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My Graceless Heart

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I.

"I hope, " G'Kar said, raising his glass in the umpteenth toast of the night, each one a bit more unsteady than the last, "that whoever your replacement will be, they can hold their liquor as well as you, Mollari. It's your most redeeming quality." He downed his drink with a flourish, as if challenging Londo to do the same.

"My replacement?" Londo made no effort to hide his surprise. As the night went on, his mood had progressed from mellow to melancholic, with a brief, wild stop at giddy when G'Kar had disclosed the location of his artificial eye. Their mirth had been cut short when Delenn and Sheridan, after a minute or so of demure foreplay, had simply turned off the lights. "You are babbling, G'Kar. Why would I need to be replaced?"

G'Kar lifted his feet from the conference table, crossing them in front of him. "I heard they called you home, to lead your people into a new and glorious future. Although that wasn't how Cotto phrased it. I believe what he said was, 'Great Maker, I hope this ends well.' He seemed concerned about you… or perhaps concerned how you will cope without someone to keep you on the right path." His tone was half teasing, half dry, brittle wit.

Londo took a gulp of brivari before trusting himself to reply. It burned going down, settling uneasily in his stomach. "Well, there is ample time until the path, as you call it, becomes mine to walk. Perhaps something can be salvaged before then, hmm?" He struggled not to flinch from G'Kar's piercing look. Nothing in it betrayed G'Kar's thoughts on the prospect of Londo becoming Emperor, and whether G'Kar found the idea appalling or absurd or something different altogether. Despite having fallen into an amiable companionship, there were still some topics that they had failed to broach. Londo's involvement in the war was one; his future career was another. He could not tell if G'Kar didn't care, or simply didn't care to comment, and he tried not to wonder. "You won't be rid of me so quickly. They want me home to formalize arrangements, nothing more. The Regent is unwell. Should he leave us, I must be ready to succeed him, but I expect that won't be for some time yet." Londo didn't say that time was exactly what he was hoping for, as irrational as it might sound.

"If he is ill, is he still able to rule?" G'Kar said, as nonchalantly as if he was asking about the weather.

Londo scowled. "The Emperor rules for life, whether he is able to or not. You know that as well as I do. It is no different for the Regent." Phrased like that, it sounded less than sensible, but it had always been this way. Of course in the old days, Emperors had rarely lived past mid-age, either through war or murder, which was the traditional method to arrange succession. Turhan was the first Emperor in centuries to have died of natural causes. In more than one way, he was far more of an aberration than Cartagia had been. As for Londo… well. Unless his death dream proved false, it would not be natural causes for him either.

G'Kar studied the bottom of his empty glass, a small smile playing around his lips. "You don't sound as if you find the prospect appealing. Have you considered saying no?"

Londo sputtered. “Great Maker, of course not. Being asked to serve one’s people as Emperor is an honor, not an offer one turns down like... like an invitation to dinner.” No one had ever refused the throne, as far as he knew. It was simply unthinkable.

“I refused when my people asked me,” G’Kar said, setting down his glass and reaching for the gloves he'd removed some time ago. “It had nothing to do with refusing to serve; simply with the belief that there were better ways in which I could do so. Who knows, your people might be better off without having you inflicted on them quite so thoroughly.” He gave Londo a provocative grin. “Though I'll admit you have changed, and I couldn’t say who else on your world might do a halfway decent job of ruling. Apart from Cotto, of course, but I’ve always suspected he isn't a real Centauri.”

Not for the first time, Londo wondered if he had just been given a compliment or been insulted. The remark about Vir, as innocent as it had been, drove home the rest of Morella's prophecy: you must surrender to your greatest fear, knowing it will destroy you. Londo swallowed. There was a tight, nagging ache under his breastbone that made it hard to catch his breath. He raised a hand towards his chest, rubbing it gingerly. “On your world, perhaps, refusal is an option. Our way is… different.” He could not allow himself to wonder about a future where he wouldn't be Emperor, where he would be free to live his life without the burden of prophecy. There was duty. He had never refused it, nor would he start now.

"So I see," G’Kar said. "I notice none of your reasons for accepting the throne involve your own opinion on the matter." He finished pulling on one glove, flexing his fingers. For a moment his eyes narrowed, not with displeasure but with sympathy. "Mollari…" G'Kar's voice softened. "Do you want to rule?"

“Yes,” Londo said, pressing away a flash of those gloved hands closing around his throat. There could be no other answer, and in a way that made it easy. Just as easy as blaming his death dream for the weight that settled like a stone against his hearts.

 

II.

The hum of the engine solidified into a shudder, his cup vibrating dangerously. Londo took it out of its holder before his jala could spill, taking a sip to calm his nerves.

Great Maker. He hated traveling.

Well, no, that wasn't true. As a young man, he had never felt more alive than at the helm of a fighter, and some of his fondest childhood memories were of the yearly boat trips to his uncle's beach house on Celini. He did not object to travel, only to the means of transportation, and the passenger liners that flew between Babylon 5 and Homeworld had always been a maudlin affair. But the latest summons from the court had crackled with urgency, so Vir had secured them a place on the first available transport, even though first class had already been fully booked.

Londo wasn't sure what had possessed him to brush off Vir's suggestion to demand a seat regardless. As future Emperor, they wouldn't dream of refusing him, but something had held him back. The thought of claiming the privilege before he held the title – to have everyone know he was no longer just Ambassador Mollari, but Prime Minister Mollari, heir to the throne – felt irrationally, frighteningly wrong. It was too soon. Once he became Emperor, his life would no longer be his own, so better to cherish the illusion of freedom while he could. This was a perfectly sensible position to take, except that, stuck in the transport's main compartment among bickering couples and squealing children, he was beginning to question it. Perhaps it was simply lack of sleep, but the constant vibration of the deck was grating on his nerves, and he was starting to feel uncomfortably dizzy. In fact, he had not been at his best for several days, and a thirteen-hour trip in an overcrowded cabin wasn't improving his mood. Nor had the food, which Londo had taken one bite of and then thrown into the thrash; he blamed the skipped meals for the persistent light-headed feeling.

Beside him, Vir was focused on one of the data tablets the crew had passed out some time ago. It held the latest news from Earth and Homeworld, along with a selection of in-flight entertainment. Vir had spent the first hour of the flight immersed in an ancient Earth game which involved a bright yellow blob chasing other blobs through a crude labyrinth – an activity accompanied by much elbow work and frustration. For the moment, to Londo's relief, he had switched to reading. His expression was one of such rapt interest that Londo craned his neck to see.

"I-I didn't realize…" Vir looked up, gesturing vaguely at the screen. "Do you know it's been a whole year since Narn was freed? A Narn year, obviously, but – anyway, they're planning a celebration a few days from now." He held out the tablet to Londo. The image resolved into an aerial view of the Kha'Ri buildings, squat and depressing under a dust-streaked sky.

"Yes, I know. G'Kar told me." Londo sagged back against the headrest, fixing his eyes on the paneled ceiling. "He even invited me, if you can believe it." He could still barely believe it himself. When G'Kar had sprung the question on him, Londo's first impulse had been startled laughter. But G'Kar had been in dead earnest. "He said, as a member of the advisory board of the Alliance, it would send a positive message for me to be there. He asked Delenn as well, but with the preparations for Sheridan's inauguration, she had to decline." Londo shrugged with rather too much vehemence, wincing as it left the room spinning. "In any case, I was needed back home."

Vir's eyes widened. "Londo, why didn't you say something? I know they want you there at court, but… Well, this is important too, we could have made other arrangements. If you'd said you were needed on Alliance business, I'm sure the Regent would have given permission –"

Londo waved him into silence. "Forget it, Vir. Please. It would have been… inappropriate." That wasn't what he had told G'Kar, but Vir didn't have to know that. It was painful enough to recall his own reaction, the blood rushing to his face as if G'Kar had issued a challenge instead of an invitation. Or perhaps it had been both. Either way, Londo had opened his mouth to decline graciously, only to find himself caught in a tangle of words that refused to unknot itself. In the end, he had said something blunt and ambiguous about more pressing obligations, which had done the trick of appeasing G'Kar without actually confronting the issue. The simple truth was he'd declined because he didn't think he could bear it. He might have granted Narn its independence, but the only reason they had lost it in the first place was his own thoughtless ambition. That G'Kar knew this, and had still invited him, was a riddle Londo was afraid to even try to solve.

Vir's eyebrows knitted together. "Well, you did free Narn. I–I mean, it's not like the people… They don't know it was you who started…" He trailed off, with the vaguely bewildered look of someone whose conscious brain had just caught up with his vocal cords.

"No," Londo said, squeezing the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. "They don't." Which was exactly the problem. That faint, clammy sensation was creeping up on him again, scattering specks of white across his vision. His chest felt uncomfortably tight. Would he ever admit in public what he had done? Would anyone ever confront him? Not that it mattered. He and G'Kar had mended their bridges, which was more than he could have asked for, even if they'd never discussed this particular subject. Clearly now was too late to start.

 

III.

He wasn't expecting to find the door open. Not at this time of night. Timov was an early riser, up at dawn and asleep before midnight; combined with Londo's nocturnal lifestyle, it had helped them avoid each other for most of their married life. But that was in the past. Lately, their reunions were a welcome distraction, and the prospect of Timov's blunt honesty had sustained Londo through the worst of today's ordeal at court. Still, by the time he made it home, leaving Vir to spend the night in the palace, the windows were dark and he had to settle for letting himself in. He noticed it as he was shuffling through the unlit hallway. As a rule he and Timov slept apart, but sometimes she would leave her door unlocked, as a sign that he could join her. It was open now, the sound of quiet breathing trickling out into the corridor.

Londo leaned against the doorpost, dragging a hand across his eyes. There was no rush of warmth, no unexpected stirring of desire – just exhaustion, and the sudden, overwhelming need for company.

He gave in, entering the room and then undressing in near-darkness, feeling slow and clumsy. When he turned to drape his clothes over a chair, he caught a flash of movement beside him; he spun, fumbling for the dagger at his belt only to find he'd already removed it. When he looked up, there was just his own reflection staring back at him.

A mirror. Great Maker, this was pathetic. He sagged as the flood of adrenaline left him, one hand plucking at the laces of his nightshirt. His pulse was racing, and hearts felt as if they were lodged halfway up his throat. Lately, that sort of thing was happening with unsettling regularity. The word was that the Regent was ill, but judging by the few glimpses Londo had caught of him today, apart from some admittedly strange behavior, the man seemed in better health than Londo himself. If this went on, by the time he succeeded Virini, the court would simply be replacing one invalid with a new one.

He slid quietly between the sheets, panting through gritted teeth. He'd thought he had managed not to wake Timov, but she rolled over and propped her head up on one hand.

"So, it's done?"

Londo nodded, then, realizing she might not be able to see it in the darkness, said, "Yes. There was a ceremony. I took an oath. I believe I may have even managed not to lie throughout it. I am now… the appointed heir to the throne." Saying it out loud drove home the truth in a way twelve hours of formalities had failed to accomplish. A dull pain flared below his midriff, almost like heartburn; he pressed it down with the flat of his hand.

"I see," Timov said. "I'm to be Empress, then? What if I don't want to – do I even get a say in that?" There was an edge to her tone that made Londo stiffen. He had told her the reason for his return to Homeworld, but he hadn't thought of asking for her opinion. For the first time, he wondered if that had been wrong.

"Yes. Yes, of course, you get a say," he said, struggling to hide his shock. He did not know if she meant what he thought she was asking, or if she only wanted to make a point, but the answer was the same. "If you wish to divorce me… you have my word that I will not try to stop you." It was all he could do to keep his voice steady. "It would, however, be my loss."

"It would, wouldn't it?" Timov's lips puckered into what, even in the darkness, could not be mistaken for anything other than a smile. She bent over him, leaning her forehead against his. When her arm slipped down towards his side, Londo shuddered involuntarily. Even the light touch felt too sudden, too much.

He opened his mouth to say I'm tired, but for some reason what came out instead was, "I can't breathe." His vision was darkening at the edges. Dimly, he was aware his response was irrational – there was the cold, hard tang of panic mixed in with the barrage of protests from his body – but he could not seem to fight his way past it. He dug his fingers into the sheets, swallowing hard.

Timov's hand withdrew, her expression turning wary. "Londo, what is going on? After all the stupid, horrible things you did for power, I would think you'd be pleased they are giving it to you now."

"Cartagia had power," Londo muttered. Morden had been right. Cartagia would never have held the throne if not for him. It was Londo's power that had put him there, so was he truly any better at handling it than Cartagia had been?

"So did Turhan," Timov said. "Less power than some, perhaps, but enough to make a difference." She sat up straighter, adjusting her collar with a few sharp tugs. "I had an interesting talk with the lady Morella. She told me about the reason her husband went to Babylon 5: he was going to make a formal apology to Narn. Nothing says you couldn't continue what he started – I believe you have enough to apologize for." The latter was followed by a measuring look. "Really, Londo, what are you afraid of?"

"I don't know." Londo winced at the words, then again at the memory of Turhan's cracked whisper in his ear. Damned, the old Emperor had called him, and Londo could not shake the feeling he had been right.The memories rose up, unbidden: the surface of Narn torn to shreds below him, the Vorlon ship blotting out the sun. Morella's prophecy, which clearly she had not mentioned to Timov during their conversation. For a moment, he considered telling her himself… but no, that would only make it heavier, more rooted in truth.

"Londo…" Timov's frown deepened. "You do realize you have a choice too? Look at you. If becoming Emperor is going to destroy you, don't you think you should –"

"It will." The words spilled out like shards of glass. "It will destroy me. The only question is how."

"You're not making any sense." Timov sagged back against the pillow, shaking her head with less irritation than puzzlement. "It's late, Londo. Do at least try to sleep."

"No," he said. "I can't." Sleep would bring dreams, and he could not imagine any dreams that would be an improvement on being awake. Not now.

"All right, then don't sleep. But don't expect me to spend all night listening to you being morbid and confusing. You're not the only one who has work to do in the morning." He could practically hear her roll her eyes as he turned onto his side, careful not to jolt his aching lungs and chest. But she was warm and strangely gentle as she spooned up behind him, covering the hand on his heart with her own.

 

IV.

You had to give it to Sheridan: he was not a man afraid of risk. Of course, ever since that whole business of dying on Z’Ha’Dum and then coming back, Londo suspected Sheridan’s opinion of risk in general and death in particular had become rather twisted. With that, at least, Londo could sympathize. To say his own people had a complicated relationship with death was an understatement. Knowing how and when one's end would come tended to make one reckless, and as a young man Londo had more than once been accused of having a death wish – mostly by Timov, who used to say she'd have preferred him to follow through. But he was older now, and things had changed. Knowing he must have fewer years left than he had behind him was making him cling to life all the more stubbornly.

For their future President, the opposite seemed to be true. Londo couldn't tell if Sheridan truly did not worry about the death threats, or was just too angry to care. In any case, the ceremony would go ahead as planned. Nothing Londo said was likely to change that, so he had taken his leave from Sheridan not long after Delenn had left as well.

He found her at the transport tube to Green sector, standing ridgidly in front of the doors.

"You married a stubborn man, Delenn." Londo held up a hand as she wheeled abruptly, indicating his goodwill with the shadow of a grin. "Though I daresay you are evenly matched. Did you know the humans have a curse: may you live in interesting times? You and Sheridan, you both seem destined to make the times interesting simply by living in them. You may as well grow used to it."

Delenn seemed to waver between impatience and anger. Then her shoulders sagged, and she gave him a wan smile. "I suppose that is true. We opened the door for this on the day John accepted the Presidency." Her eyes slid away and then back to him, lingering on his face for just an instant too long. Londo knew he was not looking his best; as quiet as the days had been since his return from Homeworld, he still hadn't shaken the fatigue that plagued him. To his relief, Delenn refrained from comment. "I remember you called me mad for even considering the idea of an Alliance; it would have been naïve to think others would not feel the same, and disapprove."

Londo shrugged. "If you are mad, Delenn, then we all are. And a little madness is good for the soul, no? Especially if one is to govern one's people; it may be healthy for them to have an entirely sane leader, but it is rarely inspiring." The cabin had arrived, and Londo waved Delenn in before following at a somewhat slower pace. "You still believe the ceremony should be postponed?"

"I don't know," Delenn said. The anguish had crept back into her voice, and Londo had to fight the impulse to avert his eyes. Seeing Delenn in distress was strangely confrontational, given how she was always such a pinnacle of composure. "In John's place, I would want it to go ahead as well. He does not like standing still while everything around him is moving, and his own safety was never his priority. Nor was mine. There was a war going on, personal safety was an afterthought, but now –" She took a deep breath. "Knowing how many years he has left…"

"Yes." Londo nodded. "Such a waste, is it not?" He had heard the story of how Sheridan had been granted twenty more years, and of course he understood. To have that sword hanging over you, not only knowing how it would strike but when… it tended to give one a different perspective on life. He braced himself against the steel plating of the cabin as it shuddered into motion. "But Sheridan has a point. Look at our people, Delenn, yours and mine. At our respected leaders. The mighty Emperors of the Great Centauri Republic, ruling from within a gilded cage which they have grown convinced is their entire world; and your Grey Council, as aloof as they are powerful. Perhaps when it comes to this, both our worlds can take a lesson from the humans."

"Perhaps." Delenn's expression turned wistful. "I tried, when I disbanded the Council. But even then, the real change will take years, decades."

Londo shrugged; the shift in position brought back the familiar light-headed feeling. A bead of moisture trickled down his temple, and his palms were sweating. "Then, given that Sheridan has precious few decades left, you had better hurry."

The flash of fire in Delenn's eyes was as fierce as he remembered it. She turned abruptly, took two rapid paces, then spun around again. "You're sounding like him now," she said, flinging the words at him like an accusation. "If I didn't know him better, I would say he enjoys the risk."

"And why not?" Londo said, in a tone that came out more combative than he'd intended. "I have seen my death in dreams. I assure you, nothing whets the appetite for life quite as much as knowing there is a limited supply of it. And for Sheridan, that knowledge has recently become much less theoretical. That, and…" He shivered, rubbing his breastbone with his knuckles. "During the war with your people, I had the chance to observe the humans from nearby. Your people and mine, we have grown accustomed to fighting from a position of power. But the humans – at the end they had nothing more to lose, and that may have been what saved them. I have never seen courage quite like theirs. My people, on the other hand, have grown placid. At times, I wonder what we would do if there ever came a time where we needed to fight for survival. Whether we still could."

Delenn's lips folded into a small smile. "I see you have been spending time with G'Kar. That sounds like something he would say." She took a step towards him, head tilted slightly as if caught in an internal argument. After a moment, she seemed to come to a decision. "Did you and him ever discuss the war between your people?" There was something in the way she phrased it that told him it wasn't mere curiosity, that she was somehow invested in the answer – which was the only reason he didn't deflect the question like he would otherwise have done.

"No." Londo breathed through a wave of guilt, as familiar now as an old friend. Of course he had never brought up the war. On the contrary, he had gone out of his way to avoid the topic, focusing instead on that wild, desperate urge to fix things before he would have to admit they were broken. He took a breath, the lump in his throat feeling almost solid. "Although at times, when I look at G'Kar, I ask myself how it would have turned out had the roles been reversed. If we are truly so different, he and I. I have never been able to answer that. Or perhaps I did not dare." He peered at Delenn, attempting to parse her carefully blank expression. "Have you ever asked yourself that question? What would have happened if, during the war, Sheridan had been in your place and you in his…?" He shook his head. "Never mind. It is different for your people. There were eight others on the Council with you; I take it there was never any one person who could tip the scales."

The cabin had ground to a stop, the doors sliding open, but Delenn was frozen in place as if he had just said something impossible. Londo opened his mouth to ask, but closed it again at the look in her eyes.

"In twenty years, remind me to tell you a story," Delenn said, voice slightly unsteady. Then, with a flutter of robes, she was gone.

 

V.

The champagne tasted flat. But perhaps, for once, that was a mercy. Londo was no stranger to tension, but tension was too mild a word for the crippling heartburn that had plagued him since the failed attempt on Sheridan's life. Even now, sharing a meal among friends in the company of their brand-new President, it continued to spoil his evening. Not that he intended to show it. He could only imagine what G'Kar, for one, would have to say about the condition of Londo's hearts. So he sipped his drink and laughed along with the others, expressing exaggerated delight at the proffered plates of spoo and not-quite-exaggerated distaste of the endless variations on flarn. Vir and Lennier had made the dinner arrangements, and he supposed he had to be grateful to Vir for making sure some of the spoo was of the aged kind. It was still a struggle to get a few spoonfuls down, and Londo let his eyes move across the row of familiar faces as he ate, looking for ways to distract himself.

Relief was the most common emotion in the room. Delenn, in particular, looked like a weight had fallen off her shoulders. Sheridan's enthusiasm was more restrained, as was G'Kar's, and some, like Mr. Garibaldi, Londo was having trouble reading at all. The only one who seemed ill at ease was Lennier, although everyone else seemed oblivious to it. But Londo was watching him move around the table, stopping briefly to refill Delenn's cup, and when she smiled and thanked him, there was no mistaking the strain in his face. It was gone the next moment, though, when G'Kar's Declaration of Principles was passed around the table and Sheridan picked it up with a grin.

"This is incredible work, G'Kar." He leafed through the pages almost reverently. "I'm sorry there was no time for you to read it during the ceremony, but maybe we can make up for that now. We still haven't had a proper toast tonight. Would you mind doing the honors?" There was a general murmur of agreement, and all eyes turned towards G'Kar. Londo, who happened to be sitting beside him, picked up his glass obligingly as Sheridan and the others did the same. His hand was sweating, and he was starting to regret having eaten at all. Watching hope brim in people's faces, he felt restless to the point of nausea – as if they were all walking on the edge of a blade that no one could see. Today had been a close call, and while the Alliance would not have fallen over Sheridan's death, the blow to morale would have been massive. Not for the first time, Londo prayed all of this would last.

From across the table, Delenn was eyeing him intently, and Londo made a point of grinning and flicking a finger against his glass. "A proper toast? With this? Bah. Fortunately, I have a shipment of brivari coming in tomorrow, so I can show you what a real celebration is like." He glanced to the side to see G'Kar roll his eyes as a wave of amused laughter rumbled across the table. It almost made him feel like himself again. When G'Kar cleared his throat and began to speak, Londo forced himself to relax. Surely he was being paranoid. Everything would be fine.

Which had to be why, not ten minutes later, he was hunched over the sink in the restroom across the corridor, frantically trying to swallow down bile.

Something was wrong. He felt wrong, in a way he had never felt before – except, perhaps, during the worst days of the war when he had been caught in a nightmare of his own making. He didn't know why this would feel the same, even when there was no cause for it, but his body did not seem inclined to listen to reason. He felt nauseous, and what had started out as heartburn had expanded to a raw, acrid pressure against his chest. Londo stared at his own wild-eyed reflection in the mirror, sucking down air through his teeth. He could not go back out there. It would not do to show weakness in public, not when he would be Emperor soon, but neither could he stay in here for long. Running cold water from the tap, he moistened his hands and face, letting the droplets trickle across his cheeks.

He heard, rather than saw, the door open behind him, and his head whipped up sharply. Ah, of course. Poetic justice being what it was, there was only one person who could have followed him here. Londo did not go through the trouble of turning; instead he met G'Kar's eyes in the mirror and huffed. "Missing me already, G'Kar?"

"Delenn was becoming concerned," G'Kar said, taking care to emphasize Delenn. "You've been in here for some time. Knowing your patience for speeches and introspection, she feared you might be trying to escape by climbing up through an air vent." He closed the door before leaning against it. "I told her you didn't have the stamina, of course, but she insisted someone came to make sure."

Londo shrugged, careful to sustain a look of mild contempt as he dabbed a napkin across his cheeks. "Yes, well, the air of heady optimism was getting rather thick in there. I needed a break." Talking was not the best strategy: it only brought back the sick, burning sensation, rolling in with a rush of acid up his throat. He waited until G'Kar's eyes flicked elsewhere to cover his mouth with his fist.

"Is it the flarn that is turning your stomach, or my writing?" G'Kar said, glancing up from straightening his gloves. "In case it's the latter, the Declaration of Principles has been safely stowed for the night, so you needn't worry."

"Bah, neither." Londo winced, annoyed at how effortlessly G'Kar could read him. "Or perhaps both. Mostly I keep expecting this whole Alliance business to be revealed as an elaborate practical joke. For as long as I have known the universe, it has been less than generous with happy endings, so I am having some trouble accepting this one."

"Perhaps because the universe doesn't hand out endings at all," G'Kar observed. "We merely like to think that it does because we are so intent on letting go of the past." Londo couldn't say if G'Kar was needling him or not; his face was perfectly neutral, apart from the tiniest sliver of what might have been concern. "Delenn said you have been acting strangely. And according to Cotto you haven't been eating. Have you lost weight?"

Londo opened his mouth to protest the volley of questions, but his stomach chose that exact moment to revolt; this time, he couldn't keep the pain from showing in his face. "Yes, and I am about to lose more of it unless you leave me in peace," he said, with an effort. "Tell the others I will be back in a moment. I am sure you can come up with a way to explain my absence that is both completely untrue and lets them have a laugh at my expense."

G'Kar responded with the obligatory half-grin. "I expect I will," he said, and started to leave. Londo waited until G'Kar's back was turned before squeezing his eyes shut and breathing out through his teeth. He heard the door open, but before it closed again, G'Kar's footsteps halted. "Mollari. Are you sure you're all right?"

The question – as simple as that, no sarcasm, no frills – caught Londo off guard. His hand came up instinctively, hovering halfway towards his chest, and for a moment he considered giving a genuine answer. Then his jaw set, and the hand closed into a fist. "I'm fine, G'Kar. Just... go." It was part relief, part disappointment when the door clicked shut at last.