Author's Note: I'm using the Lurker's Guide/JMS' preferred airing order, which puts The Needs of Earth well before Patterns of the Soul. In that order, this is set just after The Needs of Earth, in order to give Dureena and Max something to talk about.

Thanks to Adi for the beta!


"I believe," Dureena said from the doorway, "That this is yours."

Max hadn't expected Ms. Nafeel, purloiner of small objects, to ever approach his quarters with any intention of returning something to him. He'd also half-hoped to never see the data crystal she was holding again, assuming it was what he expected it was. She smirked at him expectantly as he attempted to figure out how to get the crystal back while denying any connection with its contents.

"Uhh... thanks," was what he wound up saying. "You can put it on the desk." Smooth, Max Eilerson. Very smooth.

Dureena sauntered over to his side of the desk. Sauntered. He'd never thought he'd have to use that verb to describe anyone's motion. "Interesting selection," she commented as she set the crystal down.

He grabbed it as soon as her hand was gone. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"'Snow White and the Seven Narns'? 'My Little pak'ma'ra'? 'Little Red Riding Hyach'?"

It was the same crystal, and she had seen it. "My interest was purely academic, I assure you," he said. Wow, even to his ears that sounded like backpedaling.

She smirked. "Right. Academic interest in human females getting ravished by alien men. Though Red seemed to be getting something out of that Hyach she was riding."

"You'd be amazed at what the field of archaeology can encompass."

"I thought that it only applied to dead races. There wasn't any necrophilia in those movies, though maybe that's a different crystal?"

He glared at her. She perched on his desk and grinned down at him. "Your move."

He cleared his throat and scowled. Dureena seemed not to notice. "So... what's the attraction?" she asked.

"Sorry," he said, irked. "What?"

"Alien men ravishing human women. And never vice-versa, either."

He swallowed and activated the part of his brain responsible for getting him through his thesis defense. "Cross-species comparison of alien male sexuality is a flourishing field of study."

"Max, those videos were for human consumption." Dureena shook her head. "All of the titles are puns or pop culture references in English, except for that one with the Centauri, which was in some human language I don't know."

"Japanese," he said automatically.

"So yeah, if you're studying human male sexuality, that's one thing."

Something occurred to him, and he studied her expression for a moment. Curious, definitely amused, but not necessarily accusatory. "You watched... the whole crystal?"

"Yeah," she said, not pausing before continuing, "so where are the alien women? Do you have separate crystals for that, or did you just not bring those videos this trip?"

He rolled his eyes, tried to laugh, then gave up and said, "Fine. I don't find most alien women attractive." He spread his hands, then folded them behind his head. "Happy now?"

"Ah." She smiled, slightly. "So your xenophilia only goes so far, then."

"While yours apparently knows no bounds," he jibed. "Doing a little shopping, or do you just like watching aliens get it on?"

Dureena's expression darkened. "Max, my entire race got wiped out by the Shadows. If I'm going to get anywhere with a man, it's going to be xenophilia."

That stuck in his throat. "Ah."

She sighed and looked away. He swallowed the lump and said, "I'm sorry."

"Enh," she said. Her shoulders twitched. "I'm dealing with it."

It was hard to know what to say to that. "Yeah, but I shouldn't be an asshole about it."

"Max, your defining trait is 'asshole.' I say stick with what works."

He coughed. "Despite my widespread reputation for a nigh-godlike sense of academic objectivity, I am capable of compassion. Even affection."

"Uh-huh." She finally looked up, and she had a mischievous smile on her face. "So you said you don't find 'most' alien women attractive. What are the exceptions?"

Okay, that he wasn't expecting. At least, not if what she was saying was what he thought she was saying, and that bore thinking about, which was really hard to do while trying to answer her question.

"Ahhhhhhhhh..." he stalled. "Well, Centauri girls are nice looking, a lot of them."

"So, girls without hair?"

"Hey," he pointed out, "some of them have those ponytails."

She smirked. "Girls mostly without hair. Go on."

"Hm." He tried not to look at her smile. "Well, some Minbari. I dunno, most of them are too... too... most Minbari won't look at you straight on, men or women, y'know? But I met this Warrior Caste woman once, and she was hot."

Dureena's smirk had widened. "So girls without hair who can beat you up."

"Hey. I like hair." He scowled. "It makes a convenient handhold sometimes."

"Girls who can beat you up and like it rough."

"Not just--" He shook his head. "I happen to be in full possession of my own masculinity, I'll have you know. I don't bring up these examples as a method of emasculating myself."

"Of course not. It's much more fun to have the woman do that for you." She hoisted herself up so she was sitting on his desk rather than perching on it, and negligently placed her left foot on his right kneecap. She'd lost her shoes somewhere. "Any more examples?"

He looked down at her toes, then up at her face. "Well, there was this Abbai girl, but I'm really bad at having sex in a bathtub." When she raised her eyebrows, he scowled. "Well, how long can you hold your breath?"

Her toes dug into his thigh. "A surprisingly long time," she said.

"Well, I guess that comes in handy." He had to fight to keep his hands still, behind his head, as her toes crept up his inseam. "Uh, and I guess I thought Ambassador Delenn was attractive, when she first showed up on ISN with hair. Y'know?" Swallow, breathe, the ball of her foot massaging his inner thigh, just try to keep talking. "Just exotic enough to be really, really interesting--uh." It turned out that Dureena's toes were incredibly dexterous, and she'd learned human male anatomy from somewhere. "Uh, Dureena..."

"Yes?" Her smile wasn't what you'd call 'innocent', but it certainly didn't match what her foot was doing. He reached down and caught her heel, and she flexed and pointed her foot and he closed his eyes and attempted to remember what he was talking about as shocks of electricity sparked from her toes to his spinal cord and up to fry his brain.

"Dureena, if we're going to--" Her toes made tiny pressure circles and he coughed. "Yeah, if we're going to... I'm not sure we're physically compatible."

She shrugged. "We both have fingers, and tongues. I'm sure we'll be able to improvise something."

She demonstrated another improvisation, and he could feel every callus on her toes through two layers of fabric. He hissed and grabbed the armrest of his chair with his free hand, and tried desperately to not dislocate her ankle with his grip. "Keep this up, and you're not going to make it as far as fingers."

"Well, we can't have that, can we?" She tugged her foot out of his grasp, and in the next moment she was on his lap, warm and surprisingly soft, and her arms were around his neck. "After all, this is an academic investigation in pursuit of knowledge, right?"

"Exactly," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist and remembering how to breathe. Her breath was hot on his face as she leaned closer. "Hey, if we have time later, I can show you how to dance."

It turned out she was unfairly good at kissing, too.