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Where No Shadows Fall

Chapter 4: Coping and Dying


Part 1

John Sheridan died a long time ago. He wished he could remember how many years, the exact date of his death; his crossing from man to mist to myth. But his soul, well, his soul refused to recall the precise moment when his light flickered and extinguished like so many flames before him. No, John Sheridan didn't truly want to remember his death, for to remember meant he had to feel. And if he felt, then he would hurt. And if he allowed the pain to come, to wash over him, a tiny pebble in an unforgiving wind, he would simply crumble, the wind casting his remains to the farthest reaches of the Universe.

If John had a body, he would've laughed. For there were no winds in the Universe, just darkness, silence, and time. So much time. Endless loneliness.

And John Sheridan, surrounded by thousands of stars, never felt so alone in his life or in death. How could he?

Delenn. The name vibrated around him, an echo from long ago.

Delenn. The name burrowed inside him. Raw. Sweet. Bitter.

Delenn. The name singed the star, compelling his soul to remember, to never forget, to never give up hope.

And John had given up hope. It had been months since he felt Delenn's soul leave her body—since her death. Yet, her soul hadn't reached out to his. No, Delenn was still out there somewhere. A place where John could not follow. No chance of rescue. No help. Just her. Alone.

Like him. So alone.

And perhaps that was the fate he deserved, to exist with only half a soul.

The moment the depressing thought formed, John felt the electrical pull. Soft and coaxing. John knew it well, but he wasn't in the mood. Not now, not for her.

The tug grew stronger. Their bond gave her a direct link to him. But he could ignore it; he had in the past.

Stronger. Harder. Determined. She never requested his presence with such urgency before. And their link, nor her, was so strong as to compel him to do her bidding. Yet today, the force on him was strangely penetrating, unusually powerful, and annoyingly persistent.

Giving in, John went; his star not happy with the intrusion. Wallowing in Delenn's abandonment and his loss was an act best done alone.

But he went, led like a trained poodle that wanted nothing more than to bite the hand of the smiling kid holding the leash.

Just when John could take it no more, his surrounding brightened before him. Darkness and solitude gave way to artificial lighting, blue and yellow painted walls, and a redhead.

"Hello, John."

John brought his hands up, then looked down at his legs. He had a body. John felt strong, young, invincible. The way he did as a man of his twenties. A man too young and inexperienced to realize that invincibility was a high-stakes game that only dumbasses and the insane betted on.

John didn't bother with searching the room for a mirror or something to show him the image she'd created. She settled on the image of him she most liked. He could alter himself if he wanted; he'd done so before. But really, what was the point? If she preferred to see him this way then so be it. He wouldn't be here long.

"Hello, Anna."

She smiled at him, and she too appeared much younger. Like she did when they'd first met. Freshness and beauty personified. But that was ages ago. As old as the room they were standing in.

John glanced around. It was Anna's apartment, the one she'd shared with his sister, Liz. He'd spent many a day and night in the overpriced, undersized flat. She'd even gotten the height right, the ceiling only two inches higher than John's six two height.

He'd always liked the place though, it smelled of daisies, chocolate chip cookies (his favorite), and the future.

But this was an illusion; a trip down memory lane John had no interest in taking.

He squared his shoulders and asked, "Why have you brought me here, Anna?"

She smiled. The same sweet, shy smile she gave him whenever he asked her out on a date.

And she pulled at his heart, made him see her as the girl she had been, the woman she would grow into, and not the thing the Shadows had turned her in to.

John shook his head. No, he remembered that all too well.

"Just tell me."

Anna moved closer, her flower print dress reminding John of Kansas in spring. She was so lovely. Always had been; her red hair and pale skin gave her an ethereal glow John used to find enchanting. Now, John saw only the woman who'd he'd failed to protect.

Standing before him, Anna reached out, her soft fingers finding his. She twined them, her delicate hand so familiar, so soft, so vulnerable. Then she smiled up at him, her eyes alight with love.

John wanted to rip his hand away from her. To turn from the love and trust her eyes revealed. He didn't deserve her love, want her trust.

"I was taught," she began, her voice a soothing massage, "like you, that upon death the soul would travel to one of two places. Heaven or hell." Yeah, Sunday morning service had pounded that bit of faith into him. "I never imagined any other afterlife."

Neither had he; although, they both had studied other cultures. Hell, one didn't have to go beyond Earth to discover various ideas about life after death. But the idea of a Heaven and Hell seemed to be the most prevailing understanding. If only it was that simple.

Anna laughed. "In the end, John, I guess it doesn't really matter what one believes during life, death is the ultimate enlightenment, the great teacher of all things cosmic and eternal."

Yes it was.

Anna released his hand and stepped away from him. She moved to the three-sectioned sofa, sat, and bid him to join her.

Reluctantly, he did, leaving one cushion space between them.

"I don't remember my death, John."

He knew. She'd told him before. Why was she telling him again?

"I remember the planet, the Icarus . . ." She looked down, her hands suddenly gripping the folds of her dress. "The creatures you call the Shadows. Yes, I remember them well, their voices grinding in my head, toxic thoughts and vile intentions."

John was doing some grinding of his own, his back teeth working with barely repressed anger.

She'd died alone. But not truly dead. No, they'd used her. Her mind. Her body. Her memories. But John had been the one to finally and fatally kill her. Not the Shadows, but him.

"I know; I'm sorry." More sorry than you will ever know.

Her slim fingers reached for him again, forcing John to unfurl the fists he didn't know he'd formed.

"After I died, I had a lot of time to think." Anna chuckled, her eyes twinkling. "In death, I guess we do all the thinking we should've done while we were alive. Then, we have the erroneous belief that we don't have enough time to talk, to think, to do. Here—" she gestured to the room, but John knew she meant the Universe—"we have endless time to ponder our mistakes. To even make new ones. And then more than enough time to fix them."

John could see some truth in her words, but they mostly rang hollow. He wished she would just get to the point so he could leave. Really, what good does rehashing old wounds would do? Some things were just better left dead and buried.

Like him.

Like her.

Like his bond to Delenn.

Anna tightened her grip on his hand, compelling him to focus. He did, giving her his full, uninterested attention.

"What is this all about?" He knew he sounded weary, in spite of the impossibility of true fatigue.

"This is about you." She gave him a pointed look. "And Delenn."

John did pull away from her touch then and stood.

Anna remained where she was, her eyes sympathetic, as if he was the saddest creature she'd ever laid eyes on.

Dammit, he didn't want her god damn sympathy.

"You need to get past this, John, or you'll lose her forever."

Yeah, that's what Valen . . . Sinclair had said. But it wasn't him. It was Delenn. She was the one who didn't join him where no shadows fall. She was the one who married and loved another while claiming to still mourn him. She was the one who—

"There's nothing for me to get past. I'm perfectly fine. Been fine. Will always be fine."

Pathetic liar. You haven't been fine for longer than you want to admit.

"It's not your fault."

John stopped his pacing and whirled to face his second wife.

"What wasn't?"

She stood but didn't advance. Good, he really needed his space, and she seemed to understand that.

"My death, John, it wasn't your fault."

Yeah, right. The woman was delusional. Of course it was his fault.

"I blew up the planet. I killed you, Anna."

She shook her head, red locks falling in to resolute eyes.

He stepped towards her. "I killed you. Me. Not the Shadows. I did it."

More head shaking.

Dammit, the woman was stubborn, as hard-headed as any Narn he'd met.

"No, John, it wasn't you."

She sighed. "I took that mission. If you recall, you asked me not to go, to select an assignment closer to where you were stationed."

John vaguely recalled the conversation. It had been so long ago.

"You thought we were spending too much time apart. You were right, but it was an opportunity I didn't want to slip through my fingers. So many vied for a spot on the crew, but only a prestigious few were selected. I was so proud to be among that elite group."

That John remembered. He was proud of her, too, in spite of the gnawing foreboding he couldn't rid himself of. He'd ignored it, chocked it up to a soldier's paranoia, a husband's concerns. Nothing more. But it was. Damn, it was.

"I should have done more, made you turn down the offer."

Her laughter rang in his ears, an independent woman's mocking ripple of feminist waves colliding into him.

"John, you were married three times." She lightly touched his elbow. "And while that macho, military attitude may have worked with the men and women under your command—" she clicked her tongue, a chiding sound—"the women you chose to marry would never be so cowed. Not Lochley. Not me. And certainly not Delenn."

John huffed, hating that she was right. Hell, what man in his right mind would marry women who did whatever in the hell they wanted to because they thought it was the right thing to do? That had led to a divorce, an untimely death, and . . .

Twenty years. Not a minute longer.

"You should never have gone to Z'ha'dum."

She released his elbow.

"Hindsight is twenty-twenty." She sighed, her face suddenly wistful. "Bad things happen, John. I didn't want to die, didn't want to leave you alone."

She moved away from him, her slim shoulders slumping then stiffening when she turned to face him again.

"I blamed myself for my death and your sorrow for a long time."

He hadn't known that.

"I can't tell you how many times I wished that I had simply listened to you, heeded your concerns. But I wanted that excavation so badly; wanted to finally make my mark."

John knew the feeling, the Agamemnon his opportunity to show he was more than a jarhead, a man worthy to lead.

"As soon as we landed, I knew I would never leave that place alive." She shivered. "The contempt and corruption hung thick in the air, polluting everything in its wretched path. I sensed it; we all did. But we saw nothing." Another hard shiver. "Until it was too late."

John reached for Anna this time, tugging until she accepted his embrace. He enfolded her in his arms, wishing, wishing. Just wishing things could have been different.

"When you blew up the planet, John, my soul was already here. You only destroyed the physical manifestation of me, the only part of me the Shadows could hold, control, use against you."

She snuggled closer, her body soft, tender, tortured.

"We can't out run our fate. We can run; we can hide, we can pretend and ignore. But in the end, it comes for us, whether we are ready or willing. As cruel as it was, John, my fate led me to that ghastly planet. I had choices, options. But I chose Z'ha'dum. And I died."

Anna raised her head from his shoulder. Their eyes met and the twinkle returned. "I also chose you, John. And I lived. I laughed. I loved."

She kissed his cheek. "And you love her. More than you ever loved me."

John made to protest but Anna simply shook her head. "Like I said, there isn't much to do here but think. And it didn't take much thinking to realize that obvious fact."

She stepped out of his embrace and John waited for the sense of loss to overcome him. It didn't. It hadn't since the time he hugged her and wished Anna a safe voyage to Z'ha'dum. Not when she "returned" to him that fateful day aboard Babylon 5. And not when they reunited after his death. That feeling, that warmth she used to evoke by her mere presence was gone, apparently never to return.

"I learned to cope with my death, John, and so must you. You can't continue to blame yourself for my death no more than I could continue to hate you for binding your soul to another."

Hate him? He didn't know she'd felt that way. But damn if he didn't understand. Yeah, he was all over that emotion.

John ran a hand through his hair—thick and dark the way it was when he was but a young man wooing a pretty college student.

But John didn't hate Delenn. He could never hate her. She'd loved him. Gave him a son. Mourned him. For too long. Far too long. Then she'd moved on, gave her heart to someone else. The same way he'd tucked his memories of Anna away, freeing his heart to love again, opening his soul to Delenn.

No, John Sheridan could never hate Delenn. But he was angry. At her. At him. At Chimir. At life. At death.

"I love you, Anna."

And he did. He'd never stopped. Never would. But . . .

She clasped her hands around his. "I know, Johnny, and I love you. When we married, I thought that existence was all there was for us. That once we died that was it; our time together would be truly over."

So had he.

"You never promised me forever, John, and I never expected it."

Her hands were so warm, her words even warmer, thawing the edges of his heart.

"But you and Delenn are different. You two are connected in a way I could never fathom. Beyond time. Beyond space. Beyond life. Beyond death."

Anna's hand found his chest, the placement over a heart that beat only when he thought of Delenn.

"Beyond regret. Beyond grief. Beyond. Anger."

One finger rested on his chin, smooth and beard free.

"Let go of the anger, John, and claim the other half of your soul."

She stepped away, her red hair swirling about her, the shape of Anna Sheridan fading, melding into blackness, the illusion crumbling around them.

John reached for her, suddenly horrified of being alone with his thoughts.

But she was gone, her parting words clipping his conscience before she disconnected their electrical link. "Anger is a lonely fortress, John, keeping you in and Delenn out. Tear it down or live there forever."

Connection broken. John was alone again.

But he didn't want to be alone. No, John wanted . . . He just wanted. Delenn. But he couldn't have her; didn't know how to escape his so-called fortress.

He wanted to though. God knows he wanted nothing more than to do just that. Time, he knew, was not his friend. Had never been kind to him.

Yeah, now that angered John Sheridan.

Time. Limited fucking time. Twenty years and no more. Screw that.

Part 2

John whirled, the jacket of his Earthforce uniform swinging with his swift movement.

He walked and walked, his mind unconsciously forming the image around him. But he paid it no mind; he simply needed to walk, to clear his head, to get away. From himself.

When John finally looked up, he stood in front of his office on Babylon 5. Not caring why he created this particular scenery, John entered, found his old desk, and sat in the familiar chair.

It squeaked, and he smiled. Some things never changed.

John propped his feet on the desk, placed his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes.

Tired. So tired.

"I've never known you to be the nap-on-the-job kind of guy, Sheridan."

John's eyes snapped opened, his feet quickly thudded to the floor. He frowned at the intruder.

"I didn't invite you here, Michael."

Michael Garibaldi slid from the shadows, his bald head as shiny as ever.

John huffed. "I thought you would've given yourself some hair."

Michael shrugged. "No point pretending. Besides, "he settled in the chair opposite John's desk, "it makes me look dignified."

Not likely. But who was John to judge? He reached up and thumbed his beard. He too had preferences.

"Why are you here?"

John didn't like this. Perhaps he could've shrugged Anna's demanding call off to former wife concern. But Michael appearing, out of the blue, well, that was stretching coincidence a bit far.

"Just thought we could talk. You know."

No, John did not know. But he was beginning to feel manipulated.

"Did Sinclair send you here?"

Michael crossed one leg over his knee. "Not Sinclair exactly."

John was so not in the mood for Michael's coy, Security Chief bullshit.

"Just give me Sinclair's damn message and get the hell out."

Michael tsked, and John refrained from knocking that smug smile off his friend's face.

"It doesn't work that way, John."

Of course it didn't.

John leaned back in his chair, waiting for whatever lesson the "powers-that-be" wanted him to learn. Why not. He had nothing better to do than lament eternity without Delenn.

Michael uncrossed his legs then shook his head as if he didn't quite know why he was there either.

"Do you know how many times I swore I'd never take another drink only to find myself hording booze and lying to family and friends?"

John sat up straight. He knew Michael struggled with his addiction. Hell, it had caused more than one fight between them, threatened their friendship, John's trust.

"More than I'd like to admit," Michael admitted, not waiting for John's reply. "The Twelve-Step Program," he huffed, "easier said than done."

Yeah, John could only imagine. Michael Garibaldi had one of the strongest personalities John had ever known. The man was formidable, but alcohol wasn't a foe easily defeated. Michael had fought that battle and lost. Repeatedly.

"The first step," he said, drawing John's attention, "is admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion. That was a hard one for me."

It would've been for John as well. Soldiers were taught to always be in control of their fate, their life, their choices. If they ever lost control, that spelled death. For them. For others.

"But you made it, Michael, found your way to the other side."

"I was lucky."

John disagreed. Michael worked hard to regain control, to be something other than what he'd become.

"Not luck, Michael. You beat it, was stronger than your addiction."

Michael shook his head. "I had good friends. Friends like you and Delenn who looked past the irresponsible drunk I'd become and remembered the man I used to be. And then there was Lise."

Lise, Michael's wife, his soul mate. John envied him, that unbreakable bond; the one that drew Michael's soul to Lise's ten years after a heart attack claimed his life. They were together in death as they had been in life, alcohol addiction no longer a daily battle, a cross to bear.

"None of us can do it alone, John. I tried, and I failed."

"What are you trying to tell me, Michael? You no longer have to contend with that addiction."

"True," he admitted with a relieved smile, "but I never forgot the steps. And when I look at you, all stone-faced and sad, I'm reminded of one."

John didn't bother with the obvious question; he knew Michael would tell him. At least when he did, the man could be on his way.

"One important step is to help others who suffer from the same addiction."

John leaned forward, his hands flat on his desk.

"I'm not an alcoholic, never have been. You know that."

"I know. It's not exactly the same but you do need my help. Hell, you need someone's help."

No he didn't. He only needed to be left in peace.

"I believe Anna already beat you to the punch. She came, she talked, she left. Apparently I have anger issues."

"That obvious." A snort. "But that's not what I'm talking about, John."

"No? So what in the hell are you talking about?"

Michael seemed to relax even more in his chair, unfazed by John's bout of frustration.

"Alcoholics have the Twelve-Step Program. I lived and breathed that program, accepted my addiction, my fate to have to deal with that addiction for the rest of my life. But you, my friend, you've never truly accepted your own fate."

"What fate? I'm dead if you haven't noticed, Michael. We're both dead, what fate is left for us?"

"Kubler-Ross, John, the Five Stages of Grief."

John's hands balled into fists, but he remained seated, forcing himself to listen despite the urge to end the link with Garibaldi.

"I always thought you handled your death and rebirth a little too easily. I mean, you actually died, John. Lorien, from what you told me, brought you back to life."

That wasn't exactly what had happened, but it was close enough.

"But twenty years." He shrugged. "It's better than nothing for sure, but it could not have been an easy pill to swallow."

No it hadn't. But I had no choice.

But John had enough psychology classes in college to know of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' theoretical stages of coping and dying.

"Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance." Michael ticked each one off with a finger.

John had never felt so tired. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and sleep the rest of his existence away. Kubler-Ross was long since dead, so why did he feel like she had been haunting him for years, staying quiet and out of sight. But there. Always there with her damn stages.

"How far did you get? Did you even make it past bargaining?"

He had. In truth, he flew right past denial, shoved past anger, and slammed right into bargaining. All of this before he left Z'ha'dum. He'd wanted to live, no matter how long, if he could see Delenn again, have her in his arms, in his life. No, denial, anger, and bargaining were the easy stages. While the last two . . .

"Depression." John stood, unable to stay seated and feign a calm he didn't feel.

Michael stood as well, the casual shirt and slacks fitting his body.

"You never made it to acceptance, did you?"

It wasn't truly a question. That was the reason why Michael Garibaldi, above all others, was here. Who better to understand than a repentant alcoholic?

"If I didn't accept my fate, then how could I expect Delenn and David to? It wasn't fair to them. I got my bargain, my Delenn, my family, my twenty years."

But it still hadn't been enough. The more he got, the more he wanted. The happier his life with Delenn was, the longer he wanted to experience it. It wasn't fair. It simply wasn't fair. He had everything and nothing. How could he ever accept that?

"You pretended, tried to prepare them as best you could. But you never prepared yourself, accepted that you would get no more time with them, with Delenn."

John's knees buckled. Michael's strong arms caught him, holding him, providing the strength John no longer possessed.

He helped John back to his seat, careful eyes watching.

"Thanks; I'm fine now."

No he wasn't. More pretending. More lying. More denial. Perhaps he never made his way through stage one. John almost laughed at that frightening realization.

Anger and acceptance. Coping and dying. How could he manage it all in the limited time Delenn had before her soul was lost to him forever?

John closed his eyes, cutting the route of his burning tears. How long he stayed like that he didn't know, but when Michael spoke John's breath caught at the sudden breaking of silence.

"I always knew Delenn would be the one."

"How?" How could Michael know what had taken him so long to realize?

Michael scratched his bald head and smiled. "You had to see your face, your eyes whenever you looked at or spoke about Delenn. She intrigued you from the start, off-balanced you with that giving but fierce way of hers.

He had a look? No one had ever mentioned that before.

"She was good for you, John, drew you out of your shell, and Delenn out of hers. You both were better, stronger people for having the other. You know, I never believed in this whole business of soul mate's or even the idea of life after death."

Michael snorted and left John on his side of the desk, reclaiming the chair he'd sat in earlier.

"I thought I would die and that would be all Michael Garibaldi wrote. 'That's all folks,' and all that. Nothing more. No me. No Lise. No nothing."

"But the Minbari had it right."

"Yeah, who would've thunk it? They had it right. And, I for one am glad they did. I wouldn't trade more time with Lise for all the Looney Tunes and whiskey in the universe."

Michael leaned in, moving the chair closer to the desk, closer to John.

"But you, my friend, you're throwing it all away. Delenn loves you. I was there after you died. I saw how your death ripped her apart, leaving crater sized wounds where you had once been."

He moved the chair again, this time directly next to John. Michael's stare was hard, unforgiving.

"She mourned you for a damn long time, John, and it hurt like hell to watch her pain. And, yeah, I was there when she took vows with Satai Chimir. She loved him, too. He was good for her, made Delenn smile, something she'd deprived herself of after your death."

John wanted to scoot away, shut out Michael's words, but he couldn't. He knew this was something he needed to hear, to know, to understand.

"She was happy with him, John. You must accept that. She deserved that happiness and Chimir gave it to her. But . . . she didn't give him all of her."

John's spine stiffened. She had given all of herself to Chimir. Like Michael said, she'd loved him, was happy with him.

"I think—"

"She didn't, John, trust me. This I know."

How could he possibly know? Unless . . .

"She told you this?"

"Hell no."

"Then how?"

"Susan. She told Susan and . . . well, you know how that goes."

"Delenn would never reveal such a thing unless it was true," John said, feeling the first embers of hope.

"No, they were tighter than a fat lady in a corset," Michael agreed. "Susan knew all. She was the holder of Delenn's secrets."

"Someone could've just told me this. Susan, perhaps."

Yeah, his former commander could've, should've opened her big mouth and enlightened him.

"You have to learn your own lessons, John. Knowing is only part of the battle. You have to earn the rest. We're all here for you, but you have to want the connection more than you want to hold on to the pain of death, the sense of betrayal at Delenn's marriage, the guilt over Anna's death, and the misguided notion that you need to suffer as a result."

Michael stood, ran a hand around the collar of his shirt, and walked towards the exit.

"Move past depression, John, so you can accept your death. Only then can you live. Only then will Delenn see your star as the beacon she needs. You can bring her home, John . . . if your star is bright enough to show her the way."

Michael stepped into the hallway. "Is your star, your love bright enough, John, to guide Delenn to where no shadows fall?

Was it?

John jumped from his chair, feeling lightheaded. He had some thinking to do. No, he corrected himself; he had some healing to do.

"Is your star, your love bright enough?"

God, he hoped so.

Never Enough

Reason 10: New Home (Minbar, 2262)

John kissed Delenn on her lips before gently placing her back on her feet. He smiled down at her, all the anxiety from his near-death experience and Lennier's betrayal hidden behind his boyish smile. They were finally on Minbar, in their new home. The home John had, surprisingly, refused to allow her to enter without being carried by him.

Humans were indeed strange and, John Sheridan, as he kept proving, seemed to be the strangest of them all. Between his hand washing of socks, to his odd sleeping noises, to his obsession with barely-there night apparel, being married to a human, Delenn was learning, was a constant lesson in cultural patience and understanding.

"I want to check out the place," John said, sounding anxious, even enthusiastic.

This pleased Delenn; and she fervently hoped he liked their new home.

Delenn turned to the housekeeper, who was still staring at John as if he had horns sticking from his forehead. She sighed; humans were an acquired taste, especially for someone who'd never met one before. The poor worker caste woman's mouth was agape, eyes wide, probably wondering what in Valen had possessed the human to scoop a perfectly-abled Delenn into the air and "carry her across the threshold."

Delenn could sympathize with the housekeeper. John had no idea how much of an imposing figure he could be with his tall, confident, and yes, less than tactful approach to some things.

The first year or so would be one of delicate and critical adjustment, for John, for Delenn, for the Alliance, for the Rangers, for all of Minbar. Delenn was not foolish or naïve enough to believe the transition would be anything other than difficult. But she and John were determined to make it work, and so they would. But first . . .

"Ray'lal, would you please handle organizing the unloading of our ship? I have assigned several Rangers to help you. They and the other workers will be under your guidance. I trust you received the more detailed instructions I sent you earlier in the week."

Ray'lal nodded, having finally closed her mouth, eyes focused now on Delenn instead of John.

Ray'lal bowed deeply and took her leave.

Delenn turned to see John smiling at her.

"I guess I'll have to get used to that."

"Used to what?"

"Being gawked at as if I'm some uncouth, hairy beast from across the universe come to steal the pretty, Minbari princess."

Delenn wanted to wince but reframed. John's words came out light, playful even, but Delenn could sense the sting of pain hidden behind the too accurate sentiment.

He shrugged. "At least your people accepted the ISA. I guess, in time, they'll accept me as well."

Another sting. Delenn knew Ray'lal did not mean to be rude. In fact, Delenn had interviewed over a dozen people for the post of housekeeper. Ray'lal was experienced, competent, and much more liberal in her thinking than the other candidates. True, she had never been off-planet, but most from the worker caste had not.

Delenn would have preferred to hire someone with experience and personal knowledge of other races, particularly humans, but Minbari so rarely left home. So Delenn had to use other criteria, the ability to speak, write, and read English proficiently at the top of her list. Although, admittedly, the entire conversation Delenn had just had with her housekeeper had been in Andronato. This was done more for the woman's comfort, although, Delenn reminded herself, this was John's home and his language, if no place else, should be spoken here. She must remember that.

"Your language is beautiful, Delenn, I really must make it my mission to learn more of it."

"It takes time. But I'm sure, with full immersion, you'll be speaking it like a native Minbari."

"I doubt that." He winked. "Just ask my tenth grade Spanish teacher."

John turned in a complete circle, then said, "How about a tour of the place? I'm anxious to see."

Delenn's stomach fluttered; a nervous feeling she hadn't had since their wedding day, then their wedding night. In fact, if Delenn recalled correctly, John was the only one to ever have this effect on her, beginning with their first "date" at the Fresh Aire.

"Oh, by the way," John said, giving Delenn the folder he'd been holding for the last hour, "this is for you. I thought it would be better for you to read than for me to try to explain. Once our stuff is unpacked, I have a couple of data crystals with some other human traditions and customs."

"Human traditions and customs?"

He looked about the long foyer, the living room at the end of the wide hall. "Yeah, you know, stuff you probably can't find in all those databases you're so fond of using for research."

Delenn frowned, unable to imagine what could be on the sheets of paper John had handed her or those data crystals that she didn't already know.

"Like what, John? I've read all about St. Patrick's Day, winter and summer solstice, summer vacations, Leap Year, Secretary's Day, and a host of other rituals and celebrations I couldn't begin to understand or think you would be remotely interested in celebrating here."

"True," John said, walking away from her, "I could give a damn about Leap Year. And it's Administrative Assistant's Day. They hate to be called 'secretaries.' But," he rounded the corner, his voice still clear, "those aren't the type of human traditions I'm talking about. The ones I'm interested in are a bit . . . more obscure for the databases. Just read, honey, and catch up when you're done."

And with that, John was gone, his voice trailing then stopping.

Delenn looked at the folder in her hand and frowned. While she knew she had no right to complain about unusual rituals, John had a way of introducing her to the oddest human customs, ones that either made her blush, laugh, or frown. Glancing at the folder again, Delenn wondered which she would do when she read the contents.

Following behind John, Delenn opened the folder and began to read.

Weddings in the days of yore sometimes followed kidnappings. This explains not only the role of the best man but also why the bride and groom customarily leave the wedding celebration before everyone else. It's symbolic of the groom stealing away with his bride, whisking her from her family and into a new life with him. The kidnapping theme also explains why grooms carry their brides over the threshold in some cultures. In Medieval Europe, carrying a bride into her new home prevented her from seeming too enthusiastic about losing her virginity. By picking her up and taking her into their home, the groom provided an alibi for his wife's chastity.

Delenn turned the corner John had a minute earlier, a frown beginning to form the more she read. She heard him in the living room and followed, eyes plastered to the papers in her hand.

Interestingly, this isn't the only origin and rationale for a groom carrying his bride across the threshold after their wedding. It appears that this custom also developed in other cultures for different reasons. Chief among these reasons was to thwart bad luck and evil spirits.

Superstitious Western Europeans believed that a bride who tripped over the threshold of her new home would irrevocably bring bad luck to her home and marriage. Since the husband appears to have been immune from such happenstance, the groom carrying the bride into the home proved a good way to avoid such a mishap altogether. This fear of tripping appears to have its roots in ancient Roman culture, which held a similar belief.

She looked up at her husband. He was taking in the room. It was quite spacious, an open room plan Delenn thought John would enjoy after so many years confined to small living quarters. Windows abounded, letting in the late evening sun. It was a perfect spot to watch the moons rise over the acres of exquisitely manicured lawn and crystal structure of the ISA headquarters.

And if John walked out onto the deck and down one-flight of steps, he would find a lift that would take him to the sub-basement. The sub-basement was an alternate, secured route that led from their home to the ISA, a five-minute underground shuttle ride. But she would show him that later.

Pan-culturally, brides seem to be considered lightning rods for misfortune. In addition to being susceptible to bad luck, brides' bodies also supposedly provide great havens for unattached spirits. Spirit intrusion is the notion that the spirits of the dead or living can live on unattached to their physical bodies and are thus able to enter the bodies of others. Once inside, a spirit can wreak havoc on the possessed, generating physical and mental illness.

Belief in spirit intrusion continues in some cultures today, although it was much more widespread in the ancient world. In many of these early cultures, the threshold of the home was thought to be rife with unattached spirits. A bride was considered particularly vulnerable to spirit intrusion, especially through the soles of her feet. By carrying her into their home, the groom was covering all his bases by ensuring his new wife didn't bring along any unwanted spiritual guests into the house.

Delenn closed the folder, she and John now in his home office.

"That's why you carried me?"

He was sitting behind his desk, rectangular in shape with a bright wood finish. Delenn researched human desks, and while they varied in size, purpose, and composition, she went with a design very familiar to John."

"It's just like my presidential desk back on Babylon 5." He rose and walked towards her, leaving his suit jacket on the back of the desk chair. He glanced around the office, all dark blues and gray, so different from the rest of the house. "You got everything right."

He pulled Delenn to him, his long, strong arms going around her waist. "You did all of this with very little input from me."

Yes she had. John had agreed to move to Minbar instead of Earth. While Delenn had no desire to live anywhere other than Minbar, if John wanted to spend the time he had left on Earth, she would have gladly gone with him.

Instead, he'd chosen to come and live on her Homeworld, knowing this would be his last home. And with that thought, Delenn wanted to make sure that their home, John's last, would be perfect. She couldn't give him more time than Lorien had already given him, but she could have a house built especially for him, the human, the man.

And Delenn so hoped he would feel about his new home, the way he felt about his old.

"You know exactly what I like, honey." He kissed her cheek. "And yes, that's why I carried you over the threshold."

"It doesn't make sense, John, there are no evil spirits here, only the two of us."

John laughed and held her closer. "Did you read the other document?"

Help her. There was another?

She shook her head, and John sighed. "The next one is really hard to explain."

He released her then removed a piece of paper from his pants pocket. "I've been keeping track."

Curious, Delenn craned her neck to see what John had scribbled on his paper but he refolded it and put it back into his pocket.

"Track of what?"

"The number of rooms in this place. So far I've seen the living and dining rooms, my office. That's three. I assume the room across the hall," he pointed to the open door, "or maybe next door is your office."

"I'm next door."

"Okay, that makes four rooms. Obviously there's a kitchen, a guest room or two. I'll have to amend my list once I get the lay of the land."

Delenn had no idea what her husband was talking about. There were other rooms he hadn't named, like the library stocked with old-fashioned books she'd ordered from Earth. Classics like Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, and Lord of the Rings. But there were others, her prayer room for example and the small personal gym for John.

John grabbed her hand and rushed out of the room. "I want to see your office, honey. I bet it's full of crystal knick knacks, and not a dark wooden desk or bookshelf within a mile of the place."

He opened the door to her office and a beam of light glimmered off her oval crystal desk.

"I knew it. This room has Delenn written all over it."

Delenn looked around wildly, wondering if someone had foolishly engraved her name on the office door or wall. There was nothing, and Delenn realized, feeling suddenly foolish, that it was just another ridiculous human saying.

"This is perfect," John said, closing Delenn's office door and locking it.

"Perfect for what?"

"This can be room one. My office will be room two. Let's leave the master bedroom for last. And by the time we reach that room, we'll either be too exhausted to christen it properly, or we'll fall into a coma soon afterward. Either way, tonight will be a memory we'll never forget."

What was the human phrase? Delenn struggled, her confusion clearly showing in her eyes. Then it came to her. "What in the hell are you talking about, John."

"My, my," John said, hoisting Delenn and sitting her on her desk, "aren't you cranky? Must be the hormones. No matter," he lifted her robe to her hips and settled himself between her parted legs, "I like it when you're a little annoyed; it makes the sex even better."

"What—" she started to protest, her insane human mate making no sense at all. But John had captured her mouth, his tongue dipping deep until she could do nothing but return his heat, tasting his flavor and giving her own.

"Oh, yeah, honey, we're going to christen every room in this wonderful house you designed for us. But first," he removed her panties and dropped his pants, "I want to find out how sturdy this crystal desk of yours is."

TO BE CONTINUED

Never Enough

Reason 9: For Old Time's Sake

(Season 5, Episode 21: Objects at Rest)

John stood in the middle of his quarters, the room quiet and empty. Not just empty, he thought with a resigned nod, but barren of life. There was nothing left of him, nothing that said he'd spent the good part of four years in this place.

He turned, slowing moving in a circle, eyes going from the small but functional kitchenette to the bookshelves to the cabinets, and finally to the sparse remaining furniture. The place looked exactly the way it did when he'd first entered them, an anxious, nervous, and headstrong captain of a massive space station with a multitude of divergent races.

But the room no longer felt the same. Now, John thought, a half-smile crossing his features, his quarters felt like home. He laughed at that. How many times had he moved in the years since joining Earthforce? Too many. Yet and still, Babylon 5 had become home to him, the crew his family. He would miss them. Miss this place. Ironic that. A space station surrounded by nothing but darkness, built of nuts and bolts, could become as much a home to him as the green rolling knolls of his beloved Kansas farm.

Languidly, John made his way into his bedroom. It too, like the rest of his quarters was devoid of the anything that screamed John Sheridan lived here. No, all his personal belongings, along with the few items Delenn had brought to his quarters once they'd married, were nicely packed in boxes and stored in the cargo hold of the White Star that would soon ferry him and Delenn to Minbar.

And wasn't that more irony for John "Starkiller" Sheridan. Who would have thought human and Minbari relations would come so far after such a long-fought and brutal war? Never in his wildest imaginings; yet, here he was actually looking forward to living there, having completely and gloriously fallen in love with a Minbari.

And not just any Minbari but a former member of the Grey Council. The very Council that voted to bring war to Earth's front door after their leader was tragically killed by a human. And so began the Earth-Minbari War. Yet two decades later, the once warring nations had laid aside old differences, enough so that Minbar agreed to allow the Interstellar Alliance to build its headquarters on the isolationist planet, accepting humans and other races into their society. Even him.

Many things had changed, John admitted, sitting on the bed, the simple, standard Babylon 5 quilt covering the mattress. He had changed. So had Delenn.

And like she knew he was thinking of her, John heard the soft swoosh of silk fabric after the front door opened and she walked inside.

"John?"

"In the bedroom, honey."

Sliding the door farther open, Delenn entered. The smile she gave him was sweet and all for him. God, he loved this woman. Sometimes it frightened him how much this petite woman had weaved her way into his mind, heart, and soul.

John held his hand out to her, and she came, settling on his sturdy lap.

"The crew is almost ready for our departure. Perhaps another hour or so." Delenn ran her hand through his hair, then admitted, "This station is the only place I've lived outside of Minbar and the Valen'tha. Surprisingly, it feels much like home."

While John wasn't surprised that Delenn, too, felt that Babylon 5 was her home, as much as it had become his, he was always shocked by her lack of other world experience. Hell, he often forgot that Delenn's only true experience with races other than her own only came when she left home for Babylon 5.

He brought the roving hand to his mouth and kissed it. The seamless way she interacted with people so different from herself was nothing short of amazing. Although John was sure Delenn would argue the contrary, she had the type of diplomacy that was more natural than taught. Over the last four years, John had met enough Minbari—including those of her caste—to know that such decorum, patience, ferocity, and intelligence in the face of cultural diversity weren't universal Minbari traits. No, Delenn was unique in ways that went far beyond her partial human appearance.

"I know what you mean, honey." He smiled when Delenn resumed playing with his hair, an unconscious act he'd grown to not only enjoy but to look forward to.

He and Delenn had grown even closer after their marriage, sharing old and deep secrets. His wife was not only a good listener but possessed not one judgmental bone in her body. She was all about learning from one's mistakes, seeing the universe in a glowing spectrum of paths and choices. Sometimes one took the wrong path, made a disastrous choice, but there were always other paths, others choices to set one back on the true path.

"I'm not the man I was when I came here. I was," he stared into Delenn's eyes, all her attention on him, "sad . . . lost." It was an honest but painful admission. But if anyone could understand all those two words meant, it would be Delenn.

"I am not the same either, John. I wasn't sad or lost when I arrived on Babylon 5; indeed, I was very clear of my purpose." She shifted on his lap, her bottom suddenly flush against a part of him he was trying to ignore. "But I was afraid, even unsure at times."

Delenn didn't seem like the unsure type. Sure, he'd seen her afraid, sad even. But she'd always come off as if she knew exactly what she was about. Hell, John relied on her self-assurance more often than he could count, had gone in search of her when he was confused, wanting nothing more than to breathe in her confidence.

"Not until I met you, though, did I realize how lonely I was. How lonely I had been since my father and Dukhat died." Delenn shifted again, her arms wrapping around John's neck. "It is unfortunate indeed, John, when one can feel lonely in a temple full of caste and clan, a station filled with thousands of people. But with you, with one human male, my loneliness vanished; vanquished each time we talked, walked, and laughed."

And that was so Minbari of her. Minbari may avoid, redirect, and prevaricate, but when they decided to speak from the heart, they were unashamedly honest.

"Aren't we a pair? Lonely and lost, no wonder we were drawn to each other. Or maybe it was fate."

"You don't believe in fate."

John considered all he'd experienced over the last four years. "Like I said, Delenn, I'm not the same man I was. There is still so much I can't begin to explain; even more I don't even want to think about." He wrapped his arms around her slim waist, reminding himself that in a few short months, Delenn's body would begin to change, making room for their growing child. "But I can't deny all that I've seen, all that I've felt. Since that day you walked into the Council chamber and removed your white hood, I knew . . . I knew you would forever be a part of me."

"You knew?"

"My heart did, my mind . . . well, that took much longer to convince."

"Yes, I remember." She laughed.

"Well, yeah, I was a soldier. Soldiers have hard, doubting heads. But I thought about you often."

She smiled again, nestling her head on his shoulder. "You did?"

This they had never talked about, not that he couldn't share it with her but it was just so damn embarrassing.

John glanced back at his old bed, then settled them both on top of it, John stretched on his side, Delenn facing him.

"I had dreams of you, honey." She arched what would've been an eyebrow if she'd had one. Ignoring her silent tease, John went on. "Human males dream about women they . . . ah . . . women they want to—"

"Be intimate with."

John cleared his throat. "Yes." Delenn was no dummy. She may have been sexually inexperienced when they finally consummated their marriage, but she was no damn innocent. And John didn't even want to know where she got her information. Some things were better left unsaid between a man and his wife.

"What kind of dreams?" Delenn scooted closer to him, her eyes wide and sensually wicked. She could truly be naughty when she wanted.

"Dreams that ended with my hand down my boxers, wishing it was you doing the stroking."

She laughed; a sexy, husky sound that sent shivers of masculine heat down his spine. Then she was touching him, slim fingers opening then removing his suit jacket. Those nimble fingers wasted no time unbuttoning his shirt and slipping inside.

She kissed his bare chest. "What else did you dream of us doing on this bed of yours, John?"

"So much," he moaned. Her tongue laved his neck, hand having shimmied inside his now open pants and—yes—stroking him the way he dreamed. She was so good at this, her hand just firm enough without being painful. The Delenn of his dreams had known as well, cupping and gripping him in just the right way, up and down, up and down, up and down until he exploded all over her hand. Sometimes in her hungry, wet mouth.

"I wanted to take you in this bed the second and third night of sleep watching. I wanted to rip your robes off, pull you down under me, and bury myself so deep inside you until you came all over me and my sheets."

Damn he was so hard now. Between her mind-numbing hand job and thoughts of old, John was on an orgasm precipice.

Delenn laughed again, all naughty girl and knowing woman. "We've done that already." She raised herself over him, mouth moving to his. "Many times in fact," she whispered.

Oh yes they had. And John had enjoyed each and every encounter.

Delenn released John, then quickly straddled his legs before he could utter a disappointed sigh.

She bent down to his ear, first rimming the shell with her tongue, then saying, her voice oozing lascivious invitation, "We still have an hour, John, we can revisit your dreams if you like."

Not giving her a chance to reconsider her offer, and the likelihood that some well-meaning member of her crew would come looking for them if they were late, John flipped Delenn over and divested her of her clothing, his wife laughing the entire time. That is, until he entered her. Then there was no more laughing, only satisfied and urging moans.

"For old time's sake."

She said nothing, but the bed squeaked and that was response enough for John.

TO BE CONTINUED

Author's Note: That ends the Babylon 5 part of the series. We're off to Minbar and the next nineteen years of their marriage. While the chapters are short stories unto themselves, they are also meant to blend together, highlighting various events in John and Delenn's marriage.

Never Enough

Reason 8: Pregnant

(Season 5, Episode 19: The Wheel of Fire)

You're pregnant, Delenn. Dr. Franklin's words six hours ago. Delenn could still hear them, feel the surreal jolt of disbelief surge through her, taste the sugary sweetness of the miracle on her numb tongue.

You're pregnant, Delenn. Words she'd thought she would never hear. A dream she didn't dare have, a prayer that seemed beyond reach, beyond hope, beyond faith, beyond her.

And there in laid the sad truth.

Delenn stared at the burning candle, the flame warm, bright, and comforting.

Minbari reproduction had been steadily decreasing over the last several hundred years, so much so that Minbar would soon experience under-population if the trend continued. And, unfortunately, all evidence supported that very bleak future.

It was reasonable to assume that a thousand years from now, there would no longer be a race known as Minbari. Delenn knew her people would eventually pass beyond the rim and join the First Ones. But the thought of her people, the many flames that was Minbar, extinguishing as if they never were, was enough to bring tears to her eyes.

But she couldn't cry now. Not when her soul and heart were filled with so much happiness, so much contentment.

And Delenn realized, absorbed by the single flame, that she had never felt quite this way before. With that thought came a fleeting prickle of shame, for Delenn's faith had been weak.

Even that wasn't an accurate or totally truthful description. Her faith had simply been nonexistent.

As a full-Minbari, Delenn, like other Minbari females, had a 1 in 10 chance of conceiving. With her transformation, and mating with a full-human, those odds plummeted, in her opinion, to zero.

No one, not even Dr. Franklin thought she and John were compatible enough to create life. Yet they had.

The universe was full of surprises, Delenn mused. While she had given up hope, the universe never gave up on her, on them.

Faith managed in spite of her faithlessness, a most humbling reminder to a priestess who, while far away from home, should never forget to apply her teachings and understanding of the complex workings of life to self.

"Is there a ritual we need to perform, Delenn?" John's voice surprised her. So deep in thought, she'd forgotten he was there with her, on the other side of the candle flame.

Delenn's eyes focused and she smiled. Her husband was staring back at her, wearing that same I'm-such-a-man grin he'd had ever since Stephen announced that they were to be parents.

She was stunned. John, apparently, had passed the stunned and worried phases while she was still unconscious and had entered the proud father-to-be phase. And, based on the twinkle in his eye, he was going to be there for a good long time.

"There is a ritual, John." She laughed. "I'm Minbari, of course there's a ritual." Then she sobered, reaching across the few inches that separated them and grasped his hand. "But I never thought I would have the opportunity to engage in such a ritual."

His hand tightened over hers, and he nodded with understanding.

"But we need not complete it tonight, or even before we leave Babylon 5. If you don't mind, John, I would rather wait until we return to Minbar."

While many members of the Mir clan were still grappling with her union to a non-Minbari, Delenn still wanted them to be a part of the ritual, the ceremony that would not only confirm John's place by her side as her mate, but sanctify the trinity their union had created.

And in that moment, holding John's hand, the flame of life, death, and rebirth between them, Delenn knew that their family, their circle of life was complete. There would be no other miracles for them, just this one flame of hope, reminder of faith, light of the future.

"How do humans celebrate such an occasion, John? I would very much like to practice one of your human customs tonight."

John's smile grew even wider. Standing, John reached out a hand and helped Delenn to her feet.

"Sometimes, honey, I wish I had poetic words to explain human customs the way you explain your rituals to me. Or that my customs were as special, old, or even as well-thought out or commonly adhered to as your own. But humans are so much more diverse in customs and cultures than the Minbari with their three castes and three languages."

John's eyes lazily took in Delenn's burgundy, silk robe, the heat of them hitting Delenn everywhere they landed.

"But sometimes—" his hand slipped between the folds of her robe, untying the loose knot with gentle precision, "—simpler is better."

Delenn gulped, John tracing first her collarbone, then the valley between her breasts.

He leaned in, his warm, wet tongue following the path of his finger, but going lower, capturing a nipple between his teeth and gently sucking, the soft material of her nightgown an inconsequential barrier.

"We celebrate," John said, tongue flicking out and finding her other nipple, "by doing the very thing that brought us to this happy place."

"Oh—there is something to be said for simple."

John raised his head, and lowered her gown, the silk falling to her ankles.

"That's me, honey, just a simple, human."

Delenn laughed, knowing a gross understatement when she heard one.

"Ah, but creating life where there should be none, isn't simple at all, John."

Removing his own clothing, John lowered Delenn to the floor, the dimming candle a waning flame in the shadow of their own building heat.

"True, but duplicating the process is as simple and old as the universe itself."

And it was.

Perhaps, Delenn mused as the candle winked out, allowing darkness to descend over the lovers, humans had it right.

Then again, she amended on a ragged groan, sex seemed to be the default ritual for many human ceremonies—birthdays, anniversaries, even holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day.

And a few months back, when John was formally sworn in as President of the Interstellar Alliance, they celebrated. According to John, it was a human holiday called President's Day. In honor of that special holiday, they had made love that night too.

And while Delenn was beginning to question these so-called human holidays, she couldn't deny she enjoyed John's singular interpretation. Then she wondered how they would celebrate the birth of their miracle baby.

Then Delenn did no more questioning, no more wondering, for John's body demanded all of her attention, and this was, after all, a very special pregnancy celebration. One she would experience only once in her lifetime.

TO BE CONTINUED

Never Enough

Reason 7: Guilt

(Season 5, Episode 18: The Fall of Centauri Prime)

Centauri Prime

John Sheridan, President of the Interstellar Alliance, former Captain of Babylon 5, survivor of Z'ha'dum, and liberator of Earth from President Clark's despotic regime, was, after all was said and done, nothing more than a man. A reluctant hero with too many tragedies surrounding and following him—a mere mortal man with a heart that only now beat because of her.

The sky was clear of Drazi and Narn warships now. The bombing of civilian targets had ceased a few hours ago, and now there was nothing but stillness and quiet. John had never imagined there could be anything that would still the wagging, boisterous tongue of a sober or drunk Centauri, but Centauri Prime was deathly quiet now. Crackling from the fires that still raged were the only sounds brave enough to break through the darkness of the night, the rising sun not having shown its morning glory.

But what would it shine its glory over? A burning Centauri Prime? Thousands of dead Centauri citizens? A proud, arrogant, but defeated people? An unwanted Human "guest" who could do nothing but stare at the charred sky waiting . . . waiting for her?

"Londo assured us that they had found her ship."

John turned away from the window, his hands in his pockets the only thing keeping them from shaking uncontrollably.

"I know, but that was hours ago."

"These things take time, John, and neither one of us knows exactly how far Delenn's White Star traveled off her intended route to Minbar when she was attacked."

G'Kar's words were logical, his voice calm. Indeed, the man had been a godsend since John arrived. But the fact that he'd only referred to him by John and not Mr. President since being escorted by Centauri guards to the quarters Londo provided for John, was telling. Yet, it was the red, shadowed eyes that truly gave G'Kar away. He was just as concerned about Delenn and Lennier as John.

And they had waited together, pacing, watching the sky, but doing little talking. No, there wasn't much to say. The knowledge that a loved one may never return was a familiar truth for the both of them, neither wishing to revisit the experience but knowing the universe rarely catered to anyone's wishes.

"I know, it's just . . . the wait is killing me." That wasn't the only thing that was killing him. "It's my fault that she was out there. That she may be—"

G'Kar vehemently shook his head.

"You don't understand, G'Kar. I asked her to go to Minbar to speak personally with the Grey Council." John ran a weary hand through his hair, his mouth suddenly dry. "I had an idea about a military alliance between Earth and Minbar, and—"

"You knew Delenn was the only person who could broker such a deal with the Grey Council. I understand, John, it was sound reasoning."

John snorted. "Sound reasoning, G'Kar? What kind of man puts his wife in danger? Sends her out knowing that Centauri ships are on the prowl, waiting to take out any ship in their path?"

G'Kar made to speak but John continued. "No, no, G'Kar, I'm to blame for all of this. She would've been safe on Babylon 5 if I had just—"

"Just what, John? Coddled her? Treated her as if she wasn't Entilzha and decisions about the Rangers specifically, and the White Stars in general, go through her? Ignore that with me and Londo here, you two were the only active founding members of the Interstellar Alliance that would have any chance of preventing even more bloodshed?" G'Kar took two steps toward John and placed a heavy, comforting hand on his shoulder. "She is more than the both of us, John. You must never forget that."

John knew G'Kar's words were the truth. His mind had told him the same thing these long hours of waiting, but his heart . . . "She's my wife."

He walked away from G'Kar, and returned to his spot near the window. There was nothing else to say. Delenn was indeed the perfect and worst person for the mission. He knew it would be dangerous, traveling during a time of war. But he'd convinced himself that all would be well, knowing Delenn's White Star crew, along with Lennier, would see that no harm came to her. But he had been wrong. So horribly wrong.

Then he saw it, the sun just beginning its ascent, illuminating the lifeless White Star.

"Delenn's White Star." It was a whisper, John could manage little more, his eyes firmly fixed on the ship trapped in a Centauri tracking beam. His eyes began to sting and his vision blurred. The ship was barely intact, huge chunks missing, the remaining hull scorched from the attack.

John couldn't think straight. That had been his wife's personal ship, the one that had seen many fights and lived to fly again. But what John saw through his tears was utterly destroyed, a dead vessel that probably held the remains of its dead crew. His wife.

God, Delenn, what have I done to you?

John dashed to the door, needing to know, needing to see for himself. But massive, unyielding arms caught him, contained him in a way that only a Narn could.

"No good can come of this, John. Besides, those Centauri guards out there won't let you pass unless Londo gives them orders to do so. And if you give them reason, any reason, they will kill you. This, John, I know with a certainty."

And so did John. As far as the Centauri were concerned, he had ordered the attack on their Homeworld, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children. They would kill him, but . . .

"I have to know, G'Kar. I have to know if I still have a wife." If I killed my wife.

G'Kar loosened his grip, then finally released John, who just managed to find a plush chair to sit in before his legs betrayed him.

"I can't lose her, G'Kar. I can't—not like this—I'm the one who's supposed to die, not her. Never Delenn."

His head dropped, and John could do nothing but stare at the floor, the guilt and grief nearly enough to unhinge him. But there was hope. Surely Londo wouldn't be so cruel. If he knew Delenn to be dead, he would tell him, right? In spite of everything, the war and the fall of Centauri Prime, Delenn was Londo's friend.

John had no idea how long he sat like that, vaguely hearing G'Kar speaking to someone in the background. Then the door swooshed opened, a soft, gentle sound that registered only as unimportant background noise.

Then the voice came, sweet, familiar, alive.

"John."

His head snapped up, the tears having dried long ago, leaving streaks where loss had been.

"John."

That sound again, but more, the woman herself.

"Delenn?"

In the time it took for G'Kar to exit, a relieved smile on his face, was all it had taken for John to reach Delenn, his arms going immediately around her. And he hugged her like he'd never hugged anyone in his life—hard and fierce.

"I thought you were—" he began, but stopped. He didn't want to give his fears voice. He'd thought them enough.

"I know, John. I know."

Of course she did. And John knew he was crushing her small body, but he just couldn't bring himself to care, or to release her. She was warm, she was here, she was safe. Her clothes and face were dirty, she smelled of fire, fumes, and sweat, and John thought Delenn had never looked more beautiful.

"I'm so sorry, honey. I should have never—"

"Shh, it's all right, John. I'm here. We're together, and I'm fine."

Now it was her hugging him, doing the soothing. How in the hell did she do that? She was the one that nearly perished, yet, here she was, tending to his frightened, guilty heart.

"Are you sure, you're fine, honey? Do you need anything?" Taking a steadying breath, John let his wife go and took three steps back, his eyes taking her all in. To John's relief she appeared to be physically unharmed. But pain wasn't always physical. And John had seen the massive damage to her ship, many of her crew could not have survived that. In truth, John didn't know how Delenn had.

"I'm unharmed, John, just a few minor scratches, a bruise or two, but nothing more." She reached for him, and he caught her hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing. She smiled; it was weak but sincere. "Please stop looking at me as if I'm some sort of illusion, John, and will disappear if you dare to blink." She placed her other hand on his cheek. "You promised me twenty years, John Sheridan, and I intend to be here to collect every one of them."

She smiled again, and so did he. But she had nearly died because he'd sent her on a mission. John wouldn't soon—if ever—forget that. Yes, she was Entilzha. Yes, she was former Satai. Yes, she was intelligent, brave, and formidable beyond measure. But Delenn was still a mere woman, as John was a mere man. His woman. His wife.

Guilt, John mused, helping his wife remove her clothing, then preparing a shower for her, didn't have to be rational. It simply was. And John knew it would be quite some time before the guilt of today would begin to ebb.

His wife's, "Stop brooding and help me wash," cut through the silence that had descended between them.

"It's not your fault, John."

He said nothing, simply removed his suit and joined Delenn in the shower.

John washed her slowly, lingering in all the spots she liked, grateful to have been given another opportunity with her. John fiercely pushed back the thought of how he would've managed to go on without her. Honestly, he didn't think he would manage well at all. Anna's death was hard enough, but Delenn . . . well, a man can only take so much and be expected to remain sane. John knew, without a doubt, he would never survive if something ever happened to Delenn.

"John, what is it?"

Delenn wiped his cheeks, John unaware he had begun to cry until she'd done so. And more tears threatened, the stress of the war, the guilt of having to put everything and everyone above his wife too much. Too much.

He kissed her, ignoring her surprised yelp when his lips landed hard and unforgiving against her own. He needed this, needed Delenn, needed to assure himself that she was still his and didn't blame him. But of course, Delenn would never blame him. Maybe she should. Or perhaps his blame was enough for the both of them.

She kissed him back, her reply hungry and all-consuming. That was Delenn, giving and taking with a passion that never ceased to amaze John. And she was amazing, her fire, her spirit, her untamable determination.

John knew from the relentless way she touched him, accepted him inside her body with little preparation, that Delenn wasn't as all right as she would like for John to believe. And while John would eventually get the whole story out of her, it wasn't hard to guess that Delenn had come closer to death than she wanted him to know, and while she would accept such a fate, it had clearly unnerved her.

That was fine; it had unnerved him as well. But like she'd said, they were here together. They had survived, and would go on.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so damn sorry. John knew better than to utter that apology again. Delenn would hear none of it. Instead, he simply whispered another truth, their bodies hot and slick from their lovemaking. "I love you, Delenn."

But she didn't hear him. She was already asleep, and John didn't dare wake her. Besides, Londo's coronation was in a couple of hours and they would stay for the ceremony. Yes, John would let his wife sleep; she'd more than earned the rest. And at least, this time, he was here to watch over her, keep her safe.

TO BE CONTINUED

Never Enough

Reason 6: Distraction

(Season 5, Episode 14, Meditations on the Abyss)

"Delenn, I don't understand why you needed to see me alone down here. I could have met you in your quarters or Council Chambers—"

"Someone would have seen you and asked about you. We need to be discreet. I couldn't even risk a coded transmission."

"Does Sheridan know?"

"He's probably the most important reason I'm keeping this meeting just between us."

"Delenn . . . what is it you want from me?"

"Your help. Following a trip to the Drazi Homeworld . . . Mr. Garibaldi returned with several compelling reasons to believe that the Centauri are behind the recent attacks against of the shipping lines used by the other Alliance worlds."

"Well, then, confront them."

"I said we had reason, not proof. We can't go public with what we expect until we can prove their involvement. Many of the Rangers are patrolling the shipping lines . . . but none of them have the experience with the Centauri that you and I have. So, I need you on patrol along the Centauri border . . . watching for anything suspicious. You know how they think, how they fight. If anyone can get the evidence we need, it's you."

"But why not tell Sheridan?"

"Since the death of Marcus . . . and given the danger involved . . . I think John would be reluctant to send someone close to me on a mission like this. As a friend, he would want to protect you. As my husband, he would need to protect me from anything that might happen to you."

"I think, in that respect, he does not know you as well as he should."

"He knows me. But he also loves me. And sometimes the one gets in the way of the other."

"Yes, I imagine it could do that."

Delenn replayed her conversation with Lennier over and over in her head. She had just sent her very good friend on a most dangerous mission. It was for the greater good, she knew, but Delenn didn't want to even entertain the thought of something awful happening to Lennier. A cold shudder went through her and she stoically pushed the foreboding thought from her mind.

He'd told her that Morden had come to him during the Brakiri Day of the Dead ritual. Morden, a Shadow puppet, had apparently convinced Lennier he would betray the Rangers. Delenn shook her head, refusing to dwell on that impossibility either. And it was impossible. Lennier represented the best of Minbar—loyalty, dedication, bravery.

Delenn entered her quarters, absently unbuttoning and removing her hooded cloak, the one that kept her identity a secret when she'd made her way to meet Lennier in Down Below. The very last thing she needed was to be recognized and have John find out. It was bad enough some foul man had dared touch her, thinking his superior size gave him privilege over a woman he'd believed to be his inferior. But Lennier was there, as she knew he would be, and he'd proven his loyalty to her once again.

He was indeed the perfect Ranger for the job. And while Delenn knew his leaving and joining the Anla'shok was motivated for all the wrong reasons, even she couldn't deny how naturally he'd seemed to adapt to his training, how much he'd accomplished in only a few short months.

But still . . . he was indeed pushing himself too hard. And a part of her, a selfish part of Delenn, wished he was still the timid acolyte who'd first arrived on Babylon 5 nearly five years ago. But no, that Lennier was long gone, and Delenn could never deny Lennier his growth, his desire to be more, to define himself on his own terms.

So with little choice, she'd let him go, praying for his safety, while lamenting the inevitable altering of their friendship. And it had changed, as she knew it would when she'd decided to take John Sheridan as her mate, her husband.

Delenn slipped out of her shoes, and walked as softly as possible as to not awake John. It was still early, but not quite time to begin the day.

She opened the sliding bedroom doors, expecting to see John asleep. Instead, his nightstand lamp was on and he was sitting up, wide awake.

She should have known.

"You've been gone quite a while, Delenn, I was beginning to worry."

She had been. And she would've been away even longer if Lennier had stayed and talked as she'd requested. Valen, she truly did miss his presence in her life, his easy friendship and quiet, dignified strength.

Delenn placed her shoes in the closet and looked at her husband. She felt a pang of guilt for her deception. She hadn't lied to him when he'd asked where she was going. She had, in fact, left paperwork in her quarters she needed for today's Council meeting. But she had done so deliberately, giving herself a convenient excuse in case she needed one. And while it wasn't quite a lie, according to Minbari standards, Delenn understood humans well enough to know that, as they say, she was splitting hairs. Lies of omission they called it. And so it was.

"I didn't mean to worry you."

Delenn joined John in bed, and the way his mouth quirked up at the ends, she knew he had more questions. Questions she had no intention of answering. A lie of omission was one thing, but outright lying was something different entirely. She would not do that, however . . .

She straddled his legs. "It pleases me that you decided to wait up for me instead of going back to sleep."

He raised one questioning eyebrow at her deliberately seductive tone, then a slow, masculine smile began to form, spreading from his lips, up his cheeks, and settling in his sparkling, knowing eyes.

"We should've gone together. I don't know what I was thinking letting you go out so late by yourself."

She gave him her most sensual smile and began a slow glide down his solidly pleasing body, pressing all of her against all of him. "But we're together now, John."

He gasped when she slipped her hand in his boxers and began to stroke him the way he liked.

"Ah, that we are, honey. Are you sure you w-want to do this now?"

"As you humans say, there's no better time than the present."

"Oh—well, if you in-insist."

And she did; now being the perfect time.

Then hand gave way to mouth, finding and sucking pleasure center number one.

"Good, god, Delenn, you drive a man to d-istrac-tion."

Exactly.

TO BE CONTINUED

Never Enough

Reason 5: Making-Up

(Season 5, Episode 5, Learning Curve)

"I'm going to pretend you were going to tell me this sooner or later." Delenn's back was to John; apparently, the cold shoulder not just a human practice.

And she'd taken this position right after he'd finished explaining that Elizabeth Lochley, the new Captain of Babylon 5, John's personal selection to replace Susan Ivanova, was his first wife.

John learned a while ago that a quiet Delenn was so much worse than a vocal one. Screaming, crying . . . hell, even scratching and biting were preferable to this. How can a man defend himself against a woman who was trying desperately not to lash out at him? To control her own seething anger and pain in exchange for inner peace and understanding?

"I was just looking for the right time." Even as the words were spoken, John wondered if he was being completely honest with Delenn, with himself. He'd had ample time to tell Delenn of his first marriage. It just never seemed that important, not in comparison to what he'd found with Delenn, and not in light of all the universe-changing events they always seemed to be embroiled. But surely he should've owned up to it once he decided to make Lochley the offer.

"Ten seconds after you thought of it would have been good."

"Yeah, maybe so." She was right, so why hadn't he told her? His first marriage was a serious mistake, one he'd ran fast and far from for so many years. Hell, Anna didn't even know about Lochley. And didn't that just make John feel like an even bigger ass.

He looked over his left shoulder at Delenn. She had their covers pulled tightly to her, only her head and one beautiful shoulder visible. Yeah, she was definitely giving off the don't-even-think-about-touching-me-tonight vibe.

And if that wasn't enough, Delenn scooted farther away from him when John turned fully onto his back.

"Are you going to be alright?" He had to ask. The frost between them was thick; the pain in every rigid set of Delenn's body was painful to see, made worst by the knowledge that he was the one who'd caused it.

"I think so. It will just take some getting used to."

She waved the light off then, effectively ending their conversation.

Frustrated with himself, John returned to his side, waving off his own nightstand lamp, plunging them into a darkness John never thought he would feel with Delenn.

And the silence in the room stretched between them, John unable to sleep. He should have told Delenn the truth a long time ago. And now he wondered if Delenn was upset because he'd withheld the truth of his marriage in general, or because he'd brought his first wife onboard and passed Lochley off as nothing more than an old military acquaintance. Or was it that he'd given in to Lochley's request to keep their marriage a secret from everyone, including his wife, in spite of Delenn's right to know?

John gave an inward sigh. In truth, the answer was probably a combination of all those things. A marriage, no matter how ill-advised wasn't something a husband should keep from his wife. This John knew. But the longer he took to tell Delenn the truth, the harder it became for him to do what he knew was right.

Delenn was no stranger to mistakes. Hell, since their marriage, she'd shared her deepest ones with him. Trusted him to know that her mistakes were her own, and while they did not define her, the lessons she'd learned from them were a part of her.

And perhaps that was it. John shifted to his left side, his wife's back still to him. Perhaps, for Delenn, it boiled down to a matter of trust. For John, his secret marriage was borne of shame, a shame he'd harbored for too many years. But for Delenn, for a Minbari, for a mated couple, trust and honor trumped shame.

Being married for a third time, John was learning, did not make one an expert. It did, however, make for a reflective practitioner.

John slid closer to his wife, knowing from her soft, slow breathing that Delenn was doing a good imitation of a sleeping woman. Yeah, experience had taught him that too.

Cautiously, John raised his right hand and lifted a strand of hair off her shoulder. Pulling it back, he smelled the lilac scent of her shampoo. God, Delenn always smelled so damn good, the enticing aroma almost enough to make John forget what he wanted to say to her.

John leaned in close, his mouth right next to her ear. "I didn't mean to dishonor you, Delenn."

Delenn shifted onto her back, her eyes immediately opening and finding his own looking down at her.

He'd gotten it right. A man can learn, even if he is a bit slow to catch the obvious. In not telling Delenn about Lochley, about the youthful error that was his first marriage, in essence, according to Minbari way of thinking, he didn't trust Delenn enough to understand that everyone makes mistakes and are deserving of understanding, even forgiveness. Believing his wife would judge him unfairly and putting Lochley's concerns above that of his wife's because it was a convenient excuse to keep silent, John dishonored his wife. While an unintentional act to be sure, but no less harmful, no less hurtful.

"I should've been less afraid and trusted you more." Funny that, John had thought the same thing when he'd spent those agonizing days aboard the White Star with a brain dead, Shadow-controlled Anna.

Delenn reached for him, her tiny, warm hand finding his cheek. "I understand such fear, John; indeed, I've lived it and have no desire to experience it again." She stroked his cheek, short languid movements that sent shivers to all the right parts of John's body. "But I doubt the universe will be so cooperative. Life never is, nor should we expect otherwise."

John turned into that sweetly caressing hand, his mouth finding the palm and kissing. "I can't fall asleep, honey, not with this between us."

She nodded. "Nor can I, but—"

"You're still upset with me."

Another nod.

John knew that, but at least she was speaking to him, the frost between them having melted some in the two-hours they both pretended to be asleep. But that wasn't enough; John wanted it completely gone. No way would he allow a stupid decision from the past and an even stupider one a few months ago to ruin even one night with Delenn. No, John thought, he would have too few of them as it was. He wouldn't waste any, not even one.

John moved the kiss from her palm to the inside of her arm, slowly licking a path up to her shoulder.

"John, I—"

"I know, honey," And he did. Women weren't like men. A man felt closer to his woman by being close to her, making love to her. Whereas, a woman felt closer to her man when her mind, her emotions were first engaged, her body slower to respond. But once it responded . . .

John settled over top of Delenn, her thighs instinctively parting for him. And God, had she always felt this good, like home and heaven.

He kissed her neck, a slide of lip, tongue, and teeth. He took his time, savoring the taste of her, giving Delenn time to accept the pleasure he so desperately wanted to give her.

Sex could never replace a heartfelt apology or true contrition. Nor could it make one forget the pain, the hurt, the anger. But for a moment, for timeless minutes, it could take them to a place where they'd only ever been together. Yes, a fantastical realm where nothing and no one existed but John and Delenn—no Lochley, no Babylon 5, no Interstellar Alliance, no secrets, no twenty-year lifespan. Just them. Their bodies. Their heat. Their love.

Eventually she began to relax, her body softening, accepting him without words. That was okay with John. The words would come in time. For now, he would take this, take her.

"Let me," John said, finding his place between her legs again after having divested them of their night clothes, "love you, make it up to you."

He entered Delenn, a slow glide that left them both gasping, mouths hungrily seeking and finding. And they kissed with an eager, impatient passion that reminded John of their first night together.

Yes, he would make it up to Delenn, the giving of his body and the receiving of hers the first step to reconciliation.

Tomorrow, John decided on a contented, hard thrust, he would explain make-up sex to Delenn. But not tonight, no, showing was much better than telling.

TO BE CONTINUED

Writer's Block: Wear This, Not That

What is the most timeless article of clothing or fashion accessory?
I think earrings are timeless. Throughout history, from antiquity to modern times, both males and females have adorned themselves with earrings for various purposes and on a multitude of places on their body.

Where No Shadows Fall

Chapter 3: The Triumvirate

Darkness surrounded them, held them, molding them in a bond more loyal than friendship, deeper than love, brighter than a stellar explosion. And so the three radiant stars, fixed at three different points in the universe, beamed for the planets below, a triangular guide for those souls ready to pass beyond the rim, seeking the place where no shadows fall.

Not that all believed or even knew of such a place. Beliefs were as different and plentiful as the fish in an ocean. Yet they learned, becoming swift believers, the transition into the afterlife, the immersion back into the universe, an amazing teacher.

Yet they'd failed to guide one home. In all their long years, a sheep had gotten away from the ever-watchful sheepherders. Wandering off, following the wolf's trail into danger, to a place where only shadows dwelled and lost souls fall for eternity.

This was not acceptable, an error that must be set right. And set right soon; or that lone, vulnerable sheep would be no more, forever changed by the shadows of the heart, shadows of the mind, shadows of the soul.

And so light years away, but of a linked mind, they came together to plot someone else's troth.

She's still in that wretched place.

We know. The two thoughts merged, answering in a singular, understanding in the plural.

What do you suggest we do?

Pause. One second. Two. Three.

If we leave them to their own devices, I fear time will become our enemy.

It is already our enemy, one that cannot be slowed, halted, or defeated.

True, but like a tide, it's inevitable and predictable. It will come when it comes.

So, we can either meekly await its arrival, permitting it to wash us away in its filth and silt or . . .

Or simply step aside, denying the beast its meal.

So I ask again. What are we to do?

Set candles of light before them.

Ah, I see; a path.

Yes, one for them and them alone.

Which candles?

Many stars around them shimmered and turned in their direction, as if requesting to be one of the candles of light, candles of hope, candles of faith.

An electrical smile reached from one to the other, then out to the other stars, a silent "Thank you," sent.

The other stars shifted away from the three, understanding that they would be needed later. If all went well, that was.

We have many from which to choose.

Yes, but there is only one correct selection and one opportunity to get this right. If we don't . . .

Yes, we know. We'll get it right. We won't fail them.

But what if they fail themselves by taking the wrong path?

All we can do is set the candles before them; they have to be the ones to walk the path, to make the journey of fear and doubt.

They have to be strong.

Yes.

They have to be willing.

Yes.

They have to love themselves. But love each other more.

Yes.

So we are in agreement. But we have yet to select.

Pause. One second. Two. Three.

Two candles for John Sheridan.

Yes, two candles, but complimentary flames.

Coping and dying? Are we in agreement?

Yes.

Good, now for Delenn.

Pause. One second. Two. Three.

Three candles for Delenn of Mir.

Of course.

Friendship, family, forgiveness.

In that order? Perhaps—

We have to do this right. We cannot rush her by going to the flame of forgiveness first. For within that one candle of light is the echo of another.

Guilt.

Yes, guilt. We must tread lightly, although time is but a shadow away.

Of course, you are right. I just—

We all love her; want her safely here with us, as one of us.

I know, but I've waited so long, could do nothing more over the years than watch and wait and pray.

Then pray some more, my friend, and we will join you.

And they did, united as one, Delenn and John their souls of focus.

The prayer that began with three blinking stars, gleaming as single entities, cascaded on bands of light and energy, others quickly joining, adding their own unique essence, until the universe from three divergent but bonded points was awash in light.

Light. Energy. Prayer. Hope.

For them. For love. For life.

TO BE CONTINUED

Never Enough

Reason 4: Jealousy

(Season 5, Episode 2, The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari)

"Speaking of going away, I got your message about Lennier. Is there anything I can do?"

"Almost certainly not."

"Is it because of me?"

"In part, I think so."

"Yeah, I was afraid of that. Well, as we say back on Earth . . . three is a crowd."

"On Minbar, three is sacred."

"Well, I don't think I'm ready to handle that one, Delenn. Is there any chance you can talk him out of leaving?"

"No. He must follow the calling of his heart."

"And if he's not? I mean if he's just running away to avoid the situation here?"

"The universe will teach him what he needs to know."

"Yeah, I guess."

John couldn't help but replay the conversation he had with his wife yesterday at Londo's bedside. If things weren't already bad enough with the Centauri ambassador teetering on the edge of life and death, Lennier was leaving today.

John rushed down the corridor, his long strides and brisk pace not enough to catch his wife. She'd left their quarters ten minutes ago, determined to see Lennier off. Not that the aide had bothered saying his own goodbye the night before, making for a very morose Delenn, their evening meal unusually quiet. And John didn't even want to think about the cold shoulder she'd given him when they'd turned in for the night. Suffice to say, she wasn't in the mood for any under the covers exploration.

Now, John Sheridan found himself tracking his wife as she went to meet another man.

John almost tripped on that thought. Since when did he begin thinking of Lennier in that way? The Minbari had always registered as nothing more to John than Delenn's very reliable, if not overly willing to please, aide. Hell, sometimes John would forget the man was in the same room, his quiet demeanor and nonobtrusive stance making it easy to discount the man as anything more than a capable wallflower.

But there was more to Mr. Lennier. The small Minbari male possessed layers and had an emotional depth he kept firmly under control.

Perhaps this was what John had come to recognize, Lennier's mask over the last few months slowly cracking as John and Delenn drew closer together.

John reflected more, his strides unconsciously slowing but never stopping.

An image of Lennier suddenly came to John. It was the day he'd returned from death, from Z'ha'dum. To most he must've appeared to be a ghost, or maybe even a figment of their imagination, for no sane person ever survived Z'ha'dum. And that was true. Part of John Sheridan did not make it off that hellish planet.

Then Delenn was there, on the catwalk with him, her hands wrapped around him, face buried in his chest. And John knew at that very moment, he was well and truly alive. For his heart had never pumped so hard and fast.

As he held the woman who'd he cheated death to get back to, John peered down at the stunned crowd below and caught Lennier's eyes. And while the others below stared at John with a mix of awe, confusion, and relief, Lennier's eyes reminded John too much of Anna. Not the Anna he'd once married and loved, but the Shadow puppet they'd returned to him, a woman devoid of a heart, a soul.

And that was how Lennier appeared to him that day many months ago, as if the Minbari's heart and soul had been ripped from him, torn asunder by the universe, by fate, by circumstances beyond his control.

So deep in thought, John hadn't realized he'd reached his destination until he heard his wife's soft, sad voice.

"Not even a goodbye, Lennier?"

John stopped, torn between joining them or giving them the private goodbye John feared Delenn preferred . . . wanted.

"No, never goodbye. I'm yours forever, Delenn. Heart, body, and soul. I will see you again in a little while. And with luck, I will perhaps be a better person."

With Lennier's words, a stab of something unfamiliar and unpleasant rammed straight into John's chest. The man had basically told Delenn he loved her, that he would always love her.

Forever. The word ricocheted around in John's mind, a bullet with no exit. John had only twenty years to give Delenn, while the younger Lennier had a lifetime . . . forever.

John shook his head and snorted. He was being stupid. Delenn had chosen him, and Lennier . . . well, he was leaving and with distance between them would eventually get over his infatuation with Delenn.

"That is not possible, Lennier," John heard Delenn reply, "but you're welcome to try. Be well . . . be good . . . my good and dear friend."

"And you."

John waited one heartbeat, two, three, four heartbeats before strolling into view, proud he could look so calm, almost as if he'd simply happened upon his wife and her former aide.

Claiming Delenn with an arm around her waist, John was surprised when that stab of pain came anew, Delenn reticent to leave. She peered over her shoulder one last time, clearly not quite believing that Lennier had actually left Babylon 5 . . . left her.

An hour later, John had a naked Delenn in his arms, on their bed, under his sweaty body. Both were panting heavily, him more than her.

"John," she cried out when he raised those pretty legs of hers and hoisted them over his shoulders, slipping in so deep he cried out as well.

Then the panting increased, his chest heaving as he pumped for all he was worth, the depth too damn good for words. Not that John had enough breath to spare, so he merely grunted and grunted and grunted some more.

Grunting seemed to work for Delenn, her "Yes, just like that," turning the grunts into growls.

God, the woman had reduced him to caveman babble. And he did feel like a caveman, having virtually attacked his wife and dragged her into their bedroom after they'd returned to his quarters. That pain he refused to name had been doing a number on his chest, the trek from the docking bay torturous, Delenn uncharacteristically somber.

John knew the source of her melancholy, though. Hell, he understood, he missed Susan, thought about her often, and they talked whenever their schedules allowed.

But John wasn't naïve enough to believe that his relationship with Susan was the same as the one Delenn shared with Lennier. In many respects, Lennier was Delenn's best friend. He not only organized much of her life and stood between her and all others, Lennier also harbored Delenn's secrets. And that last fact rankled, if not hurt.

I'm yours forever, Delenn. Heart, body, and soul.

Another growl then a fierce "You're mine," preceded John's orgasm, muscles tight, body leaning over Delenn as he moved harder, faster, accepting her gentle kisses and soft caresses as he released himself into her.

As he lay sprawled across their bed, long body taking up more than his share, John turned to see his wife eyeing him with curious speculation.

God, she was so beautiful, especially with her hair tousled and body smelling of their lovemaking.

I'm yours forever, Delenn. Heart, body, and soul.

The damn stab of pain came again, and this time, John couldn't ignore. It had a name, one he didn't like or often experienced. But he knew what it was, knew it was irrational and his concerns groundless.

Jealousy. The vile three-syllable word slipped free of its' confines, Delenn's unwavering stare and sweetly probing hand on his cheek, fueling the ache in his heart.

Then she smiled, as warm and loving as he'd ever seen. "Of course I'm yours, John." She kissed him, not with passion, just a simple caressing of lips. "You are a strange man, John Sheridan." She slipped from the bed, heading toward the bathroom. "Even for a human," she said before entering the bathroom and closing the door. A moment passed before  John heard the telltale signs of a shower.

Strange? Yeah, jealousy tended to do that to a man. But Delenn was his, and no amount of Ranger training on Lennier's part would ever change that very real, very absolute fact.

Three is sacred. John pushed the bathroom door open, the steam from the shower rising. No, the Minbari got that wrong. Three is just damn inconvenient.

"May I join you?"

Delenn moved up, granting him space to slide in behind her.

John took the soap and began lathering his wife's back, the blue mark that ran from her neck to the base of her back beautiful and sinfully sensitive to a mate's touch.

John kissed her shoulder, before moving his hand lower, one finger tracing the path of the blue streak, Delenn's center of pleasure number five.

No, three was not sacred. With Delenn, two would always be enough, perfect. Unless . . . John ran his other hand across her slim, toned abdomen. Yes, the odds were against them, but such a third would not only be sacred, it would be a miracle.

TO BE CONTINUED