WHAT MAY BE REQUIRED OF YOU (I)

By Tamzin Grey

 

 

 

This story was written in 1995, in the hiatus between seasons 2 and 3.  As a take on what might be going to happen at the end of season 3 it has been pretty comprehensively overtaken by events.  The story of the day separating these two night scenes never did get written, but I'm told it stands up fairly well as it is.

 

 

 

*****

   The heavy door banged shut.

   Sheridan looked around their prison in distaste.  The room was small, about ten feet square, with a tiny window high up in one wall.  There was no furniture of any kind, only a heap of torn blankets.  It was quite warm, and some unfamiliar-looking light sources in the corners of the ceiling provided reasonable visibility.  There was no sign of anything to eat or drink.  He leaned back against the wall, while Delenn sat down on the none-too-clean blankets.  Neither of them spoke.

   Sheridan was badly shaken by what they had found in the gully, but less shocked than he had expected.  Until now he had never really come to terms with Anna's loss.  For a full two years after he had been told of her death he had burned up with guilt, convinced that her presence on the doomed ship had been all a result of his neglect, his cancellation of their wedding anniversary plans, his absorption in his work.  After Liz had shown him the old letter, shown him how wrong he had been, shown him how much Anna had loved him and how little she had cared about any cancelled holiday, he had begun to heal.  Then only a few months later he had been faced with the truth that the destruction of the Icarus had been no simple accident, that there had been at least one survivor from the wreck, and that Anna might have been alive all along, a prisoner of the dreadful beings on this planet.

   He knew he had come completely unhinged that day, and although at Kosh's insistence he had backed off from his assault on Morden, the thought of Anna alive and imprisoned had been tearing him apart ever since.  Now that he knew for sure that she was dead, had been dead for four years, had been killed almost as soon as she had landed on this planet, had never been a prisoner in a room like this, or worse, it was almost a relief.  His one outburst of uncontrollable weeping by these pathetic bones, identifiable only by her wedding ring, had been a sort of release.  Now he felt an unaccustomed peacefulness in his soul as the waves of horror, speculation and torment subsided towards a calm acceptance.  He would love Anna forever, but at last he was truly ready to say goodbye.

   Delenn remained silent.  She was staring at the floor, tracing little patterns in the dust with a finger, her expression worried and distressed.  Once or twice she looked up and seemed about to say something, but thought better of it and turned her attention back to the floor.  Heaven knew she had enough to be worried about, but so far things were going more or less according to plan, and Sheridan couldn't help but feel there was more to her distress than the simple fact of their capture and imprisonment.  He had never found it easy to tell what was going on in the still mostly-Minbari mind within her almost-human head, but he could see there was something far wrong.  Was it just the finding of the remains of the crew of the Icarus?  Over a hundred people had been massacred here, but that had been four years ago, and Delenn's calm faith had helped her through worse horrors than that.

   Aware of his eyes on her, Delenn looked up.  "I am distressed for you, that you had to find your wife's body here like this," she said, rather formally.

   Was that what they had come to, locked up here together, soon to face the moment of truth for all their hopes and fears, and reduced to formal condolences?  It was perfectly easy to tell that this was not the main cause of her upset, but Sheridan went along with it.

   "It's all right," he said, "it's better knowing the truth than going on all these years in doubt."  He was surprised by how 'all right' he really did feel.  "I know she died quickly, thinking they had made a great discovery.  She was never a prisoner, never used like that poor fool Morden.  I really was mourning a dead woman all that time."

   Delenn stood up, and crossed the room to lean against the corner furthest away from Sheridan.  "You must honour her memory by using what you have learned here to prevent these beings from killing others like her," she said, still in the same formal tone

   Sheridan had spent the past three weeks trying not to think about his inevitable encounter with the Shadow.  He knew exactly what to do, he knew it was the only thing which had even the remotest chance of success, and he knew about how likely he was to survive.  His resolution wasn't in question, but he was finding it a lot easier to go through with all this by not dwelling on the details.  He wished Delenn would talk about something else.  He nodded, and fell silent.

   What was the matter with her?  She seemed nervous and ill at ease, almost as if it was he himself she perceived as a threat.  They were confined in a small room, a human male and a human female (or a reasonable facsimile of one), but what on earth could she think he was going to do?  She had known him for two years, almost from the moment she had emerged from her cocoon, and he had never been other than polite and friendly.  She herself had been more than friendly - he remembered her meaningful glances and her slim hand laid over his own.  What could possibly give her the idea that he was going to jump her, here, now, not twenty-four hours after finding Anna's body?  He shook his head to clear it.  The impression had been strong, but it had been momentary, and he was certainly mistaken.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Time passed, and still Delenn remained silent.  Oddly reluctant to approach her, Sheridan waited, hoping she would relax, or at least say something that would let him help.  Finally, she spoke.

   "I...." she tailed off.  "I.... oh, this is difficult.  Especially now."  She fell silent again.

   Suddenly Sheridan remembered the last time he had seen her so much at a loss for words.  It was back on the space station, well over a year ago, when she had invited him out to dinner - or, more accurately, when she had invited him to invite her out to dinner.  Well, she couldn't be about to suggest dinner now.  The very thought of that long-ago meal set the hunger pains off again.  He knew humans could last much longer than this without food, but he didn't have to like it.

   Delenn seemed to have come to a decision within herself.  "John, I would very much rather not have to ask this of you, tonight of all nights, but for some things there is only one right time," she said clearly.  What on earth was coming?  "You are here because you know this is your destiny, because you know you are the right person to face the Shadow."  Yes.  Please stop going on about it.  "I am here also because it is my destiny, because I must do something which can only be done here, tonight, with you."  Now he was completely baffled.  "John, when I invoked the Chrysalis two years ago I began something I have not yet completed, something which must be completed no matter what the cost.  Now I must continue what I have begun."  Her voice tailed off as if her courage failed her.  She took a deep breath and stared fixedly at the floor, her face scarlet.  "I must lie with a human man," she concluded.

   What had she just said?  In stunned silence Sheridan re-ran the last ten seconds in his mind, searching for another interpretation and finding none.  For a moment the only replies he could think of were grossly obscene examples of cadet humour.  He bit them back and took a deep breath.  "Have I got this straight?" he asked in a carefully neutral tone.  "You want me to have sex with you?"

   Delenn was still staring at the floor, and pleating her fingers in her skirt.  "Not want, exactly," she muttered.

   Oh, very flattering, he thought, but kept that one to himself as well.

   "I simply know this is what we must do," she said, still in a low voice.

   Sheridan had been on the receiving end of quite a few propositions in his time, but never one like this.  Delenn wasn't being seductive or alluring, she looked tense and embarrassed.  She hadn't once met his eyes.

   "Look," he said evenly, "start at the beginning and explain this to me."

   She found another spot on the floor to stare at.  "I told you that I decided to acquire human characteristics with the blessings of my government so that I might become a bridge between our worlds, in the hope that we would never know war between us again."  Sheridan remembered the speech, the first words he had heard her utter; she was reciting by rote.  "I also told you once that Minbari do not lie," she went on.  "That was a lie.  As was every part of the preceding statement.  John, I would like to tell you the truth now, if I may."  Sheridan stared at her, dumbstruck, then nodded slowly.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   She was silent for a long time before she continued, still not meeting his eyes.

   "A thousand years ago our great leader Valen came from nowhere, Minbari, but not born of Minbari.  He founded the Grey Council and brought peace to our people.  Since then, no Minbari has ever killed another Minbari.  When he was finally taken from us he left a prophecy which we have held in reverence ever since, awaiting the time of its fulfilment.  One day, he said, another race would reach the stars, a race whose form was strange to us, but whose heart and soul were Minbari.  Our meeting would be one of blood and conflict, a conflict the new race would barely survive.

   Lennier told you of how, as we neared victory in our war with your people, we captured Commander Sinclair and tortured him.  He bore the torment bravely and he told us nothing, but we had instruments which did not require his co-operation.  It was only after he had lost consciousness that we made the discovery which shocked us into surrendering in the very hour of our victory.  Yes, Jeffrey Sinclair had a Minbari soul."  Delenn paused, and for the first time looked directly into Sheridan's eyes.

   "John, there was more that Lennier did not tell you.  I know that Jeffrey Sinclair has Valen's soul.  Hedronn and the rest of the Council believe I was mistaken, but I know what I saw through the prism of the triluminary.  For the first time in nearly a thousand years our great leader is among us again, wearing not Minbari flesh, but human."

   Sheridan stared at her, speechless.  Jeff Sinclair had been an odd sort of personality, but Valen's soul?  Conscious that his mouth was gaping in disbelief, he listened in silence.

   "Although Hedronn did not accept my revelation, there was no doubt that Sinclair's soul was Minbari.  We took several more prisoners in for examination and confirmed this.  The missing Minbari souls were incarnate in human bodies.  Thus we knew that the prophecy was upon us, that we had met the other half of our soul.  As you know, we immediately surrendered to avoid killing any more of our own people.  But it was the next part of the prophecy which concerned the Council most.  The appearance of the new race would be the signal for the reappearance of the ancient enemy, the Shadows.  But not only that.  The implication was unmistakable that the new race, your people, would in fact be the instrument of the victory of the Shadows, a victory which would be final and complete.

   "We decided to watch your people, and Jeffrey Sinclair in particular.  To this end we agreed to co-sponsor the Babylon space station, arranged for Commander Sinclair to be its commanding officer, and I was given the post of ambassador so that one of the Grey Council could observe in person.  During the months that followed I became more and more convinced that I was right about Commander Sinclair, and about the rest of the prophecy."

   "The rest?  You mean that the Shadows are going to win no matter what we do to try to prevent it?" Sheridan asked, confused.

   "Maybe.  Maybe not," Delenn said slowly.  "Valen spoke of more.  I told you of the First Ones, the Great Ones who ruled the galaxy ages before either of our races had learned to walk upright, of whom only the Vorlons and the Shadows now remain among us.  Once, even these great races were as we are, bound to the surface of their worlds, striving to reach the stars.  But they too are the products of evolution, an evolution which has continued millions of years beyond our own.  Eventually the younger races, or one of them, must take the next leap forward.  Valen spoke of this as if it was inextricably linked to the return of the Shadows and the great war we fight.  In this also Hedronn disagreed with me, but I have believed from the beginning that this was the destiny of your people.  You have the potential to walk among the stars like giants."

   Sheridan stared at her in utter disbelief.

   "John, it has already begun," she declared with great intensity.  "I have seen it with my own eyes.  Nearly three years ago a human came to Babylon Five, a man called Jason Ironheart.  He was fleeing from your Psi Corps, of which he was a member.  He had volunteered for a series of experiments to expand his psi talents, but he had been changed in ways nobody expected.  Before Mr Bester could restrain him, right outside the space station, he metamorphosed into something I scarcely believed I would see in my lifetime.  A being of pure energy able to walk among the stars themselves.  The Psi Corps triggered the change prematurely, but this could not have happened if the potential had not been there.  John, your people, your telepaths, are the future of this galaxy."  She paused, and twisted her fingers together nervously

   Sheridan waited, bemused.  So far he had no idea how all this could be leading up to the shocking proposition she had made, but the longer the story the longer before he had to face up to that proposition, to decide what to do, to figure out whether he could in fact do anything at all.

   Delenn transferred her gaze back to the floor.  "A few weeks after the station came on line, Ambassador Kosh arrived," she continued.  "The Vorlons had had very little contact with the Minbari for nearly a thousand years, and we had not been certain he would come.  His presence seemed to lend weight to my conviction that we stood at the very crossroads of our age.

   "There was another part to the prophecy, the part which concerned me most closely, and after he came on board I began to find the thought of this more and more in my mind.  Valen declared that on the day the Shadows returned to their homeworld Z'ha'dum, a Minbari woman would freely offer herself to the Chrysalis, to undergo a terrible change and become she knew not what.  Only this could keep the hope alive, that the victory of the Shadows might be averted, that we might escape from the darkness and fire which lie ahead.  Almost nothing was said about who this person might be, except that she would be female.  I was the only female member of the Grey Council, I found myself at the centre of the great events which were unfolding, and I could not escape the thought that this was what might be required of me.

   "The Chrysalis was known to us, a mysterious instrument which had survived from the time of Valen himself.  Hedronn doubted, but he was sympathetic.  He arranged for the Chrysalis to be sent to me on Babylon Five, I began to reconstruct the machine, and finally I was given the triluminary which was to be its power source.  The time was almost right.  The Council were still uncertain and I was ordered to wait, but I knew there was only one thing remaining for the fulfilment of the prophecy.  Had the Shadows indeed returned after a thousand years?  Finally, I spoke to Kosh.  I had come to believe that Kosh himself might be Valeria, might be the one who could assure me that my intentions were in accordance with the plan of the universe, that the fulfilment of the prophecy was indeed upon us."  She frowned, still staring at the floor

   "I am no longer sure what to think about Kosh.  I know you have doubted for some time.  At that time I trusted him.  At last he sent me word that what we had feared was indeed happening, that the Shadows had indeed returned to this place.  As you know, I entered the Chrysalis and emerged as I am now.  Not fully human, but far more human than Minbari."

   She paused again, for much longer this time.  Sheridan stared at the floor in his turn, biting his lip.  "So what does this have to do with.... with.... what you want me.... us.... to do?" he asked at length.

   She shook her head slowly.  "When I entered the Chrysalis I had no idea at all in what form I would emerge, if I emerged at all.  Even when I did come out, at first I didn't know what I had become.  When I realised I was in fact human, more or less, I tried to understand why.  My statements about being a bridge between our worlds were not entirely intended as a deception.  At first I thought the reason might be as simple as that.  However, it was not long before it was clear to me that this was not the case.  The humans saw my transformation as an insult to the victims of the war while my own people rejected me as a freak.  I began to feel very alone.

   "Then one day I had cause to have a long talk with Commander Ivanova about the mechanics of being a human female, and I began to understand that I had become much more human than I had realised.  Suddenly the final part of the prophecy was clear to me.  Valen declared that the victory of the Shadows could only be averted by the two halves of our soul uniting to battle the ancient enemy, which again we have done, but also by one other thing.  He said that everything else would come to nothing unless our races united in blood and body even as they have been united in soul.  This part of the prophecy had been dark to us, as even if a human and a Minbari were to mate," Delenn's face screwed up involuntarily into an expression of utter disgust, "nothing would happen.  Our genetic inheritance is far too disparate to allow interbreeding.  Nobody had connected this to the Chrysalis, but suddenly I understood.  My transformation had left me capable of bearing a human child."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   So that was it.  A half human, half Minbari baby.  A union of blood and body indeed.  It was all too much to take in, but John Sheridan, widowed, childless and miserably aware that his death might be only hours away, began to feel just a little less repelled by the whole idea.

   "And you think I'm the right person to be the father," he asked.  "Why?  Why not a telepath, if they're so important, or even Jeff Sinclair?"

   "No!" she exclaimed in obvious horror.  "John, you are the right person, the only person, I know it in my heart.  When I emerged from the Chrysalis and entered the Council chamber for the first time, I expected to see Commander Sinclair.  Instead you were there, a complete stranger, and yet it seemed as if I had known you for many ages."  She paused.

   "We Minbari believe that some groups of souls travel together lifetime after lifetime.  Perhaps it was because you had never known me as a Minbari, because we were starting afresh, but in the months that followed I became more and more drawn to you.  At first I thought I must be mistaken.  I could see how deeply your wife's death had hurt you, and I did not believe that you would...." her voice tailed off in embarrassment.

   "Come on the market?" he suggested ruefully.  "So what changed your mind?"

   "When Kosh sent for the Inquisitor...." she paused again.

   "I'm not likely to forget it," he admitted, suppressing a shudder

   "He spent quite a lot of our encounter simply putting off time, as if he was waiting for something, or someone.  Three or four times he actually went out and left me alone.  Lennier came to me at one of these times, but the Inquisitor didn't pay any attention to him.  It was only when you turned up that he announced that the final player in the drama had arrived."

   Sheridan flinched, remembering only too vividly what his part in that drama had been.  He had been put through hell's agony, apparently for no other reason than to induce Delenn to intervene to save him.  The pain had been beyond belief, like being burned at the stake, but the hurt to his pride had been nearly as bad as the hurt to his body.  He remembered looking through a haze of agony at Delenn's determined, furious face as she demanded that the Inquisitor let him go and take her life instead.  He had tried to stop her - the station's CO killed by a Vorlon envoy would have been bad enough, but a Vorlon envoy killing - murdering - the Minbari ambassador would have signalled instant war - but she had ignored him completely.  He didn't know if Sebastian had really intended to continue the torture until it killed him, but Delenn had seemed to believe so.  Had she known that her defiance was what was required to pass the test and free them both?  He couldn't tell.  But it had certainly seemed like a sincere and willing offer to lay down her life for him.  After that, how could he deny her?

   "So because that appalling Sebastian chose me as his victim, you think I'm the right person to father this child?" he asked.  There was a feeling of unreality about all this that he simply couldn't shake.

   "In a way.  I must tell you that when I watched Jeffrey Sinclair being tortured I did nothing to stop it.  I didn't feel involved in any way.  With you, I knew that if I let Sebastian kill you, we would have lost all chance of success in this war before it had even begun.  When he took us both together and told us that we were the right people in the right place at the right time, I was almost certain."

   "Almost?"

   "Some time later I spoke to Kosh."

   I might have known, thought Sheridan bitterly.

   "I know it is sometimes difficult to understand Kosh's meaning," Delenn continued, "but it was clear to me that he believed I was right about this.  He simply said that when I knew it was the right time, the place we were in would be the right place."

   "And you know this is the right time?"

   "I know that if this child is not conceived here, tonight, he never will be."

   Sheridan swallowed involuntarily.  Considering the trap they were in, what might lie before him the next day, and Sebastian's remarks about what might be required of him, that was an ominous thought.  He had never felt less like a bit of unbridled passion in his entire life.

   "Delenn, can you, or Kosh, or anyone, really foretell the future?  Is this more than just a good idea or a sudden inspiration?" he asked.

   "John, have you ever known me to be wrong?  Have you ever known Kosh to be wrong?" she asked.

   "No.  I suppose I was just hoping that Kosh might be wrong about something else."  If you go to Z'ha'dum, you will die.  Well, he was here now.  "Then you are certain we must do this?"

   "Yes."

   Sheridan recognised the mulish expression on her face and the stubborn set of her chin.  He sighed, leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.  He was desperately fond of Delenn, in a sense he did indeed love her, but sex was something else he simply didn't want to think about, hadn't wanted to think about since Anna had died.  His instincts shouted at him to have nothing to do with this bizarre idea, but at the same time he could see how much it had cost her to approach him at all, and the thought of rejecting her was bitter.

   "It's not that easy," he said slowly.  "I haven't done anything like this for more than four years.  I'm not even sure I can, any more."

   He realised as he said it that by his choice of words he had almost agreed to her crazy.... well, proposition would be as apt a word as any.  Delenn seemed to have realised it as well, but far from appearing pleased she shrank away from him even further.  She was standing with her arms wrapped tightly around her body just below her breasts, and her head was turned away.  So who is supposed to be seducing whom, he wondered with some amusement.  Then he realised she was trembling.  Whatever her words were saying, her body was screaming 'don't touch me!'.

   "Delenn, have you ever done this before?" he asked quietly.

   "No."  Her voice was a whisper.

   "Not even as a Minbari?"

   "No."

   Oh my God.  "Delenn, I can't force myself on you like this, frightened and unwilling.  I'm not a rapist."

   "Not unwilling.  Please believe me.  I cannot help being frightened."

   Sheridan's heart went out to her - captive, defeated, but still pursuing the path she believed to be right however much it dismayed her.  People who had known her as a Minbari, before her metamorphosis, had described her as formidable, a tough cookie, a very shrewd operator.  The Delenn he knew was brave but vulnerable, as if her transformation had cast her loose from her moorings into a sea of uncertainty.  He wondered just how much she understood about what she was getting into.

   "Do you know what's involved?" he asked gently.  "I mean, do you actually know how it's done?"  He could practically smell the burning bridges.  What was he doing?

   "Yes."  Thank God for that, anyway.  "It - it seems a bit violent, from the description."  He heard the apprehension in her voice, but he didn't deny it.  To a Minbari religious, human sex probably seemed utterly barbaric.  "But I do understand.  I accept what you must do.  I will be all right, don't worry."  She gave him a nervous smile, and his heart melted.

   "Look, Delenn," he said as reassuringly as he could, "I'm not going to lie to you.  It can be a bit rough the first time, but I don't think it's as bad as all that.  It's supposed to be fun.  Most women actually seem to like it."  He remembered Anna's delighted abandon and winced in pain, thoughts turning unbidden to the cold bones in the gully.

   He took a deep breath and forced his mind back to Delenn.  "You had the courage to go into that cocoon, not knowing what would happen.  You faced down Sebastian, even under torture.  I think you might be over-reacting here."  Was he trying to talk her into this - or himself?

   Delenn gave him a grateful smile.  "I know," she admitted.  "It is not rational.  I'm sure it will be fine."

   Just the same words she had used when she was nerving herself to face Sebastian.  He could see that this was something which couldn't be resolved simply by talking about it.  "Come over here," he suggested gently.

   She unglued herself from the wall in the corner and approached him hesitantly.  He put his arms around her and hugged her as he would have hugged his sister Liz.  Touchingly, she laid her head on his shoulder.  He held her close until the trembling stopped, then spoke softly into her ear.

   "All right, I'm game if you are."

   Now he'd really done it.  He felt her relief, but still she remained merely passive in his arms - not resisting, but not responding to him either.  "Just one thing.  Any time you want to stop, you just say so, and we'll stop.  Okay?"  She nodded gratefully.  "But look, you'll have to help too.  If you just stand there or lie there like so much cargo, this won't work."

   She nodded again, but uncertainly this time. "What should I do?" she asked.

   Well, wherever she had found out about the mechanics, it wasn't from Gloria's Lo-Gee Sex Guide.  That was something, anyway.  "Touch me," he said.  "That's the main thing.  Kiss me, if you want to.  Help me take my clothes off."  His voice tailed off.  In spite of his reassuring hug she was still tense, controlling her apprehension with an obvious effort.  Unless she relaxed, this was going to be uncomfortably close to rape - if he could manage it at all.  "Delenn, lighten up!" he said forcefully.  "Stop thinking about it and just feel what your body tells you.  If something feels good - and it will, I promise you - don't be ashamed of it, don't fight it.  Let it happen, try to enjoy it if you can."

   Delenn looked as if she was as likely to enjoy another session with Sebastian, but she nodded again and put her arms around his shoulders.  It wasn't much of an embrace, but it was a start and he tried to make the most of it, praying that his body wouldn't let him down.  He was deeply worried that he might be impotent.  Since the dreadful day when they had told him that Anna's ship had blown up with no survivors his life had simply emptied of sex.  In four years his only arousal had been in his dreams - pathetic, heartbreaking dreams, all ending in desolate waking to a cold and empty bed.  Not much preparation for an ambassadorial command performance.

   He remembered Delenn's obvious disgust at the idea of a Minbari mating with a human.  But he was human and whatever she looked like she certainly thought of herself as Minbari.  He hoped desperately that her body was human enough to respond sexually, and prepared to take this very slowly indeed.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   He began to stroke behind her ears and down the back of her neck.  The crescent of Minbari shell she still bore on her head was hardly more than a hairband a human woman might wear on a night out, but it was certainly part of her, apparently part of her skull.  His fingers explored around it, and felt the way the hair grew at the margins.  Her long dark hair was surprisingly sensuous, and he twisted a hank of it around his hand.  He felt a little shiver go through her and she began to copy him, her fingers caressing his neck and round the angle of his jaw.  So far so good.  He tilted her face up towards his and kissed her, at first gently, then more vigorously as he felt her beginning to respond.  This wasn't so bad after all.

   He took it gradually, kissing and caressing her for a long time until the tension and fear were gone and she relaxed in his arms.  He was surprised by how good it felt.  He hadn't laid a finger on another woman since he had first charmed his way into Anna's bed nearly fifteen years ago, and since her death he had never imagined he would do this again.  He remembered Delenn's gauche attempts to excite his interest, back on the space station.  He had wondered then what on earth she was playing at, but it was no wonder she had been awkward and inept, pretending a desire she didn't really feel out of some compelling sense of duty.  He thought there was rather more than duty in the way she was kissing him now, though, and began to venture further.

   The Minbari clothes she wore turned out to be a bit of a problem.  He had no idea how they fastened and there were about a dozen layers, or so it seemed.  Still, he persevered, and, gratifyingly, so did she, her fingers tackling the fastenings of his jacket, the buttons of his shirt and the belt of his trousers with only minimal help.  He got rid of her outer clothes eventually, and shrugged off his own uniform at the same time.

   Compassion filled her eyes as she saw the yellowing bruises Londo's boots had left on his body, and she gently stroked a livid weal on his arm where he had tried to shield his head from a particularly vicious blow.  But the beating had been days ago, and the pain was almost gone.  The humiliation no longer mattered.

   He gathered her in his arms and settled down to a bit more kissing and exploration before starting on the Minbari concept of underwear.  He dredged his memory for everything that Anna had enjoyed, where she had liked to be touched, how she had liked to be kissed.  If he could possibly manage it Delenn was going to know the best there could be of human love, not a rough, impersonal impregnation.  Her arms were around his waist now, her hands kneading the muscles of his back in the most delightful way.  He began to realise he could stop worrying about impotence, anyway.  This might actually work.  With mounting excitement he solved the puzzle of the underwear and got a good look at what he had unwrapped.

   She was gorgeous.  More completely human than her rather half-breed face had led him to expect, and with the delicate, fragile beauty of a porcelain doll.  That she was nothing at all like Anna to look at was probably a good thing.  Her own eyes were popping: she had certainly never seen a naked man before.  He saw apprehension creep back into her face as she worked out the details of exactly what was supposed to go where.  He drew her to him and kissed her again, then cupped his hands around her small, firm breasts and pinched the nipples gently between his fingers.  Another shiver ran through her body, and she arched her back towards him.  Better and better.  Slowly, exploringly, he moved a hand downwards, caressing the soft skin of her belly until he felt the muscles knot under his fingers.  Her own hands became more adventurous in their turn, and for the first time she opened her mouth to his probing tongue.  He was almost sure these were no longer mere copy-cat gestures and that she was beginning to enjoy the experience, tapping into some primaeval female instinct far stronger than convention or duty.

   Experimentally, he moved his hand lower still and slipped a finger between her legs.  She gave a gasp of surprise and jumped as if she'd been shot, but still didn't pull away.  He moved higher again, over her belly, back to her breasts, then down once more, circling around but always returning to finger the same spot, coaxing a response from her uncertain body.  He heard her breathing quicken and saw her fair skin begin to flush.  He slid his finger deeper, past the tight band of her maidenhead, deep into her body.  With a small moan she laid her head on his shoulder again, the shell digging into the side of his face.  He hugged her close and began to guide her towards the pile of ragged blankets, which was by now augmented by his black uniform and assorted layers of Minbari dress.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   It was at about this point things started to get seriously out of hand.  Suddenly he was overwhelmed by the awareness that this was Delenn herself lying naked and compliant beside him, and he realised that a part of him, the unacknowledged corner of his soul in which he had known that Anna was lost to him forever, had been crazy for this for months.  Something seemed to tear loose in his mind, and he was consumed by a depth of passion he had never imagined he would feel again.  His vision grew hazy, he could hardly breathe, and he knew he was perilously close to forcing her without further ceremony.

   With an effort of pure will he made himself go on kissing and stroking and caressing, revelling in the silky touch of her skin and the smooth curves of her body.  He found himself kissing her breasts, nibbling and running his tongue round a nipple, as she ran her hands through his hair.  His fingers caressed her more and more intimately, feeling her wet and aroused.  However little Delenn herself knew, her body now understood exactly what was happening - and what was coming next.  She was staring at the ceiling in wide-eyed incredulity, lips parted, her breath coming in short, uneven gasps.  She arched against him once more, pushing her hips against the pressure of his hand, and soon he felt her legs begin to open almost of their own volition.  His own pulse was pounding in his ears and his body was trembling with desire.  It was just as well she was showing no sign of asking him to stop, as he was no longer sure he was capable of stopping.

   He paused for a moment and looked down at her, seeking a final consent, but she seemed scarcely aware of his gaze.  This was about as good as it was going to get.  Unable to hold back any longer, he covered her body with his own, nudged her legs apart and pushed deep inside her with a single hard thrust.  He felt something tear and give way as he entered her and she cried out, clutching him convulsively, tears standing in her eyes.  He understood then that he had hurt her, as he had known he must, and hated himself for it.

   He held absolutely still as she clung to him, sobbing, then watched in awe as the real miracle happened.  As the sharpness of the pain loosened its grip her face cleared and she seemed to realise that he was still there, still inside her, still loving her, and would never hurt her again.  An uncertain smile lit her eyes.  He bent his head and kissed her, first her forehead, then her eyes, then her mouth, and with joy he felt her return his kiss.  Tentatively he began to move inside her, and was rewarded by a reflex thrust against him.

   Suddenly, incongruously, he remembered more of Sebastian's words, before the torture had begun - you're linked at the hip.  Well, they certainly were, now!  Laughing, he at last gave up trying to control himself and simply let his burning body have its way.  The joyous release seemed to wipe away the years of frustration and misery from his mind.  He was thrusting into her with all his strength, but Delenn seemed to have forgotten her fear of violence and laughed with him, her eyes shining with sheer sexual excitement.

   Gladly, he surrendered to the hot tide sweeping through his body.  He was lost in his own overwhelming sensations, and yet intensely aware of every detail of her response.  He was no longer sure where his body ended and hers began.  He was no longer sure even whether it was Delenn or Anna who met him so eagerly, who seemed to know exactly where he wanted to be touched before he even knew himself, who cried out again in glad, astonished joy as the waves of pure sensation swept them both to an ecstatic climax.  If the name he himself cried out was the wrong one, then neither of them was in any state to notice.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Afterwards she lay relaxed in his arms, no longer shrinking from him, no longer afraid.  He kissed her again, then smiled at her in lazy satisfaction.  The transformation was incredible, and he began to feel ridiculously pleased with himself.  "That wasn't so bad, was it?" he asked mischievously.

   "I had no idea!" she replied, stunned.  "Nobody said it would be like that."  He wondered again where she had applied for her information.

   "It isn't, always," he admitted.  "I think we both got lucky.  We've given this child a pretty good start, anyway."  She nodded sleepily, a contented smile on her face, and snuggled against his body.  He dropped another kiss on to her bare shoulder and hugged her close.

   There was very little of the night left, and they were both desperately tired.  Tomorrow was an unknown quantity.  Sheridan again remembered Kosh's prophecy, and Sebastian's warning, and felt a cold shiver run down his spine.  He banished the thought as best he could, and concentrated on the naked woman in his arms.  She fit into the curve of his body as if she had been sharing his bed for years.  Her body smelled sweet and fragrant, and her even, relaxed breathing smoothed the fear from his mind.  He slept.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Delenn lay on the edge of sleep, marvelling at her joy in the touch of John's body against her own, incredulously absorbing this new, unlooked-for metamorphosis - not physical this time, but mental.  She had looked human, or almost human, for two years, but in her mind she had never been human.  If anyone asked, she had always unhesitatingly described herself as Minbari.  Even earlier tonight her Minbari mind had almost revolted, screaming at this alien male to take his hands off her and stick to his own species.  But she had held out, trying to see past his still-strange appearance, the peculiar ears set far too far up his skull, the crescents of hair above his eyes, to the old, beloved Minbari soul within the alien body.  Then, amazingly, she had felt her body beginning to respond to his, flooding her with sensations she had never even imagined.

   Since her metamorphosis, nothing had encouraged her to think that human female sexuality was anything other than painful and degrading.  Once, doubled up by sickening menstrual pain, disgusted by the mess and appalled by the discomfort of her single abortive attempt to insert a tampon, she had wondered how the species had ever gone on reproducing long enough to reach the stars.  Now, as the final shivers of pleasure trembled in her loins, she understood.  The depth of the suffering was the other face of a height of ecstasy which defied description, one as necessary to the other as birth and death.  As her body had joined with John's in what she now recognised as a true act of love, her mind had joined with that of mankind and could never return.  In spite of the crescent of shell which still adorned her head she was truly human now, in the most fundamental way possible.  Awed, she hugged the knowledge to her like a blessing.

   John was asleep, not making the strange sounds she had heard from him on other occasions but breathing quietly, the lines of strain around his eyes smoothed away, a faint smile on his lips.  Warm in his embrace, Delenn too fell asleep.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Sheridan woke first, conscious that he had slept no more than two or three hours, and yet aware of a lightening of the gloom which suggested they would not be left alone much longer.  For some time he simply lay and luxuriated in the feeling of a warm, breathing body next to his own.  Not for a moment did he imagine it was Anna he held, even as he emerged from sleep he knew who she was: she was herself, she was Delenn, and she was delightful.  For one insane moment he considered trying his luck for a repeat performance, but reason prevailed and he kissed her awake in a chaste, almost brotherly manner.  She opened her eyes slowly and smiled up at him, her face radiant.

   "No regrets?" he asked her.

   "No regrets," she repeated firmly.

   His face grew serious.  "I only hope you aren't in for a terrible disappointment," he said.  "I was married for ten years.  We dearly wanted children, but nothing happened.  I could be completely sterile."

   Delenn sat up, quite unselfconscious in her nakedness.  "Do not be so quick to doubt yourself," she said in the same serious tone.  "You were not impotent last night, and you were not infertile either.  I do not know why you and your wife had no children, but I do know that I am carrying a child, John."

   A smile of incredulous joy broke over his face.  "Delenn, that's ridiculous.  You can't possibly tell so soon.

   "I know what I know."

   In the face of such absolute certainty he gave in.  "Hell of a galaxy to bring a baby into," he remarked, but his face was alight and he felt a glow of happiness fill his body.

   It was definitely morning.  Sheridan sat up and looked around the cell.  "These stooges will be back soon," he said in a more sober tone.  "I don't care who's shocked, but I don't fancy being dragged out of here stark naked either.  Come on."

   He helped Delenn to her feet, feasting his eyes for a final moment on her translucent, other-wordly beauty.  About to hug her, he changed his mind and placed his palm on her breast in the Minbari gesture of affection he had only recently come to understand.  Inclining her head she returned the gesture, and for a few seconds they stood facing one another, touching, a moment out of time.  About to speak, Sheridan thought better of it and turned to sort out his clothes.  Everything was creased from being slept on and there was a splash of bright blood on the whiteness of his shirt, like a crimson flower.

   No sooner had they finished dressing than the door of the cell rattled and swung open - their jailor had returned.  It wasn't carrying any food and Sheridan realised afresh just how ravenously hungry he was.  However, if they weren't given anything to drink soon, hunger might become the least of their worries.  He opened his mouth to protest, but the creature silenced him with a gesture.  It motioned abruptly to him to come, and at Delenn to remain behind.  This was it.  He swallowed, suddenly dry-mouthed, and glanced at Delenn.  She was standing with her knuckles pressed to her mouth, grey eyes wide, an expression of such horror and foreboding on her face that he felt his heart sink.

   "Don't worry, Delenn, I'll be fine," he said reassuringly, but he didn't really believe it.  What had he said to Kosh?  I will not go down easily, and I will not go down alone.  Now was the time to prove that these had been more than empty words.

   He turned away and went to face the Shadow.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   Left alone, Delenn found herself pacing the small room, unable to be still.  Nothing Kosh had said had encouraged her to believe that he expected Sheridan to survive this encounter.  And yet, Sheridan was supposed to win.  What was the point of all this effort, all this grief, all this sacrifice, if the Shadow was not to be destroyed?  And if the Shadow was destroyed, why should John not live?  She realised that she cared deeply about this, far more deeply than she had done before last night.  She had always been fond of John, always been able to talk to him as she had not been able to talk to anyone who had known her before she became human.  And yet she had been dreading last night, dreading the violation of her virginity she knew she must suffer at his hands.  Now the dread was gone, replaced by a memory of such joy as she had never imagined.  It was not simply that he had been gentle, and had tried to hurt her as little as possible - she had hoped for as much.  But that he had cared enough to love her as he had, to spend infinite time and infinite patience waking her sleeping body to blissful enjoyment, she could still scarcely believe.  It had still hurt in the end, she had known it must, but that sharp stab of pain, quickly over, had been swallowed up in waves of physical ecstasy which seemed to tear her soul apart.  In all the time she had inhabited this body, she had had no idea it was capable of such sensations.  She hugged the memory to her heart, already aware that it might have to last her for a very long time.

   She wondered what Kosh had taught John.  He had said very little about his sessions with the Vorlon, but she thought he had begun to realise, as she had realised almost from the beginning, that Kosh was simply using him as a vital but expendable tool in his millennia-long war with the Shadows.  Anna was dead.  Delenn had been almost sure from the start that she was dead.  But Kosh should have known, must have known.  And yet he had allowed John to go on believing and hoping to the contrary, the irrational, desperate hope of a man beside himself with grief.  John was no coward, she knew that and Kosh knew that.  Had this cruel deception really been necessary?  She had trusted Kosh, trusted him when he urged them not to move against the Shadows, trusted him even after he had had both of them tortured to test their commitment.  But over the last three weeks she had begun to doubt him, was doubting more and more.  John would have come here, would have done his best against the Shadow just because it was necessary, because there was no other way to end this war.  To have driven him here consumed by this anguished, forlorn hope of seeing Anna again was simply brutal.  To have virtually engineered his discovery of her murdered body was indescribably cruel.  The sight of him weeping in desolation over the pathetic remains of his true love had almost broken Delenn's heart, and she began to hate Kosh with vicious intensity.

   She now realised that John knew very well the full extent of what was to be required of him.  Not once had he referred to anything he himself might do once this was over.  He had rehearsed the escape plans with her almost as if he knew he would not be there to see them through.  His expression as he had left the cell was something which would haunt her forever: that of a brave man going knowingly to his death.  Silently, she forced herself to acknowledge that she had known Kosh's plans all along.  This was war, a desperate and terrible war, and in wars people died.  People even went on suicide missions.  People with wives, husbands, children and lovers.  Delenn finally stopped pacing, sat down on the only available place, the pile of blankets, and wept.

 

*****

 

 

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