Chapter 3: Minbari Mating Ritual

John knew he was in trouble when Delenn could do nothing but glare at him, mouth open with no words coming out. Delenn of Mir speechless? Who'd have thought such a thing was possible? Certainly not John Sheridan. But here she stood with nothing to say. Then again, John astutely amended, taking three steps away from her, maybe Delenn had too much to say, or was simply far too angry with him to let it out.

That definitely sounded like a Minbari thing to do, so John took three more steps away from his fuming wife. In fact, he moved to the other side of the room, deciding they both needed a cup of calming tea.

Before going in search of the carafe, John glanced back at his wife, who was still shooting daggers at him, and decided it best not to arm her with hot liquid. Not that he was afraid of Delenn, of course, but she had been uncharacteristically cranky this week. And, well . . . John had survived Z'ha'dum but that jump into the abyss had nothing on a pissed-off Minbari in two-inch heels.

All the way from his office, John had been working his tired brain to figure out exactly what he'd done to get under Delenn's diplomatically controlled veneer. He couldn't think of a thing. But he'd definitely done something, and from the look of his pacing bride, she was more upset than she'd been when she learned he'd brought his first wife onboard without informing her of their past connection.

Yeah, that had been one hell of a long night, their first argument as a married couple. And from the rigid set of Delenn's shoulders and the annoyed way she kept looking at him, they were about to have their second. Great.

Taking a deep breath, John reminded himself he had been an Earthforce soldier, commanded hundreds of men and women, and managed a dozen or more arrogant and selfish ambassadors. He could handle one woman. Yup, he could do this.

"I thought you wanted to talk about what happened in my office. I know I definitely want to know what's going on."

Now that came out strong, just as he'd intended. He was in control, not cowed at all by a woman whose head only reached his chin. But damn, could her eyes turn any darker?

Delenn shook her head, then sighed. "I need to shower and meditate first." She walked to their closed bedroom door, slid it open, but didn't immediately enter. She turned to him, her face softer, but not by much. "There is a mating ritual that must be performed tonight. I should have suggested it earlier in the week, but had hoped it wouldn't be necessary." She gave him her back when she entered the bedroom and mumbled, "Apparently, I was wrong."

A mating ritual? Hell, John didn't want to perform a god damn ritual tonight. But Delenn hadn't exactly posed it as a question. No, it was a subtle command. He could refuse, but John had no idea what that would mean for their relationship.

Mating rituals, as John learned before they married on the White Star, were vital to the harmony and balance of Minbari unions. In fact, courting ritual number forty-eight was all about Minbari and human mating rituals. Delenn had asked John to prepare a list and description of human marriage customs, traditions, and norms that were important to him.

It had been a different, if not an odd request. But one that forced him to truly think about what exactly was vital to him in a marriage. And considering it was to be his third and last, John had taken the task quite seriously. In the end, he was surprised by how much he'd grown since his youthful marriage to Lochley and how much he'd changed since his career-minded marriage to Anna.

The process had taught him a great deal about himself. But more importantly, it clarified what it was he had to offer Delenn and what he wanted from her in return.

And she'd done the same, giving him a data crystal full of information about Minbari mating rituals. Unlike the courting rituals, however, mating rituals weren't all compulsory and seemed to only be performed when deemed necessary by one of the partners. In fact, most of them were reactionary lessons instead of the more proactive courting rituals John had become used to.

So, again, that brought John back to his original question. What had he done to warrant a mating ritual? He didn't know, but had the alarming suspicion it had something to do with the quickie he'd introduced her to. Which, by the way, wasn't on the list of human mating rituals he'd given Delenn, no wonder the poor woman looked so confused when he'd invaded her shower the other day. And, no, he hadn't failed to notice that she'd since taken to locking the door every time she went into the bathroom.

Figuring he'd given his wife enough time, John sighed and moved to the bedroom.

Once entering, John noticed Delenn had already prepared the room for the ritual. The lights were off, but lit white candles provided ample illumination. As usual, two triangular pillows were placed neatly on the floor beside a Minbari pallet that was made of colorful silk but surprisingly comfortable.

And in the center of the arrangement was Delenn, her hair wet and even darker from the shower. She wore a white robe that crossed over to the waist, a single hook all that kept it closed. John loved that robe on her, sexy in its simple, thin, but not quite sheer design. It hugged every toned curve of her body, leaving nothing and everything to the imagination.

Mirroring Delenn, John closed his eyes, trying to ignore the too-knowing part of him that whispered that Delenn had nothing on underneath her robe. No, he would not listen. Little John was not in control; Big John was. And Big John was not going to eye grope his wife while she was meditating. Nope. Not him.

John peeked, one eye sliding open, straining to see. Little and Big John had arrived at a compromise—look but don't touch. Fair deal.

"Please stop staring at me, John," Delenn said, her soft voice chiding, surprising the hell out of him.

Caught, damn, how in the universe does she do that?

She opened her eyes and, yes, John was still staring at her. How could he not? She was beautiful and just a little bit scary.

Her eyes weren't quite back to their normal color, but the meditation had clearly helped. She needed more time though. Hell, so did John.

"I think I'll follow your lead, honey, and take a shower. Maybe even shave this down some." He stroked his beard, but she didn't notice, Delenn's attention having already turned away from him, her eyes once again closed, shutting him out. Oh, yeah, she needed more time.

Thirty minutes later, a showered and shaved . . . well, neatly trimmed John exited the bathroom, wearing the blue robe he kept on the hook on the back of the bathroom door. He started to make his way to his dresser but decided against it. John was pretty sure Delenn wore nothing but her robe, so why shouldn't he? Going commando sounded pretty nice. He was, after all, the man of the house . . . quarters. Why shouldn't he let his boys hang free if he wanted? Damn, he forgot to add that to his list as well. John shrugged, a man can't be expected to think of everything. Delenn would just have to get used to such things. And he planned to tell her just that after this ritual of hers was over. Yup, President John Sheridan wasn't afraid of any—

"Please sit, John?" Delenn asked, her eyes suddenly open and on him. Dammit, she did it again. Damn the woman and her eerie Minbari senses.

Wanting to start the ritual on a good foot, John sat. The fact that her tone brooked no argument had absolutely nothing to do with it.

She smiled at him and for the first time since they'd entered their quarters John felt that he could relax. Delenn's eyes were—thank God—the green-gray he'd come to adore.

Delenn reached across the small space that separated their knees and caressed his cheek. "I like it when you shave. It gives me the opportunity to see more of the man I fell in love with."

And that was the closest Delenn had ever come to saying she preferred him without facial hair. He'd always suspected. In spite of her own beautifully long hair and the fact that some Minbari males grew mustaches or very short beards, Delenn seemed to only tolerate his facial hair.

And while John would give Delenn the world, he was keeping his beard. It was too much a part of him now, forged in a fire of blood, tears, and pain. A symbol of his survival, a reminder of his strength, a confirmation of a life returned. Delenn may not like it, but she would get used to it. As she just said, she loved him. And with love, anything was possible.

He covered the hand gently stroking his cheek, enjoying the warmth and the small shivers beginning at her point of contact.

"What's tonight's ritual, Delenn?"

She smiled again then removed her hand, John immediately missing her touch.

"Shan'Fal."

And that was another thing about Minbari mating rituals, John thought with an inward grimace. Many of them had the same friggin name as their courting counterpart. And while this fact should've made it easier for him to keep them straight, it didn't. There was a pattern to their rituals; this John knew. They were linked, courting blending into mating, which explained why they had the same damn name. But John got hung up on the nuance of the differences. And now, staring back at his expectant wife, John had no idea what she was talking about.

Unwilling to admit that he hadn't reviewed the data crystal she'd given him since that first night, John simply nodded, feeling like a first-class jerk for not taking her rituals more seriously. If he had, maybe John would know why Delenn had stormed out of his office earlier.

Appeased, Delenn took his hands in hers and began a prayer. Her language was enchanting, her speech paced and melodic, and John felt calmer the longer she spoke, her sweet voice twining around his heart, his soul. It didn't matter he understood nothing she said, he knew she was praying for them, their love, their union, and greater understanding of self and each other. That he had learned from his reading. Mating rituals were all about growing as a couple and overcoming barriers and misunderstandings.

Normally he would ask her to translate, but he felt no such urge tonight. It was simply enough to have her holding his hands, her prayer guiding them into the ritual. John closed his eyes, basking in the moment, appreciating Delenn's effort.

An unknown amount of time later, Delenn spoke the last words to the prayer, before blowing out the candle closest to them. Then her hands were on him, untying and pushing off his robe. Surprised, John's eyes flew open.

And his wife's eyes were dark again. But this time, not with anger. He knew that dark look. Hell, he dreamed about that dark look; worked hard to create that dark look. God, he loved Minbari lust and longing.

A Shan'Fal mating ritual. He didn't remember reading about it, but if it made Delenn horny, he was all for it.

Delenn scooted closer to him and removed his robe, John lifting to help her. She tossed it on the bed, then returned her gaze to him. Well, she wasn't exactly looking at him, but Little John who decided with Delenn's first touch, that he wanted to be Big John. So he was, his erection getting larger and harder the longer Delenn continued to stare, her orbs going darker still.

John was still amazed how little effort it took for Delenn to get him like this. He was nearly forty-five. Men his age didn't manage this type of hard-on. But John knew it wouldn't last. It couldn't. Delenn was . . . well, he didn't want to think about that now.

Delenn kissed him, her lips so damn soft and warm. She tasted of mint, smelled of lavender and lust. Yes, John definitely liked this ritual.

The kiss deepened, Delenn slipping her tongue inside, exploring with practiced ease. And he let her, granting unfettered access, giving her the control he sensed she wanted. No problem. None at all. Hell, not when she was rubbing silk-covered nipples all over his bare chest, hands buried in his hair, massaging sensitive scalp, making him want to howl at the moon like a lovestruck fool.

"John," she sighed, taking one of those hands and sliding it between them.

Gasping, John sucked in a breath when she began an entirely different massage, this one going in an up and down motion. And the shivers began anew, Little Big John twitching every time Delenn reached the head and thumbed the aching tip, her hand just firm enough without being painful.

"Ah, that's so good, baby."

He bit his lip, not wanting to embarrass himself by, yes, howling like a fucking lunatic. But, damn, Delenn knew just how to work him. God, she began kissing him again too, grinding her lips and hips into him, stiffening him even more. Who knew that shit was even possible?

He wanted to touch her; needed to have her velvety flesh in his hands, his mouth. Groping blind, John reached for the hook that held her robe together. Finding it, he tugged, but not before Delenn released him.

Shit, he hadn't meant for her to stop doing that. He just wanted to touch her too.

"No, John."

No?

"I just want to touch you, honey." He reached for the hook again, but Delenn withdrew even more, shaking her head at him.

"This is the Shan'Fal, John."

"I know," he agreed, knowing absolutely nothing. He was able to touch her doing the Shan'Fal. Heck, for him, that was the big selling point of the night long ritual. She touched. He touched. Everywhere. But that was, he corrected, the courting Shan'Fal. This was the mating one, the one he hadn't bothered to read about. Great and damn.

She narrowed her eyes and John knew Delenn saw right through him. It wasn't hard. He was sure the frown on his face wasn't difficult to decipher, especially not for someone as perceptive as his wife.

"The mating Shan'Fal," Delenn said, sitting back on her heels, "can be initiated by either partner. The one who initiates is the only one allowed to do the touching. That person gives pleasure while the other receives. Since I requested the ritual, you cannot touch me until we move into the third phase." She arched an absent brow at him, then said, "Depending on the outcome of the second phase."

John did not like the sound of anything she'd just said. And why in the hell hadn't he read through all of the documents on the data crystal? He knew it would someday come back to bite him in his ass. And that day, unfortunately, was today.

"But I want to—"

Delenn shook her head again, gently pushing away the hand that was slowly creeping up her thigh.

"Lie back," she instructed.

Annoyed but still aroused, John did as she asked.

"Thank you."

John nodded and relaxed, watching as Delenn reached for the bottle of oil she placed at the foot of the bed. Opening the cap, she poured several drops in the palm of her hand before replacing the lid. The scent of lavender increased and John knew exactly what she intended to do. He smiled, his bout of annoyance slipping away completely when his wife straddled his hips.

Hands slick and warm, Delenn began at John's shoulders, rubbing the scented oil in, her fingers small but strong. Yes, John loved Delenn's massages, almost as much as he loved the way they always ended, a true happy ending.

Eager but thorough hands worked fatigued muscles, ministering to each pleasure center as she went, an explorer going over well-mapped territory, John the willing land she was claiming.

She kissed him again, slow and erotic, lips moving from mouth to neck to chest to nipple. There she stopped, sucking and biting, flicking his nipples with her tongue over and over until John was panting with the need to grab her waist and grind against her. But he knew if he did that she would stop again. No way did he want her to stop.

Releasing him from her torture, Delenn made her way down his body, nipping and licking until she reached the part of him he most wanted her to flick that wily tongue of hers over.

She sat up a bit, sliding down his body until she hovered over his lower legs. Finally, she took his erection in her hand again, and began that wonderful up and down stroke of hers. Ah, not exactly what he was hoping for, but it would do for now.

And she stroked him, pushing from the base to the tip and back down. He simply couldn't stay still, not with her doing that. So he began to move, pumping into her hand, increasing the growing tension, making him wish he was thrusting into her wet heat. Just thinking of making love to Delenn caused John to open his eyes, needing to see her face as she pleasured him.

But what he saw did anything but please him. Her eyes were closed. And while one of her hands was steadily and incredibly stroking him, her other hand was doing the same to her. Now, John had seen women self-stimulate. He had no problem with it. In fact, he'd seen Delenn do it during the Shan'Fal. It was part of the ritual. Each partner had to show the other how they liked to be touched. She'd played with herself, he watched and tried not to come in his boxers.

So that wasn't the issue with the image before him. No, the problem was that mated Minbari did not self-stimulate. That he had read in the damn documents Delenn had given him. Granted, John only managed a little more than fifty percent, but what he had read he remembered well. And one fact that stuck out in his mind now was the fact that once married, Minbari did not masturbate. It would've been dishonorable to do so because it was expected that their mate would take care of such needs. In fact, there was a ritual that was performed if one of the mates failed to—Oh, shit.

John abruptly sat up, startling himself and Delenn. She opened her eyes, confusion mixed with arousal.

"John, what's wrong?"

A chill captured him as events from this week flashed through his mind.

Not yet. Not yet, John. Delenn's words. He could hear them now. But not then, not when all he was concerned about were his own needs, desires, and fears. Not yet. Not yet, John. What a selfish fool he'd been.

"We need to talk."

"But—"

"I know we haven 't finished part one of the ritual." He stood, found his robe, and put it on.

Delenn said nothing, merely stared at him. And for the first time this week, he noticed he'd seen the look before—every time he graced her with his ritual. The god damn quickie.

Seeing she had no intention of moving from her spot on the floor, John rejoined her, taking his place in front of her again.

"I remember the ritual now, honey," he admitted. He grimaced. "I remember reading about the mating Shan'Fal and laughing, thinking I would never give you cause to initiate such a ritual." He laughed now, but with none of the humor he'd felt then. "Barely four months into this marriage of ours and I've already forgotten the lesson of the first Shan'Fal."

Delenn only stared at him, and John realized she wasn't going to help him out here. If he wasn't mistaken, understanding was phase two of this particular version of the Shan'Fal. Phase one being the selfish consumption of pleasure, while the aggrieved mate sought his or her own pleasure elsewhere. And since Minbari did not condone infidelity under any circumstances, the pleasure-seeking was more symbolic than real. Delenn had indeed been pleasuring herself, but not with the intensity needed to bring her to orgasm. No, in the end, that was his responsibility, just as his pleasure was hers. If nothing else, the Minbari were egalitarian in their conceptualization of mated sexual bliss.

"So," he began sheepishly, "this week I introduced you to the human ritual of a quickie."

He thought he saw Delenn's eyes narrow at him but that could've simply been the play of the candlelight. In any event, she remained quiet and still. Like a friggin statue.

"I . . . ah, I just thought it was a good idea." Liar. Tell her the truth. "Many married couples who find themselves busy with work and children, don't always have time for long, drawn-out sex sessions. So, they . . . umm . . ." She was giving him absolutely nothing but silence to work with. Cold. Hard. Silence. "Well, they normally . . . usually decide to go with the idea that less is more." Less is more? Jeez, John, how about less is less?

John had never seen Delenn grit her teeth before, but damn if she wasn't doing it now.

He scooted back.

"Are you saying, John, that you find our joining drawn-out? That you prefer fifteen minutes or even twelve because less is actually more? That you are so tired after work that you can no longer fathom being forced to endure my touch longer than a few minutes?"

John was sure she growled that last sentence. He scooted back another inch. This was so much worse than the Lochley incident.

"That is not at all what I'm saying, Delenn. I can't believe you would even think such a thing of me." Maybe because you implied just that, moron.

"John, I don't know what to think. None of this makes any sense to me. I can understand being tired. I can also understand being too tired to engage in such intimacies. What I cannot understand is the purpose of engaging in a joining if one is too tired or busy to do it properly or with sincerity."

Huh. Well, that made too much sense.

"Do you mean to tell me, Delenn, that Minbari do not have sex if they are tired or have very little time to do more than the hard, fast deed?"

"Do you mean to tell me, John," she countered, "that humans have sex when they are too exhausted to fully enjoy it or rush through it because time allows for nothing more?"

They both stared at each other, the answer in each posed question.

Delenn finally shook her head. "For Minbari, John, joining with one's mate isn't simply about the final heady release, although that is quite pleasurable. No, for us, such intimacy is about the journey, the route we've come to know so well but revel in taking time and again. Reaching the destination is inevitable, of course, but not the singular purpose for the undertaking. Reminding ourselves that giving and knowing is just as sacred, if not more so, than receiving and being known. That, my husband, is the purpose of the Shan'Fal for mates."

Okay, what in the hell could he say to that bit of eloquence?

"We have no children, John, and while we both have overloaded schedules, that's never prevented us from taking the proper time with each other. So," she said, her stare intense and unwavering, "tell me why you suddenly felt the need to drive me crazy all week with a ritual that doesn't fit your character."

God, she knew him so well. Had any of his other wives? Anna did, but the last couple of years of their marriage had been strained with ever-increasing missions, for the both of them. Quickies had become a staple of their marriage. Quick hellos and even quicker good-byes was a diet John had grown too accustomed to. But he hadn't actually enjoyed such romps, not the way he did when they had more time to relish being in each other's arms. Not simply going through the motions, mind already on the next chore that needed to be checked off the list.

Feeling like shit, John moved to Delenn's side and took her hand. Making love to her had never felt like a chore; in fact, she'd always managed to make him feel like nothing else in the universe mattered when they were together.

He wanted to do more than hold her hand, but he knew she would allow nothing more until phase two was completed to her satisfaction.

She faced him, her hand going to his cheek. "Tell me, John. Something is clearly bothering you." She kissed him. Not passionate but with a wife's gentle urging.

It was indeed time. He should've told her two weeks ago when all this mess began. But really, it wasn't something a man wanted to discuss with his new wife.

"Remember when we went to see Stephen?"

"Of course. You had questions about our chances of conceiving."

Delenn removed her hand, placing both in her lap, a sad haze suddenly forming around her. She'd told him that it was unlikely they'd be able to conceive. But he was so convinced otherwise, the image of a future Delenn telling him their son was safe was something he hadn't been able to shake from his mind. That flash forward to a Centauri cell had given him hope that a relationship with Delenn was truly possible. His heart had known for months, but his stubborn mind had taken longer to convince. But when she'd kissed him, desperate and familiar, John simply knew that future would come to pass.

So he had dragged a reticent Delenn to Dr. Franklin and he had confirmed what Delenn had already told him. The probability that they could conceive a child, even with Delenn's altered DNA, was nearly impossible. He had been so sure. But now . . . well, now he'd accepted the truth Delenn had already known—that they would never be more than a family of two. Strange though, having Delenn was enough, but John wasn't so blind that he missed how the same truth hurt his wife. A woman who grew up on a planet where children were so highly valued yet increasingly rare, birth control nonexistent, fertility rituals and teas the norm.

"Well," he said, hating to admit the rest, "I spoke with Stephen two days later."

Her head jerked up, all fidgeting stopped at the implication of his words. "About me?" she asked, a little anger in her tone.

Yeah, well, the anger was well-deserved. He went to Stephen with the intention of asking him more about Delenn's transformation. Questions he knew he should've posed to his wife instead. The fact that she was so tight-lipped about her change not nearly enough to justify what he'd done.

"I felt so bad when you got sick from the cake I ordered for dessert. I had no idea you were allergic to nuts."

John had learned early on that Delenn had a bit of a sweet tooth. After the meeting with Stephen, he'd taken her to the Fresh Aire for dinner and ordered a slice of fruit cake for desert. Thirty minutes after consuming the cake, they were back in Medlab, Delenn's mouth itchy and swollen.

"I just wanted to know if there was anything else I needed to know. The last thing I wanted to do was make or order something that could harm you."

"You should have simply asked me." The anger was still there, but the glare was gone, her eyes softening a bit.

"I know, but after seeing the way you looked when Stephen described your pre and post reproductive system, I didn't want to put you through that again by having your husband ask even more personal questions. And I do know how personal those changes had to have been, even though I didn't know you as a full Minbari."

"Perhaps," she began, the anger completely gone from her voice now, "that is something else we need to discuss." She took a deep breath. "What did you learn from Stephen that has upset you so?"

John scratched his head, giving himself a few extra precious seconds. "Well, he told me that I should know better than to expect him to break doctor-patient confidentiality. Then he laughed at me and said I should stop worrying and be happy to be married to a woman who's half my age and would probably outlive us all. Then there was no more laughter once Stephen realized what he'd said, remembering what I told him about Z'ha'dum and Lorien's gift."

Delenn's eyes dropped back to her hands. This was something else they rarely talked about. And, honestly, John didn't want to now, but, unfortunately, it was relevant.

Shrugging off the whole twenty years left to live, John said, "While I know the Minbar calendar is longer than that of Earth's, when it is all said and done, you are only three years younger than me. Not the half Stephen referred to. So I got to thinking and the only thing that made sense was—"

"My transformation," she finished.

John nodded.

"So, I guess that puts you around twenty-one in human years, a little less in Minbari terms."

She nodded, then raised her head. "Why should that matter?"

"I guess it really shouldn't. And in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't but . . ."

"But what, John? Just tell me already and be done with it."

"Human males throughout Earth's history have taken younger women as mistresses or wives. They were blinded by their youth and beauty, thinking some of it would rub off on them. In the end, they discovered the truth."

"What truth?"

"That being around youth and being young are two very different things."

"But I am not half your age, no matter what Stephen said. Perhaps my body, John, but nothing more."

"Ah, but that's just it. A forty-two –year old body cannot keep up with that of a twenty-one-year old. Your stamina far outpaces my own. As I get older, that will become more evident than it is now."

"So you thought to show me now what joining with you would be like in this fantasy future you've created for us?"

"Not fantasy, Delenn, reality. Human men's vigor decreases the older we get. Women, on the other hand, well, there's increase, which is why it actually makes much more sense for an older woman to acquire a younger lover than it is for an older man to do so. The younger man can fulfill the older woman's sexual needs in a way an older man cannot."

She gazed at him thoughtfully and John wondered if she was regretting marrying him. Well, the insecure part of him wondered that. The rational John knew Delenn's gaze meant she was simply thinking about all that he'd just said.

"What do," she began after an excruciatingly long time, "couples like your parents do when the male grows older?"

He frowned. "What do you mean 'do'?"

"I mean do they all engage in quickies? Stop such intimacies all together? Take younger lovers? What do they do, John, when, according to you, their sexual drives and stamina no longer match?"

He stared at her, mouth wide open. Only Delenn could ask such things. And now John was asking himself the same questions, annoyed his wife had beat him to the obvious conclusion.

"I guess they make do. Work something out that works for the both of them."

"And do all human couples, even young ones, have the same sexual drives and stamina as their mate?"

Yeah, her clear Minbari logic was annoying as hell, especially when she seemed to understand marital relations better than the man who'd done it twice before.

"No," he offered grudgingly.

"Then I don't understand, John. Why should it matter that my half-Minbari, half-human body is younger than you or the rest of me."

"I just . . . I just . . . want to always be able to please you. Give you what you want, deserve. I don't know how much longer I can do that."

"You do please me, John," she said, running a hand up his chest and to his shoulder. "Indeed, you've always known how. Even the first time."

"But not this week."

"No, John, not this week." Her hand glided to the nape of his neck and she pulled him closer, as if to kiss him. Instead, she asked, "Do human women really find the quickie ritual satisfying?"

John nearly laughed. "I think," John said, truly reflecting on his past experiences, "some do, but many do it more for the male when he wants to and she doesn't. Or when she wants to and he's too tired or too lazy to take his time and do it right."

"John," she whispered against his mouth, "I have no interest in joining with you if we're too tired to enjoy it and each other. I would rather have quality over quantity any day. As it stands, except for this week, we've managed both. But we need not join so often if it puts undue stress on you."

She kissed him then and smiled wickedly when she released him. "I do find myself wanting you more than I thought possible," Delenn shyly admitted, "but your desires seem to be on par with my own."

That was true. But how long would it last? John gave himself a mental kick in the ass. Why was he borrowing trouble where there was none?

"Do we not have enough to worry about, John? Must you invent problems that may never come to fruition?"

She untied his robe, again pushing it off his shoulders. Delenn looked down at his lap, a smile gracing her beautiful features. John glanced down as well. Little John was awake, looking at Delenn, going from at ease to full attention.

"I think," Delenn began, sliding the robe from his arms, "that you've highly underestimated yourself, John."

He glanced down again. Maybe I have. Knowing the year you'll die tends to mess with a man's head. He looked again. The big head seemed the only one concerned with growing old and dying, for the little one was clearly wholly unfazed by John's mid-life crisis.

"Quality over quantity, huh?"

"Of course," Delenn stated seriously. Then she winked at him. "But right now I want both."

So did he, and Little John, now Big John, agreed.

"Phase three, Delenn?"

"Valen, yes," she moaned, straddling his hips and taking his mouth hard.

And she didn't have to say, "Touch me," for John was already on it. Or rather on her robe, tearing the blasted thing off her heated body, hands claiming all in his path, in search of the treasures he'd left unexplored this week.

And Delenn was so damn hot in his embrace, scorching him with her relentless kisses. Something else he'd neglected. But not again. Never again. Minbari had it right; joining was about the journey not the destination.

John didn't want to repeat this ritual. He never wanted to make Delenn feel rushed and unfulfilled in their lovemaking. She'd said quality not quantity and he believed her. Minbari, after all, did not lie.

With an impatience unlike her, Delenn joined them, and all John's thoughts that weren't of his wife and what she was doing to him and what he planned to do to her, drifted away, taking his doubts with them.

Many minutes later, Delenn stopped and peered at something over his shoulder.

Breathing hard, he asked, "What is it?"

"It's been fifteen minutes."

She stared down at him, expectantly.

He grinned at her. "Are you ready so soon, my twenty-one-year old?"

Delenn threw back her head and laughed. And he mouthed a nipple, turning that sweet laugh into a husky moan. "Yes, do that again," she groaned.

He did. And more.

Forty minutes later they lay spent on their bed, candles out, lights set to ten percent.

John rolled onto his side and watched Delenn as she struggled to keep her eyes open, feeling sinfully proud that he'd brought his wife not once, but three times, leaving her panting and asking if he was ready. He was; god knew he was. But John went an additional eight minutes, just to prove he could and to relish in the giving, the knowing.

"So, you found nothing about the quickie you liked, honey?" He had to know.

Her eyes said she'd rather sleep than talk, but she obliged him, the way she always did, and opened her mouth to answer.

"Morning intimacy is nice." Her hand covered a delicate yawn. "If you allow me to use the bathroom first."

He nodded. That made sense. Sex on a full bladder was decidedly different for a woman than for a man. He'd forgotten that. Okay, potty break before morning sex. Got it.

"Anything else?"

Another yawn. He was losing her fast.

"Joining while standing is . . . better than I would've imagined."

John grinned but tempered it when he sensed a "but" coming.

"But not in the bathroom, John." She grabbed his arm; wider awake than a moment ago. "Of all the things I'm willing to share with you, there are some I am not."

"No bathroom sex. Got it."

"No bathroom sharing." Her hand tightened. "At. All."

Yeah, got that. Loud and clear.

"And my office, Delenn?"

She had pulled the covers up to her chin and turned away from him. He really should let her sleep; she had an early conference call to Minbar in the morning. And, no, he wouldn't alter her alarm tonight. He'd put the poor woman through enough this week.

John settled in behind her, pleased with the way the day ended and the fact that he'd finally come clean with Delenn. Next time, he would just share his concerns right away. It would likely save them both unnecessary grief. Delenn had pledged to do the same, admitting she didn't tell him she disliked quickies over a concern for his honor and pride.

Surprising him, Delenn spoke, her voice groggy but clear. "Your office desk is good but the couch would be better. In that position, with our difference in heights, I prefer kneeling to standing." And with those scintillating words, she finally fell asleep.

And John smiled. She liked practically everything about this week except for how short he'd made each session. Well, he could remedy that. And if she liked sex in his office, then she was more open to adventurous antics than he'd given her credit for.

His smile grew wider. There was another fantasy John had kept to himself. After tonight, he figured Delenn would be up to trying anything. Maybe even a little dressing up and role playing, John thought. Yeah, his plan was coming together. All he needed were a couple of those little silk and lace numbers he'd seen in a store window in Down Below. The red and black lingerie he'd eyed but was too afraid to buy for Delenn. Now, well . . . he was sure she would like them.

Satisfied with his new plan, John pulled his wife close, and fell off to sleep, dreaming of Delenn and how much she would enjoy how well her husband had learned his lesson—giving instead of receiving.

THE END