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

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 Five:

MOVEMENTS OF LIGHT AND LIVES

Mariah Sheridan was both distinctly nervous and incredibly excited as her shuttle touched down on the landing pad near her aunt and uncle's home. It wasn't technically her shuttle, of course: for one it was carrying her entire family, and for another she was only eight years old and could never fly a shuttle so big. The actual pilot was a young-looking male Human with short brown hair and a Russian accent, wearing a strange uniform and a cape that swirled when he walked. He cycled the airlock and threw open the hatch, immediately greeted by a shaft of sunlight that looked to Mariah's eyes much dimmer than that on Earth or even Mars. She had only ever visited Mars Colony once, when her father had worked there very briefly, but this was the first time she had been to another star system. She wondered how her uncle could live on a whole other world, without any of his friends or family or even his mom and dad. She knew if she ever had to leave her parents she would miss them terribly; she certainly wouldn't go voluntarily.

   "Ganya!" A voice interrupted her thoughts, and a dark-haired Human woman came into the shuttle to help with the luggage. Before she did, however, she threw her arms around the pilot and hugged him tightly. He grinned and returned the embrace, muttering something in another language. The woman laughed and let him go, hefting a small case. "Is this all you've got?" She eyed the pilot speculatively.

   He shrugged. "Rangers travel light. Grab another bag." He helped Mariah's grandparents with their luggage; spotting her and her sister, he grinned and gestured them out of the craft before him. Her mom followed with Ryan, her youngest sibling who was just twelve months old.

   The scene that awaited them was breathtakingly beautiful. A gentle sun cast sparks of light on crystal buildings, intricately designed and carved and intertwined with connecting bridges, along which numerous people wandered in every direction. The landing pad was just one of many: some looked big enough to land a small cruiser and made Mariah feel tiny in comparison. She had never seen a city like it: it was almost pulsing with life, the patterns of light made by the buildings reflecting the aura of the place itself.

   "What do you think of my home?" Mariah looked up to see a tall, cloaked figure standing at her side, looking down at her. The shadow of his hood obscured his face for a moment.

   "It's very pretty," she said honestly, remembering what her mother had told her, to be on her best behaviour when they reached Minbar. "Is this really your home?"

   The figure laughed, flicking back his hood, and her uncle grinned at her. "Sure it is. Wanna come see everything?"

   Mariah grinned back at him. "Yes!"

   Sheridan nodded and looked around. "Let's get everyone else and get going, then. Where's your mom?"

   Mariah pointed toward the rear of the craft, where everyone was arranging baggage, and they started that way. "Uncle John?"

   His eyes sparkled as he looked down at her. "Yes?"

   "Why are you wearing those weird clothes?"

   Sheridan laughed. "These are Minbari clothes."

   Mariah frowned. "Will I have to wear them?"

   He smiled. "Not if you don't want to. Don't mention that you think they look weird, though, you might offend somebody."

   Mariah nodded solemnly. "Mom told us not to do that."

   "Good." Sheridan looked up and smiled as his sister emerged from behind the shuttle. "Hi, sis." He grinned as she hugged him and he returned it. "How are you?"

   "Fine." Liz smiled up at him. "How are you doing?"

   Sheridan shrugged. "We're managing." He smiled reassuringly. "No, really, I'm fine. Delenn's waiting at home to see you all - I think the pregnancy's getting her down at the moment, and anyway Franklin won't let her out of the house." He shrugged ruefully. "We're all happy and healthy, though."

   "Glad to hear it," David Sheridan put in. Sheridan turned and grinned, hugging his father in greeting. He greeted his mother similarly and clasped his brother-in-law's hand firmly. "It's good to see you all again. I hope you like Minbar - what you've seen of it so far."

   His mother was deceptively quiet, but his father made up for it with a warm grin. "It's beautiful, son - what we've seen of it, like you say."

   "All of Minbar is beautiful," the dark-haired woman put in. Sheridan smiled and slung an arm around her shoulders.

   "This is Susan Ivanova, my assistant and soon-to-be exec. Susan, I think you probably know who everyone is?" Ivanova glared at him. "Of course you do. Stupid question. Come on, let's get home before Delenn sends out a search party."

   They arrived at the house just over ten minutes later, Ivanova and Ganya included. Delenn was waiting at the door, and greeted the tall Human Ranger with a gentle embrace. They conversed quickly in Adronato; then he stepped away and Delenn smiled at the visiting family.

   "Please, come in." She moved aside and gestured them inside: Mariah watched as her uncle entered last and gave his wife a lingering kiss. Then they, too, spoke in that language Mariah didn't understand. She frowned: how was she going to know what was going on if everyone insisted on talking differently? She sat down heavily next to her sister Samantha on the floor, irritated.

   A soft, enquiring voice spoke in her left ear: she looked up to see a little girl, perhaps two years younger than Samantha, gazing down at her with piercing green eyes. She had wavy dark hair that reached down to her shoulders and a small, delicate crown weaving through it. For a moment, Mariah thought it was just an ornament: then she swung back to look at Delenn, her uncle's wife. The Minbari woman smiled in understanding; Mariah opened her mouth, astonished, and twisted around to look back at the little girl crouched above her on the couch. She spoke again and Mariah frowned, not understanding.

   "They don't know Adronato, Devon," Delenn said in a slightly amused tone. She held out her arms and the young girl slid gracefully off the couch and ran over to her. Delenn picked her up and looked down into gentle, inquisitive eyes that mirrored her own. "Everyone has to speak English now," she explained. "Your father's family don't know my language."

   The girl nodded and looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, momma." Delenn smiled and hugged her daughter.

   "It's all right. Where's your brother?"

   Devon jumped down from her lap. "In the bedroom. I'll go tell him they're here." She ran out of the room; Delenn smiled up at her husband as he sat down beside her.

   "What did Stephen say?"

   Delenn sighed. "Everything is perfect, just as I said it would be. I feel fine." She scowled at him playfully. "Stop worrying."

   "Sorry." He put his arm around her, his hand resting on her six-month-pregnant abdomen. "I can't help it." He knew that deep inside, she was worrying too: it couldn't be avoided after her last two labours. She had very nearly died giving birth to David and Devon, and had become pregnant very soon after with their second daughter Michaela. They hadn't meant for it to happen, but there was no way they could get rid of the child - and Delenn had been extremely sick for months after the birth, weakened already by her first pregnancy. It had taken almost a year for her to recover completely from having three children so close together, the strain on her half-Human, half-Minbari body had been so immense. He hadn't wanted her to have another child, but when she had told him that she was pregnant again he knew she had to go through with it - not only was it against her beliefs to destroy a life, but the fact that they could have children at all was such a blessing that it was impossible to refuse it. He worried, with what was coming, if they could handle four children as well - if they would be in too much danger, if someone might choose to use them to get to their parents - but Delenn's quiet confidence did much to reassure him. She could handle anything.

   "When are you due?" Liz's expression made it obvious she was almost as excited by the prospect as her brother and sister-in-law. Delenn smiled back, always happy to discuss her coming child.

   "In six weeks, so the physicians say." She covered her gravid abdomen with one hand, smiling as Sheridan put his own hand over hers.

   "Six weeks?" Her mother-in-law frowned in concern: if she was still uncertain around Delenn, she did at least like her and was especially protective of her grandchildren. "I thought you were only just five months gone."

   "It is over six now," Delenn corrected her kindly. "But the doctors tell me it's perfectly normal. Minbari children mature much faster in the womb than Humans, and they're usually born between five and six months. Taking into account the longer months here than on Earth, it's a good time. Michaela was born after seven months," she reminded the concerned woman, "and so were David and Devon. It won't be a problem. Here," she turned to a shelf behind her and withdrew a small packet. "You can see, if you like."

   David leaned forward and took the packet, opening it. Inside were a bundle of tiny pictures showing a clearly growing child. The last and latest image showed a baby girl, her features visible and roughly equivalent to those of an eight-month-old Human foetus. Delenn looked on with a smile at the rapt expression on David's face. She smiled up at Sheridan, who was watching his father with an equally proud smile. His thoughts were clear in his features: *Look what we made.* Delenn laughed gently and settled her head against his shoulder.

   "Ouch," Liz said sympathetically. Delenn frowned lightly, confused, and absently lifted a returned Devon into her lap.

   "I'm sorry?"

   The other woman looked up, clearly embarrassed, and handed back the ultrasound photo. In it, the girl's features were distinct - including the crown-like ridge already present around her head. Delenn laughed kindly, explaining; "The crest isn't solid until about three or four weeks old. It's barely noticeable at birth." She looked down at the image of her unborn daughter, one finger delicately tracing the outline of the smooth crest. "It's much smaller than a full Minbari crown would be, and it is smoother than it appears. At the moment it's still soft enough to be painless during the birth, for both of us." //Thank Valen,// she added quietly. In a fully Minbari child, the crest would begin to harden a week or so before birth, in order for the child to break out of its birthing sac. Minbari pregnancies were completely external, and to a Human would seem nearly unthinkable, but to be honest Delenn had found the idea of a child growing *inside* her terrible when she had first encountered it. But, like all things, she had come to accept and understand the notion and relished the feeling of a new life, one she had created and nurtured, growing in her body. It created a bond between her and her children that was never present between Minbari: they loved their children dearly, but it was no comparison.

   "David's bringing Mica, momma," Devon said, tugging slightly on her mother's dress to get her attention. Delenn smiled and nodded.

   "Thank you, Devon." She offered the girl to her husband, who grinned and took her from her mother's lap. "I'll just make sure they're all right." Sheridan nodded and hefted his daughter, tickling her until she squirmed.

   "No!" She pushed his hands away, scrambling back into her mother's seat. Sheridan pretended to look offended, pouting. Devon grinned and giggled. "Don't make faces, daddy. Momma doesn't like it."

   Sheridan grinned and looked solemnly at his family. "I've been reprimanded," he told them sadly. "No more faces." Liz laughed, and even his mother smiled: she had adored her granddaughter from the moment she had first met her at just under a year old, and although she loved David immensely there was obviously a developing bond between the two. Devon slipped down from the chair and walked over to her grandmother, reached out and put her small hand on the woman's collarbone as she leaned over. Sheridan smiled as his daughter bowed her head and his mother's eyes widened. For a moment she seemed to resent the Minbari influence of the greeting: she seemed then to realise the stupidity of her feelings and smiled, returning the greeting. Devon smiled and walked over to her cousins. Ryan was eyeing her worriedly: at only a year old, he had never seen a Minbari before. Mariah was more forthcoming, but Samantha looked concerned and was backed up against the couch between her mother and father; perhaps because although she was only five years old to Samantha's seven, Devon was as tall and looked as old as her cousin.

   "Hi," Mariah said carefully. Devon smiled.

   "Hello, Mariah." The other girl blinked.

   "How come you know me?"

   Devon giggled, as if the question were irrelevant. "You're my cousin." She bowed Minbari-fashion and then held out her hand. "My name is Devon Jade," she said proudly.

   "And this is her brother, David Stephan Sheridan." Delenn re-entered the room, herding a young boy of Devon's age and carrying a little girl who looked about six years old. "And Michaela Susan, their sister."

   It was the first time Michaela had met any of her father's family, and she shrank away from so many Human faces at once. Delenn hugged her gently, rocking her and stroking her hair, murmuring in a soft voice that could only be her native tongue. Eventually, the little girl looked timidly around, only to hide her face away again when she met Ryan's wide-eyed and confused face.

   "Little shy?" her grandfather asked with a smile, rising to meet them. He offered Michaela two fingers, but she only looked timidly up at him. "Hello, Michaela."

   //Momma,// the little girl pleaded. Delenn gave David an apologetic smile.

   "Sweetheart, you know I told you to speak English when our visitors are here."

   Michaela buried her face in her mother's shoulder and shook her head. //I don't like them.//

   Delenn frowned slightly. //Why not?//

   Michaela looked around and then tried to burrow deeper into Delenn's protective embrace. //They're all staring at me, momma!//

   Delenn smiled and smoothed her hair. //They're not staring at you, Mica. They just want to say hello.// She turned the girl to face the new arrivals. "This is your father's family."

   "They look wrong!"

   Delenn sighed. "Michaela," she said warningly. "There is nothing wrong with the way Humans *or* Minbari look. They're just different, that's all." Her voice softened. "Your father doesn't look wrong, does he?"

   "N-No," Michaela admitted.

   "Then stop being silly." She sat down and placed the child in her lap. "Your grandfather will be here soon. What will he say if he hears you talking like that?"

   Horror came to the young girl's face. "He'll be angry with me," she said in a small voice. "I'm sorry, momma."

   "All right." She smiled warmly, soothing her daughter. "She doesn't see many Humans very often," she explained apologetically to the waiting faces. "She prefers to stay with me most of the time, and as I'm not allowed to leave the house at the moment..." She glared at her husband, who spread his hands helplessly.

   "Doctor's orders."

   "From you, no doubt," she retorted. He shrugged off the accusation.

   "Everyone must be hungry. Did you get someone to cook tonight?"

   Delenn gave him a mock scowl. "I am not completely useless, you know." She smiled, relenting. "Michael has promised to cook for us all tonight, if you remember, and some of the Rangers offered to help when they heard your family was arriving. We can eat when everyone is settled."

   Sheridan stood up. "Then let's get settled, and go have dinner."

    * * * * *

   To say that dinner was a large affair would have been an understatement. With the usual family alone it was always big, for Ivanova usually joined them and Michael Garibaldi, their soon-to-be security officer when they moved to Babylon 5, was the on-site chef. Delenn's father had taken to joining them during her pregnancy, and with the addition of Sheridan's parents, his sister, her husband and three young children, it made quite a chaotic evening.

   Moraval stayed generally out of the conversation, choosing instead to talk to either his daughter or her youngest, who were seated either side of him. Michaela adored her grandfather and opened up to him the way she did to no one else but her mother. She still kept a distance from her father's family, although she spoke politely enough whenever anyone asked her a question. Devon, on the other hand, hardly paused for breath the entire night. Mariah found her slightly disconcerting, because her uncle had said this little girl was her cousin but she looked very different. Mariah knew she didn't have a ring of bone around her head, and she had definitely not been that tall and that grown-up when she was only five years old. And where Devon was strange, David simply annoyed her. He was just... well, annoying. She couldn't pinpoint it exactly. His face was more like that of his mother than anyone's, and he seemed to have inherited her ability to seem old beyond her years. He spoke with more maturity than anyone Mariah's age that she knew, and his way of looking and sounding that much older than she was probably what irritated Mariah so much. Whatever it was, she made a special effort not to talk to him or about him.

   She almost forgot her intention in the next few days, however, when her uncle took them all out to see the city. Michaela bounced along in her father's arms, but David and Devon were old enough to walk on either side of him. Tuzanor was home to them, and they showed it off with obvious pride: twice, Mariah found herself asking awed questions of her five-year-old cousins, forgetting completely her irritation that they knew so much about such a wonderful planet.

   "I'll miss this place," she heard uncle John say to her mother. "I didn't think I'd get so attached to living on an alien planet."

   "It's home," Liz said understandingly. "Actually," she admitted after a pause, "I'm kind of glad you mentioned it. I'll feel much better about Proxima knowing I can make it home the way you have here."

   "You're moving to Proxima?" Sheridan turned to her, surprised. "When did this happen?"

   "A few weeks ago. Dan got a transfer to the company's main Proxima base; big promotion, big pay rise, but a big move."

   Sheridan looked concerned. "Are you sure you're ready for it? With the kids at such a young age, taking them to a whole new planet - are you sure you'll all cope?"

   Liz just looked at him, amused. "And what is it you're doing, big brother? This space station of yours isn't a walk in the park, remember." Sheridan grinned.

   "I guess not. But it's been in the pipeline for - well, since before the twins were born. We've always told them we'd move away from here one day."

   "And they've never once complained?" Liz's eyes shone with humour. Her brother grinned sheepishly.

   "Yeah, there's been times... quite a few, recently. But they're as excited as we are; I think they've accepted it as inevitable now. We leave in just under a week, anyway - not much chance to change our minds."

   "You'll be on Babylon 5 before we reach Proxima, at that rate." Liz sighed and looked out at the setting sun. "I still have to break it to the kids yet. I figured I'd wait until we were back home before I tell them - no use in spoiling the trip." She rested her chin on her folded arms, leaning on the balcony railing of the Sheridan's apartment. "I think you're mad to leave, Johnny. It's a beautiful place."

   "I know." He smiled. "But it was always going to happen. Delenn and I are prepared for it - most of our belongings are already being transferred ready for our arrival. We've been packing all week before you got here. It's a big job, and Delenn can't overdo things right now."

   Liz didn't comment: they had good reason to worry, given Delenn's track record on pregnancies. This time, however, things seemed to be going smoothly enough to allow her to travel to Babylon 5 ready for the opening ceremonies.

   "I'm sure everything will go great," she said assuringly. Sheridan looked at her and nodded, smiling confidently.

   "Of course it will."

    * * * * *

   "*Why* do things never go right for us?"

   Ivanova sighed, looking up at her friend and, as of that morning, new commanding officer. "Stop panicking, John. You heard what Stephen said - she's not well enough to travel. It just means she'll miss the opening ceremonies, not that she's got a terminal illness or something. As long as she stays on Minbar to have the baby, she'll have a normal birth and they'll both be out here in no time."

   "In six weeks," he said dully. "How am I supposed to get through the most important part of the organisation on this place when my partner is light-years away about to give birth to my child?!"

   "With a great deal of help," Ivanova said firmly. She sat on the arm of the nearest chair, relaxed, the complete opposite of Sheridan's hunched frame. The new Captain sat on a couch in his new quarters, watching the cargo handlers finish unloading his belongings as Garibaldi rummaged through the kitchen.

   "Hey, why don't these guys hurry us up some food?"

   "Michael," Ivanova reprimanded sharply. "Have some sympathy for the man."

   "Says the one talking about terminal illnesses," Garibaldi retorted.

   "Life is a terminal illness," Ivanova said philosophically. "Seriously, John, stop worrying. She's got the best of care on Minbar, and you can still work together over StellarCom." The new communications system had been brought online the previous week, in preparation for the new captain's arrival. He had officially taken command on coming aboard, and although Maintenance still hand their hands full with numerous starting difficulties most of the station was now in working order. The main bulk of the population - company reps, stallholders from the newly finished Zocalo market, plus the station's crew - was already present and working. All that remained was for the various alien Ambassadors to arrive and for Babylon 5 to open for business.

   All of which would now happen without the presence of its creator and greatest supporter. Sheridan sighed.

   "I know, it's not the end of the world. I can manage without her being here, I guess, so long as we can talk. She knows more about this station than I do, I'm sure of it."

   "Delenn knows more about anything than anybody," Ivanova replied. "I still don't get why they didn't make her Entil'zha. I mean, not that I'm complaining about Ganya's promotion or anything, but why train up an entirely new leader when Delenn's already Anla'shok?"

   "It's a long and complicated story, Susan," Sheridan replied. "I'll tell you about it one day. In the meantime, I have to get settled in here." He gestured to the specially-built family quarters. "I'm glad Delenn kept the children with her, really. I miss them already, but at least it means I have one thing less to worry about."

   "That's the spirit." Ivanova clapped him soundly on the shoulder. "We'll be so busy you won't have time to miss anyone."

   "Hey!" They turned to find Michael Garibaldi waving a packet of dried tea in the air. "I found the food boxes. Let's eat!"

   Sheridan laughed and nodded. "Okay, okay. I'll start unpacking *after* we've eaten."

   In truth he got very little unpacking done in the first few days, or even the first weeks. The arrival of the Ambassadors delayed personal considerations for quite a while, and there was always some other crisis waiting to happen on his new command. Babylon 5, Sheridan discovered, was full of surprises.

   The biggest surprise he received, however, did not come from the station at all.

   "Captain?" On normal duty in his third week, he looked around to see Lieutenant Corwin, one of his new command team, strolling hurriedly across the Command and Control centre carrying a packet of flimsies. "A message for you, sir. From your wife." He held out the papers, looking a little confused. Sheridan took the message, remembering that Corwin was a new arrival on the station.

   "You know who my wife is, don't you, lieutenant?" he asked with a little amusement.

   "Uhm, yes sir. Ambassador Delenn."

   "Of the Minbari," Sheridan added. Corwin nodded.

   "Yes sir."

   "Then don't be surprised that I read Minbari," he said with a concealed smile. Corwin nodded again.

   "Yes sir. I mean, no sir. Of course."

   "Dismissed, lieutenant."

   "Yes sir."

   Sheridan grinned to himself, shaking his head at the retreating figure. The young lieutenant was new, he reminded himself: much as he had been when he'd gotten his first big assignment to the *Lexington*, and about the same age. It wasn't surprising that enthusiasm sometimes got in the way of his common sense.

   He opened the flimsy packet. Inside were a few typed sheets of information he had asked her to send, as well as a letter in Delenn's hand. Printed at the top of the letter was the symbol of the Rangers, the Isil'zha, that signed every letter she sent him. They spoke every day over the comm channel, but whenever they sent anything they made sure to send a personal letter as well. He swung into his office chair and sat back to read.

   Hello, John.

    Here are the documents you asked me for. I wish I could have brought them personally, but Stephen still insists I am not well enough to make the journey. I keep telling him that I feel fine, apart from missing you. I hope I can come home soon. The children miss you as well, especially Michaela, but I think the pregnancy is distracting them slightly. William and Inesval are wonderful: their energy amazes me sometimes, but at least they get the children out from under my feet. I do not know how I could possibly have this much work to do and not be there already! Thankfully, I have learnt more from you and Susan than I realised. Humans do things so much differently to Minbari! I had no idea there would be so much paperwork on an Earth-run station. Perhaps I should have insisted we have total control... but then, perhaps not. Anyway, I am managing. I hope you do not have as much work as I do - you work too hard already, and I do not want you tired out by the time I bring our newest child to meet you. Stephen says she should be born in two weeks, hopefully no longer. I wish you could be here, or I could be there. I miss you more than I thought possible.

   Other than our reluctant doctor, everything else is ready for me to leave. Jeffery arrived this morning, although by the time you read this I will already have told you so. He is a wonderful man, a good Ambassador to take over from you. I introduced him to Ganya, and I think they will work well together. Ganya is a true leader - just as he was, and will be again. I think he will be officially Entil'zha very soon, if Turval or Draal have much to say of it. Draal seems to be losing his purpose, though - with us leaving again, I do not think he knows whether to stay with the Rangers. I hope he does: I will miss him terribly if he leaves us, and I think he is perhaps the best of the teachers here. We are growing by the day, as Ganya will tell you when he arrives. He wants to introduce some of the Rangers who will be working permanently on Babylon 5. He will very probably arrive before I do - I imagine in the next week or so. I will ask him to bring another letter to you: I like the writing, and as I am kept very still these days it gives me something to do.

   Our feisty daughter is reminding me it is time to eat: I have to go now, and the courier is waiting to leave. And do not worry! We will see each other soon.

   With all my love, always,

    Delenn

   Sheridan smiled, folding the letter carefully and sliding it back into the packet. He stood up, nodding to Ivanova to take the shift for a while, and left to return to his quarters. They seemed empty without his family at the moment, especially knowing Delenn was so close to giving birth. If anything happened while he wasn't with her, he didn't know what he would do - he or the children. Michaela was barely four years old - to lose her mother now would devastate her, already introverted and more Minbari than either of her siblings.

   "Stop worrying," he scolded himself. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened his eyes again to stare at the inside of the transport tube. "You heard her last night. Everything's fine. No reason to worry. Stephen's there, after all." He sighed as the doors opened. "Don't you believe it." Opening the door, he went inside to drop the packet and put the letter away. As he turned into the kitchen to grab a quick drink, he caught the message notification blinking on his BabCom system.

   "Receive."

   "Message received," came the calm voice of the computer. He squared himself for another round with Londo Mollari, the rather pompous Centauri Ambassador. They'd been battling endlessly over various things the last few days, and he was sick of it.

   It wasn't Mollari, though, on the screen. It was Delenn.

   "Hi, honey." He was surprised: she didn't usually call when she knew he would be working. Concern clouded over. "Is something wrong? Are you all right?"

   "I'm fine," she assured him with a bright smile. Her eyes were exhausted, but they glistened with tears of joy. "And so is our daughter."

   His legs gave way and he fell onto the couch. "Daughter?" he asked dumbly. A look of wonder and relief spread over his face. "Are you okay? There weren't any problems - you're both all right?"

   Delenn laughed. "No, there were no problems. It was completely natural; Stephen was still predicting another two weeks, but she decided she was ready to announce her presence now." Still smiling, she picked up a tiny bundle from a cot beside her and held the new life for her father to see. "She was born this morning, but Stephen made me rest before I could call you."

   He grinned, stumbling over to the screen in a daze to touch his daughter's image. She had a fuzz of light brown hair, a mixture of her mother's brown curls and his own dark blond, and her face and tiny headcrest were delicate. Her eyes were blue, lively.

   "She looks like you," Delenn told him with a smile as the little girl gurgled and waved a hand, grasping at thin air. Delenn obligingly put her forefinger in the tiny fist, rocking her daughter gently. The picture was so perfect Sheridan felt tears come to his eyes, discreetly recording the message. It was, after all, the first time he had ever seen his youngest daughter. It deserved to be recorded.

   "Have you chosen a name?" They'd been so busy with work, they hadn't had time to decide on a name in advance as they had with their other children.

   "Not yet. I thought we should choose it together - we always have done before," she pointed out. "But her Minbari name is Mirann. Father chose it," she explained with a smile. "I asked him to sit with me, as you couldn't be there. He took some convincing, but I hurried him along slightly when this little one made her presence felt."

   Sheridan chuckled. "I can imagine." He was silent for a moment, staring in wonder at his newest child. Finally, he blinked and looked up. Delenn was smiling knowingly at him, her eyes sparkling. He tried his best to look abashed. "So, what about a Human name?"

   Delenn smiled. "Actually, Devon had a few suggestions. She was very insistent that she, David and Michaela were going to choose a name as we were too busy."

   Sheridan smiled at the mention of their eldest daughter. "Did you like any of them?"

   "I don't want to leave you out of this," she reminded him. "But," she admitted, "yes, I do have a favourite. Erica Bethan Rhiann. They chose one name each." She smiled shyly, something she rarely did anymore. "It sounds very Minbari. I think that may be why they chose it. What do you think?" Her face said she had already decided; Sheridan smiled. Those blue eyes, so different to Delenn's but just as beautiful, were watching him, and he grinned at the obvious personality behind them.

   "Erica Bethan Rhiann." He touched the image of his daughter and nodded, smiling. "It suits her." He looked up at his wife. "I love you, Delenn."

   The look in her eyes was tender. "I love you too, John. I wish I could talk for longer, but Stephen is very strict at the moment. He wants to make sure I'm healthy before I start working again." She smiled and pressed her free hand to the screen. "With luck, I'll be with you in another week or so."

   He grinned. "Here's to luck, then. And you do exactly what Stephen tells you - not that you've ever had a problem with that. I want to see you here soon."

   Delenn smiled warmly. "I want to be there, John. Now that Erica is here, there shouldn't be any problems. I'll send Ganya on ahead."

   He nodded. "See you soon, sweetheart. Love you."

   "I love you," she returned. She smiled. "We all do. Now you should go back to work, they'll be missing you."

   He nodded, but his attention was on the bundle in her arms even as the picture faded. He reran the conversation twice before convincing himself to go back on duty, and even then he printed out the image of Delenn and their daughter on the screen to take with him. All thought of the reason why he had returned to his quarters fled his mind, and he arrived back in C&C in record time still clutching the printout.

   "Something for me?" Ivanova teased, catching sight of him striding across the deck with what looked like a very important paper in his hand. She held out her hand for the report and Sheridan, grinning maniacally, handed it over.

   "Hey!" She looked up at him, delight written in her eyes. "John, that's wonderful. Congratulations!"

    Several of the new command staff were distracted from their duties by the sudden outburst, and the sight of their new CO on the receiving end of a rather forceful embrace from his exec was probably the origin of many a rumour in the next weeks.

   Recovering from her brief lack of restraint, Ivanova coloured slightly and straightened her already straight uniform. Trying to seem nonchalant, bursting with enthusiasm, she gestured Sheridan to his office. "When are they arriving?"

   "In about a week," he answered her, unable to wipe the grin from his face. "Stephen'll come with them, but Delenn's sending Ganya on ahead to start organising the Rangers from this end."

   His voice dropped instinctively when he spoke of the Anla'shok; their connection to the station was confidential and none of those outside the main staff knew anything of it - or would. Ganya's visit was dressed up as simply a family reunion - another reason, although certainly not the main one, that he had been chosen for the position of Entil'zha. Not even Susan knew of her brother's interrogation aboard the Valen'tha years before, on the eve of Earth's salvation: only Delenn, the rest of the Grey Council, Turval and Sheridan knew the truth. Ganya was being carefully instructed and would, in time, find out: however, Delenn asserted that it was not yet time. So many things, he'd found, depended on the 'right time' arriving - many of which he still didn't completely understand and most of which had to do with the Rangers and the coming darkness. *That* was the reason they had gone to such great lengths to conceal the growing army of Anla'shok, by any means at their disposal. Their continued presence in Tuzanor, rather than the capital city, had been explained away for numerous infinitesimal personal reasons which boiled down, again, to timing: the timing of Delenn's first labour, of her second pregnancy and then of her Minbari need to keep her young family out of the spotlight that Earth journalists had pointed with a vengeance towards them. The Anla'shok had always been a quiet sect of Minbari society, and no other species had the capability to be *so* discreet in joining: on the Human side, only a select few had had the fortune to arrive on Minbar and be directed to the Rangers. However, all Earth citizens arriving on Minbar would now pass through Jeffery Sinclair's Ambassadorial office and likely candidates passed on to Entil'zha in Tuzanor. Additional training camps were also in the process of being set up on various colonies and planets outside the Minbari Federation, giving the seeming appearance of a smaller number of Rangers at the main facilities in Tuzanor. The Army of Light was mobilising, as subtly as it could manage, with Babylon 5 at its concealed head.

   Ivanova frowned, her happiness at her brother's arrival overridden for the moment by practical considerations. She knew less, though not much, than Sheridan about the covert operation going on beneath the cover of Babylon 5 - an operation unknown to any official government.

   "If Ganya's arriving that soon, we really ought to step up the security enforcement. We had another theft in the Zocalo today." At Sheridan's expression, she shrugged her shoulders. "We can't help it, Captain. We've only been operational for under a month: until we're settled here and everybody who's gonna be here is here, things are going to slip through the net. I'll talk to Garibaldi, start organising extra security forces."

   "We already *have* all the security force we were assigned," Sheridan countered. "If we can't manage then I'll contact Earth, but that'll cut our budget considerably where personnel are concerned."

   Ivanova sighed. "I'd better get onto Security."

    * * * * *

   The gangway was clear: with easy, confident strides, Ganya Ivanov ate up the ground between himself and the waiting party. Susan was standing there, next to Sheridan, her eyes sparkling; Sheridan himself was reserved, looking tired but pleased to see the younger man. His view of any others was impeded, however, by the Ranger escort on either side of him.

   "I thought you were going to be *discreet*," he hissed at the dark-haired man to his right. The Human grinned.

   "This is discreet. If you wanted unnoticeable, you should have said so."

   Ivanov ground his teeth silently. He found this constant protection *very* irritating. There were six of them altogether, two at front, two at back surrounding him like a box, and two who had gone on to make sure the way was clear. Three Minbari, three Humans: a typical assignment. They were dressed in civilian clothing, but all carried the traditional fighting pike and the three Humans were equipped with PPGs: the Rangers were not taking any chances with their new leader. They peeled off as he reached the command staff, and only William and Inesval remained standing on either side of their leader.

   "Lieutenant Ivanov," Sheridan greeted him briskly, formally. Then he smiled. "Ganya. Welcome to my - our station." He caught Ivanova's glare and abruptly changed in mid-sentence.

   "It's an honour, Captain," Ganya returned. "It's good to see you again. Delenn - and the children - send their love, and Delenn asked me to deliver this." He held out a courier's pouch. "She didn't say what it was."

   "Another smutty letter," Ivanova muttered with a concealed smile. Ganya grinned widely and turned.

   "Susetchka."

   Ivanova grinned, then laughed as she was suddenly absorbed into a huge hug. "Missed you too, Ganya," she wheezed from behind cracking ribs. He grinned apologetically and let go. Ivanova rubbed her side with an expression of mock agony. "Ganya, you remember Michael Garibaldi, our security chef." There were grins and laughter at the intended pun. Garibaldi, it was well known, was the only member of the new command staff able to cook more than emergency rations.

   "Good to see you again," Garibaldi returned as Ivanov clasped his hand firmly. "I see you brought your own guys." He cocked his head at the Rangers. "Wise choice. Around here we haven't quite got everything down pat yet."

   "Maybe we can give you a few pointers," William Cole put in with a grin. Garibaldi shrugged.

   "You're welcome to try, buddy, any time."

   "No fighting on my station, Michael," Sheridan warned. Garibaldi batted his eyes innocently.

   "Wouldn't dare, Captain." He grinned speculatively at Cole: they'd met before and got on well. There was an almost love-hate relationship between the two of them, both on the target range and in the kitchen. Cole fancied himself a good cook - an opinion not shared by many, including Garibaldi. "What say you, comrade?"

   "I'm up." With a laugh and a hearty slap on the back, Cole herded the security chief away. Another Ranger stepped up to take his place beside Ganya, who gritted his teeth at the supervision. He noticed Susan glancing at the new Ranger oddly and frowned in her direction. The Ranger had obviously noticed as well: he grinned and extended his hand.

   "Marcus Cole. William's not-so-able brother."

   Ivanov stepped in. "Marcus, this is Captain John Sheridan, that *was* Michael Garibaldi, and this is my sister, Susan Ivanova. Commander," he added. She nodded, shaking hands with the new arrival.

   "Pleased to meet you, Anla'shok Cole."

   "Just Marcus." He grinned wryly: it suited him. "It gets confusing with two of us."

   "Marcus is the new member of my personal staff," Ivanov explained. "William recruited him on his last trip to the family home."

   "Business was going under anyway: I sold what was left and got out while I could. Turned out I found a home with the Rangers." Marcus shrugged. "Beats hanging around on Earth doing nothing."

   Sheridan smiled inwardly: behind the nonchalant exterior, he could sense the man's real commitment. He would make a good Ranger: perhaps even as good as his brother, given time. Sheridan winced. *Although perhaps he'll cook better.*

   "Marcus will be my liaison to Babylon 5. He'll be here permanently, setting up a network of contacts that you as the command staff won't be able to handle." Ganya was lounged on a chair in Sheridan's cabin, which was now mostly decorated. A few boxes still sat here and there, but they were fewer in number than when he had arrived: now, there was actually the space to lounge. "If we're going to have an operation going through here, we'll need those contacts. From time to time other Rangers will pass through, particularly Human Rangers who can pass more easily in and out." Sheridan nodded: it made sense that with the population of the station mostly Human anyway, no one would notice a few more civilians around the place.

   "We'll get you permanent quarters in Brown sector: it'll make moving around among the lowlives easier than if you're living cosily up here." The Ranger nodded at his suggestion.

   "I don't need much, Captain. I would be grateful for some refuge quarters topside, though, if there are any to spare. I'm still new at the game, and some players can get quite ugly if their payment doesn't arrive."

   "You're one of my best, Marcus," Ganya contested. "Or I wouldn't have chosen you for this assignment. Don't worry about him, Captain. Just give him some luxury every now and then - he's used to it back on Minbar. Delenn's taken quite a shine to him."

   Sheridan narrowed his eyes in mock suspicion. "Nothing sinister, I hope."

   To his surprise, rather than becoming flustered the man laughed. "Nothing remotely sinister, Captain. That son of yours would have me on the floor at the first thought."

   Sheridan grinned, hoping he didn't swell too noticeably with pride. David was growing up so fast... they all were. He couldn't wait for them to be back together as a family again, to hold Delenn in his arms and meet his new daughter.

   "Seeing as he's away in his daydreams again," Ivanova teased, "and as it's getting late, why don't we call it a night? I for one need some decent sack time."

   "I second that." Marcus grinned at her in a way she found vaguely disconcerting. "Entil'zha?"

   "All right, all right." Ivanov shrugged. "We can carry on tomorrow - over lunch, if that's a good time."

   "Great time. Let's go." Ivanova none too subtly dragged him, elbow-first, out of Sheridan's quarters. She recognised when her commander was daydreaming, and she also recognised the beeping sound that indicated an open StellarCom link as the door slid shut behind her. She was surprised he'd gone so long without calling his wife that evening.

   She dropped her brother off at his quarters, and Marcus disappeared in the opposite direction as she turned to head back to her own cabin. Exhausted from the day's crises and the lengthy discussions with Ganya and the other staff, she dismissed the slight noises behind her as her tired imaginings. As she reached her door, however, there was a definite sound of footsteps just behind the corner. Usually, as she was right outside her cabin, she would go in and call security: however, given Ganya's presence on station she was a little more cautious than usual. If she raced to call security, whoever was following her might get away, and he might be dangerous. She valued her own life, of course, but Ganya's was more important and not only because he was her brother. The success of the Rangers depended on him, and with it the success of everything Sheridan and Delenn were working towards.

   She crept up to the corner, listening for the telltale sound of running feet or breathing, indicating the stalker had either fled or was waiting her movement. After a moment, she heard nothing and dared to peek around.

   There was no one there. Nothing except an empty corridor for a good twenty yards that she could see. No corners or doorways where even the thinnest of people could hide. No maintenance grates, no lifts. And no trace of life.

   "I'm going crazy." She shook her head and went back to her quarters. Sliding the identicard into the lock, she shrugged and sighed. "Three weeks and this place is sending me mad."

   "I wouldn't say that."

   She spun around, but the voice had come from within her quarters. "Lights!" She turned to the couch to find Marcus Cole resting his elbows on his knees and grinning up at her. "How the *hell* did you get in here?!"

   He waggled a finger at her. "I wouldn't be a Ranger if I didn't have secrets, now would I? Besides, your brother would be very displeased if I started giving you ideas about joining."

   "I have no intention of joining the Rangers," Ivanova said stiffly. "I'm happy where I am."

   "I'm glad. So am I, as it happens." Marcus glanced nonchalantly at the room. "Nice place. Haven't really had time to look around, but nice and neat."

   Ivanova scowled in frustration. "What are you doing here?"

   "I wanted to see you. And as you seemed pretty keen on seeing me as well, I figured I'd save you the bother."

   Her eyes narrowed. "You were the one following me."

   He shrugged again. It was very annoying. "I didn't know where you lived."

   "Why didn't you ask, like normal people?" she snapped back.

   "I'm not a normal person, though, am I?"

   She laughed humorlessly. "It wouldn't be the first word on my list, no."

   Marcus sighed. It was the first time he'd ever seemed less than sparklingly happy. "I mean, I'm not a normal everyday person now. I'm a Ranger. A spy, a covert operative for the Minbari."

   "For Ganya," she objected. He smiled lightly.

   "But Ganya works for the Minbari."

   "He works for Delenn and Sheridan," Ivanova retorted. "Hardly 'the Minbari'. Their government doesn't know about any of what you're doing, or most of what we're doing here or back on Minbar. What they do know, they turn a blind eye to. They don't want to get caught up in anything." She snorted in disgust. "To tell the honest truth I'll be glad when we're finally working completely on our own."

   "You could cope with that?" He asked it with honest surprise. "I figured someone like you, in the chain of command, in Earthforce, wouldn't want to be part of some team of lone rangers." She laughed and he wondered what was funny. Realising what he'd said, he grinned as well. Ivanova eyed him for a minute and then shrugged heavily.

   "Well, as you're here now. Would you like a drink?"

   He grinned: he'd known she'd give in eventually. "Don't mind if I do."

   She occupied herself with pouring tea for them both, trying unsuccessfully to start a conversation. As she was struggling, however, Marcus surprised her: as she handed him his cup he said politely;

   "So, why *were* you looking at me so weirdly?"

   She blinked, unused to his directness. "I'm sorry? I wasn't looking at you in *any* way, let alone 'weirdly'."

   He smiled at her denial. It was irritatingly charming. "You most certainly were, Commander. When we met in the docking bay, you looked at me as if we'd met before - in fact, you've hardly taken your eyes off me the entire night. Not that I mind, you understand, I'm extremely flattered, but I would like to know there's no maniacal compulsion to kill me behind it."

   "None," she answered stiffly. "And I'm sorry to disappoint you even further, but I really hadn't noticed you any more than anyone else this evening."

   "Too bad." He leaned back appreciatively. "I noticed you."

   Ivanova, to her mortification, blushed red at the comment. "Thank you," she said meekly. *Shut up!* her mind screamed at her. *Say something to crush him, you stupid woman! He deserves the corn of the year award, for God's sake!* Susan Ivanova had never had time for relationships, even in her high school years: always top of the class, devoted to her studies and career, never involved with others. It was too messy - people moved on, and in the end it wasn't worth it.

   Now, however, she was starting to revise her opinion. It was something about him - his annoying charm, perhaps? - that made her defences fall apart. He spoke so honestly, damn it! If he'd even showed an inkling that he might be joking, she could probably handle it, but he was perfectly serious and upfront about it. *So he likes you,* she scolded herself. *Is that really so bad?*

   *No,* she admitted. *But I don't have the time...*

   *Shut up, Susan.*

   *It's not a good idea,* she protested to herself.

   She smiled at Marcus. "Call me Susan," she told him firmly, gloating at her inner objector. He smiled back.

   "In that case, call me Marcus."

   She laughed. "It's a deal."

    * * * * *

   Delenn sighed and leaned her head back, resisting the urge to relax completely. She knew if she closed her eyes, she would fall asleep again and she had already taken up too much time with napping. The injections Stephen had been giving her to counteract the sickness made her drowsy, and she had too much work to do. She had never been travel sick before in her life, but Franklin had warned her that she was still weak from her labour. It had been uneventful but long, and exhausting - she couldn't expect to be fully recovered after such a short time, and only the new MedLab which required his attention had convinced him to schedule the trip so quickly after the birth. Her control slipped for a moment and her eyes closed: she was interrupted by her daughter's voice.

   "Let me take Erica, momma." She opened her eyes to see Devon holding her arms out in front of her. "I'll put her back in her crib."

   Delenn smiled. "No, Devon, don't worry. I'll do it." She stood up and sighed at the effort. Even with the injections, she still felt slightly queasy.

   "Let me, momma." Devon was firm. Delenn smiled, ruefully this time.

   "I was never so much trouble to my father when I was six cycles old," she chided as she placed the little bundle in her daughter's arms. She had to admit that Devon and David were both older than they looked, or than either calendar said them to be. Devon in particular was very protective of her new sister; she was old enough to understand that travelling had made her mother sick and had taken it on herself to do everything to help. Delenn smiled as she watched the little girl - although not so little now, for she seemed to be growing every day - carry her precious bundle into the adjoining bedroom. She wondered if John had noticed how fast their children were growing. He had so desperately wanted them to travel together, had even tried to delay his arrival on the station to stay behind with them - every moment they all had together was priceless, especially knowing what was to come...

   Delenn sighed and turned to look out of the small window. Most passenger ships were not equipped with windows, but this was not 'most' ships. This was a Minbari Sharlin War Cruiser, by name the *Tikari*, and her personal transport to Babylon 5. The ship had served during the war and had been commanded by Warleader Branmer, an old friend of Delenn's. His second-in-command, Alyt Neroon, had been promoted to Shai Alyt after his death and now commanded the ship. Albeit discreetly, he and the Tikari would be the patrol ship assigned to the area of space nearest Babylon 5: Neroon had taken Branmer's attachment to the young leader very seriously and had chosen to continue his support, sometimes a little more vocally than Delenn liked. However, he was a valued ally and, she admitted, better as a friend than an enemy.

   "Satai?" She turned her head to see the object of her thoughts step into the room. "Am I disturbing you, Satai?"

   She smiled. "No, Neroon, not at all. How may I help?" The Shai Alyt was amazingly fluent in English, and was using her presence to practise his skills.

   "I wanted to inform you that we'll be jumping shortly. I believe your physician wanted to be notified." He frowned. "Are you ill, Satai?"

   Delenn smiled: it was a breech of etiquette, but she admired his directness and his curiosity. "No, Neroon, simply tired. My daughter takes up so much of my time recently." She smiled reassurance. "Doctor Franklin only wants to make sure I don't react to the jump. I have been slightly... delicate, since the birth." She didn't go into detail, and he didn't ask: there wasn't much to say anyhow. It had been uneventful, and her thoughts now were more on her new home than on the events of the past week. "When will we arrive at the station?"

   "In six hours, Satai," he answered. "We'll send you ahead in a flyer as soon as we're close enough."

   Delenn stood, with effort, and bowed formally. "Thank you, Shai Alyt."

   He bowed in return. "Satai," and turned to leave. As he reached the door, a lightning-fast streak that came up to his knees pelted through it. Delenn held in a laugh, hugging her second daughter back as Michaela wrapped herself around her legs. Michaela loved her father more than anyone, and more than anyone she had suffered the separation. Now, her depression and anguish at leaving Minbar had been overtaken by her excitement at seeing her father again.

   Delenn smiled at Neroon, still standing in the doorway with a look of surprise on his features. He was handsome, she supposed, although not as much as John in her estimation. His smile made him look a little more approachable, when he gave it honestly, but he was clipped and withdrawn to the point of arrogance most of the time. He paid her no courtesy bar that which was unavoidable, and she sensed that even though he was an ally he still sought to irritate her by it. To *his* annoyance, however, she found it refreshingly honest. For that, she suspected she had incurred his wrath: he was an isolated figure, a man apart who preferred to be apart - but, she saw with surprised pity, when he saw her daughter his eyes darkened with envy and a strange longing. Then he nodded curtly and left the room.

   //Are we leaving now, momma?// Michaela always spoke in Adronato, though she knew English perfectly well. She was the most Minbari of any of Delenn's children, and leaving her homeworld behind to live on Babylon 5 had been difficult for her. The only incentive had been that she would get to travel on a cruiser, which she had never done before, and that her father would be waiting for them at the other end.

   //Soon, Mica,// Delenn promised. //I'll tell you when it's time. Why don't you go and have a nap for a few hours, so you'll be awake to meet your father?//

   The little girl nodded solemnly, then smiled and threw her arms around her mother's neck, kissing her cheek. "I will, momma," she promised. Delenn smiled at her use of English: it was the start of a compromise. She nodded and Michaela jumped out of her lap and ran from the room.

   Delenn smiled after her for a long moment, then stood tiredly and poured a drink, taking it to sit closer to the window. The red-black insanity of hyperspace swirled around the ship, engulfing it, making dizzying patterns... she turned away, feeling slightly ill. A pile of papers caught her eye: even now, there was still work to do. She made her way gingerly to the couch: as used as she was to space travel, this time she felt especially uneasy. Had it not been for the urgency of the situation, she would have comfortably considered staying on Minbar another week.

   With a sigh, she picked up the large wedge of documents and began sorting through them. Most were reports from John, intermixed with new reports about the Rangers, who were beginning to recruit to full strength. The new warships that would be commissioned - if all went as planned - would easily be crewed by the number of Anla'shok now in training in the various camps. Delenn knew the basic facts: those reports could wait. Another caught her gaze; a folder of personnel reports. She grimaced as she remembered: an attache for her new position. In the numerous posts she'd held in her career, none had warranted such a consideration; as Satai, she had had no specific aide but rather the attention of all the acolytes. As the Ambassador on Earth, she had worked so closely with Sheridan that no other had been needed; however now, he had his own work and she would need someone to assist in dealing with her new duties - especially, she thought tiredly, with four children in tow. The thought worried her, but she pushed it away as she always did: they would manage. She would never change what she had with John and their family, even if she did fear for the future, so it was useless worrying about it.

   She turned her attention instead to the twelve applicants arrayed in front of her. In truth, she could have selected up to any three of them and defended her choice easily, but it would be easier to cope with only one. There were times, personal and professional, when interruptions were not needed: she wanted to narrow down the chances of any such problems from the beginning. *Also,* she thought with a sigh, *an aide from each caste would not be beneficial to quick decisions.* The warrior and religious castes were notorious for their debates. *Which rules out any from the warriors,* she realised. There were four applicants from the warrior caste: two from the Moon Shields, one member of the Wind Swords and finally, to her surprise, an applicant from the Star Riders clan. All were incredibly militaristic and would not work well in the situation she would have to place them in. Better to choose someone from her own caste, perhaps, or the workers, although that would then place the warrior caste at a disadvantage which they would be quick to contest...

   Delenn sighed, and with a careless movement sifted the warrior and worker applicants from the rest. At least if she chose from her own caste, the most she could be accused of was nepotism. If she was careful, she would avoid even that.

   There were four religious applicants, as there had been four warriors and four workers. Minbari were nothing if not synchronous.

   The first applicant was nothing special, to her eyes: a young female acolyte from the Family Chan, raised on the outer colonies of the Federation. Delenn frowned over her credentials for a moment, then discarded her: she had visited Minbar only once, which would make it very difficult for her to establish the diplomatic ties based on her homeworld that would be essential.

   The second applicant, to her surprise, was her nephew Kanarr. She smiled, but sadly, and discarded him out of hand. Whether he had applied himself or had been recommended, it was a poor error in judgement to choose someone so close to her.

   The third applicant was slightly more promising: a male Temple acolyte, with a young-looking face, a student of languages, history and mathematics. He had spent his entire life on Minbar, and to his advantage had an apparent interest in alien cultures. He was a definite possibility.

   Her final choice was a female, also raised in Temple on Minbar but in one of the southern cities rather than Yedor. She also had studied extensively, particularly in languages, but there was something about her that made Delenn slightly wary. It would be easier for her, she thought, to work with a young male than a female: she knew from personal experience that females were inherently more curious and that *she* would be the main object of curiosity for this acolyte.

   Having made her choice, she brought the third application to the top of the pile and explored his credentials more closely. She discovered, with a flash of surprise, that she had met this young acolyte before: that was why his face had seemed so familiar, and so young. He had studied in Temple with Kanarr, she was sure of it; when she checked his application it confirmed her suspicion. Her chosen acolyte's name was Lennier, of the Third Fain of Chu'Domo; when she looked closely and wracked her mind she remembered his face, although she doubted he would remember hers. They had met once, before her transformation, when she had been called to serve the Grey Council and had gone to the Temple to say farewell to Kanarr. Lennier had been in the same class as he, although a year older, and had been exceptionally curious about meeting her. He had been brought up in Temple; it was all he had known and yet he maintained an almost vicious curiosity about the outside world. If that was the only quality he still possessed, Delenn was sure she had chosen correctly.

   Satisfied that that task, at least, was out of the way, Delenn put her work to one side and stood up to stretch. She had spent only a few days recuperating after the birth of her newest daughter; she was well enough, but tired, and she refused to let John see her like this. He would start to fuss, and that would only delay things further.

   Thinking of John made her glance at the chrono, realising with astonishment that there were only three hours left until they reached the station. Stephen would arrive soon, she thought tiredly. The doctor was worse than her husband sometimes. She sighed.

   //I suppose I should sleep for a few hours, then, before he suspects me of working too hard.//

   "I suppose you should."

   She turned in surprise to see Stephen Franklin standing in the doorway, an amused smile gracing his dark features.

   "Do you often talk to yourself?" he asked teasingly. Delenn smiled.

   "Not often." Her eyes sparkled with teasing amusement. "Only when other people are paying no attention to me."

   "Ah!" Franklin laughed and shook his head. "Missing that attentive husband of yours?"

   Now Delenn couldn't help but look embarrassed. "Yes," she admitted. "Especially now." She tilted her head to one side, thoughtfully. "I wonder why that is, that I miss him more now that I did at the beginning."

   "I guess it's because you know there's so little distance left to travel. Speaking of which," the doctor grinned and held up an injector. "Time to put you to sleep for the trip."

   Delenn, to his surprise, actually smiled at the idea - and rather than protesting, gestured for him to follow her through to the suite's bedroom where her newborn daughter already slept. Devon sat beside the crib, working on a complicated triangular puzzle somewhat like a Rubic's cube. She looked up as her mother entered, brow furrowed in concentration and green eyes focused.

   "Hi, Momma. Are you going to sleep now too?"

   Delenn smiled as she sat down on the bed. "Yes, Devon. Stephen's going to make me sleep now so that I don't get sick again."

   The little girl nodded sagely and bent her head again to the puzzle. Franklin grinned and shook his head, setting the injector as Delenn obligingly held out her arm. On the inward trip to hyperspace, she had tried to stay awake - and as a result had been violently sick from the movement. In such a sophisticated vessel, any normal passenger would barely feel the change as they entered or left the spatial 'highway': Delenn, however, was accustomed to noticing the change from her time on the Valen'tha and felt it more than most. It was a trait she had failed to remember on the inward trip.

   *At least this time will be peaceful,* she thought with a slight smile. The anti-sickness drugs had made her drowsy anyway, so she sank into oblivion almost immediately. She was aware of Stephen's hands supporting her, lowering her onto the bed, and the warm comfort of a blanket drawn lightly over her shoulders. She just had time to remember, with delight, that when she next awoke she would be boarding the flyer to Babylon 5: then she was asleep.

    * * * * *

   "Is everything ready? Where's Ivanova? Why aren't security here yet? What's Londo doing here? I thought we said this was going to be a *low key* occasion?"

   Michael Garibaldi did his best to calm his fretting Captain. "In order: yes, everything's ready. Ivanova's on her way, she got held up with Marcus - again. Security *are* here, they're just being discreet, if you look around you'll see about a dozen of 'em as well as the Rangers Ganya stationed. Londo's here because he's a nosy bastard, and one of these days I'm going to chop those six things of his off and hang 'em from the fusion reactor."

   Sheridan turned to glance at his security chief. He couldn't help the wry smile that touched one side of his mouth. "I'm worrying too much, aren't I?"

   "Just enough," Garibaldi assured him. "Now stop asking questions."

   "Hey, guys." Ivanova nodded curtly to her captain then smiled. "Everything's in order up top. Just waiting for the signal." She looked around. "Are we sealing off the docking bay?"

   Garibaldi shook his head. "Couldn't do it. Things have just gotten to full capacity around here, to shut it down so early on would cause too many problems. But," he nodded in deference to Sheridan, "we do have a visible and *in*visible security presence around. Half the people you see out there are my plainclothes guys." He tipped his head toward the customs area.

   Ivanova nodded approvingly. "No trouble with the press?"

   "A couple of stragglers." He shrugged. "I had Jack and Zack throw them out. Yeah, yeah, I know, don't start it." He grinned. "Jack and Zack, I know. I didn't choose them to be a rhyming couplet, okay?"

   Ivanova pushed a straight face past her smothered grin. "Okay."

   Sheridan coughed and tossed them both a pointed glance. Garibaldi looked up at the timepiece on the customs screen. "Oop. Time."

   The flyer was impressive, you had to admit that, and the fact that it was only a small sample of Minbari technology made it all the more amazing. Even anchored to the docking platform, it looked graceful. Through the plasglas door that kept the waiting crew out until the bay repressurized, Ivanova could see the platform lock into place and the rush of air vents as the atmosphere began to flow in. She stole a look at Sheridan beside her and hid a smile. He'd hardly noticed it, but his reputation as a hard-nosed bully was beginning to increase - all of it due to his grouchy behaviour since leaving Delenn behind. Now, she hoped, the crew would start to see John Sheridan as he really was - and hopefully, would begin to develop a sense of loyalty that was sorely lacking at the moment.

   None of which mattered to him, she remembered as she watched his expression. For once, she had an inkling of what he felt at seeing his wife and family again: despite becoming the butt of almost everyone's joke, she had started to spend more and more time with the Ranger, Marcus: they'd been out to dinner twice in the past fortnight, and they kept 'bumping into' each other. It was something she had been meaning to talk to him about, but when they did it somehow it never seemed like that was necessary. She had a date with him that evening, in fact, an arrangement she had hidden with great secrecy from Sheridan and Garibaldi. They would, she knew, tease her relentlessly: and the last thing they needed was for another member of the command staff to develop a lasting relationship. After all, what would happen once Marcus was sent on duty on one of the new warships? It wouldn't do for her to sit at home and pine for him, or to become as agitated as Sheridan had been over the past month. And anything beyond a simple relationship - children, for example - was so far out of the question as to be into the next one. She simply would not allow it to happen, and that was all there was to be said on the matter.

   The reunion between John Sheridan and his family was, of necessity, slightly subdued: both he and Delenn were aware, if their children were not, of the prejudice that still followed their relationship, and both were wary until they were comfortably inside the transport tube and heading for their quarters. Delenn had to suppress a smile at the sight of her husband: cradling his newest daughter in the crook of his arm, he gleefully pointed out the different areas of the station to her as they walked down the corridor. Ivanova was, luckily enough, paying more attention to their surroundings than her CO or they would easily have wandered past their quarters.

   "Here we are." She grinned at Sheridan's stupefied expression as he sheepishly opened the door. "I'll leave you to get settled in. All your stuff's here, we shipped it over from the *Tikari* a few hours ago." Her grin widened as David and Devon ran back outside to hug her goodbye. "I'll try and stop by for dinner, okay?" She glanced up at Delenn for confirmation. "We can fill you in on how things are going."

   Delenn smiled and nodded. "I would like that." Her eyes sparkled as she called her twin children back inside. "Come along now and help your father and I unpack. Susan has work to do, she can play with you later." "Spoken like a commander already." Ivanova grinned and waved back over her shoulder to the children as she left. Delenn frowned slightly at the comment, but the sound of her husband's voice called her back from her confusion and she smiled, turning back into their cluttered quarters.

   "Coming, John."

   She entered the bedroom and couldn't help a smile. The floor was covered with boxes, with only a thin path from the door to the shower suite. The bed hadn't been made that morning - that was just like John, she thought with an inward laugh: he seemed to have an aversion to tidy bedclothes. The covers were rumpled, and made worse by the three young children playing of a game of hide-and-seek under the king-size duvet. In the middle of it all, John Sheridan sat with a giggling bundle in his arms and an extremely nonplussed expression.

   Forcing herself to contain her amusement, knowing that if she didn't inject some decorum into the room soon then *nothing* would get done, Delenn put on a slight frown.

   "David, Devon, Michaela." The three children looked up guiltily at the tone of their mother's voice. Delenn allowed a hint of a smile to touch her lips and gestured through the open door. "Go and start unpacking your things."

   "Yes, mother." The three of them slunk from the bed with hidden smirks; David even tried to pull the duvet straight with a half-hearted tug on the corner before racing after his sisters.

   Delenn smiled after them. "They grow so fast these days." She sighed and turned back to her husband with a gentle smile. "Are you going to starve our youngest child, or am I going to be able to pry her from you long enough to feed her?"

   Sheridan gave her another sheepish smile as she sat down on the chair in to corner of the room, and gingerly passed the tiny burden over to her. He paused for a long moment as the baby girl started to feed, and coloured slightly as he realised his own reaction to the sight.

   Delenn caught his expression and smiled warmly. "Not now, my love," she told him calmly. "It's her turn."

   He grinned and hefted a box up onto the bed. "I can't help it, Delenn. I haven't seen you in over a month." He tugged open the container and began to pile clothes on the bed. "I guess I'll just have to make do with slaving over your stuff for a while, won't I?"

   Delenn flashed him an alluring smile. "Do not think that because I did not leap on you in the docking bay, that I do not have my own reaction to today." She looked down briefly as she switched her daughter to the other breast, and then smiled back up at her husband. He was watching her again, a look of confused wonder, love and hunger on his face. "But I did not think you would appreciate being - interrupted - by this little one. She screams even louder than her sisters did; sometimes I almost think they evolve each time."

   Sheridan grinned. "Not to mention the three terrors outside." He winced as a particularly hard 'thud' came from the direction of the children's suite. The quarters had been built specially for the family and encompassed the floor space of two suites. The first was made up of the main bedroom and its shower suite, the kitchen, bathroom and main living area. The second area was a suite of four rooms, one of which was office space and was joined onto the main room not by a door but simply an open wall on one side. The other three rooms were all entered by single doors lining the opposite wall of the living area, and were linked by adjoining doors. The first room, it appeared when Sheridan went to investigate the noises, had been claimed by Devon and Michaela; David seemed to have locked the adjoining door - not that he could really be blamed for it - and was quietly unpacking his own belongings in the second room. Sheridan was silently glad of the arrangement: they'd agreed to let the children choose their own rooms, but David was the quiet one and would at least let his youngest sister sleep in peace. The other two were likely to chatter until all hours: they didn't seem to need *any* sleep sometimes. David, on the other hand, had always been quiet and studious, a little reserved from his sisters. Although he and Devon were twins, she seemed at times to have developed more of a bond with Michaela than with her brother. *Or maybe I just don't understand these things,* Sheridan thought with a grin as he watched David throw back the door to his room and invite his sisters in.

 

*****

 

 

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