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G’Kar regarded Delenn across the table as he waited for his tea to cool. Fragrant steam curled under his jaw as he debated whether the burden of silence ought to be broken by guest or host. Minbari often kept rules for such things. Delenn followed his gaze, her disarming smile almost enough to offset her rigid posture and let G’Kar forget that less than a week ago she’d caught a knife between the shoulder blades. He wished he’d gathered the sense to review his internal catalogue of alien etiquette before he’d arrived at her quarters to request a belated performance of the Nafak’cha.

He settled on, “Thank you for seeing me, Delenn. Do we begin with the confession, or should I show you what I’ve brought?”

“There is a great deal more to the Rebirth Ceremony than that, G’Kar. As I’m sure you know, once preparations have commenced, the ceremony must be held within a certain period of time, and you are—“

“I’m here,” said G’Kar, hoping that would count for something.

Delenn averted her gaze. ”Yes, but…” She wrapped her fingers around her ceramic cup and sighed. “You did not appear interested when I asked the first time. May I ask why you wish to participate now?”

G’Kar shook his head. “It was not out of lack of interest, Delenn, I was—” busy, he almost said, before realizing that it likely wasn’t the sort of answer Delenn would appreciate, nor was it truly adequate to what he felt. While he’d been otherwise occupied with the organization of the new Narn security force, the atmosphere had changed on Babylon 5. A subtle shift in ambience. Tension, fear, and weary resignation had lifted from the faces of the senior staff, giving way to a charged confidence as sharp as the cut of their new uniforms. To successfully break the shackles of a corrupt administration was no small achievement—one that G’Kar supported wholeheartedly—but even that did not fully explain the wave of activity and optimism that had swept through the station while his back was turned, leaving G’Kar stranded in its wake.

“I’ve had,” he tried again, “spiritual misgivings since my incarceration. A period of time spent alone with oneself, writing, thinking, reflecting on one’s experiences—for me, it was more blessing than punishment. In many ways, I feel that I left that cell a different person than when I entered. And yet… I still have doubts. The clarity of my visions has begun to fade. I had been so certain, but now, when I read over some of the things I had written in that state, I can no longer find the sense in them, by G’Quan, it even sounds—“

He slumped down, resting on his elbows over the low table. Delenn gestured to his untouched tea. “Drink, if that will help.”

G’Kar took a sip of the thin, nearly flavourless, beverage. “I spoke with Ta’Lon after I was released. I wanted to share with him what I’d learned, all that I’d seen and felt. But when I revealed to him what I thought was our people’s path to salvation—the way he looked at me, I…” He laughed under his breath, then blinked at Delenn. “I don’t know what to do with this, Delenn, how to express it, how to make them see.”

“I understand,” said Delenn. The apprehension faded from her face, and she offered a smile. “In that case, I think we can go ahead with the ceremony.”

“Actually, that was going to be my confession,” G’Kar admitted. “But I’m sure I can come up with something more exciting if you give me a moment.”

Delenn shook her head, hair tumbling over her shoulders. “That will not be necessary. I do not know if this will be of any comfort to you, but if you will permit me to say: when I look at you, G’Kar, I do not see someone of unsound mind. The line between inspiration and madness is… a troublesome question. I’ve often thought such matters are decided in retrospect, and have less to do with the strength of one’s convictions than with how they are received and what is brought about as a result.” She straightened her back, then reached across the table to lay a hand over G’Kar’s. “It could be that your people are simply not ready to hear what you have to say. But that does not mean that they never will be.”

“Or it could mean that I have yet to communicate it in a way that they will understand,” G’Kar added, unsure of what to make of Delenn’s words. They did somehow put him at ease.

“That doesn’t mean you should stop trying,” she said, and in doing so, drew the matter to a close. “Why don’t you show me what you’ve chosen to leave behind?”

G’Kar dipped his head in gratitude, willing himself as still as Delenn. From what he remembered of the brief demonstrations, Minbari ceremonies were conducted with an air of solemnity. Already, his hand had slipped into his jacket to pull out the possession he’d chosen, recalling its shape and texture, how naturally its weight used to settle over his hip. “Here,” he said, offering it to Delenn hilt-first. She glanced down at it, then back up at him expectantly. “This is not just any dagger, Delenn. I have owned many just like it, but this is the one I carried on the day Emperor Turhan came to Babylon 5.”

Delenn tucked a hand over her mouth, but not before G’Kar caught her private smile. “I had suspected as much.” She pulled the dagger from his hand. “A tragic day for all of us.” She handled the blade with surprising confidence, running her fingernail down the flat end. “But as I look at this, I am reminded of how much worse it might have been.”

“Worse for whom?” G’Kar couldn’t help but interject.

“You, most notably.” Delenn set the dagger on the table. “Consider if you had gone through with your plan. What do you think would have happened?”

“I would not have remained alive long enough to witness what came after,” G’Kar huffed. Was not the idea of the Nafak’cha to break those tethers that bound between past and present? G’Kar tried not to waste time wallowing in empty hypotheticals; to seek wisdom from the past was a privilege reserved for those whose history contained more pride than pain.

“Exactly,” said Delenn, her tone placating. “As horrible as it must have been, there was nothing you could have done to alter the course of events. The only difference is that you would not be here for your people now, when, perhaps, they need you most of all. We are all a part of a larger plan, G’Kar, and I can sense now that you are beginning to understand your place in it.”

The way she spoke, G’Kar could almost believe it. Still, a part of him withered at hearing talk of hidden purposes, revealed knowledge, and cosmic plans, no matter how kindly it was delivered. The comfort such beliefs provided was a soothing mirage, one easily shattered. His mind went to the followers of the prophet Ko’Laq, who promoted a sensitivity to the will of God and the necessity of hardship and struggle in the fulfilment of some divine plan. Their like did not survive the first occupation, former followers dispersed between the paths of G’Quan and G’Lan, both of whom acknowledged the indifference of fate and opposed senseless suffering.

“It is said that you Minbari take a somewhat long view regarding the significance of events,” G’Kar said diplomatically. He gazed into his cup, watching the small purple leaves swirl around the bottom. “You will forgive me if that sort of… patience does not come as easily for the rest of us.”

“It does not come easily for anyone,” said Delenn, with insistence as subtle as G’Kar’s rebuke. “Perhaps especially for Minbari. We were not always as we are today. Even now, there are those of us who remain impetuous and short-sighted.” There was a change in her voice towards the end. She cast a knowing look across the table, as if trusting that G’Kar would refrain from pointing out the obvious.

G’Kar softened his tone. “I see. An ideal to be aspired to. The trouble with those is that they tend to be less achievable in practice. One could spend a lifetime working towards that kind of grace and never find it. As you said for inspiration and madness, there is a fine line between grace and complacency.”

“It is not—“ Delenn was about to object, but stopped herself. She glanced over G’Kar, to the collection of glimmering ornaments that hung from the ceiling of her quarters, losing herself in thought and coloured shards of light that flickered around the room. “That is exactly the reason why we of the Religious caste lead lives of constant discipline, in order to be on guard against that temptation,” she said, tracing a finger around the rim of her cup. “One purpose of ceremonies like this is to bring one’s soul into balance before undertaking a decision of importance. To be ‘reborn’ does not mean to have discarded the past. What has happened is fixed and unalterable, and we take it with us wherever we go, no matter how much we may wish to do otherwise. Where we go wrong is by justifying our present situation by means of the past. It should be the other way around.”

G’Kar listened carefully, transfixed, the disjointed fragments of Minbari thought he’d picked up over the years beginning to fall into place. “So it is not a relinquishment of one’s former self so much as it is a shift in perspective?”

“That’s right. By bringing into focus what has come before—what has led you here, to this moment—one is able to glimpse tendencies and patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed. It is only when these patterns are brought into focus that we are able to adjust that balance and bring our souls into alignment once more.”

“Into alignment with what?” G’Kar asked.

“The universe, of course,” she said, as if it were perfectly obvious.

“I should have guessed. It all makes sense now.” G’Kar sighed, then leaned back on his hands to stretch his muscles. The cushions set around the low table lent an intimate mood to their conversation, but kneeling on the floor did no favours for G’Kar’s back. Delenn rose to her feet, smoothed her dress, and paced to the counter. G’Kar watched as she paused over a glass bowl filled with fruit of odd shapes and colours. She selected two small, pink fruits and offered one to G’Kar. He stood up and blinked with recognition. “Ah! I remember this part of the ceremony.”

Delenn took his hand and placed the fruit in the centre of his palm. “These are not the proper sacrament, I’m afraid, but they will serve. I trust you have no objection?” G’Kar shook his head, closed his eyes, and let Delenn begin the recitation: “Will you follow me into fire? Into storm? Into darkness? Into death? And the nine said, "Yes." Then do this—“

“Wait.” G’Kar stopped her. “Could you perform the recitation in Adrenato? It’s… been a long time since I’ve had the chance to practice.”

Delenn cocked her head to the side, then slowly nodded. “I suppose, if that is your wish,” she said, and picked up where she left off. “Sa thena’raj na’sha’ve ze meta’ago. Re’fak tes a’shan a’lafa denn’sha ze shok’va ne denzan tes a’lafa izil’zha. Ka fak, zhu denn’sha, ne izil’zha. Pel’ona shlek’a pelaano, krezanor’ona, vera’ona. Il’ne d’denn’sha’a. Denn’sha a’kansha, denn’sha a’liya, denn’sha a’mendofal. Anza’shleck va, ne ni’a’kreza. Te zeeana a’nevell, kara Ve’a tes vu. Anza’shleck va.

G’Kar listened closely to the rhythm of her voice, the lilt to the words, filling in with memory his gaps in comprehension. He silently mouthed each phrase to feel the language settle on his tongue. By the time she was finished, he raised his voice to a whisper and joined her in the final verse: “Sa’la, everil’zha.

When he opened his eyes, Delenn was staring up at him with a face of pleasant surprise. “That was good, now we…” She raised her fruit before G’Kar’s lips in invitation and blinked when he drew back. “Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that we had slightly altered the performance for the demonstration. This is the way it is traditionally done.” She tapped G’Kar’s hand, indicating that he should do the same for her.

“Tradition must be respected,” G’Kar said, quickly catching on. His palm open, G’Kar dipped his head and took a bite from Delenn’s fruit as delicately as he could manage. Mildly sweet, but with soft, chewable seeds that released a stronger flavour that prickled his tongue. He felt Delenn reciprocate in turn, the brush of her cheek against his glove. Neat though he tried to be, the fruit left juices pooling between her fingers. G’Kar wasn’t sure what to do until she angled her hand closer and pressed a finger to his lips.

Anza’shleck va,” she repeated. The gesture pulled at something deep in G’Kar, though he doubted Delenn could be fully cognizant of the resemblance it bore to symbolic elements of his own culture’s eroticism. Then again, many species approached sexuality indirectly—elaborate games of pretense and innuendo for which G’Kar possessed neither talent nor patience. G’Kar knew next to nothing about Minbari desire, but as his tongue slid gently over the lines of Delenn’s palm, he realized that his impression of her people as detached ascetics might have been premature.

Gently, Delenn drew her hand away. With the ceremony concluded, G’Kar expected to be politely ushered to the door, but Delenn took him by the arm, almost forcefully, and guided him back to the table. “I’m curious how you came to learn our language,” she said, refreshing both of their cups of tea. “That information was not widely distributed until after the war.”

G’Kar was caught off guard by the question. How eager she was to return to mundane conversation without mention of whatever had transpired between them. “Exactly,” he said, deciding to follow her example. “No offense intended, but the destruction your forces left in their wake frightened more than just the humans. I have always had a skill for languages, so I patched together the few resources the Centauri had compiled in their dealings with your Federation, and learned what I could.”

“Selling arms to one side while preparing yourself for the victory of the other. That's very pragmatic of you,” she chided affectionately.

G’Kar shrugged. “It seemed inevitable. Besides, smuggling weapons is not as exciting a career as you might think. Endless runs through hyperspace on slow, convoluted routes to avoid attracting attention, only to spend hours or even days at some empty coordinates waiting on a rendezvous. It helped to pass the time.”

“It must have been very tedious, then—your accent is better than I would have expected. I assume you’ve studied Vik and Lennan as well?”

G’Kar shook his head. “I haven’t met many of your Warrior brethren, but they’ve never struck me as much for conversation.”

“They would consider that a compliment,” Delenn pointed out. “It is an image they take care to cultivate, but, ah…” Delenn paused, glancing down into her lap. “You are correct that our languages are closely associated with each of the three castes, but it is not so simple as the Warrior caste speaking one language and the Religious caste speaking another. To truly speak Minbari, one must be proficient in all three.”

“Of course. How else would you communi—” G’Kar blurted out before he fully grasped her meaning. “Wait. You don’t mean to say that you… speak all three at the same time?”

“Yes,” she said without a trace of irony. “Every Minbari, no matter his or her caste, is brought up to speak each of our three languages fluently to allow for flexibility of expression and precision in meaning,” she explained, slowing down only when she looked up to notice G’Kar’s bewildered expression. “When I am speaking to another Minbari, I may begin with a sentence in Lennan, but speak the next in Vik or Adrenato. The languages are interwoven, thought by thought, depending on the topic, context, and intended tone.”

G’Kar’s mouth hung open in awe and horror as he imagined the years it would take to master such a language. Not only did the sheer scope of vocabulary make his head spin, but the question of how, when, and under what circumstances to use it added another layer of unfathomable complexity. The idea seemed ludicrous, an affront to what he’d come to expect from the orderly Minbari mind. “Is that all there is to it?”

“The caste and rank of both oneself and one’s conversational partner must also be taken into account,” Delenn added.

G’Kar sagged on his elbows, a hand pressed to his temple. “By G’Quan, how do you ever manage?”

Delenn gave a non-committal shrug. “I suppose I can understand why it would appear… challenging to outsiders, but it is really quite intuitive once one gains familiarity with our culture and social delineations. All three languages do share a basic grammatical structure, with the differences mostly contained at the level of vocabulary.”

“But surely there must be some overlap?” G’Kar ventured, trying his best to make sense of it. “Are there things that can be said in one language, but are impossible in another?”

Delenn thought for a moment, idly twirling a lock of hair around her finger. “Not precisely. All three languages are complete. In our everyday dealings, using only one would suffice, but…” she hesitated, then shifted closer to G’Kar. “There are differences—features unique to the language of each caste that render them ideal for discussing matters of that caste’s primary concern.”

“How so?” G’Kar asked.

“For us, language is more than a means of communication. It is a tool, one that can be honed for different purposes. Vik is harsh and efficient, meant to be shouted quickly and intelligibly over the roar of battle. For that reason, words are short—rarely composed of more than three syllables—and favour sharp consonant sounds over vowels. Of course there is a selection of modifiers, but the best compositions in Vik make little use of them, preferring to condense as much meaning as possible into simple, elegant strings of nouns and verbs. One of the oldest, and perhaps, easiest, rules of Minbari is that statements issued in the imperative form are nearly always spoken in Vik, so as to convey a sense of force and urgency.”

“But…” G’Kar started, then thought better of it. “Never mind.”

“No, go on. What were you going to ask?” Delenn lightly placed a hand over his wrist.

G’Kar hadn’t intended to bring things back to the ritual, but curiosity won out in the end. “It was just… unless my comprehension needs more practice than I thought, your recitation in Adrenato contained several imperative statements.”

Far from offended, Delenn actually seemed pleased that he’d noticed. “But was it commanding? Did it sound like an order?”

“Not at all! It sounded—” He paused, again afraid to misjudge the nature of her furtive mannerisms. “It was…permissive, inviting almost.”

“Exactly,” said Delenn. “It would take a great deal of effort to do otherwise in Adrenato, and the attempt would sound stilted, strained. Or, if spoken at the right time—” She broke into a smile, small crinkles forming around her eyes. “Extremely funny. Just as it is to hear religious discussion conducted in Lennan, or… instructions to repair a gravimetric drive in Vik.” She laughed outright at that. “Much of Minbari humour is based in that sort of incongruity.”

“Apparently!” G’Kar said. The very idea had Delenn holding back giggles. He still didn’t understand it in the least, but he liked seeing her smile—a real one, he suspected—entirely different from the benign serenity she assumed while issuing greetings in the council chambers. He reached for his tea, to which the pulpy aftertaste of the fruit had lent, to his surprise, a rather pleasant flavour. “Still…” he mused after the moment had passed. “Does it not seem to you at all… arbitrary? Where is the necessity in this? Respect for tradition is one thing, but—“

“Some of it. In the way of all language,” Delenn conceded. “But there are principled limitations as well. Lennan, for example, differs from the other two in that it adapts. Where Vik and Adrenato are valued for their integrity, Lennan is forever growing and changing over the course of years—new words admitted as quickly as the old fall obsolete. It is many languages in one: the language of physics, of engineering, of agriculture, of medicine. It is said to be the most intimidating of our three tongues, but also the most forgiving. If you should wish to resume your study of Minbari, you could do worse than to begin with Lennan.”

“Would you teach me?” G’Kar asked, half serious.

Delenn dipped her head in a slight bow. “I would be honoured,” she said, completely serious. Then she looked down, absently tracing the buttons of G’Kar’s gauntlet. “Maybe someday, after things have settled down, we will all have time for such things.”

G’Kar smiled gently at her. “Of course.” He could see it in her eyes, the tone of her voice, the air of secrecy that he’d felt since his release. He thought again to the change in the senior staff, sensed that he’d stumbled onto a question Delenn was not ready to answer. Yet she seemed content to let the moment pass, her posture relaxed, a smile playing on her lips, close enough to G’Kar that her thigh nearly brushed his. “Integrity or flexibility…” G’Kar muttered, considering what Delenn had said. “A difficult choice. You know, that is something Vik and Adrenato share in common with Narn—all have been spoken, largely unchanged, since their conception. It has become a subject of controversy among my people.”

Delenn brightened suddenly, then demurred. “I do not think… ah, that is, I’m afraid I am not as familiar with your language as I should be.”

“Few people are,” he admitted. “In retrospect, it is impressive that we managed to preserve as much of ourselves as we did,” he went on, undeterred. “The few of our surviving archives contain texts going back thousands of years, copied meticulously by hand, perfectly legible to the modern reader. There are terms which have fallen out of common parlance, yes, but Narn is constructed in such a way that their meaning can be easily inferred.”

“By anyone?” Delenn broke in. “Or only your scholars?”

G’Kar shook his head. “Anyone at all. The most basic unit of meaning in Narn is not the word, but the sound. Each and every syllable in our language possesses some broad meaning that can be further refined by joining it to others, forming long chains of sounds which not only name, but describe their referents.” He reached out to touch Delenn’s arm. “What you said before, that convention is the way of all language, I couldn’t make sense of it because nothing is arbitrary or interchangeable in Narn. For us, there is no gap between the way of the world and how we speak of it.”

Delenn leaned into the touch, easing a bit of her weight onto G’Kar. Her back, he realized, gently lowering an arm around her waist to feel the layer of bandages hidden beneath her clothes. He shifted his own position, leaning back on his one free arm so her head could rest on the slope of his shoulder. She made a soft noise that was neither apology or relief, but something resembling approval. “Meaning that goes all the way down…” Delenn said, once she was comfortably nestled against his chest. “Is that truly possible?”

He hesitated before answering. His people’s reverence for the spoken word was greatly remarked upon by other races, but rarely did they make the effort to understand. But Delenn had been generous beyond expectations, tolerating his questions, his disbelief, and—as he only then realized—his longing for company after weeks of solitude. At the very least, she was owed a measure of reciprocity. “It is—or at least it is believed by some,” he amended, “that our language is divinely inspired, every word capturing the soul or essence of all created beings. Our ancestors, it is thought, were spiritually enlightened in ways we modern Narn could not begin to comprehend. They were the ones who crafted our language, completely replacing whatever had come before. It was first conceived as a spiritual medium, a means of communion between the thoughts of Narns and the mind of God, but as it inevitably spread beyond the ranks of our religious leaders, it assumed the status of a common tongue.”

“And your leaders approved of this?” said Delenn, craning her neck to face him.

“More than that,” replied G’Kar. “They encouraged it! Within reason, of course. They took measures to preserve its structure and prevent its abuse. Over writing, especially, they maintained strict control for many centuries. Literacy was a privilege granted to only the most esteemed poets and playwrights. To speak in error is a fleeting offence that can be easily corrected. To do so in writing is considerably more permanent, and invites the risk that one’s words may reach a wider audience who may not understand their context or proper intent.”

“Your leaders were very wise,” Delenn said, then in a quiet voice, “What happened to them?”

G’Kar let out a sigh. “The last of them perished in the age of G’Quan—a time of great struggle against our ancient enemy. It is written that our ancestors sacrificed themselves for the sake of their people and their world, in stories that are now half-history, and half-legend. It is…” He stopped, remembering the humiliation he’d suffered after bringing up such things in front of the council last year. “Well, it was a very long time ago. But I imagine they’d be… how do the humans say it—‘tossing in their tombs’?—over what has become of our language since—“

He paused at the touch of Delenn’s hand on his cheek. Only then did he notice the tension in his shoulders, the tremor in his voice as he spoke. “It’s all right,” he said, consciously relaxing. Lightly, she stroked his cheek, concern easing into something more tender. He turned to one side, brushed his lips along her exquisitely curled knuckles. A risk, he knew, but even without the cover of ceremony, these were motions he recognized, rituals that required no translation. “It’s only… this is the source of the controversy I mentioned before.”

Delenn did not pull away. She pressed the tip of her finger against his bottom lip. “Tell me.”

“At the end of the first occupation,” he began, “there were those who were not satisfied with merely eradicating the Centauri from our planet—they had to erase every last trace of their influence on our culture and on our souls. You have to understand that when the Centauri came, they brought with them not only technology, but an entirely new way of life. Their arrival introduced no end of traditions, arts, and concepts for which we had no equivalents. It was highly encouraged… and, I suppose, easier to simply transliterate these words than to replace them with terms of our own,” he finished with a deep breath, then looked to Delenn. “I imagine this all sounds trivial to you.”

Delenn’s eyes widened with realization. “Not at all,” she said. “The manner in which we speak is a reflection of how we understand the universe. Decisions about such things are never to be taken lightly.”

“Believe me, it caused quite the uproar. The older generation, survivors of the last years of the occupation, were the most outspoken about rejecting Centauri ‘corruptions’. To them, the occupation was an event best forgotten—a stain upon our history. To become wholly Narn again, we must purify our language and traditions, attempt to return to the way things were, as our leaders would have wanted.”

“A difficult task,” Delenn broke in, “when there are few who remain to remember such a time. The occupation lasted— ”

“One hundred and fifty years,” G’Kar finished. “We are a hardy people, Delenn, but that is well beyond the expected lifespan of a single Narn.” Especially for those who lived through the occupation, he was tempted to add, but held back. “And that is exactly what the younger generation said in response. They hated the Centauri no less than their elders, but a hatred taught is not the same as a hatred lived. Their world had been ravaged and destroyed, yes, but it was the one they were brought into, and the only one they had ever known. In their eyes, the surest way to move forward was to accept what had happened—take what the Centauri left behind and claim it as our own!”

“And what do you think?”

G’Kar gave a heavy shrug and a forced smile. “I think we have more important things to worry about now, wouldn’t you agree?” he said, and then immediately regretted when Delenn visibly winced. It was nothing more than a curl of her lips, a tremor in his arms, but it was a slip of her carefully maintained composure. It went without saying that the ongoing occupation was a heavy topic—certainly not something to be discussed lightly over tea—but it was not one he expected to upset Delenn of all people. “Really, if it were my decision…” he backtracked, “I’d say to keep whatever Centauri vocabulary we like, use it for our own purposes. Such as agitating Mollari, for example. Hearing his own words hurled back at him in a Narn accent—you should see the face he makes.”

His smile faltered when Delenn didn’t see the humour. She parted her lips in confusion. “You do speak Centauri, though? Quite well, I’d imagine.”

“Of course. We all had to learn it alongside our native tongue,” G’Kar said. “But I confess, I’ve never found much use for it. They are a people of surfaces and their speech is no different. Meaningless convention until the level of the word, and even that signification is being slowly eroded in the service of aesthetics. So many sounds, words, entire phrases completely devoid of meaning—their only purpose to fend off silence! Any deeper enrichment it may have possessed has been either forgotten or long buried.” He looked toward the ceiling, laughed silently to himself. “It is beautiful, though. Centauri is not meant to be spoken so much as sung.”

“I have heard much made of Centauri opera,” said Delenn with muted interest. “So it is worth hearing in its original language?”

G’Kar hesitated, averting his eyes. He bent down to whisper in her ear, “Absolutely. Just don’t tell Londo I said so.” This time, she returned his smile, and when he laughed, Delenn laughed with him.

“That isn’t to say that Narn is any less elegant in its own way,” he was unable to resist adding. “Only that it’s a greater challenge to produce a stirring composition without doing violence to the language itself. Which, of course, makes it all the more beautiful when somebody manages to accomplish it.”

“Is that right?” Delenn asked, a playful gleam in her eyes. “Show me.”

Surprised by her candour, G’Kar stumbled over his words. “How do you mean? What would you like to hear?”

“Anything that comes to mind. Tell me something you find beautiful.” She placed an imploring hand on his chest, peering up at him through her lashes. G’Kar had to bite back the obvious. Until she’d asked, he could have thought of hundreds of poems, songs, and prayers he admired, but somehow as his pulse raced under her touch, all of them fled from his mind—save for one. Tucked within the pages of a book he kept at his bedside, next to G’Quan, there was a poem he knew by heart.

“I should warn you, there is no available translation for this piece, and Sha’Veth is, ah…” he started, then, in lieu of explanation, swept a lock of Delenn’s hair from her shoulders to leave a kiss at her throat, “a very physical poet.”

He felt her shiver, then shift over his hips in a way that could not have been entirely accidental. “I don’t mind,” she said, then closed her eyes to listen:

"Venoth g’Ramina-set Ho’ni-vot g’Kora
naka’anata g’Narn’kos dulat Korra vesht’a tono
ge cha Inor’akO sela’ta vescha’lar
v rasedi marla ge’son Chal-kos rath’tar-Datha’ano
se Dossa quanal v burla na Tende no G’lorA:

Esset-I g’Narn’kon alat L’asa v Ko’asa
alat Ko-dros g’Narn ha gret-Dulat’ora
Tira-vot dom Ke’naK Shep-ath’rog’ve
qua g’Narn’kos Raj fala ith hal’ora
g’Narn’kos Vot yara’naq alat N’let v N’vasA:

Dasal’lar alat wey’ako Rash’ama’noth Len’asa v’ren
shani-ya Vin’shai g’Vinken’ash-koS
Yara’zad ge Morla’noth Bin’til no Bur’zhE
Na’asha he Nalaq-I Ven’dep g’Narn’kos Korra ge Ora’nos
g’Narn’kos Shen’shin Klor’wa qua Tur’q g’Ramina-reN:

A silence filled the room after he uttered the last line. Delenn’s eyes were open but focused elsewhere, contemplating what she’d heard, even if she could not have understood the words. “Who were they?” she asked at last. “Sha’Veth and…?” she trailed off. “If I’m not mistaken, it sounded like a love poem, filled with longing and devotion.”

She was not far from the truth, though G’Kar wasn’t sure how she’d managed to guess. “Something like that,” G’Kar replied. “Sha’Veth was a poet and a…” he searched for the appropriate term. To his disappointment, he knew of few words in English for the profession that did not carry gendered connotations. “A courtesan, I suppose you’d say. A famous one, too, with many lovers among the First and Second Circles. This work is thought to be addressed to Na’Lori—a politician at the time, well-respected, described as both inspiring and efficient.”

“A rare combination,” Delenn remarked.

“And passionate, if Sha’Veth is to be believed.” His hands dropped to her hips. “He brought out a side of her that nobody else could see. One of life’s most intimate gifts, don’t you think?”

Delenn turned turned to face him, their bodies pressed together. “And a privilege,” she said, mock sternly. “There seems something… immodest about sharing such experiences in writing.” She traced a finger from the pit of his throat down the opening of his collar until she reached the barrier of armour. “To have one’s greatest legacy passed down through the words of a former lover.”

“It’s how I would like to be remembered.”

When Delenn glanced up, he kissed her. Pretence abandoned, his mouth was on hers, soft enough so she could pull away if she desired, but intimate enough to make his feelings known. Their charade had to be over now. By the way her mouth opened, yielding without hesitation, Delenn apparently agreed. One hand moved from her hips to the back of her scalp to latch on to the carved grooves of her crest. She moaned, a sharp note of approval, then broke away with the heat of her breath still lingering on his lips.

With Delenn in his lap, he met her gaze eye-to-eye. She studied his face, taking in every spot and line, as if passing judgment. G’Kar fought the instinct to turn away, resisted the temptation of another kiss, and let her discover whatever she was looking for. A smile crossed her face and she rested her forehead over G’Kar’s. “May I show you something?” she asked. “Come with me.”

G’Kar followed without question as Delenn stood up and led him by the elbow to her bedroom. Her sparse, minimalist decor extended even to her most personal areas, it seemed. The room was lightly furnished—a chair, a wardrobe, a desk for business, and a cushioned contraption at a precarious slant that G’Kar could only assume was a bed. He continued puzzling over the strange design, barely noticing when Delenn let go of his arm. “One moment…” she said, and hurried toward her desk, a spring in her step.

“Here.” Delenn presented him with a slim black book.

G’Kar blinked down at it, then reexamined the room itself. No other books, shelves, or even paper to be seen. The only belongings she had on display were a scatter of multi-coloured data crystals on her desk. He placed his hand on the blank cover. “What is this, Delenn?”

“A chance to practice,” Delenn replied, and it took a moment before G’Kar understood what she meant. She pressed herself against his arm as he opened the book, which, to his delight, looked to be a collection of poems. “The poet was once a… close personal friend of mine. She gave me the first printed copy of her collected works.” She directed his attention to the inner cover, upon which there was a handwritten dedication. “She often came to visit me here. If I had known of your interest then, I might have introduced you. I…” she hesitated, excitement dampened by a touch of melancholy. “I think Mayan would have liked you.”

“Is that so?” G’Kar asked, noting the past tense. “Is she… still writing?”

“N-no, I did not—“ Delenn gasped. “All I meant is that we are no longer as close as we once were.”

G’Kar gave a solemn nod. “I understand,” he said, thoroughly bewildered. He resumed flipping through the pages of the book, most of it unintelligible, save for a few lines here and there—isolated patches of meaning that loomed large against an incomprehensible background.

“Here. Look at this.” Delenn stopped him and pointed to the short poem on the page he had open, which, to his surprise, looked to be composed entirely in Adrenato. “The language in this one is very simple. Would you care to give it a try?”

“Are you sure?” He took stock of the text, and indeed, though he did not understand every word, he was at least confident about their pronunciation.

Delenn nodded. “Go on,” she said with an encouraging squeeze at his wrist. Carefully, G’Kar began to read:

Valeria’na denn’sha zhae’la
khon’sed vihken fellan
d’atha tes te’ven
vonn palar.

Hearing the verse spoken aloud was different from merely seeing the words on paper. While he could not work out the precise metre or predict the stresses, it took no interpretive leaps to grasp the sentiment. He turned to Delenn and smiled knowingly. “And you said Sha’Veth was immodest,” he teased. “This is downright indecent.”

Delenn gave a coy shrug. “A matter of opinion.” She raised a hand to stroke his jawline. “Mayan always had a lively imagination.”

G’Kar met the touch with a gentle nip when she ventured close enough to his mouth. “Give me a little credit, Delenn. There’s nothing ‘imagined’ about that, is there?” He nuzzled against her hand, softening his expression. “Your friend… your relationship must have meant a great deal to her to inspire such passion.” He handed the book back to her, still open on the page.

Delenn didn’t bother to deny it. She ran her hand down the spine of the volume, light as a caress. “Perhaps. We were close for a long time—inseparable since our years in créche,” she said, surprisingly matter of fact. “I still think of her fondly, though I very much doubt she feels the same.” She closed the book, then briefly walked away to return it to its place on her desk. She paused, casting a look over her shoulder. “Sometimes… I feel as if what I miss the most is not Mayan herself, but her companionship, the life we shared, a bond of warmth and of wisdom. Is that strange?”

“Not at all,” said G’Kar, and looped his arms around her waist as soon as she was within reach. “The bonds we forge in youth are always the most irreplaceable, but someday, I’m sure, you’ll find something that comes close.”

This time, Delenn kissed him. Raised on her toes, hands latched to the sides of his collar, she dragged him against her with unexpected force. G’Kar barely had time to breathe before she claimed him, her tongue sliding past his lips. A low moan issued from his chest, which became a muffled growl against her mouth. When they broke, there was a tint of pink in Delenn’s cheeks, her breaths noticeably heavier. She glanced to the bed at the other side of the room, then back at G’Kar.

G’Kar smiled down at her, then carefully, minding the bandages at her back, he fastened his hands at her hips to lift her off the ground. Her face lifted in a rare look of awestruck surprise as she found herself suddenly off her feet, the hem of her skirt hovering inches off the floor. Instinctively, she clung to G’Kar’s shoulders as he settled her slight frame in his arms and carried her the short distance.

Delenn laughed softly as he set her down at the side of the bed. “There is no need for grand gestures here,” she said. “I think you’ll find I’m already quite impressed.”

G’Kar knelt down and placed a hand on her thigh. “Delenn, I…” She had already brought a hand to the lacings of her dress.

“Yes?” she asked.

“What is the meaning of this?” He kept his voice low and level, stroking her thigh to let her know his desire hadn’t cooled. “I’d heard that among Minbari, sex holds a certain significance.” It felt strange and unnatural to speak so coarsely in front of the woman sitting before him, but he needed say it out in the open, if only to shake off the last of their extended flirtation—to make sure this was real. “Are there any required traditions I should know about? Rituals I should be aware of?”

“And who has been teaching you?” Delenn placed her hand on top of G’Kar’s. “As with many things among my people, the significance of intimacy depends on the context, intention, the respective status of both partners and the bond they share.” She drew his hand up to her chest and the partially undone laces. “For everything, there is a time and a place. For two people who wish to join their lives together, it is one ritual among many to ensure the two feel as one in all things.”

G’Kar idly plucked at the loose laces. “I assume that’s not exactly what you have in mind.”

“Sometimes it is a part of a welcome or initiation. At other times, a way of parting.”

Neat and orderly, G’Kar thought as he finished unlacing her dress to reveal the silk shift underneath. “And are any of these mutually exclusive?”

“Ah,” she said, as if the thought had never crossed her mind. “That’s…” she trailed off as G’Kar’s hand disappeared beneath the hem of her shift. “That’s a complicated question. But… for us, impropriety is the result of misjudgment about the nature of a relationship, rather than the acts which take place within it.”

G’Kar still wasn’t sure he understood the fine nuances, but her answer, and the way she sighed when his hand slipped between her thighs, told him all he needed to know. “And what is the nature of this, Delenn?”

Delenn bit her lip, barely hiding a smile. “That’s exactly what I hope to find out,” she said, and pulled him overtop of her onto the sheets.