By Coucher de Soleil




   Here is a very belated final part -please see part 1 for disclaimers etc.

   Anyone who wishes to read previous parts of this story -or any other story of mine- will soon be able to find it at: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Orion/3539/index.html

   (Some stories are up at this address already, others not as the site is under construction... :-)

   This story is dedicated, as before, to Leslie and Kim. :)

   Thanks go to my beta readers: Angela (and I realize I forgot to thank you guys when I posted part 10 a LONG time ago...) Brenda Jean Carlson, Kim and Lynne Buckley. :)

   (1) The transcript of the rebirth ceremony in "Parliament of Dreams", which transcript was written by Jeffrey P. Newman and posted on the Lurker's Guide, was used as reference for this story part.

   On with it now... :)






   It had been days since Lennier had been able to sleep.

   As he turned on his bed trying to find a position more conducive to that elusive objective, thoughts of what was happening outside came to haunt him.

   It had been almost a week since Captain Sheridan and Delenn had sent him here, outside the Z'Ha'Dum star system, to observe the gathering of Shadow forces. During this time, Lennier's life had amounted to two things: sending regular messages to Babylon 5 in which he relayed painfully regular increases in Shadow ship numbers in the neighboring system, and worry. After tormenting his sleep, worry had begun invading his daily meditation.

   Were he human, or virtually anything save Minbari, he might have tried the intriguing remedy which Commander Ivanova had mentioned to him some time ago (this after he had heard her mutter something about "wishing the wolf would get a life").

   Honor and honesty was paramount to the Minbari. *I suppose that it is now time for me to honor my kind* he thought wryly, getting up and going to the bridge, abandoning all pretense.



   The fleet of Shadow ships had reached unheard of proportions. Sheridan had even asked Delenn to find out from Minbari archives if a gathering of this kind had been seen during the last Shadow war -the answer had been a negative. Nothing else of value had been uncovered by the search, for there had never been much known about this strange species.

   *Actually, the only thing that search turned up was that I missed her like hell while she was gone -she leaves for a few hours to talk with some of her people and I lose track of everything, including everything's end.* He chuckled to himself. "It wasn't *that* funny." Delenn was eyeing him with mock anger, having broken off her discourse of galactic events. "Sorry. I was just thinking about something." She smiled at him, "And what would that be?" Looking down at her gentle eyes, he encircled her in his arms. "That I'm glad you married me, that I don't want to contemplate what this would all be like without you, and that I love you very, very much." "And this made you laugh?" She said, still pretending to be angry. Laughing and shaking his head, he brought them back to galactic sized matters.

   To add to the situation, two days ago they had begun to see movement in Vorlon space, with a large number of ships moving out of Vorlon space to mass in hyperspace. As to other First Ones and Lorien, there was no sign. Sheridan himself had not heard anything from Lorien, including why he left and where he was going. He had brought them all to a state of maximum readiness, amassing his fleet of League, Whitestar and other ships in Babylon 5 space, ready to jump at a moment's notice.

   After a few more minutes of studying reports, Sheridan pressed a hand to his eyes, trying to ease the insistent throbbing in his skull. When he looked up again, the surveillance report he had been discussing with Delenn was gone from his field of vision.

   Taking his hand, she said softly, "Come to bed. There is not much for us to do here now, and you are worrying again."

   "And you aren't?" He asked his wife, seeing his feelings mirrored in her eyes. She nodded silently.

   Walking away, they held each other close in spirit as much as in actuality.




   Ranger Nalann sat at her post onboard Whitestar twelve. The ship she commanded and three others had been assigned the duty of keeping watch upon Vorlon space and had been detailing regular increases in the masses of Vorlon ships moving into position in hyperspace nearby.

   "What in Valen's-" Her cry was echoed by the exclamations of the other Minbari on the bridge.

   The Vorlon ships were gone.



   At the same instant, an equal amount of disbelief was felt in another part of the galaxy.

   Lennier leaned forward in his seat on the bridge of a Whitestar ship, reading the sensor data for the third time in as many minutes.

   The Shadows were gone.



   "From birth, through death and renewal, you must put aside old things, old fears, old lives." (1)

   "Lorien?" John asked wonderingly. Reaching out, he saw his hand pass through the one before him -who was suddenly pure light.

   Before him, with something beyond vision, he saw an ocean envelop a gigantic storm of fire -their meeting at first tumultuous, explosive, then transmuting, changing.

   "This is your death. The death of flesh, the death of pain, the death of yesterday." (1)

   A fundamental peace now surrounded him, resonating to the core of his being. Somehow, in these few moments, the meeting of polarities had become something beyond destructive cataclysm.

   Before him stood an ocean with fiery tints to it, somewhat like the rays of the setting sun on waves. In the ocean stood an island, and he noticed for the first time that a breeze caressed their cheeks, smelling sweetly of flowers and grass and trees.

   "Lorien? What's going on?" John asked again. He noticed that he was not alone -a familiar presence stood beside him, wondering at what they were seeing.

   "Taste of it, and be not afraid, for I am with you, to the end of time." The litany continued, and ended.



   Awakening, John looked into Delenn's eyes as she lay beside him.

   "They are gone." She whispered.

   "I saw it too." He said, remembering her presence in his dream. They had both seen.

   "And so it begins." She murmured.



   When morning came, the assembly of sentient beings convened to discuss the situation began in chaos and then became worse.

   "You say the First Ones are gone, and that they will not return. Your reports say they are all gone. But what guarantee do we truly have that they *are* gone?"

   "What protection will you offer us? We demand to be protected, as you have not guaranteed or proven anything! We have a right-"

   "We helped you, risked our people on your behalf-"

   "We want-"

   Delenn looked at her husband. "Someone kill me now..." He muttered, and she chuckled. "What would you say to your tackling one half of the room, and I the other? You could always borrow Mr. Garibaldi's weapon." She muttered in reply, with a twinkle in her bright eyes.

   "Nah. My head already hurts too much." He said softly, while the ever more belligerent ambassadors began to make their way towards the two to further emphasize their loud demands.

   Sheridan massaged his temples while the group of ambassadors, now pressed up against the both of them, began a shouting match. After a minute or two, he decided he had had enough -especially considering the fact that the ambassadors' vocal chords appeared to be gaining in ability with practice.

   "ALL RIGHT! THAT'S ENOUGH!!!" He shouted. This had as much effect as shouting in vacuum: that is to say, none. The "gentle" beings around him had now resorted to elbowing in front of one another. Sheridan reasoned that it would probably take them under five minutes to get to blows, in the state they were in. Making a quick decision, he elbowed his own way through the small crowd and walked to Garibaldi, who had his hand on his PPG. Sheridan noticed that his fingers were twitching around the trigger area.

   John held out his hand. "Mind if I borrow that for a minute?" He asked above the din, as the ambassadors continued shouting and began to elbow their way towards him.

   Taking Garibaldi's weapon, Sheridan aimed at the ceiling and shot three times.

   The ambassadors became quiet.

   Handing the PPG back to Garibaldi and walking back to Delenn, he muttered in her ear, "You can't say I never take your suggestions into account."

   Wearing a bemused expression on her face and a twinkle in her eye, Delenn brought them back to the topic of the Vorlons and the Shadows, after stating -with an undertone of threat in her soft voice- that they would listen to civilized discussion of the situation.

   The problem, the difficulty, John knew, was to communicate his and Delenn's certainty. They had both had a dream, a dream which they had known was more than a dream. If anything, it reminded him of the times Kosh had entered into his mind, and was also somehow akin to his experience with Lorien on Z'Ha'Dum -when he had been reborn. This time, as with those times, he had awakened with a certainty, as if the dream had been a means of communication rather than simply the usual jumble of images generated by a subconscious. The fact that his wife had had the exact same dream and felt the same certainty only served to confirm what he somehow felt -or perhaps rather knew- inside: the First Ones had left the galaxy permanently.

   Then the reports had come from the ships they had stationed on the edges of Vorlon and Shadow space, stating that the enormous Vorlon and Shadow fleets which had amassed over several days had simply vanished. Sheridan had sent more ships to both regions of space, along with orders to examine every inch of the systems 'with a fine tooth comb'; as well as missions to explore the worlds previously occupied by the other First Ones. The preliminary reports sent by the ships assigned these tasks had come back a short time ago: there appeared to be no one left.

   And now part of their problems resided with a rather belligerent group of ambassadors. Truth be told, Sheridan mused to himself, he couldn't really blame them. Despite his and Delenn's odd 'certainty' that the First Ones were gone, reason and prudence demanded that he not blindly accept this as truth.



   Days later, the situation was still more or less the same: reports from the missions sent to investigate the disappearance of the First Ones were continuously negative as they looked closer and closer at the worlds and star systems in question. Several races within the League had chosen to send in their own missions to investigate -which had caused some tension when ships of various denominations crossed one another's path, or two expeditions insisted on examining the same 2.5 inches of space of planet.

   For his money, John Sheridan truly wished he could tell all of them to go do something nasty to themselves, as all complaints and demands for refereeing were almost invariably addressed to those on Babylon 5. It was a thoughtful touch he could have done without.

   One part of the problem was that he knew they would find nothing, and knew it with a certainty that grew as the days waned.

   *So this is the end, and the beginning.* He thought to himself as he lay in bed. This day had been more of the same -in other words long, and yet he could not sleep. He looked over at Delenn asleep beside him, and turned towards her.

   How odd, perhaps, to have one's heart and soul uplifted while reason still struggled, he thought as he caressed her soft cheek. And yet... Not odd to faith, he thought, as a smile came to his face. Faith, after all, manages.







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