Diplomacy is the Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.

"You wanted to see me, Ambassador?" Captain Sheridan stood in the doorway of the Minbari ambassador's quarters.

"Yes, Captain. Thank you for responding so quickly. I hope I did not interrupt anything?" Delenn sat in the living area of her quarters, examining a sheaf of translucent films. There was Minbari writing on them, and she clucked her tongue as she examined the top one. "This must be seen to at once." Lowering the papers to the table, she turned her full attention to Sheridan. "I have been reminded of a duty left unperformed. It is an obligation laid on me by my government, and by tradition, and it involves you."

"Me?" replied John. "Well, I'll be glad to help out, but what does this duty involve?" He crossed the room till he was standing directly in front of her, with the table between them. There were folders and films laid out on the low table in front of the couch; chairs stood at either end of the table. A work light shone on the films and a still-humming tablet computer was propped up on a silver tripod.

She smiled, and spoke a few words in her language to the computer. The front door had closed behind him, and now John distinctly heard a whir, followed by the click that indicated it was privacy-locked. A trifle uneasy, he rifled through his memories of the briefing he'd been given on the Minbari diplomatic presence on the station. Most of what he'd learned had been turned upside-down when he'd first met Delenn. She had been a bit of a mystery to EarthGov before her transformation; now it was even worse. He was having to feel his way with her. It wasn't the worst mission he'd ever been set.

Delenn stood up quietly, coming around to the same side of the table, and remained standing with her hands hanging loosely at her sides, seemingly relaxed. She was wearing that red and blue number he liked. There was an enigmatic look on her face, highlighted by the blue and green glow from the lighting fixture in the kitchen. The combination with the low light in the living area gave everything an underwater look. Looking into his eyes, she took a deep breath, and said. "It is required that you disrobe."

John just managed to keep from sputtering in answer. "Disrobe. You mean...take my clothes off?" Suspicious, he asked, "Is this some kind of test?" He looked quickly around the room. "You're not recording this, are you?"

"Of course not," Delenn said firmly. "We do not record these interactions. They are personal, and lead to the establishment of a deep trust between representatives of two governments. And at my request, the traditional audience has been waived."

John's eyebrows hadn't left his hairline yet, and he wasn't sure they ever would again. "Your request...why do me any favors?" Inwardly he thought that his taking off his clothes in front of a Minbari audience was about as likely as him doing it in the Council there was no sign of his consternation aside from a tightening of the muscles around his jaw, and the aforementioned twin eyebrow salute.

Delenn looked down and turned slightly away from him. Sighing, she said, "It is not a favor for you, but for me." Firming her shoulders, as if making a difficult admission, she looked back up and declared, "I did not want the audience."

"I see," said John, although he didn't. Running his hand through his hair, he thought it over. Delenn was watching him, calm on the surface, but her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her eyes bright with what looked to him like anticipation. Curious, but still cautious, he asked, "When did your people start this tradition, and what purpose does it serve?" For a moment, Delenn didn't answer, and it seemed to John that she was sorting through various explanations in her head.

Finally, she spoke. "The origins of this ritual are lost to time, but I believe in the beginning it was simply to confirm identity between races new to each other. Now it serves more as a...what is the human expression? A team-building exercise?" She cocked her head to better examine his reluctant countenance. "Your predecessor did not hesitate."

That was enough for John. If Jeff Sinclair could strip for the Minbari ambassador, so could he. He removed his comlink and set it to 'urgent only' and 'vibrate'. That way he wouldn't jump out of his skin if Ivanova took it into her head to contact him. That was especially important seeing as how his skin would be his only covering. Removing his jacket, he folded it and set it on the chair, then unfastened his shirt-cuffs. Keeping his eyes on Delenn, he began to unbutton his shirt slowly from the top. Her eyes never left his hands, which continued moving slowly down his chest, undoing one button after another. Her cheeks were quite pink now, and he was beginning to almost enjoy himself. Tugging his shirt out of his pants, he took it off, and briefly turned away to lay it across the back of the chair.

"Would you care to store your shirt more carefully?" Her voice floated up just behind him.

Turning, he almost collided with her. Her breath was warm as it played across his chest. She was standing close, but carefully not touching him. The arms of her gown brushed against his waist, instigating a reaction that might make it difficult to remove his pants without a good deal of maneuvering. "No, no," he answered with only a hint of a stutter. "It'll be fine on the chair."

"Good," she said, stepping back, although just a fraction. Her eyes leapt downward, then snapped back to his face. "Let us continue, then."

By this point, John had passed through embarrassment and was well into interested arousal. That didn't seem to be the point of the exercise, although Delenn's reactions weren't exactly standard diplomatic ones either. He let her withdraw, then put his hands on his belt, slowing undoing it. This was turning into a strip-tease. He undid the top button, then stooped to undo his shoes, which he kicked off, then retrieved to place neatly under the chair, tucking his socks, neatly folded, inside them.

"Always keep your socks with your shoes," he said, trying to lighten the heightened tension in the room. "An army marches on its socks." She wasn't listening, all her attention seemed to be focused on his mid-section.

I feel like a damn pin-up, John thought rebelliously. "Hey," he said. "This is a team-building thing, right? Shouldn't you get started?" As he spoke, he lowered his uniform pants to the floor, carefully removing them and adding them to the pile on the chair. Folding his arms across his chest, in command even while clothed merely in boxers, he announced, "This is far as I go until this becomes a joint effort."

Delenn was standing mute in front of him, color washing in and out of her face. "Perhaps I should begin then," she said slowly.

"Perhaps you should," John rejoined as she continued to stand in front of him without moving. Seeing her reluctance, his attitude softened. "Go ahead," he gently urged her. "It's all right."

Taking off her outer tunic was quick and easy, and Delenn laid it on the other chair at the opposite end of the central couch. Turning slightly away, she began to unfasten the collar and cuffs of the underlying tunic. As she did so, she said in a small voice, "I do not look the same as I did before, of course." She turned back towards him, and he stepped forward, taking hold of her arms, just above the elbows.

"If it bothers you this much, just stop. I'll finish up, and we can say you did your part..." As her eyes widened and she began to shake her head, he remembered one vague instruction from his orientation papers. "I can say it then; you don't have to say anything."

"That would be a lie of omission," she answered gravely. Her undertunic was white, but gleamed almost silver in the bluish light. Putting her hand to the top, she ran it down the center seam, which parted under her fingers.

Her skin underneath was tinged a pale blue, and for a moment he thought that was her skin's natural color. "Lights, up to medium low," he suggested, and as the room brightened slightly he saw the natural creamy tone of human flesh. She shrugged her shoulders, an abrupt yet somehow graceful motion, and the shift fell to the floor.

His first instinct was to let out a low whistle of appreciation, but years of discretion kept him silent. She crossed her arms in front, hands clasped low over her pubic bone, and he wondered what he was supposed to do next.

"There is not much left now," Delenn observed, her eyes settling back on his boxers.

He nodded, trying not to stare, since she was wearing next to nothing as well. An inspiration struck him. "I think there's variant to this ritual that we should consider exploring," he stated solemnly.

"Humans have a version of this ritual?"

Delenn's voice was steady, but John thought he saw a twinkle in her eye, and one side of her mouth kept pulling upwards. What had she gotten up to with Jeff Sinclair? The thought flitted away as she swayed towards him. Clearing his throat, he opened his arms and gestured towards her. "Yes...well, sort of." She was looking up at him, eyes bright in the side-lights shining from the wall. Shadows lay across the lower part of her face and body. "It's just that, when two people have become close..." She stepped towards him again, and only an inch of space lay between their bodies. With one movement, she would be in his arms. It felt like a game-changing moment to him.

"Yes," she said, her voice had gone lower than he'd ever heard it before.

"When they become close, like we've become close. I mean, I feel close to you. Do you feel close to me?" Damn it, he was babbling. As she slowly lowered her head in assent, he felt a sudden rush of desire, a burn that started slow and then rapidly approached escape velocity. "They would finish by undressing each other," he said.

There was no answer for a moment, and he could hear the drumbeat of his heart in the silence.

"That would be...acceptable," Delenn replied. "Shall I go first, or shall you?"

John's tongue suddenly seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth. "Um, you go ahead," he said, hoping he could use the time to figure out her undergarments. The top portion looked a bit complex. As her small hands reached inside the waistband of his shorts, they brushed across his semi-erect penis. It hit him like an electric shock. He held his breath, and counted to twenty trying to keep himself under control, still uncertain where this would end up, but she managed to remove the confining material without too much effort. He returned the favor, running his hands around her waist, looping his thumbs under the elastic, then dropping to one knee to help her step out of the silken wrap that served as Minbari underwear. Looking up, he saw that she had turned a small metal clasp on the front of her bra sideways. It fell open, and her breasts, released from the cups, swayed gently above his head.

He rose in one motion, his hands never leaving her skin, and slowly he tugged one strap, then the other off her shoulders, letting the bra fall to the floor. Neither of them moved to pick up her clothes, which lay all around her like petals from a full-blown white rose.

"Ambassador, would you allow me to kiss you?" The formality seemed somehow appropriate. She was so self-contained, so dignified, even in this very odd situation.

Looking down at her own body, trembling with emotion, and then up and down his, towering over her, she smiled. "We are standing, naked in front of each other, as male and female, not Captain and Ambassador. Please, call me by my name."

He gently pulled her towards him, feeling the heat rise from her body as it slid up against his. Reaching under her chin, and tilting her head up towards his, he looked into her eyes and asked her again, "May I kiss you, Delenn?"

Her hands ran up his back, pressing flat against his shoulder blades. Her voice was thick and heavy with emotion. "Yes, please."

As he lowered his mouth to hers, he whispered one more request. "Call me John."

The kiss was light at first, a mere brushing of lips against lips. But after only a few moments of gentle exploration her lips parted, and he followed her lead, delving in and tasting her mouth, then when she responded in kind, reveling in the softness of her tongue against his teeth. They stood still, arms around one another, but all their mutual focus was on the connection of the kiss. He lowered his hands to her waist, then brought them around, in between their bodies, and up to cup her breasts. She placed her hands on his, and for a moment, he thought she was going to push him away.

Then, breaking the kiss for a moment, she began to laugh, a peal filled with happiness. Holding onto his hands, she brought them to her lips, kissing first the knuckles, then turning them over to press her lips against his palms. It was the most erotic, and romantic, thing he'd ever seen or felt. Happiness bubbled up inside of him as well, and then they were both grinning at each other like damn fools.

She looked up and down his body, then said, "It is different."

John suddenly felt self-conscious and asked, "What is?" He wondered again what Sinclair had done after the requisite diplomatic strip-tease. Then he shook his head; they both had pasts, but they were past. Certainly his was, and although a flutter of the old pain crossed his face, it was quickly gone.

"Not that!" She laughed again, "I was not referring to any physical attribute. Yours seems quite... It is different, but it is the same. I am not saying this very well," she added, slightly displeased with her lack of precision. "I am certainly different," she said thoughtfully, as she turned her gaze to her own body, loosening her grasp on him to run her hands from her breasts to her thighs. "But that is not what I meant either." Placing one hand over her heart, the other over his own, she said softly, "It feels different inside. With you."

At that he could restrain himself no longer, and crushed her in his arms, kissing her deeply and passionately, never doubting her response.

Jeffrey Sinclair, or rather Valen as he was now known, finished writing with a flourish, then rolled up the scroll and sealed it. Handing it to his assistant, he sat back in his chair and looked out over the Minbari city at a spectacular sunset. Shaking his head, he thought he would never get used to the play of light on the crystal structures of Tuzanoor. Looking around the room, he saw all the clutter indicative of a retired politician. Next thing you knew he'd be writing his memoirs. That would be quite the work of fiction, once he'd left out everything he had to leave out! He chuckled as he thought of all the diktats and carefully worded prophecies he'd written the last few years, laying out a convoluted blueprint for those who would follow him. Hopefully it would lead them to the future he had known.

This last one, however, had personal overtones.

During his time on the station, even with his on and off again love affair with Catherine, he'd grown more than slightly fond of Delenn. At one point, he'd even considered making a play for her. Then there was that night...he'd never forget it. Now he was in a position to set the events in motion that would lead to his still-vivid memories of a naked and willing Delenn in his arms. When he'd left the future to find his place in the past, the hardest part had been leaving friends behind. He missed Delenn. He always would.

When he'd first received his message and understood the direction his life would take, he'd worried about her reaction. And he was right to worry; she'd taken it hard. But everyone on that mission had seen how close she had become to Sheridan. Even Zathras had noticed. "One and one make two," he had chortled as he helped assemble the machine for Jeff's transformation. It turned out the little alien had a nose for romance. Jeff kind of liked romance himself. He had put this particular diplomatic ritual in place for his own future benefit. All the same, he sincerely hoped Delenn would appreciate the jump start he was giving her, and her Captain.