At Last

Chapter 3: Of Bodies and Souls

Part 1

Of Souls

Lennier wandered the corridors of the White Star, trying to get the image of Delenn and Sheridan out of his normally composed mind. Delenn of Mir had actually taken John Sheridan, a Human, as her mate. Never in Minbar's long history had anyone ever done such a thing and Lennier, for his part, could only stand silently and allow it to happen. In fact, he'd done much to help it along.

As he walked aimlessly, his mind reflected on all the times he foolishly assisted in his current heartache, confusion, and yes, even anger. Wasn't it he who ran to Sheridan with help with the Vorlon Inquisitor when Delenn had forbade him from interfering? Wasn't it he who insisted on accompanying Delenn home for the Dreaming and helping her "prove" to her clan that she and the Human belonged together? Wasn't it he who served as her witness during the Shan F'al, guiding the five Minbari females in prayer for the successful union of the two? It was Lennier who did all of those things and who was now startled to find himself standing outside of their quarters.

How he had gotten there, he did not know. His legs having mapped a route his brain couldn't now accept. Yet he stood, stared, and listened. His heart pounded heavily in his chest contradicting demands from the mind to flee to the safety of his own quarters before he was spotted. But those damn disobeying legs again refused to submit to any commands from his brain that whispered, It's over.

But how could something be over that hadn't truly ever begun? How could Lennier now feel a great pain of loss of someone that was never his? How indeed? Yet he did, all the same. And he cursed his traitorous heart. His mind told it the feelings he possessed for Delenn, his mentor, his friend, was of a higher, spiritual love beyond that of a mere, bestial man. He told Marcus the same thing during the Re-birth ceremony. This "truth" allowed him to stay by Delenn's side as her aid, allowed him to watch her infatuation with the captain grow into love then marriage, allowed him to fight by the man's side time and time again because of . . . her.

But it was a lie, a lie that even the most battle hardened soldier of the Warrior Caste wouldn't even tell himself. Minbaris do not lie. Ha. Perhaps Minbaris only lie to themselves when the truth is a far greater dishonor. And standing outside of a married woman's quarters lamenting her happiness with another was indeed dishonorable; yet, Lennier still couldn't move.

Delenn told him Ivanova said, 'All love is unrequited.' His heart almost exploded when she spoke those words, his eyes dropping instantly for fear she'd see his deepest secret there, and then she touched him, gently lifting his chin up so their eyes met. Her touch was so warm and tender as were her eyes and voice when she said, "You know she's wrong, don't you?" And for the first time, he knew what it was like for Marcus to work beside and be friends with Susan and never have her look at him the way he looked at her. He knew with the deepest part of his being why Marcus had given his life force to save a woman who could or would never return his love, his absolute devotion.

Lennier raised his left hand towards the closed door and placed his right over his heart. His mind told him at this very moment Delenn was taking Sheridan through the Shal L'akh, forever binding herself to him. The last mating rite for his people; the Human wedding nothing more than a mere symbol to Lennier. But this, their ceremony could never be undone. In joining the two, Brother Theo said, 'Till death do you part.' But Lennier knew enough of Human marriage customs to know this wasn't always the case. In fact, it normally wasn't the case at all, for an Earth custom called divorce seemed to be the norm rather than the exception. But for Minbari, regardless of the caste, Brother Theo's words only scratched the surface of what it meant for Minbaris to be mated.

Lennier lowered his hands and head, heart heavy, soul in turmoil. How can I continue to serve Delenn knowing she will give herself fully to Sheridan tonight? How can I continue to lie to her and myself, knowing I can never be the man she wants, needs? I no longer have a place by her side. He has stolen everything from me. Perhaps if I was stronger, more like him, she'd . . . I can no longer do this, it's too painful. Lennier took a deep breath, feeling the overwhelming need to meditate and looked upon his legs. They listened, accepting his command, and he walked away, leaving the couple in peace but his heart in pieces.

Part 2

Sheridan and Delenn entered their quarters after walking arm and arm in virtual silence from the reception. Both were deep in thought about the night that lay before them. As much as Sheridan dreaded having to complete fifty rituals, he suddenly realized the forty-nine were nothing compared to the one that loomed finally within reach. To his surprise, he was nervous. Perhaps, even more nervous than he'd been standing before the makeshift altar a couple of hours ago. He wasn't even this nervous when he married Anna. But this marriage was different; he was different, as was the woman he decided to spend the next twenty years with. Perhaps this was the source of his nerves, their difference.

Delenn was just as nervous as John was but for a different reason. Or perhaps it was nothing more than a variation on the core issue, the union of two divergent once warring races. But it was more than that, an insecurity just below her self-assured surface.

The door closed silently behind them and they turned to each other, smiling. They just stood staring at each other for several long seconds until John stepped forward and cupped Delenn's face in his large hands. He tilted her head up to him and slowly descended his lips to hers. The kiss was slow, light, and undemanding, reflecting none of the passion burning inside of him.

Delenn accepted the kiss, sensing John's restraint and loving him even more for his patience. John lifted his head slightly and said, "Alone at last," then resumed the kiss. Delenn unconsciously wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer, and John's kisses deepened in response to having his wife so enticingly close. He slid his arms around her waist, solidifying the contact, his kisses suddenly hard and demanding.

John's firm lips on Delenn's were like water to a desert dweller, essential for life and utterly delicious and wet. John murmured, "God, I love you, Delenn."

He pressed his body into hers, fingers searching for the clasps on her outer robe, and his mouth for hers. Instead, his lips met two tiny, but resolute fingers, gently pushing him back. Delenn caressed his mouth, knowing the pleasure they could bring her. And if she allowed the third kiss, all her Religious Caste training would go up in flames, for she would have him in her bed without the sanctity of the completion of the Shal L'akh. It almost happened a few days ago aboard the war cruiser. At the time, she like John, cursed the intrusion, but once Delenn got her hormones under control, she knew it was for the best and thanked the universe for keeping her from making a big mistake.

Delenn smiled at John, still caressing his lips and cheek. "I think now is a good time to begin." She stepped out of his embrace and knew he understood the unspoken words between them. "I have all we need for the ritual in the bedroom." She took his hand as she'd done for the Shan F'al and escorted him through the living area and into their private bed chamber.

Candles were everywhere and before John's eyes could adjust to the near darkness of the room, Delenn started to light the candles. He helped and soon the room was aglow, the light from the candles flickering off their faces. The bed was still at an angle, but on the other side of the spacious room were pallets and pillows of various sizes, shapes, and colors. Not so very different from the way Delenn arranged her quarters during the pleasure-seeking ritual so many months ago. The arrangement was beautiful, enticing, but not as alluring as the woman standing only a few feet from him with the most brilliant smile on her face.

John took off his jacket, tie, shoes, and cumber bunt, placed them neatly on a chair, and asked, "What is this ritual called again, honey?"

"It's called Shal L'akh. As you can see," she said, gesturing to the arrangements, "it's very much like the Shan F'al but requires more from the couple spiritually."

"Spiritually?" John questioned.

"Even for Minbari, the physical relationship of a mated couple is extremely important and the Shan F'al gives them the opportunity to discover whether they are compatible in this area. Whereas, the Shal L'akh gives the couple the last opportunity to cleanse their souls of any lingering doubts about the union of mind, body, and soul."

"Doubts? I don't have any doubts about you, Delenn" John said. "I only live now because of my love for you."

Delenn could see John was beginning to get a little irritated at the thought that she doubted his sincerity or worse, his love. He was, of course, wrong on both fronts. "No, John, you misunderstand. Sometimes we doubt ourselves. This ritual is as much for us as individuals as it is for us as a couple, for every mated union is made up of individuals, no matter the bond. For the bond between a husband and wife to withstand all the universe may and will throw at them, they must be rooted deep in the earth like the strongest tree, bending to the wind, rain, and snow but never breaking. And even in a forest of trees, John, in the end, they all stand alone. We are one, but we are also two."

John nodded his head in understanding. "So, what comes first?"

Part 3

"In order for us to cleanse our souls, we must first cleanse our bodies," Delenn said and started to take off her outer robe.

"What?"

Delenn laughed at John's shocked expression. "Well, we'll use water," she said, pointing to the basins near the pallets. "Neither one of us can use the cleansers full Minbaris use for the ceremony."

John squinted his eyes at her and said, "You know that's not what I meant, Delenn."

She laughed at him again. "I know, John, but it's really quite simple. We'll undress ourselves or each other, if you prefer, then we'll wash each other. It's more symbolic than an actual bath or shower, John."

"Ah," was his only answer and Delenn had to stop herself from laughing again.

John looked at his wife in her green inner dress. It fit every curve of her body and he was again struck by how much of Delenn the outer robe concealed. She had an understated figure and his appreciative eyes soaked in every delicious curve. He licked his lips and said, "Perhaps, we should undress ourselves. Washing you, without 'going too far,'" he said, again reminded of the Shan F'al, "will be a challenge in and of itself."

"I understand." And she did. The Shan F'al was just as hard on her as it had been on John. She didn't think it would be; after all, it was just another ritual like all the others. How wrong she had been, the temptation to go beyond what was sanctioned so great.

"Alright, John, but you need not take everything off. Leave on your undergarments, your . . ." She pointed towards him groping for the right word but coming up blank.

"Boxers," John helped.

"Yes, your boxers," she said with a slight blush. "You may take everything off except your boxers."

They undressed in silence, a slow process, considering they spent more time stealing glances at each other than removing clothing. In the end, John stood bare-chested in black and blue stripped boxers and Delenn in a sleeveless, white, satin tunic, falling to her calves.

"Ah hell," John said after seeing Delenn. He took two steps towards her before catching himself. Yeah, he would be doing that a lot before the ritual was over.

Delenn also stared at John, unconsciously biting her bottom lip as she did so. In a hoarse voice she asked, "When did you do that?" pointing to his body.

John again felt a rush of nerves hit him. He ran his hand over his hairless chest and looked down at his equally hairless legs and said, "I thought it would please you." He touched his newly formed beard then laughed. "At the time it made sense. I thought I would keep this though," he said, again fingering his facial hair.

Now, it was Delenn's turn to take two steps forward and stop. She closed her eyes and told herself to breathe. Thirty seconds later, she opened them. "John, we better begin before . . ." She left the sentenced unfinished, and instead, said, "Let's sit."

John found a comfortable spot across from Delenn. She knelt while he sat cross-legged like a kid in a kindergarten classroom, waiting for the teacher to give out instructions. But damn if Delenn looked like any school teacher he'd ever had.

Delenn pulled the basin a bit closer to them. "Like a said before, John, the cleansing is more symbolic than actual so we will only wash the upper half of our bodies with the water here. The female precedes the male as in the Shan F'al."

Delenn took the sponge, dipped it in the warm water, and then squeezed out the excess water before lifting it to John's body. She moved a little closer, taking one of his hard, long arms into her hand. She started at his squared right shoulder and worked her way down, taking her time, enjoying the feel of him. She then moved to the right side and performed the same task, trying her best to ignore John's heavy breathing.

Unable to watch her ministrations, John closed his eyes and simply basked in the feel of his wife running the soft sponge over his entire upper torso with care. Her fingers were like electricity on his skin, inflaming him to a heightened state of arousal. This was so damn erotic, her washing him, barely touching, but it was enough to get his attention.

His chest, stomach, and back followed, receiving the same attention. Delenn's movements were languid, and John noticed how she lingered whenever she came into contact with one of his pleasure centers, making the "simple" cleansing a bit more for the both of them. And before John had a chance to fully register what was happening it was over.

Delenn leaned back on her heels, hands wet, and pulse racing. She had enjoyed that far more than she was supposed to and now had to take a minute to calm herself before allowing John to proceed. She closed her eyes, signaling to John she was quite ready for him to do the same to her, which was fine with John because he needed a moment himself.

Four minutes later, Delenn opened her eyes to find a smiling John looking at her. Embarrassed at her loss of composure, Delenn said, "You may proceed, John, whenever you're ready."

John gave her an amorous look before soaking his sponge in the second basin, the one closest to him. Like Delenn, he squeezed out the extra water, not wanting to get the pillows and pallets wet. John then rose to his knees and scooted closer to Delenn. John contemplated washing Delenn in the same fashion she'd done him, exposing her upper torso and working his way from the front to the back. And as quickly as he had that thought was as quickly he discarded it. He knew there was no way in hell he could expose Delenn's breasts to him and not touch and taste them. God, he wanted to do that now and she was still clothed.

Sheridan realized he hadn't moved an inch and was simply staring at Delenn when she asked, "Is there something wrong, John?"

This brought him back to his current predicament. "No, sweetheart, there's nothing wrong. I was just thinking."

"About what?"

About using my tongue, instead of the water, to wash every inch of your delectable body, John thought to himself. But what he said to Delenn was,"Lie back and let me do it my way."

Ignoring her skeptical look, John removed the pillows behind her. "Now lie back, please."

Delenn followed his orders, lying back on the pallet and the one pillow John left for her head.

"Are you comfortable?" he asked, after seeing her lock and rest her hands against her flat stomach.

"I'm fine," she responded, but he knew otherwise. She was never comfortable when he interfered with one of her rituals as he has done many times these last few months. As far as John was concerned, if it wasn't a direct rule then he was free to alter tradition a bit. And hell, considering he wasn't Minbari at all and Delenn only part so physically, they were already altering every damn ritual they engaged. But he knew such deviations didn't sit well with Delenn, especially when she wasn't the one making the changes.

John shrugged at the annoyed look she was giving him, knowing his plan was the best for the both of them. That is, if she wanted to get through the ritual before they both lost the little willpower they still possessed.

"Trust me," he said, then leaned down and gave her a quick kiss to the lips, softening her up enough for a smile.

John sat back on his knees and took a long look before reaching for Delenn's tunic. It was so delicate in his hands and he took great care as he slowly, almost reverently, slid the garment up Delenn's legs. He reached the area right below the pubic region, felt Delenn take a deep breath, hold it, and then let it out. He felt like doing the same, and now looking upon her shapely legs, wondered if he'd made the right decision.

Except for the hair on her head, Delenn was completely without the slightest trace of body hair, maintaining at least that part of her Minbari DNA. And John knew exactly how good a hairless Delenn felt and wondered if his body hair felt as good to her during the Shan F'al or if she wished his body was more Minbari, closer to what she was accustomed to. And it was then John truly comprehended the purpose of the Shal L'akh. Doubt. Personal doubt, or perhaps insecurities.

"Are you all right, John," Delenn asked, touching his knee.

"Sorry, honey. I don't know what's wrong with me."

Delenn sat up and caressed John's cheek. "It's the Shal L'akh. It forces us to confront our hidden selves. Not the self we keep veiled from others but the one we keep hidden from ourselves."

She placed a kiss to his cheek and said, "I think we are ready to move on to the soul cleansing, John."

Sheridan pulled back to see her fully then said, "But I haven't washed your body yet, honey, and" he looked down at her legs, "I was sooo looking forward to washing those gorgeous legs of yours."

Delenn gave a throaty laugh and hugged John to her, running her hands through his hair. "There will be plenty of time for that later but the time for such things has passed. You can feel the shift as well as I, John. Now is the time for the next part of the ritual."

He nodded, the way he always did when she was right, any further protest futile.

Delenn quickly removed the basins, discarded the contents in the washroom, and returned to sit across from John once again. He'd placed two candles, one for each of them, in the center, again remembering the Shan F'al. Impressed, Delenn couldn't help but smile when she sat down. And he impressed her even further when he said, "The female always goes first," then moved one of the long, white candles closer to her.

Delenn clasped her hands in her lap, looked seriously at John, then at the flickering light of the candle. Like John earlier, Delenn paused to gather her thoughts, thinking how to best share her deepest doubts. She turned away from the security of the flame and looked upon John once again.

"Going into the crystalis was the most difficult decision I ever made in my life." She paused again and unconsciously ran a worried hand over her neck. "I came out different yet the same. But people . . . my people only saw the differences, the physical changes. Minbari never ignore the spirit or soul of another but, in my case, they did. So caught up in what I wasn't, they refused to see what I still was."

John observed Delenn's tense body and labored words, and wanted to reach for her but he stilled those initial urges. This was the ritual, but more importantly, this was something Delenn had to come to terms with if she was to be whole. So, he sat patiently for her to continue, hoping he'd be as strong as she when it was his turn.

Her emerald gaze suddenly bore into Sheridan and she asked, "Why did you shave off most of your body hair?"

Surprised, John stuttered the first half of his answer. "Because . . . because . . . because I didn't know if my Human body pleased you." He shook his head feeling he wasn't explaining it right. "No, I knew you found me attractive, I just didn't know if you found me as attractive as a Minbari male."

"I thought so," she said, turning her eyes from him and to the flame. "That's how I felt when we had our first non-business dinner at the Fresh Aire. That's why I wore the Human clothing and shoes."

"You looked great, Delenn. Did you not think so?"

"I had no basis from which to judge. The clothes were comfortable but not as comfortable as my own. But . . . it wasn't the clothing but how I felt in them."

"What do you mean?" John asked, forgetting his earlier decision to keep a distance and grabbing her right hand in his.

Reassured by his touch, Delenn said, "I felt like an imposter, like I was trying to be someone I wasn't. I've had to make so many changes to my daily routine because of this," she looked down at herself, "mostly human body I now have."

"Are you unpleased with your new body, Delenn?" This was a question John would have never asked before, but one that entered his mind often, especially when they'd first met and he'd seen how people mistreated her because of the change. He knew she didn't regret her choice, but that wasn't the same as being happy with the result.

"I used to be," she admitted in a tone rich with sadness. "It has taken me a long time to get used to this new vessel for my soul. And sometimes I can't help but wonder . . ."

John held her hand even tighter, feeling the tremble that started in her chest work its way down her arm to her suddenly cold fingers. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and said, "Sometimes, I wonder if I was more Minbari in appearance when we first met, or fully Minbari, if you would have . . . if we would have . . ."

Delenn closed her eyes and tried unsuccessfully to free her hand from John's grasp, but he would have none of it. In fact, he grabbed the other one as well and said forcefully, "Delenn, look at me."

She didn't respond, too caught up in her own doubts to hear his voice clearly. Releasing her hands, John cupped her face and this time his voice was as sweet and soothing as lemonade on a summer's day. "Look at me, honey."

Delenn opened her eyes and John could see the dam holding back her tears was weakening and about to break. He pulled her face to his and kissed her lovingly, not passionate, but with unadulterated love and understanding.

"Delenn, I was given a full dossier on all of the ambassadors when I became captain of Babylon 5 and each contained several images. And while the obvious changes to your appearance seems to be the addition of the brown hair and the reduction in the size of your bone crest, you are still essentially the same. But I have to admit, when I first saw you in the council room, I thought you quite beautiful and not at all what I was expecting."

Delenn started to pull away again, but John held her close. "But," John emphasized, catching her eyes before going on, "I also thought the full Minbari Delenn also beautiful." He gave a short, ironic laugh. "Here I was, the hero of my people for destroying one Minbari war cruiser and the first thing I do in my new role as Captain was to stare at a picture of the Minbari ambassador."

"You did that?" she asked, obviously taken aback by the admission.

"Well, it was a surprise to me as well. If anyone would have ever told me I'd be attracted to a Minbari, I would have called them a liar. But I was and those wondrous green eyes held me then as they do to this day. You once told me the body is just a shell for the soul within. Your soul hasn't changed Delenn, only the shell and I would love you no matter the form you took. Well, perhaps not if that shell was a Pak'ma'ra."

They both laughed, releasing some of the tension, and John kissed her again, feeling her relax in his embrace.

"Delenn, when I look at you I see who you are. You are without a doubt Minbari but you are also Human. That Human part was always inside of you, if it wasn't, you wouldn't have been able to trigger the triluminary and make the transformation. This body, this beautiful hybrid body, is as much you as the one you were born with. Can't you see that, Delenn? What was once hidden inside you is now manifest for the whole universe to see and for me to love."

And with those clarifying and loving words, the dam burst. The warm tears flowed, but unlike the first time they came after her transformation, John was here to catch her, to love her. His Delenn, simply Delenn and that was always enough for him, but more importantly, was it enough for her?

After the trembling and sobbing stopped, John fetched a cloth from the washroom and helped Delenn clear away the physical remnants of her self-doubt.

"Thank you."

It was a whisper, but John heard it in the quiet room.

"Thank you," Delenn said again, but with more resolution and strength in her voice. "Perhaps we should meditate before we move on."

For once, meditation actually sounded like a good idea to John.

Delenn blew out her candle and sat down fully on her bottom in a cross-legged position, mirroring John's form. They held hands and fifteen minutes later, she felt John move and asked, "Are you ready, John?"

"I think so."

Part 4

Delenn moved the candle next to John, a silent indicator for him to begin.

John scratched his beard and ran his hands through his hair, all physical signs of his nervousness and Delenn knew it well. Like he had done for her, she respected and understood one's inner turmoil and waited for him to open up to her.

"I didn't mean to treat and speak to you so harshly when I found out about Anna. I was so angry, I wouldn't allow myself to truly hear anything you said to me. You told me you loved me and I said nothing, walked away, leaving you there thinking I didn't feel the same for you."

"You were upset and I deserved your anger."

"No, you didn't, Delenn," John said, remembering how he roughly grabbed and shook her.

"Perhaps, you should have told me, but you were also right about how I would have taken the news. I did exactly what you and Kosh feared. I ran off to Za'ha'dum and to my own death."

Delenn also remembered that horrible time and how much she blamed herself for his actions, for his death. It still hurt; yet, even now, she could see no other way they could have ended the reign of Shadow terror.

"It was meant to be, John. I think we both know that now."

"Yes, but it doesn't make it any easier to accept. I spent three days aboard the White Star with Anna, or what was left of Anna. She was gone, Delenn, like you suspected. They had totally taken over her mind and left . . . God I don't know what in the hell she was, but she most definitely wasn't my wife, the woman I married."

John uncurled his long legs, feeling tightness start to form in his knees. He was an old man yet but he wasn't the young cadet he used to be either. "I had a lot of time to think over those three days and asked myself some tough questions. I asked myself if Anna, my Anna, had come back to me would I have abandoned all we built and returned to her."

Delenn had also asked herself the same question many times since John's return. In her weak moments, in the privacy of her quarters, her mind answered no but her insecure heart answered yes. And now when he was prepared to tell her, she was afraid to hear the truth.

John took Delenn's hands in his. "I never thought I would get over Anna's death and I definitely didn't think I would fall in love again. When I arrived on Babylon 5, finding love again was the last thing on my mind . . . until I met you."

He gave her a warm smile before continuing. "In a short period of time we became allies, friends and confidants and then something so much more. When I saw Anna for the first time in years, I was shocked yes, but none of the love I had for her was there. At least not the love a man should have for his wife . . . not the love I have for you, Delenn."

Unshed tears glistened in both of their eyes and a flood of relief swept over Delenn like a lighthouse to a crew on a boat adrift in a lonely sea.

John unexpectedly gripped Delenn's hands tighter, almost too tight, but she didn't complain, seeing the concern in his eyes.

"At the reception, I overheard two Human Rangers talking and they said Minbaris mate for life."

"That's true, John, but I told you that already."

"I know, but I don't think I really understood what you meant by for life."

"Now it is I who don't understand."

John released her hands, stress evident in his features. "Delenn, I can only give you twenty years."

"I know," she said in a reserved tone, still not ready to think about the inevitable, but the pain of the thought transparent on her normally serene features.

"I debated asking you to marry me, thinking it selfish to ask you to marry a man with a limited lifespan."

"John, we all have a limited lifespan," she tried to soothe.

"That doesn't make it any less selfish. I wanted you, Delenn. I wanted you to be my wife, if only for a short time."

"I wanted that as well. Surely, you had to have known I wouldn't reject your proposal because the universe didn't see fit to bless us with more time together."

"I knew you wouldn't, but doesn't that make me even the more selfish for asking?"

"You followed the calling of your heart, as I did when I accepted. We cannot control fate, John, we can only manage it the best we can."

"Delenn you will live many, many years after me and I thought, in time, you would find another, the way I found you after Anna died."

Delenn dropped her head, knowing where he was heading and what he must be feeling.

"Delenn, I don't want you to spend the rest of your life alone. The thought of you being with another brings me no pleasure, but the image of you alone, mourning me is so much worse."

He placed a hand under her chin, encouraging her to look at him. She did and he could see what he feared. "The Rangers said there was a vow said at the end of this ceremony eternally binding the two, even after death."

"That's true."

"Is it also true, the vow is optional and some couples have been known to leave it out of the ritual?"

Delenn sighed, her heart aching for the both of them and their future selves. "That is also true, John, but only the Warrior Caste have, during the Earth-Minbari War, sought to omit that part of the ritual. It is optional but we've always treated it otherwise."

"But you said it was optional," John repeated with a glimmer of hope."

"Not for the Religious Caste, John. We commit fully, eternally."

"Delenn, please," he said, moving to sit beside her, "I need you to not take the final vow. I know you're fully committed to me. Hell, by Earth standards, we're already married. You don't have to prove anything else to me. We can end the ritual now with the usual prayers."

But it wasn't that easy for Delenn. She knew otherwise, her heart having already made that decision for her when she'd taken the knife meant for John.

She shook her head no.

"Don't say no, honey. Please don't do this," he pleaded.

"It's already done, John, if not in words, in intent." She ran her hand over her brow, suddenly thinking this was the hardest ritual she'd ever engaged.

"John, this is the first time I've ever gone through the mating ritual with anyone. I think you know that."

He nodded.

"But I've had numerous suitors over the years. While my father and Dukhat were very protective of me, they didn't forbid me from spending time with select males of my caste, talking and getting to know each other. Not so very different from what we did, in fact."

A twinge of jealousy shot through John but was quickly squashed. Who in the hell was he to get angry, when he'd been married before? Hell, twice, but that was for another time.

"And even when I became Satai, the suitors did not stop, but by that time, most had given up. Between my new position and the fact I never sought to begin the sleep watching ritual with any of them. They waited for an offer I could never bring myself to extend. That is," she touched John's cheek, "until I met you."

She paused, allowing her words to sink in. And when he nodded she said, "Whether I say the vows or not, John, my heart could never belong to another. I've tried, but it refuses to listen. I've waited my whole life for you and when you pass beyond the veil, I will wait another lifetime until our souls meet again. But if I don't say them, there is no guarantee we will be able to find each other. That is unacceptable," she said with a force John hadn't heard since Delenn told the captains of Earth's war cruisers poised to blow Babylon 5 away, saying, 'If you value your lives, be somewhere else.'

She closed her eyes and forced herself to understand his doubt. "I know you think you are undeserving of what you probably view as a sacrifice. That somehow you are denying me a future and you've probably convinced yourself I would probably do better if I'd chosen a Minbari mate instead of you."

That was indeed his fear.

"I am selfish, Delenn. Too selfish to give you up, too selfish to stay away from you, too selfish to not make you my wife when I have so little to give you in return."

"There you are wrong, John Sheridan. Time is a fleeting concept, not guaranteed to any of us. If I die two days, two weeks, two months, or two years from now, would you regret the time we had together."

"Of course not," he answered quickly, appalled she'd ever think such a thing of him, then he paused knowingly and smiled. Point made.

"I just wanted you to be absolutely sure, honey. It's a huge commitment. One I'm willing to make with you, but I think you're getting the shorter end of the bargain here."

"I'm sure, John," Delenn said, caressing his cheek. "I'm already your wife and with the closing vow, I'll be your mate in this life and the next."

John wanted that as well. He knew there would be many years of pain ahead of her after he died, but he trusted her when she said they would meet again beyond the rim. And like the leap of faith he made at Za'ha'dum into the abyss, he knew he could do it again, this time with Delenn by his side, making the leap with him.

"What do I have to do, Delenn?" he asked, soul fully cleansed of doubt and insecurities.

"I'll cite the vow and you simply have to repeat them."

"Okay, sounds simple enough."

They held hands, facing each other again and Delenn began.

"I take you today to be my life mate. I promise to love you, to cherish you, to be your lifelong partner, and to stand faithfully by your side in the physical and spiritual world. The happiness that your love has provided me is beyond measure. My commitment to you now is representative of the commitment my heart has already made through my abiding love. To you, my love, I pledge and bind myself to you, though our hearts are already intertwined."

John repeated the vows of commitment binding their souls forever.

And it was done. By both Earth and Minbari customs and laws they were man and wife, mated for eternity.

Part 5

Of Bodies

Having extinguished some of the candles and rearranged a few pillows, Delenn nervously waited for John to return from the washroom. All that was left was for them to consummate their union. And as much as Delenn dreamed of this moment, she was suddenly struck by the worse case of nerves. She had absolutely no experience in this realm and while all went well doing the Shan F'al and John didn't seem to have a problem with her actions, a swath of insecurity now coated her.

John exited the washroom, basin and sponge in hand. He smiled down at Delenn as he approached and said, "There is still the little matter of a cleansing, my dear wife."

They both smiled at the other, liking the sound of the new title on John's lips.

John knelt beside Delenn and placed the basin to the left of him, off the pallet. He could sense her tension and had to admit he was a bit tense himself. It had been a long time since he'd last made love to a woman. Since Anna, in fact and while he'd forgotten nothing, he worried about his performance, or more accurately, his stamina. Lulls in sexual activity never bode well for a man the first time back on the proverbial saddle. He wanted Delenn's first time to be special, wonderful, and it wouldn't be if her husband ended the experience far too soon for both of their liking.

John took a deep breath and placed the wet sponge on a pillow before reaching for Delenn. He stopped, frowned, then said, "If I do something you don't like or doesn't feel good tell me."

"I will, John."

He started to reach for her again, but yielded his hand a second time. "If you feel uncomfortable in the least, tell me and I'll stop. If you—

Delenn silenced him with a kiss, forcing him to use his tongue for something other than talking. She drew him into her mouth, sucking, letting him know she wanted him, wanted this as much as he did. Releasing Sheridan, Delenn said, "I trust you, John. I know you would never do anything to hurt me. Besides, Minbari aren't exactly passive lovers," she said, shocking Sheridan.

"Oh really?" he said, feeling the tension leave his body like an unwelcome virus. "Well, I'll have to discover that for myself, won't I?"

Delenn laughed, also sensing a weight lifting from her shoulders.

John began again and slowly slid one then two straps off Delenn's shoulder, revealing her upper body to him. She lay back on the pallet, raising her hips so he could pull the tunic completely off. She wore nothing underneath and she unabashedly watched John's reaction to her nude form.

He'd only seen her like this once before and it took his breath away then as it did now. She looked like a piece of ivory, perfectly sculpted by Aphrodite herself. His eyes were heavy with lust when he said, "You're so damn beautiful, Delenn. How I've kept my hands off of you this long, I'll never know."

Delenn giggled, for she'd wondered the same thing about the handsome man currently giving her the most lascivious look she'd ever seen.

Giving himself a mental kick in the ass, John picked up the sponge. Starting with her feet, John moved the sponge in a circular direction around each tiny foot then ankle, placing a sweet kiss on each after he'd finished. He wet the sponge again, but this time he didn't squeeze it out; instead, he held it up, allowing it to drip all over Delenn's body.

The warm water ran over and off her breasts and nipples while some settled in her belly button while the rest ran down her thighs and onto the pallet under her.

"John," she sighed as he dropped more water on her belly and laved it up with his mouth before it could roll off to join the small puddle forming by her side.

John located every water droplet and drank from his new wife's sweetness. He gracefully moved his tongue from her belly button to her sides, her arms, shoulders, her breasts then nipples. He flicked his tongue out, teasing the pink areolas, bringing another sigh from Delenn with each rotation of his flattened then pointed tongue.

He suckled each breast until they were aching for his touch and Delenn arched her aroused body into his mouth, silently asking for more. And he gave it to her, filling his hungry mouth and hands with each soft, pale mound, causing her body to involuntarily lift and jerk.

"John," she moaned so soft, but thick with desire, thick with need.

But John wouldn't be rushed. He wanted to give her as much pleasure as she could take before he entered her for the first time. He wanted Delenn to know what it really meant to be made love to.

John proceeded to expertly work his way down her body, licking and massaging every delicious inch of her, calling out the number of each pleasure center he encountered on his way down. He sucked her toes, causing Delenn to slam her eyes shut at the rush of heat it produced in her. Her ankles, calves, thighs and even her knees received the John Sheridan wedding night treatment.

He was rock hard, made even harder each time Delenn sighed or moaned his name, letting him know how much he was pleasing her. He wanted her now, his penis aching to be inside her. Not yet, John, not yet, he told himself. Her first, then you.

John kissed Delenn's hips, inner thighs then experimentally, her mound. He looked up at her for her reaction. She had risen up on her elbows and their eyes met. This was one thing they didn't do during the Shan F'al and John was hoping to add this to his list of her pleasure centers.

"Trust me," he whispered. "I promise, you'll enjoy it."

Delenn did trust him and she'd enjoyed everything he done to her so far, but Minbari never put their mouths . . . A bolt of pleasure ripped through her followed by a deep moan of acquiescence as John's mouth descended upon her.

Unable to hold her weight under the intense pressure building in her loins, Delenn lay back down, eyes firmly shut, fists clenched and mouth in a constant, "Oh," position. His tongue tortured her, around, around, up, down, up, down, in, out, in, out, it went, leaving a path of undignified Minbari groans in its wake. And just when she thought she would die from pleasure, he inserted a finger into her, testing, probing, swiftly followed by his tongue on her clitoris. The two sensations were Delenn's undoing and she bucked against his fingers and tongue, the buildup excruciatingly wonderful and three years in the making. Then the levee broke in an uproarious explosion of screams, wetness, and unintelligible Adronato and English.

"Oh, John," Delenn murmured repeatedly through ragged breaths and glazed eyes. "I've never experienced anything like that before. I would have never thought—

Sheridan cut her off with a fierce kiss, allowing her to taste her sweet nectar on his lips and tongue. The kiss was frenzied, John unable to deny himself any longer after seeing her come and scream his name in a way no woman has ever done before.

Delenn could feel John's need, pressing hard and ready against her opening. She knew he'd done all of that for her, taking time to get her ready while foregoing his own need. Delenn cupped his moistened face and said, "I'm ready, John."

Sheridan reached between them and slowly inserted the tip of his penis into her small opening. She was so damn wet, tight, and welcoming. John looked into her face and knew she was truly ready for him. "It may hurt at first, Delenn, when I break your hymen."

"Minbari don't have hymens, John, and I didn't acquire one after the transformation. Believe it or not, in that region, Humans and Minbari are very much alike."

She wiggled enticingly under him, encouraging him to put his fears of hurting her aside and make love to her.

"Good God, Delenn," was all she heard before he fully penetrated her, encountering no resistance on the way in.

They moved as one now, thrusting and rising in counterpoint, bodies, hearts, and souls linked.

Delenn's hands were everywhere on John's firm body, his back, sides, hair, and ass, pulling him closer, showing him just how much she wanted him.

John's hairless chest rubbed erotically against Delenn's breasts, causing them both to moan at the irresistible contact. Sheridan wrapped Delenn's legs around his back and almost screamed when he entered her even deeper. In fact, Delenn did scream and John's mouth was the beneficiary of Delenn's satisfaction with the new position.

"Oh, honey, you feel so good, I don't think I can hold out much longer," John grinded out between deep, penetrating kisses.

"Then don't," Delenn said, digging her nails in his back and feverishly sucking his neck.

John's pace quickened and their sweaty bodies slammed unrepentantly into each other, taking and giving in a dance older than the First Ones. And like Delenn only fifteen minutes earlier, John's body seized him in a primal lust and he surged forward with ferocity, head burrowed in Delenn's neck, arms around her shoulders, shuddering, shuddering, shuddering, . . . explosion.

"That was beyond amazing," John said, pulling Delenn to him on the slanted bed.

"I never knew it could be like that," Delenn agreed, still recovering from their second, much longer, lovemaking session.

"This has been one hell of a long, exhausting day," John said, concealing a yawn behind his hand.

"It has at that. But the best day I've ever had the pleasure of living through and it was with you, because of you," Delenn said, forcing back a yawn of her own.

Delenn rested her head on her husband's shoulder and John placed a warm kiss to the top of her crown.

"Tomorrow is a new day, my love, Babylon 5, the Alliance—

"Shhh, tomorrow will take care of itself, but tonight, right now is all we need to think about," Delenn said then pulled John down into a passionate kiss he eagerly returned.

Delenn slid her hand under the covers, grazing from John's neck, down his chest, and further still, grasping, massaging.

"John," Delenn whispered in his ear seductively, "I assume what you did to me earlier, can also be done to you."

Sheridan looked at her confused, until Delenn licked her lips suggestively and increased her hand massage.

"Oh, Delenn, you are a damn fast learner," he moaned. "But I don't think I can manage on this contraption you call a bed."

Delenn laughed and slinked down his body. "I think you'll find the angle of the bed you call a contraption is perfect for what I have in mind." She winked at his shocked expression and said in a throaty voice, "Trust me."

He did, they did and in the silence of the room, two sleep-filled voices could be heard.

"I love you Delenn of Mir, Delenn Sheridan, my heart, my everything."

"I love you John Sheridan, my husband, my mate, my soul."

And sleep finally took them, at last.

THE END

Author's Note:

The marriage of Delenn and John was just too big of a gap for me to ignore. I've been mulling it over in my head for months and couldn't quite conceptualize a story until two weeks ago. This was the first multi-chapter story for the couple I've written. The thoughts just kept coming and the story kept growing. Please forgive my indulgence.

I thank everyone whose read and enjoyed this story. And I especially thank those who've taken the time to leave a comment. I appreciate the support. Feedback means a lot to a writer, even an amateur one.