The first time he sees her is the first time he's shocked into silence, and not for a bad reason either.
She is wearing a white robe under a white cape. The second she lowers the hood from her head, John realizes why: hair, brown, long, wavy hair. Not even in his wildest dreams has John ever pictured a Minbari with hair. The external skull bone is still there, albeit smaller, but she has hair.
Ambassadors G'Kar and Mollari are both in a stupor too. He hasn't known either of them long enough to read their reactions, but there's no doubt in his mind that they're never both silent at the same time, not when they are in a room together, and yet they are both standing there, their mouths just as agape as John's, gawking at Ambassador Delenn in what is a most unambassadorial fashion.
That's when he knows he's witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime event.
He fought and killed members of Delenn's race; he was appointed spokesman for humanity to try and find a peaceful solution to the war and was captured as a result; his life was spared by a Minbari whose identity he is, to this day, obsessing over. However, not once in the thirteen years he has been dealing with the Minbari has he thought about one of them being so human.
She is beautiful. That's the first thought that drifts through John's mind as he sees her.
He doesn't remember ever being attracted to an alien woman - let alone a Minbari - before, but by the looks on Ambassadors Mollari and G'kar's faces he thinks he is not the only one in the room who notices her beauty.
John has never been so glad not to be alone in a room with a woman; the interference of the other two ambassadors help both in disguising his complete awe and his embarrassment. He is speechless, completely and utterly, but at least he isn't the only one.
The reason she gives as motivation behind her change only helps in cementing his esteem for her. She has single-handedly taken it upon herself to build a ladder to overcome a wall made of thousands of dead bodies.
It's then and there that John realizes nothing about this woman will ever stop surprising him.
The first time they seek comfort in each other's arms is also the first time she calls him 'John'. He has known her for ten months and their relationship has grown to something akin to friendship.
He says 'akin' because it's both something less and something more. He knows he is attracted to her, and not just physically. He knows because he feels guilty every time he tries to think about the two of them together, and that is what makes their relationship a little less than friendship, that and the fact that they have jobs restrictions to abide to.
Then again, every time he finds her - or she finds him - in the gardens in what by now has become their spot, he thinks the universe could consist of her alone and he would be happy for the rest of eternity.
Every thought he has regarding her is conflicted, but there's nothing conflicting about the way she is holding on to him now, surrounded by death. She is not yet in shock; that'll kick in in a little while. For now there's only desperation.
All his instincts are pushing him to shelter her, and he doesn't care about the audience around them. If his arms can help keep the living nightmare away, he is willing to stand there for as long as it takes. If calling him by his first name is what keeps her anchored to life than he just hopes she calls to him until she has no more voice.
He realized his feelings for her were too profound to suffocate the moment she requested to go into the isolation chamber. He wanted her to stay with him because he was afraid of losing her.
He has already lost Anna.
As he holds Delenn in his arms, he thinks about the ghost of his wife, about how much he would like to at least share one last embrace with her, if only to properly say goodbye.
He thinks about Delenn's words to him before she left his quarters. He can't find any of that confidence as she quivers in his arms, but John knows it'll be back sooner than it should.
Gently, he steers her away from the death chamber. He doesn't loosen his hold on her even as he changes it.
He notices Lennier's worried glance land on Delenn, and John wonders at the Aide's commitment. He has faced death with no other purpose than to be at his teacher's side. John feels ashamed as he watches the young Minbari. What right does he have to shelter Delenn from an experience he didn't have the guts to face himself, while Lennier watches? Why is he entitled to her affections when all his actions betray his inability to commit to her the way she deserves, while Lennier is always ready to lay his life at her feet? The truth is, he has absolutely no idea. But then again, when have feelings ever made sense?
The first time they kiss it's in front of her people, on a ship, in space. She has just gifted him with a chance to fight a war he still doesn't understand but knows he has to lead. He has spent the better part of a month inside the War Room, barely resting, scarcely eating and never shaving.
He was about to give up, too, but she helped him find reason and gave him a fighting chance, and with people he only just met telling him what he already knows - that she loves him - and no words to thank her for everything she has done, leaning down to meet her lips halfway seems like the sensible thing to do.
He has known her for nearly two years, and though her people view him as a killer and his people view her as a freak and an insult to the memory of millions dead, he can't stop thinking about how good her lips taste on his and how much he'd want everything else to just fade in the background.
She tastes like home, and when it's over he leans his forehead on hers and stares in her eyes until she's smiling just as much as he is.
He remembers the first time she smiled like this, over dinner, as he narrated some inane story about a cat - the craziest and fakest tale he's ever known. John has never been much of a storyteller, but he is sure he could have become a better bard than Shakespeare right that instant just to see that smile light Delenn's face for a while longer. He had wanted to kiss her in front of her quarters that night, but thoughts of Anna had still been too strong.
He had liked Delenn even then, but in a way he's happy they waited until now, because since that first date - which wasn't a real date because she didn't even know what the word 'date' meant and her invitation to dinner was a way to gauge whether or not he was ready to fight an enemy who's been preparing this war for the past thousand years - he has come to know her, really know her, and the kiss he could have shared with her that night would have paled in comparison to this one. He didn't love her back then, but he does love her now, even if he'll still need a little while to say it out loud.
The first time she says that they're going to spend the night together, they're about to leave for a battle. He's been fantasizing about her for a while and his eyes widen in disbelief because he's about to go into combat and he can't think about what she might feel like under his fingers. His eyes widen in disbelief because he's never known Minbari to be that straightforward, but he's not about to complain either. His eyes widen in disbelief because they shared their first kiss less than a week ago, and it has taken them two years to get that far, so he didn't expect to hit a homer quite that fast.
He should have known better, of course, but when she smiles at him and tells him "not like that" he doesn't really care that he misinterpreted the meaning behind her words. It gives him hope that "like that" is going to happen, at least, and, granted, he could probably use a cold shower as he follows her out the door, but at least he knows the response time 'downstairs' is still good.
The battle doesn't go extremely well, but it does go a long way towards boosting the troop's morale. Which he thinks is crazy, really, because for each enemy ship destroyed they lost two of their own as he succinctly tells Garibaldi once they're back on the station, but it's also understandable since the Shadows fled the battlefield. At least he knows for sure now that everyone will follow him into fire.
He thinks of Kosh even as he embraces Delenn, seeking the comfort of her arms. He thinks of the dream in which Kosh appeared to him in the form of David Sheridan and told him that it was necessary. Kosh had been scared of dying, but he had died anyway. John was scared too, but he wasn't scared of dying. He was scared of failing. He thinks of Kosh's sacrifice and decides that if this war is going to be won someone else might have to do something just as heroic as the Vorlon. He thinks it's going to be soon, and he's going to be the one doing the sacrifice. He thinks he doesn't care as long as he gets to save billions of people throughout the galaxy.
Delenn's strength anchors him to reality and gives him more than just hope for the future, she gives him a reason to keep fighting, to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Seeing Franklin giving orders from a wheelchair inspires John a little further. They have lost a lot today, but they've equally gained things they didn't have before: confidence and trust. And hope. More than anything else they need hope.
When he reaches his quarters, Delenn is there already, and before either of them can say anything he takes her face in his hands and kisses her with the desperation of a man holding on to dear life. He has the ominous feeling that something is going to happen soon that will take them apart. He's not sure what exactly that is, but he is scared enough that he pours his soul inside that kiss.
He doesn't know whether or not what he just did is in violation of the ritual they are about to start - or maybe already started since that's how much he knows about Minbari rituals. Either way, she doesn't say anything, just takes his face in her hands once they come apart for air and gives him all of her strength without his needing to ask.
She gives him all the space he needs to prepare for sleep. When he is about to put on the old t-shirt he usually wears to bed, he decides not to and raises the temperature in the room instead. He isn't twenty anymore, and he probably could have really lost those ten pounds Franklin had insisted on not long after he had arrived on Babylon 5, but he wants to show Delenn he trusts her in the most intimate way, and this is the only way he knows how that shouldn't break any rule in the sleep-watching ritual.
Of course now that the temperature is higher, she is overdressed. He lends her one of his robes and tells her to use the bathroom to change. He's standing there with a pair of shorts and nothing else on him, and she decides to remove her outer robe in front of him. He watches intently which straps does what, hoping it'll come in handy sooner rather than later, and then he steps inside her personal space and leans down to kiss her again, slowly this time, without rush or urgency.
He feels her lips smile against his and he knows what she's about to say, and he grins when she does say it.
"You are supposed to sleep."
Every other woman he's been with in his life, he would have answered that there were other things he'd much rather be doing. He'd much rather be doing those things with Delenn too, but he doesn't say it because respecting her is more important than taking pleasure in seeing her blush. He doesn't remember ever being so patient with a woman, but then again he doesn't remember a woman who's been as patient with him as Delenn either. He knows she has done the most waiting in their relationship, and he enjoys her company enough that he doesn't need to take the physical side of their rapport further to be with her completely.
He gives her one last, quick kiss on the forehead and then he steps into bed. He falls asleep promptly, the day's events catching up to him, and when he wakes up the world crumbles beneath his feet.
The first time she says "I love you", he wants to turn around, and he wants to cry, and he wants to say it back. Instead he walks away.
It's been one of those days, if 'one of those days' entails finding out your five-years-dead wife isn't quite dead, has hidden on the homeworld of your enemies for as long as you've known her to be dead, and has returned just as you had allowed yourself to start loving someone else. It's been 'one of those days' if 'one of those days' entails knowing that whoever's inhabiting your (dead) wife's body isn't your wife, but you'll pretend it's her anyway because that's the kind of thing you do when the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance. It's been 'one of those days' if 'one of those days' entails finding out that the woman you love loves you back, but she also would have betrayed the trust you showed her when you put your life in her hands, by not placing that same trust in you - and you know she would have been right in not doing so. It's been 'one of those days' if 'one of those days' entails realizing that you can choose between Anna and Delenn, and you choose Delenn only to walk away as she tells you she loves you.
Despite the day he is having, John realizes he still trusts Delenn with his heart and with the truth. So before he leaves to Z'ha'dum to bomb the Shadow's home planet, he leaves her a message at the end of which he does say "I love you". He thinks, all things considered, that should be the least important part of that message. He hopes that's the part she'll never forget.
The whole trip to Z'ha'dum is a big exercise in diplomacy: fake smiles and fake promises all mixed with a good dose of lies and deceit. Susan would learn a lot from this trip, Delenn would look at him a little hurt that he would resort to this treachery. Then again, maybe she wouldn't; Minbari do not lie, unless it is to save another. He's trying to save a whole damned planet.
He just wish he'd be there to see her face, the first time she heard him say "I love you", but she's kissed him, in a future that he's sure isn't his any longer, as a wife kisses her husband, and he thinks that's enough to last him the short lifetime ahead.
Anna looks at him and he forces out a smile. The old Anna would have known; this one just smiles back.
The first time he sees her, after coming back from the dead, he knows nothing is the same. Later on they'll tell him that she hadn't slept or eaten for more than a week after knowing of his departure - not because she thought he was dead, but because she blamed herself for everything that had led him away. Right now, however, he knows she looks haggard and insecure. He's never seen her like this before: not when she stood in a room with thousands dead Markab, not when Kosh sent the inquisitor. She's been to hell and back and come out stronger, but knowing he fell at Z'ha'dum has crushed her, even if he's back, although only for a little while.
He doesn't tell her he's going to die. He doesn't tell her he's already dead. He gives his speech, inflames the spirits of the dozens alien species hanging on his every word, and as they cheer he turns around and holds her tighter than he's ever held anything else in his life.
He can feel Lorien's eyes on him, the only ones that breach the confine of the little world in which only Delenn matters, and he looks up to see that curiosity John has already come to associate with the alien. John thinks there's longing somewhere in there too, but frankly he is too preoccupied with the woman in his arms to figure it out.
Now that he's made a scenic entrance, he wants to make an inconspicuous exit and spend some quality time alone with Delenn, to watch her and hold her, until he's sure he is no longer between moments, until he knows 'tock' will come in twenty years and not in twenty seconds.
Instead he disentangles himself from her, smiles at her to let her know he's really there, and then takes her hand in his and leads her to the closest transport tube. Lorien is following close by and he doesn't know the meaning of privacy, but John is too grateful for everything the alien has done for him - for them - to be annoyed by his lack of understanding.
"Find Lennier and come to my office," he says. "I'll explain everything there."
He sees her flinch even though his words were spoken softly, and he stares at her retreating back until she turns a corridor and there's only empty space in front of him. He contacts Garibaldi, Franklin and then asks C&C to let Susan know where to find him. Nobody questions his authority, and no one says welcome back. He thinks they're probably too stunned to do anything like that. He thinks he's a little too stunned too.
The first time he puts a ring on her finger, he has already popped the question twice before, to two women so different from each other and from Delenn that he is quite certain no one will ever accuse him of having a type.
He hadn't given an engagement ring to Elizabeth; they both were just out of training and neither of them had the money. He might have asked his parents for the loan, but then again if he had, they would have convinced him to think about what he was doing and he might not have married Elizabeth at all. He was young and stupid, and he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
He isn't young anymore, and he'd like to think he isn't stupid either - well, not as much as he was back then, anyway. He still has no idea what he is getting himself into.
With Anna things had gone rather differently. Before asking her to marry him he had sorted everything out in his mind. Then again, thinking back on his marriage with Anna, he realizes that nothing had actually changed from when they weren't married. He still went off wherever Earthforce sent him and she didn't follow him. There was a shared bank account and a house, but mostly he was somewhere and she was with IPX somewhere else. He loved her, truly loved her, but they weren't a family. He thinks the only real difference with his latest wife was that, unlike with Elizabeth, he was committed to Anna one hundred percent from the beginning to the end. He had only had the problem of being equally committed to Earthforce.
He doesn't want that to happen to him and Delenn. He wants to live with her, he wants to wake up every morning to find her sleeping next to him - even if it is on a slanted bed. And maybe they won't have kids, but it won't be because they value their work too much. He wants to spend the rest of his life loving Delenn and knowing she loves him back.
That's a problem too, because even if they get out of this war alive, he doesn't have much time left - not nearly as much as he would like to spend loving her.
Before turning around and searching for the ring, there is a moment in which he is tempted to tell her to find someone else, to move on. He has thought about it extensively on his trip back to Babylon 5 when all he had for company was the oldest of all sentient life-forms. Lorien talked about the illusion of love, about how only someone who has the certainty of death can profess to love someone else for eternity. John Sheridan has only twenty years left to live and he is a selfish bastard for wanting to spend them with Delenn, but he doesn't have the courage to let her go. Especially when he knows that she won't stop loving him if he goes away.
So, when she blames herself for sending him to his demise on Z'ha'dum by lying to him, he doesn't let her believe that he hates her for it. He tells her the truth; he had to go and the only reason he is here with her to talk about it at all is that she is his reason to live.
He isn't sure how much his trip to Z'ha'dum changed the future, if at all, but he hopes that when he'll be gone at least one thing will have stayed the same - their love for each other. He hopes that it may carry in whatever afterlife awaits them and that they may share it again once they'll be reunited 'in the place where no shadows fall'.
So yes, he asks Delenn to marry him even though it's not going to last forever. Twenty years is all he has, and he wants to let the world know how much he loves her for the whole duration.
The first time they see each other naked, he's ten kinds of embarrassed and twenty kinds of jittery. Not to mention he has no clue what he is going to do.
It's not his first time in bed with a woman, but it's the first time he has to try anything on a slanted bed. Besides, he is fairly certain that with the 'guardians' outside, he's not actually supposed to have sex with her, or at least he won't be able to complete the act itself. Foreplay is great, but it's supposed to be followed by something more.
He's all for exploring her centers of pleasures and letting her explore his, but he's somewhat worried that restraint isn't his best quality, and he'd hate to be interrupted by a Minbari religious acolyte or, God forbid, by Lennier. John isn't sure either of them would survive the experience.
Then there's the small matter of considering that Delenn is a virgin and hasn't done anything remotely sexual before with a Minbari, let alone with a human. John has no idea how different Minbari and humans are; he just hopes that the fact she is a hybrid makes them compatible.
His train of thought is interrupted when she approaches him and places her hands on his upper torso. She's done the same thing so many times before, but never before has he been naked.
He feels her hands tremble and his eyes, locked in hers, notice that insecurity he sometimes forget Delenn is capable of feeling. She is the strongest woman he has ever known and he hates that she's afraid of him - of what they are about to do.
Instead of reassuring her with words, he opts to give her a display of the care and gentleness he is capable of - the care and gentleness he is about to show her as she lets him touch her where nobody else has ever before. He takes her hands in his and places them around his neck then he slowly steps closer until their bodies are touching. Finally, he places his hands just below her ribcage and he leans in to kiss her, gently.
He doesn't press her lips to open, and decides to wait her out. When he feels her tongue probing for entrance, he parts his lips and knows that she doesn't fear his touch anymore.
When they separate, Delenn watches him with a reverence he knows it wasn't easy for her to give and, for the first time since he has abandoned all his clothes, she finally admires his whole body. She flushes a bit, and he guesses that's her way of saying she approves.
She suggests that they try it on the floor, and that explains why there's a Minbari mattress at the foot of the bed. He just takes her hand in his and leads her to the slanted bed. "Don't worry," he says quietly, "I've slept on this things often enough to be able to figure something out."
"No," he interrupts her. "You deserve better than the floor and I need the training for the real thing, anyway."
She kisses him again and, after that, gravity is the least of his concerns.
The first time he holds his son in his arms is the happiest day of his life. He had told Steven if it came down to it and he'd have to decide between Delenn and his - their - baby, that he would choose Delenn. Now, holding David Sheridan Junior in his arms, he can honestly say he wouldn't be able to make that choice anymore.
The birth, like everything else in the pregnancy, was complicated. But then again, nothing about his relationship with Delenn has ever been easy, so there was no reason why he should have thought the birth of their child would have been a walk in the park.
John remembers the day he found out about Delenn's pregnancy. He remembers how she came swarming in the office and how she collapsed in his arms. He remembers being scared out of his wits until Steven told him what had caused the fainting. He remembers being scared out of his wits after Steven told him, and then he remembers turning around to look into his wife's groggy eyes. He remembers entering the room and glaring all the nurses and technicians out of it. He remembers Delenn watching him, scared as he had never seen her - not for herself, either, but for him. He remembers taking a seat on her cot, holding her hand in his, tracing the lines of her face and... and then he remembers the happiness he felt as he shared the news with his wife and finally let the reality hit him square in the head.
He was going to be a father.
He kissed his wife on the forehead and held her in his arms until Steven came in.
As he sees Delenn's hazed eyes, he knows she doesn't have the strength to hold David in her arms. John is quite certain any other woman wouldn't have been able to carry this pregnancy full term, let alone give birth to what looks like a healthy baby. He slides beside her on the bed and brings David between them, so that she can touch him with her delicate hands.
He sees in her eyes the same love he feels. They have come through this together, and finally it doesn't feel like it's just them against the galaxy anymore.
He knows there are more than a couple of people outside who came across many light years just to see this baby being born, and he should get up and out of Delenn's bed to show him to them. Hell, he should get up and let Delenn rest if he doesn't want her to collapse.
But this moment is too special and he doesn't want to share it with anyone but the woman he loves more than life itself, the woman for whom he crawled back to life when all around him there was only darkness, the woman who gave him the strength to stay true to himself even when he forgot who he was, the woman who started saving his life before he ever knew her name and is still the main reason for him to live.
The first time he holds his baby in his arms, he knows that he doesn't have to worry about being a good father, because with Delenn by his side he knows that even if he makes mistakes - and he will make mistakes - in raising his son, she will be there to help him correct them.
He has always tried to shoulder all responsibilities on his own, only seeking help when pushed to. For the first time in his life John Sheridan doesn't feel like he has to.