Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.

The Minbari have a saying: Laughter breaks a kiss but heals a heart.

Humans, however, have a different saying.

John couldn't believe his luck. He was sure there would be at least fifty more tedious rituals before he'd even get to hold Delenn's hand, but here she was, melting into his arms and turning up her face to his. Her hand brushed his cheek, a light caress with eyes wide and dark and fixed on his. Then they oh-so-slowly closed; long lashes brushing her cheeks like butterfly wings closed and trembling. Their whole relationship had been a series of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes he had felt adrift in a minefield. But the trajectory had always been forward, and now the goal was finally in sight. He had no doubts any more. It's a universal language, he thought in a moment of slightly stunned reflection. Any woman acting like that must want to be kissed. God knows he wanted to kiss her.

So he did.

And the world went away, and they were somewhere else, wrapped up in each other and making their own world. It was like diving underwater or walking into the blackness of space, with only your own heartbeat sounding in your ears. It had taken so long to get here that he hated to pause, even to breathe. When he thought about how far they'd come, he wanted to keep going, to keep moving forward. But one breath wouldn't hurt. He meant to go right back to what they were doing, and continue for a good while yet.

They'd been here before, standing at the brink. After that last attempt at closing the distance still between them, he'd had no chance to get Delenn both alone and receptive, not at the same time. In fact the overall timing of this whole thing was terrible; they both had so much to deal with, and he hadn't wanted to overwhelm her with his own needs and desires. Who would have expected he'd get his chance on the bridge of the White Star, with a whole Minbari crew watching? Not that he cared at this point. A fleet was passing behind him, and with it she'd given him a fighting chance to win this war. Hope was a powerful aphrodisiac, although God knew none was necessary, not in his case. Not when it came to Delenn.

He'd kissed her before, but that hadn't counted. Suffering from shock and disorientation, he'd held back; not much, but a little. Caution kept him from showing his total enthusiasm; caution, and having been beaten within an inch of his life by the Centauri guards. There had been so many false starts, so many minor misunderstandings, so many damned interruptions. And this meandering was another one, so he stopped thinking about it and kissed her again.

This time John remained faintly aware of the crew. They drew attention by their frozen attitudes; stiff and unmoving statues at their stations, obviously trying to ignore what was going on in front of them. He smiled, and it broke the physical connection between their lips. Nothing, he made a quick promise to himself, would ever break the emotional connection building between them. He would make sure of that.

As he gently pulled back from her eager lips he took a moment to breath in the scent of her hair, of her skin. He wanted to tell her...something, but words failed him again. That was all right, she didn't leave much time for him to work out anything to say, going straight back instead to oral exploration. His head was swimming with the force of his emotions and the feel of her in his arms. He lowered his hands to pull her even closer, and they almost encircled her waist, his thumbs running along the smooth muscles stretching over her ribcage, just a hint of the weight of her breasts brushing his fingers.

Time to get a room. "Come on," John whispered urgently, catching her hand and pulling her towards the exit from the command level. "Carry on," he snapped at the crew, most of whom kept their eyes straight ahead. "My compliments to the fleet, but it's time we headed back to the station." A few looked back at him, and one or two almost smiled. All of them continued their assigned work.

John wasn't about to let Delenn catch her breath and reconsider what they were doing. As they walked along swiftly, he tried to think of a room on the ship that had a locking door. The Minbari were a communal people and weren't big on privacy aboard ship. He was heading in the general direction of the crew quarters when he noticed that he wasn't pulling her along anymore; she was pulling him. They stopped by a small door he'd never noticed before, and he watched her put her palm on the lock (it had a lock!) and the door parted, irising into the wall. Inside was a small room, just two beds, and they weren't tilted, he noted in surprise. Each had a triangular light sconce centered above it. A table and two chairs sat opposite the beds, with a storage locker fastened to the wall on one side of the table. Further in, he could see another door of frosted glass, presumably leading to a bathroom. The room was minimally decorated, but he caught sight of a shrine, with unlit candles beneath it in a far corner, and there was an ornate wall hanging over the table, which held a com-station and a tea service.

Then he stopped thinking because the door closed and Delenn was in his arms again. Some small part of his mind wondered whether the Minbari kissed as part of their sexual traditions or whether she'd been studying up on the subject. The larger part was occupied in wondering how far he could push this, and whether he even should. He wanted her so much, but on her terms. No regrets, he wanted this to be done right. Still, when she disentangled herself from him, he had to stop himself from grasping at her arms as they slowly withdrew. "I will be right back," she said, a smile tilting one corner of her mouth.

John kissed that corner, then the other, and then they were back where they had started. Her laughter broke the intense connection of their kiss and he couldn't keep smiling back at her. "What's so funny?" he asked, his voice low but unable to keep a joyful lilt from lifting it higher.

"We are," she replied. "But it is all right. I laugh when I am happy. Do you not do the same?"

"I would, except I'm afraid when I'm around you I'd never stop!" John looked down at her, standing close, loosely encircled by his arms. He inclined his head towards the inner door. "Is that where you were going?" Then looking around curiously, he asked, "What is this place anyway? I've never seen this room!"

"It is private quarters for guests taking passage on the White Star. This is a ship meant for war, but we anticipated the possibility of occasional passengers; refugees, government officials, others." She slid her hands down his arms, fingertips lingering in his broad palms with a caressing motion. "I had some personal supplies stored here." Looking towards the bathroom door, she flushed, and her voice grew hesitant. "I am not misinterpreting your intentions?"

John shook his head violently, "No. No you're not." Then he gently took her chin in his hand and tilted it up so he could look directly into her eyes, almost glowing green in the dim running lights that were the only illumination in the room. "If you're sure about this...I am more than ready. But I thought we had a lot further to go before we satisfied your people's ground rules for relationships."

"We do," Delenn admitted, turning her head to nuzzle his palm with her lips. "But we are about to go into battle, and we do not know what will happen...and there are rules for that situation as well."

John gave a wry smile. "Not the most romantic place, but..." At this he took her into a fierce embrace, holding her tightly and whispering into her hair. "I want you."

Delenn did not speak, only returning his embrace for a moment, then pulling away and heading for the bathroom door. "I will not be long," she said over her shoulder.

John hated this part; waiting around with nothing to do. He went over to the shrine, taking down the candles and setting them on the table where he set them alight. Turning off the running lights, he thought the room was too dark. So he turned on the light over the far bed, set on low. Choice of light or darkness, he thought, looking at the two beds, and smiled grimly at the irony.

Just then there was a short knock at the door. Dammit, he thought. What part of 'Carry on' did the crew not understand? Perhaps it was an emergency though, an attack or some communication from the station. Glancing at the closed door behind him, he sighed and went to the door, releasing the lock. Stepping out into the corridor, he confronted Ushan, a worker caste Minbari who had been stationed at navigation when they'd left the bridge.

"Yes?" John said curtly. He'd closed the door behind him. If he was lucky this would be short and sweet and he'd be back inside before Delenn came out. Trying not to imagine what she was changing into, if that's what she was doing, he glared at the crewman.

"Captain Sheridan, the crew has sent a deputation, that is to say, they have sent me, to pass on a message." Ushan was a short male, but he stood straight and oddly for a Minbari, looked John directly in the eye.

"Well?" John tried to modify his tone, but he was growing angry and rebellious. No emergency, just interference in his affairs; but that mental description brought him up short. Delenn wasn't an affair, a passing fling. She was the real thing, and he owed it to her to pay attention to and to honor the demands of her culture. "What is it?" he asked again, striving for calm.

"We observed the interchange of physical intimacy between Delenn and yourself," began Ushan.

John couldn't read the other man but didn't sense any hostility. "And?" he said, letting his curiosity overcome his anger.

"Delenn is trying to adhere to the most stringent rituals of the religious caste in this matter of her desire to join with you," Ushan said calmly. "It is important that she do so. In the upcoming battle, and afterwards, her behavior will determine both her, and your, status among the Minbari back home. I think you already know this," he added.

"I do," replied John. His unease was growing. Perhaps this was a mistake. He knew how much he wanted, no needed, to be close to her. He'd stayed distant longer than he wanted already, and who knew what the future would bring? And he could tell she felt the same way. What a mess. A question occurred to him. "You said the Minbari back home. What about out here? What about the crew on this ship, and the Rangers, and the other Minbari on the fleet ships?"

"They follow Delenn, as we follow Delenn," replied Ushan simply. Then a small smile crept over his lips. "There are exceptions to the rituals, Captain. I was instructed to tell you that we would see our leaders rested, and at ease. It is wise to take a breath, and allow a release of tension before going into battle."

John stared at him in disbelief. "Are you saying...?"

"I merely state an axiom of our warrior caste. Go to war with a whole heart and a clear mind. There are many ways to achieve this state of course." Ushan bowed to John, and said in farewell. "It is 2.75 standard hours before we return to Babylon 5."

John watched Ushan walk down the corridor, to resume his duty shift at the navigation console. Whistling softly, he opened the door, and re-entered the room, locking the door behind him. The bathroom door opened, and Delenn emerged, wearing only a white silk robe. It was shorter than her normal robes, with long wide sleeves, a hood hanging down the back, and a sash tied loosely at the waist. She looked beautiful. "John?" she said, a slight tremor in her voice.

As he crossed the room to finish what they'd started, he thought of what Ushan had said. Human warriors going into battle had a saying too. 'Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.'