G’Kar winced when the doors to the audience chamber slammed open. Emperor Mollari II emerged, fuming, with a throng of nattering courtiers at his heels. G’Kar set down the pen and parchment he’d been using to pass the time until the appointment was through. Evidently Londo’s first meeting with the Sayonese delegation had not gone well.
With a wave of his hand, Londo dismissed the courtiers. G’Kar watched as they dispersed like a flock of birds, darting off in various directions. Prepared for the worst, G’Kar took a deep breath and rolled up his parchment. But before G’Kar could place a steadying hand on his shoulder, Londo whipped his head around, levelled a hard glare at G’Kar, and proclaimed, “This is your fault.”
“What happened?” G’Kar took a step back. He’d been expecting anger—the loud, demonstrative, but ultimately aimless kind that usually followed an unsuccessful negotiation. He hadn’t expected seething rage, least of all directed at him.
Londo gestured vaguely as he made to explain. “This… this… you! The delegation! Everything!” He snarled, his shoulders sagging, then he took off down the hallway, muttering to himself.
“—should have expected this. I should have known,” Londo was grumbling when G’Kar caught up to him. “Great Maker, these off-worlders. How could they possibly think…”
“What, Mollari?” G’Kar pressed, matching his pace to Londo’s. “What did they say?”
“That I am an impostor. A murderer. A usurper to the rightful throne of my predecessors,” he listed, shaking his head in disbelief. Londo must have noticed the way G’Kar’s eyes flared, because he slowed down and sighed. “Not in so many words, G’Kar. If they had, I could have them escorted from the palace at the slightest…” He snapped his fingers.
“Or thrown out of an airlock, as President Sheridan used to say,” G’Kar added.
For that, Londo managed to dredge up a smile. “Yes. That would be most satisfying. But…” Londo tucked his hands behind his back, hastening his pace through the halls. “Unfortunately, we cannot go arresting noble delegates for minor breaches of protocol or, or… calculated missteps in etiquette. No matter if it is a transparent attempt to undermine our authority.”
Londo spoke in ‘we’s and ‘our’s occasionally, which had bemused G’Kar before he’d come to understand what it signified. Though the lofty language suited him well enough for audiences, G’Kar had since discovered that when Londo slipped into the plural in private conversation, the situation was about to get very ugly. “There must be something you can do,” said G’Kar, more placating than encouraging. Offering suggestions was of no use when Londo was in a mood like this.
When they reached an intersection of corridors, Londo grabbed G’Kar’s arm to guide him around the corner. “Pah! There is no escape. Oh yes, I made sure of that when I…” A young woman in servant’s garb approached from the opposite direction, lowering her eyes and inclining her head toward them. “When I accepted the position,” Londo finished after she’d passed. He lowered his voice surreptitiously. “Of course, our re-induction into the Alliance didn’t help, to say nothing of the matter of reparation payments…”
G’Kar took the lead as they neared the royal suites. One of his most basic duties as a bodyguard was to secure Londo’s path in case an attacker lay in wait beyond the next door. The routine second nature to him by now, he ushered them both inside, subtly inspecting the entranceway while Londo continued rambling behind him.
“—and worst of all? I have a Narn for an adviser!”
“By G'Quan, what is the universe coming to?” G’Kar tossed back in the same scandalized tone before he’d fully processed Londo’s meaning. He whirled around. “Wait. They think I am your… adviser?”
Londo nodded gravely.
“A ridiculous notion. Even when you ask for my advice, you don’t take it.”
G’Kar had expected a chuckle or one of his self-deprecating smiles, but Londo’s scowl only deepened. Satisfied that they were safely alone in the emperor’s personal wing of the palace, he could risk more obvious affection. G’Kar moved to place a hand on Londo’s shoulder—but Londo recoiled from the touch. “Sayonis is a remote, barely habitable world at the edge of our territory. Maker knows what rumours and distortions have taken hold since…” His anger renewed, Londo levelled a hard glare at G’Kar and jabbed a finger to his chest. “And what you said in there did not exactly cure them of their delusions.”
G’Kar lifted his brow, confused, until he remembered what Londo had said as he exited the audience chamber. “What are you talking about?” he protested. “I didn’t speak a word to the delegates! I was outside guarding the outer doors the whole—”
“Before that.” Londo broke in. “When you escorted me into the hall—you called me ‘Mollari’.”
“I did no such thing! Or… wait.” G’Kar thought back, unable to recall what Londo was referring to. “Even if I did, how do you know the delegates overheard?”
“Believe me, G’Kar, you said it loud enough for the entire room to hear. The servants, the courtiers, and the delegates.“ Londo averted his gaze and made a face like he’d tasted spoiled meat. “There was… snickering.”
The hand Londo had extended toward him now clung to G’Kar’s jacket. G’Kar let out a breath, the immediate impulse to defend himself fading before the greater urge to assuage Londo’s worries and put the issue to rest. G’Kar had a limited tolerance for politics, even when he’d spoken on behalf of his people as a member of the Babylon 5 security council. He could hardly imagine a duller way to spend an afternoon than listening to lengthy discussions of Centauri internal policy, so he usually elected to wait outside. Now, he found himself wishing that he’d sat in on that meeting, if only to understand just what had Londo so deeply unsettled. For the moment, all he could do was take Londo by the hand and lead him from the entranceway to the bedchamber.
Londo took a seat at the vanity as soon as they entered the room. G’Kar gave Londo’s hand a reassuring squeeze, then swept past him into the adjoining study to put away his writing implements. Swinging his jacket over a chair, G’Kar took the opportunity to undress, emerging from his sanctuary barefoot and covered by a loose robe worn open to the chest. Londo hadn’t moved from where he’d left him—seated in front of the mirror, staring at his own reflection, one hand lingering at the emperor’s pendant fastened around his neck. His temper exhausted, Londo looked almost lost, his eyes barely flickering at G’Kar’s reflection as he circled behind him to sit at the edge of the bed.
“I still don’t understand why this troubles you,” G’Kar said as the silence stretched out. “As you said, these are nobles from the fringes of your society, misinformed as well as uncouth. Why should you have to care what they think?”
“Because,” Londo started, finally turning around to fix G’Kar with an incredulous look, “it is critical to the future of the Republic that Sayonis accepts our reforms on foreign trade.”
G’Kar groaned, fed up with vague policy wrapped in grandiose language. “Yes, but why? We are not arguing across the table on Babylon 5 anymore, Mollari. You can say what you mean.”
Facing the mirror again, Londo followed G’Kar’s reflection as he began undressing. “The galaxy is entering a new age, G’Kar, and I mean to bring my people into it. To be part of the Alliance means to bolster our ties to other worlds, strengthen our allegiances, and participate in commerce. If my people ever hope to rebuild and recover from what has happened, we cannot do so from within our own borders.”
G’Kar was about to point out that he was the one who’d originally penned the Alliance’s principles before he realized that Londo would probably hold him to blame for that, too.
“Several months ago, we received a proposal from the Brakiri. As one of the League worlds to whom we currently owe reparations, they have offered to lighten our burden in exchange for an exclusive trade contract. The contract stipulates that if we begin purchasing quantium 40 from refining facilities under their jurisdiction, they will waive the remainder of the payments.” Londo raised an eyebrow. “A most generous offer, yes?”
“I’d say so,” said G’Kar.
Londo bent over to tug off his boots, glancing back to G’Kar every so often. “The trouble is that up until now, Sayonis has provided the Republic’s supply of quantium 40. The extraction operations there have remained in the hands of the Piro and Ilyashi families for generations and through it, they have amassed a substantial fortune,” Londo went on, resentment leaking into his tone. “Oh yes, they are the great pioneers, etching out a living on the edge of civilization, fuelling the Republic’s expansion while the nobles back home grow soft and meek.” He flashed G’Kar a rueful smile. “True Centauri.”
G’Kar rolled his eyes. “I understand why they would be opposed to the reforms you have in mind. What I don’t understand is why that matters.” G’Kar hesitated, suddenly regretting that he’d broached the topic. “My opinion of your tyrannical model of government aside… what is the point of being an emperor with unlimited authority over your subjects if you cannot order them to carry out your will?”
“It is not—“ Londo started out forcefully, but faltered as soon as he met G’Kar’s eyes. “It is not that simple.” He stood for a moment, dragging the chair around to face G’Kar. “These border lords have always been the rebellious type, and their word carries much clout with other resource colonies. If we force Sayonis to cease operations, rumour could carry that we are looking to import more of the Republic’s resources from foreign governments.”
“But…” G’Kar pursed his lips. “You do intend to begin importing more of the Republic’s resources from foreign governments. Pulling back from colonies that mercilessly exploit their worlds in the name of resources was one of the conditions of the Republic’s re-acceptance into the Alliance.”
“Of course I do,” Londo assured him. “But it must be done slowly and with great care, and certainly not until our government and military has recovered the strength to… enforce such reforms.”
“I see.” G’Kar paused, letting the weight of the situation settle between them for the span of a breath. Civil war. Londo had not said it, but the prospect loomed heavy behind his words. “I assume your proposal includes some form of reasonable compensation for their financial losses?”
“Of course it does!” Londo nearly shouted. “Eventually, as our economy recovers, anyway. But it wouldn’t matter, even if we were in a position to make those assurances. It isn’t money they’re after—it’s leverage. Over the years, the colonists of Sayonis have used their monopoly on quantium to exert far more political influence than their status warrants. Fewer taxes, more ships for their garrison, more representation in the Centaurum—that sort of thing.” Londo paused for a moment, then leaned closer in his seat. “The last time they were dissatisfied with one of the emperor’s decrees, they cut off the Republic’s entire supply of quantium until their demands were met. The emperor sent in the military, but the ships suffered fuel shortages before they were able to resolve the situation, and the emperor was ultimately forced to give in to their demands—most humiliating.” He shot G’Kar a sidelong glance. “And their egos have only grown since.”
G’Kar wasn’t sure if he was supposed to laugh at that, but a smile did sneak across his face. “It sounds like this offer from the Brakiri is not so much a necessary sacrifice as it is a long awaited opportunity.”
“Something like that,” Londo replied, unashamed to admit it. “It would be… how do the humans say it? Hitting two birds with one stone?”
Normally, G’Kar would not have cared enough to let himself get swept up in these petty intrigues. Centauri feuding with other Centauri over resources that usually did not belong to them in the first place. But to see Londo so worked up, one would think the world had stopped turning. “It would seem that what you have to do is convince the delegates that transferring their industry to the Brakiri is in their best interests,” G’Kar suggested.
Londo narrowed his eyes, drumming his fingers on the armrest. “You think I don’t know that? The question is how.”
“How should I know? I am only your bodyguard, after all,” he answered with a dramatic shrug. “And you are Centauri. Here I thought your people were supposed to be the experts in this area.” One side of his robe had fallen over his shoulder, but he didn’t move to pull it up just yet. Even if nothing he said stood a chance of improving Londo’s disposition, that did not preclude comfort of other kinds.
“Plotting and scheming?” Londo scoffed, paying no attention to G’Kar’s silent invitation. “Contrary to popular belief, we do not emerge from the womb planning the demise of our siblings.” He slumped in his seat. “Besides, the next meeting is tomorrow. How will I ever—”
“Do you want my honest opinion?” G’Kar cut in. His eyes roamed over the sight of Londo stripped down to his shirtsleeves, letting the hunger show in his smile.
Londo nodded, his eyes widening in response to the sudden intensity.
“What you need is a show of force,” G’Kar said, leaning out from under the fall of curtains. “From all that you’ve told me, what seems clear is that these people respect strength and strength alone. If it is as you say, and they think you weak and cowardly, then you must demonstrate otherwise.”
Londo almost looked affronted for a moment, perhaps surprised to hear such a suggestion coming from G’Kar of all people. “Is that it? No grand lecture about the value of diplomacy and compromise?”
“It sounds as if they are the ones refusing to compromise. Not you,” G’Kar replied. “Diplomacy is achieved on the basis of mutual respect. Until these nobles are made to recognize the fact of your leadership and the legitimacy of your reign, you cannot hope to influence their perspective.”
“There, you see? So it is a hopeless situation, hm?”
Though he spoke with almost cheerful disregard, G’Kar could hear the worry underneath. “Mollari, whether you choose to believe it or not, you are the reigning emperor of the Centauri Republic. I have every confidence you will come up with something.” At that, G’Kar spread his hand across the sheets, inviting Londo to join him. “And I promise, tomorrow you will hear nothing but ‘majesty’s from me,” he added for good measure.
Londo did not appear entirely convinced, but something eased in his manner. About to sit beside him, G’Kar grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into his lap. Londo didn’t protest, spreading his legs comfortably over G’Kar’s hips. “I suppose now you expect me to say I appreciate your brutal honesty?” Londo asked. The question was genuine, but there was a humour in his tone that demanded no immediate answer.
“No, Majesty,” G’Kar said, managing, for once, to say the word with a straight face. He tilted his head to the side and brought a finger to caress Londo’s lips. “I expect you to kiss me.”
Londo did as he asked and more. He claimed his lips with a ferocity that didn’t let up until G’Kar’s back hit the sheets. Londo’s teeth raked over his lips, a deserved punishment for his earlier lack of deference. It was all G’Kar could do to lay back, submit, and enjoy. It had been a long time—too long—since G’Kar had riled him up this viciously.
When they broke for air, Londo was crouched overtop of him, with a knee between G’Kar’s outstretched legs. He looked flustered for a moment, then he lowered his voice and said, “I thought you hated calling me that.” Londo nudged his thigh up to feel the erection barely hidden under G’Kar’s robe. He raised a hand to strip away the fabric from G’Kar’s shoulders. G’Kar didn’t protest; he’d let Londo have his way.
“Most of the time,” G’Kar said. He shrugged out of the rest of the garment, leaving himself bare from the waist up. “When we’re in public and my failure to do so might get me skewered by one of your more obedient guards.” Taking advantage of his half-dressed state, G’Kar slid his hands up the sides of Londo’s half-buttoned shirt. The smallest pressure was all it took for the remaining buttons to come apart, exposing the tips of his brachiarti. “But in private? Oh no. On the contrary, it pleases me very much.” G’Kar sat up for a second kiss, not so accidentally rubbing his erection against Londo’s thigh.
Londo didn’t blanch or pull away like he used to. It had never been from fear or lack of want—far from it. But it had taken time before Londo had ceased to view G’Kar’s body as wholly other. Now, after years together, he handled him eagerly and with confidence. He kissed along G’Kar’s jaw and throat, edging closer so G’Kar could find a snug place for his cock against his inner thigh. “That sounds terribly unwise,” he said. “You wouldn’t want the position to... how do you put it? Go to my head?”
G’Kar’s breath caught with a laugh. “Why not? If you are to impress the delegates tomorrow, you could do with a little more arrogance.” Hands at Londo’s hips, he slipped between shirt and skin, gently massaging his stomach and working his way up. “Think of this as practice.” Fingers spread, G’Kar squeezed his sides, those wickedly sensitive glands between his brachiarti that never failed to make Londo go limp in his arms.
Londo’s eyes fluttered closed as he sank against G’Kar, softly moaning curses against his shoulder. “Bastard...” he hissed, even while his back arched and his brachiarti wound around G’Kar’s wrists.
“Yes, Majesty?” he asked, curious how far he could push this. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Londo so desperate. Chest to chest they lay, in a tangle of clothes and brachiarti. G’Kar carefully extracted one arm from the fray to cup Londo’s chin. “As always, I am at your service. Tell me what you’d like.” He brushed a thumb along the flushed line of his bottom lip, enticing them to open. Normally, Londo needed no encouragement to speak, no matter his state of arousal, but just now, he might have been lost for words.
“I want—“ G’Kar pressed the pad of his thumb against the point of Londo’s sharp canine. Londo jerked back. “What I want is for you to start using your mouth instead of your hands, if only so you would stop talking,” he said, very stern now, but with his organs writhing against G’Kar’s chest, it made for an unconvincing display. A part of him wanted to do exactly as Londo asked; a likely brach wrapped neatly around his wrist, the tip nestled in his palm. “I am well aware of the meaningless icon that has become of the Centauri throne, and what mockery it is that I should end up occupying it. There is no need to remind me at every opportunity, G’Kar.”
G’Kar blinked. “Don’t tell me you are taking this seriously, Mollari. It’s only a bit of fun,” he said, trying his best to sound reassuring while he ignored the eager throbbing of his cock.
“I suppose you’d say the same for your earlier remarks at my expense, hm?”
“Believe me when I say I’ve learned my lesson about undermining your Majesty’s authority in front of off-worlders.” Attempting to return to their earlier playful mood, he placed a kiss at the corner of Londo’s mouth. “But if you must know, in my humble and inconsequential opinion, it is the throne that is the mockery. The unchecked power, your incestuous royal lines, and all the wrongs that have been committed in its name. But not necessarily the person who occupies it.” He met Londo’s eyes and smiled.
Londo bit his bottom lip as he regarded G’Kar. “Is that how it is? You would rather it be me than anyone else.” That broke the tension. Londo chuckled under his breath. “At times, I find I share the sentiment.”
“Mn,” G’Kar hummed, enjoying the moment, the unexpected sincerity, and the warmth of Londo’s body over his own. There had been many moments like this since he’d been appointed as Londo’s bodyguard—conversations that began over dinner and ended at some indecent hour of the morning, long voyages through hyperspace to visit the numerous Centauri worlds and colonies with only one another for solace. Lately, though, life at the royal court had been so hectic and tiresome that whenever they stole a moment for themselves, all they wanted was a few hours of sleep.
He cupped Londo’s cheek with one hand, and with the other, stroked the flared tip of the brach nestled in his palm, savouring every pleasured exhale. “I may not know the pressures and perils of rulership as intimately as you do, but I understand more than you think—forced into a role one is unprepared for, a role one may even think antiquated or unnecessary. It feels...” G’Kar stifled a laugh and tugged Londo’s shirt away from his shoulders, “like clothes that don’t fit.” He kissed every inch of exposed flesh, working his way down Londo’s collarbone. “I couldn’t stand it. It itched and chafed in the most uncomfortable places. Exposed my weaknesses, brought out my flaws. When others looked at me, I could no longer recognize myself in their eyes. What I did—the only thing I could do, was to throw it aside and walk away.”
“How convenient for you,” Londo said. “It is far past the time when I had that luxury.”
“But there was a time when you could have—and you didn’t.” G’Kar raised the brach he’d been stroking to his lips and kissed the tip.
“Are you trying to say that you admire me, G’Kar? For doing what you could not?” The brach flicked sharply against G’Kar’s chin, a conscious gesture, and a slightly admonishing one at that. “Consider your point taken and spare us both the embarrassment of straining the metaphor any further. Next you’ll be telling me that white is my colour.”
G’Kar giggled. “It isn’t. But who am I to question your Majesty’s tastes?” Then he flipped Londo over, pinned him against the bed, and kissed him. A muffled yelp of surprise was all Londo could manage before he surrendered, parting his lips, spreading his legs. He kissed the corners of Londo’s mouth. “I’ll gladly stop, if that is what you wish, but surely after a day of veiled insults and false flattery, isn’t it about time somebody honoured you properly?”