ALONG PATHWAYS OF SHADOW AND FIRE (I): POINTS OF CONVERGENCE

By Laura Bellamy

 

 

 

All the standard legal disclaimers apply. I don’t own the characters, but JMS, Warner Brothers and Babylonian Productions do. But I own dialogue and some of the scenarios – please feel free to download this, but let me know if you want to post it/copy it/whatever.

   This is a sequel to ‘Parallels’ and is set in that mirror-universe, so it will probably help if you read that story first. This isn’t the way I think that the Bab 5 story should have happened; it’s just the way I think it might have happened had there not been the Earth-Minbari war. This is the first part of what will be, eventually, quite a long story (I think!) so if anyone has any comments or ideas as it unfolds, please let me know. Lastly (and most importantly) a very big ‘Thank-you’ to Matt, Heike, Penny, Shaz, Ern and Berry for their comments and support!

 

 

 

 

*****

There is a moment, between waking and sleeping, where dreams are still whole in their detail and clarity; once you have woken they begin to recede and it is almost impossible to recapture them again. Sheridan tried to hold onto the images, but as the conscious world began to call him more insistently the physical reality destroyed the dreamy, transitory thoughts. There was a dull ache in his head and his limbs felt cramped. He sat up – and promptly wished he hadn’t as his entire body screamed in protest from the pain; as he lay down again, memories began to trickle through. He had been in his Starfury, there had been…been…

   ‘I can see an unhealthy habit forming,’ there was a bite of exasperation in the voice, ‘do just want to move in here? It’ll save us the bother of having to wheel you in on a gurney.’ Stephen Franklin looked even more haggard than usual and his expression was a mixture of accusation and relief. Sheridan tried to control the confusing mass of images in his head; tried to remember how he got here. As his vision improved he saw Jeff Sinclair standing close by and struggled to sit up again.

   ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you…’ Sheridan ignored Franklin’s warning and waited for his head to stop spinning before he looked back at his friend. There was no way in hell that he was going to be debriefed while he was lying down – not even by Sinclair!

   ‘Shadow ships, there were a lot of Shadow ships…I must have been hit…’

   ‘We got your distress signal,’ Sinclair said quietly. Sheridan frowned.

   ‘I don’t remember sending one…’

   ‘What the hell were you doing out there, John?’

   ‘Err, there was a battle, Jeff,’ Sinclair sounded far too serious to be having a joke, and his attitude was making Sheridan feel uncomfortable. ‘Y’know, they’re on one side, we’re on the other and we kinda blast away at each other for a bit until one side gives up. Or didn’t you notice from where you were sitting?’

   ‘That was three days ago. I’m talking about you taking off on your own without telling me or Garibaldi and nearly getting yourself killed.’ Sinclair watched as increasing bewilderment spread across Sheridan’s face. ‘You look how I feel,’ he thought grimly. But he was starting to get really worried; John’s behaviour had been very strange for the last few days. He had been injured in both of their recent encounters with the Shadows and the effects might be more serious than they had realised…there might be something seriously wrong.

   ‘Three days? But that’s not possible…I haven’t been…’ before he could finish, Garibaldi had entered Med Lab with his habitual, sardonic, expression firmly in place.

   ‘So, Snow White awakes. Maybe we can finally hear what the mystery is all about,’ he sat next to Sheridan and stretched. ‘There is nothing, absolutely nothing like a Minbari for giving you the run around. I have been with Satai Delenn for over an hour and I know as much now as I did when I went in. Yes, she does know where he was going; no, she is not going to tell me. Yes, she does know why, and no, she is not going to tell me that either. It is best to wait until he wakes up and then he can tell us himself. So, now you’re awake, you can tell us what the hell is going on.’ Sheridan looked between them, trying to make sense of what was going on but it was an impossible task. He decided to start with the basics.

   ‘Who is Delenn?’

   Garibaldi rolled his eyes, ‘Aw, come off it John. Delenn…Minbari, about so high, head bone and a snappy line in cryptic mysticism. Also, quite a looker if you really want a hard headed woman,’ he grinned and then cleared his throat as he realised that there were no takers for his witticism. Sinclair met Sheridan’s eyes and saw a look of desperation in their depths, an appeal for help.

   ‘Jeff…Michael, I’m not joking here – I really have no idea what you are talking about.’

   Franklin, who had caught the tail end of the conversation, was advancing on them. ‘I think I should look you over again, John. Maybe I missed something.’ He pulled out a scanner, but Sinclair stopped him – something told him that Sheridan’s problem wasn’t medical and that the answer lay elsewhere…

   ‘We should talk to Satai Delenn first; if we can’t sort this out there we’ll return him to you, I promise.’

   ‘I am still here, you know,’ Sheridan muttered as he coaxed himself into a standing position, the ache in his limbs had lessened. ‘I haven’t suddenly gone deaf and dumb.’

   As they weaved their way through the dim, underground passageways, Sheridan noticed that the atmosphere seemed lighter, more optimistic than it had for many months. He couldn’t remember the last time that he had seen so many people smiling – life at the Resistance HQ normally engendered three emotional states: manic, catatonic or suicidal. As if by some unspoken agreement, they had remained silent as they walked. Sheridan in particular was grateful; he didn’t like the thought of having lost three whole days or the fact that his mental fitness was a cause for concern. They had stopped outside a door in the residential section – Sinclair shot him a quick look before pressing the chime.

   ‘Yes?’ a female voice.

   ‘Captain Sinclair with Captain Sheridan and Commander Garibaldi. We need to talk you, Satai.’

   The door opened and they entered the plain, sparsely furnished room. A Minbari woman was standing in the middle and she took a step forward as the door closed behind them. As John Sheridan and Delenn faced each other something in the Universe connected and sent reverberations along the whole chain that spanned time and space and dimensions, impulses bounced off each other and then returned with increased intensity to this one, bright, pulsating spot.

   ‘Captain Sheridan? Are you all right?’ She had the most incredible green eyes and the first thought that Sheridan had was how beautiful she was. He looked at her searchingly; she seemed to be waiting for him to explain the whole situation.

   ‘I’m sorry,’ he said eventually, ‘I don’t know who you are.’

   A wave of disappointment consumed her. Delenn closed her eyes and turned away slightly, her shoulders drooping. ‘I had hoped that this would not be necessary…but I suppose that it is right.’ She spoke more to herself than to them, then drew herself up and looked at them steadily.

   ‘You had better all sit down, what I am going to tell you will not be easy for you – any of you – to hear or understand.’ They seated themselves; Garibaldi was feeling increasingly uneasy, as the situation had gone from being an apparent practical joke on Sheridan’s part, to something far more sinister. He hated sinister. Delenn sat down, she was not looking forward to this, but there was no other way.

   ‘When I arrived here a few days ago, I had never met Captain Sheridan before. But that evening, after the meeting, he came to see me in these quarters,’ she held up a hand as Sheridan began to protest, ‘please allow me to explain. What he told me I did not believe at first…but eventually I came to see that it was the truth, and it explained a great deal. You remember, Captain Sinclair, how surprised you were by how much Sheridan knew about the Shadows and the White Star Fleet? During your encounter with the Shadows just before I arrived, some sort of temporal and spatial rift was created and Captain Sheridan was drawn into it…’

   A sharp pain shot through his head. Light…brilliant, white, light…

   ‘A John Sheridan from some other dimension was brought into this one, and you…’ she looked at him, ‘he assumed that you were drawn into his.’

   Sinclair leant forward, resting his chin on clasped hands. ‘Do you really expect us to believe that for the last few days we have been living with a…John Sheridan…from another dimension?’ he stood up. ‘Look, if you two have got some elaborate joke going, just tell us now. Although I have to say that it isn’t a very funny one.’

   ‘Minbari do not lie, Captain,’ she replied calmly, ‘and I am aware of how ridiculous it sounds. But the man that I met is not the man who is sitting here now,’ there was a faint echo of sadness in her voice as she said it.

   Sheridan had raised one hand to the side of his head; vague images were dancing on the peripheries of his mind and they shifted each time he tried to grasp hold of one of them. Then, one flashed in front of his eyes, with dazzling clarity.

   ‘Space station,’ he said. They all looked at him, but he was unaware of everything beyond the single image in his mind. ‘Huge, ships from every world orbiting it…near a planet. I wasn’t there, but I saw it – it’s as though I saw it in a dream.’ He looked at Delenn and another stab of pain hit him…and another image. A woman, her arms outstretched, standing in some kind of machine…long dark hair…her face suddenly swam into focus.

   ‘You!’ he stood and grabbed hold of her arms, pulling her up; he raked her face with his eyes. ‘I saw you, you were looking for someone…but you looked different, you weren’t Minbari.’

   ‘I was half-human,’ she said, staring back at him. He released her and sat down again, for a moment he rested his head in his hands. Garibaldi looked appalled, the whole situation was beyond belief. He leant towards his friend ‘John, are you sure…

   ‘I’m not mad, Michael, and I’m not joking. I don’t know how or why, but she’s right,’ he looked at Delenn. ‘It’s all true.’

    For a moment, Delenn felt three pairs of eyes focus on her with an intensity that was almost tangible, until Garibaldi finally said to her ‘You’re right, it does explain a lot.’ He looked at Sinclair and knew that he had arrived at the same conclusion.

   ‘The last few days,’ Sinclair shook his head, ‘I kept getting the feeling that a stranger was looking at me out of your eyes. Now I know why!’

   Sheridan was up and pacing around the room. Finally, he stopped and stood in front of Delenn. ‘There is one thing that I don’t understand…’

   ‘Just one?’ Garibaldi leaned back on the sofa. ‘You’re doing better than me; I don’t understand any of it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe you’re telling the truth…I just can’t believe that it is the truth.’

   Sheridan allowed himself a brief smile before turning to Delenn.

   ‘Why did he tell you? Why not Sinclair or Garibaldi?’

   Delenn looked a little flustered, how much should she tell him? The whole truth would probably only cause embarrassment for both of them, and it would serve no practical purpose – somewhere two people were living out their lives and they had nothing to do with her. It was best if she forgot it entirely.

   ‘I asked the same question,’ she surprised herself by the level of detachment in her voice, ‘from what I could understand, Sheridan did not know you very well,’ she looked at Sinclair and then turned to Garibaldi. ‘His friendship with you had deteriorated. However, Sheridan did know Delenn very well…so he felt more comfortable talking to me.’

   ‘I can’t bare to see you not knowing what we mean to each other…’ she tried to block the memory of his voice and found herself looking straight into Sheridan’s eyes. Eyes that had once held such agony every time he looked at her were now regarding her thoughtfully.

   ‘I think I understand,’ he said softly – once again he saw her, as she was in that other universe, and knew exactly why Sheridan had confided in her. He suddenly wished that he had asked her about it in private for fear that he may have embarrassed her in front of the others.

   ‘So,’ he sat back down and looked at them, ‘what was my alter-ego up to while I was away?’

   ‘Which do you want to hear first, the battle? Or when he stripped naked and ran through the corridors yelling “Take me, I’m going cheap”?’ Garibaldi folded his arms and looked at Sheridan with cool challenge. Sinclair suppressed a smile, but Sheridan looked anxiously at Delenn – he was never certain about the Minbari and humour. Delenn had turned sharply to Garibaldi at first, but now there was a suspicious twitch at the corner of her mouth and her eyes were dancing. Sheridan relaxed.

   ‘I think I’ll just take the battle for now, thanks, Michael. Why don’t we save the other one for when you can really embarrass me?’

   Sinclair did most of the explaining, while Garibaldi and Delenn interjected every now and again to clarify a point or to add extra information. As Delenn told him about the White Stars she saw his eyes light up and had the distinct impression that, given half a chance, he would have gone to try one out right then. Sheridan listened with growing excitement and not a little disappointment; it was the first significant victory against the Shadows and he had missed it. By the time they had finished he was energetically pacing the floor.

   ‘This is fantastic – more than fantastic! Do you know what this means?’ he demanded, but didn’t wait for an answer. ‘We might just have a chance…we can consolidate our position… and this might even encourage some of the other races who have been hanging back to really get behind us!’

   ‘That’s great John,’ Sinclair said wearily, ‘but do you think that we can do all of that tomorrow?’ he and Garibaldi were slumped on the sofa, both wondering – not for the first time – where Sheridan got his energy from.

   ‘What? Oh, yeah…of course. Sorry,’ he grinned at them, ‘but this is exciting stuff!’

   Garibaldi and Sinclair got to their feet and took their leave of Delenn. She walked with them to the door, but Sheridan stopped and called to the others ‘I’ll catch you up,’ before turning back to her.

   ‘Delenn…’

   ‘Yes?’

   He looked a little embarrassed and stumbled slightly over his words.

   ‘I just wanted to say…I’m sorry that you had to shoulder so much of this on your own. It must have been very difficult.’

   Her smile was slow and serene. ‘It was my privilege to have been of assistance, Captain. And the end result far out weighs any small thing that I may have done.’

   ‘Maybe. But you still have my gratitude. Goodnight, Delenn.’

   She watched him for a moment as he hurried away to find Sinclair and Garibaldi, before closing her door.

   -----

   Sheridan had watched the footage of the last battle while he was dressing – the White Stars were even more impressive than he had imagined and he was sure he had never seen a ship that beautiful. He wondered how many objections Sinclair would raise if he tried to take one out – or he could always just send a message that would conveniently be misdirected and then feign innocence when he got back. He was still pondering this as he walked towards the mess and it was a few moments before he was aware of someone calling him.

   ‘Hi, Cathy,’ he smiled brightly as she came next to him and they walked on together.

   ‘How are you feeling?’ she asked, a little anxiously.

   ‘Jeff told you all about it, huh?’

   ‘He was really worried about you, I think he thought you were heading for some kind of nervous breakdown,’ she paused but was unable to hold back her curiosity anymore. ‘What was it like…in the other place, I mean.’

   He sighed ruefully and shook his head. ‘I don’t really know. I wasn’t there I just saw bits and pieces. And I don’t even remember those very well. I wish I did in a way,’ they had entered the mess and were now waiting in the queue. ‘Y’know, sometimes you wonder what would have happened if you’d made different choices in your life – you never think that it could be reality in some mirror universe. Would have been interesting to see what it was like.’

   ‘It certainly would, but I don’t know if I’d…’ she broke off as Sheridan’s link sounded and Garibaldi’s voice came over.

   ‘Captain, we need you in the War Room.’

   ‘You haven’t had any breakfast,’ she called after his fast retreating figure.

   ‘I’ll gobble up some Shadows!’ he replied.

   The War Room was filled with representatives from all of the worlds involved in the Resistance; but at the large, central table were seated the Narn and Centauri leaders, Sinclair, Garibaldi, Franklin and Delenn.

   ‘So, what’s going on?’ he asked as he took his place and was handed a stack of flimsies. It was Delenn who answered.

   ‘We have had some disturbing news from the Rangers patrolling Sector 19. Apparently, scavenger ships have entered the sector and have started to raid the damaged White Stars – and also the area on Melior where the colony used to be.’

   ‘But there isn’t even anything left down there!’ Sheridan looked at her in horror.

   ‘When we moved the refugees out it was with the idea that we would rebuild the colony once the this last offensive was over – a lot of supplies and equipment were left behind in bunkers.’

   ‘We haven’t retrieved all of the bodies of our own people off the ships yet, there hasn’t been time,’ Sinclair said, a dark shadow in his eyes.

   ‘There are also the remains of Shadow ships there,’ Delenn continued, ‘if their technology falls into the hands of raiders…’

   Sheridan threw the flimsies onto the table with an exclamation of disgust, ‘Then we put a stop to it. Right now!’

   ‘Why bother?’ the Gaim’s voice grated on Sheridan’s ears. ‘We would be better to concentrate our forces here and look after our own interests.’

   ‘Our own interests?’ Garibaldi rounded on him in fury. ‘Those ships are our interest, and so are the refugees – what the hell do you think we’re fighting this Goddamn war for?’

   ‘Commander Garibaldi is right,’ Sheridan’s voice was low, but there was a dangerous edge to his tone. ‘We’re not just here to resist the Shadows, we’re supposed to protect those who can’t protect themselves – and I for one cannot stand seeing the weak being picked on.’ He stood up and addressed the whole room. ‘What do you think will happen if we sit back and do nothing? When the refugees return they will be attacked, looted, they’ll lose the little that they have left. And don’t tell me that it is up to their Governments to make reparations and care for them because we all know that there’s the enemy and there’s us. And nothing in between.’ His eyes were burning. ‘We’re not forcing anyone to come along, but we’re going,’ he looked at Garibaldi and Sinclair, ‘and anyone else who wants to be there.’

   ‘The White Stars are already standing by,’ Delenn’s calm, authoritative voice filled the room, ‘we will be ready to leave whenever you are, Captain.’

   He turned to her and a faint smile softened his face as his eyes met hers. There was now a low muttering as the various races discussed it amongst themselves.

   ‘Y’know,’ Garibaldi muttered into Sheridan’s ear as he sat down again, ‘if they ever bring out a book called “Great Galvanizing Speeches of the 23rd Century”, I’m nominating you for your own chapter!’

   Sheridan grinned at him, but his glance strayed back to Delenn, who was conferring with one of her Captains. The muttering in the chamber had stopped and a Brakiri who had, apparently, been elected as spokesman stepped forward.

   ‘We will all provide as many ships as needed.’

   ‘Of course,’ Sinclair said quietly, as they all stood up for a recess, ‘we don’t really need most of them if we have our own ships and the White Stars.’

   ‘Yeah, but it’s the principle of the thing, Jeff,’ Sheridan’s eyes twinkled. ‘United we stand and all of that!’

   The taskforce for this operation was kept relatively small: the emphasis was on speed and firepower, so to that end it consisted of White Stars, Starfuries – and a couple of Narn Destroyers, just in case. Sheridan got himself onto one of the first shuttles going up to the fleet and stared impatiently out of the window as they approached the White Stars.

   ‘Incredible!’ he said, gazing at them.

   ‘Yes, they are impressive, are they not?’ he turned to find Delenn standing at the next window, also gazing out into the infinite sky. ‘This will be only the second time that we have used them in an offensive; we are still learning about their capabilities and their potential.’

   ‘Well, you’ll have a better idea about that than I will,’ he smiled, ‘I’ll have to rely on you to point me in the right direction.’

   For the first time, she turned and looked directly at him, a faint smile playing over her features. Then, wordlessly, she bowed slightly and turned back to the window. They continued their journey in silence; but as soon as they had set foot on board, Delenn found herself bombarded with questions about every aspect of the ship. He examined the consoles on the bridge with an intense fascination.

   ‘What does…’ he stretched out a hand to a cluster of faintly glowing crystals.

   ‘The instruments are very sensitive!’ she said hurriedly. ‘It might be best not to touch them until you are acquainted with their functions.’

   ‘Of course, sorry!’ To Delenn’s relief he clasped his hands behind his back – a few seconds more and he would have accidentally blown up 2 Starfuries.

   ‘We have an incoming message from White Star Seven,’ a young Ranger looked up from her monitor.

   ‘On screen,’ Delenn moved to the console next to the command chair.

   The screen descended and Sinclair’s face appeared. ‘We’re all ready, John.’

   ‘Ok,’ he seated himself in the command chair, ‘let’s get the show on the road.’

   The scene of the recent battle had the desolate, abandoned air that is so often found in places where there has been sudden and violent deaths. Huge chunks of scored, twisted metal rotated slowly; destroyed Shadow ships loomed, their fins buckled and turned inward like dead spiders. Some of the disabled White Stars were silent tombs for the crewmembers not yet retrieved by their colleagues. Sheridan opened a channel to the other ships, ‘Turn off the engines; we don’t want them picking up anything on a scan. When they do show up, fire at their engines and weapons systems; until then we just wait.’

   The fleet arranged itself in a wide circle around the area, each shielding close to a large piece of debris. There was nothing to do except wait and hope that the Shadows didn’t decide to turn up for a second round. As it was, they didn’t have long to wait – less than an hour had passed when the raiding party jumped out of Hyperspace. As one, the Resistance ships engaged their engines and moved to surround them. There was a short burst of fire from the enemy ships, but the White Stars retaliated immediately and wiped out their engines, cutting off their means for escape and then blasted away their weapons. Within seconds a signal was sent out from the raiders.

   ‘Cease fire! They’ve surrendered,’ Sinclair broadcast the news to the rest of the fleet.

   ‘Oh, good,’ Sheridan said. ‘That was…quick.’

   Delenn looked at him quizzically. ‘You sound disappointed, Captain.’

   ‘What? Oh, no; I’m not disappointed…I just…’

   ‘Wanted to play with your new toy!’ she thought and smiled, turning back to her console. Sheridan seemed to know what she had been thinking for he grinned ruefully.

   ‘That obvious, huh?’

   The Resistance Force experienced a period of relative quiet over the next weeks: everyone knew that the Shadows would strike back at the first opportunity, but their unexpected victory seemed to have bought the Resistance a little time. Time to regroup and plan their next move. Sinclair and the rest of the EarthForce officers had expected Delenn to return to Minbar after the last offensive, but she remained at the HQ – it was the first time that a Minbari of such high rank had stayed at the forefront of the action. They soon became accustomed to seeing her sweeping down the corridors, flanked by Rangers who came more and more frequently to Degeba 3 in order to pass on their intelligence to her and to take instruction from their beloved Entil’zha. But there was steel not too far beneath her serene demeanour, as Sheridan soon discovered when he had observed, with a mixture of amusement and admiration, her disciplining of a wayward Ranger who had got into a brawl and used his denn’bok on an unarmed Centauri. Eyes blazing, her slight frame drawn up to its full height, she had reduced the six foot Ranger to a cowering wreck. The few weeks respite also gave Sheridan some time for introspection as he tried to make sense of his cross-dimensional experience. The HQ had been visited by an entertainment troupe the year before and after the Resistance had rescued their vessel from an attack by a Shadow scout, they had repaid the inhabitants of Degeba by building them a garden out of some of their props. One room was set aside and they had painted a sunrise on one wall, a sunset on the other and a starry sky in between; it was then filled with gravel and plastic plants – it was very obviously fake, but for a few moments you could pretend that you were far away from the war. Sheridan was staring at one of the shiny, green leaves when a rustling noise behind him caught his attention.

   ‘I didn’t mean to disturb you, Captain.’

   ‘You’re not, Satai. Please, sit down,’ he stood up and gestured for her to sit on the bench before sitting next to her. She looked up at he ceiling and smiled at the starry vista above. Sheridan watched her – there was an indefinable something about Delenn that got to him. He tried to rationalise it by taking stock of her appearance: sensitive lines of her face, but strength defined them; a gracefully curved crest that was oddly flat at the top, as though the tip had broken; a mouth that occasionally broke into a wide, beautiful, smile; skin that looked as smooth as porcelain, but had a faint pink tinge; jade green eyes that reflected the depths of the universe and danced with a fire… ‘Rational thought, huh?’ a sarcastic voice spoke in his head. ‘Your understanding of the word dispassionate stinks!’ He hurriedly averted his eyes as she lowered hers and turned to face him.

   ‘This is a very strange garden,’ she said.

   He smiled and told her the story, unable to stop himself from making it sound more exciting and entertaining than it had actually been. Maybe it was because she had seemed amused by it that he had embellished the details. They both sat, looking at their eccentric surroundings, and then Delenn suddenly broke the silence.

   ‘You seem…troubled,’ then she seemed to change her mind, and hastily added, ‘but it is not my place to pry, I’m sorry…’

   ‘No, it’s all right,’ he replied and looked directly at her. ‘I…I can’t stop thinking about what happened…it’s been a few weeks now but I just can’t make any sense of it.’ He stood up and started to pace the floor.

   ‘Do you need it to make sense?’ he stopped and looked at her, surprised.

   ‘Yes, of course I do!’

   She walked over to him and looked earnestly into his eyes.

   ‘Sometimes things occur that are beyond our understanding, we must simply accept them as being.’

   ‘Being what?’

   ‘Just being.’

   ‘Fine, it can just “be” all it wants, but I still want to know why. Why would I be plucked out of my own time, my own place and be substituted by another me from somewhere else. And why me anyway? Why not Sinclair or Garibaldi or anyone – it’s not like I was the only person in that particular place.’

   ‘But perhaps you were the particular person; perhaps if the Universe wanted to redress the balance it needed you to do it.’

   For a moment, Sheridan felt as if he were back in Tibet talking to the Dalai Lama again.

   ‘The Universe?’ he asked uncertainly.

   ‘We are all children of the Universe, even the Shadows. If our struggle is part of the Universe attempting to figure itself out, then perhaps it found this particular struggle a little one-sided. It may have wanted to give us…a fighting chance?’ that smile had spread over her face and Sheridan couldn’t help but return it. Then he looked up at the painted sky.

   ‘Yes,’ she gazed up with him, ‘we are all made of the same thing. Star stuff. No matter what dimension we are in.’

   He gazed into her eyes again. ‘Can one person really make that much of a difference?’

   Her eyes burned more brightly than ever. ‘If they are touched by greatness, by destiny…yes.’

   He felt strangely comforted by her words: part of him wanting to believe her and another part still demanding a logical explanation. If only he could make those 2 parts work together…but for now the certainty in Delenn’s voice won over his more sceptical side.

   ‘Star stuff,’ he repeated softly, and they began to walk a slow circuit together around the garden.

   -----

   ‘I don’t like it.’

   ‘Michael, it’s quiet. Just enjoy it while it lasts.’

   ‘I know it’s quiet, that is exactly why I don’t like it. I know that we’re using the time to collect our forces, plan our strategy, yadda yadda yadda, but they are doing the same thing. And the fact that they have much bigger ships than us, not to mention better fire power, and are taking this long to plan an attack… It must be the mother of all offensives.’

   Sinclair groaned and pushed his plate away; Garibaldi had been getting more and more restless as time went on and now he was starting to make Sinclair restless. Sheridan had been remarkably relaxed for the past few days, which was also starting to make Sinclair restless. So he felt something very like relief when Sheridan flung himself into the chair opposite, frowning.

   ‘Something troubling you?’ Sinclair asked hopefully.

   ‘Isn’t there always?’ Sheridan raised an eyebrow. ‘A sudden thought occurred to me…’

   ‘Hold on to your hats, boys,’ Garibaldi muttered. He was rewarded with a scathing look from Sheridan.

   ‘I’ve been trying to figure out why a trained officer would take off in a Starfury without telling anyone where he was going or why…knowing that there’s no back up if he’s attacked.’

   ‘John, you’re starting to get obsessive about this. It’s over, just let it go,’ there was a note of sympathy in Garibaldi’s voice, but Sheridan shook his head impatiently.

   ‘It happened for a reason; I don’t know what that is but if I can figure out where he was going then I might know what it is I am meant to do.’

   ‘What you’re meant to do? The metaphysical ponderings are usually my department, John!’ Sinclair smiled.

   ‘You Jesuit types are all the same,’ Sheridan countered, ‘think you’re the only ones with a spiritual side. Some of us have a more Eastern philosophy…’

   ‘And some of us are about to put gags on both of you!’ Garibaldi finished off.

   ‘But seriously, if you want those questions answered you should ask Satai Delenn.’

   Garibaldi nodded in agreement, ‘Uh-huh, she said she knew where he was off to.’

   ‘Well why don’t we go and see her,’ Sheridan said quietly, frowning again. Why hadn’t she told him? All of the conversations that they had had, sharing thoughts and ideas and hopes… He felt a pang of disappointment.

   Delenn welcomed them in her quarters with her customary grace. She noticed the cloud in Sheridan’s eyes and felt unsettled.

   ‘I have to ask you something, Delenn. When Sheridan set out in the Starfury, where was he going?’

   She didn’t answer, but glanced away, her gaze focusing on a carefully constructed pile of crystals, one hand cupped at the back of her neck.

   ‘Why do you want to know that?’ she still didn’t look at them.

   ‘Because it could be important!’ there was a note of anger in Sheridan’s voice that he battled to control. He could feel Garibaldi and Sinclair shooting him quizzical looks. Delenn took a deep breath and looked into his eyes.

   ‘He was going to Z’ha’dum.’

   Her words hung in the air and they were all aware of a sudden, oppressive, feeling in her rooms.

   ‘Why?’ Sinclair frowned. ‘Why would he go there, of all places?’

   ‘I don’t know,’ she groaned, ‘he said that he had to talk to them.’

   ‘Talk to them?’ Garibaldi was incredulous. ‘And say what? “Gee, I just dropped by for a chat and would you possibly stop blowing up everything in sight and be nice little Shadows for us all.” Right before they totally frag your brain, if you’re lucky!’

   ‘He said it was a war of ideology,’ she closed her eyes, trying to remember exactly what he had told her, ‘it was about power and control. In his Universe the real war was between the Shadows and the Vorlons – the Vorlons represented order and discipline, the Shadows represented chaos. The war was about which of their ideologies would guide the younger races.’

   ‘So what happened?’ Sinclair was leaning forward expectantly.

   ‘The races refused to choose and both the Vorlons and Shadows agreed to leave the Galaxy. I don’t know exactly, there wasn’t enough time.’

   ‘Why didn’t you tell me this before, about Z’ha’dum?’ There was still accusation in his voice.

   ‘Because telling you would have served no purpose!’ her eyes flashed with defiance. ‘I had the thought that if you heard about Z’ha’dum then you would go there – maybe Sheridan knew what he was going to say to them but you don’t.’

   ‘We’re supposed to trust each other, Delenn!’

   ‘It’s not about trust! If you had gone you would have been killed and that would not have helped anyone,’ she tried to speak calmly, but inwardly she cursed Sheridan. ‘Why did he bring them with him, I could have explained it so much better if we had been alone.’ Sheridan suddenly felt ashamed of himself; he had no right to be angry with her. And he definitely should not have brought Sinclair and Garibaldi: it was humiliating for her. He sat down.

   ‘I’m sorry,’ his voice was gentle. ‘But how did he survive Z’ha’dum?’

   ‘He didn’t. He died,’ she managed to keep her voice level, to sound professional. ‘He was…replenished…by an alien living on the planet, but his life span was cut short. He said that it was his destiny to go there.’

   Sheridan stood up again and started wandering about the room.

   ‘Maybe it is…’

   ‘Now hang on a moment!’ Garibaldi stared at him. ‘You’re not seriously thinking of going there?’

   ‘I didn’t mean now. You were wrong about one thing,’ he turned to Delenn and smiled, ‘it’s not going to make me go rushing off there. I’m not ready for that, but one day I might be.’

   They all watched him closely as he continued pacing. Then, without any warning, he slammed his hand down on the table with a force that made them all jump.

   ‘Of course, that’s it! It’s so obvious!’ his eyes were alight with the expression that everyone called his ‘Mad Genius’ look.

   ‘I have a feeling that I am not going to like whatever it is that I’m going to hear,’ Sinclair winced slightly as he spoke.

   ‘If it works…it might not, but why wouldn’t it?…If that’s the answer…’

   ‘Yo, Sheridan! You’re talking to yourself!’ Garibaldi said loudly.

   ‘What?’ Sheridan looked at them as if he had just noticed them for the first time. ‘Oh, right. Well, it’s very simple. We contact the Vorlons.’

   Garibaldi snorted, ‘I’m sorry, Captain, just for a moment I thought that you actually said “Contact the Vorlons”.’

   ‘Yes, Commander Garibaldi, that is exactly what I did say.’

   Garibaldi sighed, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.’

   ‘But no one has ever seen a Vorlon; and you can’t get into their space. They don’t even answer messages sent in…John, it’s impossible.’

   ‘You should know better than to say “impossible” to me, Jeff,’ Sheridan was regarding them with wry amusement.

   ‘Captain Sinclair is right, you cannot simply fly into Vorlon space and expect them to do what you want.’ Delenn saw his jaw clench stubbornly as she spoke.

   ‘Why not?’

   ‘Because the Vorlons are not like us, they are an old race…revered… they…’

   ‘…Are mystical beings, right? I don’t buy into that, Delenn. They don’t allow anyone near them, they surround themselves with legends but they are not inaccessible. Where did the Vorlon technology for the White Stars come from?’

   ‘It was given to my people many years ago, before living memory. It has taken us this long to understand how to use it, how to combine it with our own technology.’

   ‘Ok, now refresh my memory…’ he was sitting opposite her, his chin resting on his hands and they were staring intently at one another.

   ‘Do you get the feeling that we might as well not be in the room?’ Garibaldi whispered to Sinclair. He nodded.

   ‘…The war that your people fought with the Shadows a thousand years ago, how did it end?’

   ‘We were almost defeated, but just as we were getting close to surrendering we were aided by the Vorlons. They were not defeated, only driven back. But it was enough.’ Her expression had altered; there was a faint smile on her lips and her eyes held understanding. ‘It could be true…if we were able to contact the Vorlons, then…’

   ‘We get them to finish what they started,’ Sheridan’s smile broadened. ‘We’ll have to plan this very carefully…’

   ‘Excuse me,’ Sinclair interrupted loudly, ‘do we get a say in this matter?’

   ‘Yes of course,’ Sheridan looked at him as though he were mad, ‘just jump in any time, Jeff.’

   ‘Thanks.’

   Garibaldi rubbed his face and said, more to himself than anyone else, ‘I knew it was gonna be one of those days. You’re going along quite happily and then someone comes and drops an anvil on your head!’

   Delenn was sitting upright, her hands folded in her lap, the very picture of serene authority.

   ‘If you are determined to do this, Captain, then I suggest that you go in a Minbari ship. As you pointed out, my people were among the last to have contact with the Vorlons, they might be more receptive to us. And I will go with you.’

   Sheridan frowned. ‘I don’t know if that is such a good idea…’

   ‘Captain, this is our war as much as it is yours. We have a vested interest in anything that may increase our chances and it is best that our forces are seen to be in complete agreement.’

   ‘You know, you are incredibly persuasive,’ his blue eyes held a flicker of amusement, and something else that brought a faint blush to her cheeks. But she held his eyes with her own and answered him in a remarkably off-hand tone.

   ‘Thank-you. I try to be,’ there was a flirtatious edge to her smile.

   -----

   The arrangements for their journey into Vorlon space took longer than Sheridan had expected. He knew that it was risky, extremely risky, and that it needed scrupulous attention to detail; but he was impatient to go. Apart from the unknown dangers that might await them in Vorlon space, there was also the very real danger of being attacked by the Shadows. However, they could not take an entire fleet as it might be considered a hostile act by the very beings that they hoped to win as allies. Delenn had solved the problem by contacting her home world and requesting that they send the strongest ship of the Minbari fleet. It was only when this ship finally arrived and the last details were triple-checked by Garibaldi that they were able to leave. As their shuttle pulled away from Degeba 3, Sheridan wondered if he would ever return there – and if any of his friends would still be there when he did. He turned away and looked toward the Minbari ship they were approaching. He felt his jaw drop when he saw it – it was the biggest, meanest looking ship he had ever seen. He had always admired the graceful, angelfish, ships of the Minbari, but this…

   ‘It is an older ship,’ said Delenn, noticing his expression, ‘but still the most powerful and the most deadly that we have. She is the flag-ship of our fleet and the pride of the Warrior Caste – we call her the Black Star.’

   ‘Suits her.’

   It was not the first time that Sheridan had been on board a Minbari cruiser, but as the shuttle glided into the vast docking bay he had to admit that it was the first time he felt intimidated by one. Albeit for about 10 seconds before he pushed past it. Once they left the shuttle they were greeted by a tall, powerfully built Minbari. He was dressed in the dark, studded clothing of the Warrior Cast and his head bone stood up in great, jagged, peaks. When he saw Delenn he slammed one fist into his open palm and bowed to her, she responded in the style of the Religious Caste. He then turned his attention to Sheridan, saying:

   ‘So, I see that you are still fighting the war in this sector.’

   ‘Yes,’ Sheridan replied, ‘but I’m sure that now you’re here we won’t have anything more to worry about.’

   ‘Are you trying to say that my abilities are not as good as yours?’

   ‘Not at all. I just meant that if the Shadows take one look at your ugly face they’ll turn and run!’

   Delenn eye’s opened wide as she heard this insult to the Warrior; his retaliation would be terrible. He threw his head back and laughed heartily.

   ‘I see that they have not yet knocked the humour out of you yet!’

   Delenn stared in disbelief as Shai Alyt Neroon of the Star Rider Clan, one of the most feared fighters of his caste, threw his arms around Sheridan and clapped him on the back.

   ‘How do you two know each other?’ she was incredulous.

   ‘We were trapped in a bunker for four days after an explosion at a Brakiri colony,’ Sheridan grinned, one arm still around Neroon’s shoulders. ‘Almost killed each other the first day, barely spoke the second, and were firm friends on the third.’

   ‘And on the fourth day?’ she ventured.

   ‘We got out,’ Neroon replied.

   They started to make their way toward the living quarters.

   ‘This is a dangerous exercise,’ Neroon said as they walked the corridors, ‘are you certain that it is worth it?’

   ‘We are not certain of anything,’ Delenn replied, ‘but it is a chance that we have to take; we are fast running out of options.’

   ‘Is everything in place for when we reach Vorlon space?’ Sheridan asked.

   ‘Yes. The life pod has been fitted with all that you will need; we have given you enough supplies for three days,’ Neroon allowed himself a slight smile, ‘but I suppose that you will want to go over all of the specifications yourself.’

   Sheridan grinned, ‘You’ve got it in one!’

   ‘In one what?’ Neroon looked confused.

   ‘I’d like to look at the pod, Neroon.’

   The Warrior gestured to a young, Human, Ranger and told him to take Sheridan to the life pods.

   ‘I guess I’ll see you two later.’

   ‘Captain Sheridan,’ Delenn stepped forward, ‘would you care to eat with me in my quarters tonight?’

   For a second he expected her to state a reason, to offer some justification for this, but there was none – he felt curious and oddly satisfied about that.

   ‘That would be great. Let me know the time and I’ll be there.’ It was all he could do to stop himself from looking back over his shoulder at her while his escort chatted brightly.

   Neroon took Delenn to the quarters that had been set-aside for her; they were sparsely furnished but comfortable and she sank gratefully onto the small, semi-circular sofa. Neroon sat next to her and as she looked at her companion she became aware of how much he had aged since the last time she had seen him. His face was strained and pale and he moved as though there was a heaviness in his limbs.

   ‘You are quiet,’ she said.

   ‘I’m tired, Delenn. Tired of fighting.’

   She made an instinctive movement towards him out of concern, but he shook his head.

   ‘I do not mean the Shadows, I mean our own people; there is yet more upheaval at home.’

   ‘But we had agreed to set aside our differences for the greater cause. I thought if we united against the common enemy it would bind us closer, show them that we are strongest when we move together.’

   ‘Yes, but not everyone thinks as you do, Delenn. I wish that they did,’ he smiled at her and then sighed, there was a note of bitterness in is voice. ‘Shakiri is demanding that the Warrior Caste be given overall power in order to win the war. I say that he wants it in order to suppress the other Castes – or turn everyone into Warrior so that he will have no opposition. Sometimes I think that he would ally himself with the Shadows if he thought that it would give him what he wants.’

   Delenn’s thoughts flew back to Degeba and the strange assortment of people who lived there; all races working side by side, crossing the barriers of race and all the other differences that separated them. If Humans and Minbari could work together and respect each other then why couldn’t the Castes when they were all Minbari?

   ‘So, you have met my old friend Sheridan,’ Neroon was saying to her. ‘What do you think of him?’

   ‘I like him,’ she responded almost without thinking, ‘he is an unusual man…’

   ‘I meant, what did you think of him as a soldier?’ there was a hint of amusement in the depths of his dark eyes.

   She started slightly, ‘He is a strong leader and an excellent strategist. I should have known, Neroon,’ she added coolly, ‘that you only ever judge people on their abilities in battle!’

   The conversation turned back to the problems on their home world and by the time Neroon left, Delenn felt such a melancholy that she was certain that her spirits were far too low for her to receive her guest. Nevertheless, she had made the invitation and sent a message to his quarters stating the time he should arrive and began to make the preparations for dinner. The final vestiges of her depression left her as soon as Sheridan entered her rooms. He greeted her with a huge smile, thanked her repeatedly for asking him and then talked enthusiastically about the life pod. She had been silently pondering how anyone could become so enthusiastic about something so trivial when a sudden realisation hit her. ‘He’s nervous. He’s nervous about being alone, here, with me!’ Delenn didn’t dare analyse why this knowledge made her feel so excited, but her weariness left her and she began to look forward to the rest of the evening. She motioned him to sit at the small dining table and began to uncover the dishes on the table. Something hurtled through the open door, sprung into the air, landed on Sheridan’s lap and then vanished under the sideboard.

   ‘Jeez, what the hell was that?’ he jumped, almost knocking over a carafe of clear liquid.

   ‘I think it was the ship’s gok,’ Delenn looked over his shoulder to where the creature had hidden itself.

   ‘A what?’

   ‘A gok,’ she smiled, ‘Minbari often keep them as…what is that word you use…pets?’

   He got up and walked over to the sideboard, then bent down and peered under it. In a dark corner he saw a pair of amber eyes staring angrily back at him. He was able to make out a small, furry creature that began to hiss and spit viciously at him.

   ‘We’ve got things like this too,’ he said, straightening up, ‘only we call them cats.’

   ‘Cats,’ Delenn repeated the word and seemed to consider it carefully. ‘Cats.’ Then she laughed, ‘It is a funny name!’ She moved across the room and chased the gok out from its hiding place – it stalked out of the room with its tail held high in the air.

   ‘I’ve never been very fond of them, I’ve always preferred preems,’ she said, closing the door.

   ‘I’m not even going to ask,’ he replied, ‘I already have a feeling that preems are going to be remarkably like dogs!’

   It was the first time that they had eaten together alone, and for those few stolen hours they were both able to forget the war that was raging around them and the mission that they were embarking upon. They discussed everything and nothing; their families and backgrounds; how they had ended up in their current situations and a thousand other things of little consequence. But it was these little things that took on an unimaginable importance that evening. As Delenn prepared an herbal tea after the meal, she looked over at Sheridan. It was strange, she thought, that despite the fact that he was Human, he seemed to belong here, in her quarters – he looked perfectly at ease sitting on the sofa in these very obviously Minbari surroundings. He was staring out of the small window opposite with a faraway expression.

   ‘You enjoy looking at the stars?’ she set the tray down on the low table and seated herself in a deep corner of the sofa. He turned to look at her and there was a softness, a wistfulness in his expression that she had never seen before. She felt as though someone had reached inside her ribs and was gently squeezing, so that she needed to take a deep breathe.

   ‘That’s one of the worst parts of living underground all of the time,’ he laughed slightly and looked a little bashful, ‘sometimes I take out a Starfury, just so that I can be out there, with the stars. It’s like you can let your mind go and just become a part of all that vastness. I grew up on a farm and when I was a kid I used to sneak out, late at night, and lie in one of the fields, staring up at the sky.’

   Delenn rested her elbow on the back of the sofa and leaned her cheek against her hand as she listened to him.

   ‘My Dad used to say that the stars were the eyes of all our ancestors, watching over us. I used to want to fly up there so that I could meet them.’

   ‘Have you ever found what you were looking for?’ she asked softly.

   He looked intently into her green eyes, ‘I think I’ve found more than that.’

   How was it possible, he wondered, that he could feel this close to someone so quickly? In any previous relationship it had always taken months before he had been able to open up to them, but with Delenn it was so easy. And he had gone out of his way to amuse her, enjoying watching the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed, the way her eyes danced, the way she listened so intently.

   ‘I used to climb to the top of a hill, just outside Tuzanor. The starlight would play over the city and the temples would seem to change colour depending on what time of year it was. But the waterfalls would always look as though it was moonlight cascading down – I loved watching the city at night.’

   ‘Do you see much of your family?’

   She shook her head sadly, ‘No. My father was on a retreat on a colony off our home world a few years ago…it was attacked by the Shadows and he died. Some of my other relatives were with him, my…’ she paused, struggling to remember the word. ‘The children of my father’s brother?’

   ‘Cousins.’

   ‘Yes, my cousins were killed.’

   ‘I’m sorry,’ the same look of sadness had fallen across his face, ‘some of my cousins were killed during the attack on Mars but no one that close to me. With me it’s been seeing my friends die; the worst was last year when someone I’d known for over 10 years was killed. Her name was Susan Ivanova and she was trying to get supplies to a Narn colony…’

   ‘I remember that, many of our people died there…’ Delenn said softly. ‘You cared for her?’

   ‘We’d been friends for a long time, she was one of the best officers I’ve ever worked with and she was like a sister to me, really. We all miss her.’

   There was a long silence while they were both lost in their thoughts, then Sheridan roused himself.

   ‘Well, I’ve managed to plunge us nicely into a depression. I’m sorry, this was meant to be relaxing.’

   ‘But you cannot hope to know or understand a person unless you have seen and shared all aspects of their personality and their experiences.’

   Sheridan smiled – that charming, dazzling smile that lit up the whole room – and looked at her, his head slightly on one side. ‘Tell me, are all Minbari as wise as you?’

   ‘I’m not especially wise,’ she flushed slightly. Maybe it was the way he looked at her that made her feel that is more than just her wisdom he was complimenting her on.

   ‘It’s getting late, I should probably go,’ he said reluctantly.

   ‘Yes, there is much to be done tomorrow,’ she felt a little disappointed – the time had gone so quickly! They stood and she walked with him to the door; she leaned against it slightly as they said goodnight. Her face was turned up to his and Sheridan felt his pulse quicken; there was such warmth in her eyes and her lips looked so soft and red and tempting that had it been any other woman he would have kissed her. ‘You can’t do that with a member of the Minbari Government!’ a voice screamed in his head. ‘Why not?’ another one yelled back. He battled to control himself and heard yet another voice telling him that Minbari didn’t kiss and that if he tried it he might end up with a death sentence.

   ‘Goodnight, then,’ he said weakly.

   Delenn had been fighting a sudden urge to reach out and touch his face, to lay her hands over his heart and feel his pulse under her fingers – but he probably wouldn’t know what it meant and might take offence. She had studied Human behaviour but had never paid much attention to their ways of demonstrating affection. She raised her hands and bowed to him, he hesitated and then returned the gesture a little awkwardly. They smiled at each other and a look passed between them that voiced their unspoken thoughts: ‘That will have to do for now.’

   -----

   ‘This is Vorlon space.’

   ‘Wow, it looks just like every other part of space!’ Sheridan grinned as Neroon turned admonishing eyes upon him.

   ‘This is not the time for jokes, Sheridan.’

   Delenn was standing away from them, surrounded by a group of Minbari in white robes – they appeared to be pleading with her.

   ‘What’s going on?’ Sheridan asked.

   ‘They don’t want her to go,’ Neroon replied, ‘they are Religious Caste and she is one of their leaders.’ Neroon stopped; although Sheridan was his friend he wasn’t sure if he should discuss the problems of Minbar with him. But Sheridan had grasped what he was saying.

   ‘She carries weight in the Government and if they lose her another Religious Caste might not be chosen to speak for them. And they revere her. Close?’

   Neroon smiled. ‘You have an excellent grasp of the facts, Sheridan. Almost too good – I begin to worry that we Minbari may be losing our mystique!’

   ‘Trust me, you have nothing to worry about in that department!’

   Delenn was speaking more loudly, silencing the clamour of voices around her. Most of the others were taller than her, but somehow she dominated them – this petite, regal, figure commanded their complete respect. A look of intense irritation flashed across her face and her words came more quickly; as she looked at each one in turn they hung their heads and looked ashamed. Then she waved them away and they parted to let her through, but stayed in the docking bay and fell into a line to watch her go.

   ‘Is everything ready?’ she asked as she reached them.

   ‘Everything,’ Sheridan replied. ‘Are you?’

   ‘Of course.’ Not a flicker; she held his gaze calmly and he noticed that there was not the slightest trepidation in her eyes. Over the past few days, while they had been travelling to this point, they had discussed everything they thought might happen to them – now there was nothing left to say. Neroon raised his hands to them both in the gesture of the Warrior, saying ‘May the shadow cool the path of fire, and the flames light your way through the dark until you return to us.’ His tall, proud figure was the last living that they saw before they were ejected into space. The Black Star hung majestically before their eyes and then a jump point opened and it was gone. Delenn and Sheridan had insisted that no one else should be involved in this mission – they both knew that the Vorlons might simply kill them and they were determined not to endanger anyone else. They had enough supplies for three days, after that the Black Star would return and try to pick them up, but until then they could only sit and wait – and hope. Delenn began sending out messages in every direction:

   ‘This is Satai Delenn of the Minbari and Captain John J. Sheridan of EarthForce. We wish to speak with you about the current Shadow War. Please respond.’

   -----

   ‘Anything yet?’

   ‘No, nothing. I hope that they can hear us.’

   ‘Maybe they’re just gearing up for a dramatic appearance,’ Sheridan ran an eye over the consoles that had not registered a single change since they had arrived. ‘It’s times like this you wish you had a good book,’ he commented.

   ‘As long as you do not wish to kill me, as you did with Neroon,’ she replied, smiling.

   ‘I can’t see that happening; it seems to be more of a problem when you have two males trapped together – too much hostility or something.’

   ‘I have never understood the reason why men fight,’ she looked genuinely puzzled.

   ‘I think it’s…’ he stopped and started to look a bit puzzled as well. ‘Actually, I have absolutely no idea why men fight. It’s pretty dumb, I guess. Then again, I’ve known some women who aren’t above a brawl themselves,’ he smiled to himself, recalling the late Susan Ivanova’s propinquity to smash up a room and everyone in it when she was drunk and insulted.

   ‘That’s very true,’ Delenn agreed; Sheridan gawped at her. ‘What?’ her eyes sparkled with amusement, ‘did you think that Minbari women are not capable of inflicting violence on each other?’

   ‘It’s just that…well, they always look so serene that it’s difficult to imagine,’ he vaguely wondered if Delenn had ever been in that type of fight and got the feeling that if she had, her opponent would have come off worse.

   -----

   There was more humour, more vulnerability in her face now that she was in repose. Sheridan felt that he was intruding by watching her, but every time he resolved to concentrate on something else his eyes strayed back to her face. In the end he gave up arguing with them. He wondered what she saw during her meditation and decided that it must be something happy, for there was a slight smile playing about her lips now; although he could be imagining it for the lighting was so low that he could hardly see her. They had diverted power from the none-essential systems to boost the life support. He had been aware of a slight dizziness for the last few hours and he was sure that it was getting hotter. He felt a bead of sweat roll down his back and squirmed uncomfortably. Delenn looked so peaceful…he remembered the time that he had spent with the Buddhists all those years ago; it was something that had never really left him even though he didn’t follow the religion. But now some of the old mantras came back to him and other memories that had barely touched his consciousness for twenty years. He closed his eyes, letting his mind wander…

   When Delenn finished her meditations it took her a few moments for her eyes to adjust. She was surprised to see Sheridan sitting, his eyes closed, and a look of tranquillity on his face; for a moment she wondered if he had simply fallen asleep, but there was something in his face that she recognized as meditation. As she watched she began to wonder what his face would reveal in his sleep, but this was neither the time nor the place – and while he had shown kindness and friendship towards her, she might be reading too much into his actions. There was still so much about Human behaviour that she didn’t understand. Delenn turned back to the monitors and sighed; the air was getting heavier and it was difficult to concentrate. If the Vorlons or the Black Star didn’t come soon they would be forced to send out a distress beacon and hope that someone picked it up in time.

   -----

   

   ‘Delenn…take the canister…’ his mouth felt thick and it was as if his lungs had been filled with water. He tried to fit the mask over her face, but she turned her head and weakly pushed his hand away.

   ‘No…you,’ her voice was a hoarse croak.

   He felt a huge pressure behind his eyeballs and he would have given anything in the Universe to take great gasps of the oxygen, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. Not when Delenn’s skin had taken on that awful bluish tinge and her head was lolling against the wall. They had used up one of the two emergency canisters already and Delenn had gone into a deep meditation – so deep that at one point he was sure that she had stopped breathing altogether and had grabbed hold of her, calling her name despairingly until she had opened her eyes. She could survive on less oxygen like that, she had said, it would leave more for him. A wave of relief and fury had swept over him – he would sooner suffocate than allow her to put her life at risk like that again.

   ‘Don’t you ever dare to that to me again!’ he had yelled. Now there was so little air left in the pod that if she had attempted such a meditation she would have suffocated. He slipped an arm around her shoulders and forced her to look at him.

   ‘Compromise,’ his speech was slurred and the effort to speak almost knocked him out. ‘You breathe…I breathe.’

    Delenn felt the last of her resistance go and nodded. He held the mask to her face and she took two deep breaths, the pressure in her head lessened and her vision cleared a little. She pushed the mask toward him more firmly and made sure that he took as much as she had done. His face was wet and looked oddly slack. She felt a sudden wave of anger that they should die here, like this, for something that had proved utterly fruitless. It wasn’t that she was afraid to die – it was more that she didn’t want to die and she certainly didn’t want to give up her life, now, for nothing. She looked up at Sheridan; there was a strange fire burning in his eyes and she new that he was feeling the same thing. He did feel anger, but the anger was more with himself: he had entered into this knowing that the Vorlons might kill them, but it had never occurred to him that they would die of a lack of oxygen while waiting for someone to show up. And the worst of it was that Delenn need never have been involved in the first place – it was true that she had volunteered herself for this, but the whole thing had been his idea and he should have carried it out alone. She was looking at him with such intensity that it almost caused him to stop breathing altogether; not that he was very far from that anyway, he thought grimly. He pulled her closer to him and rested his cheek on top of her head; her skin felt smooth and warm and the top of her crest nestled against his cheekbone. It should have felt strange, alien – but he suddenly realised that he had never thought of Delenn in that way; in his head he knew that she was Minbari, but from the first time they had met she had always just been Delenn. He resolved not to take anymore of the oxygen – God alone knew what good it would do, but if she could stay alive for a few more hours it might give her a chance. He pressed the canister into her hands and moved his head closer to her ear.

   ‘I’m sorry, Delenn. I’m so sorry.’

   -----

   

   There was cool air blowing over her. Cool, fresh air that had a hint of sweetness. Her limbs felt heavy and there was a dull ache in her head, but she forced her eyes open and looked around her. She was lying on the floor in near darkness and it was a few moments before she realised that Sheridan was laying a few metres away from her. The thought occurred to her that this was the afterlife and as they had died together, their souls had been brought to the same place. But the burning sensation in her lungs that caused her to cough violently convinced her that she was still alive. Delenn tried to stand up but found herself too weak and so started to crawl toward Sheridan. The last thing that she could remember was his voice, coming from far away and that she had tried to force the canister back into his hands – it had been like trying to breathe underwater, but she didn’t know what had happened next.

   ‘Captain Sheridan…’ her voice came out as a whisper, she touched his face and was relieved to see that he was breathing.

   ‘Sheridan…we’re all right…someone has found us.’

   He stirred and his eyes flickered and then opened – for a moment there was nothing but a glassy stare and then they focused on her. A smile lit his wan face.

   ‘Hey…you made it!’

   ‘I think that we both made it,’ there was a lump in her throat and a suspicious stinging in her eyes as she answered. She helped him to sit up and he looked about, as she had done, trying to take stock of where they were.

   ‘Any idea who the rescue party is?’ he asked.

   ‘I have only just woken up, I have no idea where we are, I only know that it is definitely not the Black Star or any other vessel of the Resistance fleet.’

   ‘Do you think you can stand?’

   She nodded and they helped each other up, stumbling a little, clinging to one another. The semi-darkness didn’t allow them to see very far and so they began to take a few tentative steps forwards. Almost immediately it became brighter and they found that they were standing inside a large, empty, chamber, the walls had a strange, reddish patina that shifted and changed as they looked at it. There was a low humming in the air and Sheridan could have sworn that he felt pulsations as though the place they were standing in had a heartbeat. Then, ahead of them, a hole appeared in a wall; a ray of brilliant light broke through and the opening widened. They both raised their hands, shielding their eyes from the intensity. It increased to a point where Sheridan was sure that they would both be permanently blinded, and then it decreased. He heard Delenn gasp next to him and when he looked he felt his jaw drop. All of the information, all of the research had not prepared him for the beings that stood in front of him now. Two Vorlons in encounter suits were standing in front of the opening.

   ‘Did you receive our messages?’ Sheridan asked.

   There was silence; it was if he hadn’t spoken.

   ‘Do you know why we are here?’ Delenn’s voice was subdued.

   Again, silence for a few moments, and then a low, musical sound filled the air and a quiet voice said:

   ‘Why?’

   Sheridan felt a stab of irritation, ‘Do you mean why are we here, or why are we asking if you know why?’

   ‘Yes.’

   He and Delenn exchanged glances: they weren’t even sure which Vorlon was speaking.

   ‘The Shadows have been attacking our people,’ Sheridan began, ‘everyone in the Galaxy. We think we know why; there are two opposing forces at the beginning of all this. The Shadows…and you.’

   Not a movement, not a sound.

   You helped my people during the last great war with the Shadows,’ Delenn said, ‘and then retreated to your home world. But the Shadows have returned and this time the threat is far greater. We know that this is a struggle about two conflicting ideologies but none of our races wish to be dominated by either.’

   ‘All we’re asking is that you come with us and face the Shadows – settle this between yourselves and leave us out of it.’

   To Sheridan’s utter disbelief, the Vorlons turned and began to move back through the opening. The anger that had been building up in Sheridan ever since their ordeal in the life pod suddenly exploded. He released his hold on Delenn and charged after the Vorlons.

   ‘Now just you wait a minute,’ his voice sounded harsh and strained, ‘this isn’t even our war; we’ve just been caught up in the middle. You leave us until we’re half dead before you deign to show up and now you don’t even have the courage to finish something that you started!’ He grabbed hold of one of them; the glowing light on the front of its encounter suit flashed a brilliant red and Sheridan felt as if a huge burst of electricity had grabbed him around the throat and was pinning him against the wall.

   ‘What have you done?’ Delenn shouted at them, rushing toward Sheridan; but a terrible pain shot through her as the Vorlon turned its anger on her and she fell to the floor.

   ‘Silence!’ the voice was louder, threatening.

   They were released from the agonising grip and gasped for air.

   ‘You’ll have to do better than that,’ Sheridan growled between gritted teeth, and was rewarded with another blast, this time more intense.

   ‘Stop this,’ Delenn staggered to her feet, ‘don’t you see that we need your help? You owe us that!’ she landed heavily on her knees as the agonising blast ripped through her. The second Vorlon, which had been standing in the shadows, watching, moved forward and faced its colleague: a beam of light passed between them. Then their tormentor turned back to them and they both heard, very clearly, the single word:

   ‘Learn.’

   Delenn felt darkness close around her: darkness and cold, as though she had been sucked into space and for the first time in her life she felt terror. Deep, ancient terror that seemed to come from her ancestors, gathering power down the generations until its full force twined itself around her brain and attacked her soul. There was a humming all around her; layers of sound rising and falling as if there were many beings involved in a long conversation. A brilliant light suddenly formed a pool around her, but she couldn’t see anything beyond it – all she knew was that Sheridan was no longer with her and she had never felt so completely alone before.

   ‘It must be very gratifying,’ a cold, hard voice spoke to her out of the darkness, ‘heading an army, thousands of people laying down their lives at your slightest whim.’

   ‘I don’t enjoy sending people to their deaths,’ she tried to keep the tremor out of her voice but every breathe she took was like inhaling the cold, empty air of a tomb. ‘We try to prevent unnecessary deaths.’

   ‘But you do lead them, don’t you? DON’T YOU?’ the word were thundered out and once again she was crippled by an excruciating pain. It was as if her body was being torn apart from the inside and she could feel her brain hammering against her skull.

   ‘It is,’ she gasped when the release came and she was able to speak again, ‘it is not…what I wanted…it is the position I have ended up in –‘ her words were cut off and over the seething, crackling noise of the blast that was consuming her she could hear a terrible, high-pitched sound full of pain that she soon realised was her own screams.

   ‘Do not try to absolve yourself of responsibility by claiming you have no control over and no part in the shaping of your own destiny,’ at the edge of the circle of light, Delenn could now make out a tall, hooded figure that was staring down at her. She could not tell what species it was, but only knew that it wasn’t Vorlon and the fact that it kept itself covered angered her. He dared to do this to her but did not have the courage to allow her to see his face.

   ‘I only meant that it was not my ambition to reach that position,’ there was defiance in her tone as she stood up, ‘I will take full responsibility for my actions – I will never ask anyone else to do that.’

   There was a cold hollow laugh and when he spoke again his voice had an oily, unctuous quality, as though he were trying to explain something to a small child.

   ‘But you are asking the Vorlon to do exactly that.’

   ‘We are asking you to resolve a fight that was caused by their conflict with the Shadows. We have just been caught in the middle!’

   Something like a whip of hard, white light hit her full in the face, searing across her cheek.

   ‘You presume too much, Satai Delenn,’ he spoke her title with heavy sarcasm. The light around her began to fade and the humming noise grew louder, pressing against her ears.

   ‘Where is Sheridan?’ she spoke into the cold darkness, her voice rising as the icy terror gripped her again. ‘What have you done with him?’

   -----

   He couldn’t move. His arms were outstretched so far that his shoulders were in danger of dislocating, there was only the one voice but it came from every direction at once and the light directly in his eyes prevented him from seeing anything else.

   ‘Who are you to demand anything of us?’

   ‘Someone you’ve had doing your fighting for you –‘ the lash of burning light struck him so hard that his head cracked against the wall behind him.

   ‘Your arrogance will cost you dearly,’ the voice was low and rasping and Sheridan was reminded of an agonised death rattle. ‘And what a hero you could be! Bringing the Vorlon fleet with you!’

   ‘If it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else…someone else would have figured out what was going on and come here.’

   ‘Oh come now,’ the voice affected a tone of amiability, ‘you don’t give yourself credit; shouldering all of that responsibility and working it all out! How your soldiers will adore you for that. You love it,’ the whip hit him again. ‘You love the way they follow you,’ and again. ‘While you play at modesty you make sure that they – idolize – you!’ Between every word the blast slammed into his face; on the final stroke he felt something burst in the front of his head and the next moment something warm and sticky was oozing out of his nose and filling his mouth. He spat out the blood.

   ‘I’m here to try and save lives! I don’t want anyone’s adulation, I just want to stop another ten thousand people being killed.’

   There was a long silence during which Sheridan tried, vainly, to put his head back and stem the flow of blood; he could feel some of it running down his chin onto his shirt.

   ‘There was still oxygen in that canister you know. Why did you leave it?’

   ‘I left it for Delenn,’ his voice was hoarse

   ‘Ah! Commendable. An EarthForce officer lays down his life for a Minbari Satai – how grateful they would be to your people. Quite a large favour to repay and how they would praise you for it; you, who are not even the same race as her.’

   Sheridan forced himself to stay silent, more than anything else this insinuation angered him and he refused to answer, even biting his own tongue to stop himself.

   ‘Answer me, Sheridan. ANSWER!’ This time the pain came from the bonds around his wrists and it was like having a thousand electric currents passed through him, his mouth opened but the agony was so intense that no sound could come out. His lungs stopped working and for a second he could feel his heart stop. The torture ceased and there was a painful lurch in his chest as his heart started beating again.

   ‘Why did you do it?’

   ‘Because I didn’t want her to die,’ his voice was hoarse.

   ‘WHY?’ his torturer yelled, striking him in the face.

   ‘JUST BECAUSE I DIDN’T!’ he yelled back.

   ‘Touching.’

   ‘Let her go. Delenn shouldn’t be a part of this – it was my idea to come here in the first place.’

   ‘And she can tell the story of Sheridan the martyr…’ the voice said, soulfully. On the last word a short burst from the manacles shot through him.

   ‘Not for that…just so that she’ll live.’

   ‘Why is that so important to you?’

   Sheridan stared directly into the glaring light, and for a split second he saw her lovely face in perfect detail.

   ‘I don’t have to answer your questions.’

   -----

   Her lungs were burning with lack of oxygen, the pounding in her head threatened to shatter her skull and there was a bitter, metallic, taste in her mouth. The blue-white light was burning her and she knew, quite certainly, that she was going to die. The torment eased and she was able to breathe again, but as she gulped the air, something seemed to tear in her chest and she began coughing and choking on the violent spasms. She wiped her mouth and recoiled when she saw the blood on her hand.

   ‘You’ve failed, Delenn. Your pride has led you to this; your belief in your own moral correctness has brought you here and you have failed in your proclaimed cause, but they will always celebrate your name.’

   There…will…be…others,’ the effort to speak was almost unendurable. Almost.

   ‘And what if they succeed where you have failed? What if they get your glory?’

   ‘Then all of our people will be saved! That is all that matters!’ another spasm prevented her from saying anymore. There was a long silence. ‘They will kill me now,’ she thought, ‘they will kill me and then someone else will take my place – let them succeed where I have failed. Let Sheridan succeed where I have failed.’

   As if he had been able to read her mind, the voice came: ‘If you give him to us, we will let you go – you will get everything that you want.’

   ‘What?’ she could hardly believe what she was hearing; they could not honestly mean…

   ‘Give us Sheridan, tell us that we can do what we like with him and you can have everything that you want. The fame, the glory, the Vorlon fleet behind you. All you have to do is give us this one life.’

   They had questioned everything, her position, her beliefs, everything, until she had begun to doubt the rightness of it herself and had seen herself as a weak, insignificant creature. And now they promised her everything in return for sacrificing one man. All of the strength that had been drained out of her throughout this ordeal suddenly came rushing back, more powerful than ever and she felt no doubts whatsoever. For the last time she dragged herself to her feet, and felt the Universe circulating around her as she stared beyond the light, out into the eternal darkness.

   ‘You can do what you like with me,’ she said, her eyes glowing in proud defiance, ‘you can stand over my body and hold my heart in your hand, but you will never have the one part of me that you really want. We will never submit.’

   -----

   The grip around his throat relaxed and he swallowed painfully, relieved that the sensation that his eyeballs were about to explode had lessened. The light that had been directed into his eyes vanished and there was nothing but darkness. The sudden, total absence of light, and the cold that penetrated his bones was worse than the torture. He wondered how long they would leave him alone this time; probably until that nameless dread that assailed him in this blackness had driven him irrevocably insane. ‘And then they’ll probably space me,’ he thought, ‘And I’ll be so crazy I probably won’t even notice that they’re doing it.’ Then, some distance away, he saw Delenn. She was standing in the middle of a pool of light, erect, defiant. And then a blaze of crackling green light hit her and he saw her stagger, raise her arms in a useless attempt to stave off the attack.

   ‘LEAVE HER!’ he shouted. ‘She hasn’t done anything to you, just leave her alone!’ he struggled against his bonds, but they tightened; biting into his flesh.

   ‘There’s no point in trying to save her,’ that grating, empty, voice was close to his ear. ‘It will do you no good – it will end your life and that will serve no purpose. You can gain nothing by trying to save her…her life isn’t more important to you than saving the entire Galaxy!’

   She was hit again, this time the blast was brighter, more concentrated, he could see her face contort in agony and hear her screaming. None of it mattered: not the war, nor what he had hoped to gain from this encounter, nor his part in any of it. The only thing that mattered was that she shouldn’t die. They could do what they liked with him, anything, just as long as she was left alone.

   ‘Let her go, take me instead!’ he was yelling it over and over – the bonds tightening around him, but he still strained against them. He was being ripped apart but it didn’t matter. She was on her knees now – one more blast would kill her and he had to get to her. He could feel the skin tearing around his wrists and then suddenly he was free. He ran toward her, he saw the dim glow of green ahead of him as whatever it was powered up for one last, fatal, assault and then it turned to a burning red. He flung himself at her, shielding her and there was a deafening roar.

   -----

   His vision was blurred; it took a few moments before he was able to focus on his surroundings and it was a few moments after that, that his brain told him that it wasn’t possible. He was in the life pod.

   ‘I’m sorry that you had to go through all of that, son.’

   Sheridan spun around and felt almost dizzy from sheer disbelief.

   ‘Dad?’

   ‘We had to be sure, you see…sure that you were the right ones,’ he smiled apologetically.

   ‘I…I don’t understand. What are you doing here?’ It looked like his father. It sounded like his father.

   ‘This is our place, son, we’ve always been here. All of us: you, me, Delenn – this is what is meant to be. You were right about us, there are a lot of folks here who don’t think I should be saying that to you, but it’s true. It just isn’t the right time.’

   ‘When is the right time?’ Sheridan asked softly.

   ‘You’ll know when.’

   ‘So what are we supposed to do until then?’

   ‘There are a lot of things that are going to happen to you…a lot of changes,’ he stopped, deep in thought and there was such an infinity of pain and loss in his eyes that Sheridan wondered how anyone could live with it. ‘Some of it you’ll have to face by yourself, John, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be alone. Remember that – never alone!’

   Images burst into his mind and he closed his eyes, concentrating on them: a huge triangle of light joined three points in the Galaxy and then it shrunk, the whole Universe contracting until it was the size of a marble. Delenn was holding it in the palm of her hand and then she turned and held it out towards him. As Sheridan took hold of her hand and the glowing ball he looked up and saw Sinclair standing on a balcony; he was looking down at them, smiling. Sheridan opened his eyes: he was in the life pod, but this time Delenn was standing next to him and there were tears rolling down her cheeks. The hatch the led into the pod was open and just beyond it, standing motionless, was the Vorlon. It was the one that had been standing in the shadows, watching its colleague, when they had first been on board.

   ‘What is your name?’ Delenn asked, her voice trembling slightly.

   There came that low, musical sound; and a voice that was like a soft wind sighing through the trees.

   ‘Kosh.’

   The hatch suddenly closed and sealed itself and the next moment they had been ejected from the Vorlon ship. Both Sheridan and Delenn stared at the view screen – neither of them had ever seen a ship that could convey such beauty and such terror at the same time. The sense of something ancient and dangerous emanated from it; it looked like a huge, living organism and their eyes couldn’t quite stay focused on it, their brains couldn’t quite take in what they were seeing. And then it was gone. Only then did Sheridan realise that his whole body was aching, he felt as if every bone had been removed and there was no strength left in him. Delenn was leaning heavily against a console; her face was white and drained. Their eyes met and, as if by agreement, they summoned up the last of their strength and fell into each other’s arms.

   ‘Are you all right?’ he could have wept with the relief of feeling her in his arms. She was alive! Trembling, exhausted, but alive.

   She looked into his eyes and then took his face in her hands: the touch of her cool fingers on his burning temples brought a small sigh from his lips.

   ‘Yes. Are you?’ he looked unutterable weary, but his arms were firm around her and he was looking at her as if she was the only thing that mattered in the entire Universe.

   ‘I am now I know that you’re ok!’ He lowered his face to hers so that their foreheads rested together and then their embrace tightened; Delenn buried his face in his shoulder and felt her legs give way beneath her. Sheridan tried to hold her up, but he could barely stand himself, and they sank to the floor. Sheridan pulled them across so that he was resting against the wall, but kept Delenn held to him, her head pillowed on his chest. She had both her arms around his waist. Neither could have said how long they stayed like that, but after so much pain and such mind-numbing fear, it felt like heaven. Delenn couldn’t have moved had her life depended on it as every muscle screamed with agony at the smallest gesture…and the sound of Sheridan’s strong, steady heartbeat was starting to lull her to sleep.

   ‘Do you know what happened?’ he asked softly. She didn’t raise her head and her voice was barely above a whisper, as if she didn’t want to disturb the peace.

   ‘No. They wanted me to give you to them, they said that I could have everything I wanted if I did…but nothing was worth that. I refused and the next thing I knew I was here.’

   He shifted slightly, she couldn’t see him, but she knew that he was frowning.

   ‘But they were killing you, I saw them. You were in a pool of light and they kept firing this…it looked like green electricity at you. They said not to bother trying to save you, but I had to…’ he cupped her chin in his hand and raised her face to his so that he was looking into her eyes. ‘I had to save you, Delenn. Nothing else mattered except…except that you were alive. I didn’t care about anything else, I would have done anything to keep you alive…’ his voice had dropped lower; the look in his eyes was tender and passionate as he gently traced the line of her cheek with his finger.

   ‘Why were you crying?’

   ‘The Vorlon, Kosh, he appeared to me as my father…’ she smiled sadly and lowered her eyes. Sheridan didn’t pry any further – if Delenn wanted to talk about it then she would tell him when she was ready. She shivered and he held her even more closely to him, her battered silk dress felt thin under his hands. He dislodged her from her position against him and struggled to get his jacket off – even the simple movement of getting the sleeves down his arms resulted in shooting pains across his shoulders. Delenn helped him, not sure of what he was doing, and when he wrapped the jacket around her she began to object.

   ‘You’ll be freezing,’ she said, attempting to extricate herself from the heavy folds, ‘you need to keep warm.’

   ‘I’m fine,’ he replied. ‘Besides, as long as you stay right here, you’ll keep me warm.’ There was a hint of shyness in his voice as he held out his arms to her and Delenn felt as though some one had kindled a fire inside of her as she snuggled against him.

   ‘Thank-you, Captain Sheridan,’ she murmured a little indistinctly.

   ‘After everything that’s happened, I really think that you can start calling me by my first name.’

   ‘All right…John.’ No one had ever said his name in quite that way before – in a way that made his heart beat faster and sent the blood rushing to his head so that he could hardly breathe. Breathe?

   ‘Nice of them to give us some oxygen,’ he said, realising that the Vorlons must have replenished their supplies before releasing them.

   ‘It’s the least they could do,’ she murmured.

    He began tracing the lines of her head crest; it was hard like bone, but was warm and had a slightly velvety feel.

   ‘Can you feel that?’ he asked, trying to imagine the sensation.

   She smiled. ‘Not really, I can feel vibrations,’ she sighed as his fingers touched the blue hued skin on her head at the base of her crest. At that moment the lights on the consoles began to flash furiously and a voice came over the comm. system.

   ‘Captain Sheridan, Satai Delenn, this is the Black Star, please respond,’ there was a moment’s silence and then the message began again. For a minute they lay perfectly still, looking into each other’s eyes, and then with a huge effort they dragged themselves to their feet and reached the console – Delenn activated the view screen and Neroon appeared, the relief at finding them obvious in his features.

   ‘We’ve been trying to find you for days, but something was scrambling our scanners and communication system. We have locked onto your co-ordinates,’ he said, ‘as soon as we drop out of Hyperspace we’ll pick you up. Was the mission successful?’

   ‘It was…educational,’ Delenn replied.

   No ship had ever looked as beautiful as the Black Star did then, coming through the jump point, and this time Sheridan didn’t feel the slightest intimidation as they were swallowed up by the gaping mouth of the docking bay.

   ‘You should have this back,’ Delenn slipped his jacket off her shoulders and held it out to him; concern flashed across her features as he winced putting it on.

   ‘You went through so much,’ she said softly, stroking the side of his face.

   ‘We both did, remember?’ he said and caught hold of her hand; still looking into her eyes he raised it to his lips. She felt a thrill at the feel of that soft kiss on her skin. Then he slipped an arm around her waist and they both turned to face the hatch that was starting to open.

   -----

   ‘So that’s it? We can’t count on them as Allies?’ Garibaldi flung the report on the table and leaned back in his chair. ‘And just who the hell do they think they are anyway? Not for them just to say “No”, they have to half kill the pair of you and then say “No”!’

   ‘They did not actually say “No”, Commander,’ Delenn was faintly amused by Garibaldi’s indignation. ‘They said that the time is not right…they will come, eventually.’

   She looked over at Sheridan, he nodded his agreement.

   ‘Any idea when that might be?’ Sinclair watched them both.

   ‘Not yet; apparently we’ll know when the right time is.’ Sheridan replied. He had put the vision of his father in the report, but had left out the strange images that had filled his head afterwards – he wasn’t sure why, but it just seemed the right thing to do. Sinclair looked down at the report again and then back to their faces.

   ‘I think you two should see the doctor again, just to be on the safe side…’

   Sheridan shook his head vehemently. ‘No way. We were looked over by the Minbari physicians on the Black Star, we were looked over by Franklin when we got back and if I have to look at another doctor again anytime in the next year, I’ll take the whole of Med Lab hostage with a PPG.’

   ‘And I’ll help!’ Delenn added silently.

   They had been surrounded by people ever since their rescue by the Black Star and had had little opportunity to talk together and since their arrival back at the HQ they had been examined and re-examined by Franklin before being debriefed by Sinclair and Garibaldi. Sheridan would have given anything for ten minutes alone with her: they had treated one another with a professional detachment when in public; trying to protect the intimacy they had shared from prying eyes.

   ‘Well, if you’re sure you’re ok I suppose that there isn’t anything else for the moment,’ Sinclair closed the folder – there was something that they weren’t telling him, and he didn’t know whether to be worried about it or not. ‘I suggest that we convene a War Meeting tomorrow and begin co-ordinate our new defence strategy. I’ve put the relevant information on these crystals for you,’ he handed one to Sheridan and another to Delenn.

   ‘Thank-you, Captain. Unfortunately, I will not be attending the meeting tomorrow. I am leaving for Minbar this evening…in a few hours, in fact…on the Black Star, but Shai Alyt Neroon will take my place here so I will pass this on to him,’ she spoke calmly, but she could feel Sheridan’s eyes burning into her.

   ‘I’m sorry Satai,’ Sinclair answered, ‘you’ve been a great asset here; we’ll miss you.’

   She smiled. ‘Thank-you, Captain. I hope to return quite soon.’

   ‘Is it something serious?’ Sheridan asked when he could trust himself to speak. She turned to face him now; her eyes were full of longing.

   ‘I hope not; it is an internal, political, matter; but as I am Satai I have to be there to help settle it. But I am sure that you will find Neroon to be a satisfactory replacement,’ a look of mischief spread over her face and for that moment Sheridan was sure that he had never seen anyone who looked less like a government official. ‘As long as you don’t try to kill one another this time!’

   ‘Have you been fighting our own allies, Captain?’ Garibaldi asked.

   ‘It’s a long story, Michael, I’ll tell you later,’ he just about managed a smile. ‘Dammit, I can’t just say good-bye to her now!’ he tried to catch her eye again, but she was looking away – and she was leaving this evening!

   They all stood and Sheridan felt like committing a murder when Sinclair held him back, giving him extra information, inviting him to dinner. His heart sank as, while Sinclair was talking, Delenn left.

   ‘Yeah, fine, Jeff…I’ll see you later, ok?’ he said, finally managing to get away, and almost ran out of the room. Where would she go? Her quarters? He started towards them and then another thought struck him, he turned back and headed toward the garden. The low lighting and the gloomy recesses of the garden gave it a certain melancholy feel, the only flash of colour came from the light hitting the bright silk of her robes as she moved.

   ‘I thought you’d be here,’ he had stood for a while behind her, taking in the regal set of her shoulders, the graceful curve of her head bone. Delenn turned and immediately that smile lit up her face – the smile that was like the sun chasing mist away. She had been waiting for him to come to her and her heart was aching from the joy of seeing him here and from the bitterness of having to leave him so soon.

   ‘I knew that you would come for me,’ she said. He came towards her and before he had even thought about it he had put his arms around her waist. Delenn stepped closer to him and rested her hands on his chest.

   ‘I can’t believe that you’re leaving already…why didn’t you tell me before?’

   ‘I have only just found out myself,’ she replied, ‘I wish…I wish that I could stay here, but often what we want and what we have to do are two very different things. I am needed at home, and that is more important than what my desires are.’

   ‘What are your desires, Delenn?’ ‘Please, God, let them be what I think they are!’ he prayed fervently. It was odd, he thought, that the first prayer he had said for years should be that this woman should feel even a tenth of what he felt for her.

   ‘I want to know you, John,’ her directness was disarming. ‘I want to know your mind and your soul and every part of you.’

   ‘And the angels sang Halleluiahs unto the heavens…’

   ‘We have been through too much together to be apart now.’

   ‘Delenn, I’m just afraid that if you go now I’ll never see you again,’ there was such tenderness in his eyes as he said these words that Delenn felt a lump rise in her throat.

   ‘You will always see me,’ she was breathing hard, ‘and I will always carry you with me.’

   Her eyes had turned a darker green and Sheridan felt as if he would be lost in their depths, but out of those depths he found strength. He could do anything! Anything in the world, as long as she looked at him like that. With one hand he traced the line from her temple along her jaw until he held her chin in his hand. Then, very slowly so as not to startle her, he lowered his face to hers, gently tilting her head to one side. He was still looking into her eyes and was overjoyed to see trust, excitement and something that he could hardly dare call love, shining out of them. He was so close now that her face swam out of focus, so he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His lips brushed hers so gently that it was barely felt, but her hands slipped away from his chest and she buried them in the short hair at the back of his neck. He increased the pressure and he felt her lips begin to mimic the ones his own were making. He moved his hand to the back of her head, stroking the hard ridges while his other arm pulled her closer to him; he could feel her heart beating wildly against his chest. Delenn moaned slightly as she felt him run his tongue gently along her lips and she instinctively parted them. Sheridan hesitated for a second and then slid his tongue into her mouth; she caressed the back of his neck with her thumbs and they both felt a jolt, like electricity shooting through them, as their tongues touched, and then twirled around each other. He began to lessen the intensity and bestowed a series of soft kisses on her lips before pulling away and looking into her eyes.

   ‘If you do that again,’ she said, her breathing uneven, ‘I may not be able to get on the ship at all.’ They met in another kiss that was even more tender, more passionate than the first.

   ‘I can’t bare to let you go, not now that I’ve found you,’ he traced the contour of her jaw line with warm, soft kisses before catching her lips in his again.

   ‘I have to go,’ she spoke softly, stroking his face, memorising the look of him, the feel of him. ‘But I will return as soon as is possible.’

   He smiled then and his blue eyes sparkled. ‘Good, because if you don’t I’ll go all the way to Minbar to get you!’

   Delenn laughed and Sheridan felt his insides turn to water – how did she manage to look flirtatious and innocent at the same time?

   ‘You and whose army?’ she asked. He laughed out loud at her use of this Human expression.

   ‘Me and the whole damned White Star fleet, that’s who!’ he tightened his hold on her. ‘And I’d like to see anyone try to stop me.’ They held each other’s gaze for a long time before Delenn rested her head on his shoulder, her lips brushing against his neck.

   ‘I have never cared for anyone this deeply before,’ she almost whispered the words.

   ‘Neither have I,’ he answered, and knew that it was absolutely true. No one had ever touched him the way Delenn had; it was as though she had penetrated his very soul and he couldn’t imagine the rest of his life without her in it. It was some minutes before he realised that his link was chiming softly; he sighed regretfully and released her.

   ‘Captain, the Black Star is standing by for Satai Delenn to go aboard before departing.’

   ‘I suppose that’s their discreet way of telling us to hurry up,’ he traced the contours of her face with his finger. ‘I’m not going to say good-bye – that always sounds too permanent. I just wish that I could think of something to say that doesn’t sound trivial or just plain stupid!’

   ‘Then perhaps it is best not to say anything at all.’ Delenn placed one hand over her heart and the other over his and smiled as he imitated her gestures and bowed towards her. She could feel his breath on her cheek and closed her eyes as she inhaled his clean, spicy, scent. Delenn wasn’t aware of anyone or anything else around her after that: as they walked, side by side, through the dimly lit corridors she didn’t notice the people who passed them; standing in the docking bay she was aware that part of her was responding to Sinclair’s words of farewell, but she didn’t hear a word of what was being said. Delenn reached the shuttle door and then turned back – all that she could see was that tall, proud figure and even from that distance she could feel his eyes on her, burning into her with their intensity. Even when the shuttle doors closed and they were soaring through the stars, his face swam before her eyes. Something had been set in stone, and there could be no turning back.



 

*****

 

 

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