Author: Amatara PM
Lyta was always going to choose her own path. All G'Kar could hope for was that she would end up choosing it for the right reasons. Post-canon.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Sci-Fi - G'kar & L. Alexander - Words: 4,204 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Published: 12-12-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7630685
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Author's notes: Practically gen, apart from one paragraph which really isn't. Many thanks to Avelera for the beta!
G'Kar did not, as a rule, indulge in comparison. There was a time when he would have felt gratification at weighing, say, the resilience of his people against the Centauri's flimsy-skinned, weak-minded lack of same. But that was in the past. These days, G'Kar avoided generalizations where he could. This one he avoided more than most, courtesy of one particular Centauri who'd proven it wrong – except for the skin part, that was, because the man had bruised like overripe fruit. In any case, in both the spoken word and the written, G'Kar aimed to be as precise as possible.
Which was why, when he offered Lyta his arm to escort her onto the ship, he was surprised to find himself thinking how small her hands were. Much smaller, certainly, than his own. Lyta was not a large person by any standards, but it had never before occurred to him to think of her growing mental powers as out of odds with her physique. The hand on his sleeve, though, seemed brittle enough that for a moment G'Kar found himself doing just that. Then he registered her grip, which was steel.
She was afraid, that grip said. Despite the front she put up, despite the bluster and the knowledge that she could likely control every being on the station with a thought, she had no more control over what was happening to her than anyone else did. And it terrified her. G'Kar did not doubt for a moment this made her more dangerous, not less. He remembered all too well his own struggle of coming to terms with who he was and who he could be; he had not been at his most mellow those days.
Activating the hatch control, he waited for the final, closing hiss of the airlock. Beside him, Lyta let out an unsteady breath.
"Are you all right?" G'Kar asked. He still hadn't lowered his arm, and Lyta had made no attempt to remove hers. Something about that filled him with sudden hope.
She blinked up at him, a hint of defiance slipping into her stance. "No. No, I'm not." Her hand tightened, then pulled back. "Frankly, G'Kar, it beats me how you can be. You're leaving behind a hell of a lot more than I am."
G'Kar hesitated. He could hardly mistake her meaning: that she had little to lose because everything of value had been taken from her. But he'd been on Centauri Prime during the telepath crisis. All he knew about Lyta's experience with Byron and Psi Corps was second-hand. That, and he realized far too well what he himself had given up, not just today but piece by little piece in the wake of the war. Na'Toth, wounded but not broken, out of reach on their homeworld; young Ta'Lon, left to fend for himself; his old no-longer-enemy, chained to a throne he no longer desired. All part of a life he had shed for now, and couldn't be sure he would ever return to.
"Happiness and sorrow aren't mutually exclusive," he said finally, casting about for neutral ground. "I've been in mourning for my people for a long time. Part of me still is; it is a stone that will always weigh me down. But that doesn't mean there is no place for joy. The river will always carve a path into the rock; the hard part is to allow it."
Lyta's head jerked sharply. "I don't know how to do that."
"That," G'Kar conceded, "is where it helps to have time."
For all the other comforts they lacked, time was one thing they did have. For a while it was even enough. The problem with time, in G'Kar's experience, was rarely that there was too little of it, but that people were always so keen to turn it into something else: action, possessions, accomplishment, love. Out here, with nothing to worry about except fuel and food and, occasionally, the state of one's soul, one could simply let things run their course. Some days even the starlight looked slower. Or did it? G'Kar had often wondered at the quality of light this close to the Rim. Perhaps what seemed like vacuum was actually teeming with something else, something elusive and wondrous, fracturing the light into patterns that trickled through the void like warm syrup. Although, right now, that could be the alcohol distorting his sight. They had taken to celebrating new discoveries with a drink, and today they had come across a particularly fine one: two colliding galaxies, sprawled across the viewscreen in a frozen embrace.
"More?" Lyta asked, uncurling from the co-pilot's seat. She retrieved a near-empty bottle from the instrument panel, topped G'Kar's glass without waiting for an answer. There was a darkness in her eyes that G'Kar had learned to recognize, a darkness that meant she was tempted to probe. Not that he would even feel it if she did. But so far it seemed she had respected his privacy, and he'd resolved to give her the benefit of the doubt.
"I didn't realize you were into Centauri culinary tradition, G'Kar." Lyta raised a delicate eyebrow. "Brivari? I had no idea you even drank the stuff."
"I do not 'drink the stuff'," G'Kar said, with as much dignity as he could muster over the liquor-induced fog in his head. "I took it as a souvenir. It was given to me." By Vir Cotto, to be exact. Who had shown up at G'Kar's doorstep one day, covered in dust from cleaning out Mollari's old quarters, a cobwebbed bottle and two tumblers tucked under his arm. They'd downed the first glass together in silence. When Cotto had left, the rest of the bottle had stayed behind.
Lyta's eyes narrowed, and for a moment G'Kar was sure she would press for details, but she didn't. Instead she said, in a strange voice, "Kosh gave me his memories." A harsh burst of laughter told him that she, too, had drank more than her share, but that it would be unwise to point this out. "Do you have any idea how strong Vorlon memories are? Byron gave me –" Unsteady breath. "– everything he was, and some of it has already faded. But those fragments I have of Kosh… If anything, they're growing more intense, not less."
G'Kar forced his eyes back to the viewscreen. "Do you blame him for what was done to you?" At worst, Kosh had been complicit from the start. At the very least, he had been aware. Either way left him guilty.
"I don't know," Lyta said. "I don't know if I blamed him. I – loved him." G'Kar's surprise must have shown in his face, because she gave him a thin, self-deprecating smile. It looked oddly out of place on her, like a piece of ill-fitting clothing. "Have you loved someone, G'Kar?"
"Come now." He worked up a smile of his own. "It's hardly a secret that I've enjoyed the company of a great many women in the past, but…"
"I know that," she interrupted. "I asked about love."
"Lyta–" he began, then shook his head in disbelief. "You are serious. You never caught anything, then? Not a glimpse?"
"I keep my promises," she said levelly. "Unless… you're giving permission?"
He should tell her no. To say anything but no would be madness, yet he couldn't bring himself to do so. Or even to want it. Lyta, of course, missed nothing at all.
"Oh," she said, lips pursing as she went in, and then "Oh" again, as he showed her, exactly, what she had wanted to know. A shiver ran through him, and with it a sense of loss that left him unsteady in a way the alcohol had not.
"His people tried their utmost to destroy mine." G'Kar tossed back the last of his drink, grimacing at the cloying sweetness that still managed to sear his throat. "He himself, as it turned out, did his fair share in the Shadow War."
"You blame him?" Lyta asked softly.
"Very much." G'Kar let out a breath. "And I miss him more."
He did not doubt she understood.
The thrill of discovery kept them going for a while. Most planets they came across were barren, but every once in a while one would sustain life. Intelligent life was a rarity, let alone technology, so whenever G'Kar found himself walking solid ground again – ground that wasn't part of a ship's hull or a space station's structure but of, say, a simple tarred road into a city – he felt almost elated. It was precisely such a road they were walking today, but this time, there was the added excitement of attempting something new and altogether daring. It made G'Kar feel deeply, intensely alive.
"So." For some reason, he was finding he couldn't stop grinning. "Please, show me again. What manner of creatures are you having us look like?"
Lyta's eyes fluttered briefly. When he looked down, it was at arms and a torso covered with dappled grey fur. His regular clothes had vanished, to be replaced by something long and flowing and bordered with a large amount of what looked like dyed feathers. Lyta herself had suddenly turned a rather stunning dark blue.
She grinned back at him, baring a mouthful of delicate fangs. "Well?"
"I'm impressed." He contemplated a furry fist and shook his head in mirth. Thanks to Lyta's powers of projection, this was how the indigenous people – furred and fanged themselves – would see them. By now, Lyta had grown proficient enough to shift G'Kar's perception back and forth between true form and illusion, whereas everyone else would see only the latter. "Although –" He threw her a teasing look. "I would have preferred an attire that lacked the feathers. They aren't quite my style."
"Oh, but the feathers are all the rage right now." Lyta smirked, then grew serious again. G'Kar had to blink to clear his vision as she shifted them back to their normal-looking selves. "I don't know, G'Kar." She fingered the hem of her own tunic. "I'm still not sure about this. These people… They've never seen an alien before in their lives. If I slip up –"
"Then you must concentrate on not slipping up," G'Kar said simply. He saw no other way. There was only so much Lyta could learn by training in solitude; eventually, any training would have to be put to a real-life test. The inhabitants of this world seemed gentle and non-aggressive, so what better occasion? "I have faith in you, Lyta. In time, I'm sure blocking will come as naturally to you as closing your eyes. For now, you will simply have to trust your instincts."
Lyta shrugged, unconvinced. "I suppose I will." They had crossed the edge of town. The shift between countryside and populated area was sharp as a chiseled line: no gardens, no scattered houses or farms to soften the transition. Just city, rising up around them, all curves and polished surface. "I still can't shake the thought we're not welcome here, though."
For the moment, G'Kar was inclined to disagree. None of the locals paid them much attention as they passed; one or two wagged their heads in greeting, but that was it. There were no odd looks, no suspicious glances. To all intents and purposes, Lyta's plan was working perfectly, yet he could see the tension growing in her face. He was just about to reassure her again when it happened.
Someone bumped into them from behind, and for a heartbeat, just a heartbeat, Lyta dropped her guard. G'Kar could tell precisely when the illusion slipped, because it was the exact same moment that every furred head in his field of vision snapped around in Lyta's direction. For a long, surreal moment, everything remained perfectly still. Then all hell broke loose.
Someone screamed, a high-pitched wail of pure terror, and suddenly every man, woman and child on the streets was running. Most simply bolted in panic, some dragging stunned children behind them. But a few advanced towards them, moving with alarming speed. G'Kar turned to shout a warning to Lyta, but a heavy, blunt object slammed into his skull, sending the pavement rushing up to meet him. Vaguely, he could make out Lyta being grasped by the arms, forced down on one knee, and then…
When he regained consciousness, the first sound he became aware of was a single person's shallow breathing. It was only after he sat up, cradling the back of his head, that he realized it wasn't just the first sound he registered; it was the only sound left.
"Lyta?" He had to squeeze his eyes shut as pain shrieked in his skull. "What happened? Where are –"
"This is what I am." She said it dully, her voice a cold, dark knot of rage. "This is how they made me. This is what happens when I use my instincts."
Scattered around them, they all lay open-eyed and silent like so many broken toys.
Time, after that, no longer seemed like a luxury. Instead G'Kar felt it loom over them like a huge, bloated hourglass, ticking down the seconds to a decision that would, inevitably, have to be made. They couldn't travel the void forever. Already the currents were flowing in a direction that was irreversible. Even if he did nothing, there would still come a point where a dam would be breached.
G'Kar discovered precisely how close that point was on the night he found himself dreaming of death.
Not for the first time, of course. The dream was an old acquaintance; it had come to him on far too many nights after he'd plucked it from its owner's mind. But that had been years ago. That night it found him again, the same as always: a crippled old man, reeking of mould and damp cellars, he squeezed shut a lace-clad throat as gloved fingers closed on his own. He woke to a curious absence of shock or fear or even anger. Instead he felt… hollow. As if he had lost something a long time ago and then forgotten what it was. On another occasion, he might have waited for the feeling to ebb. On this one, it drove him out of his quarters and towards the only source of company he had.
He tapped Lyta's door quietly at first, then with a bit more force. No answer. The sensible choice was to leave, but there was something – an impulse that, reexamining it later, G'Kar couldn't for the life of him explain – that made him lift the latch and peer inside.
The room was in semi-darkness. Lyta appeared to be sleeping, albeit in a strange position, stretched out on top of the covers with both hands clutched to her chest. G'Kar felt decidedly sheepish watching the scene – until he realized, with a sudden, heavy feeling, she wasn't asleep at all. Not unless a human could sleep while trembling uncontrollably.
Heart pounding, he moved towards the bed. Folded between Lyta's hands was something angled and metallic, and he snatched it away without a thought. He felt the jolt even through his gloves, intense and searing and unexpected enough that he gasped and dropped the object onto the carpet. A pain-stick, of the type used to scare off wildlife. G'Kar vaguely remembered acquiring it after a close call involving flesh-eating rodents; they had never even used it afterwards. Or so he had assumed.
A low moan drifted up from the bed. Lyta was pushing herself into a sitting position, unfolding like a flower, G'Kar thought – a dark, terrible, beautiful flower.
"Lyta." He tried, but failed, to keep the shock out of his voice. "What were you –"
"Training." Lyta's hand was still spasming; she steadied it angrily, as if swatting an insect. "I've been teaching myself to block pain. If I'm to bring down the Corps, I'll need skills like that. They'll use any weakness against me."
So, here they were, then. G'Kar had known this moment was coming, despite his best attempts to postpone it. And what could he even say to dissuade her? Not from fighting Psi Corps, because he had never doubted that she would. But from trading her soul in order to do it. For once, he found himself groping for words. "Lyta, I don't pretend my perspective on pain outweighs yours. But I do know pain is part of what makes us who we are. For myself, I have had fewer than a handful of revelations in life, and all of them were engendered by pain, not joy. To want to shut it out –"
The look on her face cut him off quite effectively. "I've had those kinds of revelations, G'Kar. Trust me. I'm not looking for more." Lyta swung both legs over the side of the bed, swaying slightly with the effort. Then she sighed, the way an adult would sigh when asked to explain to a child. "The whole essence of being a teep is to share experiences – the joy and the pain. I'm alone now. There's no one here to share my pain, and chances are there won't be again, so tell me, what's the point in even keeping it?"
There was no reason for him to feel indignant at that, but he did. "That I can't feel your pain firsthand doesn't mean it I'm indifferent to it. Or that I'm not willing to help you bear it." He leaned in, tried to make her meet his eyes. She was beautiful, he thought. Not, perhaps, in a way that made him want her, but in a way that made him feel like he was losing her already. He was not convinced he could bear the thought.
"It's just – it's not the same, G'Kar. I'm sorry." Lyta folded knotted hands into her lap. "You know, before these past few months, I never even knew what it meant to be alone. Not really; not in the way I do now. No other minds at all, no voices… Just yours. I have to admit, there are times I've been tempted."
"I've wondered." G'Kar cleared a suddenly dry throat. And there it was again, that sudden, irrational need to be close to her. He wasn't sure why, or even if it was wise; in fact, he was rather certain it wasn't. All he knew was it felt right to stroke the hair away from her forehead, then brush a thumb against the skin he'd just freed.
"You're alone, too," Lyta said, in a tone as if she'd realized only now.
"I'm well used to solitude." Silk sheets, silk laces, the scandalous ring of harsh, lilting laughter… No, no. In another life, perhaps, but not the one he was living right now.
Lyta's eyes widened in a way that suggested she hadn't been blocking, not quite. There was an odd kind of gleam in her eyes that reminded him of their one-time discussion about love. It looked, for all the world, like a challenge. "Solitude of what kind?"
"I used to be intimate to help me forget." Was that a challenge, or a confession? G'Kar pressed the question out of his mind. "But these days, I find myself growing attached to the past. I have little desire taking deliberate action to forget."
"How about," Lyta said, and her voice was rough but steady, "to remember?"
He couldn't recall, afterwards, who had made the first move. Only that she was warm and angry and eager and sad, and brought a flood of memory that had threatened to drown him, shoved at him with an urgency that left him reeling: Kosh, Byron, Bester, more, more, faster, now. The press of a mind against his felt both strange and shockingly familiar. That memory, at least, the one of baring another's thoughts, was vivid as ever. He latched onto it because it was all he had; pain, once again, as an anchor, and then he felt almost like G'Kar again, thrusting against warm human hips and grasping, at last, at memories of his own. He threw them at her with increasing fervor: Mariel, who had been using him as much as he did her; Na'Toth, whom he had never had but risked, in an unguarded moment, to want; Mollari, the thing they had shared and never dared to name, out of fear of spoiling it; too many women on too many nights. He couldn't say who came first, Lyta or him, but he could feel the memories consume him when he did.
"Thank you," he whispered, or both of them did, in this odd realm of consciousness that was already ebbing, like a tide.
"It's not enough," Lyta said, and she didn't mean sleeping with him, or travelling together, or reliving the past. Unless perhaps she meant all of those.
"I know," G'Kar said. He didn't tell her it wasn't enough for him, either.
They said their goodbyes in the red glare of Mars. Seen from above it was not unlike Narn: a younger version of it, not quite so burdened by history. From the landing pad at the Garibaldi residence, it looked as alien to G'Kar as any world he had walked.
"You made the right decision." He let his hand trace the ship's pockmarked outer hull. "Mr. Garibaldi is a good man. At least the Garibaldi I knew, and he does not seem much changed. If he made you a promise, I trust he will not break it. There is no need to – what is the expression? Hold something over his head as leverage."
Lyta joined him on the landing pad, gaze fixed on the ship as if committing it to memory. "No. No, there isn't." She tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "You know, removing that neural block was almost ridiculously easy. Coming from Bester, I was expecting more of a challenge."
"You make it sound like a disappointment," G'Kar said, not making it a question.
"Not really." Lyta pulled back her shoulders, as if shaking off something. "Bringing the bastard down will still feel just as right."
And there, G'Kar thought, it was again: that same overwhelming desire to keep her safe, to refuse to let her go. It was misplaced and foolish, and Lyta might even consider it insulting. But he couldn't help himself. He spread his hands in supplication. "Lyta, I must try one more time to dissuade you. I grant there can be merit in fighting steel with steel, but please, consider –"
"We talked about this." She cut him off almost gently. "I was made for this, G'Kar; this is something I have to do."
"No one's path is preordained."
"Claims the man who has watched himself kill Londo Mollari a hundred times in dreams, and believed it."
It took all his self-control to breathe past the truth of that. "I will meet that destiny if and when it meets me. I don't intend to seek it out."
"But I will seek out mine." He could hear in her voice how deeply she meant it. Not merely as a last resort, although it was that, too, but because it was what she wanted for herself. That, at least, was progress. "I can take down the Corps, G'Kar. We both know I can't go back to leading a ordinary life, not anymore. But I can ensure the rest of my people do get that chance. I thought you'd understand that."
"There are ways other than fighting." Than death, he thought, but did not say. They were both aware of the implication.
"Yes," she said simply. "But not for me."
They said their goodbyes at the walkway to his ship, Lyta's arm hooked through his. For all the words in the universe, at the end there were none that fit the occasion. She did not thank him for restoring some of her faith; he did not thank her for shaking the foundations of his. In the grand scheme of things, they were about even. G'Kar supposed that would have to do.