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To Walk Away

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Vir had principles. Mind you, he hadn't always been convinced that was a good thing: as a child, the word had been hurled at him often enough, generally accompanied by a glare and the angry rolling of eyes. Oh, you and your principles, they'd say, and whether that meant Vir had said something stupid or just something they didn't want to hear was a distinction he hadn't learned to make until much later.

It must have been sheer stubbornness that had made him persist regardless. The same stubbornness, Vir supposed, which explained his refusal to walk away from Londo in the past, even after all he'd done.

But he was walking away now, fury spurring him on as he marched across the corridor, away from the person who, he'd learned just now, wasn't his friend. A friend wouldn't have gambled Vir's life without his permission. Because that was the problem, wasn't it? Not that Londo had needed Vir's help to set up Refa, but that he hadn't asked. He'd simply presumed that Vir would give his consent, and then decided to bypass asking for it in the first place.

Vir counted the seconds until he reached the transport tube, ducking inside without turning his head. Looking back would have meant seeing Londo standing there, and he knew that if he looked back, he was lost. Well, not this time. This time Londo had gone too far. This time, Vir intended to…

The thought ground to a stop, trampling somewhat sheepishly in the dust of its own passage. What could he do, exactly? And what was it going to change? He'd stuck with Londo all through the war with Narn, and for what? Just for the wild hope that Londo still knew right from wrong, that one day he'd surprise them all. Well, Londo had surprised him, but not in the way Vir had hoped for. Expecting not to be betrayed and handed over to one's enemy was a rather basic foundation of friendship, wasn't it? No, Londo had used him, and this time, this time, Vir wasn't going to budge.

He was still Londo's aide, though. He was expected to show up for work the next morning; it wasn't as if that was a matter of choice. Sleep had been a joke, filled with dark flashes of memory that he'd thought had been long buried and forgotten, at least until Refa's telepath had dug them out. Londo was having breakfast when Vir arrived, sipping his jála as if nothing had happened. Maybe that was what gave him that final nudge he'd needed. Or maybe it was Londo's expression, going blank the moment Vir walked through the door.

"I understand why you did it," Vir blurted. He tried to keep his face as neutral as he could. The quaver in his voice still betrayed him, but he had to say this now, before Londo barged in and the conversation would veer off into a direction Vir couldn't control. "You explained, and I understand. That doesn't mean I've forgiven you. I just… I can't trust you anymore, Londo. I don't know if I'll be able to trust you again. I can still be your aide, but I don't know if I can be your friend."

Londo put down his fork and, very slowly, tugged his napkin out from under his chin. Vir knew better than to mistake composure for indifference. But he'd expected a stronger reaction: impatience, anger, anything other than the rigid bewilderment Londo's face was showing now. There was no malice there, Vir knew. He wasn't sure if that made it more bearable, or less. It wasn't even that Londo was incapable of empathy; just that, like a muscle that had started to atrophy, he had neglected to use it for most of his life.

For a moment, Londo's gaze flicked down. Then he gave a curt nod and dabbed at his mouth. "I see. You can clear the table now, Vir." His tone reminded Vir of some of their conversations during the war: brittle, controlled, and followed by a silence that felt a dozen times worse.

Vir slept badly that night. And the next one, and the one after that, and in a way the days were even harder. He made Londo's meals and wrestled with the paperwork, trying to think as little as he could. What was it he was trying to accomplish? To punish Londo? To prove that he could stand up for himself? Well, Londo wasn't even making that hard. Every morning when he woke up, Vir could feel himself caving, but after five minutes in Londo's quarters, discussing business and the ugly mechanics of the occupation, he inevitably swallowed what he'd intended to say and obliged Londo in talking about nothing at all.

One night he arrived barely in time for dinner, and as he was rushing towards the counter, bag of groceries in his arms, the sound of a throat being cleared made him turn around.

Londo was sitting in an armchair, one hand splayed across his chest. The perspective made him look smaller than he was, and a small, forced smile was playing around his mouth. Vir gulped and shifted the shopping bags in his grip.

"You seem… unhappy, Vir." Londo's smile was still in place, which must be why it took Vir a moment to parse what he was saying. A small package of ralla fruit slid from where it was balanced on top of one of the bags, and with his arms full, Vir couldn't possibly catch it. As he stood blinking down at the berries scattering across the deck, Londo sniffed and resumed talking. "I can only assume it is because of me. So… I think you should take tonight off, hmm? And perhaps tomorrow as well. Treat yourself to dinner. Spend some time with Lennier, or whoever it is you spend time with when you aren't here. Get a proper night's sleep. It will be a challenge, but I think… I think I will be able to manage without you for a day." Londo trailed off, and there was that small smile again, tight-lipped and cautious and, to Vir, utterly confusing.

It was a relief to turn away, to take his time in arranging the groceries on the counter and pretend, just for a moment, not to have seen the hope in Londo's eyes. This was the first time Londo had confessed to being remotely culpable, the first time he'd acknowledged Vir's feelings at all. It was far from an apology. It wasn't even an admission of guilt, and as helpful advice went, it was wide off the mark… but it was something.

"Thank you," Vir muttered, the words spilling out before he could stop them. He didn't even know what he was thanking Londo for, or how he'd managed to talk past the lump in his throat. When he turned around, Londo looked pale, and Vir could see the effort in his posture. "It's all right," Vir said, hoarse. He wondered if he was reassuring Londo or himself. "I – I don't need a day off. And Lennier is off the station, so I don't have anywhere to..." He trailed off, realizing too late how pathetic that was making him sound.

Londo's sigh sounded strangely fragile. "Well, you can stay or leave, as you wish. I would not presume to, ah…"

"It's all right," Vir repeated. "I think… I can stay for a while." So far, he hadn't phrased that as a promise. But he didn't think Londo expected him to, which was a start.