"I still want you to see my physician," Delenn said after the door had closed, leaving Marcus and Susan and the smell of Minbari medicine behind.
"I'm fine," said Sheridan automatically. Off Delenn's sceptical look he added, "Susan needs him more than me. A shower, a uniform, I'll be fine."
"And food. And rest."
"Needs a commander who is not starved and exhausted. Come."
She took him by the arm and led him through the corridors to the crew quarters, ignoring his protests that the Resistance had fed him, Stephen had patched him up, all he needed was another shower to wash off the stink of hours spent in a cramped shuttle—
Delenn opened the door to a set of private quarters. These rooms were almost spartan, but he knew at once they were Delenn's. That unmistakable perfume – the crystal ornament on the low table—
Sheridan stumbled, suddenly overwhelmed. It would be another hallucination, or worse, another drug-induced artificial reality designed to make him betray himself—
He caught her hands in his.
"Whatever they do to me, remember—"
"I know, John. I know."
It was her hand on his face that broke the spell. He kissed Delenn's fingers and rested his forehead against hers.
"Sorry," he said. "Sorry. For a minute there I thought—"
"Stephen said there might be flashbacks. The drugs they used—"
Delenn swallowed, but her face betrayed no expression but concern.
"Come," she said, and led him into the bathroom.
The last time – the first time – she had undressed him, it had been for the shan-fal. He had been self-conscious, too aware of Lennier and the attendants outside; she had been amused, aggressive, distracting him from the others with her enthusiasm.
Now she was swift and clinical, and Sheridan was too exhausted to feel self-conscious at the baring of half-healed injuries. But he shuddered at Delenn's sharp intake of breath when she saw them.
"The ones who did this should pay," she said.
"You gonna extract bloody revenge, love?"
"They're tools. I'm aiming for the hand that controls them."
Delenn helped him into the shower. Her jaw was set and her eyes were dark with fury, but her hands were gentle as she bathed him.
Clean, he felt more alert, yet also exhausted. Delenn had found a set of sweats worn by off-duty Rangers. She left him to dress himself.
A shaving kit sat on the sink beneath the mirror, and Sheridan wondered how long Delenn had been planning for this moment. In fact, he realised, it was his own shaving kit. He wondered if she'd retrieved it herself from his quarters, or simply given Lennier a list and an access code. The thought made him laugh, and he was still smiling when, neatly dressed, beard trimmed, he presented himself to Delenn for inspection.
She examined him with lips and hands as well as eyes, and he held her against him, revelling in the sheer joy of her warmth and solidity. She was alive, so very real. Not the hollow projection summoned by his interrogators. Not an hallucination. Her hands curled through his hair, resting against his bearded cheek, and she murmured, "I'm glad, I'm so glad—"
Eventually they separated, and she led him to the low table, set out with a simple meal of clear soup and rehydrated fruit.
"Stephen said you would need simple meals for the next few days."
"I should have known he'd be conspiring."
He obeyed; the Resistance had only been able to give him military rations, and he found himself desperately hungry. Delenn watched him for a few moments, then turned her attention to her own meal.
Eventually she said, "The League has offered you their unanimous support."
"Was that G'Kar's idea, or Londo's?"
Sheridan tasted a rehydrated hala fruit. It lacked the bittersweet tang of the fresh fruit, but the juice exploded on his tongue like a fine wine.
"Unanimous, you said?"
"They might be ready."
"Past ready, I think." Delenn put her spoon down. "There are sixteen rituals remaining before we can be married according to Minbari custom."
"I remember," said Sheridan, "although what that has to do with creating a permanent alliance—"
"Several rituals demand considerable time and energy."
"I'm a bit busy for the next few days, but if we survive this—"
"John." There was a crack in Delenn's voice. "I don't care anymore. I want us to be married."
He found his voice.
"Soon. Human tradition permits ship's captains to perform weddings, is that not so?"
"You want to ask Anla'shok Heldenn? Hell, might as well call the Agamemnon—"
"You're laughing at me."
"All these months," said Sheridan, unable to keep the smile from his face, "the rituals – the waiting—"
"It was the only way our joining could be accepted by my people. But, John, I don't care anymore. I cannot bear to lose you, knowing that this is unfinished. That is," her voice became low and harsh, "not acceptable."
This, Sheridan knew, was how she had won an unwinnable civil war on Minbari, this was how she had reformed the Grey Council. This was how she had ended the Earth-Minbari war. A man would have to be a fool to argue with her. And he could picture it: a quick ceremony – Susan still alive to share their joy – oh God, Susan – a few stolen hours. And then – the approach to Earth. Endgame.
"Not yet," he said.
"You know – I walked into Garibaldi's trap with my eyes open. I didn't want to believe he could betray me, but I thought I was prepared for the possibility. I made the choice, set events in motion, and now, two decks below us, Susan's dying."
"Oh Z'ha'dum they said I was a catalyst. A goddamn flashpoint."
"You are not responsible for Susan's condition," said Delenn , "she knew the risks – and the human vessels were augmented by Shadow technology – you could not have foreseen—"
"One bad decision for someone I love. And people die."
Delenn took his hand, raising it to her lips.
"At least," she said, "at least your father is alive. You made your choices to preserve life, not avenge death."
"If we marry now, and I lose this war—"
"Do you imagine I could hurt less, if we were not married?"
"All I'm saying is, if things go bad, I doubt EarthForce'll be giving you a military widow's pension."
"My government would not allow me to become a prisoner of war."
"Yeah. Then we'll have the second Earth-Minbari war. And this time, Earth will have Shadow technology."
"If we lose," said Sheridan, "you get back to Babylon 5, you raise defences, and you hold the League together. Because as soon as Clark's secure, he's going to look outward."
"I won't lead another war against Earth."
"Let G'Kar lead, then. Or Londo. Hell, put the Gaim in charge. But they'll need you, Delenn."
This time, she offered no argument.
"And," he moved around the table to her side, "when it's over—"
"If you win," she said, cupping his face in her hands. "I will marry you."
"I'm sure as hell not going to stop you," he muttered, kissing her lightly and quickly, then slowly and passionately, until the meal and war were forgotten.
They held each other for a long time, alternately kissing and talking, until Sheridan's breath and energy fled and silence descended.
Eventually, against his will, he fell asleep.
He half-woke when Delenn guided him to her bed. He was too drowsy to make more than a half-hearted protest about the angle, and she just laughed as she pulled the blanket up around him.
When he woke a second time, he was alone. His uniform was neatly folded on the cleared table, and a note from Delenn told him that a shuttle would take him to the Agamemnon at his convenience.
When this is over, she had written at the bottom, the English letters carefully formed, either we shall be safe and married, or you shall be dead and I'll be preparing an alliance against your people. I pray it shall not be the latter. Either way, our souls will meet in our next lives. In Valen's name.
Sheridan read it twice, committing it to memory, letting Delenn's words drown out the memory of his imprisonment.
Then he dressed, and went to resume command of the Agamemnon, and his war.