?"
She looked around, as if afraid someone was behind her. "Not now. Please."
He sat down. "Tell me why." She sighed and made a low sound of exasperation.
//We have reached Earth.// He stood up, and she smiled ruefully. //I thought you might react. Quickly.// She extended a hand, but he bypassed it and slipped out of the door around her. A flicker of sadness touched her eyes, but she had no other reaction.
"This way." Again, she reached out to him, but he stayed away from physical contact and she allowed her hand to drop. "The Council is convening. We only have this chance." She flashed him a tight smile, but she was frowning. //Remember what we agreed on,// she reminded him. He nodded tightly, recognising the importance of the moment. They could present the peace agreement to the Council, but only once. He would be executed or released to fight, and Delenn...
"Uh... Delenn?" He stopped, and she was forced to stop with him.
"What is it?" She glanced down the corridor. //We have to hurry.//
"I, uh..." He sighed and looked into her eyes with sudden sincerity. "I just wanted to say thank you. For what you're doing... what you've done for my people." He swallowed. "For me."
She looked up at him and for a brief, irrational moment he saw her differently: radiant all in white, her face obscured by a veil.
The moment passed, its only remnant a flickering smile on her lips. "Thank you," she returned gently. "For trusting me. For not - not being..."
"Prejudiced?" he guessed. She nodded.
Sheridan looked away and smiled very slightly, sadly. "Then I'm not worthy of your thanks, Delenn. And I - I guess... I'm sorry for that."
She smiled, and she did something she had never done before: reaching out to him with one hand, she touched his face lightly with her fingertips. He didn't move away; her touch was gentle, and it carried a charge he had never felt before. When he looked back much, much later, he knew that that had been The Moment, and for her as well. For that moment, the galaxy stood still around them and everything - race, war, prejudice - was irrelevant. It was their moment in time, and it lasted forever.
"Come. We have to hurry." Delenn's words broke the silence, and they were back in their warring world. She reached for his hand, and he pulled it away: she looked up at him, and held out her hand. When he made no move, she took his firmly in hers and led him through the maze of corridors to the Grey Council chambers. He made no protest, and although he maintained a distant reluctance she felt his fingers clasp hers. It was frightening, and exciting; it made no sense, but it didn't matter. She didn't want it to.
She pushed those thoughts away as the door to the Council chamber neared, and turned back to him.
//Come inside, quietly, and stay in the shadows.// With a final encouragement, she stepped into the circle. Fear was banished, and she was Satai again. No one would stand in her way.
//We approach their homeworld, Delenn,// came a voice in the warrior's dialect. It was Morann. //The defenses are known to our cruisers: they will not stand a chance.//
//No,// she agreed softly. Then her voice hardened. //No, they will not. And that is why this must stop, now. Before there are no chances left, for any of us.//
Morann stared as if she had taken leave of her senses. Then a cold smile touched his eyes, and he sneered. //You have been taken in, Delenn. By that Human, the Starkiller you have given asylum.//
Sheridan forced himself to stay quiet. Delenn had given him asylum? He wasn't quite sure how to respond to that.
//It is not his entreaty, Morann. It is mine.// She circled the gathered Councillors, her eyes cold and peering, it seemed, into their very souls. //He is here because there must be a Human to represent their people if we are to have peace. He is here because *I* requested it, and because *I* am giving our peoples the chance to coexist. He is here as an example to the rest, on our side and theirs, that hate and prejudice and fear *can* be overcome. If I, who began this war, and he, who is the greatest of their warriors, can make peace, how can you not also?
//Sheridan is not a barbarian. He is a honourable man who has faced death - his and others. He chose to avoid it, in any way possible; that is how Humans are. They do not pass beyond easily, nor do they do they allow others to do so. I have learnt much from Sheridan, and the sum of it is that *we must not do this.* This genocide,// she stared Morann full in the eyes, //this atrocity in the name of justice must not continue. In Lenonn's name, in *Dukhat's* name, it must stop now.//
Sheridan was stunned. Her voice, so soft and gentle and curious, had become a iron bar in the hands of an Amazon. He understood only some of what she said, but he'd still never heard anyone speak the way she did. He could see other members of the Council wavering, and two crossed to her side. He realised, with a touch of ironic humour, that he was watching an old-fashioned Mexican standoff. Three on one side, six on the other, the balance of the Grey Council was faltering.
And Delenn wasn't done yet. Her voice was her weapon, and from iron it became a glistening steel blade; weaving in and out of the Councillors, bringing to light every doubt, every uncertainty.
//This is genocide. Do none of you see? Are you so blinded by your superiority, your anger, that you no longer see the truth? We are *above* this! To exterminate an entire species is far more barbaric than what we claim they have done. Is it so hard for you to believe that we have made a mistake?// Copelann and Jenimer were looking distinctly unsure of themselves now; Racine, the third of the worker caste, stepped hesitantly over to where Rathenn and Dhaliri stood with her. It was four to five, and Morann's carefully held majority was weakening. Rathenn had agreed with her from the start, and Dhaliri, who wasn't all that strong-willed, had been so shocked by Lenonn's death that he had quickly come around to their thinking.
Morann, however, was determined - as warriors will - to go out fighting. //Are you saying," he sneered with a cold glint in his eyes, //that Dukhat is not worthy of our actions, Delenn?//
//No. I am saying that *we* are not worthy of them.// She ignored him, turning to the two workers who remained. //I knew Dukhat. I was his pupil, his aide and his closest friend, and I know that he would not have wanted it this way.// She turned to what appeared to be a screen hidden in the blackness, and Sheridan saw an image appear on it. The male was obviously Minbari, lifesize and much taller than Delenn. She barely reached chest-height, but there was nothing intimidating in his posture; if anything, he was warm toward her. The Minbari spoke in his own language, and there was a respectful silence among the Council. It was a short speech, but it had a profound effect. Jenimer, who had been growing more and more restless, raised his head high and crossed to Delenn.
//You were chosen to guide us, Delenn.// He turned to the others. //I say, let her guide us in Dukhat's wishes now.// There was a murmur of agreement, but Morann and the warriors still stood firm. Shakat, Delenn noticed, was looking vaguely uncertain, but he wasn't about to abandon his position.
//The warriors are prideful,// she reminded them all. //It cannot be seen that they were mistaken, for they fear it will remind us of their mortality.// She stepped up to Shakat, concentrating on the weaker prey. //But is it not better to admit the mistake, and atone in so doing? No one on this Council is omniscient; no one knows what will be. But there are always consequences. Here, they may be the death of an entire race if we do not stop it.//
//*They* are the ones who were mistaken,// Morann snarled. //They should not have presumed to attack us. We are more powerful-//
//Power does not equate to wisdom, Morann,// Delenn cut in with a half-shout. //Being more powerful does not make us better than them. It only makes us *bigger.* We are bullies, Morann, all of us. I freely admit my mistake, and I will be punished for it when the time comes. I accept that punishment - but I cannot allow this to continue.//
The warrior lifted his head and smiled. It was an ugly expression. //What do you intend to do, Delenn? The warriors will follow their leader. *That* is me.//
In her mind, everything fitted into place for Delenn. Morann was mad: mad with anger, mad with bloodlust and a sickening belief that the Humans were there to be exterminated. He was a maniac, and she had no way of removing him from the Council without losing her hold on the others. One personal shot too far, and she would be dismissed to leave him in full control.
//The warriors will obey the Council,// Jenimer protested. Morann laughed, and it was not a pleasant sound.
Delenn turned to Jenimer. //They will follow Morann, because most of them feel as Morann does. It has been too long since they tasted the blood of a fight, and they have lost their way. They persist in the belief that they can destroy everything that is below us.// Now she turned on the three warriors. //But you are intelligent, Morann, Shakat, Hedronn. You know that if everything beneath us is removed, there will be nothing left. And,// she turned to look directly at Sheridan, even though the others could not see him, //I am not even sure that the Humans are beneath us.//
This time it was Hedronn who laughed. //You are not serious, Delenn. They cannot possibly be better than we are - not when we slaughter them like flies!//
Delenn smiled to herself: without realising it, Hedronn had strengthened her case immensely. She saw Racine and Jenimer blanch at his words and knew they would follow her. Even Copelann, still supporting the warriors, seemed uncomfortable with the analogy.
She smiled outwardly, easily. //Thank you, Hedronn.// Her voice was loaded with irony. //I did not say the Humans were better than us. But if we do not give them a chance, how can we discover if we are *equals*?//
//You are not serious, Delenn!// Shakat seemed horrified by the idea. //They are barbaric!//
//I thought we had settled this.// Delenn's tone was fierce. //Is misunderstanding barbaric? Or is 'slaughtering like flies' an entire civilisation barbaric?// She stepped in close to him, her eyes blazing. //If you do not know, then you should not be on this Council... and you are even more blind than I had imagined.//
He opened his mouth, trying to speak, but before he had a chance to answer Delenn played her trump card. From the folds of her robe she withdrew a triangular object, set with some kind of metallic piece in the centre. It glowed in her hands briefly, but then subsided. The others regarded her suspiciously.
//This is the triluminary that was used on the day of my initation into this Council. The day our great leader died, and this tragic war began.// She took a leap of faith, hoping she had heard Dukhat's dying words correctly. //You know that it will show us a Minbari soul, one who is connected to Valen. You know that it glows for me; therefore I ask another to take it.// She turned and handed the precious device to a shocked Copelann. //I will not be accused of deception in this matter,// she told him firmly. He nodded; for all his uncertainty, he was still Satai.
"John," she called in English. He looked up: he had been occupied by her exchange with Copelann. "This is your part," she told him. "Step into the light."
He had mad no more than two steps when Morann exploded.
//This is sacrilege, Delenn! You would bring our greatest enemy into our most sacred-//
//Be quiet, Morann.//
He was so shocked by her offhand words that he did as she asked. Sheridan moved to where Delenn stood, trying not seem unsure and out of place in the huge black chamber. He had no idea what was about to happen, but he trusted Delenn - at least a little way - to ensure his safety.
"Do what I say," she told him. He nodded, unswerved by the bluntness of her instruction: she didn't have the words to be more polite, although she was trying and was amazingly proficient. She knew much more than Lenonn had, although he had had little time to prepare and had been much older than Delenn.
"Stand here." She pointed to a spot directly between the two groups of Minbari. Sheridan felt more than uncomfortable standing there and stood sideways to keep both factions, although particularly the warriors, in his sights. Delenn seemed to recognise his discomfort, but she had no words to reassure him. Instead, she gestured to Copelann.
Morann started to protest, and Hedronn with him. //Delenn-//
//Fine.// She stepped in front of the triluminary. //Do it now, if you require proof. Soon you will have all the proof you need.// She stood straight, tall and proud, and Copelann had no choice but to proceed. It shone brightly when Delenn reached out her hand to it, but none of them were greatly surprised. When she turned to Sheridan, however, Morann again tried to intervene. He moved up towards the Human, and Sheridan started to react - then stopped, realising what he wanted. He wanted to show that the Earthers were barbaric, that they could not be trusted.
He stood his ground, unmoving. He fully expected to be knocked off his feet: he hadn't had the chance to go hand-to-hand with a Minbari, but he knew their strength was considerably more than his.
He hadn't counted on his protector, though. Delenn stepped between them, her eyes blazing with the light of anger as she stared directly at Morann.
//Even here, Morann? Would you profane our most sacred ritual with the spilt blood of one who would not harm you? Are you so afraid?//
He balked angrily at that.//A warrior does not fear.//
//Good. Then you will watch.// She smiled beautifically. Sheridan understood only a few words of the language they were speaking - Vik, if he remembered right - but he knew from her face that she had pulled off an amazing coup. //Copelann,// she commanded. He stepped forward, and she stood back. The other Satai held the triluminary at arm's length toward Sheridan. "Touch," she commanded him. There wasn't much he could do but obey.
Shakat backed away in horror as a spark of light spread from the centre of the device to engulf it, as it had for Delenn. Copelann's hands shook as he held the triluminary; Sheridan moved away without touching it, following Delenn's example.
//Trickery!// Morann shouted. //He is tricking us! The triluminary has been tampered with!// The accusation hung in the air, but Delenn made no comment. There was nothing worth saying.
//It cannot be, Morann,// Shakat said in a wavering voice. //How can it be tampered with? We do not even know how it *works*.// He looked to Delenn. //*I* will command the warriors to cease fire, Delenn.// He looked at Hedronn and the other warrior, although obviously not happy, bowed his head in agreement.
//It must be,// he said quietly.
//No!// Morann stared at them. //What if it is only this one? What if none of the others are like him?//
//Then we will bring others aboard,// Rathenn countered. //Is that acceptable, Delenn?//
Her part done, the youngest Satai stepped back. //I do not decide for the Council alone, Rathenn. If you wish it, it can be done.//
//So be it. It must be soon: we are approaching their homeworld.//
Delenn nodded, turning to Sheridan. "We approach your planet," she said. His reaction was one of alarm; she shook her head. "There will be peace. We will not fire." She turned to Rathenn. He nodded, realising what she wanted, and the channel opened. Around them, a 360-degree viewscreen seemed to shimmer into place from the ceiling. Sheridan looked around in wonder: it was a little disorienting to seemingly stand in the centre of a space fleet when you knew you were actually on board a ship.
Delenn's voice rang clear across the room, and Sheridan had no doubt that the every ship could hear her. //All ships, cease fire. Cease fire, and close all gunports. Repeat, all gunports.// For a moment, an immense sadness came over her and she spoke softly to herself. //This time, there will be no mistakes.//
Shakat spoke after her, repeating the order to the warriors. Sheridan wasn't surprised to see that it was obeyed immediately without question. He watched with fascination as the ships around them, elegant blue in the scarlet clouds of hyperspace, began to comply. He was so busy taking in the scene, he didn't notice Delenn move away to speak with the rest of the Council. It was only when she put a hand hesitantly on his shoulder that he turned and saw them looking at him. For a moment, horror swept through him: he had been used. He was no longer needed, and they were considering what to do with him.
Then Delenn spoke in that soft lilt of hers, and he knew he hadn't really believed it. "The Council needs other proof. There is a ship that has brought us another Human from your system." She seemed concerned, he noticed. "You may stay, if you wish." It came to him again how very adept she had become at his language, but he ignored it.
"If you don't mind."
She smiled slightly, and he got the feeling she would only mind if he left. "The - visitor - will be brought here now." He nodded. She seemed for a moment to be lost for words, but she struggled through. "He will not know," she explained. "He will not remember this... this ship. Me. You." She gestured to the others. "Us."
He was confused, but he nodded in agreement. "If you say so."
"It is best," Delenn asserted. "He has spent no time with me." Sheridan wasn't sure if that was intentional or if she had meant to say something else. "It will be better."
Beginning to understand, he nodded. It would be easier on the guy if he didn't know he'd been abducted by the Minbari on the eve of peace. "Sure. If you think it'll be best." *Right now,* he thought with profound relief, *they could ask for the sun on a plate and I wouldn't mind.* It came to him that there was actually a ceasefire, and he wanted to either collapse or yell for joy. The Human race would survive! *And it's down to us.* The thought emerged unbidden into his mind. He and Delenn, probably the two most determined fighters at the beginning, had made the peace work. It was damned ironic, when you thought about it.
He didn't have a lot of time to think about it, though, for at the minute something that resembled a stretcher was brought in. On it lay a man who had obviously been through a lot. Sheridan felt for him; as a fellow soldier and a Human in the alien Minbari surroundings. He moved into the shadows as Delenn reached out and helped the man up: he was obviously drugged, probably so that he wouldn't remember anything, and was barely coherent. It was a horrible thing to do to a man, and Sheridan suddenly felt angry at the Grey Council. Even though it was over within an hour, the guy would still have a missing time in his life. Sheridan resolved to have an extensive discussion with Delenn about that.
"They are... convinced," she said quietly. He turned to look at her and nodded.
"You'll let him go, then?"
Sheridan sighed, glancing at the departing stretcher. "Good." A thought struck him, and he looked down at her. "What happens to me?"
Delenn clasped her hands in front of her, as if unsure what to say. He frowned.
"What's going to happen to me? Are you going to wipe my memory too? Kill me maybe? Shoot me out into hyperspace?"
//Ni!// The prospect seemed to upset her, and he realised with a little surprise that she had genuinely become attached to him. "No," she said, more softly. "There must be someone to speak... for them." She looked up, shyly it seemed to him.
"Them?" It only took him a few seconds. "Oh, right. Earth."
Sheridan stared at her. "Let me get this straight. You want me to be their ambassador?"
She seemed confused by his first question, but she ignored it as another strange idiom. "Yes. You will be the am-bass-a-dor. For Earth."
He whistled. "Geez, Delenn, it's a hell of a thing to spring on somebody-"
"It must be you." Her voice was urgent. "They will not accept another." She smiled. //Your reaction to Morann impressed them,// she told him in her own tongue. He understood, and nodded to show it. He made a mental note of the Minbari penchant for details.
"They think I'm the best option?"
"The *only* option," she corrected him. "Please, John."
He couldn't refuse her, but he wasn't about to say it. More importantly, at least for now, he couldn't refuse Earth. They needed someone to speak for them, and the Minbari were very choosy. If they wanted him, it seemed he would have to fill the role.
It was important. He nodded, and strode with her to the Council. Morann, he noticed, was standing between Rathenn and Shakat as if guarded. The others were arrayed in a semi-circle, awaiting his answer. He looked at Delenn, but she was standing with her people. She wanted him to do this on his own. He took a deep breath, and sealed his fate.
* * * * *
'*This is ISN, reporting directly from Earthdome in Geneva. The time for the Minbari fleet to arrive is almost here, and- wait, we're receiving reports that a cruiser has been sighted entering Earth space. They have apparently been seen heading towards Earth, bypassing the Jupiter colonies and Mars. So far, we have only reports of a lone ship, however it is possibly a scout...*'
David Sheridan watched the news report with only the briefest flicker of interest. He had given up on the war: it wasn't war any more, but slaughter. Only a miracle would save the Human race, and it hardly mattered. They'd received the official 'missing in action' report four months ago, and Nancy was taking it hard. She had been ill, and Anna's visits had decreased once word was sent which had only added to the pain. Liz had moved home for a while, but the atmosphere had been too much for her and she had gone to stay with Daniel, her fiance, visiting only every few days. This day, however, was different. Most of the family had gathered for what they believed would be their final hours together. He looked up as Nancy came down the stairs, escorted by her daughter and the young man who would become her husband. That thought reminded him of Anna and John, and he bowed his head to avoid showing his despair to his wife.
'*This is an ISN special report, brought to you exclusively from outisde Earthdome in Geneva, Switzerland, where the news has just come in of a ceasefire-*'
David stared at the screen as if it had just told him he was a Narn dung beetle. Nancy, thank God, was sitting down, but even then she began to shake with relief. Dan and Liz impulsively hugged each other, but David just stared at the reporter. She was saying something else, but over the jubliation of his family and the cheers in Geneva he couldn't hear it.
Then the picture changed, and he felt his heart thud like a piston. He sank into a chair, dumbstruck, with a huge grin on his face and tears rolling down his cheeks.
John was on the screen.
Dressed in his soldier's uniform, Sheridan felt more than a little uncomfortable as he stood in the Grey Council chambers, surrounded still by the image of space. This time, however, it was of his home system and there were no ships but his own. The report had obviously gone out, because there were starfuries performing amazing feats, most of which looked impossible around their cruisers in jubilation. Delenn, in what passed as Minbari formal wear, looked up at him with an almost amused expression at their antics.
"They're happy," he promised with a grin. "So am I."
Delenn smiled back, and he tried not to be totally disarmed by it. He failed. "We are all," she assured him. "Few of the ships were against peace. Many grew tired of war." She looked away, admitting sorrowfully, "They fought only for our order."
It was a hard thing to do, but he reached out and put a hand on her arm. "They stopped on your order too, remember." She smiled slightly and nodded, her head lifting. An aide appeared and spoke briefly with her; she nodded and they disappeared just as quickly.
"It is now."
Sheridan nodded and stepped forward. The other Council members, with the exception of Morann, stood in their loose semi-circle behind them, their faces covered. He and Delenn faced Earth, and for the first time they stood side by side. He had avoided that before, but the events of the past day had heightened his opinion of her even further. He had seen the risks and the chances she had taken for his people, and for him personally, and he was finally allowing himself to see her as a friend rather than an enemy. He had varying opinions of the other Councillors, although he was growing to respect Rathenn. They saw his hesitation, and respected his distance from them. He hated to admit it, but in the back of his mind he was warming to the Grey Council. Delenn had told him that her vote had decided the war, and he had guessed who had voted which way. He had been right, mostly, although he was surprised when she revealed that Shakat, the young warrior, had been against the idea, and even more so at the notion that Dhaliri, the weak-willed religious caste, had voted to pursue that course. He found it hardest to accept that *Delenn* had called for war, but he was putting it behind him. She had, at least, been honest with him from the start... or, as soon as she had the words to do so.
He squared his shoulders as the image before them wavered and they were presented with the president's face. She seemed inordinately pleased, he noted, but she was concealing it well. It was time for him to do the show.
"Madame President," he said with a slight incline of his head. "My name is Lieutenant John Sheridan, of the EAS *Lexington*. I have been nominated by the Minbari to speak for Earth's interests during these peace talks." He gestured slightly. "May I present Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari, who will represent her people." Delenn bowed formally, a gesture of great respect even if the Earth woman didn't recognise it as such. She had insisted not to be introduced as Satai, and although he didn't really understand Sheridan had complied with her wishes.
"Madame President," she started, following Sheridan's lead. "It is an honour to greet the leader of such a courageous people." She judged the woman's reaction carefully; she was obviously shocked to hear her enemy's voice in her own language, but other than that there was only profound interest and relief.
"Lieutenant Sheridan has taught me your language so that we may better understand each other during this important period." It wasn't exactly true, but they had decided to keep Minbari intelligence reports out of the picture. "It is our wish that you be compensated fully for the incursions we have made into your territory, and the terrible atrocities we have committed against your people." She was managing admirably, considering she had only the basic idea of what she was saying, Sheridan thought.
"The Minbari people will be represented in this matter by our Council, for which I have been chosen to speak." She glanced at Sheridan. "It is our wish that Lieutenant Sheridan represent his people. He has been granted asylum aboard our ship during this terrible war, and I have been assured that the same courtesy will be extended to us. It is our wish that we meet on neutral ground to formally agree the peace." She made it clear that peace was not only a possibility, but a certainty, and the Earth president clearly appreciated it.
"That is most acceptable, Ambassador. Peace, then, is your goal?"
"It is, madame President."
Sheridan reaffirmed the choice. "The rough draft of peace terms between our two peoples has already been agreed upon." That elicited a reaction, but he continued, "However, obviously the Earth government must agree also. Therefore the Minbari request that a neutral ground be chosen by Earth where these terms can be ratified."
"A choice will be made within the hour, lieutenant."
"Madame President," Delenn corrected, "Lieutenant Sheridan speaks for his people. Therefore I believe the title he bears is 'ambassador'."
Sheridan chose not to protest that. In truth, 'ambassador' sounded better than 'lieutenant' if he was seriously going to fill the role; it was a distinction the President obviously noticed as well.
"Agreed." As if she was going to challenge anything Delenn said right now, he thought with chagrin. The miracle had happened: Earth was not about to anger their saviour. "The chosen site will be transmitted to you within the hour."
"That is most acceptable, madame President." Delenn allowed herself a small smile. "I anticipate a smooth exchange of terms. Until then."
"Until then," the President replied, and the screen darkened.
Delenn turned to Sheridan. "Was it fine?"
He nodded, and couldn't help a smile. Her relief was obvious. "You said everything you should have said. Now I guess we just wait."
Delenn went to the assembled Grey Council, and they conversed briefly. Then she turned back to Sheridan and motioned toward the door. "I will follow," she promised. He nodded, and a young aide was brought in to escort him back to his cabin. To his surprise, however, he was taken somewhere else. After so long on the Valen'tha, he knew his way around at least the main corridors. Could they have tricked him? He didn't want to think it, but they may have done... they were certainly intelligent enough. It could be a ruse, to let the Earth defences down-
The aide pointed to an open door: he stepped through, and found himself someone else's quarters. He turned to ask whose, but the aide had already gone. The door, however, remained open. He was clearly free to leave, and he felt more than a little guilty about suspecting the Minbari of subterfuge. Delenn had put everything on the line for him, and this was how he repaid her?
//John,// she said. He turned and saw her in the doorway. She smiled lightly and stepped inside. //What do you think?//
He looked around, and it clicked. "These are your quarters?"
"Yes." She gestured towards the couch, which looked a little more comfortable than his. "Please sit." //Would you like a drink?//
He nodded gratefully, determined to relax even in the odd situation. He had grown used to Delenn being in his assigned cabin; it was strange being in her own space. She had the advantage - not that she would ever use it - and it made him just vaguely uncomfortable.
Delenn brought two glasses to the low table, along with some food he recognised as flarn. He actually quite liked it; it was something of a staple in Minbari cuisine.
//Do you think it will go well?// she asked as she poured him a drink and handed it to him. It was easier to speak in their respective languages, for although he was hopelessly bad at speaking it Sheridan did at least understand basic Adronato. He had no idea about their other two dialects, which rendered him almost helpless in conversing outside the religious caste, but so far he had only spoken at length with Delenn so it hadn't been a problem. He had a feeling, however, that that was going to change very shortly.
"As well as you'd expect," he returned. "People hold grudges, but no one's going to refuse a peace deal. They know you could easily wipe them out." Delenn frowned, and he sighed. "You're bigger than we are." She smiled and nodded.
"I understand." Her smile faded a little and she stared into her drink. //Will they accept the terms, do you think?//
"I think so. I'm not a politican," he reminded her. "I'm a soldier. I'm just doing what's best from my people."
Delenn smiled. //That is what makes you the right person for this job.// She put her glass down and leaned forward a little. //Truthfully, I have always considered politics to be very boring.//
Sheridan laughed, and it was an easy sound. "So have I. That's why I never went into diplomacy like my father." He paused, and Delenn caught a shift in his mood.
"What is it?" she asked gently. He sighed and looked down at his drink swirling it absently.
"I've been so busy with all this, I'd almost forgotten that my family are down there." He made a gesture that indicated Earth. "They've probably given me up for dead by now."
//They will have seen you,// Delenn said. //You said your- what was it?//
"ISN. Yeah, I guess they'll have broadcast it." He put down the drink and ran his fingers through his hair. He felt like he'd aged years in the past six months. "I wish I could talk to them."
"ISN?" Delenn looked confused.
A smile touched her lips: it seemed she didn't stop smiling lately. She stood and went to one wall of the room; touching a panel, she activated some kind of commscreen on the wall. It shimmered into existence in typical Minbari style, and it seemed to stand away from the wall.
//Come.// She motioned for him to stand. //How would you contact them?//
"Uh.." He raised his eyebrows; he hadn't expected this. "Through Stellarcom, I guess. It's the Earth communication system." He glanced at her, disbelieving. "Are you saying you can get into Stellarcom?" He shuddered at the expertise of Minbari technology. No wonder they knew his language!
//I can request access,// she replied. //Forcing our way in would not be a peaceful act, would it?// He shrugged wryly.
"I wouldn't think so." He blinked as an Earth logo appeared on the screen, and then General Lefcourt's face a moment later. "General," he said in greeting. He didn't salute, although instinct told him to. He was an ambassador, at least for now, and ambassadors didn't salute - his father had always said that.
"Lieu- Ambassador Sheridan." Lefcourt nodded. "Well, I gather?"
Sheridan knew instantly what he meant. "Fine, General. The Minbari have treated me very well." He decided to get straight to the point. "I'm free to leave whenever I like."
"That is true," Delenn said. Lefcourt turned slightly as she stepped into sight. "John chooses to be here."
Lefcourt raised his eyebrows. "First name terms with the Minbari, Lieutenant?"
Sheridan forced down the first remark that came to mind. "It was easier at the time, General. The language barrier, you understand."
"Of course." Lefcourt smiled, but it was stony. "It wouldn't have done for them to find out who you were, now would it?"
"Ambassador Delenn granted me asylum," Sheridan replied coldly. "Even knowing who I was. She is an honourable leader, General." His tone implied he didn't quite hold Lefcourt in the same regard. "She sees no need to waste further time on hate and death, and I happen to agree." He shifted his stance, indicating the conversation was finished. "Now, as official ambassador to the Minbari, I wish to speak to my family."
The general paused, his jaw set, but let it go. Technically, Sheridan did now outrank him. "Of course, Ambassador." He disappeared from the screen and Sheridan made a face.
//You don't like him,// Delenn observed. He grimaced.
"Lucky guess." He gave her a serious glance. "Watch him. He's about as near Morann as you'll get on Earth."
Delenn took in that piece of information with a nod. //I will leave you now,// she suggested.
"You don't have to," he protested. "These are your quarters..."
//You should be alone. You would not want an alien here while you speak with your family.// He started to tell her she wasn't an alien, not to him, but she was already gone.
* * * * *
The chosen neutral ground turned out to be the orbit of a planet called Epsilon Three, in an area Sheridan knew as the Euphrates Sector. It was close to the planet the original peace mission had chosen, but for obvious reasons the Earth government had decided to use another planet. Out of goodwill, and the problem that the planet was uninhabitable, it was suggested that the Minbari representatives board an Earth cruiser for the talks. The ceremony would then be carried out aboard each of the two ships assigned: one Human, one Minbari.
Hedronn had much to say about this arrangement, and even Rathenn proceeded to try and talk Delenn out of it. She would not be moved.
//We have to start *somewhere,*// she told them firmly. //If we do not show faith in them, then the Earthers will have no cause to do the same.// She looked at Sheridan, who was at her side. He had barely left it on the two-day trip to the planet. //Do you believe your people will honour the settlement?//
She asked in Adronato, and he replied in the same. //Yes. They are too desperate for peace to do otherwise.// He looked at the other Minbari, but directed his words at Rathenn. "If you don't take risks, you don't get anything."
Delenn gave him a look of slight annoyance and translated. Rathenn seemed to understand, and Sheridan saw that it would go ahead as planned.
It did, and although haggling over the details took a few hours, Delenn tried to agree to as much as possible and they were soon loaded into an unarmed shuttle - Hedronn had had apoplexy about that - heading toward the light cruiser Ishtar. Sheridan had explained the significance of the name as an ancient goddess of love and peace: the Minbari - although they had difficulty understanding the concept of a deity of that sort - had approved.
It had been agreed that each party would consist of three members with Sheridan as mediator and liaison: he suspected that was Lefcourt's idea. The General didn't seem overly trusting of someone who had lived among the Minbari for six months while they brought war on his people, even if he had been working toward peace and hadn't really had much of a choice. But it was a start, and Sheridan had been assured that once the peace was organised he would become the official Earth liaison to the Minbari. Delenn had accepted the terms, after much irritation, and had chosen Shakat and Racine to accompany her. She had carefully arranged it so that each caste was represented, but she had chosen the most reasonable of the Nine. She would have liked Rathenn to attend, but three was a good number and she would not unfairly represent her caste over another.
"Just remember," Sheridan said as they closed on the cruiser, "don't let guilt get the better of you." He and Delenn were sitting a little way away from the others, and she was listening intently to his advice. He saw a flicker of guilt cross her face as he reminded her of it and shook his head.
"If you start acting guilty, things will start falling apart. Your people will be unfairly represented, and my people will start asking for things they shouldn't have."
Delenn gave him an amused smile. "Should you say that?"
He thought back on it and shrugged. "Maybe not. But I'm looking at the long term here. If your people start feeling like they've been cheated, that doesn't bode well for Earth in the long run." He had to admit that was part of it, but he could tell she knew there was something else as well. He'd spent over half a year with the Minbari, with her, and whatever he said he had grown to at least respect them and in the lightest sense, he had begun to like them despite the situation. He tried to ignore it, but it tore him in half: he loved Earth, and his people, but Delenn...
"John?" He smiled as Delenn reached out tentatively, her hand hovering over his arm. "Are you... all right?"
He nodded, leaning back against the seat. Even if he had the words, he wouldn't tell her how he felt.
He didn't have to: Delenn wondered if he knew how transparent his emotions were to her. "I am sorry," she said gently. He looked at her in surprise, but the shuttle hatch opened before he could reply.
They stepped out, Sheridan first and then Delenn and finally Racine and Shakat. He'd conversed briefly with them before the trip, and Sheridan approved of them as choices. Morann, he had learned from Shakat, had been removed from the Council. There would be a vote to replace him once the peace talks were concluded.
"Welcome aboard the *Ishtar,* Ambassador Sheridan. My name is Captain Just."
He smiled and nodded to their welcoming committee. "Appropriate name," he said lightly, and the Captain almost cracked a smile.
"Yes sir." It was strange to be addressed as 'sir' by a captain. Sheridan suspected it would take some getting used to.
"May I present Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari, and her associates Racine and Shakat." Delenn smiled politely and bowed, and the other two Minbari did the same. Delenn had insisted they be introduced without their title of Satai, and Sheridan had pretended to understand. Nonetheless, it was her wish and he complied.
The Earth negotiating team were the next to step forward; Sheridan wasn't really surprised to see Lefcourt at the President's left hand. He didn't know the other man, but he was introduced as vice-President Luis Santiago. He was older than Sheridan, but he looked as if he were a reasonable man.
They were escorted to a plain room, with a circular table in the centre. Sheridan nodded in approval, although Delenn looked slightly confused. However, it meant that no one was opposing anyone else, which was useful in diffusing at least some of the tension. There was a vague air of discomfort as they entered the room; no one really knew where to start, and everyone - with the exception perhaps of Delenn - was wary of the others. She confidently took a seat, and Racine and Shakat were right behind their leader. Sheridan flashed her the hint of a smile as he sat down, and he felt himself relax very slightly as she returned it. He turned to the Earth delegation, and although they looked worn they were obviously hopeful.
It soon became clear, however, that the negotiations weren't going to go as smoothly as they had anticipated. For the first day, things went very well; for the first week, things went moderately easily.
By the ninth day, Sheridan saw a marked change in the attitude on both sides. Delenn was growing increasingly tolerant, while Lefcourt was doing all that he could to subliminally alter the President's words. The worst of it was that military reparation was left up to him, and that was where the first real clash began.
//Things are *not* going well,// Delenn said with a hint of pique. She was standing in the conference room, empty all but she and Sheridan. Shakat and Racine had returned to the shuttle, and Delenn was due to leave in a little over an hour. The Council had refused to allow any of its members to stay aboard the *Ishtar* overnight, and Sheridan had to agree. He believed Earth would honour the ceasefire, but it was never wise to take unnecessary risks.
"No, they're not." Much to his chagrin, Lefcourt had begun to insist on outrageous compensations that the Minbari had no need to grant. Sheridan could not with good conscience throw out his proposals, but they were meaningless and only served to anger the Minbari. Even Delenn was becoming irritated by the arrangement.
"I do not understand," she said tiredly. "Everything was well..."
"'Pride goeth before a fall,'" Sheridan quoted. "Or in this case, after one." Delenn gave him that quizzical glance that indicated she had no idea what he was trying to say. He smiled; somehow the childlike expression always made him feel better. "Let me try to explain something about Humans to you."
She sat down at the table, folding her hands in front of her, and waited patiently. He sat down a few seats away and fixed his eyes on her with a sigh.
"Yes?" Delenn pressed lightly. He realised he'd been thinking for a good few minutes and grinned wryly.
"You don't know much about us, really. We have a few redeeming qualities, but overall we're a pretty despicable species."
//You should not say that to someone who was recently at war with you,// Delenn pointed out. It was a credit to the rapport between them that he smiled, if only a little.
"I guess not, but it's true. One of the worst things about Humans is our pride. It's what got us into this whole war business in the first place."
//You do not need to tell me of pride,// she said quietly.
Sheridan grimaced. "No, well. It's a common trait." They had talked about the beginnings of the war; it had been one of the founding revelations of the peace between them. "When we defeated the Dilgar, we thought we could rule the world. We believed, and I quote; 'we could handle a few Minbari.' Lefcourt said that."
Delenn laughed softly.
"My point precisely. Lefcourt's like Morann: he doesn't want to admit he made a mistake. He sent too many ships, and he sent the *wrong* ships. The Captain of the Prometheus was too unstable to be put in charge of a mission like that, and Lefcourt put him there. Add to that he's got a huge case of ego, and you've got a recipe for trouble." He sighed and lent over the table toward her. "It's been almost a fortnight since the ceasefire started. Now that the actual fighting's over, he's beginning to see things differently."
Delenn frowned. //Differently how?//
"He's forgetting how things really happened. If you want my best guess, I'd say he's seeing things a little more positively from our side - as if maybe we weren't *quite* as done for as we actually were."
//You mean he is deceiving himself,// Delenn put in. He shrugged.
"I'd say his pride was deceiving him, and I wouldn't think he's alone." He sighed; the day's negotiations had tired him. "We Humans love to see ourselves in the best possible light, Delenn. Sooner or later people are going to start wondering why the ceasefire happened, and it's going to come down to the fact that someone did something that 'won' the war for our side."
//The only one who can claim such a credit is you,// Delenn told him firmly. He smiled, uncertain how to take her praise. //You were, and still are, the best representative your people could have,// she pressed on. //I do not think another could have worked among us as you have.// She made a distasteful face. //I know General Lefcourt could not.//
Sheridan laughed. "Come with me. I'll take you to the shuttle."
//Are you sure you will not come back to speak with the Council?// she asked as they turned down the corridor. He didn't even have to shake his head for her to know the answer. //No, you are happy to be home again. Among your own people, anyway. There is no reason for you to return to the Valen'tha again.//
Sheridan hesitated, and then stopped walking. //Delenn,// he called after her. She paused, saw him standing a few paces back, and turned back.
The shot came faster than he could anticipate; he launched himself towards Delenn, and felt the burning heat of ignited plasma catch his shoulder as he pushed her out of the way. Being part of the peace team he was unarmed. *So should everyone else be!* he thought angrily as he fought down the urge to chase the mystery man and turned to Delenn. She was resting against the wall, her face a mixture of shock and anger.
"Are you okay?" He wanted to go after the shooter, but she was the priority. "Delenn, are you all right?" He slapped his link angrily. "Security, get down to the conference room now!"
//I'm fine,// Delenn assured him, but her voice shook. He had heard her voice nearly every day for the past six and a half months, and he heard the subtle change. She looked up at him, and for a brief moment he saw that same flicker in her eyes. //There were not supposed to be any weapons on board,// she told him. Sheridan scowled.
"I know." He turned her around, shielding her from the corridor with his body in case the would-be assassin tried again. "Let's wait in the conference room. It's probably safer."
//I should get to the shuttle,// she protested. //Racine-//
"Shuttlebay," he said into his link. She gave him a dazzlingly grateful smile. "Have the Minbari escorted to the conference room. Get that, *escorted.* *Nothing* happens to them."
Delenn sat down at the table, suddenly unable to stand. //Thank you.// She watched as he sat next to her, and concern filled her expression. //You're injured!//
"Don't worry about it." He turned his head experimentally: the pain was excruciating. "I'm fine," he assured her through gritted teeth.
Delenn looked offended. "I thought," she said carefully in English, "that you trusted me."
He stared at her. It wasn't something she had ever asked outright before, but...
She frowned at him. "Then do not... lie... to me." She found the concept of outright lying especially difficult to accept, as did all Minbari. Sheridan gritted his teeth again.
"Sometimes that saintly attitude of yours really annoys me."
//That is the pain speaking,// she told him firmly. //Let me see.//
"Leave it!" He pulled away from her ministrations, his chair clattering to the floor as he backed off. "I'll get the medics to have a look, okay? Just leave it!"
Delenn stared at him for a moment, and he swore there were tears in her eyes. Then she simply nodded and turned her back to him, pretending to study the table.
Sheridan began to feel like a complete monster. Clasping his injured shoulder, he moved tentatively up behind her. "Delenn, I... I'm sorry."
"It is fine." Her voice was hard, controlled.
He sighed softly. "No, it's not. I shouldn't have reacted that way. You only wanted to help."
"I said it is fine," she repeated quietly.
He sat down next to her, facing her and the door. "It isn't fine. I've treated you badly, and I'm sorry. You've given me no reason to."
//I called for war,// she said in a quavering voice.
"And you called for peace," he reminded her gently. For some reason, it became very important that he make her feel better. "You were saying earlier that no one else could have done what I've done. But that's a small amount of what you've done for your people. No one else could have represented them the way you have. No one else could have fought for peace as *hard* as you have." The pain was subsiding; he let go of his shoulder and put both hands on the table, inches from hers. "Anyone could have done what I've done, given the situation - but you've worked with me despite who I am, despite what others said. You took a lot of risks for my people."
* I took risks for you,* she wanted to say, but couldn't. Not that it mattered - he could see it in her face. He wanted to be uncomfortable, but it didn't happen. For a peculiar, unfathomable reason, he felt only a vague twinge of concern at the idea. What had happened to him? He was supposed to be committed to Anna - they'd been expecting to marry, for God's sake! And yet he knew he felt... *something*... for this Minbari woman beside him. There was no way he could deny it, and he wasn't sure he wanted to... which only made him even more confused. All in all, he was quite relieved when the security detail arrived, albeit with the Earth diplomats and, a few moments later, Racine and Shakat. Delenn brushed off all offers of help and insisted on accompanying her defender to the ship's medlab, despite the protests of her colleagues.
//I am *fine,*// she said fiercely for the thirteenth time since entering the medical facility. She had allowed the Earth physician, Franklin, to examine her after Sheridan's assertion that he could be trusted. The dark-skinned Human used the opportunity to thank her, and it was only then that she recognised him as her former captive. It seemed a strange coincidence, but he confided discreetly that he had been brought on the mission by Lefcourt. It didn't surprise her.
//Delenn,// Shakat insisted, //we should have returned to the ship hours ago. Your safety must be paramount. If there is one here who would harm you, it must be made safe before you can return.// He spoke deliberately in the language of his caste, knowing Sheridan - who was seated on a nearby bed - would not understand. Delenn, however, was sharper than that.
//Do not be impolite, Shakat,// she admonished sharply in the dialect of her own caste. Sheridan couldn't quite hold back a smile.
//It is a Minbari matter,// Shakat returned.
//If it were not for him, you would not be discussing this matter with me at all,// Delenn reminded the warrior. He started at her blunt tone and had the grace to look sufficiently admonished. //Sheridan has done his best for both our peoples. He is to be respected, not insulted.// Her expression became one of polite questioning. //Unless, of course, he is more worthy of your position than the Minbari that holds it.// Shakat, suitably disgraced, backed away with a low bow. Delenn gave him a steely glance. He bowed, albeit reluctantly, to Sheridan, and left the room hurriedly.
"Delenn," Sheridan said lightly, aware he was treading unsure ground, "you should go back to your ship. At least until this is all cleared up." He grinned, trying to humour the situation. "I only have one shoulder left, after all." She smiled, and to his surprise nodded.
//I will return to the Valen'tha.// She leaned a little closer to him and said in a hushed voice, //I had always intended to... but it is not good for him to disobey me in such a way.// She smiled, and it had a glint of steel. //He will not do it again.// Her smile softened for him, and she left before he could speak again.
Sheridan leant his head back against the bed and let out a long breath. For that moment more than any other, he was inordinately glad Delenn was no longer his enemy.
* * * * *
"Out of the question!"
"There's little choice, General," Sheridan put in as Lefcourt paused for breath in his tirade. "The Grey Council resolutely state that they will not allow Ambassador Delenn to return to the *Ishtar* until the assassin has been caught."
"And you agree." Lefcourt's tone was subtly mocking.
"Yes, as a matter of fact." Sheridan was growing more tired of the General with each passing hour. "It's only reasonable, since the crew haven't had any leads on the guy. You can't expect them to put their leader in danger."
"Minbari don't know the meaning of the word."
Sheridan wanted to hit him: unfortunately, as he was considering the angle of the punch he was interrupted by the arrival of the President and vice-President. Santiago spoke.
"The President has decided the trip is acceptable, Ambassador. Provided, of course, her safety can be guaranteed."
"As much as Ambassador Delenn's was here, madame President," he assured her. That stirred Lefcourt to protest, but earned him a wry smile from President Levy.
"Point taken, Sheridan. I can see why they chose you for this mission." She extended a hand toward the door. "Shall we, gentlemen?"
The shuttle trip was longer than that in the Minbari flyer. Sheridan privately held that it was because Minbari technology was simply better, but he wasn't about to mention it aloud.
They arrived in the main hangar, a spacious and not all that crowded area of the ship. Delenn was there to greet them, along with a group of robed figures. Sheridan recognised the Council, although their faces were covered and he couldn't see who was who.
"Madame President." Delenn bowed respectfully. An aide moved smoothly to her side, spoke briefly, and went away just as smoothly. Delenn nodded and smiled at the Earth party. Only Sheridan and Levy responded. Delenn, as was her nature, made nothing of it; she simply moved aside and gestured for the party to precede her.
"Arrangements have been made for a conference room similar to your own. I hope that will be acceptable." She glanced at Sheridan, who gave her an imperceptible nod. She looked relieved.
"That will be most acceptable, Ambassador," Santiago answered. Lefcourt seemed on edge, and visibly so, as if he expected every Minbari they passed to be a potential assassin. Levy was observing everything with curiosity, reminding Sheridan of his own first expedition around the Valen'tha.
"This way." Delenn gestured and they turned a corner. The Grey Council, still robed, waited at the end of the corridor. They had parted from the Earthers after the welcome, but their presence here indicated they were at the end of their short journey. Evidently the Humans were not to see everything of the ship on their first visit.
"Please, enter." Delenn went to a door and pressed the access pad; the circular door slid outwards into the wall, revealing a brightly-lit room beyond.
Sheridan was the first to enter. *Show some goodwill,* he thought to himself as he stepped through the portal. Levy, escorted on either side by Lefcourt and Santiago, followed him. The General still seemed more than uneasy, and Sheridan - not for the first time - mentally disputed the wisdom of bringing him along.
Delenn walked in, and behind her the Council who fanned out across the side of the room. Delenn, no trace of uneasiness in her face or movement, sat smoothly down in front of them. Sheridan waited until the others had taken seats before placing himself deliberately halfway between each side.
"These negotiations have been proceeding too long." The words, out of Delenn's mouth, were not what he expected to hear. He turned to her, ignoring the mixed reactions of his people for the moment, and questioned it.
//Did you mean that?//
Delenn raised one hand a little way, holding him off. "We wish to pay full reparation for what you have suffered. We realise that some losses cannot be repaid..." she paused, and a low murmur of regret went through the Council, "but we have made good offers to you. Will you not accept them?"
Lefcourt started to speak, but Levy cut him off. "We will accept your terms, Ambassador Delenn. However, we speak for our people. There are a lot of areas which need to be addressed."
"So do we speak for our people. We cannot continue these talks forever. Both sides need this agreement now." She had obviously been working hard on this speech. "Let us agree today."
Sheridan realised what she was doing. By forcing their hand, she was effectively cutting off Lefcourt's chances of gaining anything more than what had already been settled. *Sly,* he complimented with an inward smile. The General was getting away with too much already; this way he wouldn't get anything more, and the peace talks would be concluded before half of Earth died from the stress of waiting. He suspected a rising tension on the Minbari side as well, probably the trigger for Delenn's sudden assertion.
"We would request that a Minbari..." she paused and looked at Sheridan. //meeting-place?//
"'Embassy,'" he suggested. She nodded.
"We request that a Minbari Embassy be set up on your world, to further discuss relations between our peoples. We also request that Lieutenant Sheridan be permanently assigned to us as our liaison."
*Discuss it with me first, why don't you,* he thought dryly.
"Finally, we wish to discuss the building of a permanent settlement here in neutral space, to bring all races together peacefully." She paused, waiting for the reaction. There was silence; they were obviously taken aback by the proposal, but Sheridan had to admit it made a lot of sense.
Eventually, after what seemed like an age, Earth President Levy leaned across the table.
"What did you have in mind?"
Delenn smiled in relief. Sheridan let out the breath he'd been holding. The Minbari leader gestured to an aide, who brought a small folder to her. Delenn opened the folder and turned it to face the Earth committee, who read the words with a new hope:
THE BABYLON PROJECT.
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