Barefoot in Babylon
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
It was a party unlike any he'd ever attended. Oh, the sounds were the same...the background music, the chatter of small talk and the occasional bursts of laughter. The food and drink were different, but nothing he hadn't encountered at various exotic restaurants back on Earth, and on Centauri Prime the times he'd visited that planet. Truly, all of it was excellent, and he thought he could develop a taste for brevari; that amber liqueur that was a particular favorite of the party's honoree, Ambassador Londo Mollari. Still it wasn't the refreshments that made it an unusual party.
It was the thirtieth anniversary of the Ambassador's Ascension, and this was apparently an important occasion for a male Centauri from an aristocratic house. Captain Sheridan circled the room, pausing to greet dignitaries and diplomatic aides, business people and EarthForce officers. Some of those were on Security detail, and he glanced at those as he passed by, relieved to get nods that indicated all was going well. As he wandered, he kept looking at the door, and was finally rewarded with the sight of the Minbari delegation entering the room. His eyes caught Delenn's, and he was gratified to see her wending her way towards him, even as she greeted those she knew in the crowd along her way.
"Captain Sheridan." Her greeting was formal, but her smile was warm and openly friendly.
"Good evening, Ambassador," he replied, absurdly pleased that she had immediately sought out his company. Gesturing at the crowd, he added, "It's quite a party."
Delenn observed the attendees with interest. "It is indeed. I have been to several Centauri celebrations on the station. Even their solemn occasions are commemorated with, shall we say, enthusiasm? It is one of their more endearing, if somewhat alarming, traits."
Sheridan smiled at her, admiring her active curiosity. He'd only known Delenn a little while, but he'd already decided interest in other cultures was a trait he enjoyed sharing with her. Looking down at the floor, he said, "I see you got the directive that we were to eschew shoes."
Delenn laughed delightedly at the wordplay, and wriggled her toes slightly in satisfaction. "Yes. I am quite enjoying it. We have several rituals that are performed without the encumbrance of footwear. We believe it frees the mind and allows one to focus..." She paused at the look on Sheridan's face. "When you raise both eyebrows together rather than one alone, is the emphasis meant to be doubled?"
Now it was Sheridan's turn to laugh. "I was just wondering how many kinds of rituals you have!"
"Perhaps one day you will find out," Delenn remarked demurely.
Sheridan just smiled in return, wondering if he had imagined the flash of mischief on her face, completely out of step with her innocent tone. He gestured towards his formal clothes. "Well, I feel pretty silly, and totally out of uniform. I don't know what my sergeant would say if he could see me now." He looked down at his own bare feet. "The human foot looks pretty strange when you get right down to it. In basic training, my drill sergeant had a thing about us always having clean socks." He cleared his throat, and recited in a heavy accent, "You may pilot a starship into battle rather than march, but it's still every man's duty to take care of themselves. You're a valuable piece of EarthForce property, soldier, and that includes your feet!"
Happiness bubbled up in him as he watched her throw back her head and laugh at his remark. Perhaps he should lay off the brevari; he felt a little light-headed. He observed her hairstyle with approval; he liked it down on her shoulders, although the up swept style she'd worn at the restaurant had been attractive too. "Your hair looks nice tonight. In fact..." he stumbled over the compliment. "You look wonderful." Noticing her discomfiture, he tried frantically to back-pedal; perhaps this was getting too personal. Trying to retrieve the previous light mood, he crooked a smile and added, "Even barefoot."
Delenn had begun to feel embarrassed, but she truly appreciated his attempts to make her more comfortable. Trying to return the favor, she slowly looked him up and down, and said sincerely, "You look wonderful as well. And I think I am finally figuring out how to deal with," and here she picked up one long strand of hair and observed it thoughtfully, "this." She held her breath as he reached out and took the errant chestnut curl from her hand, and replaced it in the body of her hair, smoothing it down her back afterwards. His touch sent tremors down her spine.
They stood exchanging small talk which floated effortlessly on the current of sympathy connecting them. It was strange how much she'd looked forward to seeing him again. It had been on her mind all afternoon as she finished her work and then prepared for the celebration. As the sounds of the world around them intruded on her consciousness, she remarked, "I believe it is time for the presentation of gifts. Lennier said he had fulfilled a request of Ambassador Mollari's; I would like to see what he purchased."
"Don't you know?" asked Sheridan, as he gestured for her to proceed him, and join the company surrounding Londo.
"No, I did not ask him," replied Delenn. She looked back over her shoulder, and said, "I prefer to be surprised. Do you like surprises, Captain?"
At the look on her face, a mix of little girl delight and adult suggestiveness, he swallowed hard, and prepared to follow her. He had the oddest feeling that he was in for many surprises, and pleasant ones at that.