Title: Knowing Love

Author: Selena

Disclaimer: All things Babylon 5 owned by JMS.

Timeline: Set in the middle of season 4, at some point post-Epiphanies.

Thanks to: Kathy Hunter, for beta-reading; Deborah_Judge, to whom this story is dedicated, for inspiration; Steph for correcting a few glitches in B5 data.

Vir knows what love is.

Few people realise this about him. The topic comes up when he meets Lennier for a drink. It was supposed to be one of their usual quick meetings, but this time Marcus is there as well. Because Marcus will soon depart on a mission to Mars, and Lennier will go with Delenn to a Minbar torn apart by civil war, they will not see each other for a while, so Marcus decided to have a little impromptu farewell celebration.

"Aren't I lucky you're here, too," he says, beaming at Vir. "One can't get properly drunk with a Minbari, after all."

Marcus is in high spirits, despite the danger awaiting him, or rather, because of it. He is confident the humans will shake off the yoke of their present government, and be free again, and that it will start on Mars. He's equally confident that after Earth is free, Commander Ivanova will finally be persuaded to accept his love.

"If I could," he says wistfully, "I would present Clark bound and gagged to her. The dragon slain to free the maiden from her loneliness. But Clark alone wouldn't be enough. Her dragon wears gloves and a black uniform. It would have to be Bester, and I can't deliver him, since he's our ally now. Damn it, why did the Captain accept him? Doesn't he know what this is doing to Susan?"

Vir, who has only recently been involved in freeing a planet from its tyrannical government, could tell Marcus that it is nothing like the dashing tale of heroism and clean-cut resolutions Marcus seems to be expecting. But he doesn't have the heart. There is something very endearing in Marcus' simplicity, which everyone else has had to shed by now. He catches Lennier's eye and knows the Minbari is thinking the same thing.

So Vir says instead: "I am sure Commander Ivanova thinks very highly of you already."

"I don't want her to think highly of me. I want her to tear up her cushions because she's so worn out longing for me. Yes. That's more like it."

"Commander Ivanova has cushions?" Lennier asks, mildly surprised.

Marcus sighs. "I wouldn't know."

The waitresses, handing them their drinks, hardly give Vir and Lennier another look, but they do stare at Marcus, who cuts quite a figure with his long black hair, neatly trimmed beard, Ranger garb, and general aura of broken heartedness. Marcus never seems quite real to Vir, because he's so very much like a character in a Centauri opera; one expects him to burst into song at any moment.

"Love can be a bitch, Vir," Marcus says earnestly. "Be glad you don't know it."

"But I do," Vir replies, before thinking better of it. Marcus looks at him, surprised. Lennier gives him another glance over the human's head, this one searching. Vir blushes. You'd think four years as Londo's attaché would have cured him of this particular habit, but no, he still blushes, and the heat rising in his cheeks feels most embarrassing. He can guess what Marcus must think: how would fat little Vir know about love?

But Vir has faced techno mages, angry Narn, mad emperors and Mr. Morden, and has not backed down. He will not be reduced to mumbling something and fade into the background again, he thinks, head somewhat lighter for the wine Marcus has ordered.

"I mean," he continues recklessly, "there is more than just one kind, right? I mean, I know you love the Commander. But this isn't the only love there is?"

"No," Lennier agrees. "On Minbar, we see love as a many coloured thing. One can love one's duty. One can love a cause. One can love one's clan, and assuredly one's parents. One can love," here his voice catches, but ever so slightly, and nobody unfamiliar with him would notice, "a person for their goodness and wisdom and never expect. or desire. a union."

"Sounds pretty lonely to me," Marcus comments. "But then sometimes I think all true love is unrequited, which means, I suppose, that I agree with you." Lightning-quick, his expression changes from mournful acknowledgement to wistfulness again. "But I can still hope."

Vir thinks they are both very different from him. At least, Marcus is. In the past, Vir would have assumed that it could be the difference between humans and Centauri, but he knows better now. He has observed humans a plenty, and in a way, everyone on the command staff has known love, even Ivanova who guards herself so fiercely these days. Marcus, of course, never met Talia Winters, but Vir had seen the two women together, laughing, whispering, and he remembers the softness in the Commander's face in the days immediately preceding Miss Winters' departure from the station. He remembers, too, that he thought it quite understandable for Ivanova to love the one person whom she had started out resenting and fearing, and that inevitably, this person had hurt her. Vir knows love is not pretty and soothing.

The Captain, too, has known love. He loved his dead wife, until she came back; his love did not survive the reality of her. The Captain also loves Ambassador Delenn, and they all know he will marry her soon. Vir has the impression that he, too, wants to present a slain dragon to his beloved first. He knows what a dragon is; Mr. Garibaldi has explained after joking about Londo's wives. At any rate, Vir does not see the love between the Captain and Ambassador Delenn as similar to what was between Commander Ivanova and Talia Winters; it is remote, somehow, like two stars travelling in unison with each other on parallel lines, always together, yet never quite touching. They will not make each other bleed.

Love for Mr. Garibaldi is different yet again. Vir is not sure whom Mr. Garibaldi is in love with. It might be the lady on Mars whom he had so desperately tried to contact during the riots there three years ago. It might be the memory of Commander Sinclair, gone for more than two years from the station and one year from anywhere else. Vir does not know what has become of Sinclair. After Sinclair's disappearance, he has asked the friends he made on Minbar, and they would not tell him, nor would Lennier. But then Vir has never pressed Lennier for his secrets; he respects Lennier's silence on certain matters, just as Lennier respects his. They understand each other.

At any rate, most of all, Mr. Garibaldi is in love with loss, but only loss of something he had first; he would not be in love the way Marcus is, adoring without ever having touched. And the loss galls and embitters him. It had been a shock when Garibaldi quit his job, and yet, Vir was not completely surprised. He has felt the eternal anger in the human more than once.

"I don't. I don't think," Vir starts hesitatingly, "that love ever gives up. No matter what happens."

"No, it does not," Lennier says, staring at his fingers which form the Minbari triangle.

Marcus smiles. "Indeed it doesn't. But you do surprise me. So, who are you in love with?"

Vir says nothing, and Marcus gets a distinct twinkle in his eyes. "Come on," he demands. "The whole station knows who I am in love with. I dare say I've even bothered the entire Ranger organisation with my woes. Share a little. Who's the lucky woman? That girl whom they tried to marry you to? I didn't think you cared for her that much."

The sorrow Vir feels at the memory of Lyndisti is unexpected. Sometimes, when he isn't horrified at the thought of her, he wishes he could have helped her, for surely she must have been sick to be so callous with Narn lives, and yet so gentle to him. He shakes his head.

"I didn't say I was in love," he replies slowly. "I said I know what love is."

Marcus grimaces. "Aha. The audience understands more than the people in the play because they are not involved and thus more objective, eh ? That old chestnut?"

At this point, Lennier comes to Vir's rescue, which Vir is grateful for, because he was on the verge of a heated reply, and he does not think Marcus would have understood. Lennier, yes, but not Marcus, who thinks of dividing the world into good and evil, and loves goodness alone.

"We each are our own definitions of love," Lennier states quietly. "They can not truly be shared."

"Maybe so," Marcus thoughtfully agrees. "Though doesn't this mean we can never truly connect? I mean, what if Susan and I will never define love the same way?"

Inevitably, he has brought the topic around to his own concern again. Such single-mindedness should either be appalling or sympathetic, and as Marcus is as ready to joke at his own expense as anyone and is one of the bravest, most open souls one is likely to meet, Vir has decided to smile about it. After all, he is familiar with single-mindedness in a far less harmless form.

When he met Londo Mollari, Vir had not expected much. He knew very well that his own assignment as the attaché of an ambassador to a station everyone at home expected to blow up at any moment was something of a joke; he could guess Londo's assignment as the ambassador was not much better. They had been, in their way, fellow exiles, the only difference between them age and the fact House Mollari still had a higher social status than House Cotto, Londo's own lack of position and power notwithstanding. What Vir had not expected at all had been Londo's obsession with changing this, and changing it for ever. Or what Londo would be prepared to do to achieve this change.

Marcus orders another round, water again for Lennier, and wine for them; Vir, who is used to sharing Londo's brivari every now and then, thinks the wine can not really compare, but is still enjoyable. Of course, Londo doesn't get drunk that often these days. Vir has a huge collection of Londo memories at his beck and call, whenever he chooses to look them up and compare them with the present incarnation. One of the earliest is Londo achieving unity with the gods by passing out on the table in front of the entire command staff and all the other ambassadors, and not caring a bit. Of course, Vir at the time had not cared either, not knowing that the humans regarded this as embarrassing. But Londo, who had been stationed on Earth for a time, had known and had not cared nonetheless. "But in purple, I am stunning," he had declared and passed out, and not shown any more shame afterwards than at the time when he kept everyone waiting at a meeting, with all present knowing full well he was busy with his new dancer. That had been Londo at the beginning, full of life and with no regard for anyone else's rules, and it had taken Vir quite a while to discover the bitterness underneath.

Vir's second set of Londo memories involves Mr. Morden and Lord Refa, and they still make him angry with everyone concerned, including himself and Londo. Sometimes, Vir still thinks that if he had pressed harder, had tried more often, had not been there for Londo despite his disapproval, Londo might have listened in time. If he had ever put it to the test, and said: Londo, if you continue with this, I will go away and never come back.

But then again, Vir is quite sure Londo, stubborn Londo, would have done what he did with even more resolution because that is the way Londo deals with ultimatums. Just look at how Londo reacted when Centauri Prime wanted him to get rid of Vir and get another, more politically refined attaché. Londo had threatened with his own resignation, and he would have done it, too, and to this day Vir doesn't know whether that would have been proof that Londo cared, or only that Londo didn't care to be blackmailed and pressured in any way. As Refa could tell, if Refa were still alive. But Vir tries to avoid thinking about Refa's demise whenever he can. He still feels the betrayal and fury of those days, and does not know whether he has truly forgiven Londo for this, especially since Londo never asked.

The third set of Londo memories does not have an obvious theme; it is very random. Inconsequential moments like debating opera composers with Londo and singing songs with him, the two of them holding each other in the joy of the music. Watching Londo with Ursa Jaddo dying in Londo's arms, and knowing what this was doing to Londo. Finding Londo so happy about Adira's impending return that he was prepared to pay the most outrageous price for starlaces, and behave like the silly youth in love Vir never has been. Being taught how to gamble by Londo, and Vir is secretly somewhat ashamed of feeling the slightest bit smug he turned out to be better at this than Lennier, who is otherwise the far superior attaché. Hearing Londo call him a friend and a patriot, and being told that Londo needed him on Centauri Prime. Yes, that time on the homeworld with its horrible events; with Cartagia killing people left and right and torturing G'kar; that time when there were Shadow vessels flying to and from their world, putting fear in all their hearts; that time when every moment could have been their last if the conspiracy had ever been discovered - that terrible time was still full of good memories.

Because Londo had treated him as an equal, finally. Because Vir had not just understood what Londo wanted then, but had been able to wish the same thing. Because they had truly been working together for the greater good. Because Londo had been there for him that night when nothing made sense anymore and Vir had tried to drown Cartagia's blood in as much brivari as he could find, but there had been no relief, none.

But that particular memory truly belongs to the fourth set, which is all connected to death. There are the dead Narn, and G'kar cutting open his hand; conversely, there is Londo in medlab, more than once, and Vir knowing maybe he shouldn't care anymore, knowing that if Londo dies it might be the price for all the dead Narn, and yet knowing at the same time he does care, and always will. There is killing for the first time because Cartagia was strangling Londo, and if they waited any longer, it would all have been in vain. There is watching Morden's head on a pole, Londo's present to him, and feeling nothing but dark, gleeful satisfaction. These are the kind of memories Vir could not possibly share with anyone else, not even with Lennier who is his best friend on the station and has the Minbari way of listening to everything unsaid as well as said. Lennier can not know what it is to carry murder and hate in the heart, and feel good about another being's death.

There is that moment when the Vorlon vessel appears over Centauri Prime, much larger than the Shadow ships, blotting out the sun, and Vir understands before Londo does, realises the Vorlons will destroy Centauri Prime just to punish Londo, because Londo has been touched by the Shadows. There is Londo, finally comprehending as well, asking Vir to kill him so that the Vorlons will be satisfied, and Centauri Prime be saved.

It is this last memory which is strongest in Vir this evening, when he sits with Marcus and Lennier and hears Marcus talking of love. It is a moment of terror and of beauty which will always remain with Vir, as long as he lives. Londo had been prepared to die then, instantly, without hesitation, to save the Centauri. And this is love. And he had asked Vir to do this, to help him with this, despite knowing what it would cost Vir, because Londo trusted him. Trusted him then, trusts him now not just with his life but with what is more important, with knowing what is best for the Centauri. Which is the cruellest and the kindest thing Londo has ever done for Vir. And this, too, is love.

Vir would do much for his people, truly he would, and is quite ready to give his own life in their service. But they are not the first reason why he would have been able to do what Londo had asked. He doesn't know when exactly it started, that emotion which sometimes fills him till he could burst with sadness, compassion and yes, joy, too.

But Vir knows what love is.