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breathe in breathe out

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All things considered, Londo thought, as G’Kar shoved him through the doorway and into the safety of the sitting room, he was taking this rather well. Granted, this was the Royal Palace, where knifing one’s opponents was not considered an indecency so much as a fine art, but this was all too sudden. Too sudden by far. First Lord Jano, and now him as well... Oh, yes, Vole’s assailant had saved his life, but that was hardly reassuring. Just picturing the creature that had thrown the knife made his hearts race and his throat go dry.

Not that his hearts hadn’t been racing before. G’Kar had marched him to his chambers so quickly he might as well have been running.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been dignified to ask him to slow down, even though it might have been wiser. Londo felt flustered, out of breath. Which was hardly surprising. Ever since getting the artificial heart, the slightest exertion would leave him winded. It would pass, Franklin had said. It was merely his body that was still adjusting. All he could do was wait, and rely on medication to get him through the worst of it. So far Londo had tried to ignore it, like he had tried to ignore Vir’s incessant attempts at mothering him. But Franklin had the annoying habit of being right, as he'd learned soon enough.

G’Kar was still puttering at the door, checking and double-checking the locks. Londo forced himself to huff. “Quit fiddling, G’Kar! Simply bolt the door and be done with it.” But G’Kar only glared at him, then turned back to his work.

Londo swallowed. His throat burned, and he had to remind himself to breathe, to force enough air into his lungs to stop his hearts from pounding. But the harder he tried, the more difficult it was. It did not help that he remembered the heart attack – remembered the tightness under his ribs, the sudden dizziness, the loss of control as his body stubbornly, infuriatingly refused to cooperate. And he remembered his death dream, G’Kar’s hands squeezing the last gasps of air from his throat.

Great Maker, he had to sit down… But the nearest seat was half a room away, and suddenly he didn’t know if he would even make it there.

This is ridiculous, he thought distantly, but the less rational part of his brain was refusing to cooperate. He tried to take deep, slow breaths through his mouth, but that only made it worse, and all he could think of was the terror of choking as his throat closed up and his vision blurred.

“Mollari?” G’Kar’s voice cut through his thoughts. A hand closed on his arm and yanked him around, none too gently. Londo hissed through his teeth. ”You told me you weren’t hurt,” G’Kar said, not sounding quite as calm as a moment before. “Are you –”

I was not hurt, you idiot, Londo wanted to say; instead it came out as “I was n-hhh –” and then a strangled gasp. Londo coughed, swallowed, tried again. “It’s – nothing,” he panted. “I have – medication. Bathroom. Top shelf.” That was conceding defeat, but right now, he could live with that. He didn’t know how much longer he could stay on his feet, and he had no desire to find out. Not with G’Kar in the room with him.

G’Kar hesitated – wondering, Londo guessed, whether or not he could trust Londo not to do anything stupid. Then he nodded. “I'll be back in a moment. Stay here.”

Stay here. Yes, I suppose I will.  Londo straightened, inching back until he could brace himself against the wall. It wasn’t as if he had much of a choice in the matter.

For a moment, he felt almost giddy. Hypoxia. Of course, he had heard that some species – including Narns, if G’Kar could be believed – indulged in such follies as asphyxiation to heighten sexual enjoyment, but right now, he could not see the charm in it. He squeezed his eyes shut, breath rasping in his throat. His legs felt as weak as undercooked spoo, and his head was spinning in sick, frantic circles.   

Then G’Kar was there, pressing two small pills into his hand. Londo almost dropped them, and G’Kar made a sharp noise under his breath.

Londo groaned. Great Maker, I need to sit. Then the thought was no longer a thought but a necessity, and he was sagging down against the wall, G’Kar’s fingers digging into his arms as his legs gave way. His breath was coming in short, desperate gasps.

“G’Kar, I – I can’t –” He didn’t know how to continue. Breathe? Speak? Act in a way that is not completely undignified?  But when G’Kar knelt down next to him, there was no mockery in his eyes. Instead Londo felt a hand touching his knee – cautiously, as if G’Kar wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Londo leaned forward, blinking at the small white pills in his own palm.

“When I was a child,” G’Kar said, out of nowhere, “and your people were still intent on bombing mine into submission, I would spend days on end in a public shelter, a hundred bodies pressed in against each other in far too small a space.” His voice was low, soothing; despite himself, Londo found himself latching on to it. “They were difficult times. The shelters were dug deep, and there was never truly a lack of air, but sometimes it felt hard to believe it. Sometimes the younger children would panic. Sometimes the older ones, too. Whenever I felt the press of despair on me, I would close my eyes and say to myself, ‘There is a world up there to fight for. Once we reclaim it for our own, we will have all the oxygen we could ever require, but to get there, we must first push through the times where it feels as if we will never breathe again.’ “

“I am not – panicking,” Londo said. He wasn’t. He was simply old, and tired… and very, very  concerned.  He took shallow breaths, in and out, struggling to find a rhythm that did not make him feel like he was drowning. “I do not understand, G’Kar,” he said weakly. “It is all wrong. It is wrong, and – I do not know – how to fix it.” He sucked in a breath, then another, fighting for control.

From somewhere, G’Kar’s hand found the back of his neck and drew him closer. “Simply because you feel there is no air left to breathe doesn’t mean there isn’t, Mollari,” he said softly. The way he phrased it, it sounded as if he meant it in more ways than one.

Londo wished he could believe it.