TRIBUNAL (I)

By Leyenn

 

 

 

I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean for my demented mind to come up with this scenario. To be honest, I don't know why I wrote it, but it held me at gunpoint and forced me to write thirty pages of it at the weekend... No excuse, but maybe you'd like to know that I am doing penance i.e. my video recorder as been AWOL for almost the entire fourth season, and if it weren't for the generosity of a wonderful, giving, wonderful close personal friend (kiss ass, kiss ass) then I'd have no tapes at all. Also, it's December 17th, the damned story ain't even finished yet, and I'm in a pit of depression so deep even Lorien wouldn't wanna live here. Such is my punishment for this hideous scene.

   BE WARNED: IF YOU DO NOT LIKE EXPLICIT VIOLENCE OR ARE OF A NERVOUS DISPOSITION, OR IF YOU SIMPLY HATE ANYTHING HORRIBLE BEING DONE TO JOHN AND DELENN (AND I MEAN HORRIBLE) - DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!!!!!

 

 

 

 

*****

What At First Seems Innocent....

Daniel James approached the room with something akin to trepidation. The Minbari he asked had assured him that their leader would be finished by the time he reached her viewing room, but he still felt a twinge of nerves at the interruption. It was unusual for him, a hard-line soldier, to be nervous about such things - even concerning such an important personage. But he'd never met, or even seen, the much-praised Minbari Ambassador who fought so willingly alongside Sheridan. The *Agamemnon* had been away on the Rim during her first and only solo interview, while his crew had scrupulously boycotted her joint effort with Sheridan on ISN on moral grounds. Less viewers meant less time on air for the circulating rumours - but as a result, the Captain knew very little about the woman he was about to meet. He opened the doors cautiously, surprised to find them completely manual. The room was pitched in blackness, and for a moment he thought perhaps she was gone or he'd entered the wrong chamber by mistake; there was no visible floor or ceiling, no walls or consoles, only the blackness. And then he turned.

   And saw her, standing, a silhouette against the huge viewscreen. A single spotlight lit her hair, along with the distinctively lessened bonecrest that parted it. The long, rich brown tresses were mostly over her shoulders and James could see the outline of her figure in the spotlight. She was slim, petite, but there was something in her stature that made her seem powerful... regal, somehow.

   "I know," she was saying to an image of John Sheridan. "I know that, John. We have to make sure everything is finished before we take time off for ourselves." The Captain nodded, emitting a slow sigh and running fingers through his shortened hair. James stepped hurriedly into the shadows; intrigued by Delenn's use of words as much as he was embarrassed at having eavesdropped on the conversation, he stayed silent behind her.

   "How're the clean up jobs going?" Sheridan asked absently. Delenn had seemed to be smiling, albeit tiredly, but the expression faded at his question.

   "There was one major accident that put us behind schedule, but none so far after that. We finished on the dangerous debris early this morning, everything that might have posed a danger to the ships. Smaller fragments will fall harmlessly and burn up in your atmosphere, so we didn't waste the resources retrieving them." He nodded in understanding; she closed her eyes, looking down in regret at what had to come next. "We started the body counts two hours ago." Sheridan winced slightly, closing his eyes in pain at the notion and the distress on her features. "So many died, John..."

   "I know." The expression on his face was one of sympathy. "I know. But it could have been worse: if Clark hadn't committed suicide, or if he'd succeeded in what he tried to do..." Delenn frowned at the idea, then sighed.

   "You're right; it could have been a lot worse than this. If you hadn't managed to destroy those satellites-"

   "Hey, what do you mean 'if *I* hadn't'?" he teased with pride in his eyes. "You were a part of this too. It was your fleet that came in to rescue half of Earth." She remained in silence after that, and he smiled ruefully as she stepped from the spotlight into the darkness of her surroundings. "How are you holding up?"

   "Fine," she answered quietly from the shadows.

   "You're lying."

   "Don't insult me."

   "Sorry. You're fudging the truth."

   "Better."

   He sighed. "Delenn, come on..."

   "I miss you."

   He paused, leaning forward as far as the Earth desk made it possible before he spoke again, his voice gentle.

   "Come back where I can see you." She hadn't been more than a few steps from the light, and it took barely a second to return. Sheridan smiled, his eyes shining at the sight of her. "That's better. Do you know how disorienting it is talking to a disembodied voice?" Delenn smiled in apology.

   "I'm sorry. The light is a little bright... it reminds me of the Council chambers, that's all. It's just slightly uncomfortable being here, after the last time."

   "Turn the other lights on." She laughed at his simple solution, her voice chiding.

   "There are no other lights in these rooms, John." He frowned; partly in surprise, but mostly in play.

   "But then how do you clean them?" Delenn smiled, her eyes laughing.

   "That is a government secret, I'm afraid."

   "Oh, and I don't qualify?" She gave him a dubious glare.

   "You're being petty."

   He grinned. "Yep."

   There was silence for a moment: James watched his unawares companion closely, trying to figure the conversation. They were certainly good friends, these two - they cared for each other, and there were hints of something else... The way she said his name, the softness in her voice telling him she missed him, the sympathy he so obviously expressed for her...

   "There's something else, isn't there?" James almost spoke at the repetition of his own thoughts, then thought the better of it. Neither would be happy that he'd observed so much, and they'd probably only be embarrassed. He turned his concentration back to them. Sheridan was watching his partner carefully, waiting for the inevitable nod. It came soon enough, and he smiled tenderly.

   "Want to tell me about it?" She shook her head this time, looking up at the screen.

   "Next time we see each other in person, I will." He sighed in exasperation, dropping back in the chair and raking a hand back down the side of his hair.

   "And when will that be, Delenn? How long are we going to put this on hold because 'business' and 'protocol' come first?" She winced slightly at the anger in his tone.

   "I don't know. But these things must be done, John. What will it do to our cause if we are seen to abandon it all for simply a few days of personal time?" He sighed, nodding tiredly.

   "Yeah, I know you're right, as always - I'm sorry I snapped at you. I miss you too, love, that's all." *Love?* James' eyes widened at the term. *Surely they're not *that* close.*

   "How much longer will you be there?" Delenn's question brought the eavesdropper back from his shock.

   "That's why I called you. They want me to stay another two weeks, to help organise the government. It's pretty messed up down here."

   "Two weeks! John, I can't-" she stopped abruptly, biting back words of desperation and turning away. "Fine." Her voice was tense. "If they need you there, then I will wait."

   "That's just it, they *don't* need me! I'm just a symbol by now, I'm sure of it! I spend more time greeting diplomats and signing papers than I do doing any real work. And I didn't say I wanted to," he protested. "I don't like being away from you any more than you like being separated from me. But-" Delenn shook her head, stepping from the circle again in agitation.

   "Don't. Don't make excuses for me. I do not like it, but if it is necessary then I will manage."

   "I won't," he retorted bluntly. "I know how much you hate bringing this up, Delenn, but I don't have all that long with you. Two weeks is a long time for me... for us. I've seen you for maybe four hours since you left for Minbar, honey. I miss you." Sensing the intimacy of the conversation snapped James from his trance, and he quietly slipped toward the door. It shut as timidly as he had opened it - Delenn was too wrapped up in her lover's words to hear the sound anyway.

   "Are we ever going to get some time together?" she asked with despair in her voice. "I have so much to tell you, so much that I can't say without being near you... Do you know how long it's been since I actually touched you? And I don't mean when you came back, that was barely a few hours."

   "Not including that time? Three months, three weeks and four days. And ten hours," he added wryly. "You're not the only one getting stir-crazy over this enforced separation, you know. I have every day marked on my calendar as one I never want to repeat." Delenn smiled at his dedication, badly wanting to feel his presence there beside her. "Delenn," his gentle tone came through the reverie to her, "I want to ask you a favour. For both of us, and for Earth. But for me especially."

   "Anything for you, my love." She stepped willingly toward the screen, a soft smile on her features.

   "Come to me. Come down to Earth and let me see you, in person this time. In sunlight - we haven't tried that one yet." He smiled gently, letting out a soft sigh as she shook her head.

   "I want to, John, you have no idea how much I want to. But they need me here-"

   "They don't need either of us in either place," he interrupted. "The difference is that they won't let me leave. There's a shuttle bringing Captain James and some of the Agamemnon crew down in an hour - I want you on it."

   "John-"

   "No buts. You're not doing well, I can see, and you said it yourself: the clean up's done. You could co-ordinate the rest of the work from here - there's already a place for you to work from here in my office." Delenn smiled at his forethought, shaking her head and looking ruefully up at him.

   "I am not going to win, am I?" Sheridan smiled tenderly.

   "Oh, yes you are. We both are. Now go get on that shuttle, okay?"

   "Yes, Shai Alyt," she answered in mock seriousness. He raised an eyebrow at the term, rolling it over his tongue.

   "Shai Alyt.... has a nice ring to it, I think. I kind of like it." Delenn smiled, bowing in teasing formality.

   "In that case, I will use it when I next see you. Until later, my love." One hand reached out, the other touching her heart, Delenn nodded slowly to her fiance.

   "I expect to see you soon, sweetheart," he called after her. She nodded quickly behind her with a gentle smile, almost running from the room as he terminated the communique.

   * * * * *

   

"Ambassador Delenn? I didn't expect to see you here." James jogged a few steps to catch up with his visitor, seeing that she seemed in no mood to slow down. She had a carryall over one shoulder, although it was barely filled - and James got the feeling that most of what she needed for at least two weeks was inside.

   "Welcome aboard the Agamemnon. Is there anything I can do for you?"

   "Oh, yes, thank you. You are Captain James, yes?" He nodded curtly, gesturing for her to proceed him into the transport tube. "Good, I was hoping to see you. John- um, Captain Sheridan said that there was a shuttle leaving here for Earth soon." The Captain nodded again.

   "Yes, there is. I'm due to be on it, in fact, so if you'd like to take a small detour while I pick up my things..." He smiled warmly. "They won't go without their Captain." Delenn nodded, smiling back in gratitude.

   "Thank you, Captain. I am not very familiar with your ships... I'm afraid I may have gotten lost quite easily if you had not found me." James smiled, ushering her from the tube as it stopped outside his quarters.

   "Oh, I'm sure that's not the case, Ambassador. Any of my crew would be happy to help you." She gave him an odd smile, hesitating in the doorway as he opened his door. "Come in, Ambassador? I hope you don't think-"

   "Oh, no," she assured him with a bright smile. "But you'll only be a moment, I'm sure. I can wait out here." A passing crew member changed her mind, however; his gaze only turned on her for a moment, but it was enough to make her shiver. James gently took her elbow, leading her inside the room and starting to call after his officer before she laid a hand on his arm.

   "It's fine, Captain. I have learnt to ignore it, and I'm sure he meant me no harm. Please, I am only anxious to leave." Hearing how that sounded, she quickly added, "To get to the shuttle - to Earth. I've never seen your planet."

   James grinned, turning away to enter his bedroom. *If only she knew how transparent she's being. It's obviously not the planet she wants to see.*

   Delenn was studying the cabin curiously, never quite touching anything but reaching out a number of times for her fingers to hover over pieces arranged neatly on the shelves. She was examining one particular one closely when James emerged with his own carryall, and he smiled knowingly.

   "The previous Captain left that one," he said quietly, coming up behind her. Delenn turned, a little eagerly, to regard him.

   "Captain Sheridan?" He nodded.

   "I believe so. It was a gift for someone, I think, but they never received it. I have no idea why he left it here - it's beautiful."

   "I do." Delenn turned back to look at the piece, seeing it change under her eyes at the new knowledge. She had known it seemed familiar, and now she remembered: in a photograph of John and Anna when they were young. There was a story he had told her too - something about losing the original and buying her another to replace it, finally... Delenn reached out and laid a hand carefully on the ornament, offering a silent prayer for her predecessor. No one deserved the fate she had been dealt, least of all such a kind and loving woman.

   "You can take it, if you like. I don't mind, and you have done a lot for us - I'd like to repay you somehow, although it is only a small thing..."

   "No." She smiled to soften the rejection, shaking her head. "No, I couldn't take it. I... no." She gave another weak smile. "I'm sorry."

   "Oh, it's fine." The Captain smiled back, slightly embarrassed at his offer. He had a vague idea who the gift had been for, and of course Delenn would know the history. "Are we all set, then?" She nodded eagerly, needing no encouragement to leave the room. They walked quickly to the shuttle bay - James was surprised at how fast the fit Ambassador could walk when she was in a hurry. A Ranger on repair duty passed them, which slowed them a little as he bowed to Delenn, but other than that their journey was uneventful and they were soon boarded on the shuttle.

   Delenn could feel a rising excitement as the shuttle left the Agamemnon's docking bay - something she hadn't felt for years, ever since she left Temple. John Sheridan had that effect on her, she noticed with a gentle smile. She always looked forward to their time together, and she had the feeling that after such a long period apart, they wouldn't spend much time on rituals. She knew he hated the dependency on tradition; it was only his love and patience with her that stopped him simply refusing to participate. But now even Delenn had to admit she was getting sick of the constantly organised behaviour between them - and she refused to put up with it any longer. Although the Shan Fal had been rather enlightening....

   "Ambassador?" She looked up from her reverie, blushing slightly at the subject matter, and saw the Agamemnon's Captain smiling uncertainly at her. It was a commercial shuttle, and she was glad: they were more comfortable than the Earthforce or Minbari ships, and most of all they had normal gravity, meaning you could walk around. James was doing so now, looking down at her as she sat near the window.

   "Is everything alright?" She smiled and nodded, motioning for him to sit in the empty seat beside her.

   "Everything is fine, Captain. Just fine." There was a tinge of impatience in her voice, overlaid with rising excitement. "Did you know it has been almost four months since I saw Captain Sheridan?" She didn't seem to notice what she was saying, gazing absently through the window at the expanding globe below.

   James smiled knowingly. "I know how you feel. It's been almost a year since I saw my wife and family on Earth." Delenn's head snapped around in amazement.

   "A year? I thought four months was a long separation..." she stopped as she realised her words. "How did you know?" He laughed quietly.

   "It shows." Delenn blushed slightly.

   "Am I that transparent?" He shook his head, grinning.

   "No, not to everyone - I just know what you're going through. I hated it when I was first away from my fiancee; I was on my first posting when I met her, and we only had two months together on one of the colonies before I got shipped out. She followed me from post to post, but it got impossible. After three weeks away from her, I was ready to kill someone." Delenn smiled, understanding the feeling he meant.

   "What happened? You obviously didn't leave Earthforce."

   "She joined," he answered with a sparkle in his eyes. "We couldn't stand being away from each other, so she joined as a ship's cook, and later on she was a gunnery officer."

   "Quite a change," Delenn observed. "Why is she on Earth, then? Did she leave the military?" He looked down for a moment, smiling sadly.

   "She's not. We were never married."

   Delenn frowned, reaching tentatively to touch his arm in comfort.

   "She was killed in battle."

   The hand stilled, retreating back to her lap and clenching tightly.

   "The war." Her voice was soft. He nodded. "I'm sorry." James looked up and smiled brightly. Too brightly, unconvincing in masking the pain.

   "It's all right, Ambassador. Wasn't your fault." That hurt, even unintentionally; Delenn turned her face away, hiding her own pain behind what John called her 'diplomat's face'. James seemed to take the hint, rising silently, and he left her alone until the shuttle came to a halt at the Geneva Central spaceport.

   Delenn looked around for her 'escort', worried after a moment when she didn't see him. She caught a glimpse of him departing along with his crew, and chided herself for expecting him to stay behind and take care of her. *After all, he must be eager to see his family. They are probably waiting for him - and you can take care of yourself, Delenn. Do not be foolish.* With that confident thought in mind, she stepped from the shuttle. One of the pilots departed after her, helping her down the ramp and receiving a thankful smile for his assistance - one, Delenn was pleased to note, that was returned in full. The spaceport seemed suddenly much larger than it had been from above; the throngs of people coming and going were stopping to let her pass, but more from curiosity and disgust than from any kind of courtesy. Delenn was beginning to wish she hadn't come in on a public transport. She didn't even know where she should be going: John had only said for her to be on the shuttle, nothing about where to go to find him. She found the nearest computer terminal, silently rejoicing in the fact that she spoke English. It had a Minbari translation, but she wasn't in the mood to show up her foreigner's status. However, when the instructions began to get more confusing, she tried unsuccessfully to switch to her native tongue. Angry at herself for not checking the details before she arrived, Delenn pressed the pad hard to restart her introduction to the city. It restarted in English, and she cursed quietly in Adronato.

   "This one," a familiar voice murmured over her shoulder, lightly tabbing a small corner pad. The screen obediently became a mass of Minbari characters as she turned away, uncaring, to assure herself of the face she knew was there.

   "John!" He laughed at her delighted reception, steadying himself against her enthusiastic embrace.

   "Hey, watch out! Have mercy, for God's sake!" Sheridan grinned as she kissed him thoroughly, ignoring the rest of the shocked spaceport where normal traffic seemed to have come to a halt for the near future. People were watching them, but neither really cared, too ecstatic to be together again. Delenn had her arms firmly around his neck, pressing insistently into his chest as his own embrace slipped around her. She reached up to kiss him again: Sheridan got there first, his hands tightening on her back to hold her close. When they finally released, he grinned at her wilful enthusiasm and hugged her tightly, whispering incoherently in her ear.

   "Slow down," she teased with a bright smile. "I can't hear you; what was that?"

   "I love you." He pushed her hair back from where it fell across her shoulder, tracing the outline of her features with gentle fingers, as if trying to see if she had changed. "I love you, I missed you, I want you... I'm so glad you're here, Delenn. I wasn't sure if you'd come." She smiled, mirroring his actions as she touched his face.

   "Of course I came. You were right; the fleet can manage without my presence while you finish here. We finish here," she corrected herself with a wry smile. "So tell me: what have I let myself in for?" Sheridan grinned, hugging her again as he took the carryall from her back. She protested slightly but he shook his head, mock-patronising.

   "I'm your fiance, Delenn. That also makes me your personal baggage carrier. Come on." He led her through to the customs area, handing her identicard over although it was unnecessary - they were ready to let her through without it, but Delenn insisted.

   "I don't want to be treated differently simply because of who I am. It's not necessary, and I don't want to cause any trouble." Sheridan nodded, motioning the customs guard to take her card. They were ushered through in barely any time, soon on their way to the car ranks. Delenn looked around, studying the city as they came out into the open. Her fiance watched her curiosity with a smile; she seemed to take wonder in everything, even as they passed the ground transports and continued walking steadily into the upmarket area of the city.

   "Where are we going?" Delenn's curious voice was quiet, whispered in his ear; he glanced down at her with a smile.

   "To the hotel they put me in, the Eartha Presidential. It's a really upmarket place: it's supposed to be for royalty, what little we have left now, and the Senate and Presidential offices."

   "And you're staying there?"

   "*We* are staying there," he corrected with a soft grin. "Though we may have some problems getting in at first. They don't like clients, uh... bringing people back to their rooms, if you get my meaning." Delenn's eyes narrowed in confusion, and then she forced back a laugh as realisation came.

   "But surely, it will not matter with us. We are engaged to be married, after all." She looked up at him, incredulous. "You don't think they will think I... *John!*" She shoved him playfully across the pavement, laughing. "You don't have very high opinions of me, obviously. Or have you taken so many women back to your rooms that they will not believe I am genuine?" He grinned, catching hold of her again and squeezing her tightly.

   "Actually, that's part of the reason I asked you to come down here. I think if they do put me in a high enough position, my first law to be passed will be male engagement rings." He reached across and took her left hand, laying a light kiss below her own token. "You would not believe the amount of women I'm working with who either happen to mention - at least four times - that they're 'single and free this weekend'," he rolled his eyes and she laughed, "or have conveniently single friends just *waiting* for someone like me. I swear I've turned down about twenty offers so far, probably more than that. And not one of them seriously interested in *me!* All they want is the chance to be associated with the great War Hero who saved Earth." He rolled his eyes again, gently touching his forehead against her crest with an exasperated smile. "It's the same routine, every time. They come up to me in the offices, in the corridor, in the street - take your choice - and say 'oh, I knew you when...', and the next thing I know they're asking me for dinner!" Delenn laughed, nestling her head onto his shoulder.

   "I will have to try that." Horrified, he shook his head.

   "Oh, no, don't you dare. You're the only genuine woman around here, I don't want you corrupted too. Besides, you couldn't be that shallow."

   "Try me." He laughed, the retort on his lips as they turned a corner and Delenn gasped, too concentrated on their Sheridan and their conversation to have noticed before. "Is that it?" He nodded, smiling at her reaction and leading her up the path to the huge building. "In Valen's name," she breathed softly. "We have public residencies on Minbar, but nothing like this..."

   "Think you'll like it?" he asked with a sparkle in his tone. Delenn nodded eagerly, looking up to smile and kiss him tenderly.

   "Yes. But then it is not the place, but the company, which matters to me." He smiled affectionately, leaning over to kiss her crown.

   "Come on, then. Let's take my latest conquest inside, shall we?"

   "Hmm." She frowned thoughtfully. "If I ask the reception, will they tell me the names of these other 'conquests'?"

   "Why?" He played along, enjoying the fun.

   "I want to congratulate them for being able to stand you." Sheridan frowned in mock hurt, shaking his head.

   "In that case, nope." He grinned. "I paid them too much."

   Delenn smiled mischievously. "I can be very persuasive."

   "Does it have something to do with a glass window and a fighting pike?" She looked up innocently and gave a small smile.

   "How did you guess?"

   He shrugged, looking up reluctantly from her face to address the receptionist.

   "Captain Sheridan. What can we do for you?" The attendant behind the desk smiled warmly at him: not surprising, since she was a pretty young woman and probably thought she had a good chance - certainly from her behaviour and the way she spoke, Delenn could tell her intentions. She took no notice of the Minbari woman held affectionately in Sheridan's embrace, despite the obviousness of their relationship. Delenn felt a shiver run through her, wondering if this was how everyone would react. If it was, it would be a very long fortnight.

   "I need another key to my room, thank you," he replied with an acid politeness. "My fiancee will be with me for the remainder of my stay, and it will get very irritating if we both have to use the same keycard." The woman stopped, looking at Delenn for the first time with an expression somewhere between envy, awe and contempt.

   "Your fiancee, Captain?" Sheridan frowned at the obvious snub, dropping all pretence of 'polite' and glaring openly at the receptionist.

   "Yes. This is Delenn of Mir; my *fiancee*, in case you didn't hear the first time. Now, do we get that key or not? Because if there is a *problem*," and his tone indicated it was probably with her, "then I'm sure your employer can sort it for us without needing to take up any more of your so valuable time. Get what I mean?" The receptionist nodded, shrinking under Sheridan's threatening words.

   "Yes, Sir. I'll need to get the duty manager to find it, if you'd like to wait." Sheridan nodded once with exaggerated ceremony, his acid glare following the quickly retreating woman into her office. He looked down at Delenn, squeezing her tightly against his side and placing a small kiss on her hair. He was

   about to speak when the duty manager, a dark-haired woman - *I bet they pulled shifts to get on when I came in,* he thought ruefully - followed her employee out of the office. She stopped at the sight of Delenn; evidently she hadn't believed the younger woman's description, if her expression was anything to go by. She approached the Captain with a reverent apology already on her lips, and he had to bite back an anger-fuelled retort. It would do Delenn no good to have this blown out of all proportion. There could be a lot of reasons why he couldn't have another key - there may not be one, for example. *And I'm Father Christmas,* he thought wryly.

   "I'm sorry, Captain Sheridan; we simply cannot give out another copy of your keycard, to anyone. I know you appreciate the dangers of such an action-"

   "She's my fiancee, for Christ's sake! I think I know her well enough that I won't get an assassination squad through my door!" The manager bobbed her head, conceding his point.

   "Yes, Captain, I appreciate that. But you must understand, that is not the reason. All other copies of your room card were destroyed once we learned of your arrival, to prevent any further copies being made and used against you. The last thing we want is a diplomatic incident. So," she spread her hands, "I'm sorry, Captain, but there are no other copies of your key."

   *Ho ho ho,* he muttered inwardly. *I wonder if they know what Delenn can do with a fighting pike?*

   "I appreciate your dilemma, Miss..."

   "Webster. Janice Webster. Janice." She smiled at him, deliberately ignoring Delenn. The Minbari slipped out of his arms, taking the bag from his shoulder easily and holding out her hand.

   "John, I think I should go to our rooms. Give me the key, and I'll let you in." He nodded, reaching into his pocket for the thin card when he caught a hurried discussion between the two staff. Concentrating on their faces, he slowly replaced the card back in his pocket and took Delenn's hand in his own.

   "Excuse me," he said loudly, acid sarcasm dripping from his voice, "is there some difficulty we should know about? The rudeness of the staff, perhaps? The suddenly *very low* wages being paid to certain members of the establishment, soon to spread to others if they aren't very careful about what they say?" He glared pointedly at the manager; she almost retreated, but wasn't so easily dealt with as her subordinate and returned his expression.

   "Captain, you don't have the authority to do that."

   "I have the authority to shop you for racism," he retorted angrily. "Look, I don't *care* what your personal views are. You can be a brainless bitch *and* a xenophobe for all I care. But if you ever, ever insult Delenn again, I *will* hear about it. And you *will* be dealt with." He stabbed a finger at her. "You count on that." The woman said nothing; simply smiled at him and cast a disgusted glance toward Delenn that made her shiver. It was nothing like the crewmember on John's old ship: he had been simply curious, a little shocked at her appearance. The woman looking at her now had all-out contempt written in her eyes. Sheridan caught the barely held shiver, frowning and releasing her hand to lean over the counter.

   "Well, ladies. Which one of you will own up to being racist first? Whoever does gets a hundred per cent pay rise in the next five minutes." He clasped his hands together, grinning with innocent menace. Neither woman spoke.

   "Well, well. I guess you're shallower than I thought. Not even going to admit it?" There was no movement; he idly picked up a card lying on the desk and flicked it, turning it over in his fingers. "Hey, look what we have here. A keycard just like the one I've got. In fact," he drew his own from his pocket and examined it, "they're both exactly the same. Here," he turned back for a moment and handed the copy to Delenn, standing behind him. "I guess they were thoughtful enough to make you one after all."

   "Look, Captain, we can't let her have that-"

   "Shut up. I'd rather Delenn had it than either of you, or anyone else; at least I can trust her. Now she has been nothing but kind and courteous to everyone she has met since she arrived here, not to mention saving half of the planet from its own 'President'. Did I mention that you owe your lives to that woman?" He gestured back to Delenn, taking her hand with a loving smile. "She risked a hell of a lot coming out here to help us. But strange as it may sound to someone of your small-mindedness, not everyone is as bigoted and racist as you. There are people in the Universe who prefer to try and understand, who are willing to fight for the 'right' side and admit that maybe they've done things wrong, maybe they've made mistakes, and try to put them right. People who don't care what colour your skin is, or whether you have hair or scales or a bone on your head. People like Delenn, and every other sentient that backed us in saving Earth. So I suggest next time you want to ignore someone, you choose someone a little more suited to the privilege. Don't look in a mirror."

   * * * * *

   

"Thank you," Delenn murmured absently as they stepped out of the lift onto the Penthouse floor. "For what you said at the reception." Sheridan looked down, shifting the carryall further onto her shoulder with the hand resting over her arm.

   "I wish you'd let me take that."

   "I can manage," she protested. "I hardly brought anything with me anyway." He stopped, moving to her other side and purposefully removing the bag from her shoulder to swing it up onto his own. Delenn shook her head, soft laughter dancing in her eyes.

   "Is it always going to be like this?" He shrugged and frowned in deadpan concern.

   "Don't you like the idea of having a personal slave?"

   She studied him for a moment, then smiled slightly and flashed a mischievous glance.

   "Actually, that sounds rather appealing. Are you going to be my personal bodyguard as well?" She was referring to the incident downstairs, he knew, and smiled tenderly.

   "It's no problem." He grinned cheerfully. "They just have to remember not to insult you, and they'll still be working here at the end of the week."

   "Could you do that?" Delenn sounded surprised.

   "Hey, everyone practically runs out to kiss the ground I walk on around here, okay? If I want to do something with this ridiculous image they have of me, it may as well be constructive. Trust me - those attendants say one more word about you, you won't see them again for a long time." He stopped outside a set of elaborately carved doors, running his keycard through the slot and gesturing her inside when they opened smoothly. Delenn went inside, making about three steps before she stopped and gazed around curiously. The curiosity became wonder when she saw the amount of space, whirling around to find her companion.

   He was gone. Delenn frowned, but it didn't last long: she let out a yelp of delight as his arms wrapped around her from behind, lifting her easily from the plush carpet and nuzzling the side of her neck.

   "Which ritual are we performing tonight, then?" His voice was soft as he trailed soft kisses across her cheek and over the ridges of her crown. Delenn squirmed under his touch, huddling backwards into his chest with a knowing smile.

   "I believe it is called the I'lan Fal." Sheridan groaned: he hadn't thought she would take him up on the question, not after all this time... He sighed in resignation. If this was what it would take to have Delenn as his wife, then he would just have to stick it out until she either got tired or deemed the rituals finished.

   "Okay, whatever you say." After another long, melodramatic sigh, he asked; "I don't suppose this one has an English translation either, does it?"

   Delenn smiled. "It does, actually." Curious, he leaned over her shoulder to regard her amused features.

   "And? Are you going to tell me what it is?" She tilted her head to rest her cheek against his for a moment, considering, and then said quietly with a sparkle in her tone;

   "You will forgive me if I use the wrong term, but I think the word is 'consummation'." Sheridan coughed hard, quickly turning her to look him in the eyes with shock on his features.

   "You... what? I think maybe you have got the wrong term, honey. Not quite sure what you were *looking* for," he admitted with a rueful smile, "but I don't think that's it."

   "Why?" She was playing with him: she knew perfectly well that the word she'd used had been the right one. "What does this word 'consummation' mean, then?" He swallowed, slightly embarrassed - feeling stupid for being embarrassed about that with *Delenn* of all people - and stuttered:

   "Well, it's kind of the first - well, not necessarily the first time, a lot of couples decide not to wait, but I know we did, and... anyway, they generally do it after the wedding, on the wedding night, kind of as proof of the marriage - sometimes marriages can still be annulled if the consummation doesn't happen..." He knew he was side-tracking, but he really didn't know if he'd manage to say it otherwise. "You, uh, you do know what I mean?" he asked hopefully. Delenn smiled up at him, carefully tracing her fingers down his jaw, and murmured nonchalantly;

   "This night together - it can happen before the wedding?"

   "Uh, yes, I think." There was hope in his voice, if only a minute amount.

   "You think so." She paused, shrugged. "That is enough. And it entails what, exactly?" Her hand on his face made it hard to concentrate, trying to fight the vague notion that he liked where this was going.

   "It, uh, we have to... well, we don't *have* to, but you know what I mean-"

   "It involves making love, does it not?" She was still entirely serious, absently caressing his cheek and running her fingers through his hair.

   "Um, Delenn..." He tried to take her hand away, unable to make his own go the final distance to remove her exploring touch.

   "Shh." Her tone was commanding for a second, softening easily after she reached up, took his face firmly in her hands and kissed him in a way that Sheridan was sure he would never forget. Finally regaining control of his by now extremely hopeful mind, he murmured gently;

   "Does this mean you did have the right term after all?" Delenn laughed, brushing her lithe body against his as she pushed him steadily backwards toward the bedroom.

   "Unless you have another suggestion, I do not think there is another ritual we will be performing tonight." Manoeuvring him through the doors, she pressed a switch to close and seal them - without even looking - and easily moved her carryall out of the way, pushing her fiance half-playfully, half-forcefully down onto the large, tilted, white four-poster.

   "I do not think I will be needing that tonight." Sheridan grinned, reaching up and pulling her eagerly down onto his chest for a deep, sensual kiss, managing easily with the incline as she thanked him silently for the thought.

   "No, I don't think so. We can manage." She smiled, turning them both to their sides and kissing him again before she looked up at the canopy. Sheridan followed her gaze, settling her against him with an inward murmur of thanks to the Ranger decorator.

   "Very romantic, isn't it?" He smiled gently, stroking her face. "Perfect for tonight."

   "Perfect," she agreed with another kiss.



 

*****

 

 

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