Two weeks had passed since Londo had been released from Medlab, and it was the third time G’Kar had stood outside his quarters in Green-2. He’d passed by quietly the first time, an inevitable stop on his way to visit the Gaim ambassador. The second time was deliberate, but he’d reconsidered before ringing the door chime. Not only had Londo survived a heart attack, but the surgery that followed, and whatever miserable regime of medications was necessary to ensure his continued recovery. It was foolish to expect he’d be in a proper state to remember his own name, much less what he said to G’Kar in that brief dawn of consciousness after the doctors had stabilized his condition. Part of G’Kar still hoped that he wouldn’t. A certain maxim of reciprocity, regrettably shared among most civilized worlds, dictated that when met with a sincere apology, one was expected to offer forgiveness. As it was, the only thing G’Kar was prepared to offer was the flask of brivari he’d concealed under his coat. He would leave it up to Londo to decide what it meant.
He hit the door chime.
Within moments, he heard scurrying behind the door, followed by a worrisome crash, and a muffled cry of ‘I’ll be right there, just a minute!’ When the door opened, Vir was crouched before an upended pot of jala, sheepishly padding a towel over the spill. Fortunately, he wasn’t holding anything breakable now, otherwise the way he jumped to his feet when he glimpsed G’Kar looming in the doorway might have compounded the damage.
“G’Kar? What are you—“ Vir hid none of his surprise until he put down the towel, collecting himself. “I mean, what can I do for you? Sorry, there was a bit of an accident. I was making some jala, and I wasn’t...”
“Expecting visitors?” G’Kar finished as he entered, carefully sidestepping the spill. “How strange. Here I thought the entire station would be lined up around the corner for the chance to express their condolences.”
Vir shook his head. “Not really. But I think that’s for the best. More than anything, he needs rest, and Dr. Franklin said too many visitors might be a little stressful right now.”
G’Kar nodded. “Wise advice. I often find that a period of solitary reflection can offer great comfort in the wake of a crisis. Now, may I see him?”
“What?” Vir blurted out, blinking rapidly in bewilderment. “Didn’t I just...? Nevermind.” He backed away from G’Kar, palms raised. “It’s really not the best time, G’Kar. Not that there’s ever a good time for these things, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Maybe another day?”
G’Kar pressed forward. He hadn’t spent two weeks working up the audacity to show up at Londo’s door only to be turned away before they’d exchanged a word. “Why not? I understand the doctor’s concerns perfectly, but I am only one person. And I’m not sure what it is you have in mind, but I assure you I’m here strictly to offer my well-wishes and some idle conversation. Hardly a stressful ordeal.”
The confusion in Vir’s face turned to disbelief. He straightened his posture, standing between G’Kar and Londo’s room. “Look. I’m not assuming anything, G’Kar. I’m only following Dr. Franklin’s orders and taking care of him as well as I can, and even that is just...” He trailed off in exasperation, his gaze sliding from G’Kar to the puddle of jala. “Making sure Londo remembers to take his medication on schedule is what counts as an ordeal now. I’m not saying you’ll make things any worse — not that I can see how things could get any worse — but I’m not about to take the risk,” he carried on until the frustration practically spilled out of him. Then he took a deep breath and lowered his voice. ”Besides, he’s probably sleeping right now, and I don’t want to disturb him. How about you come back tomorrow?”
“Vir!?” came Londo’s voice from the bedroom. “Where is my jala? And who are you talking to?”
If G’Kar didn’t know better, he’d say that Londo sounded as healthy as ever. Vir gave a jolt, responded on instinct, “It’s coming! I’ll be right there. And... G’Kar! What are you doing?” Momentarily distracted, Vir attempted to grab G’Kar’s shoulder as he strode right past, making his way towards the bedroom. It was too late. Though the bedroom was dark, Londo had already glimpsed G’Kar’s outline in the doorway. Wide awake and propped against a mantle of pillows, he regarded G’Kar with a mix of shock and curiosity. Whether it was due to his arrival in particular, or if he was simply amazed to see another face besides Vir and Dr. Franklin for the first time in weeks, he couldn’t say.
“Hello, G’Kar.” Londo broke into a grin and beckoned for G’Kar to enter. Vir followed at his heels.
“Pardon the intrusion,” said G’Kar.
Londo glared over G’Kar’s shoulder. “Vir, were you seriously considering turning away our guest? What have I told you about the importance of hospitality?” With a cough, he shifted toward the edge of the bed to turn on a lamp.
“Londo, I... I just thought it might be—“ Vir began to protest as light filled the room.
“What exactly? Careless? Unwise? Dangerous? If G’Kar had shown up with the intention of killing me in my sleep, announcing himself at the door would be an inefficient way to go about it, no?”
G’Kar offered a shrug. “And a cheap shot at that. Rest assured that I would at least wait until you could put up a fight.”
Vir opened his mouth to respond, but Londo tilted his head to the side and looked straight at Vir for a long, tense moment. G’Kar couldn’t tell exactly what had been exchanged, but whatever it was made Vir back down. “Now then, if you would be so good as to give us a moment, Vir,” Londo said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Oh, and don’t forget about the jala!”
There was a chair beside Londo’s bed. Finally alone, G’Kar took the opportunity to sit. From this distance, he could see what had Vir so worried. The surgery had taken its toll. Though the two of them were nearly of a height, Londo had never seemed smaller, sunk against his mountain of pillows. Older, perhaps — wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that G’Kar had never noticed before. The tone of his skin seemed to blend into the white of his nightgown, save for his hands, where it had thinned enough to reveal small trails of veins.
“Well then. What did you come here for, if not to put me out of my misery?” Londo broke the silence, followed by a light chuckle.
“To offer a prayer at your bedside, why else?” G’Kar replied. “The universe has decided you should live. Who am I to question its will?”
“The universe,” Londo sighed. “The universe is toying with me. It took me, chewed me up, only to spit me back out again when it didn’t like the taste. I do wish it would make up its mind.”
“Perhaps you speak too soon. The way Vir is describing your condition, one would think you’re likely to keel over at a slight breeze,” said G’Kar, whimsically dismissing the notion, as though Londo didn’t look like he’d been reassembled from shattered glass.
Londo laced his fingers together for a stretch, producing an agreeable crack from his knuckles. “He’s always had that tendency to exaggeration, hasn’t he?”
“Where could he have picked that up, I wonder,” G’Kar mused aloud, but Londo raised a hand to silence him, the way he did when there was a point to be reached.
“Yes, Vir has been saying the most astonishing things lately. Why, he even told me that during the time I was unconscious, stubbornly clinging to life against the doctors’ expectations, you came to, ah... witness the event, shall we say?” Londo laughed under his breath, more restrained than usual, as if fighting the urge to cough. “Apparently I was in good company the entire time — not that I remember any of it, but it is good to know I am appreciated.”
G’Kar’s hands tightened around the armrests. He should have known better. He shouldn’t have come. He shouldn’t have expected that a few words wrung out of fevered delirium would hold meaning in reality. Londo could be an excellent politician when it suited him, wielding calculated ignorance with deft precision. The moment G’Kar thought they might stand a chance of setting aside these pointless games, Londo went out of his way to remind him that he was well enough to play. Short of leaving, there was nothing G’Kar could do but unclench his jaw and swallow the bait.
“You don’t remember anything?” G’Kar asked in as neutral a tone as he could manage.
“I remember waking up on one of those flimsy hospital beds. Vir was there. Nobody else,” Londo said, eyes locked with G’Kar’s, daring him to challenge his account.
If a fight was what Londo was looking for, he wouldn’t find it. He tried a different approach. G’Kar glanced back to the door, then reached into his coat.
“What is this?” Londo asked when G’Kar presented him with the flask of brivari.
Londo twisted off the cap and sniffed the contents before taking a long pull. He handed it back to G’Kar, who took a small sip of his own. “It was the least I could do. I don’t imagine the doctor would approve.”
“Not a drop, he said,” Londo confirmed. He took the flask back when G’Kar offered, and so began an exchange. “Of course, he also told me to avoid stress as much as possible. How I am to accomplish both at the same time is beyond comprehension, but here we are.” He laid back against the pillows, his hand lingering against G’Kar’s as he passed him the flask, already considerably lighter. G’Kar didn’t mind as long as the alcohol continued to flush some life into his sallow cheeks.
There was a shuffle at the doorway. Vir politely cleared his throat to announce his presence. He carried a tray with both hands containing two steaming cups of jala. Just in time, G’Kar capped the flask and covered it under the folds of his jacket as Londo snapped to attention. “Sorry if I’m interrupting anything. It’s just that the jala is ready, and I thought I’d make enough for G’Kar, too,” Vir said, setting the tray down on a nearby table. He passed both glasses to G’Kar, who handed one over to Londo.
“About time. Thank you, Vir,” Londo said, and motioned for him to leave. G’Kar stared into his cup as Vir left the room. Under the circumstances, he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. As restless as Londo was undoubtedly becoming, he had to wonder whether Londo needed a distraction more than Vir needed peace of mind.
Londo took a sip of jala, grimaced, then turned to G’Kar. “Excellent. But, ah... it could use a little kick, don’t you think?”
Obliging, G’Kar reached under his coat and emptied the remainder of the flask into Londo’s jala. Londo carefully balanced the nearly overflowing glass as he took several long drinks. The Centauri had taken the originally Narn beverage and sweetened it beyond recognition, but G’Kar drank anyway, if only for an excuse to wait and see if the alcohol might yet jog Londo’s memory. Or, as he suspected, loosen his tongue. It was too much to hope for. They finished their jala together in companionable silence, interrupted only by the occasional, quickly averted glance from Londo. He set his glass aside and leaned over to G’Kar.
“Get me out of here,” he whispered.
“What?” G’Kar said, a little too loudly. “Right now, you mean?”
Londo narrowed his eyes and raised a finger to his lips. He tilted his head to listen for any sign of Vir coming back. “If I am forced to spend another day confined to this room, I fear I shall begin chewing off my own limbs.”
G’Kar flattened his arms against his chest. “Or worse, somebody else’s.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” Londo gave an exaggerated cringe. “But of course. Immediately. While your company leaves much to be desired, your presence provides an excellent opportunity.“ He glanced out the door, clapped his hands twice, and called for Vir.
Without delay, Vir appeared in the doorway again. Clearly, he hadn’t wandered far. “Yes? Is everything okay in here?” he asked. ”There’s more jala if you want some, or, or... I could make something else?”
Londo greeted him with a fond smile, as if to compensate for his earlier irritation. “Actually, we were just now talking about having G’Kar stay for dinner.” They had spoken of no such thing, but Londo shot him a look that told him there would be hell to pay if G’Kar did not play along. It took no great leap to deduce what Londo had in mind, even if G’Kar wasn’t sure if he approved.
G’Kar met Londo’s gaze and held it. “Yes. It appears we have more to discuss than I previously imagined.” A gentle reminder that he had no intention of letting Londo leave his sight.
“If you would be so good, Vir, to go down to the Zocolo and pick up a bottle of that, that...” He turned to G’Kar for help, and when he didn’t get it quickly enough, “that Narn liquor that tastes like bottled carcass left out in the sun for three days.”
“Ah. Taree.” Indeed, it wasn’t a drink for the faint of stomach, which tended to include Centauri. G’Kar was too surprised that Londo had tasted the stuff to be offended.
Vir looked back and forth between Londo and G’Kar, and made a face like he’d just taken a hearty swallow of the aforementioned drink. “If you want? I mean, um, yes, of course,” he said, catching himself before Londo had to insist. Vir slunk away, and suddenly Londo was grinning like a giddy child. G’Kar had never understood how the man could lie so effortlessly, but it was difficult not to share the enthusiasm. Fully complicit in their petty conspiracy, G’Kar smiled in return.
He heard the door to Londo’s quarters hiss open. “Are you sure about this?” Vir asked again, uncertainty verging on outright skepticism.
Londo raised his voice. “For the last time, yes!”
The door closed. Wasting no time, Londo swung his legs off the bed and paced to the wardrobe. “Good. Now we must hurry. You wait outside and make sure he’s gone, will you?”
“Mollari?” G’Kar asked just to provoke him. “Are you sure about this?”
Londo glared at G’Kar with one of those deep scowls he’d all but perfected, the kind that could make even a Vorlon feel like something scraped from the bottom of his boot. G’Kar took that as his cue to leave. He stood outside the door as Londo dressed, peering around the room. Extravagant, even by Centauri standards — plush furnishings, counters and tabletops covered in vases and statuettes, embroidered curtains hung over the walls and windows though there was no sunlight to dim. Normally kept orderly, a clutter on the coffee table caught his eye — piles of books, scrolls, yellowed papers marked with faded ink. G’Kar could read Centauri, but upon inspection, the script was of a dialect he’d never seen before. The business of healing could be tedious, G’Kar knew, but if Londo had exhausted all other means of entertainment that he’d resorted to dusty tomes, a change of scenery was in his best interest.
After thumbing through the pages awhile, G’Kar called back, “Are you finished? If you don’t hurry, Vir will be back by the time you’re ready to—“ G’Kar stepped too close to the door, tripping the motion sensor. He was surprised that Londo hadn’t thought to lock it, more so when he didn’t hear a reply. To G’Kar’s relief, Londo stood fully dressed in front of the mirror, too occupied to notice the intrusion until he caught G’Kar’s reflection. He startled briefly and muttered under his breath.
“Almost, I said! Is a little privacy too much to ask?!” Londo glared at G’Kar’s mirrored image, then returned to whatever he was doing. Fumbling over the small clasp of his jacket, it seemed. G’Kar took a step back and pretended not to hear the sighs and snarls of frustration as Londo slowly recovered his fine motor skills. The sight made G’Kar’s fingers twitch more than it inspired sympathy.
A few moments of struggle was more than G’Kar could stomach. He crossed the room. “Here,” he said, before Londo had a chance to protest. He approached from behind and guided Londo’s hands away. “Hold still for a moment.” G’Kar could feel the shudder as he wrapped his arms around Londo’s waist to work at the troublesome collar, grazing the skin of his throat. Prepared for him to jerk away, G’Kar tucked his head over Londo’s shoulder and closed the clasp in one swift motion. “Good enough. Shall we?”
Londo didn’t respond right away. When G’Kar looked back, he remained planted in front of the mirror. His hand lingered at his collar, as if it had spontaneously fastened on its own. He blinked at G’Kar’s urging, then moved to follow.
“Was there anywhere in particular you had in mind?” G’Kar asked after they’d left the ambassadorial halls. He’d taken the lead, Londo content to wander behind him in silence. They came to the transport tube. “As long as we avoid the Zocolo, we could find something to eat,” he ventured as they waited for the lift. “Or if you wanted to have a real drink, the Dark Star is probably open by now.”
“And if I said I wanted to be left alone?”
The doors to the transport tube opened with a chime. G’Kar stepped in. “First, I would point out to you that if it weren’t for me, you would be spending yet another evening confined to your quarters, waited on hand and foot by someone who cares remarkably for your well-being — a hellish experience, I’m told. Second...” He braced an arm against the door when it started to close. “If anything were to happen to you on this little excursion, I could be held responsible. Others have suffered long enough for your foolishness, wouldn’t you agree?”
Londo huffed in what might have been agreement, and he scuttled past G’Kar to stand in the far corner of the transport tube. “I need some fresh air.”
The transport tube stopped at the corridor leading into Babylon 5’s central gardens. If fresh air was what Londo wanted, then the garden, with its fountains, floral arrangements, meticulously trimmed hedge-maze, and a projected exterior to simulate the outdoors, was the closest thing to. Once, the sight of green vistas like this would have brought on a wave of optimism and hope for the future. If the humans could sustain life in the dead void of space, surely Narn could be brought back from the brink. After the war, he was not so certain.
Lost in thought, G’Kar almost didn’t notice when the reassuring tap of Londo’s boots faded behind him. When he turned around, he saw that he’d outpaced Londo by quite a ways, though he seemed in no hurry to catch up. Londo stepped slowly along the cobblestone path, arms behind his back, gaze wandering among the flowerbeds. He looked flushed, and there was a hesitance in his movements, a certain shallowness of breath that accompanied a period of extended bedrest.
G’Kar stopped to wait. No matter how creatively delivered, he was sure Londo was sick of any and all inquiries regarding his condition. “Does it remind you of home?” he asked instead, charitably interpreting Londo’s lack of energy as a lapse of nostalgia.
“Eh?” The fog cleared in Londo’s eyes. He snapped out of his reverie, then caught up to G’Kar. “No, of course not. I can barely keep track of the names of any of these plants, nor do I particularly care to.” He turned to the nearest plant, a thick bush with clusters of blue blossoms, then read out the informative plaque, one of many that lined the paths, helpfully printed in three languages. “This one is called a Hydrangea, apparently,” he said, slowly, the word rolling off his tongue. “It means as little to me as it does to you.”
“All I can remember are the ones called ‘roses’, and that’s only because the humans so often include them in their poetry,” G’Kar said, matching his pace to Londo’s more consciously than before. “The arrangement is what I meant. From what little I saw of your palace gardens, I assumed taking leisurely strolls through rows of pruned vegetation bred entirely for colour and fragrance would be a popular pastime.”
“If anything, it reminds me of Earth. Switzerland,” Londo replied, changing the topic before G’Kar could contemplate too deeply just why the idea of younger Londo holding picnics in the palace gardens made such a charming image.
“The province where Delenn first announced her plans for the Interstellar Alliance? I suppose I can see the resemblance,” he said. Truth be told, G’Kar hadn’t spent much time on Earth, his frequent visits during the Earth-Minbari war restricted to the distance between Earthdome and its accompanying spaceport. Given the tenuous relations between Earth and the Regime at the time, it hadn’t seemed appropriate to request a tour.
Londo clasped his hands behind his back, looking straight ahead. “I know it well. Even before that, I lived on Earth for several years. It is where we first met, yes?”
“What are you talking about?” G’Kar asked, searching his memory. “I think that if we had encountered one another anytime before Babylon 5 began operation, I’d remember. Whatever else I could say about you, Mollari, I’ll grant that you are a rather memorable person.”
Londo gave a snort, in what might have been approval. “Not enough to make an impression on you, it seems.” He raised an eyebrow. “Though I suppose that is to be expected. It was little more than a brief introduction arranged by some publicist looking to make headlines off a picture of a Narn joined hands with a member of the Centauri delegation on Earth soil,” he went on. “The humans and their indomitable spirit of community, hm? Even in the middle of a war.”
“Especially in the middle of a war,” G’Kar said with a roll of his eyes, trying his best to hide his discomfort at the clarity with which Londo spoke of insignificant events a lifetime away. “The humans are fond of their empty gestures.”
A little ahead of G’Kar, Londo led the way towards a nearby fountain. “You were distracted at the time, I recall. Chasing some attractive human around the appetizers table,” he said without bothering to turn around, “but that is no matter. The point, G’Kar, is that I remember more than you think.”
Londo sat down — slumped, more accurately — on the carved stone rim of the basin, gripping the edge to steady himself. If he needed so urgently to be off his feet, G’Kar would have been happy to do so before now, he almost said, but what came out was, “I thought you said you couldn’t remember anything. Don’t tell me you had to come all the way out here just to say whatever it is you think—“
“Sit down,” said Londo. What alarmed G’Kar was how quickly he obeyed.
Perhaps it was the fact that they sat in a secluded clearing of the garden, walled in by hedges and trellises, voices muffled by the splash of water, but all of a sudden G’Kar felt very alone — as far as one could be on a station of this size, different from the privacy of closed rooms. More isolating than intimate. Worse, he felt just as certain that Londo wanted it that way. He was expecting something. What truths were so suffocating that they could only be voiced in the open air?
“I did not lie, G’Kar. I don’t remember waking up, you, or anyone else for that matter,” Londo began, staring out over the gardens. “I am told I was fading in and out of consciousness, but... it was a strange experience. A muddle of images, memories, conversations. I could not tell whether I was awake or asleep. Only that I was dying.” G’Kar must have tensed or made a face because Londo drew back. He sighed, then spoke with a voice almost too low to be heard against the rush of the fountain, “I do remember what I said, even if I did not expect for you to hear it.”
G’Kar listened with patient, if wary, attention. A trickle of honesty from Londo could easily prelude a flood of obfuscation. “It’s striking how often that happens. How, at the brink of death, we are overcome with the sudden urge to express such things, knowing that we may never get another chance. Abandoning a lifetime of misguided beliefs, grudges, regrets. It’s strange how words spoken with a last breath are thought capable of nullifying all that came before,” G’Kar said. “It’s awfully convenient in a way.”
Too cutting. Londo shrunk in on himself, teeth bared. “Are you mad? Great Maker, are you truly suggesting that—” He’d raised his voice past comfortable limits, and was repaid with a bout of coughing. He snarled through the froth, fists balled in his coat. “I can assure you, G’Kar, that the failure of several vital organs and an uncomfortably vivid glimpse into my afterlife was by no means convenient.” Londo released a held breath. “No, It was not some deathbed recantation.”
G’Kar nodded, but kept his voice firm. “Good. Then explain it to me.”
“It was...” he started, smoothing his hands over the folds of his coat. “There is no point. To you, this will probably sound like nonsense.”
But not, perhaps, to a fellow Centauri. Left unspoken, Londo likely hoped he wouldn’t pursue the matter any further. “A vision? A dream? An apparition?” G’Kar suggested in turn. “Sometimes you forget, Mollari, that your culture is not the only one to treat oneiric experience as a matter of practical significance.”
Londo, whose fists had tightened with every word, glared at G’Kar out of the corner of his eye. “I know that!” he insisted, then drifted back into thought. “It was... or at least, was very much like, something we once called a ‘crisis of conscience’.”
“Conscience?” G’Kar gave a huff and leaned back on his hands. “Was that before your people collectively decided that you would be better off without one?”
Londo tightened his jaw, prepared for another outburst, but he took a deep breath and carried on. “Just as I thought,” he said. “You Narns think much the same way humans do on this matter, yes? When you hear the word ‘conscience’, you think of an outside force? An imperative? A little voice between your ears warning you against temptation?”
“Something like that,” G’Kar granted.
“Ah. So it is you who are tempted, and it is some external compulsion — your laws, your gods, the teachings of your prophets, that shield your soul from corruption?
G’Kar had to think about that before answering. “You make it sound so impersonal. I would not describe it—“
“Among my people, it is the other way around. It is the world that corrupts, and the soul to cry out in protest,” Londo went on. He’d cut off G’Kar in mid-sentence, more than willing to speak now that G’Kar’s tacit permission had become a demand. “In the old stories, it is described as an attempt by the soul to escape from the body, resulting either in death or transformation.” He paused, a bark of laughter filling the silence. “Something of a production, truth be told. Dramatic, even by our standards, hm?”
Recalling the towering collection of books and scrolls he’d seen in Londo’s quarters, G’Kar was no longer inclined to doubt his sincerity. Whatever the nature of this experience, it clearly had him shaken. “You’re still here. I take it you chose the latter.”
“That remains to be seen,” Londo said. “If some grand alteration has taken place, I am the last to know. The stories may be just that; I have never placed much stock in legend. It is Vir who finds them a source of endless fascination. I tell you this only so you understand that when I say I spoke to you during this... encounter, it was a reflection of myself, one that has taken me a long time to see clearly.”
“So I made an appearance in your dream? I’d be interested to know what I had to say,” said G’Kar with a tinge of amusement, hoping to jar Londo into reaching some kind of point.
“Yes. Among others. Mere reflections, as I said. Nothing more.”
G’Kar tilted his head toward Londo, easing closer to him. Tentatively, he placed a hand on his shoulder. “How can you be so sure?”
Londo struck G’Kar’s hand away so suddenly that G’Kar nearly lost his balance. His hand grazed the surface of the water before he caught himself. “I remember what it was like to have you tramping about in my mind, G’Kar! I have no wish to relive the experience.”
G’Kar’s throat tightened. A familiar heat tore through him, searing his flesh from the inside. In a flash, all notion of reconciliation fled and was replaced by the singular urge to seize Londo by the back of his scalp, thrust him face-first into the fountain and hold him under until he drowned. Had he not been patient, accommodating, generous? G’Kar had tied himself in knots for the sake of making this confrontation as painless as possible, which was more than Londo deserved. Three years he had waited for this day. G’Kar had not endured the destruction of his world, the slaughter of his people, the sting of Cartagia’s lash across his back just to gaze into the empty eyes of Londo Mollari and feel shame.
He bit back the anger. Londo flinched, but not before G’Kar caught the fear in his eyes. “I... I was not thinking. That was inappropriate. Not what we are here to discuss, anyway.”
“You presume there is to be a discussion,” G’Kar said. “I require nothing of the kind. I did not come here to listen to your morbid pontificating. There is one obvious way to settle this, Mollari, that has gone conspicuously neglected.”
“What are you talking about?” Londo shot back. “I have already—“
“Say it again.”
He’d meant to sound commanding, but what came out was a plea. Again, G’Kar reached for him. Londo’s hands were slippery and trembling. He covered them with his own, willing the desperation from his grip. “Please,” he said.
Londo clasped the hand that was offered, but couldn’t quite bring himself to meet G’Kar’s eyes. He tried once, opened his mouth to speak, but something broke halfway, leaving him to do nothing but blink and turn away. “Nothing can make up for what I’ve done, G’Kar. You and I both know that.”
“That is not what I asked for.”
Silence ruled for the span of a few breaths as Londo considered that. He forced himself to lift his gaze.
“G’Kar, I’m sorry. For...” He paused, palms upturned. “For everything. I never meant for any of this to happen.”
There was a crisp affectation in the way he spoke. He was trying, G’Kar realized, to sound sincere, words loaded with a gravitas beyond what the meager phrase could contain. The effect was as ridiculous as any overwrought acting. G’Kar imagined a passing bystander catching sight of them; a Centauri and a Narn perched thigh-to-thigh at the base of a fountain, hands joined, exchanging apologies that might have concerned anything from unspeakable war crimes to a forgotten anniversary. He would have laughed if the possibility of tears was not quite so imminent.
Londo brightened. “There it is. Done. Drink it down, G’Kar, and savour it. Let it overcome you. I pray it is as much a balm to your soul as it was to mine.” That was to say, not at all, if his brittle laughter was any indication. “It is not only the humans who are fond of those empty gestures, hm? Centauri emperor-to-be apologizes to a single Narn. I’ll leave it to you to wring meaning from such nonsense.”
“Don’t push your luck,” G’Kar said. “A gesture? Really? First you tell me how you, quite literally, could not live with yourself until you’d spoken those words, and now you try to convince me that they do not matter? I have long grown accustomed to your aggressive strain of nihilism, Mollari, but this is a new low.”
“No, I—“ he said, then gathered his courage. “I did not mean...”
“I was there, Mollari!” G’Kar rose to his feet, stood over Londo, and jabbed a finger to his sternum. “Against my better judgment, I’ll have you know. I paced in my quarters for hours after word reached my ears, trying to convince myself of the same thing — that it didn’t matter whether you lived or died that night. Even if you lived a thousand years, it would not be long enough to erase what has happened. But I did come, Mollari, and by G'Quan, I would not have done so if it would not make a difference.”
G’Kar could have said more, but he willed himself to stop before he’d gone too far. Too often, G’Kar forgot the strength of his own countenance and intimidated when he meant to persuade. To his credit, Londo did not cower. He sat upright, with purpose, and curled his hands around G’Kar’s wrist. “A thousand years,” he repeated. “Do you think the Vorlons lived that long? The Shadows?”
“How should I know?” G’Kar muttered.
“It has occurred to me that, to them, these conversations might come a great deal easier,” said Londo, examining the jeweled knuckles of G’Kar’s glove. “When one can rearrange the constellations, or, or... devastate entire systems on a whim, what has happened — what I’ve done — to your world becomes an act for which one can apologize.”
G’Kar froze, resisting the immediate instinct to lash out and contradict him. He held back because it was the first thing to come out of Londo’s mouth in ages that did not carry the ring of an excuse. Whatever Londo was asking for, it was not forgiveness.
Gently, he extracted his arm from Londo’s grasp and reassumed his place at his side. “It seems to me that their entire problem was that, somewhere along the way, they must have forgotten how,” G’Kar said. “Or perhaps they had surpassed the need. We lesser beings are not so fortunate.”
“You take solace in this?” Londo scoffed. "Yet you call me the nihilist, G'Kar?" His tone was incredulous, but at its edges, G’Kar detected a note of hope.
“No,” G’Kar said, though a part of him ached to answer in the affirmative. “There is no comfort to be found in acknowledging that some acts are too great for us. The most we can achieve is… an understanding.”
“And what is it you have come to understand?” Londo asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Mollari,” he began, and reached up to run his fingers through the rise of hair at the back of his neck. “I am going to tell you something I have never told anyone before.”
What little colour remained in Londo’s face drained away. A nod was all he could manage. It was all G’Kar needed.
“They approached me, too. The Shadows. Their envoy.” G’Kar said. “I am ashamed to admit that I do not remember my response, it seemed so inconsequential. I would like to say that I turned them out at the door, or answered their question solely on the behalf of my people, but knowing myself as I do, knowing the fear, the anger that occupied my every waking thought? It could not have been anything so noble.”
G’Kar lowered his hand past Londo’s shoulders to stroke wide circles over his back. The motion was repetitive and comforting. He closed his eyes and pictured the bowl of sand in his quarters, how it would feel to dip his hand right in and feel the grains pour through his fingers.
“I was not chosen like you were. Who can say what factors they considered in their selection? It is pointless to speculate, I’ve always believed. But ever since they abandoned us for good, relinquished their claim on our galaxy, I found myself wondering... what I would have done in your place, how far it would have gone before I...”
A tremor ran up Londo’s spine. His breathing hitched, but G’Kar carried on. If he didn't say this now, he never would.
“I would not have been such a coward, I told myself. I would not have stood by and said nothing while billions were slaughtered on my behalf. It did bring solace for a while, to imagine that I, or any of us would have done better with the choice that was given, but that kind of certainty never lasts. The question is never closed. The one thing, Mollari, the only thought that prevented me from driving myself to madness over what might have been was the knowledge that yours was a choice that nobody should have been asked to make.”
G’Kar’s voice cracked towards the end, giving way to high peal of laughter that echoed through the clearing.
“It is among the great imbalances of the universe that anyone should be granted the power to commit wrongs beyond which one can atone for. Don’t you see, Mollari? That is why it makes a difference. That is why it must—“
A hoarse cry interrupted his thoughts.
Londo sat hunched over, staring between his legs as though the ground had given way to a deep black void rushing up to consume him. Then he threw up. In two painful heaves, he expelled what little he’d taken in that day — liquid, mostly — and the third brought up nothing but ragged coughs. The sight induced nausea on G’Kar’s part, but he swallowed it down and tapped rhythmically at Londo’s back. His posture was forced, trembling with suppressed tension. Londo clutched guardedly at his chest; his other hand dashed to a pocket of his coat, searching mindlessly until he pulled out a silk handkerchief and held it to his mouth.
“Are you all right?” G’Kar asked after the spasms subsided. “What’s wrong?”
Londo said nothing. His eyes were open and fixed straight ahead. Without thinking, G’Kar wrenched Londo’s other hand away from his chest and held it to his cheek. Cold. Beyond what was necessary on a battlefield, G’Kar hadn’t any formal medical training, but anyone who made their home aboard a space-station quickly learned to recognize hypoxia when they saw it. He began to manually work Londo’s finger joints to enhance circulation. “Listen to me, Mollari. I’m going to call Dr. Franklin right now. Wait here. I’ll be back soon.“
“No!” Londo gave a muffled shout. “Th-that will not be necessary,” he said, removing the handkerchief and stuffing it back in his pocket. “They warned me. They said... this would happen from time to time,” Londo made out between deep gulping breaths. He made a fist and thumped at the left side of his chest. “In starts and sputters, it will learn to do its job,” he said, as if imitating the casual air of the doctors. It was hardly reassuring.
Swaying over the bastion of G’Kar’s arm, Londo dragged himself to his feet. “I have supplies in my quarters, and I can manage quite well on my own.” His knees buckled at the first step. G’Kar barely caught him before he pitched forward. Gasping and shaking, G’Kar lowered him down to the fountain’s edge.
Before G’Kar could think better of it, and before Londo could get any worse, he crouched low to the ground and offered his back. “Put your arms around my shoulders. We’ll go together.”
“What do you think you are doing? Great Maker, are you insane?!” Londo’s face turned red. He clawed at his chest again, his unfocused gaze flitting among the trees. “What if somebody sees?”
G’Kar glanced over his shoulder, eyes drawn to the sweat glistening off Londo’s brow, and wondered how he did not notice earlier. He chastised himself for ignoring the signs. “They can think what they will, but we don’t have time to waste and you are in no condition to be walking at the moment,” he insisted, and when Londo didn’t budge, “Would you rather I carry you in my arms?”
Londo made a face that suggested he’d rather die.
“Then hurry up,” G’Kar said, patting his knees.
Awkwardly, and with grunts of protest, Londo wrapped himself around G’Kar’s shoulders while G’Kar reached behind to secure his legs. G’Kar almost lost his balance as he stood up, resulting in Londo strangling him, which nearly sent the both of them plunging into the fountain. Once properly settled, he was no burden; G’Kar put a little bounce in his step to make sure Londo stayed conscious as he retraced their path back to the entrance.
“Talk to me, Mollari,” G’Kar said as they approached the transport tube. Londo’s grip had waned. G’Kar leaned forward and held tight to Londo’s thighs to keep him balanced.
He heard a sharp gasp and felt warm breath rush past his jaw. “There we are. Not much further to go. Say something.”
“This is humiliating,” came the harsh whisper, each syllable stretched and accompanied by a squeeze.
G’Kar pressed the button for the lift. “This was your idea, you know,” he said, unable to resist. “You will recall that I did express reservations about offering my assistance in this venture, and if it weren’t for me, you’d—“
The doors to the transport tube opened and a pair of Llort stepped out, one of whom G’Kar recognized as Ambassador Cil’Thakh. He moved out of the way, unperturbed by the way Londo cringed against his collar, hiding his face. As if he could be mistaken for anyone else. The ambassador gave them a curious look as they passed. G’Kar tipped a hand in front of his mouth as though downing liquor and gave his best chagrined smile. The Llort snorted with amusement and continued on their way.
Londo stirred at the motion of the transport. “G’Kar. I’m sorry.”
“So I’ve heard!”
“Not that,” he said, still panting, but more lucid than before. “This. This was my fault. I should have known better.”
G’Kar exhaled and steadied himself against the railing of the transport. Only one more hallway to go. Neither of them were as young as they once were, it seemed. “It’s all right. It’s over now.” He peered at Londo out of the corner of his eye. “No harm done?”
There was no need to jostle Londo for his passcode when they reached his quarters. The door sprung open the moment they arrived to reveal Vir Cotto, wide-eyed and distraught. “Londo?” He furrowed his brow at the sight of them and, for a moment, looked as if he was trying for anger before the worry broke through. “Where have you been? When I got back, you were gone, and, and I searched all over! G’Kar, I was this close to calling station security!”
Londo piped up before G’Kar could defend himself. “Vir. In my room. The injection kit." That called an end to Vir’s fussing. He took off to the bedroom with haste. Things went quickly after that. G’Kar deposited Londo on the couch, and Vir emerged from the bedroom carrying bottles of pills in one hand and a presumably faster-acting syringe in the other. Londo grabbed at the pills, taking a palm’s worth in one swallow while Vir prepared the injection.
G’Kar crouched at Londo’s side, uselessly clinging to his hand. “Is there anything I can do?”
“You can go.” Until now, G’Kar had never suspected that Vir could sound so cold. He probably hadn’t meant to, but his attention was focused solely on Londo’s well-being. As he unbuttoned Londo’s waistcoat, he barely lifted his gaze when G’Kar let go and prepared to leave.
“G’Kar?” Londo called weakly after him. G’Kar turned to see him straining to maneuver around Vir. “We will... talk again, yes? Soon?”
“Yes. When you are well.”
“And perhaps someday, you will...” he trailed off, finally submitting to Vir’s requests to lie down and be still.
G’Kar smiled back at him. “Perhaps,” he promised. “When it will make a difference.”