Chapter 3: Discussions and Decisions
Delenn was so very tired; she didn't want to think anymore. All she desired to do was light a few candles, recline on her bed, and allow meditation to transport her to another dimension, one where peace was her friend and her old nemesis- guilt- was bound, gagged, and out of sight.
"Lights at fifty percent," she said, removing her hood and unzipping the cloak, thankful for the soft illumination and quiet of her quarters.
She turned, intending to make for her bedroom, but Delenn tensed, catching the slightest movement to her right. She slipped her hand in her right pocket, taking hold of a small item, her hand wrapping around it.
Delenn could hear the breathing so clearly now, the intruder right behind her. She estimated how much time it would take for her to pivot, spin around, and strike before he could level his own attack. It would be close, but what choice did she have, he was already so near.
Decision made, she relaxed, prepared to defend herself, with deadly force if necessary. She started to move and then came the voice.
"My God, it's the middle of the night, Delenn, what were you doing out?"
"John," Delenn said with a whisper, relaxing the hand that gripped the item in her cloak pocket. Another second or two more and she would have . . . Well, she didn't want to think about what would've or could've happened if he didn't speak up when he did.
What is he doing here?
She whirled around to him, her face a mask for the shock she felt at finding him in her quarters. She wasn't ready for this; she thought she was when she left her quarters an hour or so ago, but she was wrong. Looking at him now, Delenn knew this to be true.
"Hell, Delenn, I've been waiting for you for . . ." He looked around, she assumed for a clock. Unable to find one, he angrily shrugged his shoulders. "Too damn long. Where in the hell have you been? Do you know how dangerous it is for a woman to be running around the station this time of night? Something could've happened to you. Did you ever think of that?"
And so the litany of rampaging questions went and Delenn felt the first flush of feminist irritation creep into her egalitarian muscles. It was better than the fear and guilt she'd felt when she first heard his voice. It wasn't the emotion she was going for, but it would do. A Minbari, after all, had to protect herself, even if that meant going on the offensive.
"We aren't even married yet and you think to dictate my comings and goings, John Sheridan. You have no authority over me and my acceptance of your engagement ring didn't mean I relinquished my independence to you."
She was gearing up for more, the irrational force to defend herself by striking out at John in order to make him see how incompatible they were was strong—cruelly so. Delenn simply wanted to run and hide from the inevitable. If they married, he would regret it, secrets never stayed buried and John would eventually find out hers.
Humans didn't understand honor in the same way as Minbari. Honor to humans meant sacrifice and absolute truth; to her people it meant obedience, faith, pride. Full disclosure was never expected or demanded.
"That's not what I meant and you damn well know it. You shouldn't be out so late by yourself. The station isn't always safe, you know that, Delenn."
"I can take care of myself, John. I've told you that before."
"You should've had Lennier or one of the Rangers with you, if there was something so pressing that pulled you from your quarters at two in the morning."
His eyebrows raised, giving her a questioning look she didn't understand.
She walked around him, pulling her cloak to her, remembering what she was wearing when she hastily decided to seek him out. She wasn't thinking clearly then, wishing she'd taken time to dress properly. Oh well, there was no help for it now.
"I can take care of myself," she repeated.
"What if some nut job tried to harm you? What would you have done? You're so . . . so . . . tiny," he finished, using his hands to form something small, she guessed.
Her anger flared, and then she remembered Susan's words from long ago. 'Human males think because they're bigger and stronger than us that size is the only thing that matters in combat. They're wrong, of course, and seem wholly surprised when a woman proves it to them. The funny thing is that they adamantly deny that size matters in other realms, areas where we women think it undeniably does.'
Delenn didn't understand the last part but she grasped the meaning of the first. She removed the item from her pocket, opened her palm, and showed it to John.
It was small, silver, and fit perfectly in the center of her hand, and John scoffed at it.
"What is that little thing supposed to do?"
She released a catch and the five-inch innocent item, sprang into a six-foot weapon of Minbari destruction.
"I think you're familiar with the denn'bok, the Minbari fighting pike, John. The Warrior Caste aren't the only ones trained in its use."
John gulped and she released the catch, transforming it back into a pint-sized carry on.
He stared at her. His face was hard, his lips set in a thin grimace, fists clenched to his sides.
It was best this way; she tried to convince herself. They would only hurt each other, the way they already had. Her conversation with Dr. Franklin, after John's death, rang in her ears.
"Is there a problem?"
"Well, you tell me. I hear you haven't had anything to eat or drink in almost seven days."
"Minbari can fast as long as two weeks."
"A normal Minbari, yes, but you're partly human now. Your system can't handle the stress you're putting on it. If you don't stop, you're going to hurt yourself. Look, I know this is how your people deal with grief, all right? You fast. You purify yourselves physically, spiritually. But nothing is going to be served by endangering your own life."
"Justice is served. It is my fault that John is gone, my fault that the Alliance against the Shadows has crumbled. That the heart has gone out of them.
For a long time . . . I was afraid his wife might be alive on Z'Ha'Dum, but I . . . I never asked. I never told him. I denied him the right to choose his actions wisely. I broke the trust between us. And when he learned the truth on his own . . . he didn't choose his actions. His actions chose him. And he went away. I have sometimes heard humans say: 'Minbari never tell anyone the whole truth.' But I am no longer wholly Minbari. I should have changed my heart more than I did. But I loved him, and I . . . I wanted to protect him. I should have loved him less and trusted him more."
Delenn turned away from him, clutching the cloak to her, its warmth the only heat she could feel in the suddenly frigid room. Then there were strong arms around her, pulling her weak form against an equally strong chest.
"I'm sorry I acted like a moron," John said in her ear, his breath, and body melting her falsely cool exterior.
"I didn't mean a thing I said. I was just worried about you; damned worried, to be honest. When you weren't here, I couldn't help replaying what happened to you with Nightwatch. I know they're gone, but still, there is darkness coming our way."
He gripped her tighter, the strength of his hold, the magnitude of his concern, causing Delenn to do what she'd wanted to do since discovering it was her love who was the intruder. She turned in his arms, seeking solace in his heat, his love.
"How you didn't manage to throttle me for running off to Z'Ha'Dum and worrying you and everyone so, I'll never know," he said into her hair.
She managed a slight laugh, the sound of it caught in his chest, to which her face was squarely planted.
John reached down, cupped her cheeks in his hands, and lifted her face to his. He kissed her, soft, lingering lips on her quivering ones. This wasn't what she wanted. Well, it was exactly what she wanted, but it muddied her thoughts, made rational thinking impossible.
Delenn tried to fight her body's response to the rush of heat flaming through every nerve ending, but it was a futile effort.
He released one cheek and placed that hand on the small of her back, pushing her further into him. John used his thumb to run his finger smoothly across her lips, coaxing her mouth open for his tongue. He slid it inside, an escaping whimper signaling her loss of control. In response, Delenn ran her hand up his shoulders and around his neck, pulling his mouth closer to her own, shamelessly enjoying the power this man had over her body, her heart.
They were moving, her backward, him forward. Her back hit the wall beside her sofa, their lips still entwined, breaths coming hard and fast. Both hands were on her waist now, gliding up and down her sides, sending bolts of sensual energy through her.
"Good, God, Delenn, what do you have on?" John rasped.
His hips pressed her against the wall and he surveyed her clothing, with his hands, not his eyes.
"You barely have anything on at all."
She wanted to tell him that once returning to her quarters from his own, she'd completed some paperwork, showered, and put the silk camisole and matching shorts on with the intention of donning her normal night robe over top. But somewhere between deciding to rush to his quarters and getting dressed, she only managed to find and cover herself in her cloak.
But she could say none of those things to him, her heart pounding loudly in her ears, his lips, tongue, and teeth, torturously claiming her neck and shoulder, sending her head against the wall and her mouth open in a wordless moan.
Delenn felt his large hands cup her breasts and the moan was no longer wordless, no longer silent. She cried out with need, the slow, circular rubbing across her tender, achingly erect nipples delicious. But not as wonderful as the lips that followed, the silk barrier no match for his persistent tongue.
"John. Oh, John."
She moaned again, gripping his shoulders, arching into him, silently demanding more of his firm, wet mouth. And he gave it to her, opening wide, taking the soft flesh into his warm center, sucking ever so blissfully.
John stood, his hard body against hers, pressing her into the wall again, mouth seeking, finding hers. He ground himself against her, pushing her legs apart with his knee and thigh, snaking one hand under her camisole, finding her bare breast and squeezing.
"I want you so bad, honey," he said, taking her left hand, and placing it over the growing bulge in his pants. He held his hand over Delenn's, showing her exactly how he wanted her to touch him.
She did, the remaining embers of the conversation she wanted to have with him vanishing with each of his pleased moans and the rise of her sexual yearning.
He twined his fingers through her own, increasing the tempo, and then he stopped. Breathless, he said, "Where is it?"
Reeling from the abrupt cessation of sexual stimulation, Delenn blinked confused eyes at him, her mind definitely too muddled to make out what he was asking her.
He ran his finger over the fourth finger of her left hand.
"Where is it? Where is the engagement ring I gave you?"
Delenn dropped her eyes, a Gale force wind knocking her back to her senses, the fire in the room doused by an unforgiving blanket of reality.
John paced Delenn's living room waiting for her to return from her bedroom, where she managed to scurry off to, claiming she needed to change her clothes. That was fifteen minutes ago and she still hadn't returned, her bedroom door firmly shut, locking her in and him out.
He had no idea what in the hell was going on, his emotions having jumped on a roller coaster and he damn sure was being taken for a ride. John tried to stay calm. He'd already blown his top earlier with Delenn, acting like the poster boy for Men Against Women's Rights.
John grabbed a chair and dropped his load, running a hand through his hair. He'd been so worried about Delenn, imagining all kinds of ill befalling her that he had forgotten that she could indeed take care of herself and had been doing so for a very long time. Still, she wasn't invincible. He snorted, grudgingly acknowledging that it was he, not her, who gotten himself killed.
But why was she out so late? And why was she wearing practically nothing under her cloak? In the heat of passion, he didn't care, but now his jealous, human male radar was beginning to beep. He shook his head, denying the conclusions he was drawing.
She's not the unfaithful kind, John. If anything, she's too damn faithful.
Still, none of this made any sense.
And why the devil wasn't she wearing my ring? Perhaps she realized after all what a big mistake she made in accepting the marriage proposal.
While this should've made him feel better, it didn't. John wasn't looking forward to rescinding his offer of marriage. In fact, the thought of not spending the next twenty years with Delenn made him nauseous. But, why should she be leg shackled to a dying man? If she'd already come to the same conclusion, then all the better for him. So, why did he feel like shit? And why did he feel like arguing the point?
Delenn emerged from her room, slowly sliding the door behind her when she exited, eyes not meeting his.
John stared at her and wondered what on earth had taken her so damn long. She wore an all black robe that covered her from neck to ankle. It fit her form perfectly, the sash tied at the waist, accenting her figure. It definitely wouldn't take any woman more than thirty seconds to put that thing on. So, what was she doing all that time?
She was probably trying to figure out the best way to tell me to get lost. Thanks, but no thanks. Here's your ring and I'll see you around.
She looked tense, as tense as he felt. Delenn moved finally, taking the seat at the table across from him. She placed her hands on the table and lifted her head, blank, unreadable eyes meeting his.
This wasn't going to be good. She was in full Minbari mode, the temporary fluster she felt from his question about the ring was now gone. He should've pushed the issue when he had her cornered; instead, he'd given Delenn time to fortify herself.
Need time to change clothes, my ass. When will you ever learn, John?
Instead of asking about the ring, insecure John jumped in and said, "Do you make a habit of running around the station in the middle of the night naked?"
She gave him a cool look that made him feel twelve years old.
"All right, you weren't exactly naked," he continued when she failed to respond, "but I've never known you to wear so little."
Still, she said nothing. This was getting him nowhere. Unless he truly thought she was creeping out on him, he might as well let that go for now. Delenn really didn't respond well when he acted like a Neanderthal, and, no, John couldn't envision her being intimate with anyone else. Hell, they hadn't even been intimate, despite his best efforts the night of the sleep watching.
Reclining in the chair, John hoped to give off an air of cool calm. Although, no one in the universe did cool calm like the Minbari. And he watched her watch him, her eyes saying she wasn't quite convinced by his act. Still, she spoke.
"Why are you in my quarters, John?"
His eyes narrowed. He should've known. She was a dirty, little sneak, switching this around on him. Although, he admitted with a smirk, he was in her quarters through no invitation of her own. As far as she was concerned, he'd broken in. Well, he didn't actually break anything to gain admittance, but that was really splitting hairs.
"You answer my question first." He just went from feeling like a twelve year old to sounding like a five year old. And let the preschool stand-off begin.
John eyed Delenn cautiously. One thing he knew about her was that if he gave a little she would as well. More importantly, he knew if he asked her a very specific, straightforward question, leaving no wiggle room, she would answer him honestly, if not grudgingly.
He placed his hands on the table, crossed his fingers, mirroring Delenn's perfect posture.
"I came to see you tonight because I couldn't sleep," he said honestly. "I wanted to speak with you. When I failed to get a response, I became worried and asked Ivanova to override your security code and admit me."
He was well aware there were holes in his story that Delenn's keen mind would've picked up, but that she would also appreciate the vagueness within the truth. She gave him a shallow smile and even shallower nod of her head. She understood perfectly. Now he could ask his questions.
"Where did you go after you left your quarters?"
"I went to your quarters, C and C, and your office, in that order."
"You were looking for me?"
"Yes, but I only found Susan. She didn't tell me, however, that she granted you access to my quarters."
The look she gave him wasn't a pleasant one, and he knew his second-in-command would hear about the ambassador's displeasure come morning. And then he would have a mad Russian hunting for him.
Great, just great.
He wanted to ask her a why question, but his explanation to her question included no why details. Like 'Why couldn't you sleep?' or 'Why did you come looking for me?' He knew if he wanted details, he would have to supply a few first.
"I should have never gone to Z'Ha'Dum. It was a dumb, rash, decision."
He was going to say more, but to his surprise, she stepped in.
"It was my fault you went there. If I had been honest with you, you wouldn't have gone."
Her tone was laden with guilt; so much so, it was like a slap across his face, a dagger to his heart.
"Delenn, I'm a grown man, capable of making my own decisions. Yes, you should have told me about Anna, but you can't blame yourself for my fate."
Her eyes looked lost, hands and shoulders rigid.
John reached across the table and covered her cold hands with his own.
"No matter when or how I found out, I would've gone, Delenn. I would've eventually taken the fight to their front door."
She shook her head and he tightened his hands over hers.
"I would have. You simply can't imagine it because it's a stupid, impractical, tactical move. Just the thing that a Human would do, but one a Minbari would never contemplate."
Then he had a thought, if not an epiphany.
"Did you go to my quarters to return the engagement ring?"
She nodded her head.
"Do you not want to marry me because you blame yourself for what happened at Z'Ha'Dum?"
The nod was slower in coming this time, but accompanied by words.
"Yes, in part."
"What else is there, honey?"
She raised her eyes and tears shimmered just below the surface.
"There are things about me you don't know; things I will never bring myself to share. As much as I've changed since entering the chrystalis, I'll never be human. I have a Minbari heart, a Minbari mind."
"I don't think you truly do. I know you understand as far as our rituals are concerned, but other things you never will."
John released her hand, got up, and drew Delenn to her feet. He held her hand and pulled her until she followed. He settled them both on her sofa before speaking.
"In the academy, I once knew this general and his wife. Everyone used to think they were the perfect couple. They had tons in common, and they never fought. Can you imagine a husband and wife who never fought, never disagreed?"
Delenn shook her head.
"Well, neither could I. Hell, my parents didn't raise the barn roof with their arguments but they sure had a few good ones."
She smiled at this and he continued.
"Anyway, one day after, oh, I guess, fifteen years of marriage, it ended."
"All I know is that General Howard once told me that marriage was like a ship—imperfect in its ideal design—simple, complex, hard to maintain and maneuver but worth the effort."
He raised her left hand to his mouth, pleased to see she was wearing his ring. He kissed the ringed finger, and smiled.
"No marriage is perfect, honey, not even one in which the couple never argues. I understand that truth; I've lived it. But that's no reason not to build the ship"
"But—'' she started to protest.
"You know what's wrong with you older races?"
Her body visibly stiffened and he kissed her hand again.
"You've developed, over the centuries, a higher standard than the rest of us. When we were still scratching our asses and trying to conquer fire, you were already exploring the stars. You're enlightened, disciplined, and patient. And the newer races are none of those things. We're still learning. But your one fatal flaw is that you strive for personal perfection, you expect too much from yourselves because you rarely, if ever, fail. Humans, on the other hand, fuck up all the time. We're used to it; but more importantly, we know how to get over it."
" 'Fuck up,'" she repeated and he winced. The last thing he intended was to teach her that word . . . well; at least not in the context he just used it."
"It means to make a big mistake."
"Like not telling you about Anna, or pushing Kosh about her possible fate."
"Yes, or any of those secrets you're holding, refusing to let go, refusing to forgive yourself for."
John tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, feeling her relax under his gentle touch, realizing there was no way in hell he could live the next twenty years without her.
"I don't think I'm perfect; in fact, I know I'm far from perfect."
"Delenn, you have no idea how far from the truth that is. You're right, no one's perfect, whatever that means, but you don't make many screw ups. You're the most honest person I know and there's nothing wrong with playing your cards close to the vest. No marriage is built on absolute honesty. And anyone who tells you differently is a damn liar."
She gave him a quizzical look.
"Is that what you thought human marriages were like?"
"Yes. Minbari understand that honesty is expected at all times, except when said truth can harm, dishonor, or bring shame to oneself, clan, or caste. A higher path is always sought."
"And that is why you didn't tell me about Anna."
"Yes, I wanted to keep you from harm. But I also wanted to . . . to keep you with me."
She looked away again.
John lifted her chin and made her face him.
"You loved me, so you kept the truth from me."
"I loved you, so I ran off to Z'Ha'Dum to face the Shadows by myself. It all sounds pretty dumb when we say it aloud, doesn't it?"
"Yes." She laughed softly.
"Why did you accept my marriage proposal?"
She gave him another unreadable look and his heart clenched. Perhaps it had been guilt after all.
Delenn brought her hands to his cheek and said in a soft, soothing tone, "Why did you come here tonight, John?"
He tried to lower his head but she wouldn't let him, her grip firm but gently so. He could avoid it no longer.
"I . . . I . . . can only give you twenty years."
"You deserve more than that. You deserve a husband who will live as long as you will."
She paused, clearly considering his words.
"I should be very cross with you, John Sheridan."
That wasn't exactly the response he was expecting.
"Do you think me so shallow that I wouldn't marry you because of your limited lifespan?"
"Well, no, I just didn't want you to feel that you had to because of some misplaced guilt or even pity. Hell, Delenn, it's a lot to come to terms with and I haven't done that yet myself. I can't expect you to just accept my fate, making it your own because I want to marry you."
She smiled. "You really want to marry me, in spite of everything. And you trust me."
"Of course, Delenn, what in the hell have we been talking about for the last thirty minutes?"
They both sat back in silence. Two minutes later, John started to laugh and pulled a shocked Delenn onto his lap.
"We have to be the densest couple in the universe. I've been up all night worrying you only accepted my offer because of guilt or pity and you seemed to think you couldn't marry me because of your Minbari guilt over a mistake I've long since forgiven you for."
Delenn rested her head on his right shoulder, left arm circling his neck.
"I do feel guilty over what happened to you, but that's not why I accepted your proposal of marriage. And, yes, Minbari do guilt very well."
Her fingers found the base of his head and she started the most stimulating massage. The kind that made John tightened his arms around her waist, wishing she still had on that silky, short number from earlier.
"I want you to be my wife, Delenn, even if I only have twenty years to give you. I'm just that selfish."
"I want to be your wife, John, even though I cannot promise to always bare all. But I will never lie to you. I'm too Minbari to tell you otherwise."
"Do you love me?" he asked, searching for the sash that held her robe together.
"With all my heart and soul; you must know that."
"I do, and I love you as well, honey, from death and beyond, I came back for you. Only for you, Delenn," he finished, finding the sash and untying it.
Her hand slid deeper into his hair, just when his own slipped into her robe, discovering she still wore the silky, short number.
Delenn raised her head from his shoulder, meeting his lips at the intersection of Relief Boulevard and Hope Avenue.
God, she tastes like mint and smells of soap and woman.
"So, it's settled then. We're still engaged and plan to stay that way until we manage to kick the Shadows asses back under their rock and get married."
She couldn't answer because he was kissing her again. He didn't truly need a verbal response, the way she moved against him was confirmation enough. They would fight; they would survive; they would wed. Nothing else mattered.
Well, except this, except now, except the lava burning in him.
His mind nearly exploded when she straddled his legs and started to unbutton his shirt, her robe open, body exposed. Her legs were bare from mid thigh down, her arms, shoulders, and neck flawless in its delicate beauty.
John removed the robe almost as quickly as Delenn rid him of his shirt, her fingers exploring, mouth teasing, his erection growing. She settled over top of it, rubbing, taunting him with the wetness he could feel between her legs, pleased he could do that to her. Even more pleased she found him as stimulating as he found her.
"I thought . . . I thought . . ."
His mind wasn't worth a damn right now. There was something he had to say to her, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was. When she reached for his pants, he remembered.
"I thought you said we couldn't do this until after the third night of sleep watching, and God knows how many rituals. By my calculations, we still have one more night of watching left."
The last thing John wanted to do was put a halt to the obvious route the train was taking, but he didn't want Delenn to have any regrets come morning.
"I said it isn't normally done, not that it's expressly forbidden. To Minbari, that difference is significant."
"Meaning," she said, standing and taking his hand in hers. She walked them towards the bedroom, opened the door, and moved inside. John followed.
"Meaning," she repeated, lighting several candles, and turning to face him, "we can love each other tonight and complete the sleep watching tomorrow or the day after or the day after that."
She went to her bed and lie down, John echoing her movement, settling beside her.
Delenn drew John in closer, wrapping her arms around him, kissing him deeply, her intention clear.
"If we hadn't just committed ourselves to each other," she said, taking a labored breath, "I would never consider doing this now. I would feel compelled to wait until after . . . well, many more rituals."
John didn't even want to know how many more rituals they'd have to complete before the Minbari mating ritual would be complete. He was just pleased to know that he'd unknowingly circumvented some of them, enough to have Delenn invite him to her bed. And damn if he wasn't glad to be here.
"I don't know if I can make love to you on this slanted bed."
She kissed him, ignoring his doubts.
"Have faith, John, it always manages," Delenn said, moving her hand to the buldge in his pants, touching him the way he taught her.
He slipped his hand under her camisole and found her soft, pert breast.
Ah, yes, back to where they'd left off.
If he had to slay every Shadow personally to ensure their safety and make her his wife, his mate, he would do it and to hell with their doubts and regrets.
Heck, life was full of them and they would make more over the next twenty years; he was sure of it. But what did that matter now. It didn't. She was all that ever mattered, ever since the day a Minbari, who looked more human than she should, walked into the council chamber and said, 'Ambassador Sinclair has been allowed to live on my world as an act of good faith, to create greater understanding between Minbari and humans. In return, I have undergone this change . . . with the blessings of my government . . . so that I may become a bridge between our worlds . . . in the hope that we will never again know war between us again.'
In spite of her words, in spite of the Minbari prophecy, and in spite of his own common sense, John Sheridan couldn't help but feel that, while they didn't know it yet, she'd undergone the change for him, for them, for now, for their future. And there was no doubt she was made for him and he for her, their bodies joining perfectly in pre-ordained symmetry.
No regrets. None at all.