When the Minbari Advisory Board for the Babylon Project was first formed, Delenn was the first member chosen. Her early work took place on the Valen’tha, which of course used the Minbar calendar; early on in the Project, though, Delenn found herself having to use the Earth calendar more and more often. At first she could not keep track of the names of the days and months, the durations of time, and she was constantly thinking a particular meeting was two months away when it was in fact two weeks. But by the time she had arrived on Babylon 5, she rarely had to consult the conversion file on her computer (whereas she was constantly referring to her language translator, sometimes it felt like every day). And after two years, she had begun thinking in the Earth calendar first, measuring time in her head as minutes and hours, keeping track with weeks and months.
Until her change. Then everything became clearly delineated into two distinct periods of time - before her change, and after her change. Three days after her change she bought new clothes. Five days after her change she learned she would never carry a child. Nine days after her change she was accused of no longer being a Minbari. Two weeks after her change she dressed in the morning and didn’t start at her reflection in the mirror for the first time.
Two weeks and three days after her change, she watched a vid with Sheridan. And she found herself keeping track of time from that day. It was three days after she watched the vid that she saw him next, on the other side of the Zocolo, and when their eyes met through the crowd his face lit up with a wide, tooth-filled smile. Delenn started to move his way but Garibaldi got to him first, and after only a few seconds of conversation the two immediately took off in the opposite direction. A brief pang of disappointment, then Delenn spent the rest of the day conjuring up the image of his smile.
Five days after she watched the vid with him, she was eating some taalor for her evening meal, trying to read some reports from home. Even though she knew it was fresh, it tasted like it had spoiled. There was nothing else to eat in her quarters, but she was too tired to brave going to a restaurant or even one of the food stalls. Delenn read through the list of restaurants who offered delivery for an extra exorbitant price, and the word pizza caught her eye. It was a word Garibaldi had taught her on a day he had regaled her with stories of his favorite foods, which were all fried in oil and covered in cheese (or fried in cheese and covered in oil? she couldn’t remember); at that instant something greasy and disgusting sounded like the most perfect thing in the world. Delenn ordered the pizza, at a loss when the young man taking her order asked what toppings she wanted, and said yes to the first thing he suggested.
She went back to her reports, and read the same note three times without having an idea what it actually said. The pizza arrived, and Delenn’s first bite was the most wonderful thing she had ever eaten, making the popped corn she had eaten with Sheridan a distant memory. She felt, at that moment, that her soul and Garibaldi’s soul were one. She ate first one piece, then another, and in seemingly no time the pizza was half-gone, and she finally made herself put it away before she made herself sick.
Six days after she watched the vid with Sheridan, Delenn awakened and instantly knew something was wrong. She was cold, terribly cold. She pulled on one of her old sets of robes, met with Lennier, and by the time he left she could feel sweat over every inch of her body, was so hot that she could hardly think. She climbed into her bathing stall, scrubbed herself with the chemical cleanser, feeling unreasonably filthy. By the time she dried off, she was cold again, and cramps had seized her. She had felt cramps in muscles needing oxygen after exerting herself, and occasionally cramps after eating food more rich than she was used to, but nothing like this. It felt as though great hands inside her abdomen had seized her organs and tissues and squeezed and wrenched and pulled. At first Delenn laid back down on her bed, but she finally curled up in a ball beside it on the floor.
The cramps passed long enough for her to brew an analgesic tea, and she sipped the hot liquid while pacing back and forth. It was twelve paces from her door to the far wall, but she turned one pace short to make counting easier. Eighteen circuits of her quarters later, she barely made it into her ablution room in time to vomit, the first time she had done so in nearly twenty cycles. After an eternity, Delenn found herself sitting on the floor, resting her forehead against the cool metal of the sink, shaking. She wanted to blame the pizza, but the cramps weren’t in her stomach. They were lower, and as another cramp took hold, she knew there was something wrong with her reproductive system.
She knew she ought to call Dr. Franklin, or at least call Lennier, but she could not bear the idea. More tests, more examinations. Franklin looking over her like she was some lab specimen, something to be poked and prodded. Finally she dragged herself into her bathing stall, clothes and all, and turned the water on as hot as it would go, and after half an hour the cramps seemed to lessen, and then they were gone.
She stripped her sodden robes off and left them right on the floor. Delenn climbed onto her bed, not bothering with brushing out her hair or pulling on dry clothes. She felt weaker than she had after she had just emerged from the Chrysalis. It wasn’t until afternoon slipped into evening that Delenn remembered that there had been a Council meeting that morning, that she had missed it entirely. She had been so looking forward to it, although she would not admit to herself why, even though she knew perfectly well. She laughed darkly at that; Minbari never tell the whole truth, even to themselves. She had been looking forward to seeing Sheridan again, had imagined talking to him after the meeting was over, had wondered if he would walk her back to her quarters. Would he have even noticed her absence? Feeling miserable and wretched, she was sure he did not.
Eight days after she watched the vid with Sheridan, her hands cracked and bled. She examined the skin on her elbows, and when she saw how much it looked like the scales from the Chrysalis, she calmly turned her mirror over to face the wall.
Ten days after she watched the vid with Sheridan, her brush failed entirely. No matter how carefully she tried to smooth the tangles out, they just grew worse and worse. She could feel the hairs snapping off, pulling out of her head painfully. The ones that pulled out of her bone crest hurt so much that she had to put her head down on the counter, bite her lips to keep from crying out. At one point, the brush got tangled up itself, and no matter how she turned it she could not pull it out. She started to panic, tugging it this way and that, and when she felt like finding a knife and cutting all of the hair off, Delenn called the one person she knew who she thought could help her.
Delenn had changed into what her father called home clothes, a loose tunic and trousers. She was already going to be acutely embarrassed, so why not be comfortable? Ivanova had expressed dismay that she used the traditional Minbari chemicals to clean herself, and Delenn found herself rambling about how Minbari did not perspire and had even brought up their night secretions when thankfully Ivanova cut her off. Of course, Delenn did perspire now, and her body no longer prepared the next layer of epidermis for exposure to the air while she slept, so she wondered why she had persisted using the same bathing techniques for as long as she did; it had not occurred to her to do anything else.
Now Ivanova stood behind her, carefully trying to untangle her hair. It was painful, no matter how slowly she worked, and Delenn could not keep a small cry from escaping her lips.
“I’m sorry. Your hair is just…destroyed,” Ivanova said. She set the brush down, just touched the dry and brittle locks with her fingers, gently trying to separate the strands.
“Can it be saved?” Delenn asked, for a brief moment imagined all of it gone. She was surprised when her first thought was that she would no longer be pretty. When had she started to think of herself as pretty?
“Oh, sure. The first time I left home, I went to a summer camp outside Prague, and I had access to a swimming pool for the first time in my life.”
“An artificial body of water, just to swim in. For recreation. Anyway,” Ivanova went on, “you have to put certain chemicals in pools, to keep bacteria and algae from growing, and those chemicals can be pretty harsh. I was very young, I didn’t realize you had to wash those chemicals off after you swim - I was a kid, and hey, I was getting wet, right? After, oh, six or seven days, you could have used my hair to feed a horse. One of the older girls sat me down, gave me a talk about hygiene among other things, straightened the whole thing out.”
“What did she do?” Delenn imagined some complicated ritual, with many steps and the careful application of unguents. Ivanova came around and looked at her, then held up a finger.
“Stay right here. I’ll be back. I have to get some stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
Ivanova returned almost an hour later, carrying two huge bags.
“Commander, I am keeping you from your duties.”
“You’re not, and call me Susan. Doing your hair does not require me to be addressed by rank,” Ivanova said, pulling items out of the bags and stacking them on the table beside Delenn’s chair. This was clearly a more in-depth ritual than she had anticipated. Ivanova went on. “For the foreseeable future, I have taken off my Earthforce uniform and put on my spa…uniform.”
Delenn looked her up and down. “You are still wearing your Earthforce uniform.”
“It’s a figure of speech.” Delenn smiled at her then, and was gratified to see the surprise on Ivanova’s face. “How often do you pretend you don’t understand some English word or phrase?”
“Not often. Perhaps with Mr. Garibaldi - he delights in explaining things to me.”
“Has he taught you any dirty jokes?”
“Many.” Ivanova finished unpacking her purchases, then took off her jacket and surveyed Delenn’s head.
“First things first, here’s what you’re going to use from now on. Shampoo for your hair. Lather up and rinse it out. And if your chemicals fried your hair like that, I imagine they dried out your skin, too.” Delenn nodded, wondering why she had waited so long to call Ivanova, who was attacking this problem like it was a new alien threat to the station. “Human soap.”
“It does not strip the top layer of the epidermis?” Ivanova shook her head, and Delenn felt unreasonably sad.
“It’s important to you? This idea of rebirth?”
“Yes. So many things have changed,” Delenn sighed, “but it was comforting, that this aspect of my life did not.”
Ivanova looked at her for a moment with compassion, and then it was gone as if it had never been there. She rolled up the sleeves of her white shirt. “All right. Let’s get started.”
Ivanova had spread some kind of hot oil throughout her hair, then wrapped her whole head in a warm, damp towel. They talked for half an hour about Delenn’s new appearance, and Ivanova laughed at Delenn’s story of discovering goosebumps for the first time, and Delenn squirmed at the thought of using metal clamps to curl her eyelashes.
Delenn was in her bathing stall, rinsing the oil out of her hair. She thought about opening up to Ivanova, telling her about some of the other things that had happened recently. But as she toweled herself dry and put her home clothes back on, she felt she could not put any more of her own burdens on Ivanova’s shoulders, not when the Commander was sacrificing her own time to do Delenn a favor.
“Have a seat,” Ivanova ordered when Delenn came back into the main room. Ivanova combed the wet hair, which parted as easily as it had the first day Delenn had done so herself. She sighed in pleasure. “How do you usually dry your hair?”
“I rub it with a towel,” Delenn said, wondering how else one would do it. “Some mornings I am in a hurry, so I must rub the hair quite violently.”
“Yeah, that’ll break it all off. Here, use this.” Ivanova handed Delenn an instrument shaped like the human letter V. Delenn held it gingerly, looking it over. Ivanova took it back, placed it around the top of one lock of hair, closed the ends and drew them down. Delenn reached up - the hair was dry.
“How does this work?”
“A current or something, I have no idea.” Ivanova dried the rest of her hair, then began winding it around metal cylinders. Delenn found her eyes growing heavy, found herself slipping toward sleep.
“Why does it feel better, when someone else touches your hair?”
“One of life’s great mysteries,” Ivanova said, fastening the last cylinder. “Franklin would probably go on about monkeys grooming each other, positive reinforcement for altruism, blah blah blah. I asked my mother once, probably when she was doing something just like this, and she told me that God found many ways to remind us that we needed other people, that some things are best if they aren’t done alone.”
Delenn smiled, then put a hand to her head, felt the cylinders stacked around it. “What do I look like?”
“A woman who is enjoying some well-deserved pampering.”
Londo’s celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of his Ascension was turning out to be a surprisingly nice occasion. Delenn had not realized how much she had been avoiding so many activities outside her necessary functions as Minbari Ambassador on the station until her third conversation with someone she used to see on a regular basis but hadn’t seen since her change. Everyone was in such good spirits that she found it easy to blend in, and the mood seemed to be infectious.
Ivanova had helped her arrange her hair, and if Delenn was not mistaken, the Commander’s expression in the mirror betrayed that she was quite proud of her achievement. Before Delenn could thank her properly, though, Ivanova excused herself quite neatly. Delenn thought she did not want to hear more thanks, would be embarrassed by too much gratitude. She owed Ivanova a favor, though, and did not know how she would ever repay her.
Delenn walked away from Mr. Garibaldi to find herself something to drink; mingling in a crowded room was thirsty work. Garibaldi had complimented her appearance, and by his quiet tone she thought the compliment was genuine. He had looked upset, had spoken of a woman he had taken to immediately - Ms. Winters, of course - and a man who had hurt her. She was not used to seeing Garibaldi at a loss, and the sight was unsettling somehow.
“We Minbari believe, as do some humans, that souls travel together. Some groups of souls are drawn one to the other in life, to relive good relationships from the past, and if possible, to make right the bad ones.”
The words didn’t seem to mean much to Garibaldi. For humans whose religious traditions did not include the concept of rebirth, the idea probably would not give much comfort or make much sense. But Delenn found herself thinking of her words again as Sheridan walked her way. She took a quick drink of cold water, remembering that the last time he had seen her, twelve days ago, she had been a weeping mess. But his smile was as wide as always, those dimples flashing, and he swept his eyes up and down her form.
“You look lovely, Ambassador.” The same words as Mr. Garibaldi, but said in such a different tone. She felt blood rush to her cheeks, and in dipping her head in acknowledgement found herself looking at the Captain’s bare feet. They were so incongruous under his dress uniform that she couldn’t help the smile that overtook her.
“How are you enjoying the celebration?”
“It’s a good party. And it’s nice to a have a break,” he said, selecting a drink of his own. “Although I got here a little late. I was halfway down and felt like I’d forgotten something, walked all the way back to my quarters, and just stood there. Finally realized it was my damn shoes.”
Delenn laughed, but before she could respond she heard Londo’s voice ring out. “Presents! I will be opening presents now! G’Kar, you did not bring me a present? I am hurt, truly.”
Sheridan leaned close, whispered loudly. “I think he’s going to start opening presents.” They walked over to the crowd forming around the Centauri. Yes, she had known his soul before. Thinking back, she wondered if she had realized that the first moment she had seen him. She couldn’t honestly remember much from the first few days after the Chrysalis - so much was a blur - but she liked to think so.
Walking with Ivanova toward the tube a few days later, she felt she had to thank her, one last time. If Londo’s celebration had taken place while she had still been fighting with her hair, if she’d had to find a way to make herself presentable in such a state…Delenn did not think that Ivanova quite understood just what her help meant to her.
“Well, if you have any other problems, any other questions, just ask,” Ivanova said. Delenn knew that Ivanova was just being polite, but she had to take advantage of the opportunity. If Ivanova told her that the cramps signaled a serious problem with her reproductive system, then she would go see Franklin. She couldn’t imagine that there was any other explanation, but thought that perhaps Ivanova, after hearing of what had happened, would order Delenn to report to Medlab. And if Delenn refused, she would perhaps inform Captain Sheridan. That she could not let happen. She would have to see Franklin, to make sure Sheridan did not learn of her situation. So, having engineered a foolproof way to make herself see her own doctor, Delenn asked.
“Well, now that you mention it, do you have any idea why I suddenly started getting these odd cramps?”
Ivanova looked at her with a mixture of that same compassion from before, and something that told her that she was not going to like what she heard next.
“Blue Two,” Ivanova commanded the tube, then shook her head. “Cramps. And you’ve never had them before?”
“Cramps…down low?” Ivanova gestured over her own abdomen, and Delenn nodded. “Franklin didn’t talk to you about this?”
“Dr. Franklin told me that my reproductive system more closely resembled that of a human female.”
“But he didn’t go into…the rest…?”
The tube stopped, and the doors opened. Ivanova took Delenn’s elbow, led her down the corridor, other crew members coming and going. Delenn felt every eye on her.
“Commander, there is a word I cannot remember, and I have not been able to find the right search parameters for my translation program. One uses the word to describe a human male, who is very kind to a female, courteous.”
Ivanova gave her a look as they entered the Commander’s quarters. “Do you mean ‘gentleman?’”
“Yes, that is the word.” Delenn stood just inside the door while Ivanova put a kettle on to boil. She waited for Ivanova to ask her why the question had occurred to her, or perhaps who had acted as a gentleman toward her, but her diversion didn’t last long.
“So Franklin told you that your reproductive system was human, and that was it?”
The brief respite from the pertinent topic at hand had made Delenn reluctant to discuss it anymore. While Ivanova’s back was turned, Delenn said quietly, “I did not wish to hear any more after he told me that I could not…” But she couldn’t say the words, and stared at the floor.
“After he told you that you couldn’t have children.” Delenn nodded, and felt rather than saw Ivanova come to stand beside her. “Let’s sit down,” Ivanova said, and they went to the couch. Delenn clasped her fingers together tightly, concentrated on staying calm. She had resigned herself to this, it should no longer cause her pain. But there was an ache, not gone but just dormant for a while, and now it shuddered inside her again.
“Well,” Ivanova said, slapping her hands against her knees, “we’ll talk about cramps first. Sadly, this is one of those things that a lot of human women just have to deal with.”
“They are not cause for alarm?”
“Of course they are, but what’re you gonna do? Were they just irritating, or were they difficult to deal with?”
“It was the most horrible pain, Susan. I have never felt anything like it.”
“Yep, had those before. Did you get hot and cold, throw up?”
“Throw what up?”
“Yes. It was most upsetting. You have gone through such an experience?”
“I don’t usually get them that bad, but a couple times, yeah. You can try to take something for the pain, but unless you get them every single month without fail, in which case you should see a doctor, go on something, it’s best to try and weather the storm.”
“Every month? What happens every month?”
The kettle began to whistle, and as the noise grew and grew, Delenn watched in growing horror as Ivanova turned pitying eyes her way.
Fifteen days after she watched the vid with Sheridan, Delenn awoke in the middle of the night, aware of a sticky wetness between her legs. She turned on the lights and examined the blood on her sheets, on her nightgown. Perhaps this was the reason she’d experienced the cramps; if she hadn’t, she never would have spoken to Ivanova, would never have learned what the cramps signified, and would not have been prepared for this sight. She might have thought herself injured, even dying. As it was, she calmly threw everything into the thermal unit and pulled the small box of supplies Ivanova had given her from the back of the closet, where she had been reasonably sure Lennier would not find it and ask any questions she did not want to hear.
Ivanova had told her of human menstruation as though there was nothing worse to endure, but Delenn found herself smiling as she washed herself clean, arranged the absorbent cloth. Franklin had told her that conceiving would be difficult with a Minbari, nearly impossible with a human, that the changes in her genetic code made him think that any chance of offspring was slim. But her body had not listened. It had prepared to nurture a life anyway.
Maybe Franklin was right. Maybe he wasn’t.