STARKILLER (8-14)

By Castor (formerly known as Anon)

 

 

 

 

   *****



Delenn rummaged through the medical supplies in search of anything that could help. Sheridan had fallen unconscious a few minutes before and, once she'd turned the lamp down as low as possible without denying herself the light she needed to see any damage, she risked opening his swollen eyelids. The eye beneath was raw, blood red and weeping. Praying he didn't stir while she worked she used some drops of eyewash in the medical kit to clean it. With the area cleared she could see that a piece of debris had speared the side, just off the iris. The piece was easy to see and protruded sufficiently from the eye itself to be rubbing the eyelid raw. Remove it, or not? To do so might cause more damage. To leave it risked it being driven further in. Eventually she made her decision and, with tweezers, tried to remove it, holding the lids apart with the fingers of one hand as she carefully manipulated the tweezers with the other. She hesitated at one point as her nerves caused her hand to shake dangerously. Taking a deep breath she got her hand under control and tried again. Still he remained unconscious. She offered up a prayer of thanks and pulled the shard out. As soon as she did so, blood and tears washed over the wound, bathing it. She'd read somewhere that human tears were one of the most antiseptic liquids known. Hopefully they would do more to heal the damage than anything she could introduce. She let the lids close once more and used some gauze to cover his eye and catch the liquid seeping down his face, then she secured it in place with a bandage.

   Next she moved to his leg. Cutting the material of his trouser away she saw the break. There was nothing she could do to fix it. The best she could do was immobilise it until professional help arrived. With the light she could now see more of the debris and spotted some strips of building material that would suit admirably buried in the slide. Carefully she pulled them free. One was bigger than she'd imagined and for a moment she feared there was going to be another slide as the face shifted to accommodate for the loss, but it soon settled again. She broke the longer one in two, discarding the smaller section and using the two pieces she now had to hold his leg still. Using more bandage she strapped the leg between the two splints. A groan warned her he was coming to. Swiftly she tied the bandages tightly. He let out a yelp of pain and she gritted her teeth against the sound. Just a few more seconds...there!

   "Delenn!"

   "It's all right John. I'm here. You're going to be fine."

   He raised his hand slowly and felt the bandage around his head "Better," he whispered.

   "There was a piece of metal in there. I got it out while you were unconscious." He pointed to his leg, she nodded. "I've strapped it up. It's broken, as you said, but that should stop it getting any worse." /Could it possibly GET any worse?/ she wondered.

   "Sorry." He was apologising to her for their entire situation, as though it had been his fault. She had also wanted to come here, to try and find her friends. She was as much to blame, if there was blame to be had. More blood appeared at his mouth and she wiped it away and then offered him some water. He sipped briefly and then fell back, his breathing ragged. "Can't..."

   "They'll be here soon. Just a little longer." She swept his hair back. His face was clammy to the touch and she wrapped the material around him again to hold in what little heat there was. "Just a little longer," she whispered.

   He nodded and swallowed, pointing to his mouth with a hesitant hand. He needed more water. Again she lifted the helmet to his lips and he took a few more sips before he was forced to stop to catch his breath. "....Love...you." It was uttered as if it were a goodbye.

   Terror gripped her heart. "John Sheridan, don't you dare! You've been through worse than this. Hold on!" Her voice rose as she saw him begin to slip again into unconsciousness. "John!"

   Fighting he shook his head. "Need...rest."

   "I know, but if you fall asleep..." She left the thought unfinished and held his face in her hands, willing him the strength he needed. "John, please. Stay with me."

   "Trying." A pause, and then a shiver ran through him

   That was what she'd been dreading. The temperature in the cavern hadn't changed, but he was going into shock. She lifted the cloth and got under it, carefully wrapping her arms around him and pressing her body to him in an effort to keep him warm.

   "Better?"

   He smiled, a poor shadow of the broad grins she'd seen on his face so many times, and he didn't open his good eye. Every time he did so to look at her the movements irritated the damaged one. It was far better not to see at all. He closed his fingers around her arm. The grip was weak, but there. "Talk..."

   /What about?/ she wondered. Not where they were, that was for sure. Pleasant memories of happier times. "I've been trying to work out when I fell in love with you." A nod and another brief squeeze. "When I first saw you I was surprised. I knew who you were, but when I went into the chrysalis Jeffrey Sinclair was still in charge. It was a shock seeing you." His laboured breathing continued and the touch on her arm remained. She took that as sign enough that he was still listening and carried on. "But you weren't what I'd been expecting. Somehow I thought 'Starkiller' should look different. More..." she struggled to find the words. At last she gave up and shrugged. "Well, not what I saw. You looked stunned."

   He grunted. "...Beautiful," he muttered, raising his fingers briefly to point at her. She smiled and kissed his hand before gently placing her own over it and letting it rest on her arm.

   "Did you think I would be a monster?"

   A shrug. He hadn't known what to expect. Not what appeared, that was certain. He made a brief movement to show he wanted her to carry on.

   "It was during the Markab plague I think that I finally realised how I felt. When you found us afterwards I was so relieved to see you, so alive after I had seen so much death. I didn't want you ever to stop holding me." A nod. He was conserving his breath but he knew he had to stay awake and had to let her know he was still listening. She understood and pressed herself to him harder as another shiver ran through his body. "But it wasn't something that just happened. It was more as if I'd always been in love with you and never knew it." She chuckled. "And there was that day Commander Ivanova interrupted us."

   A low moan. She could almost hear his thoughts on that particular piece of spectacularly bad timing.

   "I know. But she was not there on the White Star."

   A soft smile of pleasant memories. He moved slightly and groaned. She waited until he settled down again and then wrapped herself around him once more.

   "The day you told me how you felt. I had not believed you could be feeling the same way. We were so different, from such different worlds. I did not believe you could love me. After that, I knew there could be no other." She shuddered involuntarily as an unpleasant thought washed through her. He frowned. What was bothering her?

   "I was thinking about Anna. When she returned that night..."

   He shook his head. He'd already told her that he'd realised something was wrong the moment Anna showed up. Of course there had been the shock of seeing someone you thought long dead walk through the door, but there had been something else too. He'd backed away when Anna had tried to touch him. He'd demanded every test in the book and remembered his words to Franklin: if this was some kind of trick he was going to take it out of somebody's hide. Somehow he'd known.

   "I'm sorry."

   "Not...fault," he murmured, and she felt his fingers tighten on her arm briefly in reassurance.

   "Sometimes I miss Babylon 5. It's good to be home, but so many things happened there. Good and bad. So many memories. Sometimes I cannot believe all that happened in only five years."

   Another nod. He missed it too, sometimes. Being President wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He was a man of action: a Starfury pilot, not a desk jockey. But he'd got action on this trip. More than he could handle. If something didn't happen soon his need to get out from behind that desk was going to kill him.

*****

"So this is the entrance, right?" Garibaldi was pointing at a low doorway with a path that led down into the earth. He was breathing heavily from the steady run they'd maintained to get there. The Minbari nodded, apparently not in the least bit winded. Garibaldi envied the man his constitution. "Is there light?"

   "There will be lamps just inside."

   "Then let's get going. Do you know your way?"

   "If they have not moved, yes. If they have..."

   "We'll find 'em." Garibaldi activated his communicator. "Fitch, you there?"

   "Here." Fitch was shouting over a mechanical roar at the other end.

   "We're going in. What's going on at your end?"

   "We've managed to shift more and we brought in a flyer. It's helping to grapple to bigger pieces out of the way. It doesn't have to land so it's not destabilising anything."

   "Good. Keep at it. We might be out of communications for a while. As soon as I can I'll link in. Garibaldi out." He turned to the Worker. "After you."

   In a line they entered the dark tunnel. Just as the light from the entrance dimmed the worker ignited a lamp and handed out others to the medics, Rangers and Garibaldi, retrieving them from their storage shelf. Once all lamps were ready they set off at a jog along the tunnel until they reached a shaft. The worker operated the machinery and a basic elevator appeared to take them down to a lower level. Once there, the jog resumed. The medics were carrying equipment but, much to Garibaldi's personal disgust as well as general relief, they too showed no sign of tiring. They reached a fork in the road and paused briefly while the worker checked his map.

   "Gotta give up those cigars," Garibaldi muttered.

   "I am sorry. Did you say something?"

   "Nothing. Which way?" The worker indicated the correct passage and they started off again.

*****

"How's it going?" Fitch shouted over the roar of the flyer as it took away another beam from the house.

   "Getting there!" yelled back one of the Rangers, and then motioned for everyone to keep still as he felt the earth slip beneath his feet. There was a nervous pause and then the digging resumed.

   Fitch watched as Kietzhak moved over the site and pulled out more rubble to be disposed of. He shook his head. For someone who'd wanted them dead, that Warrior was working very hard to try and find them alive. Fitch wondered what could have changed the Alyt's mind. Hopefully, he'd find out from Sheridan and Delenn later.

   Hopefully.

*****

Sheridan's body suddenly spasmed and Delenn held on as shivers ran through him. His breathing was more shallow, more laboured. Time was running out. She heard movement above them and looked up to see a stone bounce down the slope and come to rest a few feet from them. Another moved and then a whole slide began. Quickly, she rose and covered John's body with her own. If there was to be another slide she wanted to be sure nothing more struck him. She felt small pieces of debris hit her back and shoulders, but nothing more. When the slide finished there was silence.

   She pulled away to find he'd slipped during the fall and was now lying face down on the cold ground. She checked his pulse and found it shallow and erratic. She could hear a rattle beginning in his throat.

   "John, NO!" she cried.

   "Delenn?" A voice, the familiar voice of Michael Garibaldi reached her ears.

   "Michael, over here! Hurry!"

   At that moment there was another rush of stones and light streamed into the cavern from above. Looking up she blinked and then stood, torn for a moment between staying with John and going to the foot of the slide to find out what had happened. Another moment's hesitation, looking from John to the source of the light, then she made up her mind and walked quickly to the base of the fall. At least she could show whoever had broken in that she was still alive and tell them to hurry. Michael's voice had come from the tunnel, so whoever this was it was another rescue party. The roof was a long way above her -- over one hundred feet and dust filled the air. At last it cleared enough for her to focus and she realised with horror that the face looking down at her was Kietzhak's.

   "Valen, no," She muttered. "Michael, please hurry!"

   "We're coming, Delenn. Hang on!" The voice was closer. As Kietzhak began to clear away more rubble to open an entrance wide enough to permit him ingress Delenn looked around her and grabbed a long piece of wood that lay nearby. If Michael did not arrive in time she was determined Kietzhak would have no more to do with John.

   "Don't come any closer, Alyt Kietzhak," she warned. "I do not wish to fight you, but I will if I must."

   Kietzhak pulled back and, for a while, all she saw was the open air above them. She looked over her shoulder to see if Michael had arrived but the tunnel remained stubbornly empty for now. Suddenly, the light was blocked again and she looked up to see Kietzhak slowly crawl through the hole and slide down towards the cavern floor. More stones and rubble tumbled down as he neared her but, a few feet from her threatening stance he stopped his decent and simply looked at her.

   "I do not intend harm, Delenn," he said.

   Stunned, she stared at him as more light entered the cavern from behind.

   Michael Garibaldi tore around the corner to find Delenn swinging a large piece of wood threateningly at Kietzhak who stood, as though frozen, just out of reach, slowly raising his arms to indicate his submission.

   "Delenn, where's John?" Garibaldi yelled. Rangers flooded the room and Delenn lowered the makeshift weapon, satisfied she and John had sufficient protection. She turned and ran quickly back to Sheridan, showing the medics where he lay.

   "Be careful with him. I think a rib has punctured his lung."

   The medics nodded and there was a flurry of activity as they surrounded him. After a hurried examination medical boxes were quickly opened and tubes extracted. Delenn couldn't see what was happening, but she knew better than to ask. If it saved his life that was all that mattered. When they were satisfied he could be moved they carefully placed him onto a stretcher which had been put together by the Rangers while the medics worked. Garibaldi looked up at Kietzhak.

   "Can you widen that enough to get him out of here?"

   "Already being done."

   More light streamed into the cavern as the hole was widened. Delenn turned and stared at Garibaldi.

   "He tried to kill us," she said, wide eyed with amazement that Garibaldi was working with their would-be assassin.

   "I know. Don't ask. I'll explain later, as much as I understand it. Something to do with what you guys did, I think. He's been helping us." Garibaldi turned back to help organise the medics and Rangers to lift Sheridan over to the foot of the slope. A roaring noise from above indicated the arrival of a flyer, and a cable with a gurney attached was lowered into the hole. Sheridan was placed on it and strapped in. Garibaldi gave the command in his communicator and two Rangers climbed the slope alongside Sheridan to make sure his path was clear as he was lifted out of the hole. Delenn saw the gurney disappear into the light and veer away. A few seconds later a second flyer appeared and another gurney was lowered.

   "That one's for you, Delenn," Garibaldi said.

   "I do not need it. I can walk."

   "I'm sure you can, but right now that's the quickest way out of here. Come on, get in."

   Reluctantly, and feeling something of a fraud, Delenn lay on the gurney and allowed them to strap her in. Garibaldi gave the signal to take her up and, again, two Rangers slowly climbed the slope until she was clear of the debris then, as their predecessors had done, waited until ropes were lowered. Using them they climbed the rest of the way out of the hole, followed by Garibaldi and the medics.

   Back out in the sunshine Garibaldi dusted down his clothes and then turned to Fitch. "I know he helped us," he said, indicating Kietzhak, "But I want this man arrested until we can talk to him. Understood?" Fitch nodded and Kietzhak went with the Rangers without a struggle, his Warriors following dutifully. Garibaldi shook his head and then turned back to Fitch. "Where are they taking the President and Delenn?"

   "The local medical facility. It's basic, but they have an excellent trauma team. Falls are not uncommon in mining areas. It'll do until they can stabilise him enough to get him back to Tuzenor."

   Garibaldi nodded. "Is there another flyer somewhere?"

   Fitch looked up and pointed as a flyer roared into view. A simple hoist was lowered and Garibaldi strapped himself in to be lifted up. Once inside the door was shut and the flyer veered off towards the hospital. Fitch followed his men to the detention area.

 

Part 9


When Garibaldi arrived at the medical centre he quickly found out what had happened to Sheridan and then tracked down Delenn. A medic had seen to her and she had been treated for cuts, but beyond that and signs of stress she was fine. Sheridan, on the other hand...

   "Where have they taken him?"

   "He's in surgery now."

   Delenn insisted on being nearby, but since there was nothing they could do to help, both ended up sitting in a small room waiting to hear the verdict.

   Garibaldi paced, unable to settle, while Delenn sat on one of the chairs, jerking like a startled animal each time anyone neared the room. Garibaldi looked around him.

   "Funny. These places are the same no matter where you go, aren't they?" he said, trying to distract her.

   "Some needs are common to almost all species, although I gather the Drazi and Pak'Ma'Ra facilities are rather different." Her voice was a monotone. She was simply answering the question, not really listening to or interested in anything that was going on around her, except the constant movement of doctors and nurses outside. She felt like she was cocooned in cotton wool. Nothing seemed quite real. Sounds were muted except the steady thudding of her heart and the high pitched whine of fear that was pressing on her ears. All sounds were internal, all her thoughts were centred on John. She felt sick, tired, nervous. She couldn't stop her hands from shaking.

   Garibaldi noticed her looking at her hands vacantly as though they were not a part of her. He knew what she was going through. He felt much the same himself. "He's strong, Delenn. He'll make it."

   "It's bad, Michael," she said, looking up at him at last. "Before you arrived I thought he'd gone."

   Garibaldi squatted on the floor in front of her, taking her shaking hands in his own. "He's got a lot to live for. He's tough. Hell, he survived Z'ha'dum, this is a cakewalk by comparison."

   "There he had Lorien," she answered flatly.

   "Yeah, but it was you that pulled him out of there. And you're here. What First One can match you, huh?" He pasted a smile on his face and she tried to match it, but instead, tears started to fall.

   "Oh Valen, I'm frightened!" Her composure collapsed and she began to sob. Garibaldi sat on the seat beside her and pulled her into his arms, trying to reassure her. "I can't lose him, Michael. Not like this. It's too soon."

   "Shh. I know. He'll make it. I've got a bet riding on him. He's never let me down yet." He lifted her chin and grinned. "Hey, before you know it, he and David'll be running you ragged again. You'll see." He continued to hold her, all the time watching the door for any sign that his promises would come true.

*****

Exhausted, Delenn fell asleep while Garibaldi continued the vigil. It was eight hours before a surgeon appeared and beckoned Garibaldi into the hallway so that their words would not disturb Delenn.

   "Well?" Garibaldi asked.

   "We have stabilised him, and he is fighting, but there is not much more we can do here. With your permission, I wish to order a medical flyer to take him back to Tuzenor. There are better doctors there and more advanced facilities."

   "What are his chances?"

   The surgeon sighed. "I am amazed he has survived so long. I am informed his heart stopped as they were bringing him here in the flyer. He has been through a great deal. I believe the doctors in Tuzenor will be able to save his eye, but it is badly damaged and there is sign of infection. His leg will be easy to mend. The damage to his lung we have sealed for the present, but I cannot say how long it will last and we have inserted a drain to help relieve the pressure on the plural cavity. His ribs will need work to set them straight. For the time being we have merely done our best to remove shattered bone and prevent it from causing further internal injuries. There was considerable internal bleeding which we have managed to bring under control, but the level of his injuries require more than we can supply. And he has lost a great deal of blood. We have used synthetics but he needs a transfusion and his blood is...unusual. I have never seen anything like this."

   Garibaldi nodded. "It's a long story. Is there any sign of his body trying to heal itself?"

   "A very great deal. This is what is confusing us. By all rights he should be dead, but his will to live..."

   "Doctor?"

   Garibaldi turned to see Delenn, her eyes red from sleep and crying, standing hesitantly in the doorway. He stepped towards her. "They got him stabilised enough for us to take him to Tuzenor. The doc here needs your permission to send for a medical flyer. OK with you?" She nodded mutely and Garibaldi saw the surgeon mutter something in Minbari to a technician who hurried off. Delenn was leaning on the doorpost for support and Garibaldi put his arm around her. "Hey, like I said, he's fighting. That stuff Lorien gave him is working miracles. He's gonna be OK, Delenn." She turned and buried her head in Garibaldi's shoulder as he looked to the surgeon. The Minbari shrugged. As far as he was concerned, it was still fifty-fifty at best, and probably closer to sixty-forty or worse whether Sheridan would make it. Garibaldi fought down his own fears. "Shh. He's gonna make it. It'll be OK. Shh." Garibaldi continued to hold and gentle her as the surgeon walked away.

*****

The trip in the flyer was nerve-wracking. As smooth as the journey was, even the slightest bump caused everyone's heart to skip a beat for fear it would upset the delicate threads that held Sheridan's life together. When they landed in the grounds of the Tuzenor facility medics were already waiting and Sheridan was quickly taken via an anti-grav unit into the surgery. Doctors who were familiar with Sheridan's somewhat odd biological makeup assessed the situation and blood was brought in. His own, in fact. When the doctors had first learned of Lorien's work they'd begged some samples of his blood to examine them. It was discovered that the healing energies continued to work, even after the blood had been put in stasis. As a precautionary measure, Sheridan had been asked to donate blood to the hospital in case of just such an emergency. Of course, all had hoped it would never be needed, but with someone as important as the President of the Interstellar Alliance it was deemed a sensible precaution and Sheridan had gone along with it. Any hope that the blood might also help others was mitigated when experiments proved it was incompatible with anything other than its original host.

   Once more, Delenn and Garibaldi faced an agonising wait as the surgeons worked to put Sheridan back together. When finally they were satisfied he was taken to an intensive care unit and Delenn was at last allowed to see him. She stared down at him as the surgeon reassured her his body was working near miracles of self-healing. He would make it, but it would take time. Tubes ran from his chest, a mask was over his face, and wires attached to heart monitors recorded every beat and pause. She stepped forward and took Sheridan's hand in her own. Unresponsive but warm to the touch she carefully raised it and kissed the palm, pressing it to her cheek. She remained there for some time, watching the monitors that kept up a steady and reassuring beat. At last she was persuaded to go home, clean up, and get some rest. A Ranger would remain and if there were any problems, or if the President showed any signs of coming around, the Ranger would call her immediately.

*****

David desperately wanted to see his mother, but the nanny held him back until Delenn, having washed and changed, but still exhausted, insisted on him being brought to her.

   "Where's dad?" David asked immediately Delenn finished hugging him.

   "He's not very well. He'll be back with us soon," she replied, smothering her own fears which still refused to settle. "What have you been doing?"

    "Did a picture. Look." And he proudly produced his latest attempt at drawing a White Star. Delenn smiled and admired it, dutifully asking questions about the blobs that represented the sleek fighter, but David soon realised his mother's mind was elsewhere and he lowered the picture. "S'not very good," he muttered.

   "David, it's very good. I'm just tired, and a little worried."

   "About dad?" She nodded. "He's OK," he said, with so much assurance Delenn stared at him.

   "How do you know?" she asked.

   David shrugged. "Just know."

   Delenn shook her head, bemused by her son's conviction and pulled him into her arms. "Yes," she said. "He's going to be OK." She hugged David fiercely for a moment and then pulled back. "I need to get some rest. Do you promise to be nice to Takar? I need you to be strong for a while, David. When John's feeling better he'll be back with us. All right?" David nodded and turned to his nurse who took his hand and led him away. Delenn stared at the floor for a few moments and then looked up to see David smiling at her over his shoulder before he turned the corner towards his room.

   Garibaldi, who'd been standing in the doorway watching, now stepped forward. "That's one hell of a kid you've got there, Delenn. Sometimes I think he knows more than he lets on."

   "*Does* he know, do you think?"

   Garibaldi shrugged. "Anything's possible, and the doctors sounded happy when I left. I reckon we can sleep easy tonight. You gonna be OK?"

   Delenn nodded, gazing after her son. "I think so. I will try to get some rest, or at least some meditation. I don't want to be asleep when John comes round." Garibaldi nodded as Delenn rose slowly to her feet. "Goodnight, Michael."

   "Goodnight." He watched her leave and then stuck his hands in his pockets and looked around the room, smiling. "'When'. I like the sound of that," he muttered. With a lighter step than he'd felt in two days he went off to his room. As he settled down to sleep he added "And later, when Sheridan's in the clear, I've got a few choice words for you, Alyt Kietzhak! Lights!" The room was plunged into darkness.

*****

In fact, it was six days before Sheridan woke. In that time Delenn spent every minute she could at the hospital while trying to keep things running for the ISA in the background. A great deal of the work was simple administration and Sheruth once again proved her worth, taking on much of the day to day minutiae of the President's office and freeing up Delenn to maintain her vigil by his bedside. The executive body dealt with the political problems that came up, but there was nothing serious. Garibaldi looked into Kietzhak's background and learned some more about the Warrior, getting reports from the Rangers at the detention centre which intrigued him. Visiting Turhan he asked about the showpieces Sheridan had performed. Turhan explained their ancient meanings and importance, while simultaneously expressing mild surprise that Sheridan had performed them so well.

   "The last time I saw him practice those he was not so adept," the Denn'bok master confided as they wandered the gardens and cloister-like enclosure, the hot sun beating down on the roof of the inner courtyard, while a gentle breeze kept the air moving.

   "Apparently, looking at someone who plans to kill you concentrates the mind," Garibaldi returned, ducking under an overhanging branch that had speared it's way under the cloister roof.

   "So it seems. Nevertheless, I am well pleased. It appears his training served him well. And you, Mr. Garibaldi. When do you begin your training?"

   "Just as soon as I know John's on the mend. Listen, I wanted to ask you something. It's about Kietzhak." Turhan watched Garibaldi but said nothing. "I dunno what to do with the guy. On the one hand, he tried to kill them. On the other, he worked his ass off trying to rescue them. Risked his neck several times too, I'm told. He could'a left but he didn't, and if it wasn't for him I reckon we wouldn't have got to Sheridan in time. I gotta come up with something. We can't let him get away with trying to kill the President, and if Sheridan had died he'd be up on a murder charge, but reading through his files and the reports I'm as confused as hell here."

   "Then your first lesson will cover the subject of Warrior duty and honour."

   "Uh, can I have the abridged version? I can read up on the rest later."

   "Always in such a hurry, Mr. Garibaldi. Patience is a Warrior's weapon as well."

   "Yeah, yeah, I know, but with all due respect, Turhan, right now patience ain't something I've got in spades."

   Turhan let out a loud sigh and shook his head before surrendering. "Alyt Kietzhak is an honourable member of the Star Rider's Clan. His duty is to his clan and his caste. From what I hear he felt his clan brother, Neroon, had been...oh, what is your word? Conned? Tricked?" Garibaldi nodded. "Well then, tricked into sacrificing his life in place of Shakiri in the Star Fire wheel. What he learned during the battle was that Shakiri was the dishonourable one, and Neroon had chosen his fate freely. Kietzhak had taken a vow to avenge Neroon and the vow had to be fulfilled, but once that had been done and he realised the depth of his mistake in the doing of it, honour demanded he rectify the error. He could not walk away, and, in truth, since Sheridan and Delenn's apparent demise had not been at his hands directly, but due to an accident, and since Sheridan had proved himself a worthy opponent and an honourable one during the battle, Kietzhak had no choice as one of the Names, but to fulfil his duty to another Warrior."

   "That's the short version?" Turhan nodded. "I can see I'm gonna have to take a look at the long version to make sense of all that. I think what you're saying is, he made a mistake, realised it, and tried to fix it, right?" Another nod. "I still can't let him walk."

   "I know, and so does he. He expects to be punished. How severe the punishment is will be up to you, but if I may make a suggestion?"

   "Sure."

   "Why not let Sheridan decide? He and Delenn are, after all, the aggrieved parties. Kietzhak does not expect to be released in the near future. You can safely leave him there without fear of his anger or retribution from his clan. I hear he has made a full and complete confession of his error to his clan brothers. With the possible exception of Garimere who was always too impatient and too intransigent, I think you will find that 'Starkiller Sheridan' now has valuable allies in the Star Rider's Clan. That is not an inconsiderable force, Mr. Garibaldi. This entire affair may, in the end, prove one of the most valuable accidents that could have befallen the President here on Minbar."

   "Hell of a way to win friends and influence people."

   "True. Under normal circumstances I would not recommend it, but then, the circumstances are never quite normal where President Sheridan is concerned, are they?" Turhan gave Garibaldi a look that left the latter chuckling.

   "No, you got that right. OK, I'll wait. Meantime, how about giving me some stuff to work on? Sounds like I really need to learn some of this."

   "I would be glad to. Follow me."

*****

"Delenn?"

   The voice was croaky, but there was no question whose it was. Delenn raised her head to see Sheridan reaching out to her with his hand. Swiftly she caught his wandering fingers and kissed them.

   "I'm here John."

   "I can't see."

   "There are bandages over your eyes. Until they are certain your eye has healed they want to leave them there. How are you feeling?"

   "Like I've been kicked by a mule!" He took a breath and sighed as he realised he was no longer struggling. "Great to be able to breathe again." He reached for his side and instead encountered a stasis field. "How long do I stay in this?"

   "Until the ribs have healed and there is no longer any danger. The doctors say another week, although your body has been healing remarkably fast, so that could change. It will be a while before you are allowed to return to your duties, though."

   "How long have I been here?"

   "It is now six days since we encountered Kietzhak." Sheridan sighed and Delenn reached up and caressed his cheek. "Your beard is getting longer. We will have to trim it when you get home."

   "Are you OK?"

   "Yes, I am fine. Just a few cuts and bruises. Nothing more."

   "I'm glad. How's David?"

   "He misses you, but he knew you would be all right. He is not worried."

   "Good."

   "Are you hungry?"

   "A little, but I'm more tired than hungry. After sleeping for nearly a week, I feel like I could sleep through another."

   "Your body is working to heal itself. That is tiring. Perhaps a few mouthfuls?"

   Sheridan nodded. "Yeah. Probably a good idea. You're gonna have to help me, though."

   Delenn smiled. "Always." She summoned a nurse who fetched a tray of food. Sheridan proved more hungry than he'd imagined and Delenn fed him steadily, waiting until he'd finished each spoonful and warning him when another neared his mouth.

   "I feel like a child having you feed me like this," he grumbled.

   "I am just glad to be able to. I thought I had lost you."

   "For a minute there, so did I." She offered him another helping but he shook his head. "No, no more. I'm beat. Could use a drink, though." She offered him some water through a straw, warning him not to gulp it. When he finished he released the straw and sighed. "I think I need to rest some more. Will you stay with me? Just for a little while?"

   "I will stay as long as you want," she murmured, taking his hand in her own.

   When his breathing evened out once more and she was sure he was asleep, Delenn carefully released his hand and stood up, turning to the doctor who was standing, smiling, in the doorway. It was Mondath.

   "Hello, old friend. How long have you been there?"

   "Long enough to know he will be fine. And you, how are you holding up?"

   "Better, now." She turned and smiled at Sheridan and then stifled a yawn. "Sorry."

   "Nothing to apologise for. You need some rest. Come, I will see you back to the house. He will sleep now for some time, and the next time he wakes he will feel stronger. He will be back with you in no time."

   Delenn nodded. "Goodnight, my love. Sleep well," she whispered before following Mondath out of the room.

 

Part 10


Four days later, Sheridan was allowed to return to his own house, but under strict instructions that he was to take it easy for at least another week and then only be permitted light duties for a month. He baulked at the restrictions until the short walk to his room showed him how weak he was. He was wearing dark glasses to protect his eye and Delenn dimmed the lights before she would allow him to remove them. She then helped him undress and get into bed.

   "Weak as a kitten. I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to take care of me like this."

   "Who else is supposed to take care of you? I'm your wife don't forget!" She smiled and tucked the sheet around him.

   "And no man could ask for better. Where's David?"

   "With Takar. He can see you when you're rested."

   He closed his eyes. "God, I hate this. There's so much I should be doing but I just can't find the energy."

   "We are managing fine without you. If there is anything we cannot handle I will let you know."

   "Yeah, I bet!" he muttered and then sighed.

   "What would you like to eat when you wake up?"

   Sheridan thought for a moment and then shook his head. "I don't know. You know what I like. Pick something." She nodded and ordered the lights lower. "Leave them up a little. After all this time without being able to see anything I want to know my eyes are working!"

   She leaned down and kissed him. He returned the kiss and looked up at her.

   "Can you see me?"

   "Very clearly."

   "Then your eyes are fine!"

   "When I'm feeling better I want to see a lot more of you," he murmured, the innuendo clear in his voice.

   "Hmm. I think I can arrange that," she chuckled and kissed him again. He responded and she held him for a while, feeling his arms close around her. "That feels nice," she whispered.

   "Hmm hmm. I agree. You give me a few days and then we've got some catching up to do."

   "Can't wait," she said, releasing him. "Sleep now."

   He nodded and closed his eyes, his breathing quickly evening out to the steady, regular pattern of a sleeper.

   When he awoke, several hours later, Takar brought David in to see him. The little boy ran towards his father ready to climb on the bed but stopped short as if sensing that was not a good idea. Sheridan smiled and patted the mattress, indicating David should climb up. Once he had given his father a hug and was settled Sheridan asked what he'd been doing. A string of disjointed events followed and Sheridan soon felt his mind spinning trying to keep up.

   "Woah, slow down there, son! Give your old man a chance, you're talking too fast!"

   David lowered his head. "Sorry."

   Sheridan shook his head and smiled. "Not your fault. It's just gonna take me a while to be able to keep up with you again, but I will, don't worry."

   "Not worried."

   Sheridan nodded. "Good." He looked up to see Delenn walking in with a tray of food on a small frame designed to be used for breakfast in bed. "Come on, let me sit up so I can eat." David climbed off the bed and Delenn waited until Sheridan had pulled himself up into a sitting position, then put the tray down on a side table to put some more pillows behind him and help him to get comfortable. When he was settled she put the tray over his legs and sat on the bed beside him.

   "David, Takar has your dinner waiting for you in the dining room. It's your favourite. When you've had your bath I'll come in and tell you a story."

   "Dad, will you tell me a story?"

   "Not today, David. Tomorrow if I can. All right?" David nodded and ran out of the room. Sheridan shook his head. "Wish I had his energy!"

   "You will have. Do you need anything else?"

   He picked up the fork and smiled. "Just company. Can you stay or are you busy?"

   She chuckled. "It's gone seven. You have me for the rest of the evening."

   "Good!" he muttered, his mouth full. "Hmm, this tastes great!"

   Barring occasional comments there was little talk until Sheridan cleared his plate. Delenn carried the tray out of the room and returned with Mondath in tow.

   "Oh lord! Not more tests?" Sheridan groaned.

   "No. I just came by to see how you were doing. A healthy appetite I see. That is good. How is your eye?"

   "A little sensitive to bright light still, but it's getting better."

   "Hmm, that is to be expected. Your leg has healed well and everything else seems to be coming along nicely. Still tired?"

   Sheridan nodded. "Wish I wasn't, but yeah. How long is this gonna last for?"

   "Well now, that depends on you. Do not push too hard. You have been through a lot."

   "I know, but it's frustrating."

   "These things take time. I have brought some restoratives with me." He put a bottle down on the bedside table. "Take two of these every day starting tomorrow and you will be up in no time. Also," and with that he opened the bag he was carrying and pulled out a hypo. "This will help." Sheridan rolled up his sleeve and Mondath swiftly injected him. "Just a few more of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to heal. I think you will find that after a good night's sleep you will be feeling a great deal better in the morning."

   "Good. I've missed my wife!" Sheridan grinned, holding out his hand for Delenn who moved to his side and took it. Mondath chuckled.

   "I'm not sure if you are quite up to that, yet, but," he turned to Delenn, "If you take it easy with him I am sure he will be fine."

   "I will not let him do too much. Thank you Mondath." The doctor bowed and left quietly. "I have to tell David his story." She pulled the pillows out from behind him and, despite his protestations, helped him back down in the bed. "I will be back soon. I think we could both use an early night." Sheridan grunted, returning her kiss a little grumpily. "You heard Mondath. We will see how you feel in the morning."

   "Hmm," he growled, folding his arms. "I'll be waiting for you."

   She smiled and, with a final kiss, got up and left the room. Sheridan sat there staring at the doorway for a while, but he soon felt his eyelids begin to droop. He shook himself, determined to stay awake, but by the time Delenn returned he was snoring. She smiled to herself and undressed, getting into bed as quietly as she could so not to disturb him. Nevertheless, as she ordered the lights out she felt his arms come around her and a kiss on her neck.

   "Told you I'd stay awake."

   She smiled and rolled over it his arms, returning the kiss. "True, but I told you we could both benefit from a good night's sleep!"

   Sheridan's face fell a little, then he smiled once more, albeit somewhat ruefully "Ah, you're probably right. It was worth a shot, though, wouldn't you say?"

   "Always." She yawned and Sheridan chuckled.

   "I hope you're ready for a lie in tomorrow," he murmured, stroking his fingers across her cheek.

   She nodded and snuggled against him. "For as long as you like."

   Sheridan lay back, his arm curled protectively around Delenn. She stretched one arm over his chest and revelled in the feel of him surrounding her. After so many days of fearing she would never feel that again it was a relief to know all that was at an end. As the tension left her at last she felt her body relax. She hooked one leg over his, moved a little to get more comfortable and closed her eyes. Sheridan listened to her in the darkness for a while. Mostly she was a quiet sleeper. Only when she had been nearing term with David had he ever found her restless, and that because she simply could not get comfortable. He ran his fingers through her hair, brushing it away from her face, then kissed her on the forehead and closed his eyes. It was good to be home.

*****

Sheridan was awakened by movement. In the low and slightly ruddy light of a dawn that promised rain he saw Delenn moving in her sleep. The behaviour was so atypical he was torn between waking her and watching, fascinated. When it became clear from the whimpers and half spoken words that her dreams were unpleasant he decided to interrupt.

   "Delenn? Wake up, love. You're having a nightmare." She continued to twitch and moan in his arms. "Delenn," he said more loudly, gently shaking her. "Come on. Time to wake up." He shook her harder and was stunned when she awoke with a start, a sudden tensing of muscles propelling her up in the bed.

   "John....!"

   "Shh. I'm here, it's all right."

   She rolled over and saw him watching her in the pre-dawn light. She shook her head as though to clear it of the images that had filled it moments before, squeezing her eyes shut and rubbing her face. He could see she was shaking.

   "Hey, hey, hey! This isn't like you. You OK?" He moved up in the bed until he was sitting beside her and she turned suddenly and hugged him. Her grip was so fierce he had little doubt what the nightmare had been about. He rocked her gently, surrounding her with his arms and planting kisses in her hair until at last she seemed to quieten. "Bad, huh?" She nodded but said nothing. "Back in that hole?" Another nod. "I know. Shh." He waited a few minutes longer, gently stroking his hands over her back and murmuring reassurances. At last he pulled away, lifting her chin to gaze into her eyes. The pain and fear were still there but receding, and he placed a tender kiss on her forehead. She responded, a hunger in her body that desperately sought gratification, pulling herself up to meet his lips. As their tongues met he wrapped his arms around her and felt her grip tighten in response, her tongue probing his mouth eagerly. He responded, drawing her in and emitting a low moan as she pushed back the bed clothes and moved her hand across his thigh and up to his hip.

   He felt himself stiffen at her touch. Their lips still locked he brought his hand slowly around her side and up to her breast, cupping it and running his thumb over the nipple which immediately grew taut. With a gasp she drew back and turned, ordering the door lock engaged. He smiled at her ability to continue rational thought. A morning wake-up call from David was the last thing either of them wanted right now. In the middle of their renewed kiss Delenn suddenly drew back and looked at him, doubt and concern filling her face.

   "Are you up to this? It's only been ten days."

   "I'll be fine," he muttered, trying to distract her.

   "John...." she said, a warning in her voice. His touches were generating tremors throughout her system, and she desperately want to give in to him and take the love he offered, but still, fresh from her nightmare, and the immediate shock and fear now past, she could see how close she'd come to losing him. Echoes of his gasps as he fought for breath filled her mind. With firm resolve she fought down her own reactions and soon she felt him slow and then pull back.

   "You're determined to force me to rest, aren't you?" His face twitched and he couldn't hide his frustration.

   "At least for a few days more," she sighed. She was no more happy with this than he but sternly brought herself under control. There would be time, soon, but not yet. Her earlier, desperate need evaporated as she realised he would not be easy to placate but it had to be so, for both their sakes. She stroked his face, smiling softly with a hint of regret. "I want this too, but I do not want something to happen to you, and I'm afraid it will if we move too fast."

   He moved towards her again. "Let me be the judge of that. I know my limits."

   She pushed him back again, her resolve now firm. "No, you don't. I know you, John. You've always pushed yourself too hard." She paused and shook her head. "I came so close to losing you. It frightened me. Please, just for a few more days..."

   "You think I could die making love to you?" He chuckled and began to kiss her once more. "Only in the way I do every time we do this." His words were muffled against her skin.

   Again, she fought down her reaction. This was not a good idea. Yes she wanted it. As his fingers ran over her skin she felt her body reacting. Valen, but she wanted it! Needed it. But he'd only been out of hospital for so short a time. It was too soon.

   "John, please. This is hard for me too. Just...just let's see how you manage today. If you are well enough for this you are well enough to do some light work."

   He groaned and fell back into the bed, scrubbing irritably at his beard. "Now *that's* a turn off if ever I heard one!" He ran his hand through his hair and then flung it over his head, looking at her as he exhaled a long breath. "I don't have to do all the work in bed, you know. You could help." There was a bite to his words, a combination of frustration with himself, frustration at being thwarted, and a nagging feeling that she might be right.

   "Now I know you are not up to it," she chuckled, letting his words wash off her.

   "What do you mean?"

   "You're grouchy. You only get grouchy with me when I'm right or you are tired. Either way, I win."

   "You don't fight fair!" he muttered and then slyly rolled over and rubbed his hand along her thigh. She moved away.

   "Neither do you!" she announced, getting out of bed.

   "Hey, where are you going? It's still early!" He pulled himself up, amazed at her tenacity.

   "If I stay there you will not give up. The only way to stop you is to remove the temptation."

   He raised his hands in surrender. "OK, OK, I give up. I promise I won't try and make love to you until you say I can -- 'though I think you're being over-protective -- but don't go yet. At least let's enjoy a little time together when I'm not half asleep or in pain. I've missed you." She looked at him long and hard. He gave her his most winning smile and patted the bed beside him. "Come on. I just want to hold you."

   "And you promise you will not try anything else?" She had her hands on her hips. A position that pulled her nightdress taut and accentuated her slim waist, thereby producing a very immediate reaction from Sheridan. Sternly he brought himself under control, thinking of the 'light' work she'd already suggested. As the image of piles of reports and treatises swam in front of his eyes he felt his arousal dissipate and a heavy weight settle on his shoulders. If he had to do this, he was damned if he was going to miss out on being with his wife for a few minutes of quality time first.

   "I promise." If she had eyebrows, one would have quirked at his expression. "Really. Look." He flung back the sheet completely so she could see his body's reaction. "See? Zip city. Now come on. David will be banging on the door any minute. Just a few minutes to ourselves before you dump those reports on me, huh?"

   Carefully, still eyeing him, she sat back on the bed. "Computer, release door lock." Sheridan growled but said nothing. She lay back on the bed and he pulled the sheets back over them, wrapping his arms around her tenderly. She flinched slightly when he moved against her.

   "Delenn, you're tensing up like you're gonna bolt any second. I gave my word, now relax! I'm not going to do anything." She settled again and let him draw her close. "Much as I'd like to," he added with a murmur, kissing the top of her head.

   She chuckled against his chest. "You are incorrigible!"

   "It's why you love me," he smiled and pulled her in tighter for a second before relaxing again.

   "One of many reasons," she whispered, returning the hug.

   "So if I make it through today, you'll let me show you some of them?"

   "We will see!" she responded firmly.

   "Ah, nuts!"

   She laughed out loud at that and he soon found he was laughing with her, shaking his head. "You know, I think you're the first woman to turn me down when I made a move!"

   "Oh really?"

   "Hey, I was quite the ladies' man when I was younger!"

   "Can't imagine why..."

   He pulled back, staring at her until he realised she was trying to stifle a giggle. "Why, you...!" He didn't get to finish the sentence as a familiar pounding of feet brought their attention to the door. "There he is, bang on time. His timing is perfect!" he snorted.

   "Like his father's," she smiled and then turned, pulling away and sitting up. "Come in, David." The door opened and David's small form stepped in, framed by his nurse.

   "Shall I get the breakfast ready?" Takar asked.

   "Yes, thank you. We will be along shortly," Delenn nodded, beckoning David to the bed. He climbed up, his small stature making the ascent a major achievement. Sheridan smiled indulgently as his son crawled over his legs, trying to envelop himself and Delenn in a hug that his short arms could not manage. He finally settled on wrapping his arms around his father's neck alone.

   "Oof! You're getting heavy!" Sheridan grunted, shifting slightly to get David's knee out of his stomach and safely away from his still slightly tender side. "Sleep well?" A nod against his chest was all the response he received. He looked at Delenn and grinned. "You get the impression someone missed me?"

   "Of course he did. We all did! David, I'm here too you know!" There was mock petulance in her voice. With the eagerness and enthusiasm reserved for the young David jumped up and tried to fling his arms around Delenn, successfully catching Sheridan in the chin with an elbow.

   "Ouch! Take it easy!" Sheridan muttered, rubbing his chin. "I think I'd better get up before he breaks something. One bout in the hospital this month is enough." With a rueful glance at Delenn and a kiss to David's back, Sheridan pushed back the bedclothes and got up, heading to the bathroom. Staring at himself in the mirror he realised his beard needed another trim. He tidied it and then showered, shrugging into his dressing gown and pulling the towel around his neck. He emerged a few minutes later, still rubbing his hair with the towel. David was gone and Delenn was listening to the computer list her meetings for the day. "It's all yours," he said, gesturing to the bathroom. She halted the computer voice with a tap on the button beside the bed and stood up, kissing him as she passed.

   When they reached the breakfast table David was already finishing. "So," said Sheridan, breaking open an orange. "What are you doing today?"

   "I thought I would take him to the park," Takar responded.

   Sheridan looked through the windows to see the patches of blue being slowly obscured by clouds. "Looks like it might rain later. I suggest you either go straight after breakfast or take him to the indoor play area."

   "Ready!" David announced. Takar helped him down from his chair and held his hand firmly to stop him running off again. As they left at a pace which clearly frustrated the eager boy Sheridan shook his head.

   "I know how he feels!" he muttered, popping another piece of the orange into his mouth. Delenn refused to rise to the bait and continued calmly eating her breakfast. "So, what do you have for me to do?"

   "As much or as little as you can handle. The papers are in your study. There are more if you need them." She looked down, determined not to let him see the grin she was stifling.

   "You can be a cruel wife, you know that?" he said, but he was smiling also. He knew her too well to be caught by her games by now.

   "Someone has to keep you in line."

   "Hmph!" He grabbed his coffee and stood up, making his way to the study. When he opened the door he groaned. The pile was small by his standards, but he knew it would take a good few hours to go through. "I think this will probably be enough!" he said. "See you when I emerge." And with that he closed the door behind him.

 

Part 11


At midday Delenn returned from her morning meetings and gently knocked on his door. Receiving no response she walked in to find the pile she had left placed in the out-tray. All but one, over which Sheridan was presently asleep. She smiled quietly to herself and tiptoed over, shaking him gently.

   "You know, if you sleep like that you will get a crick in your neck."

   "Hmm?" He rose slowly and opened his eyes, blearily trying to make sense of his surroundings. When his brain finally registered what had happened he jerked into a more alert posture and rubbed his face, picking up the stylus once more. "Damn. Sorry. Just this last one to go..." he forced a smile onto his face as he glanced at her.

   In that brief moment she looked into his eyes and could see the exhaustion still lurking behind them. She shook her head. "I do not think so. You need to rest."

   "I'm fine, really. Just dozed off. You know how boring these things can be." He reactivated the note screen that had switched to idle once it detected a lack of activity. Repositioning the stylus in his hand he paused, staring at the flimsy in front of him. What on earth was this about? What had any of them been about? Had he actually read them? He turned to the pile of papers and put the stylus down slowly, rubbing his eyes. "I'm not very convincing, am I?"

   "Not very. I will check them over later. Let's get you back to bed." She pulled him to his feet but he shook his head.

   "No, I've got to finish this. I can't let this get to me." He tried to stay at his desk but his own body seemed to know better than he did and he found himself being led from the room despite his protestations. "Delenn, I can manage," he muttered, without much conviction.

   "You have done more than I thought you would. That is enough for today."

   "But..."

   "No arguments. You need rest."

   He surrendered with a sigh and let her lead him back to the bedroom. Duty forced him to make another feeble attempt to return to his work but she swiftly over-rode him and he went the rest of the way without comment. His body ached, his eye was sore, and bone weary exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him. If he could feel this bad after just a morning's paper work he had to admit Delenn had been right to prevent his earlier lustful endeavours. He would never have made breakfast!

   Once he was undressed he climbed gratefully back into the bed and was asleep almost before his head touched the pillow. Delenn quietly arranged the sheets over him and dimmed the lights as she closed the door behind her.

   The afternoon passed without movement from the bedroom. When dinnertime rolled around Delenn took the tray table with his meal into the bedroom and woke him, sitting on the side of the bed and telling him of the outcome of some of her meetings while he ate. He nodded and asked questions, relieved when she told him she'd checked his earlier work and, barring the fact that his notes were illegible on the second to last paper, he had not done anything untoward such as declaring open hostilities on a friendly government by mistake.

   "I supposed I should be grateful for small mercies." He paused and then added "Uh, sorry about this morning. You were right, of course."

   "Aren't I always?" she chuckled, removing the tray and handing it to Takar who had appeared in the doorway as if on cue. "Thank you, Takar. Is David ready for his story?"

   Sheridan raised a finger. "Uh uh. This one's mine. At least I can manage this before I crash out again." He got out of bed, put on his dressing gown and walked to David's room. The squeal of delight that subsequently emanated from that room was enough to assure Delenn that Sheridan was right. When he returned nearly an hour later he was shaking his head. "He's amazing, but I don't know where he gets it from."

   "Why? What happened?" Delenn asked, looking up from the book she had been reading while awaiting his return. There were, of course, any number of papers she could have gone through, but she needed to relax, not become more tense as her brain tried to wrap itself around the tortured language of diplomatic protocol. Instead, she had chosen to lose herself for a while in some of Shaal Mayan's latest poetry.

   "He told *me* to go to bed! Never met a three year old who didn't demand attention no matter what, but David...." He shook his head again and sat down heavily. Delenn pulled back the sheets further and patted the exposed mattress.

   "He knows better than you."

   "Apparently." Sheridan lay back and pulled the sheets over him, still bemused. "Too advanced. WAY too advanced for his age."

   "He has always been ahead of himself. He will do great things one day."

   "Oh, no doubt about that. At this rate he'll be doing my paperwork at seven!"

   She chuckled and then frowned as he rubbed his eye tenderly. "Are you all right?"

   "Ah, it's nothing. My eye's sore, that's all."

   "You have put too much strain on it today. I should not have given you so much to do. I'm sorry."

   "No, don't be. You made your point. I've just got to take things a little easier." He covered his eyes with his forearm, blocking out the light. Seeing it was causing him discomfort she ordered the lights dimmed and put away her book. Mayan's Ti'lah had given her much to think about and many pleasant memories to sift through. They needed time to digest and she had read enough. "Ahh, better," he sighed, uncovering his eyes once more.

   "Did you take the pills Mondath left for you?"

   "I took two this afternoon when I woke up. I was too tired to do much else and just crashed again." He sighed, frustration still evident in his voice.

   "Then perhaps tomorrow you will feel better. Rest now." She curled up and felt him stroke a hand over her hair and then kiss her lightly before settling down to sleep.

*****

The next few days followed a similar pattern. He awoke refreshed but, though his periods of wakefulness lasted longer each day, he was still bone weary by the time he finished. Delenn checked with Mondath who suggested Sheridan have some blood checks, just to be on the safe side, although he assured her his exhaustion was perfectly normal given what he had been through.

   "His body has been putting all its energy into healing him, Delenn. It does not leave a great deal spare. I suggest you keep the workload small and let him move at his own pace. In another week or so he will be much like his old self."

   "And his eye? Everything else seems fine, but when he finishes work I can see it has become bloodshot."

   "It is probably weaker than the other and shows more obvious signs of fatigue before the rest of him. Use it as a sign. When it begins to become bloodshot, he has done enough." Mondath watched Delenn as she sighed and sank into the settee in their lounge. The mid-afternoon sun slanted through the windows casting patterns on the floor and she gazed at them, her mind elsewhere. She was taking a short break between meetings and paperwork while Sheridan, as was his wont of late, was asleep having put in several hours of solid and good work that morning, including a minor meeting. Mondath patted her on the shoulder gently. "He is recovering faster than most who have come so close to death. In fact, his recovery is remarkable, but these things still take time. Once the hospital has finished its checks I will give him another boost injection." He cocked his head at her and frowned. "And what of you? I think, perhaps, you are doing too much as well."

   "I am trying to do his work as well as my own. It is a strain, but I will manage."

   "And others could not do this for you?"

   "I have been away too long already. I cannot ask others to do my work for me when we are all trying to make up for John. I will be fine."

   Mondath sat down quietly beside her. "We all have a duty to serve, but to serve well we must first look after ourselves. If you continue to push yourself like this I will have two patients instead of one. Have one day of relaxation. It will do both of you good, then you can return to your duties refreshed." Delenn shook her head but he was insistent. "If you do not do this willingly I will find other ways, Delenn. You know I can." He smiled to take the sting from his words but she looked up sharply before seeing his expression and nodding in acquiescence.

   "You are right, as always. I will take one day, but then I will return to work and there will be no more discussion of this."

   "Of course. I will make sure David is distracted." He raised his hands to forestall her objections. "For just one day. He can be exhausting, Delenn, to both you and John. Mr. Garibaldi is still here, although I do not believe he can remain much longer. I am sure he will be happy to keep David occupied.

   Garibaldi, hearing his name being spoken, wandered into the room that he had been passing at that moment, catching the end of the conversation. "Sure thing. I'd be happy to help. Don't worry about him. You two take a break." Secretly, Garibaldi was glad of the distraction. He'd been keeping in touch with his affairs and following up some investigations and background information on Kietzhak, but on the whole he'd been lying low, trying to keep out of the way while ensuring anything that needed to be done was done.

   Delenn shook her head. "I know you should have returned to Mars over a week ago."

   "Lise is handling everything just fine, and the Board knows what it's doing. I hand picked 'em myself. They keep me up to date. But what's the point of being the boss if you can't take some time for yourself once in a while?"

   "Exactly, but you have given your time to us."

   "You know the saying, a change is as good as a rest. Anyway, Turhan has been keeping me busy. I'm learning a lot. I don't think I'll ever make a Ranger -- all that meditation stuff is a pain in the ass -- but there are some good points I reckon EarthForce oughtta use. I'm gonna recommend to Tessa she gets her butt over here and takes some lessons. Kinda like teaching martial arts to the Marines without the religious stuff."

   "That 'religious stuff' as you put it is considered integral and vital to the teaching," Delenn remonstrated, although her enthusiasm for the argument was clearly at a low ebb.

   "Yeah, I know, but we're not talking about the Rangers, just a few more good tricks for the military in general. Can't hurt."

   "Hmm," Delenn scowled and then went silent. After a minute she sighed and nodded. "You're probably right, Michael, although I suggest you do not let Turhan hear you speaking that way. And I, of course, do not endorse anything officially."

   "Tell Turhan? Not on your life! Anyway, it's teaching me a lot about you guys."

   Delenn shook her head and snorted. "As if you do not know enough already!"

   "You know me. Always want to learn more. Never know when it might come in handy." When she looked at him he returned her expression with one of blank innocence until she gave up and stood.

   "I have another meeting and then some paperwork to finish. Mondath, could you see to it that John has those tests?"

   "Consider it done. And do not worry. He will be fine."

*****

The test results were delivered that evening, reinforcing Mondath's earlier prognosis. Sheridan was recovering in record breaking time but it was still a steady process. Mondath gave the promised boost and Delenn explained to Sheridan about her enforced day of rest.

   "I agree with him. You're doing the work of two people. You need to take a break as well," Sheridan assured her over dinner. He'd insisted on eating in the dining hall rather than in bed, complaining he was getting crumbs everywhere. Delenn had acquiesced after glancing at his eye. It was sore, but not the raw red she knew was a sign he was over-doing things. In fact, so far as she could tell, his appetite had nearly returned to normal and he was looking considerably better. She passed comment on the latter.

   "I'm feeling better. It's still a struggle to get through the day but it's getting easier, and I'm sleeping like a log."

   "I noticed. You hogged the sheets last night and I couldn't move you. Have you any idea how cold it gets before dawn?"

   Sheridan looked suitably chagrined. "I wondered where that extra blanket came from. Sorry. I promise to try and keep you warm tonight." She gave a small smile and finished her meal, sighing. "And now, I'll finish up here. You get some rest."

   "Are you sure?"

   "Positive." The very fact she didn't put up a fight was evidence enough that she'd pushed herself too far. She stood up slowly and made her way to the bedroom while Sheridan put the crockery and cutlery in the cleaning unit. While there were staff who could do the task in the morning, they both knew it was easier for all concerned if the food wasn't allowed to congeal overnight. In any case, Sheridan had lived alone for so many years he still felt more comfortable occasionally doing such jobs for himself. He went to David's room, told him his story, kissed him goodnight and then made his way to his own room.

   When he entered he saw Delenn was already fast asleep. He smiled down at her for a few moments before going to the bathroom. Mondath had given him some drops for his eye and he used them, standing still with his face to the ceiling for a moment as the solution began to work. Then he washed the excess from his face and finished his nightly routine.

   When he climbed into bed he carefully arranged the sheets around Delenn, slipped under the remainder, wrapped his arms about her small frame and ordered the lights out.

*****

The next morning he woke long before she did, feeling remarkably refreshed. At last it seemed his old energy was returning. And with it, as he gazed at his wife, a far too long denied wish. He watched her--propped up on an elbow, his face resting on his palm--as she rolled over, her hand reaching out reflexively towards him. He shuddered slightly as she touched his stomach, reached up to his side and then drew herself towards him, her sleep as yet undisturbed. He stretched out again, moving his arm across the pillows and watched her snuggle into his embrace, a small smile curling her lips.

   "Good morning," he murmured, planting a kiss on her forehead.

   Still keeping her eyes shut she hummed and then cleared her throat. "It's dark outside. Here on Minbar we call that night."

   "You must have had a terrible time waking up on Babylon 5 then. Funny, I don't remember you having much trouble."

   She swatted him playfully but kept her eyes shut. "I will not dignify *that* with an answer!"

   Chuckling he hugged her for a moment and then released her, watching her dose lightly for another hour. They had the whole day together, uninterrupted. He could wait. But, his body reminded him as her movements caused her hand to brush briefly over his shorts, not for much longer. Gently, so as not to disturb her, he let his fingers wander over her crest, stroking it . His mind wandered to other occasions and he smiled quietly to himself.

   Her hand rested on his stomach for a moment and then moved down once more, encountering his body's response.

   "That feels nice," she said quietly, her voice still a little muffled from sleep and a smile dancing on her lips.

   "Feels pretty good from this side, too," he answered, a broad grin spreading across his face. She looked up. "And this time, I'm not taking no for an answer!"

   "I wasn't about to suggest it." She let her hand close around him and he groaned softly as she caressed him.

   For a while he just lay there, savouring the feel of her fingers, the gentle pressure she brought to bear and the skill she demonstrated here as with everything else. It felt so good to have her touch him again in this way and he wanted to prolong it. He held still, his eyes closed, a small moan escaping his lips as she stroked harder. He felt her rise and slip her fingers under the waistband of his shorts and he lifted himself so she could remove them, pulling his own shirt over his head in one smooth, swift movement before turning to watch her mirror his actions. The early morning light outlined her figure against the windows where the curtains were not quite pulled together and he reached out, stroking over her side and breasts as she stretched. Sitting back on her haunches she let him stroke over her skin for a while before bending and capturing his lips with her own. As their tongues explored she stretched out her hand and let her fingers dance over his skin, touching him in all the places she knew aroused him.

   Releasing his mouth she kissed his chin, his throat and his chest. Small, tender touches that moved from place to place -- his body so well known to her that it was as though she had a map with each sensitive point marked with a cross. His back arched under the steady and thorough assault she mounted on his senses. He knew that if he didn't stop her soon everything would be over before it began. He reached out and stopped her with a touch. She lifted her head and gazed at him, wondering why he had called a halt. He sat up and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to him and kissing her passionately before nuzzling into her neck. She lifted herself up from her kneeling position and settled once more, her legs uncurled.

   He pulled back slightly and then, his left arm still behind her back, slipped his right under her knees and lifted her slightly, moving her downwards before lowering her once more to the bed. He leaned down and pushed the remainder of the bedclothes to the bottom of the bed. Then, for a moment, merely admired her, his body propped on his left arm while his right hand tenderly stroked across her skin, replicating her earlier movements. He smiled softly as she closed her eyes, emitting a sigh of satisfaction.

   "Feel good?"

   "Hmm."

   He continued his ministrations, his voice low. "Let's see if we can make it even better."

   He leaned forward and captured her breast, kissing the underside with long, sensuous strokes of his tongue before slowly ascending the nipple and taking it between his lips. He pressed his mouth into the firm but yielding flesh and suckled, feeling her move under him in response to his touch. Once he was satisfied he'd drawn her as far as she would go he moved to the other breast, licking, kissing and suckling once more. He felt her hands come around his head and press him to her. He smiled to himself, acceding to her silent request before rising once more to her throat, burying his face in her neck and tasting the flesh. He moved slowly up her jaw line until he reached her mouth, kissing her deeply. As he did so he let his hand trip lightly over her skin, across breasts that were still moist from his tongue and down to draw slow circles on her stomach. While his tongue stroked across hers he pressed his knee between her thighs and parted them, opening the way for his questing fingers that moved through her dark hair and slipped between her labia, finding her wet and warm and welcoming.

   Her back arched under his touch and he circled her clitoris slowly, reaching down and drawing her juices up to smooth the movements of his fingers as they slipped over her. Tender, delicate strokes, around and across the nub of flesh and nerves that was stiffening under his fingers. He took his time, listening to her soft moans. He released her mouth and kissed his way to her thighs, parting them further to allow him access. He licked and teased her with consummate skill, revelling in the sighs and gasps she released as he brought her nearer the point of release. He reached up and caught her hands in his, holding them securely and feeling her grip him tightly as he flicked his tongue over her clitoris. Releasing one hand he stroked his hand down her side, across and over her thigh, and then insinuated two fingers into her, stroking the rough surface within. Another inarticulate cry and he felt his own body near breaking point. Just a little longer. He wanted to make this last, make it memorable, a reminder of his love for her and how much he'd missed being able to do this. He moved his fingers within her, rubbing, stretching, stroking and penetrating her deeply. He nuzzled her thighs and then nipped lightly at the flesh, his beard a rough counterpoint to his tongue. She jumped slightly before parting her legs further, encouraging him with a gentle hand on his head to return to the centre of pleasure. His tongue replaced his fingers, circling, thrusting and then drawing a slow path back to flick over her clitoris once more. Licking and sucking he pushed his fingers back into her, feeling her quiver and clench around him.

   Her moans turned to soft cries, her breathing ragged, and he pulled himself back up to her lips, releasing her hand and letting his weight press against her. She welcomed him, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her fingers into the taut muscles across his back. Resting on his elbows he positioned himself and then slowly pushed forward, feeling her take him deeply. He rocked gently against her, pulling out almost completely before sheathing himself once more inside her warm, wet and trembling body. He could feel his own breaths coming shorter and realised he was going to have to take this slowly, both for her sake and his own. He felt her toes run along his calves as she brought her legs up to wrap around him, easing his path and allowing him to move even deeper into her. She gasped as he pressed home and withdrew, making her feel every inch of his desire.

   She pressed her fingers into the short hair at the back of his neck and pulled him down to her, thrusting her tongue deep into his mouth, mirroring his movements between her legs. She writhed under him, gripping his penis tightly and he responded, grinding into her. Another withdrawal, another thrust. He lifted himself slightly so that the shaft would rub over her clitoris as he moved. His arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly to his chest. He felt her grow taut, heard her pass the point of no return, buried his face in her neck once more, thrust forward hard and tightened his embrace as the orgasm claimed her. As it receded the spasms of muscles around his penis drove him over the edge. He pulled away to catch his breath, pressed forward once more and felt his own orgasm explode in his mind and groin as he pulsed into her.

   Breathing heavily he lowered himself, his body shaking with the effort expended. She wrapped her arms around him, steadying him and soothing him while trying simultaneously to calm her own racing heartbeat.

   She sighed. "I've missed you... And that."

   He chuckled. "Me too." He coughed as he tried to bring his gasps under control.

   "Shh. Are you all right?"

   "Uh huh. Nothing a couple of hour's sleep won't mend." He snuggled against her.

   She shook her head as she felt his heart pounding in his chest. "Are you sure?"

   "Just tired and a little winded." He kissed her throat. "Next time, you can do all the work. I'll just lie back and enjoy it."

   "I was going to do just that, but you interrupted," she whispered, her hand idly stroking across his back.

   "You were too good. If I'd let you carry on we'd've finished this twenty minutes ago! I'm beginning to think Shan Fal rituals should be made illegal. You learned too much."

   "As I recall, you were rather adept yourself." A small smile of memory twitched at the corners of her mouth.

   He chuckled. "Hmm. It *was* kinda fun wasn't it?"

   "Uh hmm." She stroked her fingers through the damp hair at the back of his neck, listening quietly as his heartbeat began to slow once more. With a low sound, half grunt of effort, half satisfied sigh, he shifted slightly, moving his weight to one side while remaining wrapped securely in her embrace, and then settled. After a few more minutes he began to snore. She shook her head and smiled to herself. He was definitely better, but it would be some time before they lay together enjoying the gentle, satisfied feel of communion they usually shared after sex. He rarely went straight to sleep, preferring instead to hold her and talk to her for a while first. Another snore broke her reverie. It was a good thing she had grown used to the noise and, through meditation, could block out the worst of it, otherwise she'd never get any sleep.

 

Part 12


She woke a few hours later feeling considerably refreshed. Sheridan had rolled over in his sleep and was now on his side, his snores occasional interruptions in an otherwise silent rest. Her stomach growled, adding another note to the symphony and she frowned. Clearly, breakfast was in order, but she didn't wish to wake him until he was fully rested. Rising quietly she went to the bathroom, showered, slipped on her dressing gown, and left the room to fetch some food. When she returned he was on his back once more, one arm flung over his head, the other resting across his stomach. She'd brought two trays in, determined to have breakfast in bed with him this morning. She set them down and shared out the meals and then returned to the dining area to fetch the coffee and mugs. When she returned she poured some orange juice into a glass, collected two of the pills Mondath had left and sat on his side of the bed, putting the glass down while she shook him.

   He stirred but didn't wake. She shook him once more and he grunted.

   "Whassat?"

   "Time to wake up John. I have breakfast for you."

   "Hmm?" He opened his eyes and saw her smiling down at him. He reached up and pulled her to him, kissing her. "Best breakfast I've ever tasted," he grinned, pulling back to look at her.

   She had held the pills tightly in her hand and now brought them around, showing them to him and offering him the glass of juice.

   "Ach! *This* is breakfast?" he complained, swallowing the pills with a mouthful of the juice.

   She nodded to the trays. "No, *that* is breakfast. *This* was doctor's orders."

   His eyebrows rose at the sight of the two trays. "Breakfast in bed for both of us this morning, huh? Now *that* is much more appealing." She stood up and went to fetch his tray while he arranged the pillows behind him, sat up, and pulled the sheets up around his waist. She placed the tray over him and then went to fetch her own and the coffee. Setting it on the bedside table she followed his example with the pillows, leaving her dressing gown on as she slipped into bed once more and pulled the tray over her.

   His appetite was ravenous and she watched slightly amazed as he wolfed down his food.

   "You will give yourself indigestion at that speed," she reminded him.

   "Never felt better," he assured her, his mouth still full. He cleared it and smiled. "In fact, I feel like my old self. Even the thought of all that paperwork I have to catch up on isn't fazing me."

   "Perhaps the fact that you do not have to face that paperwork before tomorrow is a consideration?" The corner of her mouth quirked and he tried to look innocent for a moment before finally nodding.

   "Well, perhaps, but I think with today's rest with you I'll be back on all burners again tomorrow." He took another mouthful and hummed in satisfaction. "Much better," he nodded to himself. His tray clear he took a mouthful of coffee and then set the tray to one side on the bedside table, nursing the mug in his two hands as they rested on his lap. "So, we have the whole day to ourselves. What would you like to do?"

   "I was thinking about that in the shower. We have not been out for a picnic in ages. It's a beautiful day and there is a lovely spot down by the river. Do you remember?"

   He nodded, his mouth full of coffee, and swallowed. "Uh huh. I remember. You took me there soon after we arrived on Minbar. Nice and quiet and away from the crowds."

   "It is supposed to be one of the places Valen used to visit when he needed to be alone."

   "Then I commend Jeff for his choice, 'though in a thousand years I doubt it looks the way it did then."

   She shook her head. "No, we have tried to keep it the same. The bushes are trimmed, and whenever one dies it is replaced with one that is of the same breed. The same with the trees."

   "What about the river? Surely it's moved or expanded or something in all that time?"

   "Not really. The rock is very hard there. It is much as he would have known it."

   "Well anyway, it's a good idea."

   She put her tray away and then considered her empty mug. "More coffee?"

   "Hmm. Please."

   She rose and collected the coffee jug from the side table, refilling both their mugs, then put it down and collected up the trays. "I won't be a minute." She disappeared for a few minutes, delivering the trays to the dining room and giving instructions for the kitchen staff to make up a picnic, then returned to finish her coffee. That substance, the real version provided by plants taken from Ivanova's secret stash on Babylon 5, had become a favourite drink for Delenn. While the teas of Minbar were still her favourite throughout the day, first thing in the morning she had found coffee a much-needed stimulant. Not to mention the taste of Sheridan's coffee-laced mouth was much improved if her own were in a similar state.

   Finishing her mug-full she placed it on the bedside table and then stretched out, revelling in the freedom of the day. He followed her example and then smiled, turning on his side once more to admire her.

   "You don't want to move, do you?" he chuckled.

   "Not just yet. It's so nice knowing I have no meetings, no paperwork, and no appointments, just for one day." She closed her eyes and smiled and then a frown passed over her face.

   "What?"

    "You know," she said, her eyes still closed. "It has just occurred to me that we have not had a vacation for two years. Longer if you include our time on Babylon 5."

   He nodded. "True. Perhaps when the senate session ends this year we could take a week off. There's usually a lull while everyone settles down. I know I normally use that time to catch up on the backlog but I'm sure I could work a few extra hours a day in the lead up to it and get that lot done."

   She snorted. "You say that now, but I've seen how tired you get. I do not think you could manage much more."

   He lay back, staring at the ceiling. "You know, sooner or later someone else is going to have to run this show. It would do them good to get some idea of what it's like early."

   "But not quite this early. I do not think they will allow either of us to step down for some years."

   "Ironic, isn't it? They yell and shout at us when we try and settle matters, but they're the first to say we're doing a great job as soon as it's suggested they might have a go!"

   "Who wants to be the boss? As you say, the buck stops with us. No one wishes to carry that responsibility."

   "But everyone's a co-pilot until you offer them the controls."

   "Hmm."

   For a while there was silence. Partly, it was the companionable silence of two people who do not need to speak in order to communicate. Partly, each was lost in their own thoughts. At last Sheridan leaned down and kissed Delenn on the forehead.

   "Well, if we're going on that picnic I guess I'd better grab a shower and make myself decent. I won't be long."

   While he showered Delenn remained in bed, savouring the last few minutes of pure laziness she had been offered. A part of her felt mildly guilty, but she knew she had been working too hard of late and sternly smothered those thoughts. For just one day she had earned the right to do nothing. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

   When Sheridan emerged she sighed and sat up, watching him as he sorted through his wardrobe to find something comfortable and informal to wear. He pulled on a pair of slacks and then sat on the bed to put on socks and shoes. Standing up he shrugged into a shirt and tucked it into his pants, then buried himself in a draw trying to find a belt. Delenn stepped around him, going to her own wardrobe to collect a dress and over-tunic. As his muttered curses grew over his failure to find a belt she pulled open another draw revealing several. A cry of 'Ahh!' was followed by his swiftly selecting one and slipping it through the loops on his trousers, pulling it tight with a tug and fastening it. As she slipped on some shoes he grabbed a brush and got his hair into a semblance of order before turning and lifting his arms.

   "How do I look?"

   She considered his attire. "You look like a man on vacation."

   "Good. Sometimes I wonder if my suits have some magical writing on them that only I'm blind to which says 'Come and bother me. I'm the President!'"

   "I wasn't going to tell you about that," she grinned. She reached for her brush and swiftly ran it through her hair, checking herself in the mirror before turning to him. "And do I match?"

   "Perfectly." He placed his arms around her waist, loosely linking his fingers behind her back. "When are you not perfect?" She smiled and leaned up to accept his kiss, then he released her and held the door open. "Shall we?"

*****

The weather was perfect, the picnic spot a delight. The rain of the previous day had reduced the number of flying and crawling insects that usually interrupted such proceedings, while the hot sun had dried the grass sufficiently that there was only the vaguest hint of damp. Just enough to keep the area cool without becoming uncomfortable. They had set the basket down and walked for some time along the water's edge, enjoying the sights and sounds of relative silence. Fish swam in the river, glinting through the clear water. The Minbari equivalent of a kingfisher sat on a branch, preening before turning its head to eye a potential meal. With a blur it dropped from the branch and disappeared under the water, remaining submerged for some time before reappearing and taking its catch to the bank where it killed its prey with a sharp peck and then began to tear at the flesh. Its yellow eyes watched the couple as they walked past, pausing in its dismembering until it was certain they posed no threat.

   A medium sized silver and black mammal with a long snout and sleek almost snake-like body slipped from a hole in the far bank and rode the mud into the water. A few seconds later, smaller versions also emerged and followed the parent's example. Sheridan chuckled and pointed them out as the mother rolled onto her back and one of the youngsters climbed up to sit on her stomach. A few minutes later she rolled again, dumping the offspring unceremoniously into the water, and dived down, silencing its squawks a few seconds later when she reappeared with something between her hands. The other youngsters rushed towards her, trying to pull the food from her, but the smallest, unable to force his way into the milieu, went around to the other side and climbed up, calmly sitting on its haunches as it picked the food from between her paws and tore a piece off. The smug look it gave its siblings made Sheridan and Delenn laugh. A larger version, clearly the father, appeared beside the mother also carrying food, and the young who had not been so wise promptly assailed him. The runt, who had made up for his size by using his brains, cleaned himself and then snuggled into the mother's fur, twisting with such obviously merry abandon that it lost its footing and slipped from her smooth hide, landing in the water with a plop. It reappeared a few seconds later, snorting the water from its nose and then making a great show of cleaning itself as though it had always planned that post meal bath. The human laughter from the bank caused it to look up and eye them briefly before returning to its hygiene regime.

   Sheridan was providing voices for the animals, quickly interpreting their expressions and leaving Delenn in near fits of laughter. His voice changed for each animal: petulant arguments for the Minbari water rat's children; wise and gentle words for the mother; and a deep, gruff, commanding voice for the father. The runt was getting the best treatment, however, since his expressions and actions were so easy to interpret. At last, gasping for breath, Delenn begged Sheridan to stop before she hurt herself. Sheridan put his arm around her and promised to stop, only to break that promise a few moments later when a majestic, large bird swooped down and landed on the river, interrupting the youngsters' meal and sending them scurrying to the side as it asserted its dominance. The parents promptly remonstrated with the bird -- a golden and red creature with a magnificent crest that was vaguely reminiscent of a swan and which the Minbari called a Kiri -- and got a dousing as the Kiri flapped its wings, sending up plumes of water. They turned and followed their young to a quieter part of the river, leaving that stretch to the newly appointed emperor. Sheridan, feeling by now in a particularly silly mood, gave the Kiri Londo's voice and Delenn doubled over at the appropriateness of the choice. Sheridan, too, was roaring with laughter, leaning forward and resting his fists on his knees as he tried to bring himself under control. Delenn thumped him on the back as he choked and he cleared his throat and stood up, his eyes sparkling with delight.

   "Oh god, I needed this!" he gasped, still chuckling.

   Delenn nodded and slipped her arm in his. "Me too."

   They stood and watched the emperor for a few minutes and then turned and followed the path back to the picnic spot. There Sheridan spread out a groundsheet and then a blanket. He smoothed the sides while Delenn unloaded the picnic hamper and they shared the task of setting out the food. When ready they began to eat, admiring the flora and fauna but, at Delenn's express request, without the added commentary. She argued that she did not wish to choke on her food and he was simply too good at it.

   "Where did you learn all those different voices?" she asked.

   "I dunno. It's just something I've always been able to do. Was always a sure fire hit with the girls at the academy."

   "I'm not surprised." She shook her head, still smiling.

   He finished his sandwich and then lay back, his hands behind his head and long legs stretched out. "Hmm. That's better." He paused and then pointed. "Look at that cloud, Delenn. It looks like a wolf stalking its prey." She joined him, laying back and following where his finger pointed. As the high winds whipped the clouds the form changed and both started to laugh as it elongated. Together they said 'Babylon 5!'.

   "Still watching over us, it seems," he grinned, watching it slowly diffuse and become just one more streak in the sky. "Sometimes I think of all the things that happened there and I wish I'd never been posted to it. So much trouble, so many people lost." His eyes darkened for a moment and then he turned and smiled. "And then I think if I'd not been posted there, I wouldn't have met you."

   "I too am glad General Haig put you in charge. A great deal of good came out of that place as well as bad."

   "Hmm. I can tell you, at times it was quite a headache."

   "I know."

   "But you always made it bearable." He reached over and grasped her hand, raising it to his lips to kiss the back of it.

   They remained there for some time, chatting, laughing, or just relaxing as the sun warmed them. Sheridan rolled up his sleeves, enjoying the feel of the sun on his skin, although the bright light was beginning to make his eye ache. Delenn, more mindful of such things, produced a pair of dark glasses and he chuckled as he put them on, muttering that people would think he was trying to remain incognito with his girlfriend!

   Lying back a patch of damp penetrated his shirt and he sat up, muttering, to rest his back against a tree. Delenn picked up the larger picnic items and put them in the basket, compulsively tidying up. Sheridan watched her from under his glasses and shook his head. Reaching out he gripped her upper arm and turned her, pulling her across his knees and raising them to lift her to his lips. She laughed as he held her and bent down to brush his lips across her mouth lightly before kissing her deeply. Drawing back he smiled down at her as she reached up to brush aside a lock of hair.

   "What will people think if they see us here?" she asked, lightly.

   "They will think that there are two people very much in love, and they shouldn't be disturbed," he responded, kissing her once more, his tongue parting her lips. She hummed softly before drawing back.

   "John, we mustn't."

   "There's no one here," he muttered, undoing the top of her tunic and caressing the soft flesh exposed.

   "People walk here all the time!" she protested, pushing his hands away, although her struggles were half-hearted.

   "Not today they won't. Have you forgotten what day it is?" He smiled, undoing her belt buckle. Blankly she gazed into his eyes, trying to determine from his expression the nature of the day.

   "Oh!" she gasped, covering her mouth in shock. He nodded, his eyebrow raised that she'd completely forgotten that today was the anniversary of one of Valen's greatest battles of the Shadow War a thousand years before. On Minbar, which had sent so many of her sons and daughters to fight against the Shadows, never to return, it was a day both of celebration and remembrance. "I should be at temple!" She struggled in his embrace as though she would run the ten miles to the temple in time to attend the services. Sheridan did not try to restrain her, knowing she would come to her senses shortly. She sat up and stared in the direction of the city and then sighed, realising it was already far too late. "I should have been there! How could I have forgotten?" She was distraught and turned to him. "Why did you not remind me?" Her look was accusatory. Sheridan shrugged.

   "I've not exactly been keeping my eye on the calendar. I only realised the date an hour ago, by which time it was already too late." He took in her expression and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Delenn, you have never played a major part in the religious proceedings, and everyone knows I have been unwell. We were not included in the usual round of last minute reminders and circulars this year. No one expected us to attend."

   "I should have been there," she repeated, looking once again towards the city. "How could I have forgotten so easily?"

   "We have had other things on our minds of late," he gently reminded her. She turned and took in his expression. "And there is still the public celebration of the Battle of Coriana Six that we'll be attending next month. We are a part of *that* war, Delenn, and we will not miss the ceremonies that day." She considered his words and then nodded, allowing him to draw her back down to rest in his lap once more. "Jeffrey won't mind if we miss, just this once."

   "No, I know." She stared at the clouds scudding above them and then chuckled. "While as Valen he always understood the need for ceremonies, I don't think he ever really grew to like them particularly. Before he discovered who he was he once confided in me while he was Ambassador here that he always found today's ceremonies slightly unnerving, but he could never work out why."

   "I guess he found out," Sheridan smiled, stroking the back of his fingers over her cheek and down her throat. She nodded and sighed as he removed her brooch with practised ease and placed it in the picnic basket for safekeeping.

   "Do you know," she murmured as he slipped his hand inside her tunic and eased it from her shoulders, "That it is said Valen himself came here with his lady and made love to her beneath the stars?"

   Sheridan snorted. "Well, with all deference to him, I think it might be a little chilly here later on. Would you mind if I made love to my lady here in the warm sunshine?" By way of answer she reached up and undid the buttons on his shirt.

   With only the creatures of the river to watch them they made gentle love beneath the trees. Afterwards he did not fall asleep but held her and talked, reassuring her that he was truly recovered.

   At last it began to grow cooler. They dressed and gathered up the picnic things to make their way, arm in arm, back towards the ground transport they'd used to get to the spot. Sheridan drove them back, leaving the transport to one of the staff to put under cover while they walked back into the house. He put on some music, something he rarely did, and together they sat on the couch, chatting or just enjoying one another's company. Dinner came and went and, as the things were put away, Sheridan glanced at the time.

   "Well, tomorrow we start all over again at the grindstone. You think you're up to it?"

   She nodded. "This has been lovely, but I would feel guilty if we didn't return to work. Still, the idea of that holiday certainly appeals. We must work out where we can go with David."

   "We've plenty of time to work something out. I'd like to stop off at Babylon 5 on the way, though, wherever we go. David ought to see the place, and it'd be nice to see how the old girl is doing."

   "You know Captain Lochley will hate you for turning up? She thinks you and Mr. Garibaldi are lightning rods for trouble."

   "So I gather, but we'll just have to prove her wrong, won't we?" He looked around. "All cleared away. An early night, do you think?"

   She nodded. "I think so. It's probably the last full night's rest either of us will be getting for a while."

   "What made you think I was going straight to sleep, hmm?" He gave her a look and she shook her head, laughing.

   "You are determined to make up for lost time, aren't you?"

   "Of course."

   "Three times in one day? Perhaps that is a little too much so soon."

   He raised one eyebrow, eyeing her. "Now you're not going to sleep on the settee are you? Because that's the only way you're going to stop me!"

   She leaned closer. "I tell you what. If you promise to hold out for tonight, then tomorrow night, assuming you are feeling up to it, I will..." she leaned closer and whispered in his ear. His expression changed from petulance, to shock, to pleased delight.

   "Really?"

   "Really," she nodded, firmly.

   "In that case, I can wait. I'll hold you to that, though!"

   "I know you will," she smiled.

   Together, they walked to the bedroom.

 

Part 13


The next day began early and both had meetings which lasted the bulk of the morning. By lunchtime Sheridan was still caught up in talks while Delenn had managed to clear hers. En route back to the house she was informed that Garibaldi was looking for Sheridan. When she reached the dining room she found Garibaldi seated, reading the paper. He looked up with a sly grin on his face.

   "Good day yesterday?"

   "Very good, thank you. We both feel a lot better. I think we needed that break more than either of us realised." Garibaldi raised an eyebrow, smothering a laugh. She glanced over her shoulder and saw his expression. When she frowned he put on as innocent an air as he could until she grinned and shook her head, returning to the lunch table. "You know us too well!"

   "Uh huh. So, when's he likely to surface from that meeting?"

   "Another hour, I think. Is there anything in particular you wished to see him about?"

   "Kietzhak." Delenn frowned but said nothing. "He's still sitting in the jail. We can't leave him there forever."

   "Then why is he still there?"

   "I was waiting for you two to tell me what to do with him. Turhan said that since you were the ones who got hurt, you should decide the punishment. I should tell you, Kietzhak worked pretty hard to get you guys out."

   "After he put us in that hole," she muttered, sitting down with her plate and mug.

   "True. I dunno what to do with him. Turhan explained about the honour stuff. Not sure it makes any sense to me. More to you I imagine. He was trying to uphold Neroon's honour and he'd made a vow. Once he realised he'd made a mistake he tried to rectify it. Doesn't change what he did, but it does make it hard to punish him. Oh, and you've got the Star Riders on your side now."

   Delenn looked up and emptied her mouth. "Really?" She looked thoughtfully at her plate. "Then some good has come out of all this after all," she murmured. Another pause. "But I cannot simply forget all that he did. I thought I was going to lose John."

   "I know. I was ready to beat the crap out of him when I arrived." He sighed. "It's up to you and John. I'll abide by whatever you decide."

   She nodded, her mouth full. In silence she finished her lunch and drained the mug. "I will ask him when he finishes. When do you go back to Mars?"

   "It's got to be soon," he sighed, folding the paper. "Lise has been keeping an eye on things and I've been getting regular reports, but Edgars-Garibaldi industries doesn't keep going on its own forever. I thought I'd take the first flight out tomorrow."

   "We'll miss you."

   "Well, you can always come visit us sometime. You know you're welcome whenever you want."

   "I know. When David is a little older. It's a long journey for a small boy."

   "At least he gets to ride in a White Star. An improvement on the transporters most people get."

   "True. We'll see." She sighed and stood up. "I have some catching up to do before my next meeting. Will you be here for dinner?"

   "Depends. Turhan wants to give me another lesson before I go. If I'm still upright I'll be here."

   "Then John and I will see you at dinner. We can decide Kietzhak's fate then."

*****

As Delenn walked passed the senate chamber later that day she heard a roar.

   "That's ENOUGH!" Sheridan's voice shattered the silence outside the large doors and Delenn paused to listen. "The proposals are on the sheets in front of you. There is no point discussing this further if none of you are prepared to compromise! One way or another, for all our sakes, we have to make a decision. I propose we adjourn this meeting to give everyone a chance to read through the proposals AGAIN, and when everyone is prepared to discuss this calmly we'll reconvene. A second?" There was a pause and then "Good. I suggest we start again at oh nine hundred tomorrow morning."

   The doors opened and the delegates poured out, still arguing with each other. When the door cleared enough to allow Delenn ingress she slipped inside, acknowledging the bows of those delegates who saw her. When she reached the President's table Sheridan was sitting with his head in his hands.

   "John?" she asked, concerned. He looked up slowly, his right eye so obviously bloodshot that he was holding the lid half closed. "Are you all right?"

   "No. No I'm not. It's this damned treaty between the Gaim, the Llort and the Drazi. NONE of them will compromise on a single thing. We've been going around in circles for THREE hours. The Drazi won't take over coverage of the trade routes to the Llort, insisting they should only have to protect trading ships that deal with them. The Gaim are trading with the Llort and won't protect ships for Drazi trade unless they get something in return. And the Llort insist they won't protect Drazi ships until the Drazi start protecting THEIR trading ships. On top of THAT, the Llort Ambassador has somehow managed to piss off the Drazi Ambassador on a personal matter I can't get to the bottom of. They're all demanding I send in the White Stars to protect the trade routes but you know how far they're stretched right now and so do they. The other Ambassadors are lining up on each side with the exception of the Pak'ma'ra who just sit there and watch, and no one's offering to help us out here. And you know what's REALLY stupid?" His voice was rising again and Delenn tried to calm him, but he'd been holding it in for too long already. "What's REALLY stupid is that underneath all this are the Quantium 40 deposits at Rega Nine, which ALL of them could benefit from if only they'd work out their stupid, petty, personal vendettas and allocate the ships to protect the trade routes."

   Delenn looked over her shoulder and was relieved to see that the ambassadors who had been the subject of Sheridan's outburst were nowhere in sight.

   "It's all right," he muttered, holding his head in his hands. "I've already told them all that. They know there are billions of credits riding on this, not to mention the advantages to all the members of the Alliance in the surrounding sectors, but none of them wants to put in the credits and the ships to get the ball rolling in the first place." He sighed and placed his arms on the table, palms uppermost. "I have begged, pleaded, cajoled. I've tried reason, bullying, offers of support inasmuch as we can provide it with our over-stretched resources, offers of mediation for whatever personal issues are putting the burrs under them..." he took a breath and turned back to her, his eyes pleading. "I don't know what else to do."

   Delenn sat down beside him. "It cannot be fear of Raiders that holds them back; they have dealt with them too often before. I think the Drazi generals regard it as a form of weapons targeting practice for new recruits. The rewards are vast once they agree to work together, so unless one of them believes they can get it all to themselves if they just hold out long enough..."

   She trailed off as Sheridan's head slowly came up and stared at her. "That's it, isn't it? God dammit, that's IT! There's no personal problem between the Llort and the Drazi, they're just using stalling tactics until they can get to it themselves!" He ran his hand through his hair. "I must be blind! THAT'S why the Llort aide disappeared five minutes after the Drazi second went out. We were getting somewhere until those two came back, then everything went to hell in a hand-basket!" He snorted and stood up, looking towards the doors. "Why those scheming, two faced..."

   "John!" Delenn warned, placing a steadying hand on his shoulder and speaking softly so that only he could hear her. "You do not know this. You cannot accuse them of anything until you have proof. I suggest we send some of the Rangers over to Rega Nine and see what they can find out. Then, if they prove your suspicions, you can show the others the proof and they can force the Llort and Drazi to stop this."

   Sheridan nodded, but his jaw was still working furiously as he stared around him, shocked by the depths to which some members of the council would stoop in the name of greed. He shook his head. "No matter how many credits they have, none of them are strong enough to face off the others alone. But still they have this wild idea that if they have the credits they can build the ships and if they have the ships and the weapons they can wield total power in the sector." He frowned. "But the Llort don't usually think that way. The Drazi, yes, but then their society is built on a military structure. So what did the Drazi offer the Llort apart from a cut of the credits? And what made the Llort think the Drazi would stick to the offer?" He pressed his fingers into is forehead, hitting himself as though he could shake up the information in his brain and reassemble the jigsaw into something that made sense. "There's some piece I'm missing here, but what?" He rubbed at his eye irritably. "And this isn't helping!" he snapped.

   "John, it is a warning. You are pushing too hard. You need to rest. You will be able to think more clearly if you give yourself a couple of hour's peace. Come, I will go with you."

   He shook her arm off, shaking his head. "No, I've got to work this out." He tapped the sheets in front of him. "It's in here, somewhere, I just have to find it." He sat down and started to flip through the flimsies, scanning them with one eye shut. Delenn watched him for a few minutes and then stood, shaking her head. He was not going to quit until he'd either found what he was looking for, or established it was not there to be found. There was no point in arguing with him. She sighed.

   "Would you like me to send a White Star to Rega Nine?"

   "Yes, please," he said, still reading.

   "Do you have any other meetings today?"

   "No, just paperwork. I'll do it when I finish here."

   Delenn placed her hand gently on his shoulder. "John, will you make me a promise?"

   "Hmm?"

   "If you do not find anything in the next hour, you will come back to the house and get some rest." He started to remonstrate but she raised her hands, "And while you are doing that, I too will look over the papers and see if I can find what you are looking for. Between us I'm sure we can find the clue to the Llort's behaviour. John, you know that sometimes you cannot, as you say, see the wood for the trees. Fresh eyes may see something you have missed. Please?"

   He sat, staring at the flimsies for a moment and then looked up, a rueful smile on his lips. "Yeah, you're probably right. But give me that hour, OK?"

   "Of course." She walked to the door and turned. "One hour," she repeated, her skirts swirling around her legs as she stepped through the doors and closed them quietly behind her.

*****

An hour and a quarter later, Sheridan appeared in their quarters, the flimsies in his hand.

   "Your turn," he muttered, collapsing onto the settee with a grunt. "I swear I must have read through that lot a dozen times today and I still can't work it out." He dumped the papers on the table and leaned back on the settee, rubbing his hand over his face. "Did you send out the White Star?" he asked, looking over his shoulder.

   Delenn, who had been pouring some tea, nodded. "It is already on its way. It should arrive in two hours."

   "That fast?"

   "White Star Twenty Seven. You asked for a patrol ship to remain in the area until this was sorted out two days ago. Remember?"

   "Not really," he muttered. "I can't even remember if I ate breakfast this morning."

   "You did," she supplied, handing him the mug of tea. "Drink this."

   He sniffed at it cautiously. "What is it?"

   "It is a Minbari herbal infusion. It will help you to relax, nothing more." She smiled reassuringly. "It also tastes rather good!" she added with a grin.

   He took a sip, paused, and then took a larger gulp. "You're right, it does. Thanks."

   She picked up the flimsies and took them to her own office. When she returned Sheridan was nursing an empty mug and staring at the wall with his good eye, the other held tightly shut. He rubbed at it again.

   "Come," she said, offering her hand to help him up. "An hour's rest will do you good."

   "Delenn, I've got to work this out!" he complained, exhaustion and frustration edging his voice.

   "*We* will work this out," she replied, pulling him to his feet. "And I work a lot better without you hanging over my shoulder." She led him to the bedroom and waited until he had taken off his shoes and jacket and stretched out on the bed, loosening the top buttons of his shirt. She reached down and undid his belt buckle, slipping the belt from his trousers.

   "Delenn..." he warned.

   "You can put it back on when you wake up." She stroked her fingers over his forehead and down his cheek, leaning forward to kiss him. "One hour will not do any harm. I will call you if I find anything before then. Sleep now."

   He grunted but said nothing. She smiled, knowing he was already dosing. Lowering the lights she left the room, quietly closing the door behind her. She went to her office and started to read the reports.

 

Part 14


An hour later and she was as bemused as he had been. Calling up every record she could find she searched for the bigger picture. What could the Drazi have promised the Llort that would make them believe they would be able to share in the riches on Rega Nine? Alternatively, what did the Llort have over the Drazi that made them believe they had a powerful enough bargaining chip to force the Drazi to keep their promise?

   She looked at the time and realised she ought to wake Sheridan, but with nothing to report and no more meetings for the day, she decided to let him rest a little longer. At least, she hoped, with another hour she might have something to offer him apart from a blank shrug and dinner.

   The White Star called in to say that they had detected both Drazi and Llort ships orbiting Rega Nine, but neither of them had registered the White Star's presence, hidden as it was behind a small satellite which obscured it from the other ships' sensors. She ordered it to make recordings to send back as soon as they felt they had enough evidence and then stood to pace the room, pausing in mid-stride to wonder at the habit she had picked up from John. Shaking her head she returned to her desk and continued to sift through the records.

   The White Star report was downloaded an hour later. Delenn acknowledged receipt with a distracted air, thanking the captain and asking him to maintain watch until ordered to do otherwise. Then she put in an order for two more White Stars to stay in hyperspace nearby. She had a feeling the Drazi and Llort would not be too happy if certain details were revealed to the rest of the Alliance.

   She sighed as she fitted the last pieces together. Not that the Drazi hadn't done this before, but they'd been caught before as well and clearly they had not learned their lesson. And this time they'd managed to get the Llort caught up in their underhand methods. But the Llort's sins were more ones of omission and stalling. They had failed to inform the ISA of the Drazi activity, storing it as their bargaining chip. They were not a part of the Drazi trading arrangements and had kept their interference down to the minimal required to wreck the discussions. So far as Delenn could determine, the Drazi had either realised they'd been caught, or the Llort had quietly dropped the bombshell and proposed the arrangement over Rega Nine. Which one had happened was open to debate, but clearly the Drazi had been amenable to the arrangement, although Delenn suspected they too thought they had found a means to wriggle out of it when the time was right.

   According to the White Star report there was no evidence of mining having actually begun, so to date neither side had reaped the rewards of their obstructive tactics. The situation was therefore salvageable before the members of the Alliance if only they could metaphorically twist the two miscreants' arms up behind their backs and force them to share the work and industrial might they had already poured into Rega Nine with the surrounding Alliance worlds. The White Star report and her own discoveries would probably be more than enough to do just that.

   She smiled to herself. At least John's initial grouchiness over being allowed to sleep would be mitigated when he learned what she had discovered.

   Sheridan was still asleep when Delenn entered the room. She leaned over the bed and shook him gently. He snorted and opened his eyes, blinking to bring her into focus.

   "Hello sleepy head. How are you feeling?"

   He cleared his throat. "Better. What time is it?"

   "Almost dinner."

   He rubbed at his face. "I thought we agreed an hour?"

   "We did, but I did not have anything to tell you then, so I decided to let you sleep." She was smiling, sitting on the side of the bed.

   Sheridan opened his eyes and stared at her. "You found something?" She nodded and handed him the data crystal sent from the White Star.

   "Drazi and Llort ships are orbiting Rega Nine. There are also the beginnings of a major mining operation on the planet, but so far there is no sign any Quantium 40 has been recovered."

   "So what's going on between those two?"

   "The Drazi are up to their old tricks. You remember when we caught them two years ago in that illegal trading arrangement?" He nodded. "It appears they've found another group to work with." She handed him some flimsies that summarised her discoveries. "It took me a while to track it down but it's all there. I have sent two more White Stars to Rega Nine. I suggest that if they continue to prove reluctant to sign the agreement you arrange a meeting with the Llort and Drazi after tomorrow's session and show them what we have discovered."

   He smiled, looking over the report. Finally he looked up. "What would I do without you?" he said, and then thumped the bed. "We've got 'em!"

   "Which means you can finish that paperwork with a clear head and come and talk to Garibaldi."

   "Michael? What about?"

   "The question of what we are going to do with Kietzhak."

   "He's still awaiting trial?"

   "He's still awaiting anything, trial or otherwise. Turhan suggested to Michael that we should decide his punishment. It's not as though there is any question as to whether or not he did it. He has admitted it to everyone and we were there."

   Sheridan grunted. "I know what I'd like to do to him," he muttered, the menace very near the surface.

   "I know, but it is not that easy. I'll explain while you get ready for dinner."

*****

By the time Sheridan and Delenn entered the dining room the places were already set. As they sat down Garibaldi appeared, sporting a bruise over his left eye. Sheridan considered it for a moment before passing comment.

   "So Turhan's given you your first full contact lesson, huh?"

   "Yeah. The one that's labelled 'when to duck.' Apparently, I didn't learn fast enough. I'll get him next time, though."

   "That is what John said. He didn't."

   "I'll do better." He took his seat at the table.

   "As I recall, I said that too," Sheridan grinned. Garibaldi grunted and filled his plate.

   "And how are you two?" he said lightly. "A little exercise on a day off can do the world of good I hear." He organised his plate to cover his grin as Sheridan and Delenn exchanged glances.

   "Next thing you'll be telling us you've bugged our room," Sheridan snorted. Delenn, having faced the jibe once already that day, held her peace.

   "No need," he grinned and then sobered. "Seriously, it's good to have you back, John. And giving 'em hell in the council chambers I hear?"

   "It's good to *be* back. And the 'hell' I gave them today is mere purgatory compared to what they'll get tomorrow if they don't pull their respective fingers out and sign the treaty." Garibaldi raised his eyebrows but Sheridan shook his head. "I'll tell you later." There was a pause as everyone filled plates and glasses. "Meantime, I gather we've still got to deal with Kietzhak."

   "Yeah. Any ideas?"

   Sheridan mused while he picked over his food, finally he paused and looked up, his fork raised like an exclamation point in the air that he now waved for emphasis. "Well, he's a good warrior, and from what Delenn's explained to me, he made a mistake. OK, it was nearly fatal and he wouldn't listen to reason, but he tried to make up for it afterwards." He speared a vegetable and raised the fork once more. "Now if it was Delenn he'd damn near killed, I'd shoot him myself, but Delenn's rather more forgiving than I am, and as it happened I got away with it." He stuffed the vegetable into his mouth and began to chew.

   Garibaldi raised his eyebrows and looked at Delenn. "Forgiving?"

   "I have had time to think things through. I also had a talk with Turhan earlier."

   "Ah. Yes, that old Warrior has a way about him doesn't he?"

   Sheridan scooped up another forkful of food, nodding. "Uh huh." He swallowed. "Seems to be a feature of the Minbari. Anyway," he took a mouthful of water to clear his palate and then continued, "it got the Star Riders on our side, something I never thought would happen after Neroon died. I think Kietzhak needs to be reminded that it's OK to make mistakes, provided you can recognise they ARE mistakes before it's too late. He always works with other warriors of his own rank. Never has to remember where he came from." Sheridan took another mouthful as Garibaldi looked up.

   "Why do I have the feeling I know where this is going?"

   "We need more trainers for the Rangers. Who better?"

   "And Turhan's gonna go for this?"

   Sheridan cleared his mouth. "He was the one who suggested we decide. That's what we've decided. A few years training the recruits'll knock some sense into him."

   "He'll murder them!"

   Delenn shook her head. "He is one of the Great Names. It would be dishonourable. And if it is his duty to train them to the best of his and their ability, he will fulfil that duty on pain of disgrace within his clan."

   "Like training raw recruits isn't disgrace enough?"

   Sheridan shook his head. "It's chicken feed compared to what we could do to him. Anyway, he'll be on probation. If he screws up there won't be a second chance, and Delenn tells me that the disgrace he would suffer if he doesn't accept or screws up would be more than he could live with. Turhan and the others can keep an eye on him. What was that old adage? 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' I'd rather know where he was and what he was up to than let him roam around. I don't think he'd do anything, but we have to at least make a show of punishing him. Taking the intro classes is well beneath his rank and ability, so everyone'll know it's a punishment, but if he does a good job we'll offer him the chance to carry on with the advanced classes or leave. Basically, his duty is to us now. I'm not going to disgrace him by making him sweep the floors, but I'm not going to let him get away with this either. His clan is too important to upset them, but if we do nothing we'll look weak. Delenn tells me there's a ritual of pain he's going to have to go through as well. He'll be expecting that, but he won't be expecting the second part."

   "A ritual of pain? What're you gonna do? Beat him up?"

   "No," Delenn interjected as Sheridan scooped up more food. "Not us: his own clan and the clan of Mir. He must face whichever wish to exact revenge on him for disgracing them. I do have the right to partake but I will not. It would not look good for the Entil'zha to get involved."

   "So what do they do? Throw stones at him?"

   Sheridan shook his head and pointed his fork at Garibaldi's bruised forehead. "Denn'bok."

   "How many at a time?"

   "As many as attacked us."

   "Woah. That should teach him a lesson."

   Sheridan nodded. "Uh huh. I think he'll be sporting more than a minor bruise by the time they're finished with him."

*****

Sheridan was right, and Kietzhak took rather longer than Sheridan to recover from his injuries, particularly those inflicted by Garimere who eventually had to be forcibly restrained when it became clear he was going well beyond the mandated punishment in his bid for revenge against his former leader. Kietzhak had taken the full responsibility for the actions perpetrated by those who followed him and so, by Minbari law, Garimere was cleared of blame for the incident. However, when Turhan saw how the Warrior was bearing a grudge he ensured (through a few quiet words into the appropriate Warrior caste ears) that his next assignment was not all he had hoped for.

   When Kietzhak was sufficiently recovered he reported for duty at the Ranger training camp. Sheridan and Delenn were waiting for him. As he rounded the corner and saw them he hesitated briefly before pulling himself up to his full height and marching towards them. He saluted, smartly, in Warrior caste style and then bowed.

   "I was in error," he said, still staring at the ground.

   Sheridan looked at Delenn who motioned that it was his duty to speak first. Sheridan cleared his throat. "Alyt Kietzhak." The Alyt looked up. He had not been stripped of his rank, though that had been an option. He acknowledged the service that had been done to him with a short nod. "You know your duty here, and why you must do it." Another nod. "I expect you to repay your debt to us by fulfilling your duties to the best of your ability."

   "Yes, Mr. President."

   Sheridan looked at the Warrior for a moment and then shook his head. "You made a grave error, Alyt. An error that nearly cost us our lives, and did cost the lives of several of your own and eight Rangers. You are the one who must live with that guilt and their families are the ones to whom you owe a debt of honour. I leave it to you to repay that debt. For what you did to us, on behalf of myself and Entil'zha Delenn," he looked to Delenn who nodded, "I forgive you. In your time here I hope you'll learn forgiveness yourself." He paused as though about to say more but then sighed. "You're a good Warrior, Alyt Kietzhak. I hope to have the honour of having you serve with us rather than against us."

   "Mr. President, I have had a great deal of time to meditate upon my actions. My blade and my life are yours."

   Delenn bowed to acknowledge the value of his words then she looked over her shoulder. "Turhan is waiting for you, Alyt."

   Kietzhak nodded, bowed, and walked smartly over to Turhan. The two exchanged bows and then walked into the main building. Sheridan turned to Delenn.

   "Will he stick it out, do you think?"

   "He will because he must. He cannot do otherwise without disgrace, but I believe he will anyway because he knows he made a mistake. He cannot live with that stain on his name. He must redeem himself both in our eyes and his own. It will be a long road, but he will get there." They turned to walk back to the main presidential building and Delenn chuckled.

   "What?"

   "You might like to know...we now have four members of the Star Riders who are offering their services as our personal bodyguard."

   "You're kidding me?!"

   She shook her head. "Apparently Kietzhak told them how you fought. You won their respect the only way someone could. It has been over two hundred years since someone offered the Challenge of the Nine in battle to any of them."

   "Thank god for Turhan's insistence I learn all those things. Never thought I'd get to use them, though." Sheridan lowered his voice. "Between you and me, I was just trying to stall him until help could arrive."

   Delenn slipped her arm through his as they walked through the gate and into the main complex. "I know, but don't tell anyone else that."

   Sheridan feigned shock. "You're not suggesting I lie, are you?"

   "Minbari never lie." She paused, "But then, you are not Minbari."

   He raised his eyebrows. "Delenn...."

   "Come, there are meetings awaiting us." She patted his hand as they walked through the great doors into the building.

 

The End

 

*****

 

 

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