Total last minute treat, so I apologize for any errors. I got a bit carried away!
"Here." Sheridan handed Sinclair the comlink, in spite of Sinclair's head-shaking, and Sheridan left the room.
Sinclair stared at the link for a long time. It lay in his palm, with the tiny green indicator for an open channel lit. Such a small thing to fill him with such dread.
Finally, cursing himself a coward, he lifted it up. "Sinclair."
Garibaldi's voice stabbed through him. "Jeff! My God, it is you! What the hell are you doing?"
Sinclair groped for an answer which wouldn't reveal too much. "Investigating the anomaly, Garibaldi."
"Bullshit," Garibaldi retorted instantly. Anger roughened his voice. "You might get away with that to Sheridan and the Rangers, but not me. You must have left Minbar long before we got the message. Tell me the truth."
He stared at the wall screen, watching as Garibaldi's Starfury changed vectors to match the White Star. Agony twisted inside, knotting in his heart and making it hard to breathe-- this was why he hadn't wanted to talk to Michael. Damn Sheridan for interfering.
"Jeff?" Garibaldi prompted, now sounding concerned. "What's going on?"
"It's... hard to explain," he managed finally. "I left you a message back on the station to tell you, but... it's about Babylon 4."
"Then I should come too; I was there."
"No!" The cry burst from his lips, as the chilling memory from his flashforward struck him again. ... Garibaldi, staying behind while Shadows attacked the station, both of them knowing he was going to die, and Sinclair's getting dragged away helpless to stop him.... The aged corpse of the pilot who had first gone to Babylon 4.... He pushed the memories aside with an effort, clenching his fists and bringing his voice back under control. "No, Michael. You can't come. Not this time."
"Jeff, what stupid thing are you planning? You only shut me out when you're protecting me. I'm a big boy, and I can make my own decisions."
Sinclair ignored his words and murmured, "You're my friend, Michael. Probably the best friend I've ever had. But you can't follow me now. I know you don't understand, but you can't come."
"So why not explain it to me? Dammit, Jeff, why won't you tell me?"
"I don't have time. I'm sorry." Then he uttered the most unforgivable lie he had ever said, one which sliced his soul to shreds. "When I get back, I'll explain everything."
"Oh, well... all right then," Garibaldi sounded mollified, though still puzzled. "I had a bad feeling there for a moment. But as long as you'll tell me what this is all about later, I guess I'm okay with it. But be careful, will you?"
"You, too." His hand holding the link was shaking. "Goodbye, Michael. Sinclair out."
He disconnected and with burning eyes he watched as the 'fury turned again and passed the White Star, eventually flying out of range. Forgive me, Michael. But I had no choice. If saving your life means killing our friendship, that's a sacrifice I have to make.
He rested his head on his forearm, as a pain too intense for tears squeezed his heart.
"Ambassador, are you all right?" a voice asked from the door.
Sinclair boiled to his feet, as a rage born of anguish exploded. He had a hand on his fighting pike under his cloak, and he took two steps forward to pin Sheridan with a glare. "You made me lie to him." His voice was trembling with the effort to keep it level. "Did it occur to you, Captain, that I might have a reason for not talking to him?" He hurled the comlink at Sheridan and hit him square in the chest. "It hurts too goddamned much, that's why. Next time, keep your good intentions to yourself."
Sheridan eyed him as if he'd gone mad. "I-- well, I'm sorry. But Michael's my friend too; it wasn't right to keep your presence here a secret."
"Right?" Sinclair tasted the word as if he didn't know it. "And is it "right" to have his last memory of me be a lie?" He saw Sheridan's eyes widen in realization and he nodded, lips twisting bitterly. "Now you understand. I have no intention of coming back. If Michael knew that, he'd move hell to come with me, and I can't allow that."
Sheridan frowned. "Coming back from Babylon 4?" he repeated curiously. "What do you mean?"
Sinclair smiled a little and didn't answer. "You'll find out soon enough."
Garibaldi raced back to his quarters. Jeff had said he left a message of explanation.
The password took a few seconds to figure out and after that, he saw his friend's face. And he listened with growing horror as Jeff spoke.
"You see, Michael. I won't be coming back, and if you went , you wouldn't come back either. And I can't allow that --"
"You bastard!" Garibaldi whispered. Sinclair spoke some more but Garibaldi didn't hear it. "You fraggin' bastard, you lied to me." He had known the instant Sheridan had told him Jeff was aboard that Sinclair was up to his old tricks -- but he had wanted to believe it so badly he had swallowed the lie.
He hit his link. "Garibaldi to C&C."
"Corwin here, Chief."
"Lieutenant, patch me through to the White Star."
"Sorry, Chief. They disappeared into the anomaly in Sector 14. Uh, Chief? They are coming back, aren't they?"
Garibaldi glanced down at the link as if it had bitten him. "I don't know, Corwin. I think so."
Except for one.
He played the message again and again, trying to understand why.
But Jeff didn't explain. In all his words there was not a single word of real explanation. But Garibaldi could read his expression and the fire in his eyes. He wanted to do this.
"God, Jeff..." he whispered and stumbled back to sit hard in the chair. "You finally got your wish."
The longer he sat there, encased in numb shock, the more he understood the real reason Jeff was sacrificing himself. For Susan, screaming in terror as the Shadows destroyed C&C. For Michael. For everyone on Babylon 5. How he planned to stop it, didn't really matter. The heart of it was simple: he was trading his life for B5 and everyone aboard.
It was such a typically Jeff thing to do.
When the tears came, they flowed gently, silently, down his cheeks. It hurt -- it would always hurt. But he had always known that their friendship existed on fragile, borrowed time. That someday Jeff's inclination to embrace death wouldn't be stopped. Michael wasn't completely unprepared.
When the White Star crew came back, he counted the passengers without hope. He noticed that they all seemed changed. Sheridan held Delenn's hand, and kept glancing at her as if to speak, but fell silent each time.
Ivanova and Sheridan then traded a glance and he nodded. She stepped forward. "Michael..."
"I know,' he said, in a steady voice. "Jeff's not coming back."
She hesitated. "No, he's not," she answered finally and put a hand on his arm. "But there's more you should know. It's... amazing."
His gaze snapped to hers, taken by surprise.
"But not here," Susan tucked her arm around him, as much for herself as for him. "Come on."
In her quarters she made coffee for them both and settled next to him on the couch. "There's no easy way to tell you. Jeff took Babylon 4 back in time to fight in the last great war against the Shadows. This was about a thousand years ago."
He raised his eyebrows. "A thousand years ago? Damn."
"That's not all." She held her teacup tightly in both hands. "He took a device with him from Epsilon 3. The same one that Delenn used to become more human, but to work in reverse. To be Minbari." She took a deep breath. "But not just any Minbari. Michael, Jeff's gone back to become Valen."
Without speaking, Garibaldi stared at her trying to absorb what she was saying. His mouth moved without his voice, trying to put words to his confusion.
"It sounds crazy," she continued, more unsteadily. "I still can't grasp it. Jeff Sinclair as Valen. I ... oh hell, Michael, he knew where he was going. He understood. But I don't. Why the hell do we have to lose him to people who've been dead for a thousand years?" She dissolved into tears and Michael scooted over to put his arm around her and hold her to his shoulder.
His own eyes were dry.
Trust Jeff to find a spectacular destiny.
"Hush, Susan," he murmured. "It's okay. Jeff found what he needed. He never really belonged here, you know. He was just ours to borrow for a little while."
She lifted her face to meet his gaze and wiped her eyes. "How can you be so calm about this? I thought you would be the one crying, not me."
"It hurts, Susan," he admitted. "And damn it, I'm going to miss him. But don't you see? In a way, he's still here. It sounds sort of Minbari to say it, but it's true. Every time we look at them, at the Rangers, that's a part of him. I'm not saying I undersand it all, but I can tell you, I'm damn proud of my friend." He gave her another hug and then offered her a tissue when she pulled away.
"I do wonder though," he began and she glanced at him. "Why he couldn't have picked G'Quan. At least I've read that damned book already."
Susan choked on a startled laugh and smacked his shoulder. "Michael!"
He held up his hands. "Hey, I'm just saying -- I know Valen wrote a lot, and I don't know any Minbari language all that well."
"Well, neither do I," Susan added. "But I know there's a lot in translation."
"Let's take a look then," Michael said. They gathered in front of her terminal and accesed the station database on Valen and his works.
The first image to come up was a holo of a statue, carved from white stone. It was one of the most common Valen images, taken from the great temple of Yedor. Both of them flinched in surprise.
The Minbari had Jeff's eyes, mouth and the line of his jaw.
Michael put a hand to the screen and whispered. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen this. And I never saw a resemblance 'til now."
"It's him," she murmured. "Oh my God. It really is true."
Michael swallowed, remembering back to that dinner with Delenn, and the words she had spoken. They had been Valen's words, she had said, and somehow Michael still remembered them now, but now they held more meaning. Now, he believed.
He whispered, "Be not afraid for I'm with you until the end of time."