THE BABYLON PROJECT: THE ONE AND THE NEXUS (III)
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
THE DAWN OF POSSIBILITY
The light was burning her eyes, she hadn't seen in so long. She couldn't turn, couldn't move, couldn't *feel* anything... Her ears hurt, there was so much sound after all this time in silence... Her entire body felt raw, devastatingly different. She wanted to scream, but her mouth wouldn't obey her commands. Her eyes were open, but all she could see was the light, the agonizing brightness all around her, cocooning her. She wanted to cry, but her eyes were dry and her face was numb. If she *was* crying, she could not feel it - only the pain and the terror and the horrible sensation of being trapped. Why, she could not remember...
That was the worst of all.
* * * * *
The sun was rising, and it was a wonderful sight. It was early spring; the time of new life, new beginnings, and especially on a farm such as this. John Sheridan turned from the window and grinned warmly at his mother. She had been calling him for a few minutes, but he had been unable to tear himself from the natural spectacle beginning outside. He was usually up and busily working by the time the sun rose in Geneva, and it had been a long time since he had been back to the farm. He wanted to savour every moment.
He hadn't really wanted to take a vacation, in all honesty, even a short one, but Franklin had insisted on it. He had - and he admitted it - given the doctor preferential treatment when it came to working with the Minbari, but he felt he owed the other man something of the glory he himself had received. Franklin had been as dedicated as he on the original mission - even if they had both been press-ganged into it to begin with - and had Delenn been a few minutes earlier they would have shared in the fame.
Thinking of Delenn made him uneasy again. He was sometimes, when he was lucky, able to avoid those thoughts for ten minutes or so at a time, but they still plagued him relentlessly. He couldn't help thinking that he should have stayed to wait for her to emerge, that he was somehow betraying her trust in him by leaving her alone. There were no estimates as to how long she would remain in the chrysalis, but she had already been inside for four months and so much had happened in that time that he had to tell her... It was hard, incredibly hard, being without her. Without her opinions, her guidance, her support.
"John!" His mother waved a hand in front of his face. "What is wrong with you lately?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing. What's for breakfast?"
Liz grinned from the table. "Your appetite never changes, does it, Johnny?"
Sheridan smiled vaguely. "I don't notice it anymore. I work through meals most of the time." Dinner had become a necessary chore in the past few months.
His mother gave him a disapproving frown. "You need to eat properly, John," she admonished him. "Especially if you're working that hard. Don't those Minbari know how important you are?"
Sheridan bit back a reply. Like much of the general public, his parents understood little about the Minbari and still had some rather... unfortunate... views about them, despite his best efforts. In over two years he still hadn't got up the courage to bring Delenn to meet them, although that had been a lot to do with clashing schedules and little to do with genuine reluctance. He wanted to show them what the Minbari were really like: strong, vital, a study in cultural riches. Very few Humans truly understood that, despite the efforts of people like himself on both sides of the border, not the least of whom was Delenn -
And there was her name again, weaving its way into his mind. He couldn't help feeling that something was profoundly *wrong,* that he should be with her and not out here, hours away.
*You're being an idiot,* he told himself. *There's nothing you can do anyway, the doctors are the ones who know what's going on. Just relax and spend some constructive time with your family for a change.*
He forced a smile. "They know just how important I am, mom. That's why I'm out here, remember? They said I was working too hard, I needed to get away."
"You said it was that doctor - Franklin? - who made you take a break," his father argued. John sighed and shrugged.
"Yeah, well, he had some help. Lovell almost threw me out of the Embassy himself." *He could probably do that as well,* he thought in bemusement. Delenn's replacement had become one of the most devoted members of the Embassy staff, and saw Sheridan's safety and well-being as his personal consideration. John wondered privately if Delenn hadn't left him a message to that effect.
Delenn again. There *had* to be something wrong.
He pushed his plate away a little. "I don't think I'm really hungry." He wanted to stand up and pace, but he didn't want to show just how uncomfortable he was. He was *supposed* to be relaxing.
"Are you sure you're all right, son?" he father asked. "There's nothing wrong at work, is there? You're healthy, there's no viruses going around-"
"It's nothing, Dad," he said with icy calm that he didn't feel. *I should be there. I shouldn't have left, I knew this was a bad idea...* "Nothing at all. Just a little stress." He hadn't been able to tell his family about Delenn's 'transformation;' it had been classified as a confidential and internal Minbari matter. Even if he could have told them, he didn't know what he could say. They knew he and Delenn were friends, close friends, but that was as far as it went. Given their not-altogether-positive view of the Minbari, he wasn't sure he wanted to know how they were going to react when he finally broke the news.
"You *are* working too hard," his mother said firmly. "You should stay for longer, John, really, you hardly spend any time away from your work. It isn't good for you."
"I know you're committed, son," David Sheridan added, "but you shouldn't take it too far. You have to relax sometimes, get away from it all."
"I know!" He reigned in his outburst and said apologetically, "I know. I just - can't right at the moment. There's something..." With a tired sigh, he took his plate to the sink, abandoning the remains of breakfast to the trash recycler. "It's important. I shouldn't really be away-"
"Whatever it is, I'm sure they can manage without you for one weekend. Diplomatic emergencies are rarely that," his father intoned with the voice he reserved for experienced counsel.
"It's not really diplomatic," Sheridan started, then broke off. He couldn't tell them any more. "It's confidential."
"It can wait, whatever it is," his mother told him firmly. "You forget about it for now and come spend some time with your family."
Sheridan sighed obediently. "Okay, mom. But-"
"No buts. Liz, go see if the porch is clear. It's such a lovely day, we might as well finish breakfast outside."
Sheridan's younger sister grinned. "Sure, mom." She disappeared in the direction of the front of the house. Nancy Sheridan turned to her son.
"Now, you help me carry these things out. You can at least have something to drink to start your day." Sheridan smiled with a spirit he didn't feel and nodded, picking up the coffee tray. He'd gotten all of two steps before Liz came rushing back inside, looking far more shaken than she should have been.
"There's... someone outside," she said in a confused and nearly faltering voice. She looked at Sheridan. "I think it's for you."
His fingers were numb as he put the tray back on the table. "Delenn," he whispered, the name itself filled with desperate anguish. "I shouldn't have left, I shouldn't have..." He raced to the door, Liz one step behind. His parents followed as he all but ran to the porch.
It was Rathenn. The Grey Councillor looked calm, but his eyes spoke of a troubled mind behind them and he seemed tired.
//Ambassador Sheridan,// he said tersely with a bow of greeting. His use of Adronato made his fatigue all the more obvious.
"Satai Rathenn," John replied quickly, chafing at the formalities even as he bowed respectfully. "It's Delenn." It wasn't a question.
"Yes." The Satai made a quick motion to the craft outside on what had become Sheridan's personal landing 'pad': a stretch of unplanted ground at the end of the Sheridans' lawn. "I brought the fastest flyer to reach you. Something is... The doctors are not sure what is happening," he amended reluctantly. "I came immediately to bring you back to the Embassy."
"Of course." Sheridan struggled to think, his mind whirling. "I should never have left, I should have stayed with her-"
"You could not have known," Rathenn said gently.
"I did." Sheridan's voice was bleak. "I knew something was wrong, that I should be there, but I kept telling myself I was being an idiot." His voice shook, his heart in his throat. "Give me a few minutes and I'll be ready to go." He hadn't unpacked much, his subconscious had been so uptight about what was happening at the Embassy.
"We are ready to leave as soon as you are, Ambassador." Rathenn smiled, although it was tired. "Delenn is a good friend. I do not wish to see harm come to her anymore than you." His eyes betrayed nothing but utter confidence. "We will be in time."
"I hope so," John said in return. He bowed quickly, then turned and took the steps two and a time to reach his room. Liz followed him in confusion, staring as he grabbed what little he'd unpacked and threw it back into his carryall.
"John," she started, but he couldn't hear her.
"I should have stayed," he whispered. "Oh, God, I shouldn't have left her..."
"Who?" Liz sat on the bed. "The Minbari Ambassador? John!" She grabbed his hand as he tried to fasten the bag. "What's going on."
He yanked his hand away. "I haven't got time."
She pulled the bag away from him. "Make time. You're supposed to be-"
"I'm *supposed* to be at the Embassy," he all but yelled at her. "I shouldn't have ignored what I was thinking, I should have waited just a little bit longer..." He grabbed the bag out of her hands and went down the stairs. She was right behind him.
"John!" She called after him. Reaching for his shoulder, she tried to stop him. "Johnny! What's going on?!"
He swung round. "I told you, I haven't got time." To Rathenn, "I'm ready. Let's go."
"Aren't you going to at least say goodbye?" Liz's tone was hurtful. He stopped in his tracks, turned, and gave her a quick goodbye kiss.
"I'm sorry," he said briefly. "I'll explain, but I don't have time, not now." He nodded quickly to his father, who seemed to understand even if it was an utterly wrong assumption. He kissed his mother, not allowing her to hug him for fear she might hold him back for those extra few moments that might make a difference.
Then he was in the flyer, soaring above top speed towards Geneva. Rathenn himself sat in the pilot's seat, and Sheridan was grateful not to have to make conversation. His mind was cluttered with everything at once: would they be in time, *why* had he left her alone right now, what was he going to do when he got to her... what was he going to *say*? Good God, if anything happened to her he didn't think he could forgive himself for not being there. In the back of his thoughts were more practical considerations; what did he have to do when she emerged, how different was she going to be, how was she going to adjust -
What was he going to tell his family?
Luckily, before he made himself answer the flyer lighted on the roof of the Embassy. He didn't wait for Rathenn or the others who would attend Delenn after her transformation; he bolted into the Embassy and grabbed the first lift to the ground floor. From there it was only a short run to the staff apartment building, and although he slowed to pass his ID through security he was at her door within minutes. He slammed his identicard into the slot, and unsurprisingly it opened. Delenn had been specific about giving him access to her apartment during her chrysalis; in case he needed any papers, she had said. He knew the real reason, and he was grateful.
In contrast to his rush to get to the apartment, for some reason his first step inside was hesitant. He was unsure what he was going to find, and he didn't think he could ever be prepared for some of the scenes whirling around his mind. He looked everywhere: then, unable to stand it any longer, he turned quickly towards the cocoon.
It was empty.
His mind, his heart, screamed her name. Where was she?
"Delenn," he said in a shaking whisper, fear choking his voice. "Delenn? Delenn, where are you?" He took an anguished step towards the structure, the chrysalis that had held her life for over four months. It was cracked along one side, and most of the front had fallen - been pushed? He hoped - onto the carpet and was in the process of disintegrating. He picked up a crumpled shard; it was dry, brittle. It had obviously completed its purpose - but where was its occupant? Where was *Delenn?*
He wanted to run and find someone, to ask where she was. Someone must know - Rathenn, or Lovell, they must have known she was close to emerging. Otherwise why had they brought him back so quickly? The doctors, the Minbari physicians would know what happened to her. Had they taken her somewhere? He hadn't waited to find out, but surely Rathenn would have told him en route. They would have landed at the hospital, not the Embassy, or gone up to the Dana'fi in orbit above them if they had taken her there...
He pushed himself up from the remains of the chrysalis and looked around, searching for any clue. "Delenn!" Surely she wouldn't have been strong enough to leave on her own, not after such an ordeal...
Then he had a thought. Cursing his stupidity, he whirled around and looked at the bedroom doors.
They were open, the way Delenn had left them four months before.
This time when he stepped inside there was nothing uncertain about it. He knew she was there, he could feel her even before he saw her. She was curled on the floor on the far side of the bed, a dark shape wrapped in her concealing Council robe. There was an instant of perfect clarity when he realised why she had chosen that particular dress to enter the cocoon.
He dropped onto the floor beside her, trying not to show his relief and, at the same time, fear for her. "Delenn?" He kept his voice soft, but she made no reply. "Delenn," he murmured as gently as he could manage, "are you okay? Are you..."
She reached out a hand to him, and although it cost him a severely bitten lip he purposefully did *not* react. Under the heavy charcoal cloak, her skin was covered with a blue crust that resembled nothing so much as a desert in the sun: it was cracked and peeling, as brittle as the chrysalis that had made it. Gingerly, he touched her hand. He heard her cry then, and his heart broke at the sound.
"It's okay," he told her with a surety he certainly didn't feel. "It's okay, Delenn, I promise, don't worry. Everything's fine." He wanted to pull her into his arms and send the terror away, but he didn't want to hurt her. "I'm here now, Delenn," he told her reassuringly. "I'll take care of you, don't worry."
Her mouth was dry; she couldn't speak, couldn't tell him of the panic and terror that enveloped her as surely as the dry, confining crust. She wanted to tell him, but the fact that she couldn't talk only made her desperation increase. She lifted her head without realising, and tried to look away again instantly. She wasn't in time: he reached out and carefully lifted the hood from her face. Her expression was one of complete horror, and he could see hysteria building in her green eyes.
"It's all right," he told her again, more firmly this time. "You're gonna be fine, just stay calm, okay?" He locked his gaze with hers, and she couldn't look away. "I promised I'd be here, Delenn. I'm a little late, I know, but I'm here now." He instinctively took her hand, ignoring her attempt to pull it back. She cowered as he touched her and let out a soft, wordless cry of pain when he pressed gently on her wrist. A small fragment of the blue crust fell away, and Sheridan let out a silent prayer of relief to whoever was looking out for them right now.
Delenn, however, didn't know whether to be relieved or simply more terrified. She tried to grasp his hand, but her fingers didn't work properly. She could see, she could move her head, but the rest of her body seemed to be asleep. She felt salty tears on her face, biting her sensitive skin under the outer covering, but she couldn't wipe them away and she couldn't seem to control them either. John didn't see them, his eyes fixed on her hand, and she tried to force them back as he gently, as delicately as he could, peeled the dry crust from her skin. It took a long while, for she could tell he didn't want to hurt her. When he was finished, he looked up at her face and only then did he see her tears.
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry." His voice was soft, strange; he'd never called her that before. "Shh, it's all right." He reached out to touch her face, and she backed up against the wall. She didn't want him to touch her, not now, not like this, but she had little choice. He wasn't letting up, and she had no energy and noewhere else to go.
When his fingertips brushed her face, however, the covering seemed lighter there and it came away at his touch. She closed her eyes, unable to watch as he used both hands and quickly but carefully uncovered her face. It took him less time than the thicker crust on her fingers, for this was almost as thin as her skin itself and brushed away at the slightest touch.
Her face was red with salty tears, and her skin obviously hurt, but she looked almost the same now as she had before. There were some subtle differences, but he couldn't pinpoint them exactly yet and he suspended the thought.
"Much better," he told her with a reassuring smile, pushing her hood back to reveal her face. He had no mirror, but he didn't think he wanted her to see what she looked like until long after he was finished. He wondered how he was going to manage this: he had to find a quicker way of removing the covering before Delenn got totally crazy. He frowned briefly and then nodded. "This might hurt a little," he told her contritely. "I'm sorry." He stood and bent over her, and as delicately as he could he lifted her into his arms. Tears of pain stood out in her eyes, and he felt terrible for hurting her. "I'm sorry, Delenn," he whispered. His voice held his tears. "I love you," he told her.
Her eyes went wide, and for a short moment she smiled. Then a pain that was not physical crossed her face and she opened her mouth to speak, to tell him how wrong he was. How could he love her now? She was a monster, a freak of her own design. He had told her, asked her, *begged* her not to go into the chrysalis, but still she had taken the chance. It was her fault she was like this, her arrogance that had brought her to this, and he said he loved her?
He paid no attention to her disbelief, however. The time for convincing her would come later. Right now he had to do something about her physical pain, and that required movement. He carried her into the bathroom, concerned at how light she was. He looked around, then set her down on some kind of seat in what passed as a Minbari shower and knelt in front of her. Covering his embarrassment with concerned apology, he put her hands on the clasp of her robe.
"I need to help you, Delenn."
She shook her head, afraid. He sighed and looked at her; she quailed slightly. He nodded, wanting to reassure her.
"Okay. Not yet. Let's deal with this first." He pushed her hood back further, until it fell back from her face, and sudden amazement took over his expression. The full, Minbari crest that had covered her skull was gone: in place of it she had long, dark hair that fell to her shoulders. The only remnant of her crest was a soft, velvety grey crown that was barely more than a decoration; it circled the back of her head, melding into the skin at her temples and allowing her hair to slide through it at the base. The back of her head showed no trace of the outer 'skin': Sheridan brushed away the remainder from her forehead and jawline and stood back a little.
"You look beautiful, Delenn," he told her in an awed whisper. "I wasn't really convinced about this, you know, but it's definitely worked out." He reached out and stroked her cheek, and although her eyes showed her fear she stayed where she was. "I always did love you, you know. It just took me a while to get around to actually using the words." He smiled tenderly and she saw the warmth of sincerity in his features. She wanted to reply, but the only sound that emerged was a ragged cough. Sheridan put a finger on her lips and squeezed her hand lightly.
"I'll be right back." He disappeared, returning a minute later with a glass of water. She tried to hold it, but her hands trembled and he gently pushed them aside, pressing the glass to her lips. The water was refreshingly cool, refreshingly real after so long in the cocoon.
"John," she said in a dry whisper. He smiled.
"I wondered when you were going to start talking to me again." At her motion, he cupped her hands around the glass and helped her drink. "How are feeling?"
"Cold. Strange... I-I don't know." She took her attention from the water to look at him. "Afraid."
His eyes were sad, but gentle as he caressed her face. "Very, I'd imagine. Try not to worry too much." He wanted so much to hold her, but there was something that needed taking care of first. "Do you want to do the rest yourself?"
"I can't." Her voice was raw from disuse, and betrayed her emotions. "I don't want - to be alone. Please don't leave me..."
"I won't." He gripped her hand firmly in his. "I won't, Delenn. I would never leave you." His smile caught her for an instant, surrounding her in his affection, before he stood up and put the empty glass down. "Think you can stand up?" She nodded uncertainly, but almost fell even with his strong hands supporting her. It had been too long since she'd moved around, and her muscles were weaker than she thought. Unfazed, Sheridan moved closer until he was standing at her side and put his arm around her waist to hold her up.
He looked down at her. "Are you ready?"
She was silent for a long time. Finally, in a spurt of courage, she nodded.
"All right." He tightened his grip momentarily as she let go of the wall and unfastened the robe that was drawn about her. "Easy. Sit down again." She did as he asked, not that she had much choice: her balance gone, she all but fell onto the seat. Had he not been holding her already, she would have collapsed.
"Okay, okay." Trying to stay calm, Sheridan carefully held on to her as she leaned against the wall. "For God's sake, why isn't anyone here yet?"
"I... I told them to stay away... until you summoned them." Her voice shook.
"You did *what*?" He stared at her. "When?"
"B-before. I told Lovell, left instructions for him..." Tears broke in her eyes. "I didn't want anyone to see me - what I am. I-I trusted you..."
He sighed at her stubbornness, but he had to admit it was understandable. "All right. It's not a problem." He smiled again to reassure her that he wasn't angry. "I understand, Delenn, really. Don't worry about it. We'll just get you cleaned up, then I'll go call Rathenn and take you to the physicians. Okay?"
She nodded, her expression one of childlike apology. "I'm sorry," she said regretfully.
"Shh. It's okay." As he carefully slid her robe from one arm to work on the brittle blue crust, he looked up at her. "Why didn't you tell me?"
She looked ashamed at her answer. "I didn't want you to worry."
"I worried anyway," he retorted in a softened tone. "Delenn, I care about you. I was terrified when you went into that thing." He smiled, a little wryly. "Although I have to say, I kind of like its efforts. I think being part Human's going to suit you." He winced as a large piece of the blue layer fell away from her arm, leaving it mostly clean and the same as it had always been. Delenn bit her lip.
"Does it hurt?"
"I'm sorry," he said contritely. "It'll be over soon, I promise."
"You are making a lot of promises," Delenn said curiously. He smiled, as if he'd been caught out.
"It makes me feel better. I want to be doing something." He moved on to her other arm.
"You are doing something," she replied softly, her voice still not rising above a whisper. "I don't know what I would have done i-if..."
He cupped her face in his palm. "I'm *here,*" he told her fiercely. "I never had any intention of being anywhere else. I love you." Seeing her expression, he gave her a flatly bemused look. "I'm going to say it until you believe it, so you might as well start."
Although it was a little forced, she smiled. He nodded.
"Better. Now shall we get finished? I really want you to see those physicians, you know. I'm not a doctor."
"You are... who I wanted."
He grinned. "Well, I hope you still want me, Delenn, because I plan on spending a lot of time around you in the future." She didn't answer that, and he didn't push her. *One step at a time.* He looked up at the shower above them. "That would do the job a whole lot better than me," he said thoughtfully.
Delenn tried to look up, but she felt dizzy before she moved more than a few inches and lightly put her head against the wall. Shock, fear and concern suddenly filled her gaze as she felt the absence of the familiar Minbari crest.
He saw her react and caught her shoulders, now free of the blue crust and a pale olive tone. "Delenn." He shook her once, very gently, to get her attention. "Delenn, listen to me. Listen." She looked up at him, her eyes wide but focused.
"W-what am I? What's happened? John, please - please help me!"
"Sshhh..." He crouched in front of her, clasping her hands and holding her gaze. "Calm down. Calm down, Delenn." He brushed away a tear forming on her cheek. "Take it easy, okay? I can't help you if you get hysterical on me."
"Minbari do not get 'hysterical,'" she said in a nearly firm voice. Then she realised what she'd said and forced herself not to cry. "Why did I do this, John? *Why?* It's not right, nothing - nothing is right-"
"Shh." It was almost a command, but one she obeyed. "Delenn, just trust me for a while. I told you everything would be fine and it will be, but you have to stop winding yourself up like this. You'll only make it worse for yourself." He stroked her cheek. "If I had honestly believed you would come out hideous, do you think I would have let you use that infernal machine in the first place?"
She went quiet at that, and he smiled easily. "Well, now that's settled, do you think you could let me finish helping you?" She reddened and nodded. He took the shower head down and turned it on, reducing the pressure as much as he could. Still, when he turned it towards her she bit her lip and he saw the pain on her face. He turned it away and looked enquiringly at her.
Delenn looked uncertain as she caught his eyes. "It hurts," she said in a small voice. "I'm sorry."
"Hey," he reached out to her. "You don't have to be sorry. If it's too painful, we'll just go back to the old way." He paused. "But maybe there is a slightly quicker way." He turned and grabbed a soft towel from a pile behind him. Someone had obviously provided Human-style implements in preparation; Franklin, he suspected, might have something to do with it. He set about gingerly drying her legs, where he had started with the shower, and to his satisfaction the blue crust came away much more easily with the large towel. Water didn't seem to help, making it soften and cling, but when he moved on to a dry area it sloughed off under his gentle movements. He tried to be nonchalant as he moved her robe aside, but he caught her look of sheer panic and gently but firmly tilted her head up.
"Don't look," he said in a tone just firm enough for her to hear. "Not right now. Give yourself time to adjust, okay? And remember, I love you no matter what." She nodded, but he swathed her body in a towel just to be sure as he finished cleaning the fragments of blue matter from her skin. It didn't take long; her movements and her cloak had done most of the work. She looked, to his eyes, even more beautiful than before. Her skin was a gentle olive, and the distinctive Minbari blaze that had encircled her collarbone was no longer there. It did, however, still extend down her back although he couldn't tell whether it was still present under her hair. Her bone structure seemed to have altered; she was already slim, but the pronounced Minbari collar and spine seemed to be more Human than before. Not having eaten for so long had made her thinner and her skin, although nearly flawless, was dull from dehydration: but he knew the doctors could take care of that and he didn't worry too much.
Other than her crown and those distinctive Minbari markings, she looked just as a Human woman of her age would look: her breasts were bigger, her hips fuller, and there was the obvious sign of sexual organs where - he remembered clearly, if with some embarrassment - none had been before. He moved on quickly, although more out of concern for her than any serious discomfort. He tried to keep her gaze away from what he was doing, but he saw her curious nature seeping through her fears.
"That curiosity of yours is going to get you into trouble one day," he said lightly. "Think you can get up yet? I'd rather get you somewhere a little warmer now that's done." That was emphasised when she shivered, something she had never done before. Minbari originated from a cold planet, and their bodies had different systems for coping with low temperatures. He smiled at her reaction and assured her it wasn't a problem.
"But it does show what I just said. Come on," he picked her up, and carried her into her bedroom again. On the floor, where he hadn't noticed it before, there was evidence of her passage: blue fragments were sparsely scattered on the carpet. Sheridan put her down on the bed and went to her wardrobe. He was at a loss as to how to open it, and Delenn smiled despite herself.
"Press... there," she nodded as his hand hovered over a panel. The door slid back, and he took out a loose robe that looked soft enough. When she nodded approval, he helped her sit up and drew it around her shoulders, brushing her hair back tenderly. She gave him an odd glance, and he realised she still hadn't seen herself. Making a snap judgement, he decided that waiting would probably only increase her fears. Unfortunately, he wasn't sure that knowing was going to be much better.
He took her hands and helped her stand, and the light robe fell about her, covering her new form. Standing now, her hands held tightly in his, she looked up into his eyes. The utter confidence in her face awed him for a moment, and without thinking he slipped his arms around her waist and tilted his head down to kiss her. Delenn responded, weakly but instinctively, and he smiled as he drew back a few inches from her face.
"Well, I'm glad we're clear on something," he murmured. She smiled tiredly.
"I missed you, John."
He cradled her against him. "I missed you too. Promise me something?"
"What?" Her voice was curious.
"Try not to do this too often."
Delenn laughed softly, although she coughed a little afterwards. He frowned in concern. "I think we should see about those medics now." She nodded, no longer reluctant. "I'll call them." He helped her lie down and then went into the other room to use the comm system. When he came back she was lying on her side, turned away from him, and she was murmuring something. Sympathy washed over him when he heard the words of her soft prayer.
"Delenn?" He kept his voice low, trying not to interrupt. "Rathenn and the others will be here in a few minutes. They'll take care of you." He crouched next to the bed. "Do you want to talk?"
Unable to trust herself to speak, she nodded. He smiled understanding and reached up to stroke her hair. As used as he was to Delenn in her fully Minbari form, it didn't seem all that surprising to see her with part-Human features. Her eyes and face were the same, and although exhausted she herself, the soul of her, was no different than it had always been.
"Would you... show me?" Her voice was timid.
"If you're sure."
"All right." He lifted her into his arms again, cradling her close to his chest. Looking around for the mirror, he located it on the far wall of her room where they hadn't been so far. It wasn't full-length, but he wasn't sure Delenn was ready to know just how Human she had become just yet. He'd broach that with her a little later. Right now, he knew she just wanted to see something of her new self.
He set her down on the floor, but he kept his arms around her and carefully arranged her hair behind her shoulders. It was slightly matted, but that wasn't surprising and hardly a problem. He turned her around until she was facing the mirror, and he saw her gasp at her reflection.
"What...." She stared, unable to speak. He tightened his arms around her waist, afraid she might fall if he didn't hold her up.
"You look *fine,*" he assured her. "Trust me. I'm an expert on Human women, remember? At least what they look like," he added sheepishly at her sharp gaze. "You're beautiful, Delenn, even more than I imagined." He absently parted a section of her hair that had gotten tangled up under her robe. "I told you everything would be okay. You just need some time to get used to it, that's all. Shh, sshhh, it's okay. Don't cry." She turned and buried her face in his shoulder, and he hugged her tightly, stroking her hair. It felt natural, as if she had always been this way. "Delenn," he whispered into her ear. She turned her head slightly towards him in acknowledgment. "What's wrong?"
"It's so *different*. I wasn't expecting..." She swallowed, lifting her head and wiping the few tears that were left from her face. "I don't know what I was expecting to see. I thought - did you really mean everything you said?"
He grinned suddenly. "Hey, I know better than to lie to you!"
She gave a watery laugh. "Oh, John, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't be doing this."
He frowned. "Doing what?"
She wiped another escaping tear from her face. "This. I should trust you, I shouldn't be crying-"
He laid a finger on her lips. "Delenn. You're tired, you're scared, you're probably a little ill and you've been through more than anyone I can think of has ever done. You've just come into a completely different world, in a very different body. If you don't cry now, then that chrysalis has turned you into stone."
She smiled, a little amused, and hesitantly nodded. At that moment the door chimed, and Sheridan looked up to answer it. "Come in."
Rathenn entered, with a small group of Minbari whom Sheridan recognised as the physicians who had been consulted during Delenn's time in the chrysalis. What did surprise him was Stephen Franklin's place at the head of the group, just in front of a gurney. Sheridan lifted Delenn into his arms and carried her into the living room, laying her gently on the gurney.
"We've got a ship waiting," Franklin told him as he quickly checked over Delenn. "How do you feel, Ambassador?"
Delenn didn't answer for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was deceptively strong. "Better than I imagined," she admitted. "Very tired."
"You're dehydrated, and undernourished," Franklin told her. "There's evidence of chronic fatigue, which isn't surprising given what you've been through. On the good side, there doesn't look to be any tissue damage and your system's stable. I suggest you go to sleep for a while and let us take care of everything." He flashed his best bedside-manner smile and gestured to one of the Minbari. The male, obviously some sort of orderly, pressed an injector to Delenn's arm and her eyes drifted shut. For the first time since emerging from her chrysalis, she looked truly peaceful.
"We'll have to take some tissue samples, do some scans." Franklin was talking to both Sheridan and Rathenn now. "We'll keep her under sedation while we do most of it. Her body needs to rest, and that's the only way she's going to get it for now." He addressed his query to Sheridan. "It would help to know how long she's been awake."
Sheridan couldn't help watching as the Minbari moved efficiently around their Ambassador. "About an hour or two. There were some... little details we had to clear up."
If Franklin was curious, he didn't show it. "Well, right now I'd say she'll be under for a good day or more. Her body needs to recuperate. Once we're on the Valen'tha-"
Rathenn looked confused at Sheridan's surprise. "Of course, Ambassador. Satai Delenn will be given the best care available, and her place, as a member of the Council, is aboard our ship."
"Of course." Sheridan glanced at the fragile-looking woman on the gurney. He was so wrapped up in how important she was to him personally, he'd almost forgotten that she was still a leader of her people. He wondered how they would view her change, and her relationship with him. It would be obvious as soon as they stepped aboard the ship, and no matter how much curiosity was supposed to be extinct among the Minbari, the news would get around fast.
//The Satai is stable, physician Franklin,// one of the Minbari said. Franklin nodded.
"Thank you, Shinal." He gestured and they began to wheel Delenn from the room. Sheridan dropped into step beside Rathenn: no questions were asked.
"I have arranged for a replacement during Delenn's stay aboard the Valen'tha," the other Satai told him as they walked to the shuttlepad. Sheridan looked at him, confused.
"A replacement? But I thought Lovell-"
"A replacement for *you,* Ambassador Sheridan." At the Human's obvious surprise a smile touched the edges of his lips. "Your relationship with Satai Delenn has not gone unnoticed among our people, Ambassador, particularly the Grey Council. It is our duty, after all, to care for and protect our citizens. We must have full knowledge of them to do so."
*Care for and protect?* What was he getting at? "What I feel for Delenn is hardly within the bounds of political decision," he said stiffly.
"But it is, Ambassador," Rathenn argued easily. "Your respective ranks and positions are such that it could be nothing else. Some among us even believe that she endured her change out of attachment to you, as a Human."
"That's absurd!" A challenge rose in his voice, but Rathenn passed it over.
"That view has not been reached in the Council, Ambassador. However, we are aware of our fellow Satai's involvement with you."
"I suppose you're going to say you endorsed it," Sheridan said dryly.
"Delenn did not come to us for guidance," Rathenn replied as they boarded the shuttle. "Nor was it ours to give. However, many of us approve of such a notion, particularly in light of Delenn's recent transformation. She will need a Human voice to guide her through her change. It is to be preferred if that voice is yours."
Sheridan inclined his head towards the Minbari. "I'm honoured," he said, somewhat sarcastically. Rathenn missed the tone.
"It is an honour you deserve, Ambassador," he replied so sincerely that Sheridan couldn't help feeling a little gratified. He truly liked Rathenn, as he did most of the Council. "However, it may not be widely welcomed by others."
"Such as?" He tried not to sound defensive, knowing the Minbari was right. "I know, I apologise. There are many Humans who would be opposed to the idea of a Human and a Minbari having such a relationship... even in light of Delenn's recent adventures." He grinned slightly, but Rathenn just looked puzzled. He gave up. "There are still Humans who resent your people, and more who simply don't understand you." He thought of his parents and cringed inwardly.
"It is much the same among our people, particularly the warrior caste," Rathenn reported. "However, I believe that a great many will stand behind Delenn. The Council is still bound somewhat by her decisions." He looked a little rueful.
Sheridan laughed, looking fondly over at Delenn. "She is forceful when she wants to be, isn't she?"
"She is forceful all the time," Rathenn answered with a slightly amused expression. "It is what makes her such a good leader for our people."
"And why she gets what she wants all the time," Sheridan added. Rathenn didn't reply, but his face made his agreement clear.
"As I said, Ambassador, your relationship may not be well viewed by others. As two who must work so closely together on such an important matter, it would not be acceptable for doubt to be cast upon your service to both our peoples."
"You mean people are going to think we're making concessions for each other? I guess you're right. It's one of the unpleasant parts of the job, I suppose."
Rathenn looked very uncomfortable all of a sudden.
"Is something wrong?" Sheridan asked. The Minbari drew himself up and spoke formally but personally.
"I would not ask this of you, Sheridan, but for the fact that you are not of our race. I, among others, see the importance of your relationship with Satai Delenn. However, we also see how vital it is that your work continue untarnished."
"If you're going to tell me to leave her," Sheridan interrupted sharply, "don't even waste the thought."
Rathenn bowed his head in acceptance. "I had felt you would react in such a way. But I give you that choice, because you are not Minbari and do not know our ways. I give you the opportunity to remain in your position and -"
"I don't want to hear it." He turned to regard Rathenn with serious eyes. "I may not be Minbari, Rathenn, and I may not know your ways, but I know enough to tell you that I love Delenn and she feels the same way. Whatever you have to propose, if it includes ending our relationship then this is going to be a pretty worthless discussion."
Rathenn's expression changed from concern to profound relief and gratification - and was it pride as well? "If that is how you wish it. I had believed - and hoped, for Delenn's sake - that you would react so. However, I wish you to understand that I was required by the Council to put the opportunity before you."
Hearing that, Sheridan deliberately softened his attitude. "I appreciate that, Rathenn. Thank you for your confidence."
"I live but to serve," the Minbari replied. Sheridan was startled, although he didn't show it. None of the Minbari had ever used that term seriously with him; he had taken it as given that, as liaison if not as a Human, he was below them in stature. Rathenn didn't seem to notice his distraction and carried on.
"As you choose to remain with Delenn, there is only one other solution." He turned formal again, indicating his position as speaker for the Grey Council. "It is the wish of the Minbari that you be given command of the second Babylon Station, and that you be accorded the military rank appropriate to the post."
Sheridan was dumbstruck. He turned towards Delenn, sleeping peacefully on the gurney on the other side of the shuttle. Command of the Babylon Station? It had been her idea, her plan, her dream - to command it would be an unbelieveable opportunity, a chance to help guide that dream into reality. But if it meant leaving her here, on Earth...
"Delenn will be assigned as the Minbari Ambassador to the Station," Rathenn said after a pause, seeing the Human's gaze land on Delenn and knowing what held him back from agreeing. He had purposefully left that information, more for the benefit of the Council members who would watch this account later than anything else. He trusted Sheridan to do what was required of him, to make the correct choice, but he understood how much every shred of proof would mean to his argument. He was not as forceful as Delenn and with her absence the Council had begun to waver, if only slightly.
Sheridan digested that piece of information. For a moment he wondered what difference it made; however, he had to admit that having the two of them on the station that had been their plan to begin with was logical, and as the commander he was one of the most sensible choices. The Minbari had been co-funders in the project, and it was imperative they have someone they trusted in that position. Even after nearly three years, there still weren't many Humans who could say they were trusted by the Minbari. And when it came down to it, they could send who they liked as Ambassador the same as every other race, and again Delenn was the most logical candidate. All that would change would be that they were living aboard a gigantic tin can rather than a ball of rock, when you got down to the bare essentials of the thing.
He turned to Rathenn and bowed in Minbari fashion. "I am honoured by your choice, Satai," he said formally. "And I would be glad to accept."
Rathenn nodded, pleased by the outcome. "It is an honour for us to have you accept our offer, Lieutenant Sheridan."
"I live but to serve." He gave a wry half-smile. "I guess that means I'm not liaison any more, then?"
Rathenn inclined his head in assent. "Delenn's full recovery will be long, I fear, and the Station must be administered long before its completion. Alyt Lovell and your replacement will fill both posts adequately to allow you to concentrate on what is important." He stood: their shuttle had docked. "I will escort you to the medical facility."
Sheridan nodded gratefully and followed him out of the craft. "Does Delenn know much about all of this?"
Rathenn shook his head. "It has 'come to a head,' as you say, while she has been... indisposed. It was necessary to make the decision without her input."
Sheridan gave him a wry little grin. "I won't tell her you managed perfectly well without her," he assured the Satai. Rathenn looked somehwat relieved, although some of it was amusement.
"I do not think that would be wise, Lieutenant." He paused. "May I ask a question?"
Sheridan looked at him and shrugged. "Sure. Go ahead."
"Your words... sometimes confuse our people. Our systems of rank and status do not link well. Also, some of your words are... difficult to pronounce. Would it insult you a great deal if you were to be addressed as Alyt Sheridan?"
A wide grin spread across Sheridan's face. "No, not really. Actually, I kind of like it. Feel free to call me that whenever you want." He gave Rathenn a sideays glance as they entered the medical centre. "Sounds almost Minbari, doesn't it?"
Rathenn just bowed and left, but there was a hint of a smile on his lips.
* * * * *
Delenn awoke in the soft light of a medical room, lying on a bed that wasn't her own. She knew that because it was only half tilted, but for some reason her balance reacted much better to that. She opened her eyes speculatively to survey her surroundings. Turning her head to one side, she smiled as she saw John Sheridan sitting at a desk on the other side of the room. She reached out one hand a little way, before the stiffness in her muscles grew too uncomfortable.
He looked up, and a grin lit his features as he went to her. "Hey. How are you feeling?" He pulled up a chair and took her hand.
"I'm a little sleepy," she confessed. He laughed.
"You've been asleep for three days now already. I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to wake up and talk to me."
She smiled, remembering what he had said to her the last time she had seen him, when she had last been awake. "You find it important that I talk to you, do you not?"
He smiled. "Don't you?"
She returned the expression. "Where am I?"
Sheridan shifted into a more comfortable position and clasped her hand in both of his. She reached out and gave him her other hand, wanting for some reason to have his reassuring touch. His smile widened and he kissed the back of her fingers, leaning on the edge of the bed.
"You're on the Valen'tha. They came for you, and Rathenn brought you up here. Franklin and your own physicians are looking after you - with a lot of help from me, of course."
"Of course." She gave him a look that spoke not so much of amusement as a deep affection. "Where are we?"
"Still in Earth orbit. Evidently the Council aren't willing to risk taking you too far away just yet." He considered it. "Either that or Franklin's been talking to them."
"He has spoken to the Council?" She sounded shocked.
Sheridan grinned. "Stephen can be very insistent when it comes to his patients. He tends to steamroller everyone who contradicts him when he's in medic mode. Which is most of the time," he admitted.
Delenn smiled. "You like him."
"Yeah." He nodded. "He's a good man. A true doctor. Did you know that he burnt his notes on Minbari biology during the war?"
She looked curious. "No. Why?"
"They wanted to develop some biological weapon or other. Franklin isn't an idiot, and he knew they'd want his notes. That's why he was thrown on the peace mission with me. He wasn't willing to let them use his work to kill people, even the enemy."
Delenn looked suitably impressed, and grateful. "I wish more people were like that." Her fingers tightened around his. "I wish there were more people like you," she amended softly.
He grinned. "But then you wouldn't love me as much, would you?"
Delenn extracted one hand and brought it up to his face, her palm resting gently on his cheek. "I will always love you as much as I do now," she told him in a tender voice.
He couldn't resist. "And how much is that?"
She smiled with infinite adoration. "There are no words for that, John." Her hand slid behind his head and she drew him towards her. "There is only this." She held his other hand against her heart and kissed him slowly, deeply and lovingly.
"I love you," she said simply when she finally let him go.
He smiled in understanding. "I love you too, Delenn." He smoothed her hair, that had become tangled in her sleep. "You're going to have to let me brush that soon, you know," he commented idly. She looked curious.
"I don't understand."
"Your hair." He pushed a strand behind her ear. "You have to brush it, or it gets tangled up. It's not too bad at the moment, but it's gonna get worse if you don't do something about it. Hair care is one of the everyday joys of being Human." His tone dripped sarcasm. "It's easy. I'll show you what to do - I'll even do it for you, if you ask me *very* nicely." He raised an eyebrow suggestively. Delenn looked at the long hair surrounding her head. It had shocked her when she had first seen it, but for some reason she was very calm about it now. She hadn't considered that Human hair needed to be cared for, although she had gathered from John that it was washed along with the rest of the body. She wondered what else she didn't know about being Human. The thought was both intriguing and frightening, but she didn't feel the same panic that had enveloped her when she had first seen herself back in her apartment.
"Why am I so calm?" she asked in a voice that was slightly unfocused.
"Franklin gave you a tranquilliser. He was worried about you being too disoriented when you woke up; he didn't want you hurting yourself." He put a fingertip to her lips to quiet her protest. "He just wanted to make sure you didn't get too agitated, that's all. Now that you're awake, I imagine he'll let it wear off on its own." He smiled teasingly. "Unless you're planning on getting hysterical, in which case I'll tell him to give you another dose."
"I feel fine," she promised him. "At least, I feel more rational than I remember being before."
"That's what it's supposed to do." He took her hands tightly in his. "It means you can ask questions without getting caught up in how you feel about them right at the moment."
She looked confused. "Questions?"
"I assume you do want to know what it's like to be Human, or at least partly." At her look of vague understanding, he squeezed her fingers. "Don't worry too much. I'll take care of everything, you just rest and let the physicians take care of you."
"I'm all right," she assured him. "I'm just a little tired, and stiff. As soon as I can move around I'll be fine."
"I don't know if that's going to be for a while," he said apologetically. He pointed to an intravenous drip that hung above the bed. She frowned and looked at her upper arm, wondering why she hadn't noticed the attachment before. She turned the frown on Sheridan: he shrugged slightly.
"Remember what I said about Franklin?" He looked a little bemused. "You still aren't fully recuperated yet, though. You need to be re-hydrated and regain a lot of nutrients, and there's a lot you have to adjust to. I know Minbari can fast for a long time, but it's been four months since you've had eaten or drunk anything and with all the changes in your body, they didn't want to chance giving you anything more than water at the moment." He smiled lightly, but she felt suddenly uncertain at his words.
"John?" Her tone was quiet, one he had come to associate with curious apprehension. "What.. what else changed?"
He tightened one hand around both of hers, caressing her cheek with the other. "It would take me a while to tell you everything. How about we do one thing at a time?"
"All right." She turned her face into his palm, and he held it there. His touch reassured her, and that was what mattered.
"Franklin can tell you all the medical stuff, but that isn't what you want to know, is it?" She shook her head mutely. "I didn't think so. Delenn, you have to remember that what's changed isn't *you*. It's just the appearance that's different, not who you are inside. And if you ask how I know that..." He smiled lightly. "There are no words. I just know that you are the woman I fell in love with, and I wouldn't feel that way if you weren't the same Delenn I've known for all this time."
"I *feel* different," she told him in meek protest. "I don't feel like Delenn any more. I feel like..." Tears came to her eyes momentarily. "I don't know."
"It's okay." He'd known she would feel different because she would be different, at least physically, but there was no way he could help her except to be there with her, to support her. "I won't say I know what it's like, because I don't and I won't pretend to, but I know one thing and that is that I won't let you go through this on your own."
Her smile was tearful, but they weren't tears of pain. "I wish I knew why the Universe had sent you to me, John Sheridan," she said in a hushed voice. "Because I know I could not have done anything worth what you mean to me."
He grinned. "And they say Humans are a sappy bunch."
She fell asleep again no more than two hours later, her fingers entwined firmly in his and her cheek against his palm. He gently extricated his hand from under her head and stroked her hair, calming her as she turned over, missing his touch. "Shh," he murmured lightly, sinking onto the edge of the bed and taking her hand; she stopped moving to fall into a peaceful sleep. He was still sitting that way when Franklin entered the room, and the doctor grinned immediately when he saw the two of them.
"Was she like this before?" he asked with unconcealed amusement.
Sheridan raised his eyebrows in question.
"So affectionate, I mean. Rumour has it the Minbari are quite a restrained people."
Sheridan choked on a laugh. "I wouldn't put it that way. Ritualized, I'd say. And more than willing to forgo certain rituals, if the circumstances require it."
Franklin's eyes sparkled. "In favour of learning some new ones, is that it?"
"Doctor!" Sheridan pretended offense. "You're talking about one of the Grey Council, and on her own ship. You could at least make the attempt to be civilised."
"Sorry." Franklin glanced at his patient, who had unconsciously clasped Sheridan's hand in her own. "I hope you've been teaching her right. Their entire understanding of our culture might hinge on your performance."
Sheridan gave him a look that had broadswords in it. The doctor put his hands up in surrender and went to the monitors around his patient. Everything seemed to be in order; he made a few adjustments and then turned to a cabinet besde the bed.
"I'll tell you what, though," he said seriously as he reloaded the drip, "she must have something special to keep you here solidly for over three days."
Sheridan tried not to look too love-stricken when he answered. He didn't do too well. "She does, Stephen. I don't know if I could tell you what it is, but just trust me."
Franklin didn't even look up from the monitor he was studying. "Let me guess: you'd go to the ends of the galaxy if she asked you to."
Sheridan chuckled. "I guess it is kind of cliched, isn't it?"
"Not if you take it literally." The doctor gave him a steady, unreadable look. "I know of plenty of people who've said it, but few who'd actually do it."
"I would." He didn't even consciously hear the words: they were just there, and he knew without doubt that they were true. "If she'd told me I had to get into that chrysalis with her, I would have asked her what to wear."
Franklin laughed. "Now that's true, total and helpless love, Sheridan. I'm afraid I can't cure you of that."
The other man smiled. "I wouldn't want you to."
* * * * *
It was a strange feeling. Delenn could feel her mind responding to what she wanted it to do, but everything seemed to be moving through water and she found it hard to understand much of what was actually going on around her. What she did know, though, was that John was with her. His hand was firmly esconsed in hers, and he was sitting beside her as she opened her eyes.
"Was I asleep again?" Her voice sounded a little slurred.
"No." His own gentle baritone was softened. "Stephen had to give you a drug. You'll be okay in a little while." He put his hand on her face, touching her forehead. "You're just a bit feverish, that's all. It'll be gone in a day or so. Your immune system was more depleted than they realised, so they've given you a dose of something to boost it." He stroked her hair, and she found the feeling incredibly soothing. "Go to sleep, sweetheart." Her mind caught onto the word, and she tried to focus on his face.
"You haven't... called me that before..."
He smiled and put his hand on her forehead again. It was warm, and her skin felt very cold. "Do you like it?"
She smiled vaguely. "Yes..."
"Then go to sleep, sweetheart."
She drifted in and out of consciousness for the next week or so, and although Franklin ordered him not to worry, Sheridan couldn't help being concerned about her. The drugs they had pumped into her system to fight the fever seemed to be working, but her vastly different body chemistry was proving a difficulty, reacting in ways they didn't anticipate to substances they had thought were a safe bet. Sheridan didn't get much sleep, but he made sure he got enough to avoid Stephen's threats of sedation. He didn't feel like sleeping, even though an Earth bed had been brought into the room for him to use after he had flatly refused to leave Delenn's side. Most of the time he sat beside her and worked, or held her hand and watched her sleep. He felt a little embarrassed at his obvious attachment to her, especially when the Minbari were around, and Franklin had taken to teasing him about his cliched sense of romance, but he couldn't help any of it.
"The problem with cliches," he told her in a quiet voice as she slept, "is that they work so well. If you mean them, of course." She turned towards him, still unconscious, and he pushed her hair from her face. That, he imagined, was going to give her the most problems when she was awake and coherent again: it was the most obvious outward sign of her change, and only a select few of her people or his had been allowed to see her so far. Lovell had visited, briefly, to give his good wishes when he had heard of her illness; Sheridan privately thought the new Minbari Ambassador was more than a little fond of his predecessor, but descretion was one of the better virtues the Minbari had taught him. He hadn't said anything, and he wouldn't.
Rathenn also visited regularly, and all of the Council had come to see Delenn at different points; however only Racine, Jenimer and Shakat had ever returned. Sheridan was struck by the intensity of the affection they shared for their fellow Satai, particularly in Jenimer's case. He was probably the eldest of the Council, but his attachment to the youngest of their group was palpable. He approved of Sheridan, as well, which further esteemed him in the Human's eyes.
"He was a good friend to Dukhat," Delenn said when he asked her about it. Her fever had broken at the end of the week, and although she was still weak she was recovering smoothly. "I was Dukhat's aide, and we often spoke when they were discussing things in Dukhat's quarters." Her smile turned impish, and it made her eyes shine. "Dukhat always included me in things he shouldn't have. He said it was what I needed to know for when I became Satai one day." She went silent, and the light in her eyes flickered with sadness.
"What?" He moved from his chair to sit beside her on the bed. "Is something wrong?"
She shook her head. "I was just... remembering when I joined the Council, that's all." She closed her eyes. "Can we discuss something else, please?"
"Sure." He reached out to stroke her face. "Sure, whatever you want."
There was silence for a long while. Eventually Delenn spoke.
"Dukhat died that day." Her voice was filled with remorse, choked with tears. It was the first time she'd spoken of it directly, without referring to the war that had followed. Now it was the death of her mentor, her friend that she recalled, and he saw how much it still hurt her. "I loved him," she said absently. She turned her head toward Sheridan and smiled, caressing his cheek. "Never in the way that I love you," she assured him tenderly, "but I loved him. He was like a second father to me." Her hand trembled on his face. "I miss him so much, John."
He put his arms around her and held her to him, and she buried her face in his shoulder. He'd never realised how much it must have hurt her to lose Dukhat that way; her leader, teacher, confidante. It had hit the Minbari - and the Humans - hard, but for Delenn it had gone so much deeper than simple grief.
"It's okay," he said softly after a time. She lifted her head, and to his surprise he saw amusement in her eyes.
"Why do you always say that?" she asked in a tone that was half curious and half confused.
He frowned, confused himself. "I don't know, really. It's supposed to make you feel better." At her disbelieving gaze, he shrugged lightly. "I didn't say it *would*. It's just a Human thing. It's not something you think about when you're saying it." He scowled mock-seriously at her. "You're confusing me, Delenn."
She laughed. "You are a strange man."
"I come from a strange race." He lowered her back down onto the bed. "Are you feeling better now?"
Delenn smiled bemusedly. "Yes. Perhaps your methods do have some merit after all."
"Of course they do." He tried to look offended. "You love me. That means I'm *supposed* to be able to cheer you up."
She smiled innocently. "Oh. Is that what love is?"
"Yes." He put one hand on the other side of the bed, supporting himself over her. "It means I get to be your shoulder to cry on all the time."
Delenn's laughter was musical, and very amused. "Is that what they tell you on your planet?"
He raised his eyebrows, feigning innocence. "Why, is there something wrong with it?"
"No." She reached up and putting her arms around his neck, sat up again. "It's just that my people are, as you say, older than yours. Perhaps there are a few things we could teach you."
"An older woman..." He grinned. "It's a new one. What was it you were thinking of teaching me?" Delenn's expression became distinctly Earthlike - or was it just something that was common to all women? Either way, it didn't really bother him.
"I thought," she said in a near whisper as she closed her eyes and kissed him with a passion that was definitely more Earthly than before, "I'd start with this..."
//Alyt Sheridan?// The aide who stood in the doorway to Delenn's room kept her eyes lowered as soon as she saw her intended target. //A message for you, Alyt.// She bowed low to Delenn, and couldn't resist a glance at her. She struggled to conceal her reaction, for the transformed woman on the bed was obviously Satai Delenn but just as obviously changed. //Satai,// she said in a somewhat awed voice.
//Kastenn,// Delenn answered in greeting. She smiled understandingly. //You may look at me if you wish, Kastenn. I will not punish you for the privilege.//
//It is forbidden, Satai.// The female, younger than Delenn by a good few years and obviously still new to the Grey Council ship, seemed taken aback by the suggestion.
Delenn's lips curled upwards in a smile. //You are obviously curious. Better for you to see for yourself than listen to the rumours.// She laughed gently at the aide's face. //I was once an acolyte, Kastenn, and not so long ago that I do not remember it. Look at me.// The last words were a command, and one that Kastenn obeyed. Her eyes widened momentarily before she concealed her reaction. She seemed to want to speak, but either could not or would not for fear of insulting her Satai. Instead she turned back to Sheridan, bowing in apology.
//A transmission for you, Alyt, from your planet.//
Sheridan nodded and bowed respectfully in response. //Thank you. Could it be routed here?// He gestured to the comm unit over his makeshift desk.
//Of course, Alyt.// She bowed again to each of them, and with one more amazed glance at Delenn she left the room.
"Hmm?" He settled his hand into Delenn's, a movement so natural he hardly realised he was doing it any more.
"Is there something I do not know?"
He grinned playfully. "You're Satai. I thought you knew everything."
She smiled in puzzled amusement. "'Alyt' is not your title."
"No, it's not. A lot of people prefer it, though. Apparently they don't understand Earth ranks, especially those of your people who don't speak English."
"Why not 'Ambassador'?" Her always-perceptive eyes caught the flicker in his expression. "Tell me what has been happening."
The comm channel beeped. He put a finger on her lips.
"In a minute." He kissed her lightly to quiet her. She sat up as he crossed the room, curious as to the message. Few people contacted him on the Valen'tha - something which, had she not been so ill, would have made her suspicious.
//Receive,// he told the screen in Adronato. It obediently flickered on.
David Sheridan's face creased into a frown the instant he saw his son's image. "John! Where have you been? Your mother and I have been trying to contact you for ten days now." He didn't leave time for his son to answer, rushing on in confusion and anger. "Your sister's coming to see you."
"In Geneva?" A horrible feeling settled in his stomach. "Dad-"
"Of course in Geneva. I told her not to bother you, that it was some sort of diplomatic thing, but she's convinced it's more than that. She left this morning with Danny. He thought he might be able to calm her down a bit on the way there." He frowned. "Why haven't you at least called us, John? Your mother's very worried about you, she thinks there's something bad happening-"
"No!" He held up his hands to forestall that barrage. "No, it's nothing bad. It's just that I've had to give it my full attention for the past week or so. It's very important." He glanced over his shoulder; Delenn smiled tenderly.
"We understand that, son. But surely you could have called? We've been worried. You rushed off so suddenly, and then not a word..."
"I know, Dad, I should have called you. I'm sorry. I just... My attention's been totally - somewhere else." He took a breath and rushed on before David could speak. "Dad, I'm not in Geneva. I haven't been for ten days, that's why I haven't called you." He steeled himself. "I'm on the Valen'tha, the Minbari flagship. We're in orbit. Liz isn't going to find me in Geneva if she goes there."
His father tried not to look worried, but in the background his mother was making no such attempt. He avoided looking at her, but her sharp gasp was enough to make him suddenly very uncomfortable.
"She should be there by now, John. I told you, she left this morning."
"John?" Delenn's voice was tentative. He turned to her. "If she tells Lovell she wants to see you, he'll bring her here."
He winced. "I was just thinking the same thing. Dad, I'll talk to Liz. And I promise I'll come see you all again soon. But trust me, there's nothing wrong-" he directed that at his mother "-I've just had a lot to deal with. *We've* had a lot to deal with," he amended. He took a deep breath. "I promise I'll tell you all about it when I see you."
David didn't look happy, but he understood how diplomacy went and nodded, supposing Sheridan's reluctance to be professional and accepting it.
"Okay, son. I'll see you soon."
"Love to you both." The channel cut off, and he turned to Delenn with a bleak look in his eyes. Wordlessly, she held out her hand.
"I should have told them." He sat down, and the feel of her hand in his was suddenly immensely calming. "I should have told them earlier, about us. Before I couldn't tell them about your change, preferably." He pressed her hand to his face and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Delenn. I should have told them how I felt about you."
"And how would they have reacted?"
He opened his eyes and sighed. She touched his cheek lovingly.
"Then I forgive you. I won't ask you to confront your family for me."
"I love you," he said firmly. She gave him a fond smile.
"I know, John. But sometimes it is not enough."
"It *is* enough," he told her fiercely. "I won't leave you, Delenn. I don't *want* to leave you - I need you."
She sighed and put her arms around him, and he held her tenderly. "Is that what you will tell them?" she asked softly.
"Eventually. When you're well enough, I'll go back to Earth and talk to them." She nodded, seemingly accepting of the idea, but he could tell she had her doubts. So did he: he knew it wouldn't be that easy. His father might be relatively easy to convince, but he had no idea what his mother's reaction would be; she had always told him to be happy, that that was what mattered to her, but this was different. Delenn was Minbari, and he wasn't naive enough to think they wouldn't have more than their share of problems. Even if she approved of the relationship, his mother was bound to realise that it was going to cause trouble for her son. The question was, would she understand that it was worth it?
He tightened his arms around Delenn; sensing his mood, she shifted position and embraced him. She was stronger than a Human woman, even after her change, and right now that strength was reassuring. It was one of the things he loved about her; not only physically but her strength of character. She was so much more than she seemed, so much more vibrant and tender... and passionate. She seemed to know him instinctively, everything he felt, his concerns and his own passions. He knew there was no way he would ever be able to hide anything from her: he had given up trying.
She knew what he wanted now, and she was more than willing to give it to him even if he didn't know himself. His mind elsewhere, he kissed her hair absently and she tilted her face up to his. He smiled - there was no need for words - and kissed her firmly on the lips. It was the same as when they had kissed on the beach, and in her apartment, and every time between or since. Delenn had rather taken to this Human custom, he thought with amused satisfaction. *I must be doing something right.* He'd teased her about teaching her to become Human, but in truth she needed very little in the way of tutoring. To Delenn it seemed to come naturally, as as if she had been born to be in his arms.
"You've learnt very well," he murmured as he pulled back a little way.
Delenn smiled tenderly. "You do a lot of teaching," she teased him in a whisper.
"Only for you," he assured her softly, capturing her mouth again with his. Their kisses were slow and unhurried, filled with a passion and love could not be expressed in words. The instinctive touch, the feeling of her soul joined with his, said all that needed to be said. It had been hard as a Minbari, from an alien culture, to see the significance of the Earth custom, but from the first time John had kissed her Delenn had understood completely. None of her people could comprehend it, but that didn't matter to her. John knew, and she knew. That was all that she cared about, and when he held her within the circle of his arms the world seemed to disappear. He smiled lovingly down at her; she stroked his face, a similar expression on her features, distracted from everything else by the look in his eyes.
Startled, Delenn looked round, caught by the mortified tone in that voice.
There was a blonde Human woman in the doorway with a dark-haired man at her side; Kastenn stood behind them, eyes as always lowered. Delenn looked up at Sheridan, confused and concerned. He seemed shocked, and suddenly extremely disconcerted.
* * * * *
Sheridan felt like the proverbial kid caught with his hand in the equally proverbial cookie jar. Evidently his decision not to tell his family about his relationship with Delenn had been a worse one than he'd anticipated. Liz looked more than angry: she looked horrified. He saw a look fill her eyes, and as they met his he knew exactly what she was thinking. *Anna.*
"Liz," he started to say, sliding off the bed towards her, but her eyes silenced him. She looked at him, up and down, for a long moment, with a vaguely betrayed expression on her face. Then her gaze flickered onto Delenn, but although he instinctively held onto her hand the half-Minbari Satai did not flinch.
"You're Delenn." Her tone was nebulously insolent.
Sheridan broke in before she could answer. //Kastenn, could you arrange quarters for my sister and her mate, please?//
The acolyte bowed in submission and left in a hurry. Dan, Liz's husband, was looking at Sheridan with surprise. He had very little call to speak Minbari when he saw his family, and he suspected from that look that they had glossed over the fact that he'd had to learn at least one of the languages. Taking advantage of the surprised silence, he squeezed Delenn's hand and approached his sister.
"She's the reason you broke up with Anna." The two of them were obviously still in close contact, he thought, although Liz had never told him as much.
"No." His voice was firm. "That was long before anything happened between us. Delenn had nothing to do with it."
"Is she the one who captured you?" Liz was avoiding looking in Delenn's direction.
"Delenn gave me asylum. She saved my life, and she risked her own to do it." His eyes hardened. "She brought me back to you, to mom and dad."
"And took you away from Anna," she retorted.
"Leave it." His tone was harsh. "It was over between Anna and me years ago. It's never happening again, but that doesn't mean I don't have to be celibate for the rest of my life."
Liz looked as if she might believe him, but her face contorted in desperation. "But she's *Minbari!*"
He tried not to roll his eyes. "I thought we'd get round to that sooner or later. Yes, Delenn is Minbari. It's hardly a Human name, is it?"
"John," Delenn reprimanded gently. He nodded an admitting apology. Liz, caught in the awkward position of being helped by the woman who had angered her in the first place, frowned at Delenn with open animosity.
"*Are* you Minbari? You don't look much like one."
"That's *enough,*" Sheridan growled. Delenn didn't react, but her eyes were hurt. "Insults aren't going to get you anywhere."
"I wasn't being insulting." Liz appraised the woman sitting in front of her. "I just wanted to know, that's all. She doesn't look very Minbari."
"It's a long story," he said shortly. "Look, Liz, just - just try, okay? I know you're surprised, but-"
"Surprised is hardly the word, John."
He nodded acceptance, but he tried again, his voice pleading. "I know it's a shock, but just let me explain everything. Please."
"Everything seems pretty obvious," she said flippantly. "How long have you two been... anyway?"
"A few months," he admitted. "But I couldn't tell you, or I would have. I wasn't allowed to say anything..." Realising he was only digging himself in deeper, he sighed and tried to correct himself. Luckily, at that moment Kastenn returned.
//Quarters are available, Alyt.// Her voice was slightly timid, ostensibly sensing the tension in the room.
Sheridan nodded. //Thank you, Kastenn. Please show them the way.// He turned to Liz, apologetic. "I'll explain, Lizzie, I will. Just give me a few minutes - Kastenn will take you to some guest quarters, I'll be there in a little while."
"John," Delenn said gently. He looked at her. "Go with them. You need to talk to your family." She put a finger to his lips when he tried to protest. "You haven't left me since I was brought here. I'm fine," she promised at his expression. "Please, go with them now. There are people here if I need anything." Moving her fingertip from his lips, she smiled and touched his cheek. "Please, John." He still looked dubious. Delenn sighed. "Very well, then." Her voice lowered, and her accent flowed easily into her own language. //I order you, and as you take one of our titles...// There was a trace of mischief in her tone. //Obey your Satai, Alyt,// she commanded with a hint of amusement.
He struggled to hold back an answering smile and failed. "If you want it that way," he sighed. He tilted her chin up and kissed her gently. "I'll come back if anything-"
"Nothing is going to happen to me," she said firmly. "I will still be here when you return. Don't worry," she teased with a smile.
Sheridan smiled. "Okay." Squeezing her hand, he turned to his sister and gestured to the corridor.
The guest quarters were spacious, and outfitted with most Earth basics - mainly a water shower and a flat bed - but it was nonetheless Minbari in everything else. Sheridan was used to it, even found it vaguely calming, but he could see Liz and Danny didn't have the same reaction. Liz was a wonderful woman and she suited her own work down to the ground, but that was just where she preferred to remain: the ground. She didn't have the spirit to deal with new, alien cultures the way her brother did, and her husband was the same.
Sheridan tried to get the conversation off the ground. "Why don't we sit down?" He gestured to the couch and took a seat. Dan, who hadn't spoken to him so far, sat opposite him while Liz somewhat reluctantly took a seat beside her husband.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Hurt poured out of her voice. "How could you have a relationship with her for months and not say anything?"
Sheridan ran his fingers through his hair. "I didn't know what you'd say. I didn't know if I could tell you and see your reaction." He sighed painfully. "I guess I was right about that much."
"How long *has* this been going on, John?" Dan's voice was smooth, and it fitted his quite handsome features well.
"It's a little difficult to explain. We were... apart... for four months, but before that... There's always been something, but we never did anything about it. It was just affection, never anything serious until about four and a half months ago." He closed his eyes for a moment, putting his face in his hands, then sighed heavily. "Hell, it'll get out soon anyway. You might as well know." He leaned back in his chair and regarded them seriously. "Just over four months ago, Delenn went into a chrysalis that was made by an ancient machine the Minbari have, from God knows where. It ws just before that things got serious between us. Then she went into the chrysalis, and I didn't see her for four months until Rathenn came to the farm that weekend. I knew..." He seemed far away for a moment. "I knew something was wrong. I tried to ignore it because I wanted to spend some time with you all, but I couldn't say anything. Do you understand? I wasn't *permitted* to reveal anything about what happened to Delenn, and I couldn't tell you how I felt about her without revealing at least something."
Liz was quiet; it was Dan who spoke. "What happened?"
Sheridan ran his fingers through his hair. "Delenn emerged from the chrysalis. I had to go to her - I promised her I'd be there, but I couldn't explain anything. It was an internal Minbari matter - the only reason I knew about it was because I was so close to Delenn. No other Humans and hardly any Minbari were told about what she was going to do. I still don't understand completely why she did it, but I had to help - I had to be there for her. And then the doctors brought her here, and everything else just... got forgotten. I'm sorry," he added sincerely. "I meant to call and try to explain."
"You've had ten days," Liz protested.
"I know." He reached out for her hand, and although she was reluctant she let him take it. "I'm sorry, Liz, I really am. I spoke to mom and dad this morning and told them that. I know I should have called earlier, but..."
He nodded. "I want you to understand, Lizzie: I love her."
"Delenn?" This time the name was astonished disbelief. "John, you're not serious."
"I am serious. We love each other - I couldn't leave her alone, not after what she's been through. I wanted to tell you sooner, but like I said... there was no way I could." He looked desperately apologetic. "I'm sorry."
She stared at him for a long instant and then laughed. "Mom's going to have a fit when she hears this."
Sheridan managed a wry smile. "I wasn't planning on taking Delenn with me the first time." He glanced at her hopefully. "Tell me you're happy for me, Liz. I could do with hearing it right now."
"I guess I am. She's still Minbari, though - or part Minbari. I don't understand you, but I guess I can be happy for you. It was a shock - it's going to take some getting used to." She eyed him with a pained expression. "Just don't tell me she's going to be my sister-in-law."
Sheridan winced, but it was slightly amused. "I think we've got a while before that happens; besides, I have to break the news to mom and dad first."
Liz stared at him.
* * * * *
Delenn looked up as Sheridan entered the room, putting down the document she was reading. He smiled and kissed her in greeting, before glancing suspiciously at the paper in her hands. He looked over at his desk, and there was a conspiciously empty space on the surface. He looked back at her with a reproving frown.
"You didn't get that yourself."
Delenn did her best to look abashed. "Not completely by myself, no. I needed a little help moving."
"Shh." She put a finger on his lips. "It's getting late, you'll wake the physicians."
He frowned as he sat down beside her. "Did they know about this little trip of yours?"
"Stephen helped me," she told him. He paused.
"You worry too much, John," she said gently with amusement. "I am fine. He said that I can return to my quarters here tomorrow." His expression turned from concern to something else, and she frowned a little. "What is it? Surely the doctor's opinion is good enough for you."
"It's not that. I just... didn't think it would be so soon. I guess I'm just a little disappointed I won't be with you every minute of the day anymore."
Delenn smiled in understanding, but her eyes sparkled. "I don't recall mentioning that," she said with a touch of humour in her voice.
Sheridan blinked. "There are going to be more than rumours if we start sharing quarters, Delenn. Half the ship'll probably desert."
"You are exaggerating," she admonished gently. "It is no different to now." She picked up her reading and shuffled the papers. "Have there been many desertions so far?" she asked sweetly.
He sighed at her. "You know that's not what I mean. Delenn, my own sister finds it difficult to understand how I feel about you. These are your people, and there are a lot of things they don't know about me. I don't think they'd be comfortable with me being so close to you here."
"I am not thinking of *their* comfort, John." Her voice was musical, and more than amused. "I want you to stay with me. And I *am* Satai; they will simply have to deal with it." She moved over on the bed to let him sit down: evidently the discussion was closed. "What did your sister say to you?"
He sighed and took her hands, linking his fingers through hers. "She doesn't understand, but she's not completely against it. I don't know if she realises how serious we are, but it's a start."
Delenn smiled. "How serious are we?" she asked curiously.
He looked a little embarrassed. "Well, I have to tell the rest of the family before I think about asking you to marry me." His words were so honest that for a moment she had difficulty believing them. Finally, his expression convinced her that he was serious and she couldn't stop the tears of joy that welled in her eyes.
"I said I'd never leave you, Delenn."
She looked at him, still unable to quite believe he'd said it so plainly. "I know, but..."
He smiled understandingly and wiped her unshed tears away. "Just think of it as something that's going to happen in the future, okay?" Delenn smiled joyfully and nodded. "Right now you still have a lot to get through, and before you can manage on your own I think there are a few things you have to know."
Her eyes clouded. "Why?" Then it came to her, and she seemed to realise the enormity of her change. She had been either asleep, ill or on tranquillisers for the past ten days, but now that she was beginning normal life again she finally had to face the fact that nothing was going to be the same. She put her arms around him, needing the assurance of his embrace. He smiled sympathetically and stroked her hair, soothing her.
"You'll manage," he told her with utter confidence. "Just don't worry about it. Being Human isn't that bad, you know."
Delenn smiled. "It's not that I'm Human - it's just that everything's different. I wouldn't mind, but..."
"It's hard. But you're not on your own, Delenn, remember that. I'm still here for you." He brushed back her hair. "Besides, you're only partly Human."
She frowned. "That only makes it worse, John."
Sheridan sighed ruefully. "You'll get used to it. You're good at adapting." He pointedly raised an eyebrow and she nodded admittingly.
"You are only trying to stop me worrying."
He chuckled. "Of course I am. I don't want you to worry yourself to death over this."
"I will not die of concern," she told him with a smile. She yawned unexpectedly. "However, I do need some sleep if Doctor Franklin is to release me tomorrow."
Sheridan scowled playfully at her as he helped her lie down. "You're not a very good patient, you know," he teased. "You're supposed to object to the doctor's advice, not obey it."
Delenn looked puzzled by that, but she let it pass. He laughed and pulled the covers over her shoulders. "Never mind; go to sleep." He kissed her tenderly and took her papers back to his desk. When he looked over a few minutes later she was asleep, her head pillowed on her hands, with a small smile on her lips. He grinned to himself, glanced fondly at her for a long moment, then went to his own bed and slept peacefully.
* * * * *
Delenn's quarters were, visibly, the same as when she had left them to take up residence on Earth two years before. Franklin, however, gave Sheridan a discreet run-down of the changes he'd ordered made. They were basically equipped as Liz's had been, although she and Dan had returned to Earth early that morning to go back to work. Sheridan had apologised for their inadvertent 'abduction', but although she was still a little icy towards Delenn his sister seemed to have resolved her differences. She had left extricating a promise for him to speak to their parents but for now he pushed that to the back of his mind. At present he was in Delenn's bedroom, watching her organise her belongings. Finished, she turned and looked dubiously at the bed he was sitting on.
"It'll be fine," he put in before she could voice her doubts again. "Your own physicians told you that, didn't they?"
Delenn sighed. "Yes, but..." She caught the look in his eyes and let her frown disappear. "I am worrying again."
"Don't." He stood up and put his arms around her. "It's still tilted, isn't it? And anyway, you've been sleeping on a bed like this since you got here. It's no different." He quickly gave the bed a speculative glance. "Except for the fact that it's bigger, of course."
Delenn's eyes sparkled as she answered. "You have never slept on a Minbari bed before."
He pretended to be taken aback by the obvious connotation. "No, I haven't." He grinned and kissed her. "But I'm sure I can manage." He toyed idly with a strand of dark hair coiling across her shoulder. Delenn had noticed that he seemed to like that more than any other part of her transformation; he also knew how to take care of it, but she wasn't sure which mattered more to her.
"How are you feeling now?" His voice was tender, still caressing her hair as he spoke.
"I feel fine. A little... confused. Not knowing what would happen made it very difficult to prepare for this."
Sheridan put on a confident expression. "Well, now that Franklin's told you everything that changed, you can start preparing. Adjusting," he corrected. "And as your quarters are now fitted with a water shower, I at least am going to start by using it." He slipped his hand into hers and smiled. "Whaddaya say?"
Delenn tried to appear confident, but she wasn't convinced. "If you think it's necessary."
"Delenn." He smiled warmly. "You have to get used to doing things differently now. You'll enjoy it, trust me." Before she could reply, he put a finger on her lips and led her from the room.
The bathroom was as spacious as the rest of her quarters, filled with an indescribable fresh scent. It was something like the scent Delenn had usually worn before her transformation, and it was a pleasant one. He realised it must be the cleanser Minbari used to strip off the outer layer of their skin - something that would not work, however, on a nearly Human body that was just beginning to function completely.
He turned the shower on to let it warm, then looked at Delenn, who was standing where he had left her in the centre of the room. She had that dubious look on her face again, mixed with some confusion and even apprehension at the first real concession she was making to her now-Human body.
"It's all right." He held out his hand and she took it. "It might seem like a bad idea right now, but just give it time." He suddenly remembered her first encounter with the shower concept and cursed inwardly. "It won't hurt the way it did before," he assured her. "That was different. You'll be fine this time." He kissed her lightly. "Trust me?"
She smiled tentatively and nodded.
"Okay." Guessing the shower would be warm enough by now, he turned on the water and reduced the pressure a little, checking to make sure it wasn't too hot for Delenn's still-sensitive skin.
He was already dressed in a robe, having spent all of the morning in her quarters and planned for this contingency since they had left the medical facility. Delenn was wearing the loose, white robe that usually signified an acolyte: at the moment, however, she had chosen it for its simplicity and its ability to conceal her figure rather than to express her rank. Sheridan thought, and had told her so, that she looked more beautiful now than before: Delenn was obviously and understandably not convinced. At least, not yet; he had a few ideas that might encourage her belief, but most depended on her cooperation and first he had to get her into the shower.
Now, he hit upon the second barrier: his own participation. Delenn had never seen him, or any other Human, naked before, and he was more than a little nervous about her reaction. He wasn't a perfect specimen, by any means; nevertheless, he considered himself reasonably in shape and he hoped she would be pleased with what she saw. His main concern was her reaction to his obvious sexuality. It was a subject that had come up only briefly during their time together, and one Delenn was overtly uncomfortable with right now. He didn't blame her: Minbari practices were completely external, although they had been distinctly vague on exactly how it worked, so the thought of penetration was totally alien - and frightening. Therefore it was with a quite understated amount of trepidation that he slipped out of his robe and into the shower, allowing the water to flow over him. He made a quiet sigh of pleasure: he always missed real water showers when he was in space. With a reassuring smile, he held out his hand to Delenn.
"See? It's perfectly safe." His voice held a hint of amusement at her predicament and she frowned, determined he was *not* going to laugh at her. It was not until she had joined him in the spacious cubicle that she saw the smile in his eyes and knew he had teased her on purpose.
To her surprise, she found the pressure of the water soothing; she could almost feel it cleansing her body... and with it her mind, of at least some of her doubts. It had been a huge step to move back into her quarters, and she was glad John was there: his presence was in the very least immensely comforting, at most essential. She realised now how little she had prepared for the new role she had taken on, how little she truly knew about being a Human woman. Those doubts were emphasised by John's presence as much as they were calmed - especially now, at this moment, when she faced him naked for the first time. She deliberately avoided looking where she knew she wanted to look, knowing it would bring back her fears and refusing to allow them to intrude upon this moment. John would never hurt her: she knew that. But the *idea* of it, the thought of such an intrusion, both sickened and terrified her.
"Delenn." He took her by the shoulders and tilted her face up slightly, to look at him. "There's no rush." He voice was understanding. "Just ignore it for now. We'll deal with it when you're ready." He grinned and turned her around for good measure, closing the gap between them until there was little more than an inch or two separating them. "One thing at a time."
She felt his hands on her hair, and his touch made a warm feeling flutter through her. He was gentle, making sure he didn't hurt her, and he avoided her crest as best he could as he parted her hair and made sure it was thoroughly wet before reaching around her for a bottle on the side.
"Shampoo," he told her confused features. "It's what you use to wash your hair, to keep it clean." He squeezed some of the creamy liquid onto his palm, and Delenn inspected it curiously. "I'll do it for you for now," he assured her. "It might feel a bit strange at first, but you'll get used to it. Just relax." He pushed her carefully forward a few paces, until the water was no longer on her face, then slowly, carefully began to massage the shampoo into her hair.
He was right: it did feel strange at first, and fascinating. She was still not used to the idea of having hair, and she often forgot until the dark curls snaked across her shoulders to remind her. The feeling was relaxing, rhythmic, and she realised how tired she was when he touched her crown and she jumped slightly, pulled back to full wakefulness.
"Sorry." His voice was close, and she could almost feel his breath on her crown.
"It's all right." Her own voice sounded far away.
Sheridan smiled and drew her hair back over her shoulders. "Close your eyes, and tilt your head back a little." He dropped his hands to her shoulders and guided her back under the water. She was confused, unsure, but she did as he asked. The movement made her suddenly unsteady on her feet, but John's confident grasp held her in place. "Easy, I've got you." His voice was reassuring. "You won't fall." She felt his hands gently but firmly massaging out the shampoo, and a few moments later he repeated the process with something called 'conditioner'. The whole thing seemed unnecessarily complicated to Delenn, but she listened attentively to what he told her. After all, she would soon have to manage by herself and complicated or not, it was the way things had to be done.
When he was done with her hair, he let her turn around and watch him while he repeated the ritual for himself. It took only a few minutes, much less than it had for her, but she guessed that had to do with the amount of hair involved. Things grew more interesting, though more unsettling, when he finished and held up a cloth. It was wet from the shower, and he took another bottle of something called 'shower gel' and squeezed it into the centre. Delenn looked dubious, and he saw her expression.
"Turn around again," he told her. She frowned, growing curious, but nodded in compliance. Having turned around, she could not see his actions, and she jumped in surprise as he touched her back.
"Shh." He steadied her shoulders. "You can do this yourself if you like, if it's easier."
Delenn shook her head, recovering her composure. "No, please, it's all right. I just... wasn't expecting it."
"Sorry." The apology in his tone was evident. "It helps get you clean. You're supposed to enjoy it," he informed her with a teasing smile. She turned her head to see it and smiled back.
"I am enjoying this, John." She paused, then said quietly, "Thank you for helping me."
"You don't have to thank me, Delenn. I'm enjoying this too." His voice held a tone that made her skin warm, and she felt slightly uneasy even as it brought a smile to her lips. He went silent as he continued the firm, circular motions on her skin, and although it was gentle and she enjoyed it at first Delenn began to wish he would speak, to take her concentration from what he was doing. Her skin was hot, and not from the shower, and she was growing increasingly uncomfortable with his attentions. When she had been Minbari, being with John had elicited feelings she had never known she possessed, but they had at least been emotions and to some extent controllable. Now her body, Human in more ways than she wanted to realise, reacted in ways she didn't understand - didn't *want* to understand - to the sensation of his touch. She gasped when his fingers touched the sensitive blue streak that coloured her spine, and although he apologised sincerely, when he asked her to turn around it was too much. She didn't have the strength, the control, to deal with what was happening to her, and she fled. There was a robe made from the towelled material Humans used waiting on a hook on the wall: Delenn grabbed it and drew it tightly around her, tears stinging her eyes. She wasn't used to being so out of control, and the circumstances only made it infinitely worse. She knew, she *knew,* even though she didn't understand the feelings themselves, that her body wanted what she dreaded the most. Physically, she was desperate to be with him, to experience what for a Human was the pinnacle of everything that came naturally. But Delenn was still Minbari, had been Minbari for over twenty years, and emotionally the idea horrified her more than she could form into thought.
She ran into the bedroom, curling up on the bed with her head buried in her arms, shaking. She had just about been able to accept John's obvious Human sexuality, knowing he would not approach her until she was ready, but the sensations she had felt - still felt, even though she was no longer near him - overwhelmed her conscious decision to ignore that sexuality. And she was still attracted to him, which hurt and confused her even more: she loved him, there was no doubt about that - and she was attracted to him, but the idea of his body invading hers made her shudder in horror.
His hand touched her shoulder, and she tried to hide her face away with a soft whimper.
"Delenn?" His voice was soft, and why in Valen's name did he have to sound so wonderful?
"Leave me alone," she answered without looking up. "Please leave me alone, *please*."
He sat down beside her, stroking her hair. The contact made her shiver, half in anticipation and half in fear. "I'm sorry, Delenn," he said gently. "I should have realised." He reached across and took her hand, but although he tightened his fingers around hers they remained stiff in his grasp. "Please forgive me, sweetheart. It won't happen again, I promise. I shouldn't have done what I did." Her fingers wrapped tentatively around his, and he clambered onto the bed beside her. She was sure he didn't understand most of what he was apologising for, but the fact that he was sincere meant that didn't matter all that much.
She felt him put his arms around her and leaned into his embrace, still shaking. There were no tears; she was too confused. Her mind and body didn't understand each other and more than that, they didn't understand John. In her mind, he loved her and would never hurt her, but at the same time she knew the time would come when their relationship would become sexual and she dreaded it more than anything. Her body, on the other hand, was ready for him and wanted him more than she had ever dreamed possible, going completely against her feelings on the subject.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, ashamed of her actions and even more so of the way she was reacting. "It's my fault."
"It's not your fault," he assured her. "You couldn't know. I should have thought about what would happen, I should have warned you." He held her close, rocking her gently. "I didn't think about what it might do to you. I'm sorry."
Delenn put her arms around him, huddling into the protection of his embrace. "I don't understand," she said in a quiet, tearful voice. "I don't know what's happening to me, John. I'm so frightened..."
"Sshhh..." He smoothed her hair, taking care to stay away from her crown. "It's okay. There's no need to be frightened, Delenn, I won't let anything happen to you. You just need to take things slowly for a while." He held her to him, calming her, and without thinking pressed his face into her hair, kissing her gently. She pulled away instantly, and when he saw her face everything he hadn't understood slotted into place.
"I don't want you near me." She backed out of his arms. "Please, just - don't come near me. Please-" She slid off the bed and disappeared into the bathroom. He got up, trying to follow her, but her words rang in his ears. *Don't come near me...*
"Delenn," he called softly. The door closed in his face, and he heard muffled sobbing behind it. "Delenn, please, don't do this. I want to help."
"Leave me alone!" Her voice was choked with tears. "I don't want you near me! I *don't*..." her words trailed off into a gasping sob, and he felt his heart break in his chest. Hopefully he pushed on the door; in her distraction, Delenn hadn't locked it. He opened it slowly and went inside. She was crouched on the floor, curled up in a ball, and she didn't look up when he came in.
"I told you not to come near me," she said in a small, desperate voice. "I don't want you anywhere near me. Don't you understand?"
"I know *you* don't understand, Delenn." He crouched down beside her and extracted her hands from her foetal ball. "Don't cry, honey. Please don't cry. Everything will be okay-"
"You always *say* that!" She turned a tear-streaked face defiantly up at him. "You don't understand - it's not all right! Nothing is! I feel as if I'm lost, as if I'm trapped in a body that isn't mine that I can't control and I don't understand and I never will..." A sob choked her tirade. "This isn't my body, John! This isn't *me*! There are so many things I don't know, so much I don't want to know - I never thought it would be this *hard* to understand what was happening to me! Everything is too *different*... I have reactions I don't understand, feelings that aren't mine, that can't be mine - it feels like my mind isn't whole any more, isn't *me*." Another sob welled up inside her and she forced it down. "I'm so lost, and I can't ever go back again..."
There were tears in his eyes as he lifted her from the floor. "Oh, Delenn... I didn't know..."
She clung to him desperately, forcing back the tears she'd thought were spent. "I'm *scared!*"
"I know, honey." He sat down on the edge of the bed, Delenn in his lap, cradling her and rocking her tenderly. "I know. But it's all right to be frightened right now. You have to deal with the fear, that's the only way to make it go away." He looked down at her and after a long moment she nodded, reaching up to put her arms around his neck. He tightened his hold on her and nestled his face in her hair. "Please don't shut me out again, Delenn."
"I promise." Her voice shook, but the promise held. "It was just-" She broke off, suddenly silent.
"More than you can handle right now," he finished gently. "It's perfectly normal, Delenn. Next time just tell me to stop and I will, whatever it is. I don't want to hurt you, physically or emotionally. I want everything to be fine."
She smiled. "Is that why you say it so much?"
He chuckled. "Maybe. I try to convince myself."
Delenn took in a shaking breath. "I can't do that, John." Fear gripped her tone. "I can't think straight, I can't understand anything that's happening."
"You have to get used to your body, Delenn," he said soothingly. "You're not made to be Human, not mentally. You need to have some time to get used to it before you start trying to decode what it's telling you. I'm sorry," he said again. "What happened earlier was insensitive of me. I should have thought about what it would to do you, especially now." He stroked her hair and this time it was chaste, soothing. "I do love you, Delenn. I would never deliberately do anything to hurt you."
She smiled and nodded. "I know."
He smiled back at her. "Good." A touch of wry humour added itself to his expression. "Now, are you going to let me brush your hair, or do you want to do it yourself?"
Delenn looked up at him, her smile widening a little. "You may do it, if you wish." The veiled command didn't go unnoticed to Sheridan, and with a wry grin he went to fetch the hairbrush.
* * * * *
The cabin, one of the largest and most luxurious - by Minbari standards - onboard the ship, was finally dark. The only light came from a small triangular crystal at the bedside, emitting a gently soothing haze that seemed to pervade the room with calm. The figure on the bed hardly noticed the light, her eyes having been closed for hours.
Delenn, Satai of her people and the first Minbari/Human hybrid ever, was at last sleeping in her own quarters. Sheridan, her ever-present guardian since her emergence, sat in a comfortable chair at the side of the room, watching her rest. Every so often she would move and the soft light would catch her face, playing across her changed features. In the darkness, he could almost imagine she was fully Human - or, if he tried, still the full Minbari woman he had loved before her transformation.
She stirred then, but rather than settling back into sleep her eyelids fluttered and opened briefly. She murmured something - and then alarm filled her darkened eyes and they opened wide, panic gripping her.
Sheridan was at her side before she could speak, holding her in his arms to calm her. He passed his hand over the light, bringing the illumination in the room to half normal levels.
//Nightmare?// he whispered. She nodded.
//I - I was back in the chrysalis... just before I emerged. I was trying to get out, but I couldn't... I couldn't move, I was trapped.// She shuddered violently. //It was awful... like being buried alive.// She shivered and huddled into his embrace.
Sheridan let out a rueful sigh, caressing her hair to try and soothe her. No one, except Delenn herself, knew what it had been like inside the chrysalis for those four months; evidently she had been awake and conscious of her surroundings for at least some of that time.
"It's okay now," he assured her. "You're out of there now. There's probably not even any evidence of it there anymore." She nodded, accepting his logic, but she was still perceptibly shaking. "How long were you awake for?" he asked gently.
She knew what he meant, even though the words weren't specific. "I don't remember. It seemed so long - but then it may not have been. I don't remember the transformation itself, only being awake before and... afterwards." She shuddered at the thought. "Afterwards was the worst. I didn't remember anything, and I couldn't move or see anything at all. It was horrible..." her voice trailed off. He hugged her sympathetically, realising what she was experiencing.
"It's okay, Delenn," he said understandingly. "After something like that, it's only natural you'd be a little claustrophobic, especially if you were awake for a long time that way. It's nothing to worry about." He stroked her hair; her shaking had stopped, but she still held onto him. "It'll probably fade eventually, and there are very successful treatments if it doesn't. Don't worry."
She nodded: it made sense. "Thank you," she said quietly. He shrugged.
"That's what I'm here for. Do you want to go back to sleep now?"
Delenn nodded again, then paused and looked up at him with those luminous, pleading eyes. "Would you stay here with me?"
"I am staying with you," he pointed out.
Delenn looked uncomfortable and a little sheepish. "I want you to stay here." Her gaze took in the bed: whether it was her current drowsy state or the result of his friendly comfort, there was no fear in her eyes.
He let her go and moved around to the other side of the bed, drawing back the covers that had been provided. Minbari were used to colder temperatures and required little more than a board to sleep on. He could handle their pillows - just - but he drew the line at the lack of bedclothes.
"All right. But you have to promise not to kick me out in the morning."
Delenn looked a little puzzled; then she seemed to understand his meaning and smiled. "I will not regret it in the morning, John, I promise."
"If you're sure." He sat down, but he was already dressed in loose clothing that would do for bed and didn't need to change. He didn't want to do anything to provoke Delenn's fears - or himself, if he was truthful. He found the idea of sharing a bed with her more than a little tempting, but he had enough self-control to hide it until she was ready to know that. She probably guessed, judging by her face as she watched him get in beside her, but she made a point of not saying anything.
"We're just sleeping, Delenn," he told her gently. She saw the reflection of her concern in his eyes and smiled, reassured by his plain denial of anything else between them. Tentatively, she moved up against him; he smiled, knowing Minbari didn't show such affection in what to them was the ordinary act of sleeping. But Delenn now responded to Human as well as Minbari instincts, and at that moment her Humanity won out. Sheridan put his arms around her, holding her close. He did, however, remain on his back as she pressed against his side, deliberately showing no hint of sexual contact between them. The last thing he wanted to do was to upset her now, after such an important milestone. He didn't have long to worry about it, though: within minutes of his settling in beside her, Delenn was asleep again.
When she awoke in the morning to the sound of the ship's internal clock chiming Minbar time, Delenn was aware that something was very, very different to the way it had been every other morning of her life. To Minbari, the bed was a simple place: an area for meditation and rest, and shared with a partner only because it was practical when the two already shared the same living quarters. There was nothing overly remarkable about sleeping next to another: it was often done with guests, or the bed was simply used by one alone. The Watching ritual, one of the main rituals of courtship, was the only time two partners were required to share the same bedchamber: in fact, among higher-ranking Minbari who had larger homes or quarters, it was very common for the couple to have separate rooms. And yet, as she emerged from sleep, Delenn could not help the feeling that perhaps her people had more to learn from the Humans than they had thought.
She opened her eyes speculatively, and was greeted by the sight of John Sheridan looking down at her with a smile on his lips.
"Good morning," he said in a tone she didn't quite understand. Confused by her reaction to their situation, she sat up and pulled herself from his arms.
If he felt offended by her sudden movement, he didn't reveal it. If anything he looked understanding, and sensing she would be far more comfortable out of the bedroom he too got out of bed.
"Breakfast?" he asked cheerfully. Delenn smiled warmly.
"That would be nice," she allowed. "I think Doctor Franklin has provided some nourishment I should be eating."
"I'll go find it," he assured her. "You get dressed."
Delenn nodded absently, still trying to interpret and understand her reaction to his presence beside her in her bed. She knew she had invited him there after waking during the night, and that when she had not been thinking consciously of it she had enjoyed the feeling of being held in his arms under the warm covers. That was strange to her as well, the idea of using bedclothes, but the doctors had told her that although her body did not require them, they would make her much more comfortable during the night. There were pillows, too, but they were even stranger: huge fluffy things that sank as soon as she lowered her head. Although, she had to admit, with much of her crest gone they were also quite comfortable. The Minbari head crest had little feeling except where it grew, at the outer edges, and so such cushioned pillows were unnecessary for her people. *But,* she reminded herself with a touch of regret, *very little is the same as it was for a Minbari now.*
"You're worrying again," he said idly as she entered the main room. His insight amazed her: he had only to glance up for a second to gain an accurate measure of her emotions.
"I was not worrying," she defended. "I was... thinking." She sat down as he placed the ready-prepared meal in front of her, handing her a glass of a Minbari drink known as *ghiala*. It was sweet, almost like pineapple juice, but not as sharp and Sheridan had found it tasted quite pleasant. Delenn certainly liked it, and any sense of normality was welcome while she tried to get her bearings.
"What were you thinking about?" he asked lightly as he sat down opposite her.
"Being Minbari. Being Human." She smiled sadly. "Being neither."
Sheridan took her hand. "How about being both?"
She smiled tenderly at him then. "I am more Human than I am Minbari, John."
"But you're still both," he insisted. "You just said so."
Delenn opened her mouth to speak, then sighed and frowned at him with a small smile. "You are very adept at breaking my mood," she said in a voice that was profoundly grateful. He grinned and shrugged, digging into his own breakfast. Delenn took the cue and quickly devoured the contents of the plate; being in a chrysalis for over four months had left her with quite an appetite. When they had finished, Sheridan cleared the plates away while she sat down on the couch, investigating the piles of documents waiting for her attention.
Sheridan finished the clearing up and sat down beside her, sliding one arm behind her. Delenn looked up at him, and smiled; she dropped the small wad of papers and nestled against his side, resting her head on his shoulder. Sheridan put his other arm around her, holding her firmly the way he had done all that night, and Delenn closed her eyes, content in the security that belonged to her and her alone. John was the most stable element in her new life; she had loved him before, and she loved him now - and she knew now that he had always loved her. Even the doubts were still there, if anything stronger than before.
When she had been fully Minbari, when they had first made clear the direction their relationship was turning in, she had worried about the differences between them: in culture, in religion, in physiology. It was the last that had worried her most, for she had known Humans expressed attraction in different ways to Minbari and she had also known that as Human and Minbari, they would not be compatible either physically or mentally. Now, however, the idea that they *were* compatible worried her more. Her mind, although adjusting to the basic routine of being partly Human, had not yet grasped the notion of physical relations and did not want to. But if they were going to stay together, sooner or later it would have to be addressed...
"Delenn," he said quietly. She looked up. "You were thinking again," he chided her. "I don't like seeing you worry this much."
"I'm fine." She smiled, managing to make it at least a little sincere. "I was just wondering when you were going to tell me about everything that has happened since I... left."
He shrugged. "Now sounds like a good time. I wanted to wait until you were well enough, after that fever. I didn't want to worry you." He looked at her pointedly. "You've got enough of that right now."
Delenn sighed, but she couldn't help smiling at his concern. "I can manage whatever you have to say, John. I am stronger than you give me credit for."
He had the good grace to look abashed. "Sorry." He picked up a sheet from the top of her paper mountain. "Most of the news is probably in here. The biggest thing is the Babylon Project." His tone indicated a difficulty.
"What about it?"
He grimaced. "You know the first station was supposed to be completed late this fall?" Delenn nodded. "It won't be. It was destroyed - or destroyed itself, I should say. The infrastructure collapsed." The shock and dismay on her face was immediate. "No one was hurt," he assured her quickly. "The work crews were well-trained, and luckily it was a change of shift when it started. It's not a complete loss, though," he rushed on before she could form any conclusions. "Your government - though I'm not supposed to say it - managed quite well without you, and Lovell and I managed to get funding for a second station. It's in the same place, but this one will be built better. We've evaluated the work personally to make sure the same doesn't happen again, *and* we have more funding this time."
Delenn let out a sigh of relief. "So everything is still on schedule?"
"I wouldn't say 'on schedule', exactly," he answered ruefully. "But nothing came to a complete stop, and we did manage to use the shoddy workmanship to request more funding. The second station'll be better than the first one," he promised. "And..."
She sat up, curious. "And?"
"They've offered me the command."
Her expression lit up with joy, then suddenly took a nose-dive into despair. "But-"
"Lovell's going to stay on Earth as your replacement," he explained at the look on her face. "Rathenn assured me that *you* are going to be the Minbari Ambassador to the Babylon Project, if not co-commander. The details haven't been worked through yet, but you are going with me." He looked seriously into her eyes. "I would have refused if you weren't."
Delenn smiled tenderly. "I would not have stayed on Earth had you gone," she assured him. "I will stay with you, John, no matter what happens. I love you."
He smiled and, as there really was nothing else to say, replied in kind. Then he kissed her gently, and she responded by drawing herself up into his embrace and wrapping her arms around his neck. Their kiss was long and slow, as close an expression of the love between them as they could manage. When it was over, she settled back against him, closing her eyes; he gazed down at her and ran his fingers through her hair.
"How are you doing with this?"
She opened her eyes and frowned slightly. "I don't understand."
"I meant..." He sighed and clasped her hand where it rested on his chest. "How are you dealing with everything. Us, specifically."
She closed her eyes again: it made it easier to talk when she could pretend he wasn't looking straight at her, listening to her every word. "I am... dealing with it. Slowly." She sighed and admitted, "Very slowly." She felt his gaze on her. "Hardly at all." Opening her eyes, she turned her face up to him. "It's frightening, John. Minbari don't..." she mouthed vaguely, but the words were neither there nor would they have emerged if they were. "They just don't," she said finally.
"I know." He stroked her hair, and she smiled very slightly; she always found the caress soothing, and the tone of his voice was almost hypnotic, relaxing her without realising. "I imagine Minbari ideas would probably frighten me, too... But I would never let anything hurt you, Delenn. I know you believe that."
She nodded against his shoulder, huddling tighter into his arms. "It isn't you," she said urgently, quietly. "It's the idea of it - the thought of - of-"
"It really isn't that bad," he told her in a voice that was deeply sympathetic but ever so slightly teasing. "For a Human it's perfectly normal. I've never met anyone who said they didn't like it, provided they were willing and their partner was open to suggestions." He made a point of not looking at her, knowing it would make her uncomfortable. "I'm not pressuring you, Delenn. I'll wait until you say you're ready, and if you don't want to then it doesn't matter. All I'm saying is that you don't have to be afraid just because you don't understand." He sighed sympathetically. "I guess it sounds pretty horrific to you."
"That is the word I would use," she said sardonically. "How do you - how do your people stand it? It's a terrible thought, to be - to be violated like that by someone."
"Oh, Delenn." He touched her chin and tilted her head up to look him in the eyes. "It isn't like that at all. It's not a violation, it's... I don't know. A sharing, I guess. It's entirely mutual, I promise you. It doesn't hurt - it's *meant* to happen. Humans have been having sex since the dawn of time; it just comes naturally. It's an instinct." He stroked her hair, trying to calm her. "Between Humans, sex isn't just for reproduction - that's practically a secondary function. It's the ultimate expression of love between two people, to trust each other enough to allow something that intimate to happen." He kissed her forehead lightly. "I trust you, Delenn, and I love you more than I've ever loved anyone. But an equal expression of love is waiting until the other person is ready to take such a big step, especially the first time."
"Is the first time... special?" Despite herself, she was curious.
He smiled, tenderness concealing an unidentifiable expression. "The first time with a new partner is always special, and for most people their first time ever is even more so. It tends to be the one you set your standards by."
"What was your first time like?" She asked it with perfect innocence, but he was shocked by the sudden turn of conversation.
"Mine? It was..." He smiled a little. "I guess it was special. I was sixteen, and I had a crush on this girl at my high school - she was the classic beauty, all the guys wanted her. We went out for a while - I think it was about five months before we broke up. I was pretty nervous the first time - all right," he admitted ruefully, "I was *really* nervous the first time. Luckily she knew what she was doing." He chuckled. "Little did I know she was doing it with most of the year." He waved away her concerned expression. "But still, I never really regretted it. She was the one I wanted to lose my virginity to, at least at the time. I really just wanted it gone, but I was in a decent relationship when it happened which was good. It was a pretty good experience, too. I think so long as one of you knows what's going on and what you're doing, it can't go totally wrong."
"You know what you are doing," Delenn commented softly.
He smiled knowingly, hearing the indecision in her voice. "Your first time is going to be better than mine, Delenn," he promised. "For one thing, I'm not going to be waiting for anyone else." He took her hand and twined his fingers through hers. "I want you, Delenn. And if I have to wait until the galaxy comes to an end to show you how much I love you, then that's how long I'll wait."
"You do not have to wait that long," she promised softly. "I just need time to get used to the idea of it, that's all."
He smiled and nodded in understanding. "However long you want. If you need anything to help; if you want to know how it happens, anything like that, just ask."
Delenn smiled gratefully. "That might make it a little easier."
Sheridan nodded. "Okay. I'll get Franklin to bring some medical texts here later on. Right now," he grimaced as he waved the Earth-printed flimsies, "it looks like you have some paperwork to catch up on."
* * * * *
Delenn tried to hold back the expression of disgusted annoyance as Sheridan looked over at her. He smiled sympathetically, trying to be supportive, but she just frowned back.
"Stephen," Sheridan said lightly, "how long is this likely to take?"
The dark-skinned doctor didn't look up from his scanner. "Almost... finished." He stood straight and flashed Delenn a winning smile. "You're doing fine, Satai. There's no sign of malnutrition or any other aftereffects of your experience, and you'll be glad to know that infection has completely disappeared. I've given you some shots that should cover you for any other viruses you might encounter, but I'd say you're physically about ninety percent healed. All I'd advise is for you to take it easy for a while. Your system might still have to compensate for all the differences, so you'll probably find you tire easily for another week or two." He shrugged, packing up his portable kit. "After that, you'll be ready to go back to work full-time."
Delenn smiled thankfully, more that the examination was over than for the news. "Thank you, Doctor."
"You could have *tried* to pretend you didn't mind it," Sheridan said somewhat reprovingly when Franklin was gone. Delenn sighed and sat up on the bed, piercing him with her green gaze.
"I have had enough of him, of *everyone,* poking me and prodding me and telling me things I already know. I do not *need* such constant examinations."
"They're just trying to help," he protested. Delenn frowned at him.
"They want to know about me. They probably know more about me than I do."
He sighed ruefully and held his arms open for her. She smiled, if only slightly, and stood up into his embrace, nestling into the warmth of him. He noticed her eyes closing, though she struggled to keep them open, and chuckled.
"Time for bed, sleepy." He released her and turned her towards the bathroom. "Go on, before you fall asleep standing up."
Delenn smiled in acknowledgment and did as he told her. When she returned from the nightly ritual he had taught her - although it still felt strange and certainly not the right thing at all to do before going to sleep - she found John already sitting on the other side of the bed, waiting for her.
"I..." She faltered, wondering why she was suddenly so shy. "I'm going to meditate for a little while. If you don't mind," she added uncertainly.
"Not a problem. Do you want a hand?"
She frowned for a moment before understanding. "Oh. No, it's all right. Please, go to sleep. You're tired." She moved over to him and smiled warmly, unresisting when he pulled her down for a goodnight kiss.
"Okay. Come to bed when you're finished."
She nodded, stepped back and smiled as he closed his eyes and turned over onto his side. She had noticed that John often slept like that, but she didn't find it overly comfortable for herself. Although, she *had* deigned to try the Human pillows Franklin had provided for her, to see what it was like. She would do so tonight: first, however, she would meditate for a while, to centre her mind after the day.
It had been a confusing day, all things considered, she mused as she set up the candle and knelt on her meditation cushion in the centre of a large mat. She was still trying to sort out her feelings about sleeping with John, and the strange physical reactions she was having to him. He had tried to explain it to her, which had helped until they had reached the description of sexual intercourse at which point she had abruptly stopped him. The thought was still too awful to contemplate, and Franklin giving her a contraceptive injection - 'just in case' - during his examination had not helped. Then, there were the professional aspects of her life; the destruction of the Babylon Station, the change in funding, not to mention niggling bureaucratic details from her time as Ambassador that needed to be dealt with. There was also Council news she needed to catch up on, and much had been done in four months.
She lit the candle, and purposefully turned her mind away from all of those thoughts. She found a quiet place inside her, an equilibrium that - thank Valen - she had not lost during her change. It was the place where she centred herself, focused herself, organised and wiped away all the worries of the day in order to have a peaceful rest. It was a place where time meant very little, and as she thought of nothing it was hard to judge what hour it was when she drifted upwards through the layers of meditation.
"Delenn..." The voice was far away, in an alien tongue. "Delenn..." It whispered to her, called her, and still in her intuitive trance she turned to it out of instinct.
"Delenn?" The look in her eyes was distant; when he crouched down and put his hands on her shoulders, she blinked and seemed to snap out of her hypnosis. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly. The room was dark all but the strong light of the candle that was now behind her, casting a flickering light on his face.
"I'm all right," she assured him with a calm smile. "I was meditating."
"For three hours?" He knelt on the mat and took her hands in his. "I thought you were tired."
"I was... but when I meditate, I... what is the phrase?"
"Lose track of time?" He smiled knowingly.
"Yes." She smiled, reaching up to touch the golden patterns on his face. They fluttered as she shifted, the movement breezing the candle, and her fingers were suddenly covered in molten light. He smiled and took her hand, entwining his fingers with hers. She put her other hand to his face, and when they kissed it was soft, loving. Calm, peaceful emotion pervaded her thoughts; she was relaxed from her meditation, her fears released in the glowing, wavering flame.
She was barely dressed, having been ready for bed earlier, and he was much the same. He drew her close to him, wrapping his arms around her, and had the reward of her arms sliding gracefully around his neck. He kissed her again, easily, intensely, murmuring her name aginst her lips. "Delenn..."
"Shh." A whisper in the darkness. "This is what I want, John."
They made love then, slowly and sweetly and passionately, in the light of a lone candle in her quarters. It was instinctual: there were no words exchanged but gentle whispers, no thoughts but those of each other and the love they shared. There was no fear, no doubt, no hesitation: nothing but a passion and adoration that could not be held back any longer.
For Sheridan, it was more than he could have hoped for; to hold her, to love her physically the way he had longed to do for years... for longer than he had ever realised until she was pressed naked against him and he felt a connection between them that had always existed: that had bound them together and brought them to this place and this time, to do that which they did because it was the most natural thing, the only thing in the world to do.
For Delenn, it was nothing like what she had ever imagined it would be. In the moment she felt him enter her in the way she had feared so terribly, her soul began the transformation her body had already completed. It was more incredible for the fact that she had little idea what to expect; when she came, crying, he cradled her in his arms and rocked her lovingly, kissing her tears away even as he brought her to the edge again. She climaxed a second time within minutes, but this time John held her steady and kissed her deeply, sensually, until the sensation consumed her body and mind completely. She could no longer focus on anything but the feeling of him inside her, loving her, filling her body and heart and soul until she knew he could never be apart from her again.
It was a perfect moment, and she did not want it to end. Eventually, though, she relaxed; she felt something indescribably sad as his body separated from hers, crying out softly without really knowing why. She became aware that she was lying on her side next to him, and her body was pressed so tightly against his that the heat of the candle seemed meagre in comparison to that warmth.
"I love you, Delenn," he said in a very soft, very sincere voice.
She smiled, for the moment at least completely comfortable in their new relationship. "And you do it very well," she added in a languid tone. He laughed, and his chest vibrated against hers.
"I'm glad you thought so."
"I think so now." She nestled against him. "I did not think at all just then..."
"Don't regret it, Delenn," he told her quietly. "You shouldn't. It's what was supposed to happen, always." He spoke with such gentle conviction that she couldn't help but believe. "I love you," he said again, and there was tenderness in his voice.
"And I love you, John," she answered instinctively. "Always."
He smiled and stroked her face with the back of his fingers. "Marry me, Delenn. Someday." He kissed her fingertips delicately as she touched them to his face. "Promise me."
"I would always have married you, John," she replied softly. "Always..."
"Always," he repeated in a whisper, noticing how much they used that word. It held many wondrous connotations; a lifetime together, sharing every night the way they had shared this one... a family, children...
But for right now, he wanted only to hold Delenn against him and love her - mentally, physically, emotionally. She drew herself up into the circle of his embrace, and he smiled as he realised she was very obviously cold.
"This is much easier in bed," he told her with a touch of amusement. "Although not as much fun." He kissed the tip of her crown. "And you do look beautiful in candlelight, you know."
Her throat closed, and tears of joy filled her eyes at that simple statement. "Oh, John..."
"Shh," he put a fingertip to her lips and wiped the tears away. "Don't cry, sweetheart."
"I won't." She smiled as he took the cushion that had been discarded during their pursuits and settled it behind her head to make her more comfortable.
"I'd carry you back to bed," he confessed, "but I think I'd drop you right now."
Delenn smiled curiously. "Why?"
He gave a wry chuckle. "It's an... aftereffect of lovemaking, sometimes. It'll wear off, don't worry. Until then, I have other ways to keep you warm..." He tilted her chin up and kissed her intensely.
"Will that not compound the problem?" she asked innocently when they were both able to talk again.
"Delenn," he said firmly, "don't spoil the fun."
She laughed. "I am sorry."
His eyes shone with love, and a deep, unconcealable attraction. "Don't be sorry, Delenn. You have nothing to be sorry for..."
They made love deep into the night, never moving from that candlelit room despite Sheridan's promises. The next time, Delenn knew what to expect; after that, she grew confidence before his eyes. Sheridan was still the dominant partner, but there was no doubting that she knew what she was doing now. He was very gentle with her, not daring to do anything more than repeat their first time in case he frightened her too much - for once the calm, languid sense of her meditation had worn away, her fears were still behind it. She froze more than once, but his comforting sincerity melted the fear into a simple hesitation and then finally to nothing. She learnt, though it took the entire night - for which he did not complain, however - that what she had thought a terrifying violation was in fact far beyond pleasurable. Nothing had prepared her for that surprise, and she was not sure she was used to it even despite the number of times she had now encountered it. For her body to have such a violent, uncontrollable reaction to his penetration was something she didn't fully understand.
"You don't have to understand," John assured her when she tentatively broached the subject. To her relief, he was openly relaxed about it. "It's just something that happens to feel very, very good." He absently stroked her hair. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. For now, just let it be enough that it's good for you." He smiled reassuringly. "And too much of it will *not* kill you, so don't worry."
She smiled, knowing he was teasing her. "You would never hurt me, John," she said certainly. "I was not afraid."
"Good," he said with a gentle smile. That wasn't always how it had been, but now she was visibly more sure, more confident than before. "You're not frightened of this anymore?"
Delenn shook her head, snuggling against him, and shivered. He grinned at her other reactions to the cold and she blushed.
"Yeah, I know." He sat up briefly and drew her up close to him. Then he cupped his hands around the candle flame and gently blew it out; the room descended into near-darkness, lit only by the vague light coming from the bedroom. He stood up fully, then leaned down and swiftly lifted her up into his arms. She gasped at the quick movement, then smiled and wound her arms about his neck. Sheridan grinned and held her close, carrying her to the bedroom. When he reached the bed he sat down, drew the covers back and lay down, pulling her atop him. Delenn smiled as he drew her close and kissed her, and she felt his desire for her again.
"You are very persistent," she said bemusedly.
"You're too good to leave alone," he returned equally, and kissed her again. "Sit up." She frowned, confused, but did as he told her. The reason became clear soon enough: he settled her carefully and she gasped as he slid into her, penetrating so deeply she felt as if he would touch her heart. He took her hands in his to support her, gazing up into her eyes. "It's your turn, Delenn," he said gently. "You're in control now." He didn't add that that was mostly because he didn't have much of it left. "It's okay," he whispered, caught by the uncertainty in her eyes. "I'll show you, sweetheart. You don't have to be afraid." He let go of her hands and put his on her waist, guiding her as she began to move slowly against him. She learnt quickly: the movement became subconscious, without thought. She gasped sharply as he slipped a hand between her legs and stroked her delicately, sensually, bringing her to the climax he too was reaching. It was huge: she couldn't stop the tears this time as she came, crying out desperately for him. He wrapped his arms around her and lowered her down to him; he smiled, and she saw tearstains on his face as well.
"You're amazing," he told her softly. Delenn smiled demurely, far too relaxed to be embarrassed.
"I have not had as much experience as you," she pointed out, "but I do not think I need to, now." She lifted her head and kissed him gently on the lips. //You are the most incredible man I have ever known in my life,// she whispered fiercely in Adronato. //I'd never imagined it would be like this. I didn't think...//
He smiled in understanding. "I know how it sounded to you.... but sometimes things aren't exactly what they seem."
Delenn laughed softly. "No, they are not." She reached up and tenderly wiped the tracks of his tears away. "I love you, John. More than anything."
He smiled and cupped her cheek in his palm, drying her face. "More than ever," he promised gently. "Forever, Delenn."
"Forever," she murmured in answer, closing her eyes with a quiet yawn. "Always..."
* * * * *
They slept for only a few hours, but it seemed like an age before she awoke again. Delenn shifted slightly and then smiled. She had intended to try a Human pillow tonight: it had not been the one she had expected, but it had at least been from Earth. Her head was settled against John's shoulder, his arms securely wrapped around her, his prize. She recalled the promise she had made to him that night and smiled, picturing herself standing at his side during the marriage ceremony - ceremonies, it would have to be, to bridge the cultural expanse between them. The immensity of their relationship seemed suddenly to come crashing down on her - but at that moment he awoke and smiled down at her, and her concerns disappeared in the light of his eyes.
"You know I have to go to Earth tomorrow."
She turned her head to look up at him and smiled a little teasingly. "I will cope, do not worry."
"Actually, I was going to ask if you wanted to come with me."
She shifted and propped herself on one elbow next to him. "I thought we had discussed this. You should speak to your parents alone before I go with you. I am still at least partly Minbari, no matter what else has changed..." She smiled knowingly, and his eyes sparkled at the reminder of their lovemaking. "It will be hard for them to accept me, John. Your sister was the same."
"But she came around," he countered. "I want them to meet you, Delenn."
"I want to meet them as well," she assured him. "I just don't know if this is the right time."
"I don't know if there *is* a good time. Delenn," he turned onto his side and grasped her hand, "I don't want to be away from you, especially not now."
She smiled. "Of course I will come with you. I do not want to be apart from you either." That settled, she put his arms around her and nestled up to him. He grinned at her forcefulness and obliged, tucking her head under his chin and holding her tight. She slid her arms around him, closed her eyes and, secure in his embrace, slept peacefully again.
The ship's chronometer finally jerked her awake, murmuring an oath at the device. She heard a mutter beside her that was likely to have been a curse, but she had never heard the words before.
That she understood, and opened her eyes to smile gratefully at John Sheridan. "Good morning," she said lazily in greeting.
"Hi, beautiful." He grinned and slid further down under the covers, drawing her up against him. "You weren't in a hurry to go anywhere, were you?"
"No." Delenn smiled and huddled into his arms. "I am still recuperating, remember?"
"Ahhh." His eyes sparkled. "And do you think you've recuperated from last night?"
Delenn coloured slightly. "It was not what I was expecting," she allowed. "I had not pictured it happening so soon."
"Do you regret what happened?"
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Never."
He looked relieved. "I'm glad. Neither do I."
Delenn smiled, a little shyly. "It was... special," she said in a quiet voice. He smiled warmly back at her.
"For both of us, Delenn."
She thought back to the conversation they had had the previous day. "I think you will have to work very hard to keep up to my standards now, John," she teased half-seriously. He laughed.
"Nothing but the best for you," he promised with a smile. Before he could say much else, his stomach growled impatiently. "It seems I'm hungry. D'you want some breakfast before we go have a shower?"
Delenn frowned at the idea of getting up; he grinned and shrugged. "No problem. Stay here." When she opened her mouth to ask why, he silenced her with a kiss and disappeared. He was gone a long while, but just as she was about to go after him he re-entered the bedroom carrying a tray and set it down on the bedside table.
"Breakfast in bed," he explained when she gave him a curious glance. Delenn smiled, understanding, and shook her head in amazement.
"Humans are a very strange people," she told him as he slid back into bed beside her and helped her arrange the tray so that they could eat. "But it seems there is more we should learn from you than we thought."
Sheridan grinned. "I think you've learnt a lot already," he pointed out. Delenn smiled admittingly.
"More than most of my people would understand. It's hard to match what I think as a Minbari and what I feel as a Human, sometimes."
He smiled sympathetically, and when he took her hand in his she clasped it tightly. "You've done so much for me, John; I could never have managed without you." She turned her head, and impulsively kissed him. "Thank you," she murmured against his lips.
"You're all the thanks I need," he told her sincerely, and kissed her again. Breakfast was soon abandoned, and Delenn learnt, to her surprise and definite liking, that this newest Human ritual was not confined to any specific time or place. In fact, John explained between the bedroom and the shower, it was a very adaptable custom. He proceeded to show her, and understanding came quickly even as she did.
Their shower took a very long time, and getting ready for the day was frequently interrupted. John, luckily had enough self-discipline to explain to her the reasons why making love straight out the shower somewhat defeated the purpose, and although she was a little embarrassed she conceded the point and settled for learning other ways to express her feelings for him. Consequently, packing for Earth took quite a few hours and it was early afternoon before they boarded the atmosphere shuttle.
She slept briefly in his arms on the trip down, and he recalled with vague chagrin what Franklin had warned. There was, however, a hint of satisfaction in his thoughts: he had after all been the one to tire her out, and she had been an entirely willing participant. The loss of that particular obstacle to their relationship, and to her acceptance of herself as she was now, was a huge breakthrough in her recuperation. Franklin could help with the physical, but it was Sheridan who held her emotional recovery in his hands. It was a humbling thought that she trusted him so much as to give him that much control over her. His choice to bring her with him worried him more now than it had when he had thought of it in the afterglow of their lovemaking. His mind was clearer, and he wondered if perhaps he had made a mistake. Liz had promised not to tell their parents anything until he had a chance to speak with them, and he knew that although she was still uncertain about his choice she was willing to stand up for him. Dan didn't understand why, but he did at least support his brother-in-law. They'd always been friends, and John had approved of the guy from the moment Liz had first brought him home. He only hoped Liz would return the favour when he introduced Delenn.
The shuttle came to a stop at the farm; Sheridan had discussed arriving at the spaceport, but word of Delenn's transformation was filtering out only slowly and he didn't want to do anything that might cause problems for her. Instead, he sat beside her in their private shuttle as it landed effortlessly on a patch of uncultivated ground a few hundred yards from the Sheridans' homestead. The pilot opened the hatch, then turned back to Sheridan and Delenn.
"Someone to see you, sir." He addressed Sheridan, unsure what to say to Delenn. Ivanova, their usual pilot, had been promoted to Io Base as a lieutenant, and Sheridan missed her indubitable personality.
Sheridan looked at Delenn and shrugged. "Why don't they wait until we're outside?"
Liz stepped up to the hatch, silhouetted in the sunlight.
Sheridan frowned slightly, confused. "Take a walk, pilot." The young man nodded.
"Yessir." He let Sheridan's sister enter, then quickly left. Liz smiled at her brother.
Sheridan, still holding Delenn's hand in his own, smiled back. "What are you doing here? I thought you were working."
Liz shrugged. "Hey, you know me. Always there when my big brother needs a hand." Her smile faded just slightly. "I thought you might want some support - but I thought you were coming alone." She frowned curiously at Delenn.
"We... changed our minds," Delenn said slowly.
Liz shrugged, then looked uncomfortable as she obviously came to something she was supposed to say. "Okay, well..." She sighed. "Look, I just wanted to say... I'm sorry. For the way I acted up there." She pointed upward toward the Valen'tha. "I was a little shocked at the idea, but if you guys are happy then I guess that's all that matters." She flashed a smile at her brother, then turned for the first time to speak directly to Delenn. "I know John, and I know when he's happy. He's been different ever since he met you... and you've made him happier than Anna ever did." It took a lot for her to say that, Delenn could see. She knew Anna had been a good friend of John's sister, and their breakup had been hard on her.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"He cares a lot about you, you know," Liz confided. Sheridan coughed politely.
"I *am* still here," he reminded in a piqued tone. Delenn smiled and shifted closer to him, squeezing his hand.
"I have not forgotten you," she teased reassuringly. Liz grinned.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm happy for you - for both of you." She flashed an apologetic smile. "Am I forgiven?"
Sheridan grinned back. "Sure. Come here."
He enveloped her in a warm hug, and she squeezed his shoulders briefly. "You love her?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yes," he answered firmly.
Liz smiled as she pulled out of his arms. "Good." She looked uncertainly at Delenn for a moment; she was unable to stay uncomfortable, however, as Delenn smiled sincerely at her and she had to smile back. Sheridan grinned inwardly as he watched the effect Delenn had on his sister. He'd noticed that unless you were pretty much braindead, Delenn's smile could make you do just about anything. He'd been experiencing it for years, and still he was helpless whenever she looked at him like that. Liz had only met Delenn once before, so she was totally unprepared for the Minbari's disarming innocence and had no defence against it. She smiled back.
"Welcome to the family," she said sincerely. Delenn looked up at her lover, her eyes shining in relief; he grinned and put his arm around her waist.
"Maybe we should tell the *rest* of the family about it first," he said gently. Liz nodded.
"I thought I'd come talk to you first, to straighten things out. I don't know how Mom and Dad are going to react." She sighed. "Thomas and Maria are here too, John."
Sheridan sighed. "Great." At Delenn's curious gaze, he explained, "They're cousins of ours." He looked at his sister. "Is Mom's sister here too?" Liz nodded. "Wonderful. You didn't happen to tell them I was coming?"
"No." She shook her head. "They just dropped by. You know what Ellen's like."
"Unfortunately," he muttered under his breath. "Come on, let's get this over with."
"John," Delenn reprimanded quietly. He sighed and nodded, purposefully brightening.
"Yeah, I know, Maybe it won't be as bad as I think."
It wasn't as bad as he'd imagined.
It was worse.
Much, much, worse.
The moment he stepped through the door, his mother was waiting for him and hugged him tightly, obviously making up for his hurried departure twelve days before. She greeted Liz in a similar fashion, enquiring as to her husband's welfare and where was he, why hadn't he brought Mariah, their young daughter, to see her grandmother? Liz answered as quickly as she could, seeing her brother growing visibly restless.
"Dan had to work, mom. But there is someone else here to see you all." She looked pointedly at Sheridan, and he took Delenn by the hand and led her inside.
"Mom, this is Delenn. Delenn, my mother, Nancy Sheridan."
Delenn, for her part, did everything perfectly. She bowed deeply in Minbari fashion, then smiled warmly and spoke with a lilting, sincere tone. "I'm honoured to meet you at last, Mrs. Sheridan."
When there was no reply after a moment, John knew everything was going to fall apart. Liz gave him a long, pitying look, her gaze shifting to Delenn.
There was no trace of disappointment or sadness on her face, not even in her eyes. She was stronger than that: no matter what was said or done, she would not show her devastation at the obvious rebuttal. She was Satai: she would endure, for her own dignity and for John's, for his love for her.
"Let's go say hi to everyone." Liz headed for the living area, and Sheridan put his hand firmly in Delenn's and followed. The loose grip on his fingers was the only indication of her reaction: he squeezed her hand tightly, so tightly it hurt, until she held on as firmly back. He didn't look at her face, but all of his love and support was obvious in the almost painful grip he kept on her hand.
His father stood up as they entered the room, coming to a halt as he saw Delenn. He stared, for an instant confused until he saw the way his son was acting towards this half-Minbari woman. He sank slowly into the chair again without speaking, unable to take his eyes from their joined hands.
Sheridan was the first to speak, his voice quiet in the silence. "Delenn, this is my father." He took a deep breath. "Dad... Delenn."
The old man was silent, shaking his head in shock. Thomas, who was nearing Sheridan's age but a farmer, uninterested in space or any other races but his own, went decidedly white when he seemed suddenly to realise the connection between his cousin and the part-alien woman at his side. Maria was slower, but before anyone could say anything to her she understood and ran from the room.
Sheridan's aunt fixed him with a glare that under any other circumstance would have melted him into the ground. She, like her two children, was far from interested in any aliens and as a result didn't understand them - especially not the Minbari. Because of that, she didn't understand Sheridan at that moment: when her sister, ashen, walked in with her daughter, she exploded.
"What in the name of God is going on here?!" She glared daggers at Sheridan. "John, for Christ's sake what are you playing at? Your mother's obviously upset by - her." She cast a contemptuous glare at Delenn, who despite her determination flinched slightly. "What did you bring her here for?"
Sheridan's eyes hardened. "I brought Delenn here to meet my parents," he said coldly. "If you don't want anything to do with us, fine. Leave."
Thomas jumped up defensively. "Don't talk to her like that!"
Sheridan looked at him. "Then treat us with some respect." The expression in his eyes was angry, but more than a little sad. "I wanted Delenn to meet my family - to be a part of my family. I wanted her to see that she would be accepted on Earth, the way her people accepted me." He shrugged. "I guess I should have lowered my hopes a little further."
"John," Liz protested. "Give them a bit of time. It's a shock for everyone."
//Let them try to understand before you judge them all,// Delenn added in a murmur. He looked down at her, sighed, and smiled. He looked back at his father.
"Please accept my choice, Dad. I love Delenn, and I want to be with her no matter what anyone says about us." His eyes were pleading. "I'd rather do it with your blessing."
David Sheridan took in his son's face, and the look in his eyes that reflected the way Delenn was looking up at him. She was different: John he knew intimately - not as much in recent years, but he was still his father - but Delenn, this Minbari who looked very unlike a Minbari... She was a mystery. All he knew of her was that she had kept John alive during the war, for reasons of her own: that she had negotiated the peace between their worlds; and that she now stood in front of him as his son's lover.
It was difficult, but without looking at his wife he stood up and faced the two of them. "It's a shock," he said slowly. "But you obviously love her, son. I hope you'll be happy together."
Liz grinned in sudden relief at the couple, and Sheridan couldn't help grinning back. Delenn smiled gently and tilted her head in gratitude to the man who would become her father-in-law. His wife gasped tearfully and left the room: Liz smiled at her brother and followed their mother, hoping to calm her. Ellen left without another word except to glance at Sheridan with a look that suggested he was sick; a look that was seconded by her son before he and his sister followed her out. David followed them to the door, obviously distressed by their reaction, and the room was suddenly empty.
Sheridan sat down with a long sigh, drawing Delenn into his side. She came willingly and put her head on his shoulder, her arms around him as he covered his face with his hands.
"I'm sorry," she whispered gently. "I'm so sorry, John. I never meant for it to be like this."
"It's not your fault." He put his arms around her and drew her close. "I knew mom would be shocked - I figured she'd react that way. I just wasn't counting on anyone else being here to meet us." He sighed and looked down into her eyes. "At least it's done now. The worst's over."
Delenn smiled reassuringly; he wondered idly when the changeover had happened between his concern for her and her comforting him. He often had the urge to hide her away from the world, to protect her, but he knew it was useless. Delenn had been higher up in both their worlds than he had ever been - had seen things he could never imagine, both good and bad. Protecting her was like trying to keep a gentle breeze from attacking a whirlwind.
She laughed quietly all of a sudden and he frowned, confused.
"You look so serious," she said in a low voice. "If you do not believe that the worst *is* over, you are not doing very well at hiding it from me."
He smiled ruefully. "I was just thinking how useless it is to try and protect you. I guess my face thinks the same thing."
Delenn looked pleased and amused. "You're a very sweet man," she told him with a smile. "But you are right: you do not have to try to protect me. Although I appreciate the sentiment," she added tenderly. "I wish I could protect you too, John, but it isn't possible. The universe has other plans for us."
"Plans that include alienating half my family," he said bitterly. Seeing her stricken expression he smiled and cupped her face in his hands. "It's not your fault, Delenn. I'm not angry with you - I'm angry with them. It's not a nice thing to find out your blood relations are so prejudiced."
Delenn smiled sympathetically, looking up as Liz entered the room with her father in tow. Sheridan frowned and turned round, relieved but a little concerned at their entrance alone. Liz sat down opposite, David in his regular chair to Delenn's left.
"Mom's upstairs." Liz smiled, but she looked tired. "She needs some time to think about this, John. It's been a big shock for her. You know how she is."
Sheridan nodded. 'You know how she is:' it was a phrase they all used. His mother, despite his father's varied career, had always preferred seclusion. She had been brought up in a very protective family: she was fine at home, where everything went the way she understood, but the wide world was difficult for her - especially where her children were concerned and particularly John, who had gone into the most dangerous profession around at a young age. Now, he was asking her to accept an alien woman as his lover, partner and likely fiancee. It was understandably hard for her to take in, but he just wished she could be happy for him despite her misgivings.
"She knows you're serious, John," his father assured him. "She does want you to be happy. It's just a shock to her... to all of us. You are, after all, not exactly the most ordinary woman he's ever brought home," he added wryly to Delenn, who smiled.
"I do realise that," she said softly. "But I love John, Mr. Sheridan. I would do anything for him."
"Please, call me David." John's father grinned. "If you're gonna be a part of the family, better you started acting like one."
Delenn looked up at John, uncertain; he smiled and said a few words in Adronato to reassure her. A smile touched her face and she turned it on David Sheridan. "Thank you."
"If you're good enough for John, that's good enough for me." David grinned and stood up. "How about we all get something to eat? You must be hungry after your trip here." He headed out to the kitchen, and Sheridan drew Delenn up from the couch to follow, Liz wandering behind them. David gestured to a large oak table in the centre, laid ready with places for dinner. Sheridan pulled out a chair for Delenn: she gave him an oddly amused glance but let it pass.
"Custom," he explained with a smile.
Delenn sighed and shook her head. "I will never understand you."
He shrugged. "Maybe not - but isn't it fun to try?"
Delenn, amused, only shook her head again and sat down. He sat beside her and smiled as her hand brushed his. //They really do like you, Delenn,// he assured her discreetly. She looked at him and nodded.
//I know.// She smiled, almost sheepishly. //This is very impolite,// she informed him.
He grinned and dropped back into his own language. "All right, then."
David had been watching the interchange with curiosity, and Sheridan suddenly realised he'd never told his parents how well he spoke Delenn's language. He always assumed people knew: he had after all spent years of his life among the Minbari.
"So, where was it you came straight from?"
"I told you, Dad," Liz put in with a sigh. "They came from the ship. The Minbari cruiser in orbit."
"The Valen'tha," Sheridan added, accenting the name with a Minbari inflection. Delenn smiled approval: David frowned curiously at his son.
"When did you learn that language?"
Sheridan glanced at Delenn, then at his father. "Delenn taught me when I was teaching her English," he supplied tactfully. "It's the language of the Minbari religious caste."
David nodded, as if to say, 'oh,' and carried on preparing the meal. Liz tossed them both an 'I'm sorry' look and stood up.
"I'll go check on Mom, see if she wants to come down for dinner." David nodded absently, and Sheridan gave his sister a grateful smile. She returned it and went upstairs, leaving the couple alone with his father.
Nancy Sheridan did manage to join them for dinner, although it was noticable that she didn't look at Delenn and spoke to her son as if he were there alone for most of the evening. Sheridan let it pass, knowing she was trying to comfort herself rather than deliberately making Delenn unwelcome, but it was still a harrowing evening. Going to bed was discreet and nearly threatened to turn into a fiasco: only by slipping upstairs without his mother's notice did he manage to get Delenn and he in the same room. David, to his credit, whisked his wife to bed very soon afterwards before she could question anything, for which Sheridan was insanely glad. He knew what his mother's reaction would be, and he wasn't keen on the idea of finding somewhere else to stay so late.
"Your mother does not approve of me," Delenn said as he changed for bed. He sighed and came up behind her where she stood by the window, looking out, the warm breeze touching her hair. He put his arms around her, remembering the last time he had stood by this window and looked out this way, years before. Then it had been Anna who was his visitor, not Delenn; but even then she had been a part of him, invading his troubled thoughts. Now they were just as troubled, but for a different reason.
"She doesn't approve of me at the moment," he said dryly. He moved around her to close the window, then took her in his arms again. "Mom's always been very old-fashioned. Earth is her home and always will be: she's not interested in other species, other cultures. Whereas I-"
"You are exactly the opposite." She smiled knowingly, if a little sadly. "And to discover that you have taken an alien as your... partner... must be hard for her."
"You are *not* an alien," he exclaimed firmly. Delenn laughed, delightedly amused.
"Of course I am, John. My people will always be aliens to yours - that is the nature of the word, is it not?" She smiled and put her arms around him. "Just because it's no matter doesn't make it any less true. I may love you, John, and you may love me in return, but we cannot escape the fact that we are from different races - different cultures. We can only work to bridge that gap."
He shook his head in wonderment. "You're wise beyond your years, do you know that?"
Delenn smiled. "How do you know?"
It struck him then, as she turned away and got into bed, that he didn't actually know how old she was. He'd had the vague thought when she had first been naked in front of him, as a Minbari, that perhaps she was younger than he had imagined: and yes, he had to admit he'd wondered a few times, but it had never seemed important. Now, he realised that for all he knew she could be decades older than him - or, by her people's standards, she could be little more than a teenager. He knew that she knew he was in his late twenties, had been in Earthforce for a good ten years, but she had never given any indication of how that fitted with her own life.
"Delenn..." He wasn't sure how to broach the subject, aware it might be a sensitive question. She smiled innocently.
"Yes?" She pulled back the covers and huddled down, holding out one hand to him. "Come to bed," she commanded gently. He smiled and got in beside her, accepting her embrace as she drew herself close to him. It was bothering him now, though. He decided on the direct approach.
"Delenn," he asked absently, "how old *are* you?"
If she found the question offensive, she didn't show it. "By your standards or mine?"
It was another reminder of their differences, but he brushed it off. "Yours," he decided impulsively. She told him.
He choked on the word.
When he finally caught his breath, he drew back and stared in shock.
Delenn sighed patiently. "Our year is longer than yours. You would be younger if you had been born on Minbar."
"Delenn," he said in a shocked whisper, "I'm nearly *thirty*. That's - God, I don't even want to think how many years difference that is."
"John." She smiled reassuringly. "It really isn't such a large gap. You didn't ask how old I am by your calendar, anyway. If I had been born here on Earth I would be nearly twenty-six years old."
He looked at her for a long moment then grinned sheepishly. "You're right, aren't you. I'm being stupid."
Delenn smiled understandingly. "Don't worry." She kissed him lightly and settled her head under his chin, closing her eyes. "You don't want to know how I reacted when I found out how old you were."
He blinked and looked down. "I didn't think of that."
"I did not think you had," she teased.
"Did you think I was too old for you?" He was interested now.
"The thought occurred to me, yes," she admitted. Sheridan chuckled.
"I guess you're right after all. There are a lot of things we don't understand about each other."
"We will learn," she said confidently. "In the meantime, I will not learn anything unless I am allowed to sleep." She looked pointedly up at him and he sighed petulantly and shut his eyes.
"Okay, okay. See, I'm sleeping."
Delenn laughed and nestled into his arms. "Goodnight, John." When there was no reply, she lifted her head slightly and smiled: he was fast asleep. Content, she nodded silently and closed her eyes.
She woke very early, uncomfortable on the flat bed and sensing that John was no longer holding her as he had been before. He'd turned away from her in his sleep, on his side facing the window with his back to her. She turned her head and smiled, sliding her arms around him and pressing against his back, her fingertips caressing his chest, tracing his muscles.
His eyes fluttered open, and he was instantly aware of just exactly where she was. He felt her behind him, her body warm and soft against his back, and he felt his own reaction to her. He turned over quickly, capturing her mouth with his and pushing her against the bed. She smiled up at him and pulled him down to her, quieting them both with kisses as he entered her slowly, gently. He pulled back, gazing down at her, and the light in her eyes made him come down to her again, trailing kisses along the edge of her crown. "Delenn..." he whispered her name against her hair as he thrust inside her, her face buried in his shoulder to hide her cries of pleasure.
He drew back and looked down into her eyes, keeping that contact as he pushed slowly, deeply, fully inside her, and she bit her lip to stifle a moan of ecstasy. "John..."
"Shh," he murmured into a kiss, taking her hands and twining his fingers between hers. "Shh, honey..." He lowered his head, holding her still with both hands as he kissed her everywhere he could reach. She closed her eyes, fighting the urge to cry out, knowing someone would hear her and know what they were doing, know he was loving her more than they believed he could.
"John..." His name was a whisper, a sigh, as he slid into her again. "*John...*"
He moved up to her again, covering her completely, her body pressed tightly between his and the bed. He was in total control, and from anyone else she would have hated the sensation but with John she welcomed it, knowing he would do what they both wanted. He moved inside her in short, slight thrusts, barely moving against her, until eventually he stopped completely and lay motionless, buried fully inside her where she had wanted him to be. The strong, warm sensation of their joining was enough to send her over the edge; she pulled him fiercely down to her to hide the sound of her orgasm, moaning softly into his mouth as they kissed intensely.
He came almost immediately after her, the feeling of her body reacting to his too strong to fight. She held him as he came inside her, kissing him slowly, lovingly through the most intense orgasm he had experienced with her. He opened his eyes, still shaking slightly, and smiled down at her; at the profoundly satisfied look on her face, he laughed.
"And you tell me *I'm* persistent."
Delenn smiled lazily. "You are infectious."
He laughed again. "I don't know if that's the word I'd use."
"You are also incredible," she added. A thought came to her and she said with a teasing, only half-serious smile, "I'm sorry I woke you so early."
His laughter this time was incredulous. "I'd give up sleeping forever if you're going to do that instead, Delenn."
She smiled and nestled up to him, aware that he was still inside her and enjoying the feeling. It was where he was meant to be, she knew that now. It seemed eons ago that she had refused to allow him to do this, to allow them to be this close. The thought of never having him there, never holding him in her body, was more terrible now than the opposite had ever been. He smiled when she told him that.
"I had a feeling you'd get used to it pretty quickly. I told you it wouldn't be as bad as you were imagining, didn't I?"
"Yes." She felt just a little ashamed of her reluctance now; it must have been evident in her face because he reacted to it.
"You don't have to be ashamed of anything, Delenn," he assured her gently. "It's all right to be afraid of something you don't understand, so long as you can overcome that fear and see the truth." He smiled. "And the truth is that I love you very, very much, Delenn."
"I know." She reached up and touched his face. "I love you too, John." She smiled and kissed him; her eyes sparkled with unhindered attraction and he laughed in bemusement. He wrapped his arms around her, turning her carefully until they were lying facing each other. Delenn frowned, annoyed as he seemed to slip out of her, but he put a finger to her lips and settled more comfortably. She nodded, content, and closed her eyes briefly with a smile.
"It's early," she commented. "Will anyone else be up yet?"
"Dad might," Sheridan replied. "But I doubt it. It'll be another few hours before the farm wakes up."
Delenn nodded. "Then what are we going to do?"
"What do you mean?"
She tilted her head up to him. "John, your mother obviously finds my presence here difficult. Perhaps it would be better if I were to go back to the ship..."
"No," he said firmly. "She'll get used to you, but she needs to spend some time around you first. She doesn't understand your people - very few Humans do, really. That's part of the problem. We might not be at war anymore, but that doesn't make us all the best of friends." She looked pointedly at him and he laughed. "There are exceptions, of course."
"Of course." She smiled. "Have you thought about what will happen to us now?" He looked confused, and alarmed at her question. She touched a finger to his lips and clarified, "I am no longer the Ambassador here, and your replacement seems to be doing an admirable job in your absence - and, as they have already given you command of the Babylon Station, I do not imagine they will give you another position to 'fill in the time', as it were."
"I hadn't really thought about it," he admitted. "The idea was that we'd go there as soon as it was finished, which would have coincided pretty well with your recovery. Now, though, it looks like we have some time on our hands, at least for a while. I wouldn't start worrying though," he added wryly. "I'm sure they'll find something for us to do."
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