Disclaimer: Once again, I still don't own anything. Babylon 5, John Sheridan and Delenn are property of JMS, who is a genius. And because he is a genius, I'm sure he knows I'm not making any money from this, and thus he will not sue me.
Author's Note: This story can stand on its own, but it is meant as a continuation of Before the Storm. (Because it can stand on its own, I refuse to call it a sequel.) However, for background if you read it separately – set after Lines of Communication (Season 4), the night before Delenn leaves for Minbar to rebuild the Grey Council.
The bedchamber was lit only by candlelight, and the shadows cast on the wall mirrored the most ancient of dances – two bodies woven together so intricately that the grey image projected on the wall moved as a single figure. Neither partner paid these shadows any mind. The shadows cast on the wall tonight were not to be feared, but admired – they portrayed the union of the One and the fulfillment of prophecy on its highest level.
But in any dance, one partner must lead, and the other must follow. The passion and strength of character in both John Sheridan and Delenn of Mir meant that this tango was having difficulty finding a beat. She pushed for control; instinctively, he pushed back. She pulled from the kiss, waited for him to relax, then captured his mouth again. He held her tighter around the waist, probed his tongue deep into her mouth… and again she pulled away. Finally, Delenn captured his hands in hers and with strength that surprised her human partner, she pushed him against the wall and held his hands above his head as she took control of the kiss, silently requesting permission for entry to his mouth. He granted it only momentarily before the position became awkward and he pulled away to look at her curiously.
"Do you trust me, John?" She still held his hands fast – which she had to stand on tip-toe to do - and try as he might, he could not move them.
"With my life," he replied softly. It was the obvious response, but not the correct one.
"Do you trust me with your body?" Delenn asked now.
In spite of himself, John hesitated. There was passion behind her words, and that meant they had meaning. He ought to consider his response carefully. "Yes," he replied finally, but his voice was barely a whisper. He felt a tingle in all his nerve endings, electricity slowly building an undercurrent – whatever was coming, it was big, and it was unknown. It was exhilarating and mildly terrifying. He liked it.
Delenn released her grip on his wrists and took him more gently by one hand, from iron to velvet in an instant as she led him to his bed and bade him to sit down on the edge. And then she released his hand and turned her back, taking between her hands the strip of black cloth she'd placed on his nightstand.
Her back still to her lover, Delenn closed her eyes and let the cloth lie flat across the palm of her left hand while caressing it with her right. It was smooth as silk, cool against her hot skin, and a symbol of the trust he would place in her tonight. She knew John was watching her, that he sat patiently on the side of his bed, naked, unashamed and waiting patiently for her to turn around. She knew what he wanted to happen tonight. She wanted it, too. But whether they got there or not would ultimately be his decision. "Close your eyes," she instructed. She waited another moment before turning again to face him.
He had such a trusting face. With his eyes closed, the face he put on now was not all too different from the one she had seen while watching him sleep. That made her smile. It meant he felt he did not have to put on a special face for her during the day. Her John was her John, pure and simple. Funny, she thought, how "pure and simple" could describe such a textured and complex man. Gently, she reached out and secured the cloth over his eyes.
She did not miss the slow exhale of his breath that followed. "We're not playing anymore," he said in a shaky tone she'd never quite heard him use before.
"No," she agreed.
"You mind… telling me what I'm supposed to do now?"
She stood before him and studied his form for a brief moment before stepping between his bent knees. She found his mouth with hers and possessed it. He did not fight her for control. She smiled into the kiss and leaned against his body, letting him rest his hands firmly on her hips and not stopping him when those hands hesitantly moved up, down, back and forward as though mapping her midsection. Her arms came to rest on his shoulders, her hands running through his hair as she continued to explore his mouth. Her own eyes drifted closed in the intimacy of the moment. She could take what she wanted, right here and now. He wouldn't stop her, and with his vision obscured, she would remain in control throughout the coupling.
But she could not. For him, this ritual was about trust; for her, it was about restraint. With considerable effort, she pulled herself away from his mouth, away from his touch, away from his body, and stood at arm's length. The look of loss on his face nearly broke her.
"I will not hurt you," she said softly.
"You will not be restrained, and you may remove the blindfold and end the ritual at any time. But," she went on, and she couldn't help reaching out to trace his lips with her fingers as she did so, "By continuing in your current condition, you are demonstrating to both of us a tremendous amount of faith and trust."
"And just how does my being blindfolded accomplish that?" He sounded irritated, and she felt a twinge of guilt. He was not Minbari; this custom was alien to him. Of course he would question it, and so she tried not to take it personally.
"Think of all the things for which you rely on your vision." She allowed him a moment to consider the statement before she continued. "Take away your sight, and you are forced into a situation where you must put more faith in your other senses, and in the world around you. What do your other senses tell you, John? What do you hear? What do you smell, what do you taste?"
"I hear… your voice. Other than that I…" He shrugged helplessly. "It smells like my quarters, nothing special." She leaned in close to him again and instinctively he inhaled. A smile came to his lips. "Mmmm…" She kissed him long and slow, allowing him to fully taste her, hoping he understood what she was doing.
He did. "It's just you." There was a tinge of understanding in his voice. "I hear you, I smell you, I taste you…" Tentatively, he reached out a hand. She took it and guided it to her skin, guiding it gently from her left hip, up her side, across her abdomen and up to her right breast. "I feel you," he whispered. Delenn allowed him a brief caress of her nipple before she lowered his hand back to his own lap.
"It's just me," she repeated his words, stepping back from him. "You are safe here. No harm will come to you. Tonight, the world consists of only you and me. So when you put more faith in your world around you… you are putting more faith… in me. Anything you need, I will provide, but because you cannot see to navigate… you will ask me for help. You will surrender to this world, for one night, where you are vulnerable… and you trust completely, and only, in me."
"Trust." There was full understanding in the single-syllable word.
He licked his lips and searched for his next words. "What will you do?"
"I will watch over you. Assure you. Comfort you. I will not take advantage of you in your current state, and I will give you anything you ask for." She tried to keep her tone at an even keel, tried not to emphasize the word anything, tried not to give him a clue, but she hoped desperately that he would be smart enough to grasp what she was saying and ask for the one thing they both wanted, the one thing they both needed, and this ritual could end quickly and painlessly.
But he did not. "I'm thirsty."
Delenn wasn't sure if this was a test, but she obliged at once, navigating to his kitchen and returning with a glass of water, which she brought to his lips. Her partner sipped tentatively at first, then swallowed a gulp and pulled back. She set the glass on his nightstand.
John pulled his legs up onto the bed now and lay back, folding his hands over his stomach. He fidgeted, and after a moment, he brought his arms to his sides instead.
"Are you comfortable?" Delenn asked.
"Yes." The blindfold obscured his telling eyes, but the sweat popping on his brow and the way his Adam's apple bobbed with a hard swallow betrayed his confidence. Delenn took a moment to stand back and admire his naked body in the candlelight. If he were standing, his pose was what the Earth military would call "at attention." But he was not standing. He was reclined and utterly naked before her, and utterly beautiful. The muscles in his arms, legs and abdomen were tight with nerves and maybe fear, and their tautness and the candlelight made his body appear even more chiseled than usual. Oh, she wanted to touch him, to feel those muscles under her hands, to relax him with her physical presence… but she could not. Not yet. Not until he invited her to do so.
"But you are afraid."
John was silent for a long moment. Delenn watched as he licked his lips and swallowed again – she was beginning to notice that this was probably his nervous tick. His head turned toward her as though to look at her, and she watched as he clenched his jaw in frustration. "No," he said finally. "It's just… I don't know what's going to happen."
"None of us ever knows for certain what is going to happen, John," she pointed out. "It is one of life's many truths."
He didn't argue; couldn't, really. If there was anything that was certain about their current state of affairs outside the walls of this room, it was that nothing was certain. And the only certainty inside this room… was love. "Talk to me?" It was a simple request, but a necessary one – when he couldn't hear her, when she didn't move, he felt very isolated and alone.
Delenn smiled, knowing he couldn't see it but hoping it came through in her voice. "All right." She came around the bed and sat down next to him on the empty right hand side. "Do you know why we are doing this, John?"
"Sadistic torture?" He suggested.
Delenn laughed quietly and drew her legs out in front of her, stretched out next to him on the bed. She allowed herself a quick glance at him, but restrained herself from touching his skin. "No." She couldn't help it; she squirmed a bit closer to him. "In the days before Valen, Minbari males, even among the Religious Caste, where the aggressors in relationships. Females were often regarded as property and little else. Their sole purpose was to bear children and continue the male's family line. But… when Valen arrived a thousand years ago, after he helped to defeat the Shadows, he put the wheels in motion for many changes to our culture. This was one. He suggested that because a woman bears the children, they should belong to her family line. He suggested that a female's position for all the responsibility she bears should be elevated. And he set forth what I told you earlier, that the woman bears much of the power in the building of a relationship. It allows her to have what women lacked for centuries – the ability to choose our mate. It has done wonders for Minbari relationships and for our culture."
"And this ritual… is part of that?"
"Yes. When these changes began to take place, it was vowed that females would never treat males as they themselves had been treated. And so this ritual was designed… so that the female would demonstrate restraint; that for all of her judgment in choosing her partner, she now sits in judgment, and he holds the power to walk away. She also demonstrates to him her ability to care for him, to provide for his needs and those of their family. In turn, he is relieved of his sense of sight and demonstrates trust that she will not desert him or deny him in such a vulnerable state. I am obliged to provide for your every need, and to stay with you through the night."
"My every need?" He repeated.
"Yes." Her breath caught slightly. Did he finally understand?
"I um." She watched his cheeks flush with embarrassment. "I need to use the bathroom."
Mentally, she cursed in both English and Minbari. But as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and cautiously stood and reached out for her guidance, she couldn't deny him. She stood and took his outstretched hand, guiding him to the adjacent bathroom.
This would be the evening that Delenn learned that human males urinate standing up.
When they returned to the bedchamber, John plopped back down into a reclined position unceremoniously. His face was still flushed dark red with embarrassment. It was several long minutes before either of them spoke again. In the silence, John felt the electric undercurrent buzzing again. It tingled in the tips of his fingers, up his arms, into his chest and down to his groin. In spite of himself, he reflected on how it had felt as she'd guided him in the most private of activities; how her hands had felt on his hips as she steered and steadied him; how gentle her touch had been as she carefully washed his fingers and palms afterward.
They fell into quiet, measured conversation, and gradually the comfort level returned to where it had been. He was cold; she pulled a sheet up to cover him. She paused in her speech for too long and he became restless and called out for her; she responded with a gentle touch, fingers running through his hair and a reassurance… "I'm here, John." And then his mind was wandering, and he found himself blushing even deeper as he was helpless to stop what he couldn't see but could definitely feel. He clenched his jaw and groaned in frustration, reaching a hand down to cover himself.
"John." Her voice was hushed and came from somewhere to his right. "I have seen you in this condition before. There is no reason to be embarrassed." Delenn settled into a chair. It was mildly uncomfortable, and she couldn't fathom why it was in John's bedroom.
His reply came after a long sigh. "But that night… that night I could…" He used his hands to gesture.
She could not lead him. His consent must come unprovoked. She struggled for a response to his statement that would be appropriate.
"Delenn, could you…"
Delenn watched as again he swallowed and licked his lips – definitely a nervous tick, and an arousing one at that. She hoped, she prayed, and then… barely a whisper. "I need you to sit with me." She moved to the bed again and resumed her place on the right hand side, stretched out on her side next to him. She pulled the sheet away from him and did not pretend she wasn't taking in every inch of his naked body with her gaze. He rolled onto his side, facing her. "I need you to kiss me." She smiled and leaned over, not allowing her skin to touch his as she pressed a kiss to his lips. It was long and languishing, their tongues resuming the dance from earlier in the evening. "I need you… I need you," he breathed as she pulled back from him. He brought his arm up, blind as he was, and let it fall where he thought it would do the most good. Delenn felt his arm come around her back, felt the other coming behind her head and pulling her down to meet him, and her heart soared. Yes… he understood. Finally… he understood. "God, Delenn. I don't need anything else. Just you." He pressed forward with his lips and they landed just right of center on her own. That was OK. He continued to let the kisses fall where they would, trying to recognize by texture what he was kissing. And she delighted in the feeling of his lips… on her mouth, on her chin, on her cheek… on her neck, and she let out a slight whimper as his tongue licked a trail to her jawbone. "Just you. Blind, deaf and dumb I'd let you lead me. I need you so much." Another kiss, this one landing haphazardly near her ear. He seemed to pick up on where he was and opened his mouth, seeking out her earlobe. He found it with very little difficulty and sucked it into his mouth.
"I need you," he repeated, his breath hot against the wetness he'd left behind on her earlobe. "Now. Please. Don't make me beg."
She felt the hand on her back drift lower and begin to map and caress the small of her back. She sucked in a breath in pleasure as it drifted lower yet, slipping ever so slightly between the cheeks of her butt. "Begging… is not necessary for this ritual." She was barely able to get the reply out before the wandering hand found its way to the crease between her butt cheek and thigh and lightly traced a path there, making her cry out in pleasure.
A smile formed on his lips. "Good. Now kiss me." Any fear or uncertainty was gone from his tone now, and this was a demand, an order. She was only too happy to comply.
And now it was time. As Delenn pulled back from his lips and studied his face again, she pivoted on the moment, let it hang in the air, let the electricity build, because she knew the moment she reached to release the blindfold, there would be a shift in power. He held her body tight against his own now; his need for her was obvious against her thigh; and when he could see again, she knew he would notice at once the look of arousal in her eyes, and she would willingly surrender herself to him. Then the ritual would shift, and she would demonstrate trust, and he would practice restraint. She had led the waltz; now he would lead the tango, because she had brought them this far and she had made her choice. This man, her John, Captain John Sheridan, Starkiller, and the One Who Will Be… this was her choice. A tear escaped her right eye and traced a silent path down her cheek. It landed on his neck.
"Delenn, are you…?" His voice lost its passionate tone and became concerned as he felt the drop of wetness hit his hot skin. It was the catalyst for the shift. She reached up and removed the silky strip over his eyes, tossing it to the floor.
John blinked once, twice… three times, and then his eyes adjusted to the low light in the room. He took in the shadow of their forms projected on the adjacent wall. He took in the placement of his hands and willingly closed his eyes again to savor, simply, the feel of his fiancée's body against his. Then he opened his eyes again and looked deep into hers. There was no mistaking that look, not this time. Her pupils were dilated and her irises were as dark as he'd ever seen them – a deep blue he could swim in until he drowned. "Now?" He asked.
She nodded consent. "Now."
"I'd let you do it, if you wanted," he told her.
"I know. But… the time has come… for me to trust you, now."
"Now." He rolled them over and kissed her with fury. She returned it, their tongues battling for dominance of the kiss. In the end, they shared it, like bows of mutual respect as prelude to the impending dance.
John was very glad now that Delenn had removed the blindfold for this part, because the look on her face as he positioned himself and then entered her this first time was nothing short of the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. It was better than any fantasies he'd ever had about this moment; it was a look he never could have mentally fabricated even in his most creative moments. They were largely silent as they moved as One, eyes locked together, hands roaming gentle paths over slick, glistening skin. 'Passion' was the best word for it, but John was not naïve – he had known passion before. This was passion on a level he had never experienced. This was beauty in its purist and most primitive form. This was love when two souls who have traveled together through many lifetimes find each other and fall in love yet again. This was certainty in a world where there could be no certainties at all; where the impossible became possible, and pain and fear and doom and death were eclipsed by timeless love. The universe knew. The universe held its breath, and when the moment of release came, the universe stood still for their exclamations of pleasure, for the crying out of names and the shedding of tears and the long moment of silence that followed as they simply held each other in wonder.
Later, both would reflect on this moment as more than their first time. In the weeks and months that followed, as they both passed through lonely trials of fire and pain, they would cling to this moment for strength. Yes, the universe had known, and that was why it had paused for them. Time stood still because when it resumed again, the universe knew, the paths these lovers traveled would drift apart and plunge into uncertainty and darkness. Survival was not guaranteed for either of them.
Afterward, when time began to move again, when the physical link between them broke because biology dictated it and they sought to maintain it simply by holding each other through the night, Delenn waited. Eyes closed, she meditated on the feel of her partner's body. He relaxed against her, and then began to make that curious sound which she had come to recognize as an indicator of sleep. "I love you, John," she whispered as she turned in toward his form. Unconsciously, his arms came around her as though for protection, and she smiled into the darkness as she pressed a kiss to his neck. "I love you so much."
For tomorrow we die… it echoed in both of their dreams that night. Separate dreams… or a shared one… neither could say. A link had been forged, a link that would be necessary to sustain them both until they were united again, on the other side of the fire, between the darkness and the light.