TRIBUNAL (III)

By Leyenn

 

 

 

 

*****

....But Things Always Get Better. (At least on B5.)

It was dark when they reached the farm, dark enough that no one could see them land in the personal flyer Marcus commandeered. John's parents and aunt came out to meet them: Liz and her husband were apparently asleep already along with the children. The thought of returning to Earth, although it had been her idea, was very much like the idea of a doctor's appointment: suggesting it had been fine, in fact Delenn had even looked forward to it for a time... but the real thing was something else entirely. Sedated and almost asleep, John had nearly carried her to the shuttle and out into the house - the tranquillisers made her feel drowsy and walking was still an effort. She was tired as well, far too tired to protest when they gave her a small room away from John. He'd protested lightly, but he was as worn out as his fiancee, it had been over six weeks of recovery and Delenn hardly acknowledged his presence anyway. He knew, lying awake in his own room, that he was making a mistake, but somehow it was difficult to get up and go to her. Someone walking into her darkened room would only make matters worse, especially if she were jumpy already....

   Delenn woke in a cold sweat, sitting up in fear and biting down on the terror-filled scream threatening to rise from her lungs. Shaking and coughing hard, she slid out of the bed and dragged her robe from a chair before reaching for the portable breather. Unable to ask for lights the way she was accustomed to, she hurriedly palmed the globe and settled into the breathing pattern John had taught her. *Only a dream,* she promised herself. *It was only a bad dream, Delenn.* But it was still real, in her mind. She glanced back at the single bed, her fear increasing at the sight. She knew it was foolish: Steven had promised her long ago that it was perfectly safe for her to sleep Human-style - in fact, it was safe for most Minbari - but the superstition remained and she was particularly wary after her recent experience.

   Turning away from the room, she vaguely remembered to brush the lights again for darkness. The hall was dark, and she almost panicked again as the light disappeared from view - the pale outline of a door caught her gaze and she headed toward it, hesitantly reaching out to touch the handle. She paused for a moment, then took a shaky breath and turned it to step slightly inside. The lights were soft, but bright enough to see clearly throughout the simple room. At the noise of the door, a soft sound came from the double bed as its occupant turned over and sat up to regard her.

   "John?" Her voice was shaking a little, and he started to get up in concern.

   "Can't sleep?" She looked down, a little embarrassed at her excuse, ashamed of the problem that had haunted her through each and every attempt at resting.

   "It's too dark... and, um, I..." She smiled a little, apologetic, not wanting to seem ungrateful. He sighed, nodding understanding as he realised.

   "The bed. I'm sorry, honey, I never thought - I'll get something sorted for us tomorrow. You can't manage for one night?" She winced, dubious at the concept. "All right, all right. It's no problem, you can sleep here with me. I'd much rather have you here anyway - I don't see why they had to give you that stupid room... should have told them to stuff it, I know I should..." Delenn frowned as he slid out of bed and pulled a robe around him, motioning her to come closer as he reached down on the opposite side.

   "John, it won't make much difference to.. What are you doing?" He grinned, releasing the control and sliding back under the now forty-five degree covers.

   "Will this do for tonight?" Her smile was her answer as she lay down in his arms and buried herself under the warm covers. "I know it's not exactly what you're used to, but at least it's slanted. Are you sure it's okay?" Delenn smiled at his concern, arranging his arms around her and hugging him tightly.

   "John?"

   "Something wrong?" Delenn shook her head, affectionately nuzzling his shoulder.

   "Why?"

   He shrugged, grinning down at her. "I came home for leave once, with Anna... she'd just finished a special team dig on one of your colony worlds, and she mentioned your tradition. It seemed like a novelty at the time and me being the alien-crazy guy I was, I wanted to give it a go." He smiled sheepishly. "I wasn't very good at it - I guess you could tell, huh?" There was no reply, but he knew she was smiling against his shoulder. "I needed a lot of practice before last time, let me tell you." Delenn was still quiet, her smile fading a little at the memory of before her ordeal. The lights still on, he could see her face; he sighed, making a soft comforting noise and turning towards his lover to tuck her head under his chin and hold her more tightly.

   "It was only a dream, Delenn. It's all right now."

   She didn't even ask how he knew. He always did, every time; every night when she woke crying and screaming from the too-real nightmares, every day when she stood still in terror from the waking dreams, he always knew, even if - like tonight - he wasn't there. Perhaps it was his own experience; perhaps he simply knew her too well for her to try and hide the panic away, she didn't know. She would have liked to, but being honest with herself, she couldn't face knowing what they had done to her lover. Not after the way she had been treated: beaten, raped, scanned, starved and poisoned, her only refuge had been the knowledge of his love, strong and gentle beside her. She had withstood everything because of it, but then they had taken even that away...

   Delenn took sanctuary in that memory now, pushing away the surreal feeling that perhaps she was still dreaming, still in that cell waiting for rescue to come. John's voice finally conquered that worry, soothing her as she tried to get closer to the warm, safe, reassuring embrace.

   "It was just a bad dream, sweetheart. It's all over now, you're safe; I'll never let anything like that happen to you again. Shh, I'm here, it's okay. Hush, Delenn - you're not there any more, you're right here with me and you're safe now. Everything's fine." She nodded slowly; she wasn't crying, just cold and shaking despite the hold of his arms and the warmth of their bed. The panic finally rode itself out until she stopped trembling and lay still against his chest, only trying to breathe. Sheridan took the breather from where Delenn had left it on the bedside table, lifting her head and gently placing it over her mouth. She shook it off the first time, protesting.

   "It's not that bad, John. I can manage. I'm just cold, that's all."

   "Delenn, there's heating in here. Whatever the reason, you're not cold because of the temperature. Come on, for my peace of mind, okay?" He caught her hand as she tried to intercept the mask, but as soon as the plastic touched her face she screamed without warning, fighting savagely against him. It only took John a moment to recognise the problem: her panic had only been buried, not dealt with, and now it resurfaced with a vengeance as her eyes glazed over. She wasn't resisting him, but someone else - an 'interrogator', most likely, trying to make her breathe or swallow something she definitely didn't want to take. In that second, he realised something else: the extra oxygen he was trying to give her was doing no good whatsoever. Her breathing was far too erratic and panicked for it to have any effect, and she was resisting the urge to breathe in with everything she had. Which was quite a lot, he noted with a wry satisfaction. At least Delenn's fire was still there somewhere, despite the vulnerable side that had showed itself so often lately. *They couldn't break her!* Even now, seeing her so panicked and fearful, he couldn't help that jolt of elation. *I knew they wouldn't get to you, Delenn. I knew you could hold out.*

   His words said something else, however. Removing the mask took only a split second; removing the panic took a little longer. He prayed silently that she hadn't woken anyone: the last thing he wanted was that xenophobic aunt of his appearing in the bedroom right now. He'd ignore her if she did, he decided - concentrate on Delenn.

   "Easy, easy, calm down. Delenn, open your eyes. Look at me!" He tried to make it a command, knowing that no amount of coaxing would receive the result he needed right now. She was far too hysterical to listen to that - and so he forced away the guilt as she opened tear-filled eyes, refusing to look at him until he took her face gently in his hands and turned her gaze. Even then it took what seemed like an eternity before she recognised him, relaxing a little more when she began to realise what had happened. Sheridan smiled reassuringly, stroking her face and carefully lifting damp tendrils of hair from her forehead.

   "That's it, angel. Take it easy. Just let it pass again, okay?" She nodded shakily, reaching instinctively for the breather and then stopping abruptly. He shook his head, brushing her forehead with one hand to reassure her that he was still there.

   "No, let's not try that again right now. I think we're better off without it for the minute, hmm?" Delenn smiled very slightly, nodding with just a hint of amusement. "Okay. You can breathe without it, just relax and let it work naturally. No, no, calm down. Calm *down*," he repeated more forcefully as she began to panic - from lack of air this time, not the fear. "Don't worry, it's all right. Breathe slowly, keep calm... that's it, honey. Nothing will go wrong while I'm here." Delenn smiled a little more enthusiastically this time; her breathing was still irregular, but her mind was completely back with Sheridan now and she could control the rhythm more easily. He stayed silent, lying on his chest beside her and gently caressing her face, keeping her back with him. He remembered all too well the first awful time she had believed him a dream, simply because he released her too soon after the flashback. The terrified rage was something he'd never seen, especially from Delenn - something he never wanted to see again, knowing what had had to happen to drive her to that point. It hadn't helped with being a particularly horrific nightmare; although she couldn't manage to tell him the precise details, he had a good idea what the memory had been.

   "John?" Her tone was uncertain, looking up at him through tired, frightened eyes. "Do we have to go to sleep? I'm scared... I don't want to live through that again. It hurt enough the first time, but every time I try to sleep, it's as if I'm living it over again..."

   "I know. Why do you think I sleep with the lights on?" She looked away, unwilling to face that fact. "I'm so sorry, Delenn," he said softly. She turned back to him, slightly curious.

   "Why? Nothing that happened was your fault. It was my choice to take responsibility for what I did."

   "Oh, God." His whispered oath made her stop as he caught her eyes, sadness shining through his features. "Is that what you think you did? All of that, everything you went through, to atone for one wrong word?" He shook his head, pulling her against him. "You didn't deserve what they did to you, Delenn. No one deserves that, least of all you. I know what they did, at least some of it. I wish... if they had to take you at all, they could have taken you first." It sounded so selfish, he realised as she jerked away from him in horror. He reached out for her, but she was in the corner of the room within a second, tears of betrayal staining her face.

   "Why? Why would you want that? John, I love you, you can't - you can't say that, please..." No longer capable of standing, she dropped to her knees on the floor and leaned forward, burying her face in her hands.

   John came up in front of her, kneeling down to reach out and take her shoulders, trying to make her look into his eyes. He touched her chin gently, tilting her face to meet his gaze, but she shook her head away and turned toward the wall, crying silently.

   "Delenn..." He moved closer, resting his hands lightly on her shoulders. "Delenn, I didn't mean it like that. I *never* wanted you to be hurt. It was so hard, knowing what they'd do to you... If there was anything I could have in the world, I would never have brought you here to this mess. You didn't deserve to be put through that, no matter what you did fifteen years ago." She turned slowly, the need for his comfort outweighing the betrayal in her eyes. He smiled reassuringly, edging nearer and taking her into his lap, tucking her head under his chin and rocking her gently until she stopped crying.

   "All right, all right. Calm down now, okay? You've had quite enough excitement for one night. Just listen to me." He moved her slightly away, touching her chin to get her to look him in the eyes. "I never meant it that way. But what happened to you was far, far worse than what they did to me: I was the test, the one they tried out on. We're so similar, Delenn - of course they would have known what drugs to use, but how could they have known what would break you in your heart without having a practice run first? If they had taken you before me, at least then they wouldn't have known. At least you would have been spared some of it."

   Her gaze lifted slowly, finally looking straight at him as he leaned over and kissed the drying tears away. Then she moved back against him, murmuring incoherently in a mixture of Adronato and English. Sheridan made no move to get up, shifting to sit cross-legged on the floor and holding her in his lap for a long time, cradling her in his arms, rocking her and whispering soft words of comfort. Delenn finally looked up again, almost asleep, to find her lover watching her with a concerned smile.

   "They didn't break me, did they?" Her voice was uncertain: it sounded like a strange question, but Sheridan knew exactly what she meant. Studying her, he cupped her face in one hand and gently brushed his thumb over her cheek; after a long time, he looked carefully into her eyes and his smile became tender.

   "No, they didn't. I don't believe they could have." He lightly kissed her forehead, pleased at the prideful smile on her lips, in her eyes. "I'm proud of you, Delenn. I don't think you could ever realise how much. They could never have broken your soul, not with anything - and there aren't many people who could withstand what you did."

   She frowned, doubtful. "But... how do you know? How do you manage to say that, looking at me? If I'm not broken now, why am I acting like this? I've never been so frightened in all my life... yet you tell me that my soul isn't injured. How can you believe that?" John smiled, shaking his head slightly as he moved her onto the floor next to him and put his arms around her.

   "I didn't say you hadn't been injured. I'd be a fool if I thought you were strong enough to come out completely unscathed - and that isn't being unfair to you, it's just being sensible. I know enough of what happened to know you must have some pretty horrific memories, and that alone, without the physical pain, is going to take time to heal. Mental injuries can hide for a long time after the scars on the outside have disappeared." She nodded slowly, knowing what he said made sense.

   "You still didn't answer my question. How can you know that I won't be like this forever? They cut so deep into my soul, John - why are you so sure that they didn't break me completely if I don't even know myself any more?"

   He turned sideways, kneeling in front of her and taking her hands gently in his with a softly knowing smile. Delenn frowned slightly, but a calm smile replaced it as he spoke the two words that she had used so often:

   "Faith manages."

   * * * * *

   

"John, are you sure about this? What will happen if your family finds us?"

   "You gonna leave?" he teased. Delenn shook her head violently: he laughed. "Well then. Besides, it's almost two thirty in the morning - everyone's in bed."

   "That's what I'm worried about." She kept her voice low, even though all the bedrooms were on the floor above and mainly soundproofed. "We don't want to wake anyone..."

   "They might start asking questions, is that the problem?" He glanced back from the cupboard he was exploring to check her expression. After a moment of silence, she nodded timidly and he smiled, closing the door carefully and purposefully walking over to take her hands. "There's nothing to worry about, okay? If anyone does get up, we'll just apologise and say we're not used to the time system here yet. I'll say it," he corrected with a smile at her uncomfortable expression. "That is, unless you can lie to get me out of trouble. Can you?"

   "That depends." Delenn smiled curiously. "What kind of trouble are we talking about?" He grinned wryly, hugging her tightly as she shivered in the cold of the kitchen.

   "An extremely nosy and irritating aunt who won't stop asking questions about you." She looked up, considering the problem with a dubious expression. He put on the best pleading face he could, complete with sad puppy eyes, and her composure finally wavered into a relenting smile.

   "All right - but only if she asks. And I am not lying, understand?"

   "Yes, ma'am. You're fudging the truth," he retorted with a grin.

   "That's better. Always remember that: I do not lie. I may bend the facts on occasion, I have made... mistakes concerning the true nature of things, and I have even been known to conveniently overlook particular areas of the truth in very rare circumstances, but I have never lied."

   "No, Entil'zha," he replied obediently. She nodded once, her face breaking into a wide smile as the teasing game ended and John kissed her gently.

   "Why do we always get into conversations like that?" she asked in a self-conscious whisper as they made their way to the couch. He shrugged, dropping down to the cushions and gingerly helping her into his lap. The physical injuries were slowly healing, but he had to be careful to remember where the worst pain was to avoid hurting her even more.

   "So, what do you want to do tomorrow? Today, even." He sighed, smiling ruefully. "I really can't get the hang of Earth time now. Being on a planet after so long in space..." he shrugged again. "Gets to you. Anyway, today. What shall we do, hmm?" Delenn shifted into a slightly more comfortable position, earning a soft apology as she gently moved his hand from the injury on her upper arm.

   "Is training allowed?"

   He frowned dubiously. "Training as in..." Waving a hand, he gestured for her to elaborate. She looked down at the tea, a little worried over her idea.

   "Well, I was teaching you the denn'bok, and I thought..." He was shaking his head, but she refused to give in - a sign of her old strength, she hoped. "John, I want things to return to normal. I know," she relented as he began to protest, "it won't be what it was before. It will take time for *both* of us to heal completely, and I accept that. I'm not so naive as to think that everything that..." she shivered involuntarily, "...that happened will go away, simply because I try to forget. But I can't let my life revolve around it either; I need some measure of normality back. Focusing on the problem only makes it harder to deal with."

   "So does forgetting," he argued. "We have to take care of this, Delenn. It won't do any good to just let it live where we can't see it, because sooner or later - and probably sooner - it's going to rear its head again just at the worst time. And I can't..." He looked down, taking her hand in his with a sigh. "I can't live with you like this." Delenn gave a small, amused smile.

   "You did not mean that the way it sounded."

   He sighed ruefully, shaking his head.

   "No, I didn't. I meant - well, I meant what I said, but not the way I said it, or the way it sounded... oh, hell." Smiling tiredly, he absently massaged the back of his neck. "I meant to say... I don't want you to have to live like this, Delenn. I love you too much to see you the way you are now for every day of our lives. It's hard on you, I know that; what I feel can't compare with how hard it has to be for you, but it's still difficult for me to see you acting this way. You haven't slept properly since we got you out of there, you're barely eating anything, and I can't keep forcing you to use the breather the way you react."

   "I'm sorry," she murmured sincerely, huddling against him in apology and removing his hand from the knots at the back of his neck, gently massaging them away before she moved on to his shoulders. He surprised her - she'd never known him to turn down a massage - taking her hands slowly and holding them between them both, making her look at him.

   "Let me make something very, very clear. You do not have to apologise for anything that happens relating to this. None of this is your fault and it was never your fault. I don't care what you did during the War: that was more than a decade ago, and you've more than repaid any debts you may have owed Earth. Now, I don't want to hear you saying sorry for anything about this, okay? Promise me that." Delenn nodded, seeing the doubtful look in his eyes and repeating the gesture more forcefully.

   "I promise."

   He nodded. "Good." Releasing her hands, he expected her to return to the massage. She didn't. Instead, Delenn took his hands in hers and held them still in front of him.

   "Now, it is my turn. I have a condition for you too, if you expect me to keep to yours." He frowned, then raised his eyebrows in resignation.

   "Okay, come on. What is it?" Delenn moved to kneel across his lap, lowering their clasped hands to see his face better.

   "You cannot apologise for bringing me here, or for being the first one to be captured. That was not your fault either, and if I am not allowed to blame myself for anything then neither are you. And I will know if you do," she added with a smile. "I know you too well. Do we have a deal?" Sheridan sighed, mock annoyed.

   "We have a deal. No wonder you make such a good Ambassador. How does anyone say no to you?" Delenn shrugged nonchalantly, lifting her mug to her lips and smiling at him over the rim.

   "No one ever has." Finishing the tea over his laughter, she set her mug down behind her and turned to face him. "So. Do I have my student for tomorrow?" Still uncertain, he tried to decline - but of course found it impossible, realising that 'no one' really meant *no one*.

   "Yes, I suppose so. But only for half an hour or so, less than that if you get tired. And we're taking the breather out." She grimaced at the idea, but he stood firm. "Look, the only place to practice around here is out on the farm, in the training ring. If you had an attack out there, there's no way I could get you back here in time - so either we all go, including the breather, or I get to be the first person who ever said no to you." Delenn sighed, eventually relenting with a resigned smile.

   "Fine. But I can manage without it," she added with a certain amount of pride. "You said so yourself." Her voice lowered, settling naturally into his arms. "It isn't that I don't like taking it everywhere - that, I can manage. It's necessary, and I know that, but... you saw how I reacted just now, John. It scares me. I don't want to hurt you and I know I could, if it appened again. I don't know what I'm doing, I just panic - I don't even know what starts it most of the time. Tiny little things, sometimes; just a thought can be enough..." She hid her face against his shoulder, guilt in her tone. "I get violent, don't I?" For a moment he didn't answer; slowly, he nodded, interrupting quickly when she tried to apologise again.

   "It's not your fault, honey." His voice was gently reassuring, stroking her hair where he held her gently in his lap. "I can manage, don't worry about me. I'm here to take care of you, and if that means getting a few bruises in the process, then..." he shrugged. "Doesn't matter. It doesn't last long, anyhow. That's something for us both to be glad about." He moved her onto the couch beside him, touching her cheek and looking down into her eyes in concern.

   "I am worried about the problem you have with the breather, though. You know you need it, I can see that - but it's only the rational side of you that knows. And no, I'm not saying you're being irrational; but for arguments' sake, an oxygen mask in my hands is not going to hurt you." Delenn smiled, admitting the logic with a bemused nod. "The problem is that part of you is scared to death of that thing. Three times we've had a problem, and I'm not counting when they brought you to sickbay on the Agamemnon. Apparently, Farrow thought you were going to fight your way out rather than have a mask on."

   "I do try not to panic," she said softly after a while. "I don't want to react, but every time I have to... it reminds me of something."

   "Something that happened to you?" he asked gently. Delenn nodded.

   "It was the third day, the first time it happened. The third night, and every day and night after that... I wouldn't eat, I couldn't, not what they were trying to give me. I knew they'd poisoned it to make me ill, and I thought I could manage without eating... most Minbari can... but they made me ill anyway, with an injection, and then when I still wouldn't eat anything they started- It was an experiment the first time, they said. To see what I would react to, because they'd never seen anyone like me before... the gas is toxic to Minbari, but they didn't think it would do anything to me. They were lying," she added in a whisper. "Whenever I wouldn't do anything they wanted they started using it, as a punishment. Along with the injections, and then..." her voice choked, shaking her head. "I can't say that, John. I'm sorry. Not to you..."

   "It's all right. Tell me what you want to tell me, okay? Nothing more, nothing less." He smiled gently, encouraging. "We'll just stay here for a while, and you can tell me whatever you want. Just take your time, no pressure." Delenn nodded, moving back into his arms and pressing against his shoulder. He hugged her close, her head under his chin as his eyes drifted shut and he rocked her gently. "No pressure."

   * * * * *

   

The last thing Ellen Sheridan expected to hear from her son's bedroom at seven fifteen on a Tuesday morning were voices - two voices - followed by the soft sound of laughter. Which was what she heard, at seven fifteen, on the Tuesday morning after he arrived. She was used to waking early to work on the farm, but John had never been an early riser at any stage in his life. Even as a young child he had never woken her - except on Christmas morning - but now she distinctly heard his voice, wide awake and talking to someone. As she got closer, the door was ajar and the someone replied with bright laughter which changed tone abruptly to something that wasn't quite a giggle.

   "I like hearing your stories, John."

   "I noticed," was her son's dry reply. "That's not all you like." The woman - Ellen could tell it was now, even though the door muffled the accent - laughed again, fading out as a soft murmur came from the room. Their eavesdropper frowned, relatively sure of what was going on.

   "What do you think will happen if they find me here?" *'They' will not be pleased, my dear,* Ellen thought bemusedly as she finally placed the accent.

   "You asked me that last night." There was a soft sigh.

   "I know. I just don't want to cause any trouble, that's all."

   "Delenn, you're not causing any trouble. Wherever I am, that's where you should be - just as wherever you are, that's where I belong. So you're not causing any more trouble than I am - except by staying away from me, and upsetting probably the second most important person on Earth right now." Delenn smiled, relenting to the rather strange logic, and silence fell as she considered it. After a moment, her voice sounded again.

   "Who is the most important, then?"

   "You are, Entil'zha. Of course." John's tone brought a deep frown to his mother's face. She'd thought there was something not quite right about this 'relationship' of theirs...

   "I'm glad to see you know your place," Delenn teased him - though to their mistaken listener it sounded far more serious. "Now, did you not say something about being my personal slave? I have a good memory." She beckoned him to her side, taking the offered tea from his hands with a smile. "Thank you, Shai Alyt."

   At the return of his playful formality, almost what he considered a pet name for her, he smiled. Evidently Delenn had chosen the Minbari word for Captain to fill that need. They were engaged by now, after all - and most couples had *something* private between them, even if they were the most talked-about pair in the Galaxy.

   "My pleasure." He smiled, waiting for a reaction as she tasted the lightly spiced drink.

   "Where did you get masja tea on Earth? This must have cost you-" he laid a finger on her lips, shaking his head.

   "No speculations. It's always worth it for you, and you deserve it after what you went through."

   "We both do," Delenn corrected, pleased to see he'd poured himself a mug of the steaming liquid as well. John had a passion for all things Minbari - including her, she couldn't help but think with a smile.

   He set his mug down on the table, and Delenn watched him walk to the closet as she placed her own next to it. The door was ajar; he pulled out a bathrobe and hung it over one arm to look for some clothes. She was watching him with an appreciative smile, examining the rear view, when he felt her gaze on his tanned body and turned to regard her.

   "What? Yeah, come in," he added without thinking as someone interrupted with a knock at the door. Delenn shot him a startled look as he swung the robe around his shoulders, receiving a reassuring smile in return. She nodded uncertainly, looking up to the woman entering their room. John's room. Their room. *Wherever I am, you belong there,* he had said to her. So it was their room.

   "John. You're up early," his mother remarked. "Going somewhere today?"

   "Delenn-" he cast a glance in her direction- "wanted to train this morning. I thought we'd go out to the workout area, get an early start. She's been teaching me the denn'bok, when we got the chance." He grinned sheepishly, not adding that chances were usually taken up with other things, between them. "I need the practice."

   "Denn'bok?" his mother asked dubiously. She had looked a little shocked to see Delenn lying in her son's strangely tilted bed, but neither of them seemed inclined to elaborate so she reluctantly tabled the question. Sheridan, meanwhile, delved into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small dark grey capsule. He held it out lengthways and shook hard, twice. Ellen jumped back as the pike extended to its full five feet.

   "Denn'bok," he explained with a grin. "We thought it would help if I trained as a Ranger, seeing as I'm supposed to be leader of the Rangers sometime."

   "Not exactly-" Delenn started to correct him, then thought the better of it. Matters of prophecies and politics were best left until she was awake enough to hold a decent discussion. Her robe lay on the floor where she had discarded it the previous night; now she slid out of bed and into the warm folds with one only slightly fumbling motion, glancing toward the two Sheridans with an apologetic smile.

   "I'm sorry - I need to take a shower, then perhaps I can remember what I mean to say." She excused herself quickly, almost running from the room. John frowned after her, shaking his head in confusion.

   "Why is it half the time I feel like I'm reading her mind, yet the other half I haven't a clue what she means?" He sighed, shrugged, and went back to finding training clothes. "I guess that's what I get for falling for Delenn. Honestly, it's a good job she wasn't full Minbari when I met her or I'd never understand a word." There was a pause as he dragged something from the closet. "Ah, here we are. Knew I packed them somewhere." Grey slacks, a black tunic and simple black jacket made up the outfit, completed by a grey 'leather' belt and dark training boots that he removed from the bottom of the closet before closing the doors. He glanced around, then nodded and retrieved a folded Ranger cloak much like Delenn's - but patterned differently, of course, and not as old - adding it to the pile.

   "So, what are you doing up this early, mom? I figured you'd be glad for the lie-in time. I know I would be." He grimaced. "If I could sleep well enough." He gave a wry, lopsided smile, looking up at her with amazement in his features. "Do you know, Delenn is the only thing that keeps the nightmares away? She says I do the same for her - I'm not sure, but I guess if she says it then it must be true." Pulling the tunic over his head, he frowned and turned at the silence. Her expression was one of confusion; John finished dressing to turn fully, watching his mother.

   "Something wrong?" She looked uncomfortable answering that, distractedly glancing at the bed. He took that as a question, smiling ruefully. "Ah, that. Uh, you don't know why I bought that bed, do you?" His mother coughed slightly, colour rising in her cheeks. Even seeing her embarrassment, he couldn't help being amused at the reaction. She knew it had been when Anna was there, and some of the things they'd gotten up to had caused quite a stir in the household.

   "Mom, Minbari don't sleep horizontally - their beds are tilted forty-five degrees, like that," he gestured. "I didn't think about it, but of course Delenn would have been too polite to mention anything last night. Hell, she didn't even complain about the two of us having separate rooms, and I thought she would." He grinned, a little sheepish. "I was going to bring it up today, but we were so worn out when we got here I figured we could manage one night apart." He frowned, dropping into the chair across from her under the sun-filled window. "I'd love to know why we have - why we *had* different rooms anyway. You do know about the engagement, I hope?" He made it a question, relieved when she nodded. "Then what was the problem? I did tell Dad that Delenn and I are, um... involved. We had decided to wait, but things changed, so..." He shrugged. "Anyway, there's a perfectly good double bed here. Why does Delenn get the smallest room, and the farthest away?"

   "I didn't mind," his fiancee protested timidly. She was dressed in training garb much like that which Sheridan had changed into, her damp hair tied back with a simple black band under the centre of her crown. A long, tan cloak was the only colour in her outfit: it was covered with what looked like leopard-print in intricate patterns, swirling regally around her feet as she moved. Sheridan smiled proudly. Now, despite last night, she looked the way he was always accustomed to seeing her; strong, powerful, commanding. Unafraid.

   "Awake now, Entil'zha?" he teased gently. Delenn nodded with a soft smile, no hint of her previous vulnerability showing through. She glanced at Ellen: the woman was still taking in the sight of her, her amazement obvious.

   "Mom, this is Entil'zha Delenn," John introduced with an amused smile. "This is the one you'll see most often, once we get back to work. And as she is a workaholic, like me," he took Delenn's hand and squeezed it affectionately, "that won't be very long in coming. I'm afraid the person you met last night only comes out during vacations." Delenn growled softly and elbowed him playfully in the ribs, moving toward the door.

   "What does one have to do to get breakfast around here, my slave?" The title was teasing, but it brought back his mother's worries as the three of them made their way to the kitchen. It took her son the entire period through making breakfast to explain, along with reassuring her about his use of Delenn's title and her teasing name for him.

   It was almost eight when they finally settled down at the table to eat. Surprisingly, even though it was a vacation, the entire family was already awake and dotted around the spacious kitchen-come-lounge area. Delenn, John, Liz and his parents were seated at the table; a further two spaces had been left for Danny and their aunt while the various children, ranging from two years up to a young man of twenty - John's cousin - ate either on the couch or seated on the floor in front of the viewscreen.

   "Uncle Johnny, you're on ISN!" Jonathan, his sister's eldest, interrupted excitedly as he pointed at the screen. Delenn looked down in amusement, smiling.

   "Hey, so I am." Sheridan squeezed her hand, clasped firmly in his, to raise her eyes, and Delenn looked up in time to see the last moments of their battle being restaged for the nth time - and that was only on the news channel.

   "We understand that Captain Sheridan and Minbari Ambassador Delenn are still here on Earth, although they are believed to be at a sealed location and under 'adequate protection', as commented by Delenn's executive officer Mr. Lennier. Everyone at ISN wishes to extend our personal gratitude for their leadership against President Clark, and we would like to make it clear that as a gesture of thanks we have signed an agreement stating that we will not be researching into, or providing information about, the couple's whereabouts until such time as they are seen to request media attention." Sheridan smiled slightly, looking over at Delenn as the news network began further updates on those listed missing in action during the past months.

   "Do you think they will stand by their agreement?" she asked uncertainly. "Even before we started this, your news channels have never passed up the chance to interrogate either of us." He smiled reassuringly, brushing his thumb over her hand as the group turned back to their breakfast.

   "They don't even know where we are, Delenn. Lennier made sure of that. Oh, I know they like to sound as if the agreement's voluntary, but the fact is that if any news crew tries to get within five miles of here, the Rangers will make sure they don't get out with anything - other than a few bruises if they get really desperate for a picture." Seeing her slightly dubious expression even as she turned back to the food, he leaned over to kiss her cheek, his voice low in her ear. "No one can get to either of us, honey. We're perfectly safe here, I promise. Trust me, hmm?" Delenn smiled sheepishly and nodded. "Good." He placed another soft kiss on her temple, returning to his half-finished plate just as Danny carried the last serving to place dramatically in the centre of the table with a flourish.

   "And there you have it, Madam Ambassador. A simple array of what delicacies Earth has to offer you." Sheridan chuckled, shaking his head as he spooned bacon from the plate to Jonathan's waiting tray.

   "Sit down, Dan. You sound like you're trying for a trade contract."

   Delenn winced. "I've had enough of that, thank you. I'll stay with saving the Galaxy," she muttered wryly with a smile.

   "Same here. On the same ship, though," Sheridan added. It was bad timing: his aunt gave him a dirty look as she sat down in the last place. He didn't see, glancing around the table with amusement sparkling in his eyes. "Maybe even the same room, huh?"

   "I am sorry about that, John," Ellen apologised sincerely.

   His father nodded. "I guess we should have done some research on your culture, instead of assuming everything would be the same," he admitted ruefully to Delenn. "And, well, it sounds silly, but-"

   "You didn't imagine us sleeping together," John finished wryly over his father's embarrassed muttering. "No one does. I had a hell of a time getting a double room at that hotel they put me in, and the Minbari Rangers wouldn't even *talk* to me when I tried the same thing on the White Star. Apparently it's some kind of sacrilege for anyone to talk about that kind of thing, let alone actually doing anything."

   "Only if it's over me," Delenn clarified with a despairing smile. "Jeffrey... oh, I mean Ambassador Sinclair, told me that he had the same trouble with his fiancee on Minbar. It has to do with the clan system, and being Entil'zha carries added problems in the relationship department..." she trailed off with a slight shrug. "It's very complicated."

   "So I see." Their host's cold voice cut through her like a knife, and Delenn forced back a shiver. Memories came easily now that she had everything reasonably straight in her mind, and so many could be set off by such small things that she had to push back those thoughts with everything she had. Instead, she squeezed her lover's hand once more and got up from the table, intent on making another drink.

   "Thank you for allowing us to stay here, Mrs. Sheridan," she said politely to her lover's aunt with a warm smile that she didn't feel. It sounded strange, saying that name - knowing it would be hers in, at most, little over a month. "I hope we have not caused you too much trouble." She held back another shiver, noticing John's concerned eyes on her and smiling reassuringly even as she turned away to the cabinet.

   "No trouble at all," Ellen was saying loudly over her sister-in-law's low mutters of annoyance. "It was about time we met our son's fiancee - and he chose well, as always. But you were on Earth for over a month before you came to see us..."

   Delenn froze. Ellen carried on even as her son left the table, her voice trailing off when she saw the glazed look in the other woman's eyes. The room fell silent: Delenn turned away from them, her breath coming in slow, forced whispers as Sheridan reached her, his hands resting on her shoulders until she pulled him closer, tightening his arms around her from behind. He kissed her crown, murmuring soft noises of comfort and gently stroking her hand, held in his on her shoulder. It was over sooner than the attack the previous night - perhaps because of their audience, Sheridan mused briefly. Delenn wasn't one to show weakness: it was hard enough for her to tell him as much as she did when her instincts called for her to deal with it alone, the way she always had. Still, she accepted his support, welcoming it in what he knew was an entirely Human way and had nothing at all to do with her Minbari nature.

   "You okay?" Even quiet, his voice seemed to carry throughout the large room. It was completely quiet, Delenn's steady if somewhat shaky breathing and his gentle question filling the confused silence. She nodded gradually, and even standing behind her he could feel her heart beat slowly decreasing - although it still seemed loud against his chest as she turned around.

   "Yes, I - I think so. Just, um..." She looked up slightly, the expression on her face making him smile a little. "Don't let go of me," she finished in a whisper. Sheridan's smile widened, and he laughed softly as she rested her head on his shoulder.

   "No problem. No problem at all. Take as long as you want."

   * * * * *

   

"What was that all about?" Liz glanced around the table, hoping for some insight. "Is there something going on that we don't know about?"

   "Not that I know." David's voice sounded concerned. "Maybe someone should ask..."

   "Delenn!" The alarmed voice alerted them all to another presence, turning to the porch where both Delenn and Sheridan had retreated after her short flashback. Jonathan and his two sisters ran out ahead of the adults, but the rest weren't far behind with Liz cradling her youngest son, Bryan. The sight awaiting them wasn't what anyone raised as a normal, even a diplomatic, family was used to. Two Minbari craft, a flyer and a larger, short-range transport sat neatly on the huge lawn outside. The figures approaching were obviously not all Minbari: the lead two were half-running, though the woman was a little less sure on her feet than her tall, dark companion.

   "John! Delenn!" The voice was half concerned, half excited, and coming from the lead female. A dark-haired Human woman that Liz recognised very slightly from a long time ago made it to the porch and opened the gate. "God, it's good to see you guys! I didn't think-" She stopped suddenly, her gaze falling on Delenn. "Oh, hell. I completely forgot, I'm so sorry..." The tall man behind her finally caught her arm, grimacing in annoyance.

   "Why must you always put your foot in it, Susan?" He sounded serious, and it didn't help matters when Sheridan returned;

   "I'd say jumping in up to your neck would be a better description." Delenn saw the distraught look on her friend's face, reaching tenuously out to reassure her.

   "Don't worry, Susan. It isn't so bad that I can't listen to my own name," she teased gently - not mentioning that Ivanova had missed the time when that statement would have been a lie. The dismayed face faded slightly into a smile in time to welcome the rest of their visitors. Delenn had known they would come as soon as she and her fiance were settled, but she faltered all the same at the sight. Susan, Marcus, Steven and Lyta all gave their greetings and gentle apologies, but Sheridan had to hold onto his lover when Lennier greeted them. He prayed the aide couldn't see her shaking as she excused herself from performing the usual bow: it being the first time she'd been in contact with one of her own people since the attack, he'd all but forgotten that a Minbari had been involved. God knew what the bastard had done to her, but Delenn was evidently holding together by a thin thread on that score. It made him more than a little nervous; Lennier obviously planned to be around for a while, but the last thing he or Delenn needed were more reminders of her ordeal.

   "You okay?" He kept the tone quiet, motioning the group into the house and turning to her. "If you were to suddenly get tired..." That avenue was left open, and she knew he would be more than willing to take the heat off her by giving an excuse. "I wouldn't blame you, honey." Delenn shook her head, turning into his embrace to hide her sudden fear from the others.

   "I'm sorry, John... I should have listened to you, I should never have let them take me away...."

   "Shh, shh..." He pulled her close, tilting her head onto his shoulder and gently caressing her hair. "It's all right. You made a mistake, that's all. We all do, sometimes. No one's perfect." He smiled, lowering his head to whisper in her ear and take away at least some of the pain. "But you come damn close."

   Delenn smiled weakly, looking up at him with sadness in her eyes.

   "But why do *I* always make the mistakes that have the worst consequences? I've done so much wrong, John; to you, to Earth... to everyone-"

   "Delenn, listen to me. What about everything you've done right? This new Alliance?" He shook his head. "It's not me. It was your idea, it's your work... Without you, the younger races would be at war, half of Earth would be wasteland, B5 would have been Clark's for months now and we would never have defeated the Shadows..." He grinned, touching her chin and smiling into her eyes. "I'd be dead at *least* ten times. And," seriousness returned; he spoke slowly, carefully, so that she would have no doubt about what he meant, "Anna would still be alive."

   "Oh, Valen." He chuckled softly, toying with her hair.

   "Him too, I guess." Delenn laughed tiredly.

   "Did you have to bring that up?"

   "Made you laugh." She sighed resignedly, closing her eyes.

   "I'm tired." Sheridan nodded in understanding, gingerly lifting her into his arms as she settled against his chest.

   She was asleep before they entered the house.

   * * * * *

   

Sheridan lay in bed, tenderly caressing her hair as he watched his lover sleep. He'd missed dinner, unwilling to leave her lest she wake up, but that didn't matter. Nothing mattered, only having Delenn well again and sparing her as much pain as he could.

   He was so deep in thought, and tired himself, that he didn't notice her wake until she moved intentionally closer and firmly pulled his arms tighter around her.

   "You're smiling," he said quietly. Delenn looked up at him, blinking back the haze of sleep and yawning slightly.

   "You sound surprised." She cuddled into his arms contently, rubbing her crown against his shoulder. Sheridan tightened his embrace, gently brushing his fingers through her hair.

   "I haven't seen you smile like that in almost two months. I missed it." He kissed her forehead, smiling. "You have no idea how much I missed it."

   "I dreamt about you," she explained softly. "About the two of us, the first night I was on Earth, before they came..." Sheridan's smile faded at the tears in her eyes, and he tenderly brushed them away with a concerned smile.

   "Hey, don't cry. It's okay, come on." She nodded slowly, smiling through the tears.

   "I know. I'm still tired, that's all." She paused, studying his face with a far-off look. "That is the first time I remember sleeping without the nightmares," she said slowly. "I must have slept for hours, and there were no memories except..." she blushed slightly and he smiled.

   "I think everything's going to be okay, Delenn." His smile confirmed his words; she mirrored the expression, shifting expectantly further up the bed and propping herself up on one hand to meet his gaze. He kissed her then, tender and passionate, and Delenn responded with a feeling he'd thought long gone. He pulled her close, holding her tightly, and laughed suddenly when she reached across his shoulder and tabbed off the light. As the room darkened, her delighted laughter filled his ears and Sheridan grinned.

   "You know, I think everything's gonna be just *fine*...."

   And for the first time, she didn't notice the darkness.

   

[END]

 

*****

 

 

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