Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
"Come on, Dad! You know you want to…" John's voice was teasingly affectionate. Delenn listened bemused. Humans really were terrifically resilient. Coming off betrayal, capture, torture, battle, resignation; he was on to the next thing with hardly a pause for reflection or meditation. Still, she hoped he would win this argument. It would be wonderful to have John's father at their wedding.
They'd agreed to hold it as soon as possible; as soon as they could get away from the incessant media presence and press of the crowds. Everyone wanted to see the man of the hour; whether they considered him hero or villain. She was tired of it all, and wanted nothing more than a leisurely trip back to the station, and time alone with the man she loved.
As soon as the press conference was over, they were heading out. John's plan was to take his father up to the Agamemnon, 'borrow' their chaplain for a few hours, and meet her on the White Star for the ceremony. David Sheridan would return to Earth, and they would be off to Babylon 5, newly married. She sighed to herself. Telling Lennier of their plans via comlink had not been what she wanted, but everything had fallen into place so quickly, and it did seem the perfect opportunity. The White Star would afford the privacy they desired, John's father would be able to attend, and frankly, neither of them wanted to put off their joining any longer. She had agreed to a human ceremony, planning to hold the full Minbari ritual once they relocated to Tuzanoor. John had forwarded a copy of the ritual to the White Star. She would go over it when she got there. It seemed it was blessedly short, which was a point in its favor.
John came towards her, beaming with happiness, his arm around his father's shoulders. "He's going to come! Why don't you go ahead and take the first shuttle? We have a few things to do first, and then we'll come up, after stopping by the Aggie to pick up Reverend Peters. I'll call you from there, and let you know when we'll be arriving on the White Star." He paused for a moment, then asked, "We're taking the larger one, right? The one that Londo and G'Kar came in?" When she nodded, he looked away abstractedly for a moment, and then muttered, "I'll have to put a call in about that as well." He noted her questioning look, but just smiled. "A surprise. Remember? I told you, it's the male's perogative to spring surprises on the female!"
Laughing, she replied, "You haven't disappointed me yet in that regard! Very well, I'll go ahead. You plan your surprises…" then she took him aside for a lingering embrace, whispering as she held him close, "Do not be too long. I am tired of waiting; and very, very tired of waiting alone."
He smiled down at her, holding her tightly, and said softly, "Me, too."
Lennier paused at the door to Delenn's quarters; juggling the package he was carrying, in order to place his palm against the access port. He entered the room, and placed the package on a table just inside the door. He started to call out, then realized he could hear voices from the interior sleeping area, and stopped, not wanting to interrupt her conversation. He was unable, and unwilling, to keep from overhearing.
"So you are almost ready to leave? When can I expect you?" Her delighted voice rang in the stillness of the large room. John had called ahead, and instructed the crew to arrange larger quarters for them; a 'honeymoon suite' he had called it. When Lennier had shown her the room, she had indeed been surprised. The White Stars were fighting ships, and not made for luxury. The one she had sent to fetch the ambassadors was larger than most, and had guest cabins, but nothing like this. Listening to Lennier's tales of Londo's advice and G'Kar's assistance, which had almost maddened the Rangers doing the work, had made her laugh until she cried.
John's answer was muffled, and Lennier, to his shame, found himself moving closer to the doorway so he could hear. He was still conflicted over their relationship, and confused by the hidden sorrow he still detected.
"John…" Delenn's voice was hesitant, and Lennier could hear that underlying sadness in it again. "There is one issue with the ritual you sent me."
"What is it?"
"There is one thing that I find that I cannot say. You know that Minbari do not lie, and we take our spoken promises very seriously. I just cannot say this. I hope it is not an insurmountable problem."
"Our rituals tend to be flexible. I'm sure the Reverend can come up with something. What's the problem?"
She gestured towards the printout in her hand, and said reluctantly, "This part, where the duration of the joining is specified."
He looked uncomprehending for a moment, and then said, "Oh…'til death do us part', right?"
She nodded, her hair swinging forward to hide her face, which was twisted with pain.
"Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I should have thought of that. There are substitutions, I'm sure of it. I'll ask him on the way over, and go over them with you when we get there."
Lennier was still uncertain what all this meant, but listened closely as Delenn continued.
"I just do not want thoughts of your limited lifespan to intrude on the ceremony. It should be a good day, a happy day."
"It will be. I'll fix it, and you won't have to think about anything but years and years of us being together. I promise."
She looked up at that, and smiled, reaching out to touch his face on the viewscreen. Lennier slipped away to consider what he had heard.
On board the Agamemnon, David Sheridan also considered the conversation just ended. He and Reverend Peters had paused outside the door to the conference room, to allow his son to finish. The word 'limited' had turned his heart to ice. John did not look ill, but he had been through a lot with Clark's interrogators. From what little they had been able to discuss, he knew that much more had happened since he had last heard from his son. Another war, with alien races of indefinable age and seemingly insurmountable power, had been fought, and won. He didn't want to disrupt what should be a happy time for them, but he desperately wanted to know what it all meant. The chaplain looked at the older man, and taking him gently by the arm, led him into the room to a seat.
John took one look at his father's face, knew what he had heard, and knew what he had to do next. Reverend Peters looked at him questioningly, and briefly asked if they wanted him to leave them alone, but John shook his head. Taking a deep breath, he then told the two men exactly what had happened on Z'ha'dum.
Lennier had taken a moment to stop by the meditation room in order to gather his thoughts. Earlier, when they had spoken of Marcus' fate; he had told her Susan's response—that 'all love is unrequited'. Delenn had said that this was not true. He hadn't understood what she meant; it seemed obvious that there were occasions when love offered was not returned. It was not unknown among his people, and there were accepted ways of dealing with the unfortunate circumstance. When she had gently caressed his face, he had to stop himself from responding in kind. It had seemed almost cruel; but then, she had no idea of his feelings. He had thought she was indicating affection for him; as felt for a friend or a comrade. Now, however, he considered another interpretation of her actions. If Sheridan was not to live very long, she would not always be bound to him. He was unfamiliar with the human ritual of joining, but it obviously was not meant to last beyond death. A small spark of hope grew within him, as he wondered whether she had been asking him to wait for her. It seemed possible, and her actions made no sense to him otherwise. She would not act dishonorably towards him. It was not in her character.
The wedding was small, held in a small conference room from which the central table had been pushed to one side. Londo and G'Kar attended as witnesses and friends. David Sheridan and Lennier stood beside John and Delenn as sponsors; David carrying the rings he had purchased at John's request in Geneva before they'd left; Lennier as Delenn's main support as always.
Lennier was unfamiliar with the words of the ritual, but listened carefully, as what was promised would bind Delenn, as words spoken in ceremony did any Minbari. The minister declared the terms of the vow-- "to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish as long as you both shall love." Lennier realized the last phrase was the substitution Delenn had requested; and his heart leapt as he understood that this change made it a joining, rather than a binding, vow. He let his mind linger on the implications of her choice of words. He pulled his attention back as he heard Sheridan's deep voice firmly declare 'I will'. The minister was addressing Delenn now.
"Will you, Delenn, love, comfort, honour, and protect John, and be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?"
She hesitated only a brief moment, then looking directly into John's eyes, said steadily, "As long as I shall live, I will, mi'Sum'zha'fela."
The minister went on speaking but Lennier could no longer hear him. He was deafened by the sound of the carefully constructed hopes he had built crashing all around him at her words. She had spoken words of binding, declared this alien her partner of the soul. It was the most solemn oath a Minbari could take; binding them together for the entirety of their lives, and beyond. He made a sudden movement towards her, as if to ask 'why?', but stopped himself. He watched numbly as rings were exchanged; a strange custom, but this outward show was apparently important to them. Now she had two rings to wear, while Sheridan had only one. That also seemed odd, but then he was sure their rituals would look so to outsiders. He concentrated on holding himself still through the rest of the ritual, the perfect aide to the last.
David Sheridan had seen the movement, and watched the young Minbari's face curiously. He had met Lennier only briefly before the ceremony, but something in his demeanour towards John had disquieted him. He was unfailingly courteous, but his attitude, while easy and intimate with Delenn, became reserved when John was also present. Neither of those two seemed to notice. Then again, they had to make an effort to notice anyone else at times. It made him smile to see his adult son, soldier and war hero and President, act as smitten as a schoolboy. His new daughter-in-law seemed equally stricken, and it was a good sign for the future that they could enjoy each other so. He only wished they would have longer together, but as Reverend Peters had pointed out to him, none of them really knew how long they had. We know only that we have this moment, right now, in which to live. They understood that better than most.
Lennier watched the rest of the ceremony as if from a distance. Sheridan and Delenn kissed, then each of them embraced, and said farewell, to the elder Sheridan, who would be leaving for Earth on the shuttle. They shook hands with the chaplain, who would be leaving as well, taking some leave on Earth before returning to his duties. Accepting congratulations from the ambassadors, they exited the room to a hail of rice, which the human Rangers in the crew had managed to scavenge from the galley. The ambassadors followed, arguing about the rice, and what significance it might have. He was left alone to escort the two humans to the shuttle.
When they reached the shuttle bay, the ship was still being checked out, and the chaplain went over to talk to one of the human Rangers, curious about the organization. David Sheridan was left alone with Lennier, who had remained silent during the short walk. Finally, he ventured a comment, "It was a lovely ceremony, don't you think?"
Lennier came to himself, and replied with his usual deference, "It was. I believe they intend to repeat their vows using the Minbari ritual at another time. The human ceremony is not that dissimilar, however."
"What was the phrase Delenn used at the end, sumza—something. Is that part of the Minbari ceremony?"
Extremely uncomfortable, but unwilling to avoid answering a direct and simple question, Lennier answered, "It means 'partner of the soul' or 'eternal mate'…it is hard to translate accurately."
David thought intently for a moment; then said slowly, "Your people put a great deal of stock in spoken promises, don't you?"
Lennier simply nodded, uncertain where this was leading.
Suddenly stricken, David asked urgently, "She didn't actually mean eternity, did she? I mean, that she would consider herself married to John forever?"
Realizing that the older man understood, Lennier said with some bitterness, "Oh yes. That is exactly what she meant."
David winced. "John didn't know she was going to do that, did he? He probably doesn't even know what the words meant. He told me he's just starting to learn the language."
"I do not know what Captain Sheridan knows or does not know. I do, however, know Delenn. She wanted to make this vow, although I do not understand why."
This last was said almost plaintively, and David suddenly felt very sorry for the young man, who was obviously more than just an aide to Delenn. "She must have her reasons. But I wish she hadn't done it. It's not fair to her-- or to John, once he realizes what she's done."
"Fair or not, it is done. For better, or for worse, as your ritual states." Lennier's tone reflected a mix of misery, confusion, and a hint of betrayal.
The shuttle captain appeared at the door of the ship, and gestured towards them. Reverend Peters headed towards the ship, looking back to see if David had noticed.
David looked thoughtfully at the Minbari, and said, "Take care of yourself, Lennier. What are your plans now? Will you stay and work for the Alliance?"
Lennier answered automatically, "I will stay with Delenn. I made a vow to stay by her side."
David held out his hand, and Lennier took it to offer the ritual parting handshake favored by humans. Putting his other hand over Lennier's, and gripping it tightly, David said, "A word of advice, if you don't mind. Some vows are better broken." He released the young man's hand, and turned towards the shuttle, and home. As he entered the ship, he said to himself, "And some vows should never be made."