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Of the Many Ways Forward

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Lennier had done many kinds of work in his time on the small mining colony. Not all of it clean or educated or dignified, but all of it honest and honorable to his mind. He had come to the place ten years after fleeing the White Star, ten years of wandering and trying--as he thought then--to atone for his sins. When he realized that what he had called atonement was nothing more than trying to get himself killed, he burned his anla'shok uniform on a funeral pyre, and found a place to start over.

The little mining colony of Aristide was a free port. Ostensibly claimed by Earth, they did little to administer its laws or regulate its trade. The League of Non-Aligned Worlds had squabbled over it for years before the formation of the Alliance, and continued to do so afterward, but if they ever came to a decision about the place, no one on Aristide ever heard about it, and the various inhabitants, made up of members of a dozen different species, rubbed along quite happily.

There was a fair-sized population of Minbari Workers, and here Lennier made his way. Calling himself Fendall after the uncle he had lost on the Black Star, he found a room at an inn and began looking for work. He was unskilled but he had a strong back, and his reflexes had been quickened by his Ranger training. He worked on building crews, glad of the hard, physical labor that benefitted others and made him too exhausted to dream of Delenn when he fell into bed at night. The Worker-caste builders laughed to see one of the Religious caste laboring alongside them, and for no reason that they could find, but they called him their ‘little priest’ out of affection and were grateful for the quiet, resolute way the man they knew as Fendall did his work and more.

Wherever Minbari Workers were to be found in the galaxy, there was sure to be a shan’min’dun not far away, discreetly hidden from off-worlders and non-Workers alike, and one evening a group of Lennier’s fellow builders teased him away from his prayers and brought him to the pleasure house.

The atmosphere inside was one of genial good humor, thick with a fragrant haze from the water pipes where men and women smoked a certain species of dried fungus, imported from the homeworld, that soothed the mind and sweetened the senses. Many of the Workers smoked the stuff in the inn where Lennier lodged, and more than once his prayers had been befuddled by the pungent smell. He shook his head when offered a pipe, but accepted tea with pleasure, eyes wandering about the room.

The shan’min’dun was a place for Workers to take their ease when the labors of the day were done. They smoked, drank tea, ate and talked, played music and games of chance—a Human would have seen little difference between the Minbari establishment and a beery working-class pub on Earth... save for the absence of any actual beer.

A Human, though, might have taken issue with some of the other relaxations offered at a standard Worker pleasure house. Lennier watched his fellow laborers peeling off from the main group to slip away with various members of the house’s staff, to refresh themselves with steam-bathes and massages and sex. A Human, at least most of the ones Lennier had known on Babylon 5 and in Tuzanor, would have called the place a brothel, called the employees who slept with the customers prostitutes.

Perhaps it was, Lennier decided, sipping his tea thoughtfully. The services offered and rendered were the same, and certainly there was payment involved... but there was no stigma here, and never had been.

A soft hand touched his shoulder, and he looked up into the inviting face of one of the house’s women. “Surely you did not come here only to drink tea and sit alone,” she teased gently. “Will you come with me, my friend?” Lennier hesitated, thinking of Delenn. The woman, who was a lovely creature, mistook his pause. “Or perhaps one of the men is more to your interest?”

Delenn was on the other side of creation, he reminded himself firmly, and atonement did not mean that he should cease to live. “Perhaps tomorrow night, I will be interested in men,” he said, folding his hand over hers. “I would come with you tonight.”

Her smile widened. She drew him to his feet and led him to one of the rooms in back, hung all about with warm browns and reds and golds.

It had been well before Delenn’s marriage since Lennier had been taken to a woman’s bed, but he had not forgotten the feeling of soft skin and soft curves, nor what it was to lose himself in the strength of a woman’s embrace. He remembered how to draw low gasps and cries from her throat, and to cry out himself when she touched him, and how to move just so, so that neither of them were left wanting for long.

“You are a beautiful, considerate creature, Fendall,” his companion smiled lazily, when they had both regained their breath. “You could make a fortune here.”

Lennier kissed her to cover his blush.

He returned the next night, as he had planned, and had no trouble in finding a male courtesan willing to bed him. Here, again, his lover for the night said the same thing. “You are wasting yourself playing with bricks and mortar. Come work here.” The young man, who was pleasing and pretty, grinned playfully. “Everyone will love you.”

Lennier cared less for that, he decided after many solitary nights of meditation, and more for the companionship he might be able to give to others, if only for an evening. So he left the building site, and went to work at the brothel.

It was good work. Pleasant, without a doubt, and he met many different kinds of people. The variation, even in one caste, never ceased to astound him.

Rarely, Warriors found their way in, and even more rarely, members of the Religious caste. None came to judge or condemn. The soldiers and priests who came to the little shan’min’dun on Aristide usually came to lose themselves for a little while. Lennier understood that, better than most. He could not deprive his fellow employees of customers, but he always tried to single out a Warrior or a priest when he saw them come in, and after a little while, the others understood, and would send the soldiers and acolytes to Lennier’s room.

It was while he was working at the brothel, though not during one of his shifts, that he met Sannel. There was a shop three lanes down from his workplace that sold herbs and inks, and she helped to run the place. She was round-faced and very pretty, with a sparkle in her eyes that reminded Lennier of the stars back home.

After three months of coming into the shop once a week and exchanging longing glances with her over the counter, he managed to say hello, and to tell her his name. The week after that, she asked him to come to her home for supper. It became a regular ritual that he looked forward to all week. For two years, Lennier’s life continued on with placid regularity. He bedded men and women at night, and read and meditated during the day. He found a sort of serenity in the life he led and the companions he kept.

One night when he went to Sannel’s house for supper, she seemed oddly on edge. “Are you all right?” he asked, worried for his friend, who had become dearer to him than anything else in his new life.

She smiled. “Of course, Fendall,” she assured him. But still, she seemed nervous.

She fed him tea and bread and vegetables, simple foods that reminded him of home, and when the meal was through, she gently pushed him back against the cushions on the floor.

“I work at the pleasure house,” Lennier managed to tell her, gasping as she nipped delicately at his neck.

“I know that,” she murmured, slipping her hands under his shirt.

“Then why all this...?”

“Because I don’t wish to pay to bed the man I love.”

Lennier stared at her in shock. “Love... Sannel, I—“

“If you tell me you do not feel the same, I shall call you a liar,” she said, breathlessly. “I am not a fool, my friend.”

“I never once thought you were. But,” he gently removed her hands from his body and made her sit up. “Before we do this, there are things you need to know.”

Half the night was gone before he had finished his story. “I always suspected that there were things in your past you wished to hide,” Sannel said softly, her hands cradled around a clay cup. “You answer to the name of Fendall very readily, but it always seemed to fit you badly. But I never thought...”

“I do not consider that I have lived a lie, these last years with you,” said Lennier, who was more relieved than he could tell to be able to answer to that name once more, if only to one person. “I worked hard to build a new life for myself, to be a better man than the one I was before. I think I have been. I have served, and brought joy and comfort to many, and been a burden, I hope, to no one. But there is no atoning for having once tried to take a life in anger.” His face was calm, but the dark eyes burned at her. “I love you, but you are a woman better in all ways than I could ever hope to be. So if you want nothing to do with me now, believe me when I say I will hold no blame to you for it.”

Sannel looked at him for a moment or two. Then she set aside her cup, and once again pushed Lennier down with his back against the floor. They came together and she moved over him with such passionate tenderness that Lennier wondered, afterward, if he had truly given his body to so many for so long, for no love-making had felt like this for him, not since Delenn. Not even Delenn.

They married not long after, and Lennier left the brothel. It was a little difficult to find work on Aristide that did not involve prostitution of one kind or another, or hard physical labor, but he persevered. He wanted to be able to give his nights and his body to his wife, and to her alone. In time, he found a place working with computers, developing algorithms to help facilitate the smooth, real-time translation of one spoken alien language into another. It was a difficult but lucrative business on the frontier planet, and he was paid well for his work.

The money allowed Sannel to expand her shop, and the work let Lennier stretch engineering and mathematical muscles that he been dormant for years. The serenity of his days in the pleasure house was gone. Now not only did he feel like he was living, he felt alive, young and vibrant and eager again. His work challenged him, Sannel loved him, and the colony around them started to look and feel strangely like home.

Four years into their marriage, Sannel gave birth to a son. In the Worker caste, fathers named sons, and Lennier named the tiny child Mirkan, in memory of his friend Marcus Cole, who had given everything for the woman he loved. “If I had done the same,” he explained to his wife quietly, stretched out by her side on the bed as their baby nursed, “and given up my life in Delenn’s name... I would never have had this.”

“Your friend’s path was his own,” said Sannel, leaning in to kiss her husband. “Yours is what you have made of it.”

In all his life, Lennier had never given any serious thought to being a father. Mirkan changed everything. And how greatly his son changed his life was made clear to Lennier when the boy was three years old.

News of John Sheridan’s death had reached the colony some little time before. Lennier had joined in the public mourning, in Delenn’s honor, and in the memory of the man who, in another life, might have been his friend. And then he had put the matter out of his mind. John Sheridan, Delenn, Babylon 5, even Minbar itself—they all belonged to another life that was gone, until a Ranger appeared on the doorstep of his home.

A Human Ranger with a thin Minbari crest, and smoky green eyes that Lennier remembered well.

“You are David,” he said calmly, when he had invited the young man in to tea. “Did Delenn send you to find me?”

Entil’zha Delenn has long known of your whereabouts,” said David, in a low, quiet voice that held a vast quantity of hidden steel. “But she did not wish to disturb you. She felt that when you were ready to return to her service, you would.”

Lennier nodded. It was something Delenn would do. “Then why are you here now?”

“She did not send me. I came myself, to ask you to return.”

“That is... a singular request,” said Lennier carefully. His wife came forward almost as if on cue, her son clinging to her shoulder. His round dark eyes gazed at David in awe, and he sucked a tiny thumb in rapt concentration. “I hardly need explain that I have a family here.”

“Bring them. Come back to Minbar. My mother needs you. She is alone since my father died, and I...” The youth’s resolute voice broke. He covered it quickly, but Lennier heard it, with the raw instinct of a parent. “I fear for her spirit. You know she has... few friends.”

“You know why I fled.”

He asked the question bluntly, prepared to explain to David just as bluntly how he had nearly murdered John Sheridan while David was still in his mother’s womb.

But the boy surprised him. “I have always known that story. My parents made sure to tell me, and to show me your picture, in case I ever came across you in my travels. They told me in no uncertain terms that I was always to make you welcome in their home.” David grinned a little. “Though I wasn’t expecting the beard.”

Sannel sat down gracefully beside her husband. “It does lend him an air of mature distinction, does it not? And such a lovely color, too.”

Lennier’s mouth scowled under its gingery goatee, but his eyes couldn’t help laughing.

“I know the history. I know that you have always had my parents’ forgiveness.” David spread his hands in a gesture of pleading. “If you have been able to forgive yourself, I ask you as a worried son, come home to my mother. She needs someone who understands her nearby, and I am rarely able to be there.”

When he had gone, Lennier took little Mirkan from his mother’s arms and cuddled the boy close.

Sannel curled up on the cushions beside him. “What are you thinking, my love? Of Delenn?”

“Perhaps I should be, but...” He shook his head. “No, I am thinking of my son, and what returning to Minbar would mean to his future. He is very young to be traveling in space.”

“If you think it best,” said Sannel, speaking slowly, “he and I could remain here, and you return to Tuzanor—“

“No,” said Lennier firmly. “Where I go, you go. I made you that promise in temple when we were married. I will not break that oath.”

“It would be a fine thing for our boy to grow up on Minbar,” said Sannel, after a moment of secret relief, “and in Tuzanor, no less.” And knowing Delenn as he did, Lennier had no doubt that she would do all that she was allowed to, to make Mirkan’s future a bright and comfortable one. “But,” his wife continued, “his life here would not be so very bad. It is a rough place but it is safe. And there is the shop to consider. If we removed to Minbar, I would have to sell it.”

“I know. And I would not ask you to give up a business you’ve spent so many years building.”

“...But?”

“But if you were to sell it and come with me of your own volition, then I will return to Minbar and to Delenn’s service.” He smiled sadly at Sannel’s visible surprise. “Delenn was my mentor and my friend. I will always want to help her, and she will always have a piece of my heart. But you and Mirkan have the bulk of it.” He reached for her hand and squeezed it tight. “Where you go, I go. And where you stay, I stay.”

She kissed him gently in thanks for that, and soon Mirkan had to be tucked away into his own little bed so that his parents could continue their discussion uninterrupted. For Lennier, making love to Sannel had always been like coming home, and they fell asleep joined together, without reaching a decision.

For many days, they debated the matter. There were many heated discussions, and much meditation and prayer. But for them both, the chance for their child to grow up in such a place as Tuzanor was a golden one, and for Lennier, the chance to be by Delenn’s side once more, to serve as her aide and bodyguard and friend, was more than he knew he deserved. So Sannel sold her herb shop, and they went back to Minbar with David.

“I told her that you are coming,” said the young Ranger during the trip back. “She is overjoyed, and very grateful. She was also horrified that I’d uprooted you from your new life. I got a proper scolding for my presumptuous behavior.”

“You did so out of love,” said Lennier simply. He stood on the bridge of the White Star with his arm around his wife and son, and smiled at David. “She will understand.”