Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words
"Susan, what is all this?" Lennier had just returned from a mission, and had come straight to Susan's quarters. This had become his routine, and part of him still wondered a little at his immediate desire, no need, to see her after an absence.
"Just a little house-cleaning," replied Susan, coming over to first bow to, then embrace, her partner. They had chosen this term to describe their untraditional, but deeply personal, relationship to others. To other humans that was, the Minbari had a term for their unusual bonding; but then again the Minbari had a term for everything, just like they had a ritual for everything. As Lennier took her face between his hands, and began to kiss her thoroughly, she lost track of what she was thinking altogether. Even though she was prone to keeping multiple trains of thought going at once, he was able to effectively derail her organized, multi-tasking brain...and that was her last coherent thought for a few minutes.
Once he was sure Susan understood how much he had missed her, Lennier went straight back to his question. Pointing at the items laid out on the couch and table, even the floor of the living area of Susan's rooms, he said, "It looks more like disarray than house-cleaning."
Susan shook her head as if to clear it. The Minbari had a disconcerting ability to concentrate absolutely and completely on one thing, then change gears instantly. Of course, she had grown to enjoy their ability to focus on...certain activities. Some people didn't understand that the Minbari were a quietly, intensely passionate people. Smiling happily, she came back down to Earth to see Lennier walking among the items in the living room, examining them.
"Be careful. Some of those things are fragile," she exclaimed as she joined him.
He looked at her, and said seriously, "I always take care around items of importance to you." He gestured around him, and asked again, "But what are these things doing out here?"
She coughed slightly, and began to blush. "I was just making a little room, um, here. In case, you know…"
He looked at her curiously, but with no impatience. "Room for what?"
"In case you wanted to move some of your things in here." She spoke the words all in a rush, then stopped, appalled at her own haste. Damn, she'd meant to work up to this gradually!
Lennier looked at her with a sideways glance. "My...things? I have few possessions, Susan. I spent ten years wandering through space with a carryall and an antique flyer. I keep some clothes here; surely that is enough?"
"Of course!" she hastened to reassure him, kicking herself for the way the topic had been introduced. "It's just, well...we've been together a while, and you're gone so often. It seemed to me that the time spent going back and forth to your quarters might be better spent here..." Her voice trailed off, and she wondered if she'd ruined everything.
"I understand." Lennier looked at the bits and pieces spread all over thoughtfully. "I will take this as a great compliment, then. That you wish to spend more time with me. However, I do not wish to give up my quarters at this point." He squatted down and started examining the items. "These are things you have kept with you over the years, am I correct? That are important to you?" He looked up to see her nod in agreement. "I would not wish to displace such things in your home, or in your heart. They are part of your history, and part of you, and as such, are precious to me as well." He picked up a piece of silver, branched, with round holes atop each branch. "What is this, for instance?" He turned it over and over in his hands, noting the candlewax still lining the holes.
"It's a menorah," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "It was my mother's, that is, it came from her side of the family. I've had it a long time."
"What is it for?" he said. "Do you put candles here?" He pointed at the sockets, then rubbed it on his sleeve, trying to remove the tarnish.
"Yes, candles go in it. It's lit, oh, around this time of year actually, for a ritual called Chanukah." She was growing uncomfortable now, "I don't perform it that often these days."
"Why not?" He stood up, still holding the menorah.
"It's a traditional ceremony of my clan, I guess you'd call it. Not a very important one. I keep the menorah for sentiment mostly. I can't remember the last time I lit the candles and said the prayers." She took the menorah from him, and sat it down on the kitchen counter. "So, you got back just in time."
"In time for what?" Lennier asked, aware that she did not want to discuss the matter further, but uncertain why. Susan could be fiercely private, and he respected the boundaries she set, even when he did not understand them.
"It's Christmas Eve, and John and Delenn invited me over to see their tree. I'm taking David's gift over tonight. You want to come? If you're too tired from your trip, that's all right. I won't be staying long." She looked around at the room. "I'd better clean this up. I have to get back to the office; I have some work to do this afternoon."
"I will straighten the room. You go ahead. And I would enjoy going to see their tree of Christmas. Please let them know I will be there." He walked behind her to the door.
"I'll do that." She looked back at the mess she was leaving. "You can bundle that stuff back up in the cases laid out on the bed. My equivalent of a sea chest, I guess. They go in the closet, on the floor. Taking up a lot of space in there, but I'll go through them later. Will you be here when I get back?"
"I will try to be. We can leave for the Presidential quarters from here. What time are we supposed to be there?"
"Seven, I think. After dinner. I'll double check with John." She grabbed a case stuffed with files off a table on the way out the door, and called, "I'll be back in a few hours."
He closed the door behind her, and looked at the menorah sitting on the counter. It only took him a few minutes to straighten away the other mementos, placing them carefully in the two metal cases in the bedroom. Leaning them carefully against the back wall of the closet, he came back out into the living room and sat down at the computer to do some research.
When Susan returned, it was almost sundown. The large window in her living room faced west, and she loved the view at this time of day. The setting sun touched the distant mountains, turning the crystal seams and ice rivers to golden fire, lacing the sides in intricate patterns of light. When she came in, she dropped her case on the floor in the hallway, just next to the island separating the living room from the kitchen. Entering the living room, and loosening the fastening that held her hair back off her face at the same time, she tried to decompress from the workday. Lennier was home, and she was looking forward to the family party tonight. Maybe she could take a couple of days off, she thought. They could go for a short trip, into the countryside outside Tuzanoor. Minbar had a lot of parkland inside the cities, but what she liked best were the wild areas, set aside to honour the undeveloped planet.
Lennier wasn't in the living room, but he had left her a surprise. Her menorah had been carefully cleaned and polished, and was set in a place of honor on the low table in front of the couch. She sighed; she knew he meant it as a gift, an honouring of her traditions, but she wasn't in the right frame of mind for this tonight. She didn't even know when Chanukah started this year, much less when it would be considered to start on Minbar. The time difference was something she only took into consideration when it was required at work; mostly she was on Alliance time, which was Minbar time. John and Delenn kept to the Minbari calendar, except for birthdays and holidays, like today. David was thrilled he got to have two birthday celebrations; the more serious one on his 'Minbar birthday' and a raucous party on his 'Earth birthday'.
Sitting down on the computer, she hit the key to check messages. There was a brief one from Lennier, saying he would be back soon, well before they would have to leave, and he would bring something for their evening meal. That's one less thing to worry about, she thought, and started going through the rest of the long list of questions, requests, and changes in schedule.
For once, nothing needed her immediate attention, and she thought she'd have a look at the 'nets. Clicking on the key to activate access to Minbar's equivalent of EarthNet, she noticed that Lennier had been on it previously, and left the translator set to Adronato. Although her grasp of the language was adequate, she preferred English for casual surfing. Changing the setting took only an instant, and the page he had been reading wavered, and turned back to her native tongue. The top page was a Hebrew calendar, and she noticed that on Earth, today was the first day of Chanukah. He had left tabs open on sites referencing Earth religions in general and Judaism in particular. Oh Lord, she thought, he's taking this pretty seriously. Then she smiled; that was so like him. He would get interested in some subject, and become pretty enthusiastic, going at it until he had learned all he could. Just then the door opened, and in came Lennier, with several packages wrapped in the thin white paper the Minbari used for packaging. It was completely recyclable, and would disintegrate in sunlight if you happened to drop it somewhere. She'd heard rumours you could even eat it, in an emergency.
"You're just in time for the show," she said, gesturing at the large window, where the sun was just touching the horizon.
"I hoped I would be." He set some packages on the kitchen counter, then came in with one still in his hand. "I bought some candles that I thought would fit the menorah." He held up one hand as she started to speak, "Only if you wish to proceed. The coincidence of the date seemed meaningful." He unwrapped the package, and revealed thirteen white tapers. Susan turned in her chair and watched as he fitted two of them into the sockets. "Is that right?" he said, looking at her.
"Yes," she said, and came over to sit next to him, her eyes fixed on the menorah. She said, "I've been trying to remember the last time I went through the ritual. Once or twice on the Titans, I think. Once on the station; that time I remember vividly."
"Why that one in particular?" he asked, reaching into the shallow drawer in the table, and pulling out a firelighter, which he set on the table.
"It was after Kosh had appeared, the first time we had seen him outside his encounter suit. The Narn-Centauri war had begun, and neither Earth nor Minbar was going to get involved. It seemed like everything we had worked for was crumbling into dust." She looked at him, as the room darkened. Shadows filled the far corners of the room, as the sun touched the mountains, turning them to fire and gold. "I thought at the time it was better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
He nodded, "An old Minbari saying. Some say it originated with Valen himself."
Susan laughed, "Those old sayings keep coming up, don't they?" She sobered, and went on, "I'll bet Valen didn't say this; it's from an old, old song--
"Who can retell the things that befell us, who can count them?
In every age a hero or sage came to our aid."
"In every age...it was certainly true this time." Lennier leaned forward, his hands clasped in front of him, his elbows resting on his knees. "It was an honor to serve under Sheridan and Delenn, in the war. I only wish that I had not fallen so far from the path I had chosen."
"That one moment doesn't erase what you did before, or invalidate what you do now, Lennier. Everyone but you understands that." She placed one hand on his face, stroking it gently. "We both did our part then, as we do now." She leaned over and picked up the firelighter. "The sun's down. I think I would like to light the candles this year." Pointing to the tall candle, set above the rest, she explained, "This is the shammus candle, the servant. You use it to light the others."
"Those who serve will be set above all others, as service to others is the highest calling. That is another Minbari saying," Lennier said, pleased that she was going ahead with the ritual.
"The shammus candle can also be set lower than the others. The idea is that it isn't on the same level as the rest." Susan said, amused at his ability to find a saying for each situation.
"Those who put service first, will be first among equals." Lennier said softly, then added, "I will say my own prayers, Susan, if you do not mind, while your candles burn."
"That'll be fine," she said. "Lennier, I have to ask. Why don't you want to move in here, with me?"
Her voice was soft, and had a glint of hurt in it that pained him. He answered carefully, "We Minbari are a communal people. We share everything within our clans, and within our caste, and as a people. We share living space; we own few possessions; most of what money we earn is returned to the clan elders for equitable distribution. When two people are close, one of the greatest gifts they can give each other is space and time to themselves. Only if each desires it, of course. There are couples, like John and Delenn for example, whose greatest joy is in each other's company. Others prefer the contrast of being apart, and then together. It is very individual. If it makes you unhappy, of course I will come..."
"No," she said thoughtfully. "I think you are right, and that we are the second type of couple."
"We are different; each of a different race, born on a different world. When we share traditions, like these candles, and later, the tree and gifts, that is an expression of trust. We can remain individuals, respecting each other and our traditions, within our union."
She leaned against him briefly, resting her head on his shoulder, peacefully content. Straightening, she said, "These have to burn at least half an hour, and go out on their own. I'd best light them, so we can finish the ceremony, and still make it to the party on time." She did so, saying the three first night blessings quietly, holding the shammus candle in her hand, while Lennier listened in silence. Then, after she had lit the first candle, and replaced the shammus candle in its slot, they both sat and watched the light dance in the darkened rooms. Each prayed silently, in their own way, thanking the power that had kept them alive, and sustained them, and enabled them to reach this season, together.
"And while we are playing
The candles are burning low
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago"