DISCLAIMER: Babylon 5 and all its characters are owned by J. Michael Straczynski and Babylonian Productions. No copyright infringement is intended. Contains adult situations.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was originally posted elsewhere on 03-25-2011, and was written for the Green Beer & Kisses: The [Totally Not] Annual femslash_today Porn Battle. The prompt was "penance." Contains some vague spoilers through Season 4, and a bit of "survivor guilt" angsty-ness, just as a warning. This is my first time even attempting this pairing. Also, we are momentarily ignoring the whole John/Delenn business. ;-)

Six hours ago, this seemed like a good idea.

In an uncharacteristic bout of distraction, Susan had quite literally run into Ambassador Delenn in the hallway outside the captain's office. Delenn had inquired as to how the Commander was doing, noting her troubled mood of late. Ivanova attempted to assure the ambassador that she was fine, but in typical omniscient Minbari fashion, Delenn recognized the pretense of the commander's words. And in further Minbari form, asked the commander to join her later for a simple ritual aimed at easing the mind.

Ritual or not, six hours ago the promise of abstract conversation and a night that did not involve her couch and a bottle sounded like a great idea.

Now Ivanova stood outside the doors to Delenn's quarters, nervously contemplating what this seemingly simple ritual might really entail. Just as she had come to the conclusion that this was perhaps not the right night for a soul-baring, and was ready to turn and leave, the door glided open to reveal the Minbari ambassador.

"Commander," Delenn bowed her head in greeting. "Do come in." She turned to the side and held out a hand, ushering Susan into her inner sanctum.

Ivanova entered cautiously, taking in the scene before her. The room was dimly lit, and candles were scattered everywhere, some already burning, some not. Susan detected a faint hint of incense, albeit no fragrance she was familiar with. It was something distinctly Minbari, smoky yet clean, perfumed yet not overpowering. The commander walked through the trails of the smoke, feeling a buoyant, heady feeling settle in her chest as she inhaled more of it.

Delenn indicated a mound of pillows in the center of the room. "Please, sit."

The commander surveyed the seating area with a wary eye, turning in a slight panic as she heard the doors shut behind her. "I don't know about this, Delenn, maybe I should just go..."

"Please. As I told you this morning, I would like to help."

"I don't really know what we're doing here...what I'm doing here."

"You have come because you need me," the Minbari rationalized, as she moved about the room lighting more candles, her ceremonial robes floating weightlessly about her petite frame. "Because you need this. It is a ritual of - I believe the closest thing in your language would be penance."

Ivanova gulped audibly. Perhaps Delenn understood more about her current mental state than the commander realized. "What exactly do we do?"

"We sit. We talk. We let the ritual take whatever form it may," Delenn explained. She sank down onto one of the pillows and patted another, indicating Susan should join her.

Ivanova sat down awkwardly, adjusting her seated form until she was comfortable. "So there's no set rules or steps or anything? A flogging followed by walking on hot coals, perhaps?"

Delenn smiled lightly and shook her head. "No. The path to forgiveness is different for each individual." Her grin widened. "If you wish for there to be flogging though, there can be flogging," she said, her tone teasing.

The commander lifted her eyebrows at the joke. "I'll pass for now, thanks."

"Are you surprised that I would suggest such a ceremony as this for you?"

"Frankly, yes, Ambassador." Ivanova had no idea the half-human, half-Minbari had been paying that much attention to her lately, certainly not enough to sense the even deeper change in her already pessimistic attitude.

Delenn leaned forward and placed her palm on Susan's thigh. Ivanova looked down at it timidly at first, then relaxed into it as she acknowledged the fact that she enjoyed the connection.

The Minbari smiled knowingly at the commander. "It is hard not to recognize the extra weight you have been carrying on your shoulders. But you were actually the one who set this ritual in motion, some time ago."

"I already started it?" Susan asked, confused.

"It begins with a confession," Delenn elaborated, her eyes catching Susan's and the glimmer of understanding there.

A confession, Susan thought to herself, recalling the words she had spoken to Delenn in MedLab during another ceremony. Damn Minbari, she mused, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Of course one ritual would lead into another.

"A confession," the ambassador continued, "that made me realize there are things inside of you that desperately need healing. I suspect, many more things than what were revealed to me that day."

Ivanova began breathing heavily, suddenly feeling like the room was far too small. Images flashed behind her eyes - her mother, father, brother. Lovers, would-be lovers, those that never stood a chance in hell but were damn fine people anyway. Comrades, friends, innocent by-standers. Her lifetime had been marked by people taken from her too soon, taken before she could tell them the things she wanted to say, gone before things already said could be retracted. She had spent her entire life surrounded by death.

Delenn's eyes caught Susan's, seeing the blue of the human woman's eyes darkened by sadness and a countless host of other emotions.

Ivanova found it too difficult to hold the other woman's gaze and averted her eyes to the floor. "I think I'm ready for that flogging now," she grumbled, only half joking.

"Why is that?"

"Well doesn't penance often double as punishment?" Ivanova queried.

"In some of your human religions, maybe so. But not for the Minbari. This ritual aims not to castigate, but to restore faith."

The ambassador removed her hand from Susan's thigh and the commander found herself missing the contact. Delenn cupped Ivanova's chin in her palm, raising the commander's head to once again meet her eyes. Her voice dropped and softened as she began stroking Susan's cheek with a delicate thumb. "I have no desire to punish you, Susan."

The commander's breath hitched and she found her eyes darting back and forth from the Minbari's heated gaze to lips she tried to convince herself she had never thought about kissing. "What do you desire to do, Delenn?" Ivanova asked, innuendo beginning to lace itself around her words.

"I desire to know why the great Susan Ivanova is so filled with pain."

Susan's eyes closed heavily, against both the surge of emotion she felt at the ambassador's question, and the heat that suffused her body at Delenn's touch. "I just feel so...guilty," she said, hanging her head as she uttered the word.

"Why?" the ambassador asked, completely perplexed.

"Because I'm still here," Ivanova's voice rose, reflecting her inner turmoil. "It should have been me a hundred times now, but I just keep seeing the people I care about die."

"You are still here," Delenn insisted. "You are still fighting a good fight, still fighting in honor of those that have gone before you."

"Well I'm tired of fighting!"

"Then you will live in honor of those that have gone before you. You will love, in their honor. And someday Susan, you too will die." Delenn became choked up at the thought, balling her hands into fists and dropping them into Ivanova's lap as she continued to plead with her. "Please do not be so eager to do so and leave those that care about you!" Her delivery rose sharply in volume as well, further exposing her agitated state.

The commander drew back slightly, shocked at the Minbari's outburst and the heartfelt concern she saw in Delenn's eyes.

"This ritual can often be very telling, for both parties involved," Delenn divulged, casting a demure glance at the commander. The ambassador closed her eyes briefly and drew a sharp breath, reigning in her emotion before continuing.

"I care about you very much, Susan. Every living being makes mistakes. We all have regrets. You are a good person. You do good - for the universe, for all of us. Do not become so embroiled in your pain that you turn away life - or love - when it is offered to you, because you think you do not deserve it."

"Are you offering me love, Delenn?" the commander asked guardedly, both hoping and fearing that the answer would be yes.

The half-human, half-Minbari inclined her head, nodding almost shyly. "I am," she spoke softly. "But the true question is, are you capable of accepting it?"

Ivanova raised her hand, slowly running her thumb along the bony ridge that wrapped around the Minbari's head. She was rewarded with a soft moan as Delenn's eyes fluttered shut and she leaned further into the commander's touch. Ivanova had no idea that was such a sensitive spot for the Minbari, and she found herself wanting to discover what other spots on Delenn's body would elicit such a response. "Is this all part of the ritual?"

"As I said, the ritual takes what form it may," Delenn echoed her earlier statement, her chest now rising and falling noticeably with heavy breaths.

Ivanova slid her hand into the ambassador's brown locks and drew her head closer to her. "Then if I wished, I would be free to kiss you?" she asked, her breath feathering against Delenn's lips.

"Yes," Delenn answered back breathlessly.

"And if I wished," Susan continued, trailing her hand down Delenn's neck towards the crook of her robe, "I may remove your clothing, and ask you to remove mine?"

"Yes," the Minbari repeated, her breathing picking up even further.

Susan's hand wandered down further still, past the valley between Delenn's breasts, and came to rest on her inner thigh. "And if I wished, I may touch you, and feel your touch in return?"

Even through the thick fabric of her robe, Delenn felt scorching heat where Ivanova's hand stroked her leg. "Yes. Please, Susan," the ambassador begged, unable to wait any longer for the other woman to actually make good on her suggestions.

Susan closed the distance between them, their lips meeting slowly at first, then gaining in speed and fervor. They sank down onto the floor pillows, continuing to kiss passionately, hands roaming as they began to undo each other's clothing.

Ivanova briefly broke contact with the ambassador's lips, catching her breath enough to ask one final question. "And how does this ritual end?"

Delenn looked into the commander's blue eyes, finally seeing the clouds of long-standing pain there start to depart.

"With absolution," she answered as she longingly drew Susan's lips to her once more.

Six hours ago, Ivanova had not expected to find her soul's reprieve in the ambassador's touch. But as the two women explored new flesh, some of it familiar, some not, Susan felt the burdens plaguing her mind finally drift away as if incense become smoke. As nimble hands found the areas that would draw forth heated sighs and whispered pleas, Susan found the strength to reconcile, not with any higher power, but with her own tortured conscience - to forgive herself for moving on, for continuing to live.

She would not forget those that had left this world before her, and would perhaps see them again in a million years, but each grace of Delenn's lips upon her body reminded her that she was far from ready to join them.

And as Susan and Delenn brought each other to release, so too did Susan pardon herself from the notion that she did not deserve to be happy, accepting once again the ability to find serenity in another's arms.