“Where did you say she was from, G’Kar?” said Londo, frowning down at Sannel. She jumped up in down in excitement, dancing at the end of his hands. He idly spun her as he lifted his gaze on G’Kar. For the thousandth time in the last ten minutes, G’Kar cursed Delenn for springing this meeting on him.Talk some sense into him, she had begged just as Londo made his entrance, flanked by Centauri guards. I know this will be difficult, but once long ago you seemed to reach an understanding. Please, just for a few minutes. Help him see reason.
All things he would have gladly done, were Sannel several Jumpgates away with Lyta and safe from harm. But they were both here, and Lyta was dead. They had felt her die.
Of course, it would all be inconsequential if Sannel was indeed who he said, “I found her on Narn, one of thousands of orphans left from your occupation.”He did not mean to growl those words, but the lie carried with it years of pain only Lyta understood. With luck, Mollari would accept his words and move on, too concerned with Centauri politics to worry about the truth of one Narn child’s parentage.
But Londo was still frowning, damn the man. He placed a pale hand (too pale, like a prisoner’s, the thought rose unbidden) under Sannel’s chin. She giggled and squirmed but dutifully looked up. Londo ran his thumb fondly against her face, perhaps not entirely realizing what he was doing. Something…softened in his expression, and his eyes crinkled at the corner, G’Kar thought at first with tears, before realizing that Londo was smiling. The Royal guard seemed equally shocked; exchanging startled glances at the first smile they had seen on their Emperor’s face in all the years they had stood watch.
“Surely not. She is far too young,” Londo said. He coughed, gathered himself, and released Sannel. She grinned broadly and stumbled back, falling onto her bottom. And yet at no point did her gaze waver from Londo. He raised a sardonic eyebrow at G’Kar. “I may be a fool but I’m not blind just yet. I can spot one of yours from light-years away. Spots being the operative word. You don’t waste any time, do you? But her coloring…very unusual for a Narn, and her eyes are blue. Like her mother’s, eh?” He gave a roguish grin and wagged a finger at G’Kar.
“Actually, she has her father’s eyes,” G’Kar said. Where had that come from? He cursed himself inwardly. A moment’s sentimentality may be the end of years of caution. He must remember, must force himself to remember, that this was not the man he had known while acting as his bodyguard. Londo had become something different in his time as Emperor, something closer to what he had been during the war. It would do G’Kar well to remember, for Sannel’s sake.
Something flickered over Londo’s face, as G’Kar’s words gave him pause. Sannel was sitting unusually still, gazing up at Londo as if she too were in deep thought. “Still…she is far too young,” Londo said, shaking himself as if from a daze. “Child, how old are you?”
“Four an’ a half,” Sannel said, showing four fingers. She hesitated with the other hand, not quite sure how to work out fractions.
“Four and a half!” Londo exclaimed, appearing quite impressed with Sannel’s years. She beamed. “You are quite the young lady then, yes?”
“Daddy says when I’m old enough we can go to Narn!” said Sannel. Londo glanced over at G’Kar, arching an eyebrow, and G’Kar recalled several curses he would never say aloud in Sannel’s presence.
“And is four and a half old enough?” said Londo very seriously. “I can’t imagine a reason why you shouldn’t see your father’s home world.”
Sannel shook her head. “No. Not for years and years. When I’m a grown up. It’s not safe now, you know,” she said conspiratorially.
“Ah, I see,” said Londo. “Well, might I suggest this? The anniversary of my coronation is in a half a year. Perhaps the two of you might visit? I will not see much of you, what with the dam—with the affairs of state. But we might make a great party of it! Your birthday and my coronation, why, they must have been almost the same day…” Londo stopped, his whole body stiffening as if turned to stone. Even his crest stilled, as it had shook in his enthusiasm while speaking to Sannel. This time the look he gave G’Kar was not sly or amused, in fact it was almost blank and G’Kar could see the suspicion churning behind the mask. You don’t waste any time? Of course not. As a bodyguard there had not been time for another (nor the interest, a small part of his mind whispered). And certainly there had been no one soon enough to account for Sannel’s age, now that Mollari was rightfully convinced of half her parentage. And with Sannel calling Lyta “Auntie” he had lost his best alibi. Damn the man!
“Mollari,” he snapped. Sannel glanced up, recognizing her father’s annoyance no doubt. With a sigh, G’Kar softened his voice to a hiss. “Centauri Prime, really? Perhaps things have become more liberal since my time there, but I doubt it is a safe place for a Narn child.”
“But surely she is…?” Londo glanced down, as if noticing her species for the first time. At no point had it escaped his guards, who were scandalized by their Emperor playing joyfully with the child of an inferior race. “…Of course. You are correct, how foolish of me.” And with that, he lowered himself from his chair, taking a knee next to Sannel and placing her hand in his. With great aplomb he brought it to his lips and kissed it, then clasped his hands around hers. “My apologies, Little Lady. Your father is quite right. Centauri Prime will have to wait until you are grown.”
Sannel scrunched her face up at his words, and G’Kar’s heart twisted at the sight of her hurt and confusion. “But I want to see you again. I like you,” she said plaintively.
He knew he should take her away from this room, away from Mollari. She would face enough heartbreak in her life. It was not good for her to grow attached to another adult only to lose him, and so soon after Lyta. But he could only stand transfixed as she stumbled forward, wrapping her arms around Londo’s neck.
Once, such a gesture would have taken Londo aback. He had never been fond of children in all the years G’Kar had known him. Sticky, screaming annoyances, he had called them. But as Sannel clasped her arms around him he did not start or pull away. Quite the contrary, something brittle and rigid that had held him aloof, as if removed by one dimension from those around him, melted away. Londo wrapped his arms around Sannel’s tiny body and G’Kar’s breath caught as something small and sharp inside him, the old scar of an old loss, pressed against his heart like a blade.
“Someday, perhaps.” The corner of Londo’s mouth quirked in a familiar, wicked grin. “If you ask him many times, at increasing volumes, I’m sure he will find it in his heart and his busy schedule to arrange another meeting.” The smile took on a sad cast as he released Sannel, grasping her by the shoulders. “And I have it on very good authority that if you mimic my annoying accent, he will make the decision quickly, before it can drive him completely insane.”
Sannel shrieked with laughter as Londo proceeded to demonstrate the intricacies of the Centauri Northern accent, rolling her ‘r’s like a purring cat to mimic Londo. Within a few minutes she had learned Londo’s distinctive pronunciation of “G’Kar!” as naturally as if she had been born to it. “But I’m not supposed to call him that,” she informed Londo.
“Call him what?” Londo said innocently.
“Gggg’Karrrrr!” Sannel screeched then clapped a hand over her mouth, giggling helplessly. “No, no! I’m supposed to call him Daddy!”
“Daddy, hmm? Such terrible disrespect. For the Centauri, our sire must always be addressed as “Father” or “Papa”. No, I’m afraid Gggg’Karrr,” he could not contain his smirk as he luxuriated over the consonants, “...will simply have to do.”
“Nooo,” said Sannel. “He likes it when I call him Daddy. So you can be Papa!”
“Nel!” G’Kar snapped, his whole body moving forward even as Londo settled back, eyes wide.
“No need to be harsh with her, she’s only a child,” murmured Londo. Sannel glanced between the two of them, uncertain. “G’Kar, a word?”
G’Kar knew he should refuse, grab Sannel and the first transport off Babylon 5. The guards were certainly eyeing the both of them in a way that left little doubt there was a prison cell waiting on Centauri Prime should they ever set foot there. But while Londo’s eyes were hard, there was no anger in them. And Delenn had asked him to speak with Mollari, and undoubtedly she had not meant Sannel to do all of the talking.
Bah, he was making excuses. “Tonight,” he found himself saying. “After she is asleep.”
Londo nodded. “Tonight then.”
G’Kar tried to ignore the quickening of his pulse that accompanied those words. Anger, yes, but the warmth flooding his veins was not owed entirely to that. As the Londo inclined his head to listen to more of Sannel’s prattling, the pain that had been growing steadily in G’Kar’s gave another twinge. They had never seen each other before this day, but there was something familiar about the sight of Londo playing with Sannel, something that reminded G’Kar of all he had wanted for her all those years ago. In those first months, after the hatred had fallen behind them, anything had seemed possible. For a few delirious moments, even a child had not seemed such an unwelcome surprise. A link between their races, he had thought in his more naïve moments. The living embodiment of his hope for the future, before the attacks, the bombings. Before Londo said they must go their separate ways, all tunneling down to that horrible moment when he had collapsed on the transport floor, even as Londo walked the road to his coronation, unable to hold back a child that was forcing its way into the world.
G’Kar knew if he hesitated outside Mollari’s door he would never enter, and so he did not even allow the impulse to present itself. Instead he pushed it open the second the guards gave their nod, and stopped once inside. There were no other guards, and Mollari was nowhere to be seen. The room was draped in white curtains in miniature imitation of the throne room on Centauri Prime. Why the Centauri seemed to believe their ruler would want to see the inside of the same room every place he went was beyond G’Kar, but he had given up on trying to understand that race long ago. Now he only needed to hope there weren’t any latent Centauri behavioral patterns hidden away in Sannel’s DNA, just waiting to emerge and make his life miserable. It probably wouldn’t be until she was a teenager, he thought glumly, when he would have enough problems already.
“…There’s nothing to concern yourself with. This is a personal matter…” G’Kar tilted his head to listen as Londo’s voice drifted in from a separate room. Stranger than his words was the fact he was whispering, when G’Kar had rarely known the man to speak in any volume below a shout. “…If there is a price, I will pay it. But you will not interrupt this!”
Londo appeared in the room, his fingers at his throat adjusting the collar of the Imperial white coat. He froze when he caught sight of G’Kar, his arm straying across his body to obscure his shoulder. Then, as if catching himself he lowered it to his side, and his whole body settled into a confident saunter. G’Kar’s eyes narrowed. Though familiar, there was something entirely artificial about Mollari’s posture. His back was a bit too straight, the spread of his arms as he greeted G’Kar a little too expansive. It was like watching an actor play the part of the Londo he had known. A well-trained actor, yes, but an actor nonetheless.
“Ah! My good, dear friend G’Kar,” he said, with just the slightest hint of mockery, as if he too still could not entirely believe those words were being said with sincerity. G’Kar’s could not prevent the faint, answering smile but it was as wan as Londo’s was effusive. It only served to remind him that for Londo they had parted as more than friends but not quite lovers. In truth they had no word for what they had been, but for Londo it had clearly been the end of a brief, poorly planned and likely regretted indiscretion along his way to becoming Emperor. And yet for G’Kar it was only the beginning of something more, with the birth of their daughter Sannel. He had seen Londo’s eyes every day in Sannel’s upturned face, creating the illusion of an unbroken connection between the two of them. But it was just that, an illusion. Yes, Sannel and Londo shared some genetic material, but nothing more. Lyta was more Sannel’s parent than Mollari, G’Kar reminded himself, and tried to forget how Londo’s expression had softened as two had played. “Can I fetch you a drink? I have sworn off the stuff myself, but that hardly means one of us can’t enjoy himself.”
“You, swear off drinking? It seems more has changed than I originally suspected,” G’Kar said, keeping his tone light to mask his honest surprise. “Are you sure you are Londo Mollari I knew, and not some creature controlling his likeness? I had thought your love of brivari one of the great constants of the universe.”
Londo’s lips twisted in retort, then settled back into that false, brittle smile G’Kar was growing to hate. “Yes, well I had thought you loved your independence in much the same way. Yet here you are, and with a child of all things!” G’Kar suspected Londo had meant to say something else, but found himself bristling in instinctive protectiveness at the mention of Sannel.
“Did you really invite me here to discuss my choice to adopt a Narn child?” said G’Kar.
“As a matter of fact, I did,” said Londo. He moved towards the liquor cabinet in the corner of the room and poured a glass. He turned back to offer it to G’Kar, despite the fact G’Kar had not agreed to one. Typical. “Take it. Perhaps it will help loosen that stony expression of yours, as well as your tongue.”
“I was hoping we might discuss more pressing matters. Delenn has requested that I—” Londo sliced his free hand through the air, cutting G’Kar off, and nearly spilling the drink.
“I have already given my answer to Delenn,” Londo snapped. “And she will not get another simply by sending a different messenger.”
“Mollari, you must realize you are being unreasonable,” said G’Kar. “What Delenn is asking…”
“Is not mine to give! Great Maker, you people act as if I can snap my finger and give you whatever you want. There are other considerations, the Centaurum to start, and my people are still furious over the bombardment. I am not some absolute ruler who can—”
“Are you not?” G’Kar interrupted. “I thought the Emperor was the ultimate authority on Centauri Prime. Unless there have been some changes I was unaware of?”
Londo flinched, but the reaction only seemed to make him angrier. “And what would you know of these things, hmm? You, who have been off joyriding on the Rim, billions of light years away!” Londo said, and G’Kar realized there was an underlying thread of hurt in his voice. G’Kar tried to summon some scorn at the thought that Londo had suffered at his absence, after all why then send him away? But the revelation was so unexpected that he could not help but wonder if he had misunderstood something important all those years ago.
“And yet Cartagia, and the Regent wielded considerable power without any oversight or say by your Centaurum,” said G’Kar, pushing the intrusive thoughts away.
“Do not compare me to…” Londo paused, an unreadable expression flitting across his face. “…Well, things have changed since then. The… Centaurum, what’s left of them, have clamped down in order to prevent such disasters in the future, and my power has been considerably reduced. Who knows, they may very well dissolve the position after I am gone,” Londo chuckled humorlessly but did not sound convinced. “So, as you see, my hands are tied.”
“But if you could speak with them…” G’Kar said. Londo made another cutting motion with his hand, but this time the gesture held no anger, only weariness.
“G’Kar, let it go. There is nothing you or I can do in this matter, and if you continue this line of questioning I will be forced to send you away, which I would rather not do.”
“Really, Mollari? Will you really be, as you say, forced?” said G’Kar quietly. “You have already done so once, I can’t imagine the second time will be a trial.”
Londo’s looked away, his eyes straying to the glass in his hand. He gave it an experimental swirl, as if wondering if he should keep it for himself. Then with a sigh he passed it to G’Kar, who accepted it without a word. Why is it, G’Kar wondered, that sharing a drink with Mollari always seemed to herald a turning points in his life? He and Lyta often drank together, and there had been no second layer of meaning beyond their mutual enjoyment. Perhaps because Mollari had always used drink to get himself through difficult times, and those times had only grown more serious over the years, and often involved him. In either case, G’Kar did not drink from the glass, perhaps from some superstitious belief that if he did not he might escape this conversation with a minimum of scars.
“You may believe…whatever you want to believe, G’Kar,” said Mollari, his eyes still on the glass. “But know that sending you away was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. One I did not make lightly.”
“Then why?” G’Kar said. Londo stared up, as if startled at the question.
G’Kar looked down to avoid the unexpectedly intense gaze, and found himself fascinated by Londo’s hand. He had still not retracted it since offering the drink, and it shook as a shudder passed through Londo’s body, then clenched to a white knuckle grip as Mollari replaced it at his side.
“I should think it was obvious. The palace was no longer a safe place for you. As I have said in the past, the ascension of a new Emperor is nothing more than a signal to his enemies that a new target has been set up on the firing range,” Mollari said disdainfully. “I would have had quite enough trouble looking out for myself, without the distraction of protecting those who might be hurt to get to me.”
“Ah, I see,” said G’Kar, placing a gloved hand to his lips to mimic Londo’s habitual mannerism. “Very interesting. And now for the truth?” Londo did not physically draw back, but something behind his eyes closed like a door slamming shut, and his body pulled in on itself. G’Kar would have been happy to see him shed the false bravado if he did not feel the accompanying sense that he was somehow losing the other man. “Mollari, as difficult as your company may be, no one forced me to become your bodyguard. I was there because I wanted to protect you. I would have gladly stayed too, no matter the danger, as I’m sure Cotto would have and even Delenn if you had allowed it. Surely you must realize…”
G’Kar trailed off as he saw the look in Mollari’s eyes. The other man’s lips had tightened to a thin line and for a second, G’Kar thought he had somehow offended him. Until he saw moisture glistening in Londo’s eyes. G’Kar reached out compulsively to grasp Londo’s arm, and when leather gloves came in contact with the ivory silk he nearly tore them off in frustration at the barrier, and at his sudden and unexpected hatred of the white fabric enfolding Londo like a burial shroud. “…Surely you must realize we would have stayed,” he finished.
Londo’s throat worked silently and he looked down to the hand wrapped around his arm as if surprised it was there. Slowly and with great reluctance, as if he were removing his own arm, he pushed G’Kar’s hand away. “I knew that,” said Londo, and this time G’Kar did not point out again that Londo was lying. “Which is why you had to go.”
That, G’Kar realized might be the first honest sentence Mollari had said the entire evening. It still didn’t contain the entire picture, but the realization was a shocking blow to all G’Kar had believed these last five years. He had come away thinking that once Londo achieved his goals he had no further use for his friends. G’Kar recognized a revelation when he felt one, and knew that this realization would have multiple aftershocks.
“Thank you,” was all he said, causing Londo to look at him and, perhaps, see him for the first time since their reunion. “For telling the truth.”
“G’Kar, this does not mean you can come back with me to Centauri Prime,” said Londo, his voice low and earnest and, G’Kar realized, more than a little afraid.
“I am serious! With the current climate there, after the bombardment… why, the people would tear you limb from limb in the streets, just because you are a Narn. And I cannot…” he stopped, wincing and placing a hand to his forehead as if in pain. “…I cannot lose you. I cannot do this at all if I do not know you are safe, somewhere.”
“Mollari,” G’Kar said gently. “Have you forgotten?” Londo blinked at him in incomprehension. “My daughter, Sannel? I cannot take her with me to Centauri Prime, and with Lyta gone there is no one else to protect her.” He could not tell if it was relief or disappointment on Mollari’s face, perhaps a combination of both, but it was gone as quickly as it appeared behind the politician’s mask.
“Of course, you must stay alive for her as much as me, yes?” Londo said. “In truth, she has the better claim, after all she is your flesh and blood.”
“For the last time, she is not my biological daughter,” said G’Kar, but knew even as he said it that it was his turn to be caught in an obvious lie.
“Oh come off it, G’Kar! Accuse me as you will of being unable to tell one Narn from another, but even a blind Pak’Ma’Rah can see she’s yours! Which, I will remind you, is what I wanted to talk to you about. You cannot seriously expect me to believe she is four and a half Earth years old. The timing simply does not fit!” G’Kar’s lips thinned and Londo’s eyes narrowed. “It doesn’t fit, does it, G’Kar?”
“Sannel is not a liar, and I have not told her anything but the truth in this matter,” said G’Kar stiffly.
Londo settled back on his heels, his eyebrows (dyed black, G’Kar noted) rising. “One of your followers then? And here I thought you had made a vice of celibacy before…well, before.”
Just say yes, a corner of G’Kar’s mind urged. He has given you the perfect opening. But the other part of him, the damned stubborn part that could not lose in a sparring match with Mollari, balked and took control. “Hmph, even ‘a blind Pak’Mah’Rah’, as you put it, can see she is only half Narn.”
“So?” Londo said.
“So, it is obvious that if she were indeed my daughter, it cannot be by another Narn!” Londo’s grin had returned, this one wide and honest and unbearably smug.
“And yet the mother cannot be the lovely Miss Alexander, for why else have the little lady call her Auntie? Alone on that ship as you all were? Why, there would be no reason for such a pretense.” Londo placed the back of his knuckles to his lips and regarded G’Kar speculatively. G’Kar bit back a frustrated curse. Would the man not let it go? And why was he playing along?
Because this was not the Londo Mollari he expected to meet, the Emperor who would not yield even an inch to the Alliance’s requests at reopening a dialogue. The one who had sent his friends away with hardly a farewell and never looked back. It was as if nothing had changed. G’Kar absently took a sip from the glass in his hand and froze as the harsh liquid burned its way down his throat. Change. Sharing a drink with Londo Mollari always meant something was about to change, and as absurd as the thought might be he could not prevent the chill that followed the alcohol down at what he had opened himself to this time.
“Lyta was the only mother Sannel ever knew, and the only one she will ever need.” G’Kar, and in a fit of rebellion finished what remained of the drink and set it aside.
“And yet, she is gone,” said Mollari, hitting the open wound with so directly that G’Kar had to restrain himself from physically striking him. But there was no malice in Mollari’s voice. It was just his usual insensitivity, or so G’Kar wanted to tell himself, if he could just force himself to ignore the sympathy in Londo’s eyes.
Londo turned and took a seat on one of the couches that had been draped in more diaphanous white cloth, then stared off at some unremarkable spot on the wall. G’Kar realized Londo was giving him the chance to collect himself, and for once the other man was silent until G’Kar joined him, taking a seat across the way.
“What I don’t understand,” Mollari continued. “Is something you said earlier, that she has her father’s eyes. That is, unless that artificial human eye can be somehow inherited.” Mollari quipped, and looked at G’Kar with blue eyes the exact same shade as Sannel’s. G’Kar had to restrain himself from slapping a hand to his forehead and simply blurting out the answer Londo couldn’t seem to grasp. “Unless…no.” Mollari stared at G’Kar, stunned horror all over his face. “It cannot be!”
“I cannot confirm or deny unless I know what you are talking about, Mollari,”G’Kar said. He tried to sound annoyed, or at least bored, but was not entirely sure if he had succeeded at keeping the amusement from his voice.
“That night, when you came to my quarters. That first time you…we…”
“Yes, I know of it. I was there, after all,” said G’Kar dryly.
“I thought it was a joke!”
G’Kar blinked. “My grasp of Centauri humor, pitiful as it is, must have slipped over the years. I fail to see how anything about that night could be considered a joke, unless it was your grasp of Narn anatomy.”
“You said you were…!” Londo’s voice came out as a strangled, high-pitched shout and he coughed, leaning in to say at lower tones. “You said when your people are under great stress they sometimes change their gender, and that had happened to you!”
“Yes, and?” said G’Kar.
“And? I thought you were joking!”
“Why would I joke about such things? It’s a natural, bodily function, it can happen to anyone. Frankly I’m surprised it took so long, in my case,” said G’Kar. “Though I suppose the stress of your company was greater overall than the war, being chained up in a cell, Cartagia’s pain technician, and freeing my planet put together.”
He had expected Londo to make a face at his little jab but the man had gone even paler than usual and was staring at him with wild eyes. “But that’s impossible!”
G’Kar stared back, incredulous, “Mollari, I had female anatomy. How in G’Quan’s name could you fail to recognize that fact after everything that happened between us?”
“You call that female anatomy? But there were no curves, no breasts, no…” Londo made a helpless gesture across his hips. “None of that!”
“My people are marsupials, we tend not to display these things in the same way as other races. Be that as it may, your people controlled my world for a century and you’re telling me you honestly didn’t know about such a basic biological fact?”
“G’Kar, I don’t think you fully appreciate the nature and pervasiveness of Centauri propaganda. As far as I learned growing up, your people were barbarians who could not read or write, who would cheerfully eat Centauri babies and even your own young if given the chance.” Londo held up a mollifying hand before G’Kar could snap back. “I know, I know. I am merely explaining that my education was sadly lacking in any real information about the Narn. I am feeling that lack quite seriously right now. Perhaps I should submit a proposal…”
“Well, you are the Emperor, can’t you just wave a hand and change the entire curriculum? I should think adding a single class should be well within your power.”
“Great Maker… you know you’re right? Sometimes I forget myself.” Londo shook his head, and the wild look returned to his eyes. “But never mind that. G’Kar, are you that child’s mother?”
“Of course not. I’m her father,” said G’Kar. Londo relaxed back into the chair.“I just happened to give birth to her.”
G’Kar sighed. “Could you spare a moment to stop being so wretchedly xenocentric? My body underwent a very normal change, and during the course of that change I became pregnant and gave birth. For a Narn it is perfectly natural. However, as I consider myself to be male, and returned to being so biologically once she was weaned, I am therefore Sannel’s father, not her mother. This is true despite any resemblance the process might bear to females of another species.”
Londo placed a hand to his forehead and wiped it down his face, stopping it at his mouth and staring over it at G’Kar. “So she is your biological daughter, just not by a woman.” His voice still held an edge of hysteria.
“Yes. Honestly, Mollari, this conversation is making me despair for the intelligence of your people more than usual. How much clearer can I be?”
Londo sat back, eyes still wide as he digested the information. After a moment his brows drew together. “But why claim she is adopted?” It was only then G’Kar recalled his error in sharing so much information. No one except Lyta had known this much about Sannel’s true parentage, and for a very good reason.
“Do you really need to ask? You saw my followers five years ago. I assure you, it has only grown worse. The adopted daughter of the Prophet G’Kar,” the word dripped disdain. “…is a charity case, nothing more. She might even have a normal life someday when I am gone, as long as the information about her existence does not spread too far. But the prophet’s biological daughter? At best they would place her on a pedestal, flattering her and twisting her to their own ends until she is the shattered ruin of a figurehead. At worst they would trade her amongst themselves as a political pawn. No, no one can ever know, Mollari. I cannot take her to Narn until I can be assured that she will go unnoticed while she is there. And if she is ever found out, she must be old enough not to have her head turned by flattery and other such manipulation.”
“Then perhaps it is safer if she is never brought there at all. In my experience, flattery can turn heads at any age,” said Londo ruefully. He clasped his hands and leaned forward, and it struck G’Kar how unnatural it was to see him without a drink in his hand.
“Sannel is already showing signs of above average intelligence, I trust that someday she will be wise enough to ignore such advances,” said G’Kar.
“Yes, I agree that any daughter of yours might be able to rise above such things. But what of the other half of her heritage, hmm?” Londo had been staring down at his hands, but at this he looked up. That unreadable expression had returned to his eyes. “Will a daughter of mine be able to ignore the flatterers, the sycophants, the manipulators? If so she would already be made of stronger stuff than her father, would she not, G’Kar?”
“Nel is not…” G’Kar began, quick and reflexive but Londo broke eye contact, dropping his head and chuckling.
“I know you think very little of my intelligence, or that of my people, but grant me this at least. I can do simple figures, and unless I am wrong she was born the same day of my coronation, yes?” Londo’s face was partially obscured but G’Kar could see his expression twist and hear his voice roughen. “Tell me I am wrong, G’Kar, hmm? Tell me of the other lovers you took after Narn was freed. Great Maker knows, it’s good that one of us was enjoying himself at the time.”
G’Kar knew this was his last chance to deny it all, to call Londo ridiculous and a fool at even considering such things, and stalk out of the room. After all, he had done what he came to do, and it was unlikely he would get any further on Delenn’s request. But this was also his chance to confirm Londo’s assumption, to take a wild leap of faith and hope that maybe, just maybe, it was time for Mollari to know as well. Was it not Londo’s right, after all? Yet G’Kar could not be sure, and so he remained stubbornly silent even as Londo rambled on.
“Let me see, if my knowledge is correct on Narn gestation periods that would put her conception during Sheridan’s civil war, yes? Not far from the first night you showed up in my quarters.”
“The first night is particularly fertile,” G’Kar mumbled. “And the urge to reproduce can be quite…overwhelming.”
“Yes, I recall,” Londo said, arching an eyebrow. “Which places the rest of your pregnancy through the end of the war and into your time as my body…guard…” Londo leapt to his feet, staring down at him aghast. “G’Kar, did you already know you were carrying our daughter when you volunteered to be my bodyguard?”
“I knew I was carrying my daughter at the time, yes,” said G’Kar, and was graced with a sight he had not seen in many years, which at one point was a sight that never failed to put a smile on his face: that of Londo Mollari turning crimson with fury.
“Are you utterly insane? You were carrying a child and you, a Narn no less, went to the Centauri Court to put yourself between me and a knife in the back? Why didn’t you tell me?” Londo stopped, staring into nothing as another realization dawned. “You were pregnant while we were in that prison cell? When the whole damned room fell on you? And you didn’t call for a doctor?”
“As if I would have found one on Centauri Prime who would treat me rather than hasten my demise,” G’Kar scoffed. “Honestly, I’ve never understood the other races’ preoccupation with halting all activity when discovering one is with child. It seems a serious evolutionary flaw that one cannot carry on as normal, especially in the defense of those young. We Narn become quite fierce during this time, you could not have been in safer hands.”
“And I was to have no say over the fact a second person, an infant no less, was also going to come between me and a potential assassin?” Londo said.
“I can’t imagine why you would,” said G’Kar,
“Because she is my daughter!” Londo snarled. “And I think that entitles me to some opinion on the matter!”
G’Kar was on his feet and glaring at Mollari before he quite registered his own actions. But the anger was throbbing in his veins, and for a brief moment it would almost like the good old days, when their greatest point of contention was a fight over a G’Quan’Eth plant. Would have been, if not for the reminder of that very real pain that had threaded through Sannel’s early years and festered into a poison. “You have no say in the matter, your Majesty. Your role in Sannel’s birth is an accident of genetics, nothing more!”
Londo stared at him, then sat heavily back onto the couch, pressing a weary hand to his forehead. “Great Maker, so she really is mine?” G’Kar’s rage extinguished and he looked down at the other man, who was wearing a faint smirk. “You always did have trouble guarding your tongue when you were angry, old friend.”
G’Kar did not realize what did it, exactly. Perhaps it was the realization he had been tricked by Mollari into compromising Sannel’s identity and safety. Perhaps it was the fact he could not summon the necessary panic over this realization. Years of running from all Centauri influence, the merest whisper of Imperial agents being enough to send their little family off to another planet, and yet after one hour alone with Mollari he spilled it all as if there was no threat present. For no other reason than because Londo seemed to genuinely care, seemed genuinely hurt that G’Kar had taken a risk on his behalf while carrying Sannel. Suddenly the phantom version of Mollari that had haunted their steps for the last five years dissipated like smoke in the wind.
But it was all too easy; he could not have misjudged matters this terribly. There were still Mollari’s policies as Emperor, the Centauri saber rattling, and the man who would not even accept a comm link call from his old friends.
“Tell me, Mollari,” began G’Kar slowly. “What would you do if she was yours?” The smirk fell from Londo’s face and he stared at G’Kar as if the thought had honestly not occurred to him. In that instant, G’Kar could see past the false smiles and theatrical displays of joviality to the well of despair that lurked beneath. There was no light in Londo’s eyes once the smile vanished. He had the look of a man staring across a vast emptiness, down a road of suffering that had no visible end. “Will you abdicate the throne? Come raise her with me, traveling from place to place without a home, not staying anywhere long enough for the locals to realize the little Narn girl is the daughter of a prophet and the Centauri Emperor? Will you give up everything you have ever been, everything you have worked for, to be her father?”
Londo’s eyes widened as he listened, and a sound emerged from under his breath, like a gasp wrenched from somewhere deep within. It held shock, yes, but not disgust. No, it was a strangled, heart-wrenching cry from the depths of the soul, from a man who had seen all he had ever desired placed before him in one shining moment.
It was the sound of a man who, between one breath and the next, could only watch as it was stolen away.
Londo looked at him, and this time there was no hiding the tears in his eyes, the naked despair. “I can’t,” he said, and his voice was a strangled gasp. “I am sorry, G’Kar, but I cannot. My people, after all of this, I can’t leave them to…I can’t leave them to pay for my mistakes. But there must be something I can do for her, for both of you…”
And he might be damned for this, but G’Kar believed Londo and the soul-deep anguish in his eyes. Which was the only reason he said it.
“She’s not yours.” He was surprised at the lack of emotion in his own voice. Londo stared. “You simply misunderstood me earlier, as you often do. It was the stress from my imprisonment under Cartagia that caused the change, and in that manner alone you contributed to Sannel’s birth. The rest was merely an evening’s amusement. I don’t even recall his name anymore.”
“That is the most ridiculous lie I have ever heard,” Londo said, the anger returned to his voice.
“Does it matter?” G’Kar said with a forced shrug. “You will not change your life to become a part of hers, nor should you. She is not yours, Mollari.” But that lingering poison would not let him resist the final barb. “It might astound you to learn this, but not every aspect of my life revolves around your existence. Sannel has already lost one parent this year; I will not subject her to the loss of another so soon. You cannot have everything you want, you can’t have Sannel and your people.” Perhaps he had miscalculated the blow, for at the mention of the word ‘want’ Londo jerked as if stabbed between his hearts. There was no courtly artifice to hide his expression, not even a vestige of the control he had displayed under Cartagia. Londo paled, looking for all the world like the man who had received a mortal wound.
G’Kar sighed and straightened. “Was there anything further you wished to discuss? You have your answer about Sannel, and will not consider Delenn’s proposal further. As far as I can see, we have nothing further to discuss.”
“G’Kar,” Londo said, reaching out to catch his arm. “Don’t…” If Londo had asked him not to leave in that moment, he honestly did not know what he would have done. Something foolish, no doubt. “…Don’t go to Centauri Prime. Even if I should invite you personally. It is not safe for you there. You were right to stay far away, and I fear…I fear it will only grow worse for you after this.”
“What are you talking about?” said G’Kar, a chill of alarm sweeping through his body.
“There are…factions, within the Royal Court who might try to use you two against me. At some point they might even be able to falsify an invitation from me, and with their resources it will be very convincing.” Londo pressed a hand against his temple and grimaced. “You should go. Get off the station as soon as you can. Tell no one where you are going. I…” He gave a pained hiss between his teeth.
“Mollari? Londo, what…?” Londo doubled over over, his hand pressed to his temple, his canines bared in a silent grimace. G’Kar dropped to his knees, grabbing Londo by the shoulders.
“No, you will not have this!” Londo snarled under his breath, so low G’Kar could barely make out the words. “G’Kar, get out of here.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m taking you to medlab, your Centauri physicians cannot be trusted,” G’Kar said, pulling on Londo’s arms as he stood, fully prepared to carry him if necessary.
“You will do no such thing,” Londo said, and tore himself free of G’Kar’s grip. “Leave the station, take the child, and do not stop until you are on the other side of the galaxy.” He looked up, his eyes bloodshot with pain. His other hand crept to his shoulder, the fingers flexing as if to pull open the collar of his coat. “You were right, G’Kar, this was a terrible mistake. Go, now.”
“I am not going anywhere until you tell me what is going on!” said G’Kar. “Who is doing this to you? Are they threatening you? Why—”
“Sannel is in danger!” Londo snapped. “They are planning to use her as a pawn against me, both of you if they get the chance. I cannot tell you anything more; you will just have to trust me on this. Tell no one of this discussion, and don’t try to contact me again. Never tell me where you are, or where you are going, do you understand?”
“You’re not making any sense,” G’Kar retorted. “If there is a threat we can—”
“You damned, stubborn Narn! There’s nothing you can do, you have to be her guard now, not mine,” Londo’s grimace tightened. “I should think I can trust you with that, yes?” G’Kar realized that he was struggling to grin through the pain. “Don’t worry, you will be able to help, someday. But now you must go.”
G’Kar took a clumsy step back and realized he was torn as he had not been years. Protect Sannel or protect Londo, how had those two things become the same so quickly? When had the latter snuck under the title of ‘family’?
“You owe me an explanation for this,” said G’Kar.
“Someday, old friend,” said Londo. Every sinew in his body was braced against the pain, as if he were somehow holding back a force stronger than himself. “I assure you, someday you will understand everything.” A shudder passed through Londo and he swayed as if he had been struck. Whatever it was, it was pushing passed whatever temporary barriers he had placed against. G’Kar backed away towards the door, keeping his eyes trained on Londo. He stopped with one hand at the entrance, knowing he could not push his way past the guards should they decide to stop him.
“Mollari,” he said, and Londo glanced up, the hand falling from his forehead as they shared one last look across the room. But the words G’Kar meant to say remained lodged in his throat. That he had misjudged his friend, that Sannel would miss him, as G’Kar knew she would. That if it were any other reason than protecting her, there would be no force in the universe that could pull him from this room. “I…” But no, this was not the time or the place for those words. “Tell your people if they harm her…I will find you, and I will kill you with my bare hands. Then I will find them, one by one, and do the same.”
A faint smile tugged at the corner of Londo’s, but something stopped it. A shadow passed over his face. His voice was hoarse when he spoke, “Then for their sakes, they should pray to any gods they have that is not the reason you come for me.”
“On that at least we can agree,” G’Kar said. His last view of Londo was the man reaching out to grasp the back of couch, clutching a hand to his head as the door shut in front of G’Kar. The guards glanced at him but he paid them no mind. Once around the corner he broke into a run.
Sannel was still asleep where he had left her, curled up in the bed with her hands cradling her head. Their bags were light despite the fact they had never finished unpacking, so he threw the last of their clothing and one of her stuffed toys inside before waking her.
“Daddy?” she grumbled, blue eyes opening reluctantly. “Did you talk to Papa already? Is he here?”
“No, Nel,” said G’Kar. “He’s very busy and won’t be able to make it. You have to wake up though, there’s a shuttle waiting for us and we will miss it if we don’t hurry.
Nel frowned and buried her face back into the pillow, “But I wanted to see him again.”
G’Kar’s breath hitched in his throat. “He wanted very much to see you too, but sometimes grownups don’t get to do what they want. Now get dressed.” It was a testament to the life they lived that she made no complaint about rushing to catch a ship in the middle of the night. G’Kar tossed the bag over his back, and did a cursory search of the room that revealed a second toy hidden under the bed. Then he scooped Nel into his arms as soon as she finished slipping on her shoes.
“Daddy, I’m too big to be carried!” she protested, wriggling in his arms. She was so light the squirming did nothing to dislodge his grip and he pressed a kiss against her forehead, catching a breath of her scent; soap, warmth, and the soft powdery scent peculiar to all children.
“Ah, but if I do not carry you we will be late,” he said. She grumbled but settled against his shoulder, burying her face against the crook of his neck as they walked the halls of Babylon 5, still busy despite the late hour. Nel had fallen back to sleep by the time they came to the transport station.
“The only outgoing flight leaving this hour is heading for the Jump point off Io,” said a bored attendant at the ticket counter. “It’s mostly military personnel, are you sure you want to bring a kid along with you?”
“It will have to do,” said G’Kar quietly. Nel stirred but did not wake. He slid a credit chip across the counter but closed his hand around the attendant’s before she could take it. “I would thank you to keep your silence on this. There are those who would hurt this child, and if having such a crime on your conscience is not enough, know that I will find whoever gives away our location and pay them a personal visit.” There are few sights in the universe as intimidating as an angry Narn, and the attendant gulped and nodded.
The trip to Io was several days, so the ship was equipped with the cabins typical of long-haul transports. G’Kar placed Nel on the cabin bed, but if he had hoped she would sleep through the voyage he was disappointed. Her eyes opened and she scrambled over to the small porthole window, pressing her nose against the glass, and craning her heard to catch a last glimpse of Babylon 5 as they pulled away.
“Goodbye Bab-lon 5! Goodbye Papa!” she said, waving her hand. She sat there waving until the ship turned and the station dropped from sight as they approached the Jumpgate. G'Kar walked over to stand behind her and she fell back against him and looked up. “When are we gonna go back and see Papa again?”
“He’s not…” G’Kar began, but his heart was no longer in it. “Someday, when you are older.”
“Why does everything have to wait until I’m older?” said Sannel.
G’Kar paused before answering. He had never been in the habit of lying to Narn children, the world was confusing enough without muddying the waters with deceptions or half-truths. “Because not everyone will love you the way I do, or Auntie Lyta did. You have to be big enough to defend yourself against those who are afraid, who don’t understand, or who are simply bad.”
Sannel’s expression grew solemn, “Does Papa love me?”
G’Kar remembered the naked despair in Londo’s eyes as he said he could not leave his people to raise Sannel, the panic as he warned G’Kar to stay far away from Centauri Prime and never contact him with their location again. He dropped to his knees, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her against his chest. “It is complicated, Nel, but yes. I think he loves you very much.” Satisfied, Sannel snuggled against him and he tightened his embrace as the ship entered the Jumpgate and left Babylon 5 far behind.