I need a drink, Londo thought, tugging surreptitiously at his collar. Across from him, G'Kar was sprawled in his seat with that private, tight-lipped smile of his, eyes fixed on the dancers on stage. Drinking in every inch of skin, Londo did not doubt. Well, at least that made one of them.
It had been years since Londo last came to the Dark Star. He had not felt the urge to gamble for a long time, and after Adira, watching the performance had become more painful than distracting. Already he had forgotten exactly how she moved, or the way the straps from her dress would slide down across her shoulder, how she'd tug them back up with a smile as coy as it was shy. For me, he thought. Smiling for me. The girls who were on stage tonight were capable enough, but their smiles were thin and impersonal and, in any case, they could never compare to the memory of Adira in his arms. No one could. Not even Timov – even though, the thought of her in soft, flowing silk... But no. Great Maker, if she knew, she would never let him live it down.
Ironically, they were here because of G'Kar. Ever since their return from Centauri Prime, his followers had been flocking outside his quarters, ready to accost him the moment he showed his face. Just tonight, G'Kar had dragged Londo bodily out of the Zocalo to escape them. The Dark Star, at least, had the virtue of being a private establishment that did not admit over-excited religious zealots, or at least not those without an entrance pass. That didn't stop Londo from feeling exposed. So far, watching G'Kar watch the sweaty blend of limbs and swirling fabrics had helped to keep the memories at bay, but he could not begin to guess how long it would last. He felt as if he was perched on the edge of a knife, ready to bleed the moment his balance slipped. But at least G'Kar was enjoying himself. He was on his fifth or so drink of the night, as evidenced by the slow, dark flush that had begun to creep across his cheekbones. It made him look almost fragile. Londo shook his head at the sight, caught between frustration and a sudden, unexpected rush of tenderness that he hurriedly drowned in a gulp of brivari. Growing mellow over G'Kar was the last thing he needed right now.
His eyes drifted to the stage despite himself. Two dancers were whirling in intricate patterns, dressed in shimmering red ribbons that trailed behind them as they spun; one girl was Centauri, the other human. Londo squinted at them over the rim of his glass.
The music was low, tense, a harsh susurrating drumbeat that nibbled at his composure. The human girl had begun to strip, peeling off one silk sash after another, cracking them like whips caught in slow motion as the two of them gyrated around each other. One ribbon flitted and caught the Centauri girl's wrist. She tugged and turned away, but then another ribbon wrapped around her waist, and she faltered mid-stride. A third snagged at her ankle, a fourth around her neck, and still the first girl was shedding ribbon after ribbon and cracking it against her companion's skin, a blood-red spider web trapping her, making her stumble, then fall to her knees.
The drums reached fever pitch, then dropped away. Londo winced. Beside him, G'Kar leaned forward sharply. The room shrank to the size of a hazy pillar of light; in the center, the kneeling girl shuddered as hands came up behind her, and slowly, almost lovingly, tightened the ribbon around her throat.
Londo breathed only when he realized he wasn't – a thick, ragged gulp of air that was halfway between a moan and a whimper and tasted strangely, unbelievably, of need. There wasn't a sound; the music had faded completely. On stage, the second girl had leaned down to kiss the first, but Londo barely saw it. All he could see was the human girl's hands, slipping down and squeezing her companion's neck. The Centauri girl breathed harder, mouth falling open as her hands went to her throat and the ribbon tightened there like a bloody slash below her chin, and suddenly all Londo could think of was G'Kar's face in his dreams, the press of G'Kar's hands on his windpipe. His mouth was rugged sand, hot and gritty and dry.
"Why, Mollari." G'Kar's voice brimmed with... amusement? Surprise? He had turned in his seat, watching Londo with fascination. "You never told me this appealed to you."
Londo caught himself, almost grateful for the distraction. With an effort, he stopped the slow slide of his own hand towards his throat. "Bah, no." The words sounded feeble. "You are projecting, G'Kar! Tell me, why would this appeal to me, hmm? It is not traditional, it is barely even art, and it is ..."
"You're sweating." G'Kar's mouth crinkled. "Your pupils are dilated, and you were fidgeting in your seat." From somewhere, G'Kar's hand found his waist and brushed across it – a light, teasing touch, but Londo shuddered as if electrified. "Don't tell me this does not..." G'Kar clucked softly, "excite you?"
"Great Maker, stop that!" Londo hissed, but G'Kar didn't seem inclined to remove his hand. On the contrary, he was now fondling Londo's lower left side, palm down. "What if someone sees, you fool of a – mph." Below his coat, something squirmed involuntarily, and the teasing in G'Kar's face turned to open triumph. Londo bit his lip hard.
"Ah, but no one is watching us." G'Kar nodded at the tables around them. "People see only what they wish to see. Your people especially. Do you truly think any Centauri would want to believe why you and I are here? Why I am doing –" He closed his hand slightly, lips pursing when Londo failed to suppress a gasp. "– this, for instance? They would rather fall onto their own blades than accept I am doing this of my own free will, and that you are permitting it. They would rather pretend not to see at all."
It was true, Londo thought. No one was paying them any attention. Every head in the room was turned towards the stage, where the Centauri girl was now moaning softly as the human fondled her back with one hand. It was an act, of course – these girls were nothing if not professionals – but Londo's chest tightened despite himself. Though perhaps he had G'Kar to blame for that. His lower right brachiarte was throbbing, pressing up against G'Kar's palm despite his best efforts to hold still.
"You know, Mollari..." G'Kar's voice dropped to a murmur. "I have some experience with these... techniques, should you wish to explore them. The humans even have a word for it. Breathplay, they call it. A stimulating description, is it not? It can be quite exhilarating, believe me – when done properly, of course."
"I see," Londo said. He could not believe they were even discussing this, let alone that G'Kar would think it would appeal to him. But G'Kar's excitement seemed genuine, even if some of it had to be the alcohol speaking. He does not know, then. Londo felt as if he were being pulled down into quicksand. So G'Kar hadn't seen the death dream in his mind... or if he had, all those years ago, he did not remember it. "You are serious?" Londo asked. "You have done this before?" For a split instant, he actually considered it… but no. The mere thought felt like disaster waiting to happen. He could not do this. He shouldn't. In an impulse, he pulled G'Kar's hand from his waist. "Never mind. It is reckless and irresponsible, and I cannot believe you would ever think –"
"Do you trust me so little?"
Londo stared. "Do I – what?" G'Kar was close enough to touch, his face filled with an emotion Londo could not have placed even if he had the courage to try. He didn't. All he did was swallow thickly when G'Kar reached to cup his chin. Great Maker, what is this? The look in G'Kar's eyes was brittle, hopeful; Londo felt almost feverish at the sight. This was not amusement, or even need. This was love or madness or both, something that could either lift them up or break them. For a moment, Londo found himself starting to respond, but then his defenses slammed down. "You are drunk," he snapped. "And trust has nothing to do with it! I am not –" He sucked in a breath. "– fragile."
The pain in G'Kar's face lasted less than a heartbeat. Then he chuckled and drew back his hand. "I understand. Well, then I will not impose on you, Mollari. If this makes you uncomfortable, I can make other arrangements. I will not bring it up again."
Other arrangements. Londo did not need a vivid imagination to know what that meant. He had already caught several women glancing at G'Kar in passing; he would have little trouble finding entertainment. Perhaps even with a girl who would indulge him in... this, whatever one called it. Londo chewed the air helplessly. G'Kar made no secret of his promiscuity, and usually, Londo did not mind when he came to bed in the early morning smelling of sex and women and perfume. Except, now, he was not certain. He did not even know if it was jealousy, pride, or something else altogether. All he knew was that he did not want to leave alone, sleep alone, or wait until G'Kar returned before he could quell his own arousal tonight. Or to be thought a coward or, the Maker help him, uncomfortable.
Londo threw back his head. He could still feel the press of G'Kar's fingers on his skin. "I said that you were drunk, not that I was. So if you must try to strangle someone, better that it were me than someone else, hmm? At least there would be some poetic irony to your killing me by accident."
Just the shell-shocked grin on G'Kar's face made that worth it.
Later, he did not even remember how he'd made it to G'Kar's quarters, or why he'd let himself be swayed to do this on any other territory than his own. He could recall standing up from the table, on legs that felt as if they were poured from liquid, which could not have been far from the truth. He had drunk too much, and he was out of practice. G'Kar had laughed, the steadying arm he put around Londo's waist far too well-placed not to be deliberate. The corridors, the elevator ride, they were all a blur, punctuated by G'Kar's pointed looks and Londo's own pitiful attempts at ebullience. He felt hot and cold at the same time. Only the feel of G'Kar's hand on his hip seemed to anchor him to reality.
He did not wait for G'Kar to take the initiative; his own courage was hanging by a thread. Instead he twisted out of G'Kar's grip the moment the door slid shut behind them. "Mollari –" G'Kar began, but Londo grabbed his collar and crushed his mouth against G'Kar's lips. Kissing had always been the best way to stop him from talking, and if it helped drown his own doubts, so much the better. When G'Kar responded eagerly, he almost managed to stop thinking at all.
He came up for breath to tug at the straps of G'Kar's upper garments, suppressing a groan of frustration when they refused to budge. "Great Maker, G'Kar. Do you wear all these layers just to drive me insane?"
"Oh, I am a layered person, Mollari." G'Kar drew him back in with both hands on his waist, chuckling when Londo let out a strangled gasp. "But I can get rid of these very quickly. Can you?" He proved his point by unclasping his jacket with one hand, leaving Londo to struggle with his own too-tight coat.
"I could, if you would only stop talking." Londo's fingers were stiff and clumsy, and he managed to undo four buttons before G'Kar, who had managed to strip to his underclothes in the space of a few seconds, made an impatient noise and pulled open the rest. Londo winced as several buttons went clattering across the floor.
"Better," G'Kar said, his eyes darkening as Londo shouldered out of his waistcoat and undercoat, then fumbled to unlace his shirt. "We can manage with that on, I think." He tugged the shirt out of Londo's trousers and slipped a hand under it, hot palm prints trailing across his side. Londo sagged, groaning into G'Kar's shoulder as his brachiarti quivered in exquisite agony. He only had his hands free, so he grasped G'Kar's thigh with one and dug down for his member with the other. It was hot and hard, the fabric bulging where Londo's hand pressed against it. G'Kar responded with a guttural moan and by wrapping an arm around him, abruptly enough that Londo almost stumbled. G'Kar caught him and captured his mouth roughly. "I changed my mind. It hardly seems fair that I bare all this skin for you to play with, while you remain covered in silk, Mollari." He sounded breathless; his fingers plucked at Londo's laces.
They collapsed onto the bed in a tangle of limbs, Londo's shirt forgotten on the floor. Somehow Londo ended up on top, clutching G'Kar's shoulders for balance as his brachiarti moved to rub themselves against G'Kar's sides. G'Kar snagged one and brought it towards his mouth, folding his lips around the tip of the head. His tongue flicked across the sensitive skin, teasing and sandpaper-rough, and Londo gasped as his nerve endings exploded with fire.
For a moment, G'Kar actually laughed, chuckling around his mouthful like a gleeful child. Then he drew back and, before Londo found his voice to protest, grabbed his wrists and flipped him over into the mattress. Londo clutched at him as the room tilted. Then he was on his back and G'Kar was straddling him, naked and panting but barely breaking a sweat. Narns did not sweat, Londo knew. He was acutely aware of the droplets beading on his own face and chest, of the wetness spreading from the tips of his brach as G'Kar caught two of them in his hands. He let another pair slip into G'Kar's pouch, finding it wet and tight, rubbing G'Kar's nipples until they stiffened. G'Kar shuddered and let out a low moan.
It was only when G'Kar bent over, reaching across him to rummage through a drawer in the nightstand, that Londo remembered exactly why he was here. What all of this had been a prelude to. The smile on G'Kar's face was teasing, every bit as innocuous as the strip of gold-trimmed silk he held out to Londo for inspection. And yet... Great Maker. He must be insane.
The ribbon felt cool when he rubbed it between his fingers, its edges embroidered with soft, stretchy lace. Londo had never seen anything like it before. It looked like a Centauri design, which was somewhat reassuring. "You are sure this is safe?" He tried to keep his voice from quaking.
"Nothing in life is ever safe, Mollari." For once, G'Kar kept his tone neutral. "But you are not the first Centauri I have done this with, and all of the others are in perfect health." He leaned in and, almost in challenge, scratched his fingernails across Londo's collarbone. His voice dropped to a throaty murmur. "I have fought and killed Centauri. I know precisely where to apply pressure and where not to. Believe me, if I did mean to strangle you, you would know."
Londo nodded shakily. It was clear G'Kar was baiting him, but he couldn't work up the energy for a proper riposte. Part of him was still looking for a clue, something to tell him if G'Kar knew more than he was saying. But if G'Kar's eyes were gleaming, it was only with need. Londo could tell from his frantic breathing, the way his pouch was clenching around Londo's brach.
"If I need to stop," G'Kar said, "tell me." His voice was ragged, but his hand was steady when he slipped the silk around Londo's neck.
He didn’t know what he had expected. Pain, perhaps – although in his death dream, there never was – or at least the old, crushing tide of panic that dragged him from his sleep each night. But if there was panic, it felt strangely muted. His chest tightened as G'Kar increased the pressure, squeezing his breath into thin, wheezing gasps that did nothing to alleviate the lightness in his head. He could still focus, somehow. G'Kar's eyes were deep enough to drown in, his member hot and hard against Londo's stomach; Londo sent out a brachiarte to stroke it, gingerly at first, then harder. He was acutely aware of G'Kar's hand on his brach, massaging the tip with a slick, circling finger, and of G'Kar's heavy breathing as Londo focused all his effort on the rhythmic strokes between his thighs. The world narrowed to icy pinpricks of sensation. The silk on his throat, the hand on his brach, G'Kar's member throbbing under his touch, the raw need in G'Kar's face, and from somewhere, bursting in on him like a dam breaking, a single coherent thought – It's not so bad.
It's not so bad. Londo gasped, dizzy. The words tasted strange, alien, like balls of cotton in his mouth. The vision from his dream fell across him like a blanket: G'Kar's squeezing hands and the thick, acrid sensation of drowning. It felt close and distant at the same time, and for a heady, impossible moment, he wondered… What if he had it all wrong? He was old in the dream, dressed in Imperial white, but death dreams could be misleading. What if it did not happen the way he expected? What if… Great Maker. What if it happened right now?
He had to know. The thought sliced through him like a blade, but it was drowned out by the calm that was filling him, a slow, dark tide lapping at his mind. He could barely even tell what his body was doing. His vision was graying out at the edges, and he needed to tell G'Kar he had to breathe, but he couldn't bring himself to break the spell. If I ask him to stop, what then? Do we simply go back to how it was before? He couldn't bear that. He had to know. It was his only chance to lose the fear.
G'Kar made a low moan in the back of his throat, and Londo reached out to touch him, but he couldn't get his limbs to obey. He felt his head sagging back, his hands and brach groping at air, and then, distantly, G'Kar calling out –
– and he could breathe again, light exploding behind his eyes as he gasped and gasped until he was giddy. G'Kar's fingers dug into his wrists, frantically looking for a pulse that wasn't there.
"Not the wrist," Londo rasped, or tried to. It wasn't like G'Kar to panic and forget. His words dissolved into a bout of coughing, but not before he'd registered G'Kar's expression, wide-eyed and raw and like nothing Londo had ever seen in his life. Had he truly been that far gone? He hadn't passed out, had he? There was no reason for the wild confusion in G'Kar's eyes, or for the way he was staring down at his hands with a look that was almost...
It hit him like a blow. This wasn't panic in G'Kar's eyes; it was the cold, hard terror of recognition.
"This is your dream," G'Kar whispered. "I saw this in your mind. I had forgotten, but..." For a moment, he actually looked queasy. "Why didn't you tell me to stop? You weren't going to, were you? Your death dream is about me, and yet through all of this, you never considered telling me –" G'Kar swallowed convulsively. "If you have a death wish," he said, words cracking at the seams, "and it involves me strangling you, don't you think I should have had a say in it, Mollari?"
"I don't..." Londo's thoughts were chaos; he couldn't pin them down if he wanted to. "G'Kar, I – I didn't want to –"
"Die?" G'Kar said. There was such sadness in his eyes. "Because for a moment, Mollari, I could have sworn that you did."
"I was afraid," Londo said. He felt sluggish, weak. He could barely think clearly, let alone explain what he'd been feeling. "I was afraid, and then – then I wasn't."
G'Kar winced. "Of a dream?"
"Of my fate." Londo pushed himself up on his elbows. His head was spinning, but he fought it down. "The death dreams... they come true, G'Kar. Often not in the way one imagines it, but... It will be by your hand, whether today or years in the future. I know. I have always known, and I..." Londo shivered. "I had to know if it was now."
There was a harsh noise that Londo swore was a snort of laughter, until he saw the look on G'Kar's face. "Mollari, if I hadn't been alert... If I hadn't stopped –" G'Kar squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again, his face flooded with pain. "Did you seriously think this would not affect me? That this is all about you? You would have let me crush your throat, and what's to say I wouldn't have –" He sagged back on his heels.
"No." Londo got to his knees. "No, I – please, G'Kar, you must understand." He needed this, he thought, desperate. To have the closure, the release, to know that something had changed between them. He needed to stop being afraid. He didn't know why it would matter so much, but it did. "I need – this," he said again, and fumbled for G'Kar's hands. The sweat cooling on his skin made him shiver violently, and his bracharti felt tender, nerve endings scraped raw. "G'Kar. I want this. Please."
G'Kar shook his head. "Why?" They were both on their knees now, G'Kar's thighs pressing up against his own.
"Because… I am tired of being afraid. Because I want to feel your hands on my throat and believe it does not have to be hate." That it can be love, he thought, but didn't say. Instead he closed his eyes, gathering the scraps of his dignity. "Must I beg, G'Kar?" His voice sounded thin, and he puffed out his chest with an effort. "Would that – please you?"
"No," G'Kar said, but his face said something different. His body as well, Londo saw. His member was still erect, and a little spasm of tension kept running through his thighs.
"G'Kar, of all the terrible liars –" he began. And then G'Kar kissed him.
He should have seen it coming. As it was, Londo could only sputter and let himself be pulled in. He tried to return the kiss but G'Kar's mouth moved lower, tracing the line of his jaw, where it was joined by a warm, probing hand. Londo swallowed, the muscles of his throat convulsing. "You will be bruised tomorrow," G'Kar murmured, sounding as broken as Londo felt.
"Ah, but we were always bruised, were we not, you and I? It is the nature of things." His own breathing was pitifully ragged, but he focused on the feel of G'Kar against him, grinding his brach across rough, warm hide. In an impulse, he took G'Kar's member in his hand again – he felt clumsy, but he found a rhythm somehow, matching his strokes to the speed of G'Kar's breathing. G'Kar's hand was still on his throat, not squeezing, just pressing lightly. His other hand had come up to cup Londo's jaw.
"Perhaps it is mercy," G'Kar said. His thumb stroked Londo's cheek, his breath coming in sharp, shallow gusts. "In the dream... there is no fear in your eyes. I could see it, Mollari. Could you?"
Londo blinked, registering the sudden wetness on his cheek. Am I crying? He couldn't be, because the wild emotion bubbling up in his chest did not feel remotely like sadness. Not that he could even begin to say what it was. In an impulse, Londo turned his head into G'Kar's hand, pressing his lips into G'Kar's palm. "Is it... mercy now?" he murmured against G'Kar's fingers, part of him dreading the answer. He might settle for mercy one day, but not now. Not yet.
"You tell me, Mollari," G'Kar said, and thrust his hips up as he kissed him again.