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Though I Walk Through the Valley

Chapter Text

Through some quirk of fate, the main wing of the palace had survived the bombardment. Amidst its overwrought splendor, Vir had looked gray and anxious, and Londo couldn't decide if that was a good sign or not.

Vir's instincts were keen ones, that much was true. And the Maker knew there was reason enough to be frightened, with half the planet in ruins and Drakh infesting the capital like the foul parasites they were. But Vir didn't know that. No; seeing the unease in the set of Vir's shoulders, Londo had known all too well that he himself was to blame. Not because he was about to become Emperor – Vir had known that for a long time – but for what it might change between them. For what it had changed already. That  was not a good sign at all.

His own reaction hadn't helped, Londo knew. Vir had come rushing here from Babylon 5 to make sure he was all right, and how had he expressed his gratitude? By chiding Vir like a child for walking in on him as he was dressing! The irony was thick enough to choke on. How often had Vir helped him dress under conditions far less dignified, with alcohol dulling his senses to the point where he could barely button his own coat? Of course Vir would not hesitate to walk in on him now that he was Emperor. Why should he?

One thing was clear: he had to talk to Vir again, and soon. But Vir had disappeared after their earlier confrontation, wandering off in the direction of the gardens. Sending a guard after him would hardly inspire trust, so Londo hurried outside at the first opportunity, hoping to locate his friend before the Drakh ordered him back.

The walk in the open air was almost soothing. It had been several hours since he'd been given his Keeper, and his head was finally starting to clear. The Keeper's surface thoughts were chaos, as disorienting as they were primitive, but Londo was beginning to learn how to tune them out. He still felt faint and unsteady, but they had told him those symptoms would ease as his nervous system adjusted. As long as the Drakh named Shiv'kala – his Keeper's keeper, the one who spoke for the others – did not touch his mind directly, he was finding he could keep the confusion at bay.

In a flash, he caught a glimpse of Vir ahead of him. As he started to call out, he stumbled over a loose step, his focus slipping. The wave of weakness that assaulted him, crackling through every nerve in his body, was intense enough to drive him to his knees. He was forced to huddle on the rough tiles, struggling to hold on to the contents of his stomach as his Keeper writhed with undisguised glee. Shame and fury burned behind his eyelids, but to his relief, his eyes remained dry. Which wasn't surprising. After Adira, he did not think he had many tears left.

The good thing was that Vir seemed to have spotted him as well. Londo heard, rather than saw him coming: nervous, shuffling footsteps that faltered and then broke into a run.

"Londo, are you all right?" Vir practically flung himself at him. His cheeks were red and puffy, but Londo couldn't tell whether the cause was fatigue or concern. It seemed Vir was getting better at hiding his emotions – which, given the circumstances, could only be a good thing. "I thought you were preparing to address the people. What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you," Londo replied truthfully. "And I'm fine. I was just... catching my breath." That wasn't quite so true, but it couldn't be helped. "I did not mean to snap at you earlier, Vir. I was preoccupied. I should not have taken it out on you." His Keeper squirmed as if in warning, but Londo gritted his teeth and worked up a faint grin. Vir would have to leave soon, so it would not do to taint what little time they had together. It was a good thing that people who did not know Vir tended to underestimate him, but even so, every hour that he stayed increased his chances of being noticed by the Drakh. Londo could not risk that.

"It's all right." Vir's hand, which had been plucking at his trousers, came to hover over Londo's arm. "I'm sorry for leaving. I – I needed some air."

"I see," Londo said, sitting very still. With the Keeper held in check and the sunlight trickling down through a thin layer of cloud, he could almost pretend everything was as it should be. At least as long as he did not look at the heaps of rubble where the Narn and Drazi weapons had hit, or at the pillars of black smoke still rising from the inner city. "You always enjoyed the garden, did you not? I remember in the days after Cartagia you often came here."

"I remember I once threw up on one of Cartagia's prize orchids." Vir smiled faintly. "The night of G'Kar's whipping. It all seems so long ago."

Londo nodded, but his own smile felt forced. Already he regretted bringing up Cartagia in the first place. The whole affair had brought the two of them closer together, yes, but it had also shown him how different they were. In the end it was Vir who had taken Cartagia's life, an act which Londo knew continued to haunt him. More than once over the past year, Vir had brought him his breakfast looking red-eyed and disheveled, and Londo was far too familiar with the ravages of nightmare not to recognize them on sight.

As for himself, he did not dream of Cartagia's murder, or the other ones – like Refa's, or Morden's – committed in his name. Unlike Vir, he was capable of killing in cold blood without feeling remorse later. That didn't mean he did not dream at all. Images of the Narn bombing still disturbed his sleep, as did his death dream, and one other nightmare that had been plaguing him of late: that of Centauri Prime in flames. Now that it had come true, Londo wondered just how cold his blood would prove to be once the Drakh started ordering him to do their bidding. He remembered the Regent, forced to turn off the defense grid, watching the city burn as destruction rained down from orbit. He thought of the fusion bombs, seeded across the planet. He could not give the Drakh an excuse to detonate them. The question was, how could he fight them?

Beside him, Vir straightened and cleared his throat. "Londo, I – I realize many things have happened here, things that can't be undone. The attacks, the Shadow technology that was stolen and used on our ships. And now the Alliance wants us to make amends, and I understand that, but surely you aren't just going to give in? If the Regent acted alone…" Vir bit his lip. "Gods, Londo, I can't even begin to understand how the Regent could be capable of that, but if he was, then why can't we be truthful about it? Surely if we extend a formal apology, President Sheridan and Delenn would reconsider –"

"It's not that simple," Londo cut him off. He pushed himself to his feet with a hiss. The maneuver nearly sent him sprawling, but Vir caught him by the shoulder just in time.

"Why can't it be that simple?" Vir pressed, as he steered them both up the steps and across the rubble-strewn path. "Londo, what are you hiding? After everything we've been through, I thought you would trust me by now." His voice was hurt, indignant. "I mean, I – I know I don't have much experience in things like these, but won't you even consider what I just said?"

Londo sucked down air through his teeth. Of course he had considered speaking with Sheridan, possibly even telling him the truth. But the Drakh would never allow it. If there had ever been a chance for him to speak out, it had been taken from him the moment he accepted the Keeper. And even if he could somehow reveal the Drakh's presence, he had no idea how numerous they were and what they were capable of. Great Maker, the damage they might do before it was all over...

No. He had one hope, one vision of a better future: the one where Vir became Emperor after his death. It might take years to come to pass, but one thing was certain: it would not come to pass at all unless Londo played his part. If it meant having to carry a Keeper for the rest of his days, he would not shy away from bearing that burden. Centauri Prime was crippled, which meant his only other option was putting his world at the mercy of the Alliance. And look at what mercy their precious Alliance had dispensed so far, asking for reparations when they were well aware the Centauri could not pay. No. If they were to overcome their plight, they would have to do it themselves - not by bending their knee like Sheridan wanted. It was the only way.

Londo slowed, groping for words. He had to come up with an explanation that would seem inconspicuous to the Drakh, yet leave Vir with more than hollow excuses. "I do trust you, Vir," he said softly. "But there are other considerations here." A glance to his side confirmed he had Vir's attention. "There are… forces at work here too strong for one man to oppose. Even for a man who might call himself Emperor. The Regent tried but failed, and I am not at all certain that I can succeed. As long as that is the case, I cannot keep you safe except through silence."

Vir's eyebrows knitted together as he pondered that. "With 'others', you mean someone at court? Someone other than the Regent? But... you told everyone he acted alone."

"I did," Londo admitted. "Not every word you hear from my lips will be the truth, Vir. You must remember that. I am endangering you even by telling you this. The moment Delenn and Lennier leave with Sheridan, you must go with them. G'Kar too. I have not told him any of this, but he has seen and heard much; I wouldn't be surprised if he has written it all down in that wretched book of his. You should talk with him, but not here. You have duties to attend to. Our people on Babylon 5 will have need of you." His Keeper twitched restlessly on his shoulder. Had he said too much? No, surely not; just vague words and riddles, nothing the Drakh would concern themselves with. Yet.

Vir nodded, and for once his expression betrayed nothing. "I understand. Or, well, I don't, really. Not all of it. But I will. At least I – I hope I will. Thank you, for telling me as much as you did." He looked across his shoulder at the palace, his face clouding over. "We've been out here for a while. We should go back before they miss you."

"Oh, they will hardly miss me," Londo said, resisting a dark look at his Keeper, which he suspected was reporting to its Drakh masters even now. "But you are right. I must address the people, and Delenn and Sheridan will be wondering where we are. We should go to them." If only to make sure the Drakh kept their promise and did not have them executed anyway, in a dark, damp corner of the palace where no one was watching. Londo suppressed a shiver at the thought.

Beside him, Vir pressed his lips together and returned his hand to where it had been at Londo's elbow. He only removed it when they passed through the gate that led out of the sunlight and back inside.