THE BABYLON PROJECT: THE ONE AND THE NEXUS (IV)

By Leyenn

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

*****

Part Four:

THE BIRTH OF NEW BEGINNINGS

There was indeed much for the new, high-profile couple to do: in fact, the time they spent among Sheridan's family was the last real privacy they had for a very long while. When news of their attachment, unofficial as it so far was, escaped into the general news channels, they were suddenly deluged with publicity - not all of it good. The Minbari government stood behind its member's decision, but the commitment was shaky and both Sheridan and Delenn knew it would only last a matter of time. For now, though, they were glad of the support: reactions to their relationship varied from all-out approval by some of the more pro-alien groups through to disgust and death-threats from those violently opposed to Earth's outward expansion.

   The fact that they represented the Babylon Project - now more commonly referred to as the 'Babylon Problem' - which was at best a shaky concept after the destruction of the second and third stations within two years, did not help matters. The project still had its vehement supporters, but more and more believed it to be a waste of time and a distraction from the rebuilding of Earth's defenses. Such opposition didn't bode well for the future; however, John Sheridan had had other things to occupy his mind recently and so, despite the political tension invading his life, his log entry for the day included little about the harrowing meeting he had attended that morning.

   "John Sheridan, personal log, february tenth twenty-two fifty-three." He leant back against the wall, taking a sip of water, and grinned. "Delenn's five months, eight days pregnant, and she's starting to show. We had another checkup this morning with Stephen, before we left Earth, and he's agreed to join us in a few weeks even though he says everything's going fine; they're starting to kick, and although Delenn pretends it's annoying I know she can't get enough of them now." He smiled, remembering the first time Delenn had taken his hand and firmly set it on her enlarged abdomen to feel his son - he was convinced it was his son - kick against his palm. It had been a magical moment, and one that he was sure he would never forget however long he lived.

   "Anyway," he dragged himself back to the log, "neither of them could be healthier. Or," his grin widened, "should I say 'none' of them?" It had been a month since he and his fiancee had received the news that their firstborn would be twins. "We finally decided on names: David Stephan and Devon Jade Sheridan. We haven't chosen their Minbari names yet, as those are picked out at birth by whoever's present." He smiled warmly, pleased at the next piece of news. "Delenn decided she wants Susan with her at the birth: apparently it's a custom in her clan to have female attendants, although she is making an exception for Stephen - and she wants me there, which is a relief. I really want to be with her when she gives birth to our children..." He trailed off, his mind tumbling into oblivion as it always did when he thought about Delenn's pregnancy.

   Finally, he changed the topic, his smile fading slightly. "We spoke to my parents again this morning, before we left Earth. Mom still isn't happy with my being here on the Valen'tha, but she has at least accepted Delenn and I as a couple." There was no need to record how long that had taken: it had been the one sticking point of his logs for two years. "She's looking forward to having grandchildren on my side, I think. Although she hasn't said anything specific to me, Liz has been dropping hints that maybe things are working out at last." He took another drink, gazing idly around the room. "She brought Mariah and Samantha to see us yesterday. It was a nice surprise, especially for Delenn. Thank God, they don't seem to have taken on board anyone else's ideas about us. Maybe they're too young to think that way, but it's refreshing all the same." He reprimanded himself quickly. "Liz and Dan have been really great this time - not only did they not defend the way Mom's been acting, Liz actually spoke to her about it in front of Delenn. I think this constant denial is starting to get to them both, with Mariah getting older." He winced in amusement, remembering; "She asked Delenn yesterday why she looks different to everyone else. Delenn was really good about it - she's going to make a wonderful mother." He grinned at the thought of his own children; it was rarely out of his mind these days. "She just said that it was because she'd been born on a different planet, and that she'd had to change a bit to give Mariah and her sister a cousin to play with. She and Liz get on so well now, you'd never think..." He paused the recording as the door opened and Delenn walked in, smiling. "Hi, honey."

   She turned suddenly and, seeing him, smiled wider in greeting. "Good afternoon," she said in a sultry voice, crossing the room to greet him properly.

   "You're insatiable," he chuckled almost half an hour later. Delenn just shrugged and pulled on the comfortable robe she had taken to wearing around their quarters.

   "Stephen warned you that I would be somewhat... hormonal during this trimester. If I remember, you told him you could manage perfectly."

   He raised an eyebrow in mock offense. "Are you saying I'm not?"

   She smiled teasingly and kissed him. "It is a good job I am already pregnant, John, because if I were not then I would certainly be anyway by now."

   Sheridan laughed. "I think I understood that. I'm glad you rate my performance so highly, anyhow."

   "You have not 'lost your touch,' if that's what you are referring to," Delenn answered with a knowing smile. "Now, what are we having for dinner?"

   

Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova joined them for the evening, having been permanently transferred as Sheridan's 'aide' when they had found out about the children - or at that time, child. Sheridan had quietly requested her, feeling that his half-Minbari fiancee might want some female assistance during her pregnancy, and also because he knew that sooner or later he would need someone to help with the duties placed on him as Earth Ambassador to the Minbari. It seemed ironic to him that what he did now was little different to what he had done as Liaison; however, the two governments had basically groped for a title to give him until his command was finally secured. His replacement as Liaison, one Jeffery Sinclair, a former pilot who had had extensive diplomatic training and whom Sheridan had actually met once before, worked closely with him and kept him apprised of goings-on at home while he travelled the Minbari Federation aboard the Council ship. Spending all his time among Minbari meant that Sheridan appreciated every Earth influence he could find: particularly, aside from his fiancee, Susan Ivanova.

   Her dry, sarcastic humour was evident as soon as she entered the room: her smile was genuine and always a little amused, and she had taken a great liking to both Sheridan and Delenn. She was also a better cook than either of them, which meant that every once in a while they did at least eat consumable meals.

   "Have you spoken to your brother recently?" Delenn asked as the other woman poured drinks for them all.

   "Ganya?" Ivanova's happiness shone even through her usual serious exterior. "We saw each other yesterday at the spaceport. The *Lexington* was arriving just as I was shuttling back up here."

   "Is he still with her?" Sheridan looked surprised. "I thought he'd be transferring by now."

   Ivanova shrugged. "He's a lieutenant commander now, and he knows he's due for promotion again soon. The *Lexington*'s a good ship," she added defensively.

   "Never said she wasn't." Sheridan grinned. "I did serve on her, remember."

   Ivanova returned the grin. "Ganya asked about you - both of you. They've been patrolling the border, doing routine stuff, so he's had a few run-ins with the Minbari. On his next shore leave he says he's going to visit your planet," she added to Delenn. The Minbari woman smiled, seeming pleased.

   "I'm glad; I think he would like it there. Which reminds me," she turned to Sheridan, "we're due to go home just before the children are born. Rathenn told me today. With luck, they may even be born on Minbar."

   Sheridan smiled and took her hand, allowing himself a sappy moment before Ivanova started rolling her eyes. "That's great news. I wasn't sure about having the whole thing happen on a starship. They're safe enough, I know, but I don't want anything to go wrong."

   "That's why I'm here," Ivanova interrupted. "To make sure nothing does go wrong. Now stop worrying." She appealed to Delenn. "Didn't the doctors tell you this morning that you were fine?"

   "I know, I know." Sheridan made a face. "I'm just being overprotective and worrying too much. I know. You wait until *you* have children - then you'll understand."

   Ivanova fixed him with a frown. "Don't start, Sheridan."

   He held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I guess there isn't much choice around here, anyway."

   "John," Delenn chided, unable to hide an amused smile. "Let her make up her own mind. I'm sure the right person will arrive soon enough."

   Ivanova growled under her breath and started to clear the dishes.

   * * * * *

   

They reached Minbar sooner than Delenn had anticipated: almost three months sooner, in fact. Delenn, like all of the Grey Council, had apartments in the capital, but for the first few days of their stay they went instead to a smaller city.

   "Tuzanor," Delenn said proudly as the flyer carrying herself, her fiance and Ivanova swooped gracefully over the landscape. Below them was a myriad arrangement of tall, crystalline towers and huge buildings linked by great, open-air passages; the city sparkled in the dying sun, the wind through the crystal spires whistling an ancient tune. Everything about this city, in contrast to the modern hustle of Yedor, seemed ancient and peaceful. There were few people around: the bridges that joined almost every building were devoid of movement and even their flyer was alone in the sky. The only sight Sheridan caught of any living being was a solitary figure standing near the landing area. As the flyer settled to the ground, another Minbari quickly joined the first.

   //Turval.// Delenn smiled as she stepped to the ground of her homeworld. //It is good to see you again.// She put one hand to his chest and bowed her head, and he returned the greeting.

   //It has been too long, Delenn,// the elder Minbari answered warmly. //It is good to see you in Tuzanor again.//

   Ivanova discreetly sidled up to Sheridan as the others continued talking. "What are they saying?" Despite numerous attempts to learn, Ivanova had never gotten even a remote grasp of any Minbari dialect.

   Sheridan kept his amusement hidden. "Just the usual. They're old friends."

   At that point, surprising him, Turval moved from Delenn to Sheridan. "I am honoured to meet you, John Sheridan," he said in flawless English. Delenn laughed softly at Sheridan's surprise.

   "Turval is the head of the Rangers here," she explained. "It was only natural that he should learn your language after Lenonn. We thought it would be useful for when Humans begin to join the Anla'shok. Turval has just informed me that some have begun arriving already." She seemed pleased by that news. "We will be introduced as soon as we are settled."

   "Anla'shok Inesval will show you to your apartments," Turval assured them. "Now that you are Satai, Delenn, it would be unseemly for you to stay with the other Rangers."

   She smiled and nodded admittingly. "You are right, as always."

   Turval smiled warmly back. "I will tell the others you have arrived. Please," he gestured to Inesval, who bowed to the three of them and preceded them onto the largest of Tuzanor's bridges, leading them through the city.

   Sheridan leaned down to Delenn as they walked. "*Other* Rangers?" he asked quietly. She looked up, surprised, and seemed to remember something.

   "I was trained here as a Ranger," she explained simply. "I had forgotten I had never told you. It was something I had always wanted... Dukhat arranged it when he first took an interest in me, as an acolyte."

   "So you're one of these people - these Rangers?"

   They turned a corner and entered a large suite of rooms, one of which Inesval delegated to Ivanova, another to Sheridan and Delenn.

   "I have not carried the title of Anla'shok since I was initiated as Dukhat's aide," she told him. "When I became Satai, it became even less important. It was simply something I wanted to experience, to learn all I could about Valen and the Anla'shok."

   He sat down on the couch provided. "Why?" Delenn smiled and sat down beside him, and he absently put his arms around her.

   "Because I have always been interested in Valen." She looked up at him. "Did I tell you that I saw him, once?"

   Sheridan raised his eyebrows. "No, you didn't. But wasn't Valen-"

   "A thousand years ago, yes." Delenn shrugged. "I did not see him in the flesh, John. It was a - a vision I suppose you would say. I was visiting the city with my parents, and I was separated from them. I had no idea where they were, and I was only a child... I was frightened, so I entered one of the Temples that very few people use, on the outskirts of Yedor. A few are closed, but I finally found one that was open and went inside. It was growing dark, and cold, and I was very afraid." She smiled suddenly, one of those dazzling expressions she kept hidden away. "And then I saw a great... figure, standing in the centre of the Temple, and he spoke to me. He said 'Do not worry. I will not allow any harm to come to my little ones, here in my great house.'" Her eyes shone as she repeated the words, as if they formed a prayer only she could hear. "Then I was no longer afraid, and my parents entered the Temple almost straight afterwards. I told them what I had seen, but I do not think they believed me." She smiled. "But I know that I saw Valen that day, and I think I knew then that I had a destiny to fulfill." She stood up, retrieving a glass and carafe of water from the kitchen area. "I did not imagine then how long and hard that destiny would be."

   He went over to her and put his arms around her shoulders. "But you've still done it, Delenn. You made it through, remember that."

   Delenn sighed and smiled up at him. "John, what I have done already is only a part of everything. It is a step forward, yes, but it is very little in comparison with what is to come."

   He frowned. "I think you'd better tell me the rest, then," he said shortly. Delenn paused, then looked up into his eyes and nodded slowly.

   "All right."

   * * * * *

   

It was late when Shaal Mayan, unofficial poet laureate of the Anla'shok, reached the main apartments in Tuzanor where she knew Delenn would be staying. She had heard little of her friend in recent years, having been secluded for many months at a time in Temple in order to meditate and perfect her soul for the composing she had decided to make her life's work. Delenn had left Temple over five years before, while Mayan still clung to that remnant of their childhood: it was one of the fundamental differences between them.

   Mayan wondered what had become of her childhood friend. She had of course heard of the war, although she had wanted no part in it, and of Delenn's rescue of that Earther male whom she had used to create peace between their two races. That at least told her that Delenn had changed very little: she had always wanted to be in the centre of things, believing she had a destiny that was prewritten for her. If that were true or not Mayan had never judged, preferring to leave such things to the universe to decide. There had certainly always been something... special, unique, about Delenn and her family. She had been an only child, which in itself was unusual in this time when Minbar and its colonies were desperately trying to keep the population stable. Her mother's choice of the Sisters Of Valeria had been acceptable, but she was more than overly devoted to them - even by Minbari religious standards. Another thing that Mayan had always found strange, something she had always remembered, was the presence of dark stubble on Moraval's face. Delenn's father had never once, in all the years Mayan had known his daughter, appeared to her clean-faced. It was rare among Minbari, and noticable that mainly those who went far were possessed with it.

   Searching out the lights that obediently lit at her passing to find the correct apartment, Mayan wondered whether Delenn had been to see Moraval since she had been back home. Mayan herself had not met the old man in years - although much of that was due to her seclusive behaviour - and she knew that communication from the Council ship was scarce. That was another reason why she knew so little of Delenn, for messages and reports very rarely escaped the Grey Council's reclusive vessel. Only when Delenn had been planetside had she been able to send regular communication: even that had stopped in the past two years, for Mayan had been touring the outer colonies on her first tee'la reading. She had appeared in many cities and towns, and had gained an impressive reputation: however, unfortunately circumstances had conspired against her relations with her once Temple-classmate.

   Reaching what she thought was the correct place, Mayan entered and pressed the panel. It was well into the night, but Delenn often worked very late and would surely want to see her friend as soon as possible, even if only to make arrangements to meet the next day. When there was no reply, she quietly opened the door: perhaps she had not been heard, or perhaps Delenn was asleep. She would find out, leave a message and return in the morning.

   Finding the main area littered with work but empty of people, Mayan picked up a sheet of paper and pen and wrote a quick note, thinking to leave it by the bedside for Delenn to find when she awoke. It had been their favourite form of communicating in Temple, when they had had nowhere to leave such things but the bunk and shelf that was provided.

   As she approached the bed, she had a momentary thought and paused, going back to correct the note. Years of training had taught her perfectionism in whatever she wrote; but when she was in the middle of adding a word, she heard a noise from the bedroom. Thinking Delenn awake, she stood and put pen and paper down, entering the room.

   When she entered the room fully, however, she frowned deeply. Delenn was nowhere to be seen: instead, on a bed perched at an absurdly straight angle, a Human woman lay sleeping. Mayan had seen images of this relatively new species, so she recognised the long, dark tresses that curled around the female's head and crept over her shoulders. Embarrassed and confused at her intrusion and obvious mistake, Mayan turned quickly to go. As she did so, however, the occupant of the bed stirred and shifted onto her side, and the dim light above her head shone clearly on her features.

   Mayan, horrified beyond belief, let out a short scream.

   A voice came immediately from the darkness on the other side of the bed, in a tongue she didn't understand. "Delenn? Are you okay?" The owner of the soft, anxious tone moved up to the bed, a dark shadow. "Honey?" He leaned over his companion, and the crystal lamp caught his features.

   They were perfectly, totally, Human.

   Mayan stumbled backwards, appalled and still more confused. She backed into the wall with a soft thud, and the sound made the Human look up. She recognised him instantly: the Earther Delenn had rescued.

   Horror-stricken, she opened her mouth to speak, but nothing would emerge. Sheridan frowned, obviously surprised at her presence, and after checking Delenn was still as she had been a few moments ago when he had left to go to the bathroom, he walked around the bed and approached her.

   //Who are you?// he asked in perfect religious dialect. //Why are you in our apartment?// His use of her language made Mayan gape.

   //Y-Your apartment? No, there must be some mistake...// She glanced wildly at the figure on the bed, curled on her side towards them and her features clear. //This is Delenn's apartment.// She backed along the wall away from him. //Where is she? What have you done to her?//

   //Easy!// His tone changed from interrogative to gentle, soothing. //She's right there,// he motioned to the bed where his fiancee lay.

   //*NO!*//

   At the sound of Mayan's anguished cry, Delenn's eyes opened and she sat up slightly, lifting herself onto one elbow. "John? Is everything all right?" She frowned, seeing a third figure in the room - by its silhouette Minbari, and female. //What's going on?//

   //Delenn...// Mayan's voice broke, knowing beyond doubt that the voice speaking to her now belonged to both Delenn and the strange, shocking woman on the bed. //Delenn, in Valen's name, what has happened to you?//

   //Mayan?// Delenn brushed her hand over the beside lamp, filling the room with bright light and unintentionally illuminating her features completely. Faced with the terrifying truth, Mayan looked instantly away. Sheridan tossed a contrite glance at Delenn, but her face held only sympathy and compassion.

   //She feels as I did when I first emerged from the Chrysalis, John,// she told him gently. //Only she does not understand as I did.// She slid off the bed and went to her friend. //Mayan,// she said softly. The other woman flinched, although she tried to hide it. Delenn took a deep breath and tried again. //Mayan, listen to me. I am the same as I have always been.// She smiled sympathetically. //I do not mind if you do not look on me. It is supposedly forbidden, after all, although I would not hold that between such friends as we are... or once were. If you cannot accept me as I appear now, I will understand.// She wouldn't, Sheridan knew, but he admired her strength. She'd spoken of Mayan a few times, always wistfully: reminiscing on time they had spent together as children, wishing she could contact her even thought it had been impossible. She had wanted to tell her of her transformation, her attachment to him, especially her pregnancy, but Mayan moved around so much it had been impossible to track her since her tour had started almost six months before Delenn's change.

   //Delenn...// Mayan's eyes, when she looked up, shone with horror-stricken pity. //What have they done to you, Delenn, in Valen's name?//

   //Whatever has happened to me,// Delenn returned firmly, //it is of my own making, no one else's.// She glanced briefly at Sheridan, and he smiled discreetly: not *everything* had been *entirely* of her own making. //I chose this, Mayan, my friend. It is what was meant for me.// She looked more openly at Sheridan this time. //For us,// she corrected. //I am sorry you had to meet under such circumstances,// she apologised. //Mayan, this is Ambassador John Sheridan, of Earth. John; Shaal Mayan, a very old friend.//

   He bowed formally; and she hesitantly did the same, confused even further. Delenn looked up at her fiance apologetically.

   "John, could you leave us for a little while? I'm sorry-"

   He smiled and squeezed her hand. "I'll take a little walk - say, out to the Ranger facility and back?"

   Delenn smiled gratefully. "I do not think you have to go that far," she said lightly. "She'll be fine, after I explain everything."

   "If you say so." He kissed her forehead, grabbed some clothes from a nearby carryall and went into the bathroom to change. Delenn turned back to Mayan, who was regarding her with confused disgust. For a moment, she was afraid it was due to her appearance: then she smiled in relief as Mayan spoke.

   //What did he... do?// She touched her own smooth forehead, just below the blue patterning of a pure Minbari. //That is... not something we do.//

   //It is a Human custom,// Delenn explained, leading her into the living area. //It expresses affection for another.//

   Mayan touched her own lips hesitantly. //Why? I cannot see any reason why the mouth would express affection. It is...// she searched for a word, trying not to be overtly offensive. //Unhygienic,// she said at last.

   Delenn laughed: Mayan frowned.

   //Oh, I am sorry, Mayan. It's just that... well, you really do not understand what you're saying.// She smiled reassuringly and patted her friend's hand. //Let us simply agree to disagree, as the Humans say. There are many things about me you will find strange now, but I am still your friend.// She yawned, unable to hold it back, but shook her head as Mayan rose to go. //No, Mayan, stay. It has been so long since we talked...// She seemed suddenly to realise why her friend's reaction had been so intense. //Oh, I'm sorry, Mayan. I didn't realise you knew so little about what has happened to me. It's been so long, I was sure you must have heard something by now.//

   Mayan shook her head. //No... nothing. I have been travelling so far from home recently, and I spent a year with my family on Sh'lekk'tha even before my tour started. The last I had heard, you were on Earth as our Ambassador.//

   //That was almost three years ago now, if you had not heard of my change,// Delenn said gently. //A lot of things have happened in that time - although, one of the most significant was very recently.// She steepled her fingers in front of her, staring through them. //Tonight, I told John about the Rangers - about the plans we have for them, the part he and I will play. About what I believe to be our role in the coming darkness.//

   //Delenn!// Mayan stared at her in disbelief. //The Council... They will be incensed!//

   //I do not care what the Council thinks,// Delenn said firmly. //He had to be told, Mayan. We are too close for me to keep such things from him, and we have never hidden anything from each other in any case. What the Council thinks is irrelevant... and I suspect they are only looking for an excuse to remove me now. This will let them get it over and done with once and for all.//

   //You cannot mean that,// Mayan protested, but Delenn cut her off.

   //I do mean it, Mayan. The Council is changing: anyone can see it. Soon... I do not know if I will want to be a part of it anymore. I will be content here until everything is completed and I move to Babylon Five with John.// She sighed and leaned back into her chair. //I am with child, Mayan, and I do not think I want my children brought up in this. I sometimes wonder if it was a good idea for John and I to...// she smiled, aware that Mayan was confused. //But that is for tomorrow. Over breakfast? I wish to introduce John to everybody tomorrow, so we will have to start early.//

   * * * * *

   

Breakfast was indeed early, and prepared by a young acolyte whom Delenn had to admit cooked better than either she or John. Mayan arrived at the customary time, surprised to see another Human there. Ivanova introduced herself, making an effort to be friendly and relaxed, and Mayan accepted her with a curious smile, intrigued by this new member of Delenn's entourage. They ate at a reasonable pace and left the apartments, heading over to the Ranger Complex to meet those who were already assembled there. As they entered, Turval smiled and bowed deeply, introducing the other Minbari behind him. "Sech Durhan, Sech Nelier, Sech Lorann." Two male Minbari with sharply fluted crests bowed firmly to Sheridan: the third of the group was younger by perhaps a few years and female. "Sech Nerili, Sech Malenn, Sech Ruell." The first of this group was female, as was the second, but the third looked only a little elder than Delenn and deceptively slight for a male. Each bowed in turn, and Sheridan returned the respectful gesture.

   //I'm honoured to meet you,// he said in perfect Adronato. Delenn had explained that the Rangers were not specifically part of the warrior caste and therefore did not speak solidly Vik, the warrior dialect, but she had also told him that most of the teachers or 'Sechs' had originally been from religious caste families and so he chose that language to address them. There were other teachers who were introduced, but Sheridan understood that these, along with Turval, made up the main block of Ranger 'leaders'.

   "Sech Draal!" Turval's voice was undoubtedly amused, but at the same time somewhat annoyed. "We are honoured by your company at last."

   A slightly rounded Minbari male had entered the room behind Sheridan and the group, his broad-shouldered figure matched by a wide smile as he set eyes on Delenn. He reached out one hand to her and she grasped it, placing it over her heart as she did the same to him, completing the ancient Minbari greeting with a perfunctory bow.

   "Delenn." Draal's voice was warm with pleasure. "It has been far, far too long. I always said Dukhat stole the best of us to replace him." Delenn, despite the reminder of her deceased mentor, blushed slightly at the praise. Draal only smiled wider, appraising her. "You've changed." He paused, considering. "I like it."

   Delenn's face broke into a wide smile. "I have missed you, old friend."

   "And we have *all* missed you, Delenn," the elder Minbari assured her. "Come," he gestured to the door, "it is such a beautiful day, we should walk together while you tell me of your time away."

   Delenn smiled; she glanced helplessly back at Turval, but he only smiled back and nodded: evidently he was used to Draal's eccentricities. Sheridan fell into step beside Delenn, waving Ivanova away.

   "Go have a look around, see what these Rangers are all about. I trust what Delenn tells me, but sometimes she can be selective about the truth." He caught his fiancee's sharp, hurt glance and smiled. "It's one of the things I love you for," he assured her. Ivanova grinned and nodded.

   "I'll consider it a diplomatic reconnaisance mission. If there's anything Delenn doesn't know about the Rangers, I'll find it." She snapped a teasing salute and turned around. Sheridan put one arm around Delenn; she looked up at him, still injured by his comment, but he sighed playfully and drew her to him.

   "Don't start being angry with me now," he pleaded with that look he knew she couldn't resist. "As Draal says, it's such a beautiful day."

   The elder Minbari laughed heartily. "You have at last found a match for you, my stubborn anla'shok," he told Delenn in amusement. Turning to Sheridan, he added, "Delenn once refused to come into one of my classes because she said the weather was too good outside to be sitting in a classroom studying. It took an entire hour to convince her to even enter the room, and by that time every other member of the class was sitting out on the grass!"

   Sheridan laughed. "That sounds like the Delenn I know." She glared at them both, but her eyes sparkled in amusement.

   "I contested many such things back then. If it were not for Dukaht's sponsorship I do not think I would have lasted a week in the anla'shok."

   "Nonsense!" Draal frowned at the idea. "I wish there were more like you, Delenn. Imagine what we could do with ten as spirited - a hundred! Then, *then* we would be the force Valen designed us to be." His voice shone with the inspiration of a great vision. Delenn smiled and put her hand on his arm.

   "We will be, old friend. One day." She released him and slipped her hand into Sheridan's. "But that time is not here yet."

   Draal's expression was one Sheridan knew well: he often wore it when Delenn spoke of things he was certain it was impossible she knew so much about.

   "As I told you; the best of us." Draal smiled even as Delenn blushed. He stopped at the entrance to a small garden, inside which were various benches. "My teaching garden," he explained. Delenn looked wondrously up at him and he laughed. "Well, the weather is so lovely at this time of year - why study in a classroom when you could be sitting in the sun?"

   Sheridan laughed, and Delenn smiled in amusement as she sank onto a bench. Draal sat down opposite, surprisingly limber despite his age, and Sheridan sat next to his fiancee.

   "I do not believe Delenn has formally introduced us," the Minbari said with a hint of amusement. "Although you obviously know who I am, as Turval's less than subtle introduction will attest. You, of course, are John Sheridan, so now that the introductions are over we can move on to more important matters." He raised his head and scrutinised Delenn carefully, as if searching for something. "You are pregnant," he said finally, his voice approving.

   "Yes." Delenn answered quietly, but her own voice was proud.

   "When will the child be born?"

   "Children," Sheridan corrected. When Draal gave him a confused look he expanded helpfully, "It's twins, a boy and a girl."

   Draal looked to Delenn for assistance. "Are Human children always born in pairs?"

   Delenn smiled. "Not always. It is a... biological peculiarity. It has to do with the method in which the child is conceived..." She blushed, seeing the politely interested look on Draal's face become more observant. "Most are born singly, as our children are, but they can be born in pairs or even triplets quite regularly."

   "And this is safe for you?" Draal frowned, his face completely serious for the first time, showing the depth of his affection and love for the young Satai.

   Delenn only smiled reassuringly at his concern. "Perfectly. The physicians have already informed us that it will be a normal birth, although I will be attended by Humans as well as Minbari as the process is somewhat - different." She hid her apprehension at the thought, but Sheridan caught it.

   "You'll be *fine,*" he assured her. "We all will."

   "You do not have to do anything," she pointed out.

   "I have to put up with the abuse," he retorted with a smile. "You wait and see, I'll get the worst end of the deal."

   Delenn laughed and shook her head. "I tell him, but he doesn't listen," she said to her old teacher. "Besides, that is months away."

   "Have you spoken to Moraval since you arrived?" Draal's question seemed out of the blue, but Delenn knew him well enough to see that he had been building up to it since meeting them: mention of her pregnancy had only heightened the need.

   She shook her head. "No... I have not had time. We only arrived yesterday."

   "Moraval?" Sheridan looked at her apprehensively.

   Delenn took a moment in answering. "My father."

   His eyes softened. "Oh. Does he know we're here?" He raised his eyebrows. "Come to think of it, does any of your family know we're here?"

   "The Rangers are the only family I have," Delenn said firmly, if a little hesitantly.

   "Delenn," he warned, sensing her answer was somewhat cryptic.

   "She is correct," Draal put in. "When one joins the Rangers, one rescinds all ties to family. In this way, the anla'shok are not held to any one clan and can operate freely - what few of us there are. Although," he shot a stern look at Delenn, "immediate family is accorded the courtesy of acknowledgement, at least."

   Looking suitably chastened, Delenn smiled sheepishly. "I did not mean it that way. Of course, I will visit my father as soon as I can."

   "And your mother?"

   She smiled up at him. "My mother joined the Sisters Of Valeria when I was very young, John. I have only seen her once since I was born."

   "Then perhaps," Draal said in a commanding voice, "it is time to schedule another visit. Now, Turval will be growing madder by the minute so you should return while there is still a facility to return to. I, as always, must see to some of my students." He bowed to each of them and smiled especially at Delenn, before turning out of the garden, intent on chasing down an errant trainee who happened to be walking past. "Anla'shok Lenann!"

   Delenn smiled and shook her head, rising from the bench to walk beside her fiance as they made their way back to the main training facility. "Draal is very dedicated to his work," she said lightly. "As are all of the Rangers."

   "Were you serious, when you said they were your family?" He slipped his hand into hers as they walked, and Delenn threaded her fingers through his.

   "When I trained as a Ranger, I took the same oaths that those who live and work here have taken. Among them is a promise to serve the Rangers above all else, and to preserve the neutrality of the Anla'shok." She smiled and took on that expression that he associated with a storytelling. "When Valen created them as a fighting force a thousand years ago, Minbar was not at all as it is now. There were many tribes, many clans fighting each other for supremacy. Even though we had advanced to the stars, we still had much to learn about peace among our own people. When the Shadows came, we were unprepared; the Vorlons enlisted our help in stopping them, and for a short time they showed us how to work peacefully with one another. But the warrior clans, especially, were unhappy with the idea and they fought each other even as we were fighting a greater enemy.

   "Then Valen appeared, bringing a new civilisation for our people. He realised that in order to fight the Shadows effectively, he would need a force that would not fall victim to petty fights and disagreements. When he created the Rangers, he made each Ranger swear loyalty to the organisation and give up their loyalty to their clan. It was the only way to allow them to work together effectively, and the only way to beat the Shadows."

   "And did he beat them?" Sheridan's eyes smiled, caught up in her story and the sound of her voice.

   "Of course he did," she answered as if speaking to a recalcitrant child. "And the Anla'shok have remained neutral among the clans and castes for a thousand years. We live for the One, and we die for the One," she added with a touch of irony. Sheridan smiled: he realised, from what she had told him the day before, that the statement was not entirely appropriate for her to make.

   "So your parents are the only family ties you have? No brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins..."

   "No one," Delenn replied, taking his hand and placing it on her gravid stomach. He felt a sharp kick. "No one but you," she corrected softly. The tone of her voice made him stop and pull her up short to kiss her, and she relaxed into his embrace for a long moment. When she looked up at him again, the look in his eyes made her smile and she stroked his cheek.

   "It isn't a problem for me, John. I miss my family sometimes, yes, but I am still allowed to contact them. It isn't as if I've cut them off completely from my life. Besides," she added in a quiet voice, "if I were still bound to them, our relationship would have been forbidden a long time ago. It is only because the Rangers have accepted you that I was allowed to 'go public,' as you say, with my feelings for you."

   "Seriously?" He frowned, realising why she had never mentioned her family before: her clan would probably be very displeased with her attachment to a Human, let alone the Starkiller. "I never realised..."

   "I tried not to let you know. I didn't want you to feel... that there was any pressure on you, to stay away from me."

   His smile was tender, but his eyes sparkled. "I could never have stayed away from you, Delenn."

   She smiled up at him, then took his hand and continued the short walk to the Ranger centre. They were met by Ivanova and Turval, who looked around with just a slight paranoia to make sure Draal had not followed them.

   "I like him very much," the Ranger leader assured them, "but I do not always understand him. And among the Rangers, understanding *is* required." Sheridan smiled: it was a Minbari saying that 'understanding was not required, only obedience.' He could see why Delenn had been drawn to these people: the insatiable curiosity that gained her trouble anywhere else would be an asset among the Rangers. He had to admit, he looked at her more than the Rangers as they toured the complex: since her pregnancy he couldn't keep his eyes off her anyway, thinking about their children growing inside her, but her uninhibited reactions made her a joy to watch as they wandered through buildings she had not entered, had not seen, in years.

   Finally, Turval turned to them and bowed formally. "I will leave you now, Satai," he addressed Delenn. "There is much to be done, and I regret I have used all the time available to me."

   Delenn smiled understandingly. "Of course. Don't worry; I know my way around, or I should. It isn't a problem. Don't let us keep you from your duties." Her eyes seemed to cloud with the agony of knowing. "It is all the more important now, Turval."

   He made no answer: only bowed and left. Ivanova turned to Delenn.

   "What did you mean just then?"

   Delenn looked away and shook her head. "It is not for you to know, Susan." When she looked back her eyes were haunted, ancient. "Pray that you never have to understand such things." Sheridan put his arm around her shoulders and led her away, leaving Ivanova staring in bewildered displeasure after them.

   A young Ranger approached her; he was Human, which made her look twice for there were few Human Rangers yet, with long dark hair and the beginnings of a beard that he seemed to be trying to grow. He looked about her age, and for a moment she was tempted to talk to him: but her displeasure at being so roughly dismissed by two people she considered friends took over and she scowled at him, walking purposefully away.

   * * * * *

   The next morning, after a brisk walk outside to explore some more of his new and probably permanent surroundings, Sheridan sat on the couch watching as the physicians examined his fiancee. She looked slightly uncomfortable, but she had resigned herself to being the topic of endless studies and examinations both before and during her pregnancy and sat through it with what seemed to him to be endless patience. When they were finally done, he stood up and bowed to the entourage of physicians before helping Delenn up. At just over six months, she was showing and - at least it seemed to her - growing bigger by the day. Franklin had arranged to arrive on Minbar just after them to monitor the pregnancy carefully, and would be there hopefully that evening. However, before he holed her up in her quarters, Delenn had one more trip to complete.

   "I called my father earlier," she said in a tired voice. "I arranged for us to travel to the city to see him this morning, if that's all right."

   "Fine, fine." He kissed her forehead, unable to resist being close to her, and snaked his arm around her waist to cover her stomach protectively. "So long as you feel good enough to travel. You look tired."

   "I'm fine," she assured him tartly. "They're just beginning to wear me out a little, that's all. I'll sleep on the transport to the city."

   "Okay." He smiled, trying not to push: Delenn was inclined to be very independent and he didn't want to irritate her - her moods swung from one extreme to the other lately. "What about your mother?"

   Delenn shook her head and pulled out of his grasp.

   "What?" He went over to her, watching her busy herself with clearing the evidence of their breakfast. "Delenn. Delenn," he took her shoulders and turned her to face him. "What did she say?"

   "It's nothing," she said in a quiet voice.

   "Delenn," he tilted her chin up, trying to get her to look at him, and saw the sorrow in her eyes. "She doesn't want to see us."

   "No." She swallowed hard. "She doesn't want to see *me*."

   "You?" He was so used to her as she was now, it took him a moment to understand. When he did, he felt his heart break for her. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry."

   "It's all right." She hurriedly wiped away the tears that were threatening. "I mean, I've only ever seen her once - it isn't as if she were such an important part of my life..." she trailed off, and he put his arms around her and held her to him, stroking her hair. She didn't cry, but it wasn't for lack of emotion: he could feel her shaking in his arms and held her closer, gently kissing the top of her head.

   "She might come round, you know. It could just be the shock of everything right now - you know how my mother was."

   "You did not hear what she said to me."

   He frowned, swallowing the hard anger that rose in his throat. Kirenn might not be able to accept Delenn in her new form, but she was still her mother: there was no reason to hurt her the way Delenn was hurting now.

   "What did she say?"

   "Many things." She sighed and shook her head. "It will do no good to dwell on them. As you said, it is probably the shock. She has never seen me as I am now, and the idea of my marrying a Human... it would be difficult for her to accept. The Sisters of Valeria live mostly in seclusion; they are not very... what is the word?"

   "In tune with what's going on," he finished for her. "Try not to let it bother you too much. I know it must be hard, especially from your mother, but she'll come round eventually. Give it some time."

   Delenn nodded, withdrawing from his embrace with a slight smile. "I suppose so. Meanwhile," and she smiled warmly, hopefully, "we have an appointment to keep."

   * * * * *

   The journey to Yedor, Minbar's capital city, took only an hour or so in high orbit, and Delenn slept most of the way. Sheridan tried not to be concerned, telling himself it was only natural for a woman expecting twice the burden of a normal pregnancy, but he couldn't help being a little worried. However, she seemed fine when they touched down in the city and he purposefully filed his concerns away in the back of his mind, knowing he'd only irritate her if he fussed.

   They reached the apartment block, elegantly carved from crystal and sparkling in the sunlight, very quickly. Minbar was very organised like that, Sheridan had noticed: the Minbari were a people surrounded by space travel and totally used to it in everyday life, and their settlements were based around being able to get anywhere within the shortest space of time. It was an amazingly efficient way of doing things: one he envied, remembering his own experiences of queuing for hours in spaceports at home.

   Delenn was the first to step up to the door, but Sheridan was right behind her: their pilot had agreed to pick them up that afternoon, while Ivanova had remained in Tuzanor to begin working with the Rangers.

   The door was answered by a young acolyte; Delenn wore a hooded cloak that concealed her face as well as her changed appearance, and so the young male didn't recognise her even though she seemed to know him. Sheridan also wore a long, Minbari-style cloak that Delenn had given him; the hood cast a shadow on his face, concealing his features.

   //We wish to visit Moraval, of the Family Mir.// Delenn's voice was gentle but firm. //He is expecting us.//

   The young male bowed quickly and gestured for them to enter. They went inside while he disappeared into another room, and when they were alone Delenn carefully removed her hood, letting it fall about her shoulders as she looked around. Sheridan followed suit, watching as she turned slowly around, refamiliarising herself with the room. *This is where she grew up,* he realised. *This was her home.* "Delenn?" he asked softly, stepping up behind her. She turned to him with a smile.

   "I lived here when I was a child, before I went to Temple." Her eyes shone with the memory. "My father and I..." she trailed off as the door at the back of the room opened and the acolyte stepped out, followed by a tall, imposing Minbari figure. He had a trimmed beard, although quite sparse, and strangely elegant features for such a large man. His crest was thick and shaped into three peaks, in the usual style for a male rather than the simple design that formed Delenn's crown, and he was obviously much older than she. Sheridan could see instantly the resemblance between the woman he loved and this elder Minbari. It wasn't so much a physical similarity but rather a spiritual one; Moraval possessed the same dignified gait that Delenn used, the same image of wisdom, the same aura of faith and purpose. His eyes were the same, too, a bright jade sparkle that so matched his daughter's that Sheridan had to look away for a moment, afraid those eyes could see into him as easily as Delenn's did.

   //Kanarr,// Delenn inclined her head toward the young acolyte, who had paled slightly at her appearance. //Father.//

   Sheridan willed the man not to disappoint her: he didn't notice he was staring, or holding his breath, until Moraval looked him full in the eyes and smiled very slightly. Sheridan grinned: he saw Delenn in that smile, and he knew her father would welcome her as if nothing at all had happened in the past years.

   //It seems important to him that I greet you well, Delenn,// Moraval said with amusement in his voice. //Tell me, have you been spreading rumours of my cruelty among the Earthers?//

   Delenn's features blossomed into a wonderful smile. //No, father, of course not.// She went to him, and he put one hand on her chest and bowed his head. He smiled, seeing the tears of relief in her eyes as she returned the gesture of welcome.

   //Your mother has not been kind to you,// he said gently. It wasn't a question.

   //No,// Delenn admitted. //It is not her fault, I know-//

   //Of course it is her fault,// Moraval interrupted. //Or rather, it is the Sisters' fault. They have stayed locked away from the world so long, they have forgotten how much a kind word sometimes matters.// He sighed and smiled, seeming a little abashed. //Forgive my rash words. Kirenn and I spoke this morning - I am still not quite recovered.// He gestured to the couch. //Please, sit down. It has been a long time since you were here, Delenn, and even longer since you brought visitors.// He looked at Sheridan, who tried not to look too uncomfortable. //You are my daughter's mate, then.//

   Sheridan bowed in a suitable fashion: the last thing he wanted was to start out on the wrong foot. //Yes.//

   Moraval laughed and gestured to a seat. //Don't look so shocked, either of you. Unlike my own mate, I do not like to stay away from the world for too long. I find it important to know that everything is running smoothly without my help.// He glanced at the young acolyte. //Kanarr, would you like to fetch your cara and her mate something to drink? They must be thirsty after their journey from the City of Sorrows.//

   "Cara?" Sheridan asked quietly as the boy left the room.

   "Kanarr is the son of my father's brother's daughter." Delenn had only ever grasped the basics of family structure on Earth, it was so different to that of Minbar. He smiled.

   "That would make him your nephew." He saw her file the new word away, understanding it now that she had an example.

   //Excuse him,// Moraval said to Sheridan. //Kanarr is very fond of Delenn: I think her sudden appearance has confused him somewhat.// He looked at his daughter, appraising her image as she sat in front of him. //Or should I say your sudden *change* in appearance?// There was no animosity in his tone, only approval and a little bemusement. //Things have altered quite dramatically for you since we last talked, Delenn. It's fortunate that I am not a suspicious man, or I would begin to think you have kept things from me deliberately. Mayan also has avoided me these past few years; I wonder, is there a conspiracy I do not know about?//

   //You do not need to accuse Mayan,// Delenn replied lightly. //She knew nothing of my change until we arrived on Minbar. She was quite... vocal... when she first saw me.//

   //It is also fortunate that I am a calmer soul than she is, then, is it not?// he teased gently. Delenn smiled, a little shyly.

   //You do not mind it?//

   The elder Minbari looked at her, seeming to explore her features with his gaze and smiled himself, looking almost surprised. //I did not know what I would think when I saw you in person, but I find I quite like it.// He tilted his head slightly: the gesture was so like Delenn that Sheridan had to hide a smile. //I think this was what you were meant to be, Delenn. Yes, I approve.// He looked to Sheridan, and his eyes lit with amusement. //I am obviously not the only one.//

   Sheridan smiled, feeling totally at ease with this charismatic Minbari. //I fell in love with Delenn long before her transformation,// he answered honestly.

   Moraval's eyes twinkled even as Delenn smiled slightly. //But you cannot say you dislike what you see now.//

   //Father!// Delenn blushed. Moraval turned an innocent smile on her, and Sheridan realised why she liked Draal so much: the two men were very much alike.

   //Beauty is no bad thing, Delenn,// her father admonished gently. //Your mother was very beautiful when we married - she still is, I imagine, although I have not seen her in...// he shrugged, obviously resigned to the loss and just as obviously not devastated by it. //Well.//

   Kanarr returned then with a tray of refreshments, and Moraval seemed glad of the distraction. //Thank you, Kanarr.// He extended a hand toward Delenn. //Well, Kanarr, what do you think of my daughter now?//

   //Father,// Delenn said reprovingly.

   //Y-you are very beautiful, cara Delenn,// the young acolyte stammered shyly. Delenn smiled warmly.

   //Thank you, Kanarr. You have grown tall since I last saw you,// she added approvingly. //Have you made your Choice yet?//

   When Sheridan looked confused, Moraval explained, //Kanarr's mother is religious caste, of our Family, but his father was a warrior of the Night Walkers Clan. Kanarr will have to choose which caste he wishes to join, or if his heart follows a different path altogether. He has not yet made that Choice, have you, Kanarr?//

   //No, father,// the young Minbari answered, still not taking his eyes from Delenn. She seemed almost to enjoy the attention, even as she explained Kanarr's answer to her fiance.

   //My father has raised Kanarr here since his own father died over ten years ago. His mother is a member of the Sisters of Valeria, as mine is.//

   //So you're adopted,// Sheridan said to Kanarr. The Minbari looked confused for a moment, then nodded. Moraval smiled reassuringly at his 'son' and nodded for him to go. Kanarr, looking slightly relieved, left the room.

   //It does not have quite the same connotation in Adronato, but that is the basic idea,// Delenn answered. //As my father is religious caste, I suspect Kanarr will chose to follow that path.// She glanced at her father, who nodded. Sheridan frowned, a thought occurring to him.

   //Will our children have to choose?//

   Moraval cut in before Delenn could answer, and only then did it occur to either of them that they had not actually told him. //Children? Delenn-// He stopped and started at her. //I thought there was something else different about you - I could not place it.// He smiled broadly. //When?//

   //The doctors say another three months, two at least. They aren't sure because of my... unique... body chemistry.// Delenn put one hand protectively on her growing abdomen, feeling one or other of the children inside kick violently. The look on her face must have given it away, because Sheridan grinned at her and placed his own hand over hers. Moraval looked confused: Sheridan grinned and removed his hand, instead putting his arm around Delenn.

   "Let him say hi to his grandkids," he encouraged her. Delenn, slightly hesitantly, reached out for her father's hand and sat forward on the couch. When he placed his hand in hers she guided it to her abdomen, and was rewarded with a sharp kick that almost made her jump.

   //Delenn!// Her father's eyes widened and he stared at her, confused and uncomprehending. //Is that- Are you all right? Nothing is wrong?//

   //Minbari babies do not kick,// she explained to Sheridan, who seemed surprised by her father's reaction. //Remember?//

   He did, and nodded. The look on Delenn's face when she had first felt the sensation had been priceless: a mixture of confusion and concern that had quickly been overtaken by joyous amazement when she remembered that it was perfectly normal for a Human child. Now, Moraval's face held the same amazed expression, coupled with a fading concern.

   //It's perfectly all right,// Delenn assured her father with a wide smile. //Human children move in the birthing sac during the later months of pregnancy, and with two to deal with I do not get a lot of rest.//

   //Two?// Moraval blinked, surprised. //I did not know that was possible.//

   //It's pretty normal,// Sheridan assured him. //Delenn's managing fine, aren't you?// He smiled down at her and she sighed at his tone.

   //Just fine,// she said firmly. //He worries about me too much,// she complained to her father.

   //A good trait in a husband,// was Moraval's bland reply. Delenn scowled playfully: Sheridan grinned.

   //I'm glad you approve.//

   //Please, father,// Delenn said desperately, //he's bad enough already.//

   Sheridan smiled and tightened his arm around her. //You don't really mind. Besides, it's only natural that I worry about you - I have a vested interest in your health, remember.// He brushed his fingers over her growing stomach and despite herself she smiled.

   //Father, you should come back with us. It's been such a long time since you visited Tuzanor - I know Mayan would like to see you again and the Rangers...//

   //I'm sure I can spare a day or two,// the elder Minbari replied warmly. //If only to ensure that my only daughter does not try anything excessive while she carries my grandchildren.//

   Delenn scowled: Sheridan laughed. //We're going to make a great team,// he promised the Minbari. Moraval laughed with him.

   //You will need the assistance, I promise you. Delenn is as forceful as I am - and there are stories about me that you do not need to hear.//

   Sheridan grinned. //You'll have to tell me them sometime.// Moraval smiled back, his eyes sparkling, and bowed slightly to Sheridan.

   //I like you, John Sheridan. Take no notice of my wife's thinking: her order is old, and one day they will wake up to the real world.// He flashed an almost boyish grin. //That will be a day I look forward to, I assure you.// His eyes blazed fire as he looked at Delenn. //And on that day, she will apologise to you for whatever she may have said, I promise you that.// He stood suddenly, unwilling to dwell on such things. //Well, we should go. Kanarr will stay here and attend to things for me for a few days, at least. I hope that now you are home for a while we will be able to see each other more regularly, Delenn.//

   Delenn smiled. //I would like that, father.//

   They stayed in the city for a few hours, wandering through the streets and parks, Delenn and Moraval recounting tales of her childhood - they seemed to have a story for every place in the city. They ate a light meal at a small restaurant in one of the more 'touristy' areas of Yedor, an area Delenn remembered visiting when she was very young and she and her parents had still lived in one of the outlying settlements, even before Kirenn had joined the Sisters. It was a memory she obviously treasured, and Sheridan had to push away his anger at Kirenn for rejecting the daughter who so obviously loved her as much now as she had as that young child.

   He was still thinking about it in the flyer as they soared in high orbit towards Tuzanor, the City of Sorrows and their new home - at least for a while. He couldn't understand her attitude: yes, Delenn looked and seemed different at first glance, but she was still the child Kirenn had given birth to, the child of a marriage that she had once held above all other commitments. The approaching birth of his and Delenn's children only made the feeling even more incomprehensible: he hadn't even seen them yet, didn't know them, but already he couldn't imagine being without them - or Delenn. The way Minbari seemed to cast off such obligations was strange to him, and he couldn't help wondering if Delenn's obligation to the Rangers transcended even her relationship with him - with her children. He couldn't imagine living without her - but then, he couldn't imagine her ever leaving him and silently chided himself for doubting her.

   "I love you," he whispered into her hair, kissing the edge of her crown. She was sleeping against his shoulder, exhausted from their trek around the city, and he smiled at her peaceful features. He looked up to see Moraval watching him with a slight smile and smiled back, his eyes shining with love for his fiancee. He opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment the flyer touched down on the landing pad and he turned back to Delenn.

   "Delenn, honey, we're home. Time to wake up." He squeezed her shoulders gently, expecting her to wake. She didn't stir, her breathing still calm and deep, and he shook her lightly.

   "Delenn, sweetheart." He put his palm on her cheek and stroked her face, trying to wake her. Her skin was hot, clammy. "Delenn?" He sat up, and she fell limply against him. Moraval was already out of his seat, telling the pilot to bring the physicians.

   "Get Franklin!" Sheridan yelled after him. //*Get Franklin!*// He lifted her into his arms, which were steady despite his panic. "Delenn, wake up. *Please.* Oh, God..." He didn't even register that he was carrying her out of the flyer, deaf and blind to everything but her limp, feverish body in his arms. She was still alive, that was something; he could hear her breathing, shallower now, as if she were struggling for air. She opened her eyes briefly, but what he saw there horrified him even more than her collapse: her gaze was blank, unfocused, and he knew she didn't see him as he laid her down on the gurney brought out.

   "John. John." Franklin took him firmly by the shoulder and shook him, hard. "John, listen to me. Listen." He swung the other man around and shook him until he seemed to snap out of his panic-stricken trance.

   "Stephen." He stared at the doctor for a moment; then it all poured out, desperate, afraid. "I don't know what happened - I didn't realise anything was wrong, I thought she was just sleeping - she was tired out after today, she was fine all day and I thought she was just tired - I didn't know -"

   "I know, John. It's not your fault."

   "I should have realised when she wasn't... I should have known, I should have done something-"

   "John!" He felt Franklin's fist connect with his shoulder; light, but hard enough to break his tirade. "It's not your fault, and right now Delenn needs your help more than your self-pity. Now I have to get her to a medical facility - which way?"

   Sheridan, shaking now with the shock of it all, pointed towards the Ranger complex. "Over there."

   * * * * *

   He had no idea how long he'd been awake, only that he couldn't sleep now. He barely noticed Moraval's presence beside him: just enough to acknowledge it and be thankful for it. Mayan was there too, but she kept her distance from Sheridan, as if afraid of how he might be reacting. Only Ivanova stayed close to him, constantly at his side in the way Delenn should have been - but she wasn't, she was in *there,* in with the doctors and physicians who had been with her for what seemed like hours. He wanted to be there with her, to go through it with her, for her. She didn't deserve whatever was happening to her; not Delenn, not the woman he loved more than his own life. He would have given anything to have her safe and well again, to hold her in his arms right now.

   "God, I wish it was me," he murmured into his hands. Ivanova frowned at him.

   "You want Delenn to go through this?"

   "It's a hell of a lot better than what she's probably going through!" he yelled back at her. He launched himself from the couch, pacing the room, rubbing the back of his neck vigorously to try and work out the stiffness that had settled there.

   "John, you're not doing yourself any good thinking about that. They're doing everything they can."

   He scowled at her. "What if it's not enough? What if - if she can't handle what her body's trying to cope with? What if-" he dropped onto the couch and covered his face with his hands. "I can't live without her, Susan. I can't. And I don't know what I'd do if..." he swallowed his tears, determined they would not see him cry. His voice was a hoarse whisper. "I don't want to have to tell her our children are dead, Susan."

   "You don't know that," she snapped at him. "Stop being so damned negative. Delenn's a strong woman, she's young and fit and healthy. She'll get through this, and so will you if you stop beating yourself up about it."

   He looked up at her through despairing eyes, and a very tiny smile touched the corners of his lips. "I guess you're right. I just - I can't help it, okay? I've never had to deal with this before. Even when she went into the chrysalis I had some idea, I could prepare, and at least she had a choice - now..."

   "Delenn *wanted* a child with you, John," she told him firmly. "She still does. She knew the risks when you decided to try, she knew something might go wrong somewhere. She also knew that it might not be fatal - to either of them. She chose to do this for both of you, despite the risks, and now you can't even support her choice?"

   He opened his mouth to reply, then shut it tightly. She was right: he was being an idiot, working himself up over the whole thing as if it were his fault. He just couldn't shake the feeling that he should have known sooner, should have been able to prevent this...

   "John." Franklin came out of the private room in the medical facility, still in his medic's gown and looking exhausted but relieved. A Minbari came out to speak to Moraval and Mayan, but Sheridan's attention was on Franklin.

   "How is she? Are they-"

   "They're all fine," Franklin assured him clearly, immediately. He felt the tension race out of him, sinking into the couch. Ivanova, afraid for a moment he was going to collapse, followed him down and gripped his hand. He squeezed her fingers so tightly that she felt them crack, but she couldn't help the grin on her face at the news.

   "Oh, God, Stephen... that's great. That's... amazing." Sheridan found it ironic that a moment ago he had been determined not to cry and yet now, he felt the hot moisture of tears on his cheeks and he didn't care. "You have no idea..." He took a deep breath, as if consciously deciding to celebrate some other time. "What happened?"

   Franklin sat down. "Delenn was suffering from pre-eclampsia - a higher blood pressure than usual. It's perfectly normal in pregnancy, especially where multiple births are involved, but Delenn's done a lot of travelling recently and her blood pressure was rising too high. Now, that on its own wouldn't have caused too many problems; she would have felt dizzy, a little ill, but as I was due to examine her this evening it wouldn't have been a problem - I would have caught it easily."

   "So what happened?" It was Ivanova who asked, much to Franklin's surprise. "I care, okay? Is that such a problem?"

   The doctor smiled, a little amused, before turning to Sheridan. His face was serious then. "You know that Delenn's pregnancy has always been a new case - that we had no idea what to expect right from the beginning. To be honest, I had doubts she could ever become pregnant at all, or that she could carry one child to term, let alone twins. So far, everything's been working relatively normally, but it seems Delenn's decided to do things a little differently to what we had planned."

   Sheridan frowned. "What do you mean?"

   Franklin stripped his hands of the medical gloves he'd been wearing. "Delenn's body has coped amazingly well with her transformation; her Human body chemistry works seamlessly with the parts of her that stayed Minbari, because generally they function in completely different areas. However, the problem comes when the two disagree over what to do. I doubt whoever dreamed up her transformation ever intended for her to get pregnant - or maybe they just didn't account for her pre-eclampsia, I don't know."

   "Doc," Sheridan started. Franklin held up a hand and continued:

   "Right now, the interaction between her systems is what's causing the problem. The system that controls her blood pressure is still Minbari, while her reproductive system is quite obviously Human. Her body knows she's premature to give birth, but at the same time it has to get rid of what's making her so ill - and that's the babies. Now, we've managed to halt the contractions for a while, but it won't last longer than twelve hours - a day at most. I can't give her any more drugs than that or I risk severely injuring her, and I certainly can't put the birth off until the due date."

   Sheridan nodded absently, still taking it all in. Delenn was going to give birth... but she was too early, far too early. With a normal child it might have been safe, but there was no way to know what a premature birth would do to a half-Minbari, half-Human child. They might die... or Delenn might die... but if they held it off, Delenn would be hurt and their children would certainly not survive. There was no way to win.

   He lifted his head, suddenly tired. "Can I see her?"

   Franklin gestured silently for him to enter the room.

   Delenn lay on a flat bed in a light blue gown, like the ones he had worn when he was little and had been in hospital for one thing or another. It had never been like this, though: never with death's shadow hanging over the room, waiting for him the way it was waiting now.

   He came nearer, taking her hand in his, a lump in his throat as he saw the tubes and monitors linked to her body. She suddenly seemed so small, so vulnerable buried among all those machines; it hit him again that she didn't deserve this, that she was too young, too vital to suffer so much.

   "John..." her voice was a cracked whisper inside the mask feeding oxygen to her lungs. She sounded out of breath even then, and her speech was slurred from the drugs. "John, what happened?"

   "It's okay, honey." He sat down next to her, stroked her hand, tried to calm her as she woke up to the fact that something was horribly, dreadfully wrong. "It's okay, you're gonna be fine. We'll all be fine." His voice was filled with a strength he didn't feel. "We're just gonna have company a bit earlier than we planned, that's all."

   Delenn's eyes widened and she stared at him, desperately shaking her head. "No, no, they can't - John, please, tell me this isn't happening..."

   His eyes filled with tears at the pleading sound of her voice. He wanted more than anything in the universe to be able to grant her wish. "I can't," he said softly. "I wish I could, Delenn. I'm so sorry." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her fingertips. "I wish it wasn't happening too, honey, so much. But they can't hold it off any longer or I'll lose all of you, and I can't-" He choked back the hot tears burning his throat. "I can't lose you, Delenn. I can't live without you, any of you." He stroked her hair, his fingers trembling. "You have to be strong now, honey. You have to help me, I can't do this on my own."

   She curled her fingers around his, although she could only manage a few millimeters. "I love you, John. If I don't - get through this, if I don't see you again, I need you to know that. I need to know that you know that." Her voice was a strong, hoarse whisper: holding back her tears, not wanting him to see, knowing he wouldn't be able to stand seeing her like that. "I want you to... promise me... that you'll take good care of them." Her hand tightened suddenly in his: he hadn't known she had such strength, not now. "Don't leave them alone, John. Please."

   He swallowed his tears, his voice thick. "I promise," he whispered. "I love you too, Delenn, more than anything..."

   She smiled, turning her head toward him. Her speech was slurring now, becoming indistinct, and he could feel her slipping away. "Promise me everything will be all right," she murmured. He smiled softly, his voice filled with tears.

   "I promise, sweetheart. Everything's gonna be fine."

   Her smile was lovingly satisfied as her eyes closed. "You have to keep that now, John..."

   He felt her hand go limp in his, and though he tried his hardest he couldn't force back the sob that welled up in his throat. He bowed his head and pressed her hand to his face, fighting tears. It wasn't fair... they'd been through so much together, held onto each other through everything - and they'd had their share of arguments, he knew that - but to lose her now, when they should have been planning a new life together... He reached out, his hand shaking, and gently stroked her swollen abdomen; the feeling made more tears well up in his eyes until he could see nothing but a blur.

   He felt a sharp, angry punch against his palm.

   He lifted his head and looked down, for the first time realising. He laid her hand gently on the covers and roughly wiped his eyes. He'd promised her, dammit, and he was not going to let her down.

   "Everything's gonna be fine," he repeated softly. "Everything's gonna be fine, Delenn, you wait and see." He lifted his head and, as calmly as he could, strode to the door. Franklin was waiting for him.

   "Do it now."

   * * * * *

   The next hours were without doubt the longest he had ever known in his life - the longest he would ever know, bar one other time that he would not see until far in the future. It went unsaid that Moraval stayed in the waiting area with him while they prepped Delenn for the procedure; when they were ready, Mayan and Ivanova were there as attendants, the way Delenn had wanted. It brought a smile to Sheridan's features, if only for a moment, that they remained with their friend throughout. The male Minbari physicians had been replaced by females, again in keeping with tradition despite the urgency of the situation. It was heartening to see that, for he knew it was the way Delenn had wanted it. Franklin stayed to conduct the procedure: Sheridan was the only other male in the room.

   He sat beside her, holding her hand in his, willing her to be strong enough to get through just one more minute, just one more hour until everything was over. Her skin was pale, as if he could almost see the colour draining out of her; Franklin had warned him there was a risk of haemorraging, but they couldn't give her medication to prevent it until after the birth - he just hoped she could survive that far.

   "Hold on, Delenn," he murmured fiercely. "Everything's gonna be okay, I promise, if you hold on long enough." He squeezed her hand, hoping beyond hope that she might respond. There was no movement, but he refused to give in to the despair crowding him: Delenn was counting on him, had made him promise.

   Franklin looked up and caught his gaze. His face was covered by a surgical mask, even though it wasn't - they hoped - going to be an invasive procedure, and he wore sterile hospital garments, looking very much like the professional he was. It made Sheridan feel a little more secure to know this man was in charge.

   "We're ready." The doctor gestured to a male orderly, who pressed a hypo to Delenn's skin. "She won't feel anything even if she does wake up, which she's likely to do at some point. I need you to help her through that - leave us to deal with the delivery. It's just important that she doesn't panic; let her know what's going on, that we're taking care of everything. Try and get her to relax: it'll help all of us." Sheridan nodded, and Franklin flashed him a quick grin under his mask. "Then let's get started."

   Sheridan had never seen a birth before, let alone that of his own child, so when they induced Delenn's labour he was understandably mystified: however, most of his attention was on Delenn, both hands entwined with hers, and he saw very little. From what he could tell, though, things were going very slowly, and after an hour or two - he began to lose track of time then - he was starting to worry.

   "Stephen," he said in a questioning voice. "What's wrong?"

   The dark-skinned doctor took a few moments in answering, preoccupied. Even when he spoke, he didn't look up. "It's going to be a little more difficult than we thought: the drug we usually use to induce labour isn't as effective on her system as it should be. I think we might need Delenn's help on this - or, we have to go for a caesarean section. It's the only way I can do this safely." He glanced up briefly. "I can wake her, or I can do a section, but either way it has to be now."

   Sheridan swallowed. "Will she survive, if it's invasive?"

   Franklin sighed and shrugged helplessly. "I just don't know."

   Sheridan looked down at her, the woman he loved more than anything in his world, and he felt his throat tighten. He didn't want to choose this, but if he didn't then Delenn would die. He started to answer, but before he spoke a word he felt her hand instinctively grasp his; leaning over her, he saw her eyes flutter and open, drowsy and filled with pain.

   "Hey," he said softly. "Are you still with me?"

   She smiled weakly. "You will not... get rid of me..."

   He returned the smile, trying to seem in control. "I don't want to, honey." He caught Franklin looking in his direction and knew it was up to him now. "Can you do something for me?"

   Delenn reached up and touched his cheek. "Anything." He smiled, slightly admonishing, and removed her hand.

   "This is serious, Delenn. It's important you tell me the truth."

   Her eyes clouded briefly with pain, but she seemed to push it away. "Don't you... trust me?"

   He turned his head and kissed her palm: it was warm, too warm. "I love you, Delenn, you know I do. But I need to know if you can do this. It's very important right now - I don't want to lose you."

   "I won't leave you, John," she answered in a quiet whisper. "I don't want to leave you..." her voice faded away and she closed her eyes briefly, forcing them open again to look up at him. They were clouded with tears, and he saw how terribly this was hurting her. "I can't - I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I-I can't..." She was forcing herself not to cry, trying desperately not to let him see her give in. "I can't help them, John, I'm so sorry..."

   "Shh..." He stroked her cheek, wiping away the tears that escaped her control. "It's okay, Delenn. You've done enough, Stephen will take care of everything now." He flicked a glance up at the doctor, who nodded: he could see Delenn was in no condition to help, which left only one option and he was quick in preparing for it.

   "We're okay, Delenn," he told her firmly, confidently. "You just need a bit of special treatment, that's all. We'll have you and these two stubborn little brats home in no time."

   "They are not... brats," Delenn replied in a fierce tone of voice. Sheridan looked up at Franklin, caught his eyes and grinned.

   "She should know, Stephen."

   The doctor bowed his head in submission. "I stand corrected."

   Delenn smiled and nodded slightly, leaning into the pillow. "Good." She closed her eyes for a moment and bit her lip, her grip on Sheridan's hand tensing briefly. He frowned in concern.

   "How bad is it?"

   Delenn turned her head to look at him. Though she kept her voice neutral and her face blank, when she spoke her eyes betrayed her. "You do not want to know that."

   He bowed his head, refusing to allow the tears to show. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," he said quietly, unable to look at her. "I didn't know this would happen. If I could have known, if I could have stopped it somehow, I would have done... I never wanted you to hurt this much."

   "John..." She pressed her hand, trembling as it was, against his face. "I wanted this. It isn't your fault... There were risks, there always are..." She took a deep breath, fighting off the pain that seeped through even the strongest drugs they had injected into her body. "I want your child, John - your children." She smiled, trying to look amused. "I am a grown woman," she reminded him softly. "I chose this..." She looked up, forced a smile somehow. "Now I have to live with my choice."

   Hearing her talk like that, the strength of will in her voice even at the brink of agony, he felt suddenly unworthy. He could have no inkling of what she was going through, yet he had been ready to sink into despair and self-pity even from the beginning. "I'm sorry," he murmured, so softly he was sure she didn't hear him. Delenn smiled, and he saw her outer strength slip just a little; whether in response to his own feelings or whether it was finally becoming too much for her, he wasn't sure. All he knew was that he saw fear in her eyes, and he knew then that she understood exactly how serious it all was - she knew she was close to death, and that only a miracle was likely to get her out alive to see her children healthy.

   "I-" she started to speak, but he shook his head.

   "Don't. You don't have to say anything now." He leaned over and kissed her forehead, closing his eyes for a long moment, strengthening himself for what was coming. He could see Franklin signalling that he was ready, and he knew it wouldn't last much longer. The only question was, would Delenn last that long?

   "I love you, John," she said tiredly, ignoring his protests that she should save her strength now. "I need you..." Her composure was slipping and she held desperately to it. "I need you now, John. Please don't leave me, not until it's over-" She suddenly took a sharp breath and he saw agony fill her eyes, tears running down her face.

   "It's okay," he assured her tenderly. "It's okay, honey, just relax. You don't have to be strong now, just let it go." He squeezed her hand, and her fingers tightened around his so hard it seemed she was holding onto life in that grasp. It hurt like hell, but he made no sign of it - it was nothing compared with what Delenn was going through.

   "So, you're the one that's been causing your mom all this trouble." Franklin's bemused but very relieved voice came from the end of the bed, and a moment later Sheridan heard the most angelic sound he could imagine: the cry of a newborn infant, cold and afraid in their new world. He wanted to reach out, to demand that they place his child in his arms, but he couldn't leave Delenn now. She heard the angry wails as well - and for a moment the pain was gone, the expression on her face one of joyous love and relief as a second infant voice joined the first.

   He turned back from briefly watching Franklin, about to congratulate her, and what he saw in her face made his heart go cold. She looked up at him, and he saw in her eyes the realisation that she was going to lose. She had done it, she had given him the children they had both longed for, but it wasn't enough to save herself.

   "Delenn," he whispered, his voice hushed and desperate. "Please don't do this, Delenn. Please don't leave me, not now. Not *now,* not so close..." Her eyes closed, and the grip on his hand that had seemed her hold on life went slack. "*No...*" She was still breathing: there was still hope. He wanted to ask Stephen what was going on, but he didn't dare - the doctor needed every ounce of concentration to help her now. Thoughts, images rushed through his head: had they been too late? Had she lost too much blood, had they not been able to stop the haemorraging in time? Had her body been so unable to cope with the strain of childbirth, natural or otherwise?

   "John." He looked up, unaware that he'd been sitting there with his head bowed, Delenn's hand clasped in his, for what seemed like an age. Ivanova stood over him, a small bundle in her arms. "Say hi to your son."

   His eyes lit up, and for a moment he didn't know whether to grin like a maniac or cry endlessly. He had a son! But Delenn - his fiancee, his lover, his soulmate lay on the bed beside him, pale and deathly still. Ivanova saw her too, purposefully offering the tiny bundle in her arms to him.

   Despite his fears, he couldn't help but take the baby boy from his guardian: as he held him for the first time an unbelievable, indescribable feeling rushed through him and he grinned suddenly without realising it. He pushed back the blanket surrounding his son, one finger gently caressing the tiny cheek. "Hi, kiddo." He smiled, aware that tears were filling his eyes. "You look just like your mom, you know that?"

   Ivanova put a hand on his shoulder. "John."

   He looked up, his eyes haunted, sure he knew what she was going to say. He saw someone moving around the bed, blocking Delenn from his vision momentarily, and braced himself to hear what he knew already. Franklin, stripping off his surgical gloves and mask, approached him carrying another bundle, this one a little smaller: his daughter. He reached out instantly, pushing back the blanket to look at her tiny, perfectly-formed features. Her eyes were jade green.

   His head snapped up, but before Franklin could say anything he saw the orderly setting a transfusion unit beside Delenn's bed and let out a deep, cleansing breath: she was still alive! "Is she-"

   "She's very weak, and she certainly won't be in the best of health for quite a while," the doctor warned. Sheridan frowned.

   "But..."

   Franklin's exhausted face gave way to a brilliant smile. "But she's going to be just fine." He clapped the ecstatic man lightly on the shoulder, aware that any force might just make him collapse right about then.

   "Congratulations, John; you've got yourself a family."

   * * * * *

   

It was dark outside when Delenn awoke for the first time, and her surroundings were only dimly lit: she was in a private room in what she thought she recognised as the Ranger training complex, but as she had never visited the medical facility for anything other than a sprained muscle she couldn't be sure. It also didn't help much that she had to fight to open her eyes; her entire body felt heavy, as if she had been weighted down, and she was enormously tired. Giving in to the urge, she closed her eyes and listened instead to the place around her: even in the dark night-time she could hear the slight hiss of circulating air - they were probably keeping the area on a aterile supply. There were no voices, but she knew there was someone there with her, could hear the soft, deep breathing that indicated sleep.

   Her own breathing was being regulated, she realised: what she had thought simply a strange, fleeting sensation was a mask over her face. It was attached to one of numerous machines around her, all of them silent; oxygen and drugs, she suspected. A drip, similar to that she had been given after leaving the chrysalis, was attached to the back of her left hand, while another set of apparatus monitored her vital signs - she could see the slight blip that indicated her pulse and blood pressure. Was there something wrong with her? She didn't recall being ill...

   She remembered then.

   She screamed.

   Whoever was sleeping nearby jolted awake, and she heard a muffled curse before a hand hurriedly grasped hers. She tightened her fingers around it, needing that control. The now-familiar sensation of her gravid abdomen was gone: in its place there was only emptiness and a lingering pain that had once, she remembered, been dangerously more agonising. Tears came to her eyes as she realised that, whoever this was, it wasn't John. Where was he? What had gone wrong? She remembered his voice, filled with unshed tears, telling her that something was wrong - that they were going to do something to her, to their children... Horror and a devastating sorrow swept through her mind. Hadn't they survived? Had he chosen her over them, been forced to choose? What if he didn't want to see her, couldn't see her, couldn't look at the woman whose body had killed his children...

   She started to cry, sobbing desperately, releasing finally the tears she had hidden from him: the pain and fear and now the terrible, terrible loss she felt. Someone put a hand to her face, a soft cloth to dry her tears. She turned her head away: she didn't want to be comforted.

   "Delenn," a female voice said reprovingly. She turned back to look at her companion; in the dim light, she could just make out the Human features of Susan Ivanova. The other woman frowned gently at her.

   "There's no need to cry," she said in a lightly admonishing tone. "He's not gone forever, you know. Here," she leaned over and carefully dried the tears on Delenn's face. "You'll get me in trouble if he sees you like that when he left me to take care of you."

   Delenn took a deep breath, optimism seeping through her cloud of confused devastation. "I'm sorry," she apologised. It came out as a soft whisper, and her voice was hoarse. "John..." her hand tightened in Ivanova's. "W-where is he? Why isn't he here?"

   "There are other people who need to be cared for now, you know." Ivanova grinned. "Her brother's dead quiet, but that daughter of yours has got quite a voice on her. A bit like you, really," she teased as she finished drying her friend's tears. "Hey! Stop it, for God's sake. You're crying again."

   "I'm sorry," Delenn said again, but there was no feeling except joy behind it. "Where are they? Are they all right?" The relief that they were alive was suddenly overtaken by concern: would they survive, being born so early?

   "Franklin had them both put in an incubator for a couple of days, just to be sure, but they're fine. Now that you're awake, I think he'll probably move them in here. They're just in the next room - I'll go get John if you like. I imagine you want to see him right now."

   Delenn smiled gratefully. "I would like to - Susan?"

   "Hmm?"

   Her voice was faltering. "Was - was it my fault? What happened, did I - did I do something-"

   "No." Ivanova had risen, but she sat down again on the edge of the bed and took both of Delenn's hands tightly in hers. "You didn't cause this, Delenn. No one did, it was just something that happened. John's been beating himself up over it too - if you start, I'll just throw the two of you out in a couple of fighters and let you get on with it."

   Delenn smiled, amused. "That won't be necessary, Susan. Thank you."

   Ivanova shrugged. "All part of the service. I'll go chase down your errant fiance - which reminds me, it seems long overdue you did something about that." She disappeared before Delenn could ask, in her present elated and very fuzzy state, what she meant. She lifted her hand tentatively, aware that the drip must be new - it was still a little sore - and speculatively turned her engagement ring.

   "It's about time I exchanged that, don't you think?"

   She looked up to see John standing in the doorway to an adjoining room. He smiled and pushed off the frame, coming toward her. "For a gold band, for instance?"

   She smiled. "I think Susan just said words to that effect." She held out her other hand and he came around the bed to grasp it. "It may be a while," she said apologetically. "I do not think I'm going anywhere very soon."

   "Not for a while," he admitted. "But the important thing is you're still here." He pressed her hand to his lips and although he smiled, his eyes were briefly haunted. "I really thought I was going to lose you, Delenn."

   She gave him an understanding smile: she had thought the same, although she would never tell him so. "I would never leave you alone," she promised him tenderly. "Especially now."

   His face split into a blinding grin. "Did Susan tell you?"

   Her reply was an equally beautiful smile. "I am told congratulations are in order, yes."

   "They're your children too, Delenn."

   She smiled. "I know. I love you." It seemed the most natural thing to say: she was right, judging by his expression.

   "I love you too, sweetheart. Seems I've been saying that to you a lot lately."

   Delenn's eyes sparkled. "You may say it as much as you wish," she assured him. "When can I see them?"

   He wasn't surprised by the sudden track change: it was on his mind too. "Right now, if you feel up to it. You had quite an ordeal yesterday."

   "Yesterday?" She frowned: it didn't feel that long ago, but the tranquillisers made it seem years away at the same time. She had no memory of the actual birth, only of the chaos, the sound of her child and an image of John's face when he heard his son cry out for the first time.

   "It's past midnight," he said softly, lowering his voice. "You've been sleeping for nearly a whole day. You deserved the rest," he told her. "You did so well, Delenn. I'm so proud of you."

   She smiled again, tears welling in her eyes at the raw emotion in his voice; then, suddenly, she yawned. "Would you bring them here for me? I'm tired, I want to see them before I sleep again."

   "Sure." He kissed her tenderly on the forehead and stood up. "I'll be right back."

   She watched him disappear, and an involuntary smile came to her lips as he returned, a small bundle in each arm. Ivanova and Franklin stood in the doorway, watching, but she didn't care. All her attention was on John, on the tiny miracles he carried in his arms; the new, unique beings she had carried inside her for over six months, had loved and still loved unconditionally.

   Franklin entered the room then, grinning slightly at Sheridan's predicament: Delenn was still lying down, and he obviously had his hands full. The doctor moved tubes and wires carefully out of the way, gently propping Delenn's head up with a pile of pillows and helping her sit up just enough to manage. Then he took a blanket-wrapped child from the waiting father and placed her gingerly in her mother's arms. "Say hello to your mom," he told the tiny girl, who gurgled in response. Delenn's expression was indescribable, one he had seen countless times before and which was always as special and amazing.

   //Hello,// she murmured gently in her native tongue. Her eyes wide with elated amazement, she looked up at her fiance. He sat down next to her and held their son so that she could see. Delenn smiled. //Hello, David.// She met her lover's gaze and her eyes shone with tearful joy. //I love you,// she said tenderly, meaning it for all of them. She was amazed at the force of the unseen bond between herself and the tiny life she held in her arms: as John carefully swapped them over and she held their son in her arms, the sensation was just as strong and she felt a single, escaping tear trace a path down her cheek. David gurgled happily up at his mother and waved a miniature hand, wriggling it free of his blanket. She reached down and captured it gently: it was only just bigger than her finger.

   

Franklin turned to Ivanova and put one arm around her shoulder, both of them watching the two parents. David now had both hands free and was waving enthusiastically up into his mother's shining green eyes: Sheridan, meanwhile, was rocking his daughter delicately as she began to gurgle with a vengeance. The doctor glanced at his companion and smiled.

   "I think we can leave them to it, don't you?"

   Ivanova shrugged, her eyes smiling. "You're the doctor."

   Franklin nodded firmly. "I am, and right now I prescribe a hot drink and some sleep."

   Ivanova grinned fully this time, casting one last glance back at the totally absorbed couple. "I can handle that." Franklin followed her gaze as he turned her around.

   "At least they won't mind."

   Ivanova laughed as they walked away. "You're kidding. They won't even notice."

 

*****

 

 

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