Disclaimer: I don't own Sheridan, I don't own Delenn, and I don't own very much at all, so please don't sue me. I did, however, make up some Minbari words. Those I probably own but would gladly surrender to JMS if he asked me.

Author's note: Although this was not the first Babylon 5 fic I posted, it was the first one I wrote. There seem to be a few topics that B5 fanfic authors gravitate to, and the Shan'Fal ritual from "Racing Mars" is one of them. I've read several stories centering on this particular episode, but none shared my perspective – namely, the Minbari rule of three -- so I decided, after much mental debate, that this story must be written.

Falling

We will spend the night… discovering one another's centers of pleasure.

The words lingered in John Sheridan's mind and as he made his way back to his quarters, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He had been propositioned by women since Anna – his encounter last year with Ms. Musante, while certainly the boldest, hadn't been the first -- but he'd never been so eager to take one up on her offering.

He reached his quarters and punched in the code. "In a little while, you will come to my quarters," she had said. How long is 'a little while'? If he had gone straight there, he would have seemed too eager. He had enough experience with Delenn now to know that the Minbari approached their rituals with careful planning and reverence, and when she said "in a little while," it was no doubt because there were preparations to be made before the ritual could begin.

It was just as well. If her words meant what he suspected they meant – that tonight, they would consummate their relationship – he wanted to clear his mind so that his entire focus could be on Delenn. He mused in spite of himself that he was nervous – get a grip, John, he thought – but it had been years since he'd been with a woman, let alone a woman he cared anything about. The first time for a couple was always a bit nerve-racking if you gave a damn about the other person, and Delenn… well, he gave more of a damn about Delenn than about anyone else in the universe. For him, he expected this would be his last first time, but for her – he suspected it was her first, first time. And that meant, no matter how confident she seemed, no matter how much it appeared she had this ritual completely in hand, she was nervous too. Which meant it had to be special.

"Computer. Search alien records – Minbari. Shan'Fal, all possible spellings."

"Searching Minbari records. Estimated search time: 15 minutes."

John nodded in approval. "Download and print all findings." Fifteen minutes gave him enough time for a quick shower and clean up, which seemed appropriate for the evening's activities. Then he'd read the printout and find out exactly what he was and was not in for that evening before attending to the only other thing that was gnawing at him that could conceivably keep any of his attention from his fiancé.

He undressed and stepped into a steaming hot shower, hurrying himself a bit to stay on schedule but being sure to pay extra attention to washing the important parts. He was certain Delenn had never seen a human male in the nude before, and he wanted to be sure it was a positive experience so that she would want to see more of it, of him. Much more. He smirked in spite of himself, letting his thoughts drift a bit to what she might be doing for her preparations. Perhaps she, too, was showering, standing naked under the spray of the water in her own quarters, thinking of him. He liked that. He liked that a lot.

He shook his head to clear the image. While his fantasies of her had grown more X-rated by the day since his return from Za'ha'dum, there was no need for them tonight. Tonight it would be real. He thought. He hoped. After a final, thorough rinse, he turned off the shower, stepped out and toweled off. He stood before his wardrobe, trying to choose the appropriate undergarments. Boxers? Briefs? He wondered what the Minbari wore, if they wore anything at all, and if Delenn would know the difference anyway. Boxers, he decided. By the time he disrobed enough for her to see them, he'd no doubt have a raging erection, and there was no reason to scare her.

He finished dressing and added a little cologne, then stepped in front of the bathroom mirror for a once-over. He looked just fine in his civvies, even handsome, maybe, but without the uniform he felt like he was missing his armor. Ah well. The armor helped the walls stay up, and if there were any walls still up when it came to Delenn, it was time for them to come down. He nodded at his reflection, then turned out the lights and stepped into the front room. His printout was waiting for him.

Shan'Fal – Minbari mating ritual, it read. Following the completion of the Shan'ashor ("sleeping ritual"), and offerings to the temple for members of the Religious Caste, a couple still wishing to move forward toward full commitment may enter into the Shan'Fal, the Third Movement of Preparation and Understanding. The Shan'Fal represents the joining of the couple in mind and body.

And that was it. He rolled his eyes. Well, there was the "joining in body" part, and he could pretty well guess what that meant. But exactly what ritualistic hoops he might have to jump through to get to that part, he still had no idea. With a sigh, he set down the printout. He'd just have to rely on Delenn to lead, or at the very least to inform him of how he should lead her.

Momentarily pushing aside thoughts of Delenn, he turned his attention fully to another matter.

"Computer, locate Michael Garibaldi."


The members of Delenn's clan had accepted her choice to take a human mate, to be an offering to the humans for their losses during the war, but that didn't mean they were thrilled about sitting Shan'Fal for her. No, thrilled was not the word. "Curious" was perhaps more correct for some; "obligated" for most. They helped her to bathe, once she supplied them with the correct human bathing materials; helped her to dress; prayed over her; stood beside her in making an offering to Valen. She bowed her customary respects to them.

Lennier helped her prepare the bedchamber. He was not a member of her clan, but he had pledged himself to her for life as an aide, and she would not turn his help away. Still, as they stripped away the sheets and blanket and replaced them with the brand new, hand-sewn linens she'd brought with her from Minbar specifically for this purpose, she felt unease in the room.

"What is it, Lennier?"

He was silent, tucking the upper corner of the bottom sheet into place. Delenn watched him, holding her eyes on him and refusing to continue preparations until he answered.

"You have studied the human male anatomy," Lennier said finally. "You know that there will be some pain." It wasn't a question. Minbari did not ask questions when they already knew the answers.

She paused before responding. "Yes."

"And yet your desire is for the Shan'Fal, and not for a human mating ritual where you could bear that pain in private?" Now the question, but not the correct one; it didn't matter. She understood.

"I am Minbari, Lennier. The Shan'Fal has been a tradition of our people, of the Religious Caste in particular, for thousands of years. Though my outward appearance may have changed, though I have chosen a human mate, I will always be Minbari." Delenn paused, stepped away from the bed with her familiar look of distress creasing her brow. "And I trust John. You must know that. I love him, Lennier, and trust him to take care of me tonight."

She had turned away from him, which was just as well – Lennier was certain that the pain he felt at the words "I love him" would have been visible on his face. He would not want to explain that, not tonight, not ever. Certainly he knew she was fated for Sheridan; certainly he knew that if they were entering into the Shan'Fal, there was little chance she'd change her mind now. But knowing all that and hearing her say the words were two different things entirely.

"Pray with me, Lennier. We are almost ready." And so the two knelt, and prayed – she for what lie ahead that evening, and he for forgiveness for the jealousy he felt. And then it was time. They returned to the front room where the members of her clan had assembled themselves for prayer and meditation through the night, bowed their respects to them and to one another, and waited for John's arrival.


The meeting with Mr. Garibaldi had not gone well. No, it had not gone well at all, and all John wanted now was to be in the arms of the woman he loved. He was frustrated, even angry – NOT the kind of mood he wanted to be in for this evening, but it seemed nothing had gone his way today. He hated playing the stupid human when it came to the Minbari lifestyle, hated that he couldn't fix things with Michael, and now he had arrived at Delenn's quarters to find a group of Minbari assembled for this ritual, which every fiber of his human being said was FUBAR. But he loved her. He loved her, and this was important to her. So he allowed himself to be led into her bedchamber even as his mind screamed in protest.

After she had closed the doors behind them, a slight tension settled over the couple. Delenn clasped her hands in front of her, bit her lip and fidgeted with the front of her robe, while John clenched and unclenched his jaw, cursing silently at the butterflies in his stomach. He had been here before, for pete's sake – but never like this. He knew without question what he wanted to do – but not what he needed to do, what she needed him to do.

"Hello John."

And suddenly the butterflies were quiet at the sound of her voice. The words, the simple greeting, melted him inside and the nervousness rolled seamlessly into anticipation. "Delenn. I… you look…" Words failed him and he took a step toward her.

The corners of her mouth turned up as she stepped to meet him, reaching out her hands to clasp his.

John allowed her to pull him close and dropped his head to rest his brow on hers, closing his eyes in a gentle surrender. After a moment, he lifted his head just enough to press a small, tender kiss to her forehead. Then he settled his head against hers again, eyes closed, and for several minutes neither said a word. The feeling between them moved in the silence even as they stayed still. What had begun as unease, fear of the unknown, smoothed into contentedness and comfort as their breathing evened.

He moved his left hand up to brush her cheek and she leaned into the touch. Their hearts found a common beat, nearly audible as a single pulse in the quiet of the room.

Then he slid the hand from her cheek to her lips, and she kissed tips of his fingers, sending a warm tingle through his body. The electricity began to flow between them. Eyes opened and held a gaze, each searching the other, unable to speak, unable to breathe, unwilling to relinquish this one tender moment, and knowing that one spark would start the fire that they both yearned for.

It was too soon.

"The Shan'Fal has three phases." Delenn was slightly breathless as she spoke – murmured, really – against his chest. Her fingers found a button on his shirt that was coming loose. "Each begins and ends with meditation." She released the button and stepped away, worrying her bottom lip. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly; surely she had no idea what her touch had done to him.

"So what… um." He swallowed hard, self-consciously fidgeting with his civilian clothing. It didn't fit right all of a sudden, and it was too warm in the room. "What do we do first?"

We meditate together on where we have been. Our lives before coming to this place, the early days of our relationship, the… things we have done together to bring us this far. We meditate on what has been."

"Uh huh. And then?"

She took his hand and led him to a sitting position on the floor beside her bed. "The Minbari believe that before the pleasures of the body can be fully appreciated, we must first understand the pleasures of the mind. For the first phase of the Shan'Fal, we will explore this, sharing with one another verbally our love, our devotion, our… desires." She blushed, and John could feel the heat rising in his own cheeks as well. It had been a very long time since he had professed his love for a woman, and even with Anna, he hadn't ever voiced his desires aloud, except in the heat of passion. And, he supposed, that was the point the Minbari were trying to make.

"We will then enter into separate meditations – you will stay in here while I depart and meditate outside. When I return, I will carry a candle. If it is lit, it signifies my desire to continue with the ritual. If it is unlit – for honor, I must still return it to you; however the ritual will end at once. But," she continued quickly as a look of horror crossed his face, "You should know I would not have brought you here, for this, if I were not quite sure already."

Looking up, he noticed two sets of three candles against the wall behind them. "Is," he pointed, "That one for me?"

"You will choose to light or not light your candle in my absence," she explained quietly. "We must both decide if we like what we have learned and if we wish to continue with the ritual. After all, it is not truly a union if one person holds power over the other."

"And if all the candles are lit and all is in agreement, then we get to… that is," he cleared his throat, "Pleasures of the body, right?"

"Meditation on the present," she corrected, "Followed by pleasures of touch. We will… explore… with touch, discovering ways to bring each other pleasure above the final joining of our bodies. And then I will again leave and we will have our separate meditations, and if, as you say, all is in agreement, we will proceed to the final phase." Her fingers found a resting place on his left thigh as he adjusted his seated position. "The Shan'Fal'zah. Meditations on the future, followed by the Heefa – in your language, roughly, 'pleasures of body.'"

The words, the way she said them, sent a rush of blood between his legs. "Mmm…" He reached for her, touching the sensitive skin of her neck, his breath hot on her ear as he groaned, "Human mating rituals have a much more direct route to bodily pleasures." In persuasion, he licked the shell of her ear. She trembled in his arms. "Sure you don't want to try that instead?"

"I. John." Her voice was barely a whisper. She gently but firmly pulled him away, and he knew the answer. He nodded by way of strengthening his resolve to do this for her, with her.

"All right."

She offered him a smile, almost apologetic, and then they both closed their eyes in meditation.


Two hours later, as he lay naked under Delenn's touch in the second phase of this torturous but Oh, so good ritual, John effectively decided two things: First, he had been right before and this was most certainly FUBAR, and walked the line between pleasure and pain so thinly it could easily serve as either in the human world; and second, if his race took as much time and care with exploring each other before marriage, it was entirely possible there would be far fewer divorces, if only to avoid ever having to do this again.

"Oh – oh, Delenn… don't… stop," he gasped as her fingers lightly traced the crease between his right thigh and his testicles.

She pulled her hand away slightly. "Stop?" she asked, her brow furrowed in concern. "Or don't stop?"

He took in a gulp of air before responding. "It's – it feels wonderful," he assured her. "But if you – keep doing that – I'm going to lose my mind." And something else, he thought. He was so close to the edge already, less than a half hour after they had stood disrobed before each other for the first time, that he had to admit he had no idea how Minbari males managed to make it through this godforsaken ritual without shooting their load prematurely. But Delenn had told him, among other things during the first phase of the ritual, that both male and female Minbari only reached climax once during the Shan'Fal.

"We most certainly wouldn't want that," she mused, giving him that look he got whenever he used a human expression she thought sounded silly. Then she kissed him, her tongue probing at the entrance to his mouth; he granted entry and lost himself in her touch as her hand played in the nest of hair between his legs. "Such a beautiful mind," she whispered against his lips. He dared to open his eyes and look at her, and she answered his lustful gaze with another long, deep kiss.

John moaned into her mouth as the hand that had been teasing him settled firmly around the base of his penis. "You don't play fair," he admonished. She didn't respond except to recapture his lips with hers as her hand ran the length of him for the first time.

He had to break the kiss then in favor of throwing his head back to release a guttural moan. Delenn took the opportunity to attack his exposed neck, seeking out a particularly sensitive spot just to the left of his Adam's apple with her tongue.

He couldn't take much more. His point of no return was just beyond reach, and he wasn't sure she understood what that meant. "Oh…woo… woohoo!" The exclamation of pleasure was louder than he intended, but it was clear he no longer had control of his mental facilities. "Delenn. Delenn. I can't – you have to. Have to stop." His breath was coming in gasps now as he struggled to maintain control.

John felt her smile against the tender skin of his neck, and then her grip on his organ loosened and she pulled back from him. "Breathe, John." She rolled off of him and sat up beside him. "Meditate and breathe."

"I…" he was panicking now. He was certain he'd never been this close to the edge without going over. But he would do just about anything she wanted; she had him in the palm of her hand. He drew a deep breath, held it, released it slowly. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, and then she was coaxing him to a seated position and situating herself behind him. Her legs came down on either side of his body.

"Breathe," she whispered in his ear.

Slowly the fire faded to coals. His heartbeat slowed from its fever pitch. Torture, pleasure, joy, pain – he was sure he felt tears in the corners of his eyes. And then her hands were on him again, running through his hair, down the nape of his neck, over his strong shoulders and biceps in a firm touch. She began to massage his neck and shoulders and he slowed his breathing even more.

"Do you remember the first time I did this for you?" John asked. His head had lolled forward and he was speaking to his own breastbone, but she heard him. She ran a firm hand down his spine, noting the feel of each vertebrae and his response as she touched them. "Mmm… that's nice." The tension from the day, from the pleasure-pain he'd been experiencing under her ministrations, began to fade.

"I was in so much pain," Delenn replied, now focusing the pressure of her hands on the small of his back. "By the end of the inquisition, my whole body was on fire. I could not think straight to even get back to my quarters. You brought me here, made me a cup of tea, held me for the longest time. And then you rubbed my aching muscles until I fell asleep. I knew then, John. I knew even then." Her hands came around his muscled torso and felt their way up from his bellybutton to his nipples. She grazed them simultaneously, causing the fire in him to rekindle in an instant. He sucked in a breath.

"I do not wish for you to fall asleep," she said now, and he felt the smile on her face as she began kissing the nape of his neck.

"I – God. I don't think," she was teasing his nipples now, pinching them, circling them with curious fingers. "I don't think there's any chance of that."

"I was wondering about these." She pressed them inward as a test, and noted curiously that they sprung back out. "Human males don't nurse the young… and yet you have… you have…" the word escaped her.

"Nipples," John supplied.

Delenn's laughter filled his ears and brought a smile to his face. "Nipples," she tested the word on her lips, then laughed again. "It is a strange word. Nipples," she tried again. "What is their purpose?"

He sucked in a breath as she pinched them particularly hard, "I think you are exploring their purpose just now."

"This is pleasurable to you, then?"

"This is very pleasurable to me."

She continued to play with the hardened nubs but her gaze shifted downward, focusing on his erection. "Is… that… pleasurable?" she asked.

He looked over his shoulder at her, and then followed her gaze between his legs. "It uh…" Be honest, John. She told you there were to be no secrets tonight, and she is asking because she only wants to bring you pleasure, he chided himself. "It can be. It is intended to be. But… if it stays… like that… for too long… it hurts." He licked his lips. Words, you idiot. She feels bad and you have to fix that or this is all going to end as badly as the rest of your day. "Ambassador." He turned his head to look back at her. "Delenn. I would very much like to show you now the same pleasure you have brought me."

He felt her relax behind him and took that as his cue to roll over, pinning her lower body with his and capturing her lips in a ferocious kiss.

"I think I would very much like that as well," she gasped as he kissed and nibbled a place at the base of her neck that she knew he had sought out on purpose – he already knew she was sensitive there.

"Breathe, Delenn," John coaxed. "Relax." His strong hands held her on either side at the ribcage as he looked into her eyes. He continued to hold her gaze, his face just inches from hers and his breath coming in lustful gasps as he slowly slid his hands down to her hips. "That's it."

He moved so that he lay on his side next to her, his naked body flush against hers, and began to build her fire as she had built his.


John could not meditate. Well, no – that was not entirely accurate. He had lit his second candle after she pulled on her robe and departed, and he had sat down to meditate, but he knew not on what to focus his thoughts and the only thing he was meditating about was the ache between his legs and precisely what he intended to do when Delenn returned to the room.

He was reasonably sure that humans were not built to spend so much time rounding the bases, and he was fully willing to admit that the Minbari were superior in their ability to prolong foreplay. No, he was most certainly not a fan of delayed gratification, and the next time they were able to steal a moment alone, he would introduce her to another funny-sounding human word called "quickie."

Fantasizing about future bedroom activities with Delenn was probably not considered proper meditation. John didn't care. His brain had surrendered all control hours ago, and his penis now ruled the roost. It demanded gratification of him, screamed at him to go into the next room, sweep Delenn into his arms, carry her back in here, and damn any meditations on the future, damn the Minbari who were praying outside – he was going to have his way with her. That's an order, Captain, his hormones barked. You go get her, and you bury yourself so far inside her she won't know what –

Thankfully, the mental battle against his erection was quieted as he heard the door open and close. He looked up from his seated position on the floor just in time to see Delenn put her second lighted candle in its place. Wordlessly, she disrobed and joined him on the floor.

She ventured a sidelong glance at him and knew in an instant that he hadn't been meditating any more than she had. "I could not think of anything but you," she admitted.

"Nor I, you."

"Well then. Meditations on our future should be no problem." Her voice was no more than a whisper, and she couldn't look away from his face.

It was, it turned out, easier than he thought. With her seated next to him, and the thought that in a matter of minutes they would make love for the first time, his mind drifted immediately to the future he'd seen for them last year, when his time stabilizer was damaged on board the White Star.

Our son is safe. That's all that matters.

She'd told him that – would tell him that – in a prison cell on Centauri Prime, some 17 years from now. If they had survived to have a son, that meant they would survive everything that was swallowing them whole right now: The Shadow War was over, but the war with Earth and mounting problems on Minbar remained. But was what he saw a destined future? Or one possible future? Either way it was conceivable that they would make it out alive, and not only alive, but together. It was just a matter of figuring out how.

"John."

The way she said his name, her voice full of love and passion and fear all at once, brought him out of his reverie. His heart began to pound in anticipation. "Delenn." He opened his eyes to see her still seated beside him. He drank in the sight of her nude form: Her creamy white skin and small round breasts, the womanly curve of her hips, the strong shape of her thighs – the same thighs he'd explored with touch and tongue an hour before, making her writhe beneath him in pleasure. Her face, her oh so kissable lips… He reached out for her. She accepted his assistance in helping her to stand and allowed herself to be led to the bed.

"Relax," he whispered in her ear, dropping barely-there kisses along her jaw as he lowered her to a reclined position and settled himself on top of her.

She knew, as much as she could without having done it before, what to expect. She'd researched human sexuality before approaching him for this ritual, and during the first phase, he'd described – in great detail, at her insistence – exactly what he would want to do with her tonight, and in the future.

It might hurt, he had admitted when she'd asked about what she had read. For human women… the first time… can hurt. But I'll do my best to be gentle.

They were both trembling now, hands skating now-familiar skin, bodies pressed together, lips meeting in a tender kiss. And then his hand was between them, one finger probing her opening, thumb intentionally grazing her clitoris. She moaned against his lips and her hips involuntarily thrust upward, welcoming the touch. Two fingers caressed her from the inside now, gently stretching her, preparing her for him.

"God, Delenn," John gasped, breaking the kiss to look at her. He was nearly panting as his need to be inside her threatened to overwhelm his desire to make sure she was ready. "I need… I can't…" He added a third finger and she grunted a bit in discomfort, shifted slightly, but ultimately surrendered. She was as ready as she was going to be. He pressed his thumb firmly against her center one more time and she cried out in pleasure. "Look at me. Look at me." He removed his fingers and she obeyed, eyes meeting his. The fire consumed them both in a tidal wave and he positioned himself at her entry, then thrust his hips forward, pushing the head of his penis inside.

"Oh," she gasped, raising her head and shoulders from the bed, eyes closed, tears threatening at the corners. He could feel her tense at the new sensation and it took all of his resolve not to immediately push the rest of the way inside.

"Look at me," he said again, and she opened her eyes. He could see the tears glistening there. "You need to relax. It will hurt more if you're tense. Relax," he breathed, again seeking out the sensitive place on her neck with his mouth. He traced it with his tongue in slow circles, licking and sucking down the sensitive skin to her shoulder until he felt her lay her head back down and her body surrender beneath him. Another, stronger thrust and they both cried out at the final joining of their bodies. He rested inside her as she let out a second cry of pain and the tears overflowed.

John pulled Delenn's body tight against him, trying not to move. He was sweating from the strain of holding himself back. She felt so good, so tight, so warm and wet, felt like she was made just for him, and to finally be inside her… he almost lost it right then. But he was going to make this good for her, for both of them – he'd hold out as long as he could, and he wouldn't hurt her anymore if he could help it.

Her voice was hushed when she spoke, breath coming in hot gasps against the glistening skin of his neck. He could tell she was trying to get control of her breathing. "You said you wanted to make love a thousand times tonight. Morning will come when it always does, and we may not get another chance for a long while. Would it not be wise to get started?"

"Ambassador, you are… you are so…" he kissed her passionately and she tentatively thrust her hips upward, her breath catching only slightly. She did it again, and this time there was no tension at all. "Feel better?" he asked, searching her face for the slightest hint of discomfort as he began to thrust in and out of her in a gentle rhythm of long, deep strokes.

"Yes," she gasped. "Yes."

And suddenly all of his desire to do it now, hard, to reach the release they had been building for the last several hours, didn't matter. What he wanted was for this feeling to last as long as possible. It was a high beyond anything he'd ever experienced in sex or battle or otherwise. It was better than his most passionate nights with Anna; stronger than his resolve had been at that moment of decision at Za'ha'dum; deeper than any love or emotion he had ever felt, and he wanted to hold on to it. Riding this wave, he felt like he could take on the entire galaxy.

His human body needed release, and he surrendered to its demand to thrust harder, hold her tighter, bring her over the edge with him. It wouldn't be long now.

She was his one thing worth living for, and now he would surrender himself to her.

"John… John," she was writhing beneath him, her head thrown back in ecstasy.

"I know." He pumped faster now. "Wrap your legs around me," he instructed. "Hold onto me and don't let go. Don't ever let go."

It had been only months since he'd jumped into an unknown abyss, uncertain of how far he would fall. Now he was about to do it again. But this time, they would fall together. This time, they would catch each other.

He continued to thrust as his body went rigid and even as he reached his release and emptied himself inside her, determined to take her with him. His hand found its way again to her center and he pressed with experienced hands. "Let go, Delenn," he whispered, exhilarated – he was still falling, falling… "I will catch you when you fall."

Her eyes opened, pulled him in, and then she was clenching him for all he was worth. His ears filled with her exclamations of pleasure. True to his word, he held her tight, held her as her body twitched and her hips thrust upward, held her as she gripped him inside her. He held her until her body stilled, and even then, he pulled out and fell onto the bed beside her with his arms still stretched across her midsection in a protective embrace.

John didn't realize until he felt her hand on his face that he was crying. She wiped a tear away and looked at him, smiling. "John Sheridan," she said softly, "I do believe this is the first time I have ever seen you cry."

"I'm just a big softie," he replied. "Don't let it get out." He blinked against fresh tears that came to his eyes when he looked at her. She was more relaxed, more contented than he had ever seen her. She was beautiful. She was his.

The candelabras burning side by side across the room caught his eye. Each still had one unlit candle, which told him that even if the sex had reached a climax, the ritual was not over. He said as much to Delenn.

She laughed against his lips as she leaned over to capture his mouth in a gentle kiss. "It pleases me that you asked."

"Well, this was important to you. I want to make sure we do it right. But what I really want," he kissed her lightly on the nose, ran lazy fingers up her arm, "Is to do whatever I have to so that your clan goes away and I can spend the rest of the night making you scream my name for no one but me to hear." Now a fierce kiss to her lips. "Tell me how we do that."

"They will leave once we have each lit our final candle. We are free to do that whenever we wish. The final candle concludes the ritual, and if we wish, we may go our separate ways."

"Mmhmmm." John was listening, but he was paying more attention to the space between her breasts, noticing the way her voice vibrated ever so slightly against his lips as he covered the space with kisses. "And what if I don't wish to leave?"

"Then we will both stay."

"And what if I wish to do more… of… this?" His mouth found her left breast and latched onto her nipple, making swirls around the hardened nub with his tongue.

"Then," Delenn replied, pulling away from him more to tease than to scold, "We should finish the ritual so that we can be alone."

"Indeed." He moved as if to capture her in his embrace again, but she was rolling to her feet on the other side of the bed. He slid across it and did the same, shaking his head. Despite the fact that he felt somewhat nobler and more reverent for having survived this ritual, he was human, and therefore he could not resist intentionally letting her stay ahead of him so that he could watch her from behind as she walked.

"Stop staring at me," she said without turning around.

"I'm – what? I'm not – Delenn." John fumbled with his words, wondering how she'd known. But he quieted as they met before the two sets of candles.

Somberly, Delenn lit hers, then closed her eyes in prayer. "Nu'zen fel'da'vid, fel'alani, fel'sil'zha." She opened her eyes then and lifted her gaze to his. "You are my beginning, my present, my future," she translated.

He accepted the lighter she was handing her and felt a calm come over him as he also lit his final candle. "Nu'zen fel'da'vid, fel'alani, fel'sil'zha," he murmured, bringing his face within inches of hers, and then closing the gap with a kiss. "Beautiful."

There was a rustling in the other room, and then they heard the familiar sound of the door opening and closing. With a smile he took her hand and led her back across the room. It was only then, after all of the evening's activities, that he took the time to take note that her bed was completely horizontal.

"Huh," he mused aloud. "Did you do that for me?"

"A slight modification, yes. I'll adjust it again before we fall asleep."

"You think you're getting some sleep tonight? Ambassador." He caught her in the circle of his arms. "I regret to inform you that you are sorely mistaken." Then a kiss, and they were falling again, together, back onto the bed, and they were falling together, into eternity.