It had been a very long day, and there was more to come; more meetings, more problems, more talking. He got so tired of talking. Diplomats had the hardest job in the world. He'd hadn't realized it growing up, and often wished he could talk to his father about it now. Still, he'd had this evening's two invitations to lighten his mood during the interminable discussions about shipping lanes and supply routes and readiness drills, and beneath it all, the rumble of upcoming plans for war. This was merely the calm between two storms. He knew the next battle was almost upon them.

Dinner would be a welcome interlude, and he was determined to keep the conversation light and forward-looking--looking to a future with more time for dinners-- and possibly other diversions. The unwelcome revelation that this would be their last time together, possibly for quite a while, intruded on his daydreams concerning the second invitation. After dinner, and another round of meetings, she was to spend the night in his quarters, watching him sleep. He shook his head at the thought. It would be hard to lie still, trying to relax and doze off, knowing she was there, hearing the soft rustle of her gown, her indefinable scent filling the air around him.

Still, stopping outside her door and stifling a yawn, he thought he'd probably fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, no matter how hard he tried to stay awake. He was going to try this time. He wanted to watch her; he wanted her face to be the last thing he saw before he fell asleep. Something in her attitude when she'd offered the invitation to dinner, when she'd asked him to perform the ritual, when she'd told him she was leaving...something was wrong. She was frightened, and that was a sobering realization. There wasn't much that frightened the woman he loved.

The door opened while he was still saying who it was, and he stepped inside. The room was dimly lit by candles and a low light burning in the kitchen. Looking around for her, he realized she was in the bedroom, her shadow moving behind the frosted glass partition. The doors parted, and she called to him.

"John, I could use some assistance."

Trying to look casual, and definitely trying not to break into a run, he headed for the bedroom. She was in that little black dress, the one she'd shown him earlier, but the zipper was down in the back. He followed the line of it with his eyes, mesmerized by the way the black silk clung to her, all the way down...

"John," she said, amused, and a little gratified at his obvious distraction, "I could use help, with the fastening, please?" She wriggled her shoulders, and indicated the problem. She couldn't pull the zipper all the way up; it kept sliding down when she tried.

He watched her movements in fascination, then came to himself, and reached forward. Placing one hand in the small of her back to hold the fabric closed, he gently tugged at the zipper and watched with reluctance as the sides of the dress came together, hiding the creamy flesh underneath. Slipping his hand under her hair, he gently laid it aside, and returning to the fastening, slid it home without fear of entanglement. Unable to resist, he dropped a gentle kiss on her bare shoulder, and felt a shiver run across her exposed skin.

"Are you cold in that?" He asked, putting his arms around her from the back, being careful to place his hands discreetly, one circling her waist, the other reaching up, allowing him to stroke her bare shoulder.

"This is better," she admitted, and she turned in his arms to meet his lips briefly with her own. "Even better now," she whispered, as she stayed within the circle of his embrace, her hands resting on his chest.

He took the opportunity to hold her close against him. They didn't get much opportunity for this sort of thing these days. Taking a deep breath to hide the sigh that welled up in him, he drew in the fragrance of her hair, wishing he could keep it around him always.

"You feel wonderful. You smell wonderful," he said, with a smile, shifting slightly to look down at her.

She smiled back up at him, and said, "I was just about to modify that." Moving away from him, but not too far, she reached down to the table just inside the door to the bedroom. There were a variety of candles, and prisms, a chased silver hairbrush, and several small glass bottles on the surface, which were decoratively arranged so the light of the flames flared and sparked off their surfaces. She picked up a tall bottle, seemingly made of bright pyramids of yellow and orange glass. It blazed like a small sun as it passed in front of the largest candle flame. Twisting the top, she held a stopper out to him, to sniff. "Do you like it?" she asked.

"You've worn that before; I remember. It's spicy, but also, I don't know, bright? Like a mix of cinnamon and lemons." He grinned, "I'm not an expert, but yes, I like it. What is it?"

"It is called senn'tha, and comes from a Minbari plant. I like it too." Replacing the stopper, she regarded the other bottles, her hands moving slowly from one to the other, lightly touching the bright glass.

He pointed to one, a squat blue flask, topped with a blue and brown sphere. "What's that one?"

"Ah," she said, picking it up and holding it carefully. "This is an old fragrance, quite out of fashion these days. It was my mother' father gave it to me after she went away. It was one of his favorites, I believe." She gently tugged at the sphere, and held the open bottle out to John.

He leaned over to sample the scent, noting how the blue glass echoed the blue veins in her wrist, and wondering what she would think if he started kissing her there, and worked his way up her arm and back to the shoulder he'd tasted previously. Then, in surprise, he exclaimed, "That's vanilla!"

She looked at him, tilting her head to one side in question. "You know this perfume? It is rare now, at home. Both the plant, and the scent. It was never popular, but I always liked it."

He almost laughed out loud at the mixture of confusion and interest on her face. "It's very common on Earth, used to scent many things. And it's also used in cooking," he said thoughtfully. He took the bottle from her, and inverted it, with his forefinger over the top. "Do you mind?" he said, as he touched the tip of his finger to the hollow of her throat, gently stroking the scent into her skin.

"No," she answered, her voice trembling, and low.

He carefully touched the scent behind both ears, first one, and then the other, running his fingers around the intricate lobes afterward, smoothing the curling tendrils of hair behind them. Her cheeks flushed as he then outlined the top of her low-cut dress, fingertips trailing the perfume across her exposed collarbone, and then along the other side, ending with him barely tracing the top curve of each breast. Then he inverted the bottle once more, rubbing the liquid between each forefinger and thumb. He gently placed the glass container back on the table. Taking her wrists in his hands, he laid his thumbs along the insides of each wrist, stroking the liquid into the pulse points, feeling the beat of her heart quicken and race even as her breathing slowed and deepened.

"You know," he said, not pausing in his motions, "Vanilla is a flavoring, too. Mostly used in baking, in desserts." His voice had grown husky, and he'd moved his hands up her arms. He was stroking the scent into the delicate skin of her forearm, then the inside of the elbow, then higher and higher, until he reached her shoulders.

"What does it taste like?" she asked, and in response, he picked up her hand, dropped a kiss in her palm, then flicked his tongue across her wrist. She strove not to moan aloud as he kissed each place he'd scented, moving up her arm to her shoulder, her throat, and finally, to her waiting lips. Now she could taste the remnants of the nill'an on his tongue, and it was sweet, so sweet. "John," she said, when she could take in enough breath to speak, "dessert comes after dinner, does it not?"

"Humans are not sticklers for tradition, Delenn," he answered. "Sometimes we skip right to what we want the most."

Stepping back from him, she turned away and leaned over, blowing out the candles on the bedroom table, one by one. The color in the glass bottles winked out in the darkness. The only light left was the faint glow from the outer room, but it was enough for him to see her walk towards him, and then turn, her back towards him. "I could use some assistance. This fastener seems to be in the incorrect position."

"We can't have that," he said, and lowered it, and then her dress, slowly to the floor.