by Anonymous

"But Delenn, she is a Human," Lennier reminded the ambassador, the closest he'd ever come to actively arguing with her. His placid expression, acquiescent and carefully vacant of any feeling stronger than gentle curiosity and understated happiness on occasion. "The Naran'cha is one of the most sacred rituals, surely not for outsiders." Though mild, the aide was firm in his disagreement this time, a rarity for him.
Delenn nodded. "I am fully aware of the purpose of the Naran'cha," she replied. "Nevertheless, I feel that in this case a Human is appropriate. After all, I am half a Human now myself. If we must exclude them from our rituals, then I too must be excluded." She picked up an ornate incense burner and lit a stick of incense, which flared brightly before simmering down to a slow smouldering. "However," the ambassador continued, "if you do not wish to assist me in the ceremony, or to ask the Commander to assist, I will not force you. I will simply ask her, and another Minbari, myself." She rose from her knees, fanned the comforting, sensuous fragrance around the room with one graceful hand, and awaited Lennier's answer.
Lennier stared for a long moment at Delenn. He had offered her his service for life; had risked his life and his security, his status, his clan's status to follow her. He had given her his own heart silently. Would he deny her now? He couldn't. He had promised himself long ago that he would never refuse her anything. Lennier would submit his will to that of the woman he still called Satai in his mind; and once this decision was made, he felt his soul relax into acceptance. He had no need of argument anymore. The aide bowed, hands brought together to form a triangle before his abdomen. "I will do as you ask, Delenn. I will assist you in any way that you require."

The CommLink on Ivanova's wrist beeped just as her conference was breaking up. She glanced down at it, glad for the interruption but annoyed by the noise. The "meeting" had been little more than a shouting match between Ambassadors G'Kar and Mollari, and she had a screaming headache adding to the noise within her brain. She tapped her link with a suppressed sigh. "Ivanova."
"Commander," came a soft-spoken male voice, "would you be so kind as to attend a late tea with Ambassador Delenn in her quarters this evening?"
Ivanova's forehead creased in mild confusion. Delenn usually made these requests personally if the occasion were informal... and if it were official, why ask for her and not for Captain Sheridan? Her blue eyes unfocused as she imagined Lennier standing before her, bowing with triangulated hands.
"Commander?" the voice repeated, breaking through her continued silence.
"Yes, Lennier," Ivanova replied, shutting off her musings. "Is this an official visit or an informal one?"
Lennier replied, "It is neither official nor completely informal, Commander. The ambassador wishes to inform you herself of the subject of the visit, but I think she would permit me to tell you that it regards a personal request." His tone was hesitant; Ivanova could imagine his downcast eyes and demure tone, as if he was purposely trying to remain insignificant behind his duties.
Ivanova considered. The last time she had been summoned for a personal request had been shortly after Delenn's amazing chrysalis, when she'd not known how to care for Human hair. She'd been bald all her life, and now suddenly had to learn how to groom this strange mop of stuff on her head; and the tangles and snarls Susan had unknotted that day had required only one-tenth of the delicacy with which she'd needed to treat the Minbari Ambassador's ego. She was not used to indignity. On the other hand, this might just as easily be an errand concerning the Rangers. All this passed through her mind in only seconds, and the end result of the internal question she posed to herself was answered. "In that case, Lennier, please inform the ambassador that I'll be there as soon as I've gotten off work and changed out of my uniform. I'm going off-duty in a few minutes anyway."
Lennier's voice evidenced humble gratitude. "Thank you, Commander. I will inform Ambassador Delenn of your answer." The CommLink beeped again as Lennier's end was disconnected.

An hour later, after a quick shower and a change of clothes, Susan pressed the button outside Delenn's quarters and heard the faint door- chimes inside. Lennier's voice answered, "Commander Ivanova?"
Susan replied in the affirmative and was admitted to the suite. Delenn was not in the room, but Lennier bowed to her and explained, "The ambassador has asked me to serve you while she prepares herself. Would you care for some tea?" he offered, gesturing to a pot of steaming liquid of a reddish cast. Susan nodded and Lennier poured two cups of the brew, explaining that Delenn would be joining them very shortly. "Will you sit?" He indicated a cushion beside the low triangular table which held the tea service: the pot, three cups, and a small bowl of bright red fruits and berries, the fruits sliced and arranged in a sunburst on the ceramic white plate.
Susan sat on her knees on the floor beside the place indicated, wondering what this was about. She'd been to tea with the Minbari Ambassador before, and usually Delenn was fond of some sort of pastry, but none were now in evidence. The ambassador also generally served tea in something similar to English-Earther fashion, more of a meal than a drink alone, and sitting on the sofa. Why were they now on the floor? And where was Delenn? She was never late for anything.
Susan took a sip of the tea, which had a warm and relaxing quality, though some herb inside made it taste cool in spite of the steam rising from it. There was an odd scent in the air which Susan found pleasant, and caught herself breathing more deeply in an effort to smell it more strongly.
"Commander," a smooth feminine voice greeted her, sending her musings away like the smoke of the incense Susan had finally identified as the source of the fragrance in the air. The commander turned around, lifting a peaked eyebrow at Delenn's attire. The Minbari was swathed in a deep red gown much like a Japanese kimono and made of something very like silk. Her hair was brushed smooth, styled even more elaborately than usual; Susan was glad she'd taken the trouble to put on one of her nicer outfits, especially her favorite cream-colored angora sweater. Furthermore, Delenn wore a smile of friendly warmth, and her posture, while just as regal as ever, was open and welcoming. Susan started to stand to greet Delenn, but the woman shook her head. "No, Commander... Susan. Please remain seated." Delenn smiled; having made her entrance, she crossed the room with graceful, small steps and knelt at the remaining empty place at the triangular table. Only when she was seated would Lennier assume his position at the third setting.
Susan adjusted her posture accordingly to one of both friendliness or respect. "Ambassador, thank you for inviting me to tea," she began to say, but stopped midway as the Minbari shook her head.
"Please, Susan, call me Delenn. Rank has no place in the Naran'cha." Delenn sounded almost amused; Susan couldn't help responding with a smile towards whatever joke she wasn't catching yet. She'd learned that just because the Minbari's facial expressions were often harder to read, it didn't necessarily follow that they were without feelings or humor, political savvy or strength. "Have you had tea?" Delenn asked solicitously.
Susan replied in the affirmative. "Yes, Delenn, thank you, I've had some." She purposely used the ambassador's name because Delenn made a point of requesting it of her. "Lennier offered it to me just before you came. It's very good." No sincere compliment, Susan knew, was ever wasted.
"It is a special brew," Delenn answered, "of herbs grown on Minbar. This particular mixture of the herbs is only used during the Naran'cha, the Ceremony of Learning." She smiled as she took a sip of the reddish- magenta liquid. Susan did likewise, as did Lennier. Susan thought about him for a moment, so retiring and quiet. Though he'd learned to pretend ease with Humans, of which he understood so much and so little, Susan reflected that there would probably always be moments of discomfort for him and, she now realized, for Delenn as well. Always moments in which they would struggle to understand things which were nearly instinctive for Earthers, felt rather than known, on a level so deep it would be hard to explain them. She supposed it would be much the same for Humans dealing with Minbari. Like now. Susan felt there was something happening right within sight, but she couldn't see it because she was looking through the glasses of her own culture and not theirs.
Something started to tickle at the back of her mind. A request for a personal visit, unofficial but not entirely informal. The meal with only fruit and tea, and the fruit hadn't been offered yet, *and* the tea of a kind only offered for one ceremony. Odd incense, pleasurable but unusual.
Susan shelved her thoughts as Delenn's small hand motioned to the sunburst of red fruit on its spotless white plate. "Will you join me in this repast, Susan?" Delenn offered; but even as the commander reached towards the plate, the Minbari spoke again. "I must warn you before you accept." Susan paused and pulled her hand back. "The Naran'cha is one of the most sacred ceremonies of a Minbari's life. It marks an important transition, and must be undertaken with the proper spirit. There are three participants."
Susan sat back, folding her hands in her lap. Accepting, Delenn had said, but had not indicated what was being accepted or rejected. She waited for more information as her mind continued to whirr around the puzzle pieces, fitting some together and finding some that made no sense at all.
Delenn explained in a very quiet voice that there were three necessary participants. The first was the celebrant, or student, known as Narai. The Narai would be the person in need of transition, and it was at his or her request that the ceremony would take place. The ceremony, she said, was one of teaching and learning, and Delenn herself would functin as Narai. The second participant was the teacher, called Naran, whom the Narai trusted implicitly to teach patiently and thoroughly something that the teacher understood better than the student. The third was Shelim'cha, the observer or chaperone, who would stand just outside the ceremony room or area and turn away all visitors and questions, and enter only in the case of emergency.
Susan interrupted. "Excuse me... a medical emergency? Is there a danger to the other two participants?" she asked, not entirely at ease with the idea. She was no expert on Minbari physiology. Suppose there should be an emergency... what could she do?
Delenn only smiled. "There is a danger when one lives on a space station that a hull breach will destroy lives. There is the danger when drinking something new that one will have a fatal allergic reaction. Risks are a part of life, Susan. The role of the chaperone is mainly one of formality. Inclusion of a third person preserves the number of participants at three, which is an important number for Minbari."
Susan's eye was drawn to the triangular table; she remembered the triangular objects used during the Nafak'cha, the Rebirth Ceremony. The triangulated hands of a Minbari's bow. The three Castes. Yes, threes were important. But that didn't still her concerns. "I'm not sure I understand the purpose of the... the Naran'cha," Susan said after a moment's reflection. "If you're asking me to participate, I really need to know what I'm doing, and why."
Delenn smiled, glancing demurely downward at the plate of sliced red fruits and berries on the white plate. "The Naran'cha," she said, "is ordinarily performed when a Minbari feels that her or his childhood has come to an end, when she feels mature mentally and physically. It is designed to teach the celebratn about her adult physical nature and the ways of creating enjoyment and closeness. Usually this takes place during or shortly after adolescence, but since I have recently undergone this vast change," she said, stroking the end of her long hair in reference to her chrysalis those many months ago, "I find myself once again in the position almost of a child. I do not understand this new body I have taken on, nor all of its... responses. I am in need of new teaching."
Throughout the recital, the tickling in the back of Susan's mind had grown steadily. Now she had a suspicion, but wasn't nearly ready to assume it was correct. "I'm sorry, Delenn. That probably sounds very clear to you, but I'm still confused. If you're wanting to learn more about your changes, wouldn't a doctor be the person to consult?"
"Yes," Delenn replied, "if I were wishing for medical knowledge. I could just as easily find the datacrystals on Human physiology if that was what I needed. No, Susan. I need a more individual teaching. I need what I have not been able to learn from the data crystals, but could learn from another person very well. There have been many changes, and I am not certain which of my responses to them will be more like my Minbari half, and which like my Human half. I do not truly know where one part of me begins and the other ends."
Susan tried again. "Surely you could find these things out through experimentation..." She was coming a little closer to surety, but hesitated over what she now felt must be the case.
The Minbari smiled; Lennier remained reticent, barely looking up from his cup of tea (which, Susan now noticed, was not from the same pot; was not even the same color). "Susan, though I could do so, I must discover the *exact* nature of my changes, and I must discover this through the direct assistance of another of my kind, or as close to my kind as I can achieve." She glanced at Lennier, whose placid face was exhibiting signs of tiny discomfort; embarrassment, even, perhaps.
Susan's eyes widened only slightly. Yes, that was confirmation of her suspicions, she felt. The commander cleared her throat, turning a dull, embarrassed shade of pink which quickly blossomed into magenta. "You're saying that the Naran'cha is a ritual for teaching you how to...?" She couldn't finish; her startlement was that great. She'd never really thought of the reserved, quiet Minbari - especially the Ambassador - as having a ritual for this, if she was correct. Even the subject seemed not to go with thoughts of the Minbari as Susan knew them. Her mind fought to make a path around the concept rather than go through it somehow. "You're going to have ceremonial..."
"Sexual relations," Delenn replied with a nod. "Yes, Susan. Does this surprised you? Minbari have rituals for every aspect of life, especially the important things. Physical closeness leads to great emotional openness, and is therefore one of the most significant thing any two people may do together." She glanced again towards her aide, who was looking less comfortable, to one used to reading his nearly expressionless features.
Susan looked at the table again, at what she now realized looked like an altar-setting of the dishes, and at the red fruits on the sinlessly white plate. Understanding started to gleam like the sun over the horizon: dim at first, but eventually so bright as to sear her retinas. "Delenn, I'd be honored," she finally said after a deep, cleansing breath. "It's a little unusual, at least from my experience, and I've never chaperoned anyone before, but if you trust me enough to ask me to help you in something so persona, I..." She stopped. Why was Delenn shaking her head? Why was she smiling as if Ivanova was a child who'd made an error based on having an entirely different frame of reference from the adult one?
"Susan," Delenn broke in gently, voice slightly lower than usual, "I am not asking you to be my chaperone. That will be Lennier's duty."

Susan's jaw fell open. It hung that way for several seconds, making her look a trifle ridiculous. Then she began to stammer, which furthered the image. "Delenn, I'm, I, ah, I... I don't think I've ever..." Then something inside Susan began to change. She knew she wouldn't ever understand the Minbari or their culture. This was quite possibly a normal request, not unusual at all, from Delenn's point of view. She clearly felt comfortable saying these things in front of Lennier; would she, if there were possible shame involved? Moreover, if Susan behaved as though she were as shocked as she was, this could easily become, if not a diplomatic incident, at the very least a great insult and humiliation to the Minbari Ambassador. She stopped blathering and took a long and careful look at Delenn, who she now was seeing as a half-*Human* woman. The smile, the brown eyes, were just as open and warm, her demeanor just as frank and demure at the same time as they always were. She seemed to think that her request was not only normal but perfectly acceptable, to judge by her quiet patience and her posture of respect given to an equal.
"Susan, Delenn began again as the commander hesitated, "when you completed your part in the Rebirth Ceremony, you told me that you had loved Talia Winters." Susan looked away for a moment as she listened. "I have been reading about social conditions on Earth, and have come to the conclusion that had your love been strictly on the basis of friendship it would have been cause for pride, not secrecy. Yet you had never told anyone of your love for her. Perhaps you still cherish her memory. I had thought, because of your manner concerning Talia, that you might be one of the Humans reported to be capable of a wider spectrum of relationships than is the norm for your species. Have I misunderstood you somehow?" Delenn's concern is brought into her mobile, facile features as well as her expressive voice. The woman seemed genuinely distressed. "I do not intend to offend you with my request. I had intended it to be an honor to you as well as to myself. I had not considered that I might be in error."
She could see that Delenn meant every word. Not only had she tried to confer an honor on Susan by asking her to function as the Naran in the Naran'cha; the ambassador would truly have considered herself honored had she accepted. "You weren't wrong," Susan finally admitted. "I loved her. It just didn't occur to me that Minbari would understand that kind of relationship. Earthers often don't. But even if I'd known, I still have no experience at teaching something so *personal*. Wouldn't it be proper for one of your own people to...?"
"You do not understand," Delenn replied softly. "Susan, my friend, I participated in my Naran'cha many years ago. I know a great deal about Minbari physiology and my own body, at least as it was when I was fully Minbari. I have participated as the Naran for many others." She kept talking through Susan's surprise, manifested in the abrupt raising of both brows. "It is Human physiology about which I lack knowledge. I do not know how this body of mine functions anymore. So many things surprise me, and you have helped me twice before already." At the commander's confusion, Delenn reminded her, "You showed me how to keep my hair orderly. On that day I knew you could be trusted to teach me well when I was ready to learn. Your hands were patient and skilled, and you never chastised me for what I did not know about proper grooming of Human hair. You had a softness appropriate in a Naran." Delenn smiled warmly; Lennier, who had never known what occurred that day in Delenn's quarters, glanced briefly up from downcast eyes and watched the commander from behind his reticence, and finally saw Susan with Delenn's eyes. Delenn continued, "Later I spoke wiht you about some of the other changes. Do you recall?"
She nodded; she did recall. Delenn had asked her to explain, if she could, the odd cramps she had suddenly started to have, and Susan had found herself in the awkward position of being a big sister, explaining menstruation and its purpose, with flaming red cheeks.
Delenn lowered her voice still further. "I first thought of you for my Naran when you brushed my hair, but I did not truly make my choice until you explained the other changes. I knew you were the one whom I could trust to show me this aspect of Humanity. Susan, I do trust you. Will you be my teacher?" Her brown eyes searched the other woman's face for cues, hints of the answer she would receive. She felt strange: when she had asked her first Naran to assist her, she had felt admiration; never had she feared rejection. Had the first choice said no, for any reason, she would have sought out her second choice, then her third, until one of them agreed to be her teacher. It was a matter of duty. Now, though, she suddenly was nervous. Were Earthers so different that Susan would not understand her request? She had already been called an outcast by the Minbari; she did not want to be outcast by her new people... by this one person as well. She did not think she would be very mature about rejection this time.
Susan had tried to remain clinically unembarrassed, detatched from the reality of the request. She was being asked, for God's sake, to teach a woman who seemed about forty Human years old how to have sex. This request, though, unlike the Lumati ambassador's, did not frighten her. This had been approached with respect, friendship, and possibly even some small affection. It was not a business deal; it was a favor. Still she had questions. "Wouldn't a man be more appropriate for you? I mean, you don't seem..."
The Minbari Ambassador's smile warmed the room as though it were made of sunshine. "Most Minbari," she clarified for Susan, "are not so polarized as Humans. We too are more concerned with the gift than with its outer wrapping, more concerned with the soul than with the body which is, after all, only its home for a short time. Besides, Susan, how could a man teach me about a woman's body? He has never had one! You know far more about human females than a man could, simply because you are one. The Naran'cha is always given from a female to a female, or from a male to a male. It is our tradition. One cannot teach that which one does not know. If a male were to instruct a female, there would doubtless be many critical omissions." Her hand remained folded in her lap as she tried to help the commander understand.
Susan took another deep breath, glancing from the plate of fruit to Lennier and back to Delenn. When she spoke her words were measured and very carefully chosen, coming out more slowly than she had intended. "I think I've never... been so... honored by an offer or a request in my life. I don't know that I could ever hope to deserve it. I don't know that I can live up to it."
Delenn repressed a sigh. "Then you will not help me," she said, endeavoring to sustain her smile as best she could.
"I didn't say that." Susan stopped Delenn's disappointment, or at least her words. "I said I wasn't sure I deserved the honor. I'd be learning as much as you would, maybe more. If you're asking for an instructor, a superior, I don't think I could be comfortable with that. Lovemaking isn't something that should be done between people with whom there's an imbalance of power."
Delenn sensed the question inherent in Susan's speech. "I think what you would like to know is whether someone may teach who is not an expert. The answer is yes, you may. The Naran'cha is a duty, an honor, and a pleasure for both. It assists another towards maturity; yet at the same time it teaches the teacher. It is the first step in a young Minbari's life in which she is treated as an adult would be treated, the first relationship of equality. The only requirements of the Naran are that she be more knowledgeable than the student, which you are... that she be patient and gentle, which you are, though I think you prefer that no one should know that," she continued, not without a glint of tiny, surprising impishness, "and that she be willing to learn as much as she teaches. I think that you are the most capable of fulfilling all three obligations, and moreover, I trust you. I trust you with myself. Susan, will you teach me? Will you...make love with me?" She held out her hand, palm open and waiting for Susan's to join it.
Susan did not move. She sat still for so long that Delenn felt nervousness return, along with embarrassment. This was strange, an outside part of her knew. Susan had voiced no fault of Delenn's, only concern that she felt she may not have the skill a Naran would need; so why, Delenn wondered, were her own eyes telling her that they would shortly be shining with another Human thing she had learned about? Why was she about to cry?
Then, even while Delenn struggled to hide her acute awareness of impending rejection, Susan reached across the table and very deliberately selected two berries from the top of the arrangement on the plate, bright red and juicy. Still watching the Minbari closely, she deposited one on her own tongue, then held out the second for Delenn.
Elation: Susan had not only accepted, but had offered to feed her the first bite of the meal they would share later. Delenn bent forward and took the berry from Susan's fingers with her teeth, lips closing over a lightly calloused fingertip for a second too long to have been accidental. Both women chewed and swallowed. In one smooth movement, Susan rose to her feet and held out her hand to assist the Minbari woman. Delenn took the hand, though she didn't need it, and stood, looking up at Susan for a long moment as Lennier, having witnessed the eating of the first fruit, averted his eyes.
Taking Susan's hands, Delenn stepped backwards, leading the taller woman with unerring aim towards her inner quarters.