Disclaimer: All things Babylon 5 owned by JMS and various networks.

Author's note: Spoilers for all five season, naturally, but also for Peter David's novel "The Long Night of Centauri Prime" (though only in regards to Timov)

Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading; Hobsonphile, for the title

When Timov, daughter of Algul, married Londo Mollari, she already knew it was a mistake. Of course it was. Neither of them wanted to get married to begin with.

"Nonsense," said her father, when she raised her first, but by no means last objection. "You should be grateful I arranged this marriage for you. House Mollari is."

"Seriously in need of money," Timov interrupted tersely. She had not completed her second decade yet, but nobody would ever have thought of calling her a naïve young girl. Besides, she had inherited her grandfather's head for mathematics, and not her father's longing to get away from his merchant origins by any means possible, or his starry-eyed view of the great Houses. "They would never sell their heir to you if they were not. How much did you have to offer so they would consider marrying him to a merchant's daughter?"

Her father sighed. "A lady of the great Houses would never ask such a question," he said disapprovingly. "And I paid much money to give you the education which befits a lady."

It was true, and it made her feel guilty and angry at the same time. She had learned etiquette; it had bored her, but she had learned it. She had learned mathematics, which thrilled her, history, which by and large disgusted her, and dancing, which made her feel clumsy each and every time. No governess had ever been able to do anything about her voice, which was shrill and unpleasing. Her face was plain, not ugly, but completely unmemorable, and she found the art of make-up humiliating. Worst of all, she had always known that these lessons would be utterly useless in regards to their purpose. She could be deaf or dumb and it would not matter; no man would ever ask for her hand because of her person. They would ask because her grandfather had made enough money by exporting Centauri silk to the humans to buy himself a seat in the Centaurum, and a title, and because her father had hated the lifelong humiliation of sitting there among people who looked down on him, never belonging either to them or to his father's class, and was determined to buy himself a blood alliance with the old houses.

Timov did not want to marry at all. She could have taken over her grandfather's business and been happy. But the only fate the nobility allowed for their daughters was marriage. "You may rule a great house through your husband," her last governess had told her, exasperatedly. "Advise him on his alliances, and, if he advances far enough, you may even be able to influence the politics of the Centaurum."

"Why bother?" Timov had replied. "All they have done in the last hundred years is to scheme against each other in the most petty way possible."

But in the end, despite all her protests, there was no choice. She was too much of a realist to seriously consider running away. They would find her easily, and all it would accomplish was to humiliate her father even further in the eyes of the people whose acceptance he so desperately wanted. Despite her anger, Timov did love her father, and she did not want to do this to him. So she obeyed.

Only a few months before the marriage, when she had not yet seen her future husband, a miraculous escape seemed to present itself. The daughters of Lord Jaddo and Lord Kiro, whose fathers had had a hand in negotiating between House Mollari and Algul, had obviously been told to befriend her; they visited every now and then, but Timov found them to be silly, dull girls with their constant giggles and sighs, and made no attempts to hide her opinion. Consequently, they took great pleasure in providing her with the newest gossip: Londo Mollari had run off with a dancer and married her.

"What a scandal. You have our utmost sympathy, Timov," they said, smiling at her.

Timov felt strangely torn. On the one hand, she was relieved. Surely, after this disaster her father would not make another attempt to buy a noble husband for her, or at the very least wait a few years, which meant she would be free for a while yet. On the other hand, the fact that Londo Mollari had been willing to marry a penniless dancer, who was so low in status that only a slave would have been worse, showed that he couldn't be the spineless, bland noble she had taken him for, willing to sell his name because his elders told him to by marrying a woman he didn't even know. In fact, he looked downright impressive now. And she still had not met him.

Her father spent the next days in closeted talks with the head of House Mollari, returning home white-faced with silent fury each time. She would have told him not to bother, that she didn't mind a bit, except that she knew he did mind, and would not appreciate such a comfort. For one of the few times in her life, Timov bit her tongue.

Then one evening, her father came back with a smile all over his face. He called the entire household together and told them the joyful news: his daughter Timov would marry Londo Mollari of the House Mollari after all.

"Of course the young man saw reason," Algul continued. "He is utterly repentant of the misery he caused you, my dear," he said, addressing Timov, "and will come to pay his respects tomorrow."

Not yet understanding, Timov said, stunned: "And his wife? Will she come as well?"

She could not believe her father was so eager for this alliance he was willing to see her as a second wife in tandem with a former dancer, and she was already revising her opinion of Londo Mollari yet again.

"As I said," her father replied, "he saw reason. He divorced her, of course. Undoubtedly he'll explain this entire insanity when he comes to visit you."

When this sank in, Timov drew a sharp breath. Then she made herself as tall as her diminutive figure allowed and announced:

"You can tell that gutless wonder he won't see me until I absolutely have to see him."

And to this resolution she held. She saw Londo Mollari on her wedding day, and not before.

What she saw confirmed her worst fears. First of all, he arrived already slightly drunk, supported by his friend Ursa Jaddo. Secondly, during the course of the evening, he managed to insult all her relations, and he never stopped talking. Thirdly, he insisted on dragging her on the dance floor when she had explicitly told him she couldn't dance. Timov took great pleasure in stepping on his toes. If she was to be humiliated in front of everyone all over again, then so was he.

The wedding night was a similar disaster. When they were finally alone, she said: "Let me make one thing clear. I did my duty to my father, but if you imagine I will ever."

"Why do you think," he interrupted, and strangely, despite all the brivari he had consumed in the course of the evening, his voice with its rich Northern accent did not slur a bit, "that I'd want to touch you? There are easier ways to get frostbite, my lady."

That was when she knew she hated him.

Her married life would have been easier if he had allowed her hate to remain consistent. Timov greatly approved of consistency; after the first weeks of having to adjust to being a member of House Mollari, she decided she hated change. Yet sometimes, there were odd occurrences which troubled her. Londo never spoke of his first wife, and Timov never learned her name, but one evening, she caught him staring out of the window, humming a fragment of a song, the same few notes again and again. She could have made a sarcastic comment; instead, she found herself watching him silently for some minutes. Then she left. Then there was the fact he actually listened to what she said when they quarrelled, which was constantly. He replied to her arguments, which was more than her father had ever done, and not once resorted to the platitudes she was familiar with. And lastly, it was very hard ignoring him. He had a way of entering a room which made everyone pay attention, and if they didn't, he either laughed or yelled at them till they did.

"Do you ever do anything quietly?" she asked him once.

"No," he replied. "What would be the point? Do you?"

After their first year together, he acquired another wife, though this was not his decision either. Daggair reminded Timov of the smooth blades which Londo and Ursa used when they duelled, all shining surface and cutting edge. She was born into the great House Katun, and lost no opportunity to remind Timov of her superior breeding.

"My dear, no one at the imperial court would dream of wearing such a ridiculous old-fashioned wardrobe. But then, I suppose you have never been presented there."

Londo showed no more sympathy for Daggair than he did for Timov, but he did listen when Daggair said the recent loss of Narn would lead to the fall of several ministers. "It was a disaster," Daggair sniffed. "Allowing ourselves to be defeated by these barbarians. Clearly, someone will have to pay to satisfy the public. This means they'll have to be replaced. It could be an opportunity."

It turned out she was correct. Several ministers did lose their posts, along with their aides and secretaries. When the new ministers were announced, Londo went to the appointee with the closest ties to his family and presented his application for a post. He returned home dispirited and obviously unsuccessful.

"How could you fail!" Daggair demanded. "It should have been easy. I cannot believe I won't be at court next year. All my friends are there."

Londo looked at her with great dislike.

"I didn't apply for a post at court," he said coldly. Daggair stared at him. Despite herself, Timov asked: "What post did you apply for?"

"One that would take me as far away from the two of you as possible," he said tiredly. Something in her clenched.

"You should have asked for something involved in the withdrawal from Narn, then," she returned. "You're so good at running away, and who knows, maybe one of the Narn would have killed you and liberated us."

To her surprise, he didn't yell back. He didn't even make a sarcastic remark that it would have been worth it if he had escaped her that way. Instead, he got a distant, unreachable expression, as if everything in him had come together to shut him off from the here and now.

"Now, now, Timov," Daggair interjected, the malice in her eyes dancing merrily. "Do show a little respect for our lord and master."

"Respect has to be earned," Timov said automatically, but her heart wasn't in the fight any longer, and she resented Londo all the more for it.

Ultimately, he got a position at court, but it was far below his uncle's expectations, not to mention Daggair's, who muttered something about Londo's talent for insulting all the wrong people. Timov didn't like it at court, and it had little to do with usually finding herself in the third or fourth row at any given ceremony. One had to stand for hours and pretend not to be bored; the women were impossibly beautiful, and the men divided into foolish fops and icy, arrogant cutthroats. And everyone was eternally grasping.

Meanwhile, Londo managed to spend most of her dowry through gambling, something he had taken up with a passion. Gambling, and affairs, something which Daggair lost no opportunity to tell her when Timov, who had taken it upon herself to manage the accounts of the household since it was increasingly obvious nobody else had a talent for it, complained about the money Daggair spent for a single robe.

"Of course, we can't tell Londo to stop his tawdry little outings," Daggair finished disdainfully, "but then I don't see why I shouldn't take my pleasure where I find it. Stop being so dreadfully middle class, Timov."

Something in Timov snapped. "Since it's my money the two of you are spending," she hissed, "I can tell you how to spend it. And I will."

She marched off to track down Londo, armed to the teeth for a screaming match, and not caring whether he was busy being bored by toadying up to some official, or gambling, or fancying himself a duellist with Ursa. Or whiling away the hours in the arms of some hussy. Not that she was interested who he slept with. She only wanted to make it clear he would have to use what questionable charms he possessed to achieve his aims, and nothing else.

Naturally, Londo couldn't do her the favour of being engaged in any disreputable activities, which would have helped her righteous indignation to no end. No, instead she found him barefoot, in one of the fountains, letting the sun shine on his face in one of the lesser courtyards.

"Timov," he said, noticing her, and not sounding hostile, only amused. "And here I was just thinking the day needed some excitement. What can I do for you, my dove?"

She opened her mouth to shout at him, still buoyed up by the momentum of her quarrel with Daggair, but no word came out. Instead, she found herself looking at him. His haircrest was in disorder, as it was quite often these days. His waistcoat was a bit too tight; absently, she noticed he had started to gain weight. And he was standing there in the middle of a fountain, which should have made him look ridiculous. Instead, it made him look absurdly young.

What a waste, Timov suddenly thought, and didn't quite know what she meant. What a waste.

She swallowed her original accusation, and was tempted to just go away. Then she got angry again. She had a legitimate grudge, and they had a serious problem if they continued this way. Considerably more quietly than she had originally planned, she finally said:

"Will you go on living your life like this?"

"Ah," he said, and to her surprise smiled at her. "And what way would that be, my dear?"

She tried to put the strange mood which had caught her upon finding him behind her, and return to business.

"The court is not good for you. It's not good for any of us," she said. "Daggair behaves as if she were the Empress, and with the Empress' purse, too. I am bored to tears, my back aches, and if I never have to curtsy again, it will be too soon. And you."

She stopped, trying to decide whether to bring up the gambling or the girls first, and wondering whether it would make her look petty instead of reasonable.

"What did you want to be when you were small, Timov?" he asked suddenly.

Thrown, she nonetheless replied with the truth.

"Anything but married to a noble." Curious, she added: "What did you want to be, Londo?"

"Anything but a courtier," he said. "But we can't all have what we want, yes?"

Abruptly, she felt resentful again. She had never been allowed her own dreams, simply because she was a woman. She never had a choice. He, on the other hand, was a man and could have made a different choice, and he threw it away. He had no right to complain now.

"We can try to make the best of what we have," she said briskly. "Which you certainly don't. Your behaviour is disgraceful, Londo, and I won't stand for it any longer."

Now every trace of amusement had fled from his face. He climbed out of the fountain and stood in front of her, anger written in his eyes.

"You won't stand for it," he repeated disbelievingly. "Great Maker, woman, who do you think you are?"

"Not your inexhaustible financial supply," Timov snapped back. "And Daggair does just fine on her own being your arm decoration at court. I'm leaving."

"Good riddance," he yelled at her back.

In the end, they came to an arrangement. A divorce was impossible; only the Emperor could grant a divorce for a member of one of the great Houses, and the head of the House had to petition him first. Londo's uncle had no intention of doing so, nor would Timov's father have allowed it. But Timov was permitted to set up her own household, and only had to stay with Londo if family occasions or particular court ceremonies demanded it. It was definitely a relief, and she did not miss the constant sparring and bickering which life with Londo and Daggair presented one bit. When she heard Daggair, too, had demanded her own household, in order not to be outdone, she felt decidedly smug.

None of this stopped the outflow of money, of course; on the contrary, it increased the spending. This wasn't a problem as long as Algul was still alive, but when he died, it turned out he had established his legacy for Timov in a way which made it impossible for Londo, or any other member of House Mollari, to access it without her consent. Londo's uncle promptly had a heart attack, which proved to be fatal. After the burial ceremonies, Londo collected Timov and Daggair and told them he had news for both of them.

It turned out he had finally been appointed to a post off-world; he was to join the staff of the Centauri embassy on Earth.

"How dreadful," Daggair commented. "I hear the humans are just as uncivilised as the Narn. Couldn't you have tried for something on Minbar?"

Timov tried not to look excited. She had never travelled so far, and secretly, she had wondered what it would be like to live on another planet.

"I suppose I should start packing," she said as drily as possible.

"Oh, you won't join me," Londo said in an equally dry tone. "Neither of you. That is the other bit of news. I shall get married again, and one wife is enough for official purposes as far as my duties on Earth are concerned."

Daggair pressed her lips together till they were only two thin lines.

"I'm not paying for the wedding," Timov said.

"You don't have to," Londo replied, shrugging. "Her father the ambassador will pay. Besides, my uncle did leave me some money of my own, you know." Maliciously, he added: "A little present for the bride would be agreeable, though."

"Her father the." Daggair repeated, and then a kind of horrified amusement crept into her gaze. "Not little Mariel, surely."

"As you say," Londo confirmed, somewhat ruefully.

As delighted as Daggair looked, there had to be more to this than Timov could understand right now, but one thing was already more than clear.

"If her father is the ambassador," she said to Londo, "you got your post because you promised to marry her."

"For which her father must have praised the Gods, all of them," Daggair added, and laughed. "If there is a powerful man at court that girl hasn't slept with, it must be the Emperor himself, and even with him I have my doubts."

Timov expected Londo to get indignant, to erupt with bluster and anger on his new wife's behalf. Instead, he only folded his arms, with a smile tugging at his mouth. Which meant not only that Daggair spoke the truth but that he had known about it all along. Had been willing to.

"Congratulations," Timov said tersely. "It seems you managed to sell yourself all over again. The only thing which surprises me is that there are still people left willing to buy."

Londo's time on Earth was cut somewhat short when the humans managed to get into a war with the Minbari. Since no one had ever defeated the Minbari as long as anyone could remember, Centauri Prime did the sensible thing and withdrew all their diplomatic staff. Which meant Timov and Daggair had the pleasure of Mariel's company for a while. After Daggair's comments, and Londo's silent confirmation, Timov had expected a foolish slut, so Mariel was a surprise. Not because she was flawlessly beautiful and elegant in a manner Daggair could never manage and Timov never even tried to, but because she turned out to be at least as clever as Daggair, though she hid it better.

For a while, Timov wondered whether she shouldn't try to befriend Mariel. After all, she knew what it meant to be married at a father's convenience. And Londo was hardly a faithful husband; if Mariel had affairs, it was her right, or should be. Until one of the nobles whom she had seen Mariel flirting with, who had then fallen in disgrace due to a blunder involving the Emperor's cousin, suddenly turned up dead. And Mariel wore a new ring, which made her smile every time she looked at it. Timov wasn't sure there was a connection, but she became suspicious.

When the spring holidays, during which all the members of a noble House had to stay together, were nearly over, Timov found out she wasn't the only one. One night, Londo came home late, well, later than usual. Timov sat over her account books and hence was still awake. To her utter surprise, she heard Londo's steps nearing her door, and then he came in.

"There should be a poem," he said, after he had closed the door behind him. "Or a play. How do you warn someone to stay away from your wife when you're not jealous in the least?"

It said something about their marriage that Timov did not for a moment assume he was talking about her.

"Why don't you warn Mariel instead?" she suggested matter-of-factly and then stared in disbelief as he slumped down on her bed, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Automatically, she sat a bit straighter in her chair. "You are her husband," she added. "Aren't you?"

"Hmmm," Londo said. "But what if Mariel then decides she would look very pretty indeed in widow's weeds?"

When the implication hit her, she gasped. Londo raised an eyebrow.

"Londo, if you think she's poisoning people, you should do something," Timov declared. "You can't just sit by and let it happen."

"I wonder," he said, and she looked at him, shocked, because she suddenly realised he wasn't joking. The silence between them thickened.

"I wanted to be a hero once, did you know that?" he asked. "But this isn't an age for heroes. So now, all I have to decide is what kind of joke I am going to be."

"You are less than a joke if you let people die just because you find it inconvenient to save them," Timov said firmly.

"And you, my dear, really know how to build a man's self-esteem," he said, and rose again. Before he headed for the door, he passed her chair, and for a brief moment, she felt his hand touching her shoulder, so lightly that afterwards, she was sure she must have imagined it.

Timov never found out what Londo said to Mariel, but Mariel took to travelling with a vengeance after that night, spending only the briefest times on Centauri Prime. Her father, the former ambassador, blamed Londo for this. One of his last acts before his own death was to ensure Londo got the most humiliating position available for members of the diplomatic staff. After three of the Babylon stations had been destroyed and one had simply disappeared, no one in their right mind wanted to go to and serve on the fifth.

"And here I thought it couldn't get worse," Daggair said, after Londo told them. "Well, at least we'll never have to visit him there. It will undoubtedly blow up as soon as he sets foot on it."

As it turned out, she was wrong. During Londo's second year as ambassador on Babylon 5, which still had not been destroyed or disappeared, he surprised them by inviting all of them onto the station. It was, all things considered, a very enlightening visit. Timov had genuinely been unaware of Londo's change in status until she saw how Daggair, Mariel and all the Centauri on the station vied for his attention. The unabashed glee with which he encouraged them to compete for the position of his remaining wife, now that the Emperor had granted his request for a divorce, disgusted her. Mentally, she added and subtracted figures. It wouldn't be too bad; after all, she had her own income, as opposed to Daggair and Mariel, and the house she lived in on Centauri Prime belonged to her as well. Also, if Londo's star at court was truly on the rise now, it would undoubtedly mean more boring ceremonies she was lucky to escape. She certainly wouldn't miss Londo himself.

Then, Mariel's present for Londo nearly killed him, and Timov found herself staring at his unmoving figure in medlab, knowing she could save him. It would be so easy not to. Nobody could blame her; nobody would ever know what she could have done. As Daggair had pointed out, he hadn't made his intention to divorce two of them official yet, and no matter how much Timov disliked being married to Londo, being divorced carried a stigma with it that would scar her in the eyes of many. And didn't he owe her something for all these years?

But it would have been dishonest, and cowardly. She remembered what she had said to him. No, it was impossible to sit by and let him die. So she told Dr. Franklin about their shared blood type, and made the human swear he would never reveal to Londo who had saved him. Then she packed her suitcase, and prepared to be divorced.

Londo's decision utterly stunned her. "Why me?" she demanded, when Daggair and Mariel had swept away in seething indignation, and reminded him again of all the reasons why they were so unsuited to each other. "So why me?" she finished.

"Because with you, I'll always know where I stand," he replied, caught her hand and kissed it. He had never done this before, not in all the years of their marriage. She didn't look back as she slowly went away, but all the way to the transport and even there, sitting next to the window, holding the timetable his aide had pressed into her hands, she still felt it. It was absurd.

Shortly afterwards, she had other things to think about. Emperor Turhan died, and they were at war with the Narn again; Timov was never sure which had come first, but she loathed both changes. Not that she had been all that fond of the Narn before, but she disliked war on principle, and from what she heard about this particular war, it was conducted through extremely dishonourable means. As for the new Emperor, whose coronation she had to attend in her capacity as Londo's sole remaining wife, she started out by classifying him as a useless young noble and ended up being deeply scared. There wasn't much in the world that frightened Timov, but Cartagia, who casually ordered the executions of two of his late uncle's best friends before the day was done and took Lady Menai from her husband without as much as an attempt at seduction or discretion, just by exerting his privilege as Emperor, managed to do so. Timov resolved not to go near court again before the day was over, but that did not help her deeper fear. What would it mean to the Centauri to have such a man on the throne, in a time like this?

"You disapprove, Lady Timov?" a voice said to her. She turned and registered that a human was standing next to her in the corner where she had withdrawn, a young man with good enough hair for a Centauri to envy, even though it was not cut in the right fashion. He smiled at her as if he knew her. Timov frowned. Of course there were a lot of aliens attending the coronation, including the human ambassador and his staff, but she didn't think this man belonged with them. And yet he behaved as if they were acquaintances. Maybe she had met him recently on Babylon 5; there had been so many other things to distract her that she might have overlooked him.

"Yes," she said tersely. His smile deepened.

"What a pity," he returned. "And here I thought you would be proud. After all, it was your husband who was crucial in accomplishing all of this."

Timov stared at him, appalled. She had not been aware that Londo supported Cartagia; not that they talked much about politics when they met, of course. But she would have been willing to bet Londo, whatever his faults, would recognize Cartagia as the walking, talking disaster the new Emperor was.

As if reading her thoughts, the human continued: "Not just this coronation. He's a man with a vision, your husband, and he will lead your people back to the stars. The war with the Narn is just the first step. Doesn't that make you happy, my lady? Soon, you'll have clients and followers begging for the patronage of your House, and yourself. All the nobles who ever looked down on you will abase themselves to gain your favour, and the favour of your husband."

She wanted to tell him he lied. After all, what would a human know about inner Centauri politics? But Timov recognised the sound of truth when she heard it. Her uneasiness and general fear crystallized into a deeper horror. Londo, she thought, Londo, what have you done?

"It's not difficult to look down on me," she replied tonelessly. "As you can see. I am very small. Something I never had any desire to change. It allows one to keep a sense of perspective. Now if you'll excuse me," she ended, gathering her skirts. He made no motion to step out of her way.

"Then what do you desire, Lady Timov?" he asked. "What do you want?"

"Never to hear of any of this again would be a start," she snapped, and circumvented him by dodging to his right. For a moment, she felt as if something cold had touched her, and the hairs on her arm bristled. She barely heard his reply, something along the lines of "As you wish". Timov hurried through the palace as if pursued by a pack of hunters. She did not wait for her carriage to be brought forth, nor did she signal a transporter. Instead, she walked the entire way through the city back to her house. Her feet hurt, and more than once people dancing in the streets to celebrate the ascension of the new Emperor and the victories over the Narn bumped against her, but she could not stop.

When she arrived back at home, she demanded a subspace connection to Babylon 5. It was a sign of how much things were changing that she did not even have to wait for a minute. Her husband's aide's face appeared on the screen. It could be a trick of the screen, but it appeared to her the boy had lost some weight since she had seen him on the station. He also looked older. She interrupted his effusive greetings.

"Did Londo start the war with the Narn?" she asked bluntly.

Vir froze in mid-sentence. And just looked at her, silently, obviously unable to reply. The small bit of her which had irrationally hoped the human had lied after all died, and with it the silly ideas which had somehow crept into her head after her visit on the station.

"Well," Timov said. "You don't have to send me his schedule anymore. I won't be attending any ceremonies with him, and you can tell him that."

"Madam, you shouldn't." he started, but Timov interrupted the connection. Then, though she didn't know why, she burst into tears.

The human's prophecies about well-wishers and new clients flocking to her in hope of gaining Londo's favour became true, but after Timov had sent them away for a few weeks without receiving any of them, the stream became a trickle and finally died down. The only one she did receive, out of curiosity and a strange sense of pity, was Daggair.

"Really, Timov," Daggair said, "your behaviour is ridiculous. Isn't this what we always dreamed of?"

"It might be what you always dreamed of. I certainly didn't."

"When I think what I could make of such an opportunity," Daggair continued as if she hadn't heard the reply. She looked tense and hungry, but then, for some reason, so did most people these days. "I'll never understand why he chose you."

"If it is any help to you, right now I wish he hadn't," Timov shot back. "You are right. You would be perfectly suited for the new regime we're all saddled with."

It said something about Daggair's desperation that she did recognise the insult but did not manage one of her own. Instead, she responded hopefully: "If you really mean this. couldn't you introduce me to the Emperor? Or at least to Lord Refa?"

"No. I won't be returning to court. And you should thank the gods you are not there. For goodness' sake, Daggair, you were always so well versed in gossip - don't you hear what they say about the Emperor?"

Daggair looked at her, slyly. "As I said," she returned. "I would know how to use such an opportunity."

It was the last time Timov saw Daggair. Mariel she had not met again since that day on the station. Whatever Vir told Londo must have been sufficient for Londo not to contact her, either. It was as if her entire past had slipped away and had set her adrift in a strange and unfamiliar present. Timov told herself she was relieved.

It was hard to be relieved if one wasn't blind, though. She could not maintain her policy of never hearing any petitioners, not after hearing the tale of Lord Habiri being randomly executed at the Emperor's whim because Cartagia didn't like his old-fashioned hair crest, and finding his widow and her children on her doorstep the next morning.

"Please," Lady Atariel said to her, "you must accept them as wards. They will be safe if they belong to House Mollari."

She could have excused herself by pretending she had to consult her husband first, but that would have been dishonest.

"Of course," Timov replied.

"These are dark times," Lady Atariel declared, after the children had been rushed off. "I thought it was a disgrace to be a Centauri when I grew up, but I was wrong. It is a disgrace to be a Centauri now, and I shall not stand for it any longer. You are my witness. "

With this declaration, she produced a needle, only a tiny needle, and stabbed it between her hearts. She only needed a few seconds to die; poison was an art the Centauri had developed well. Timov sat with the head of a dead woman she had barely known in her lap, and wept for her.

The end of the war with the Narn did not bring relief; on the contrary, there were more wars, though no one called them that yet, and even more random killings at the court. Timov lived with her wards, who were soon joined by the children of Londo's old friend Ursa, yet another victim of the new Centauri Prime, and wondered how it could possibly be worse. Then she forbade herself to think such thoughts. She knew very well there were ways it could get worse. And at least she was able to do something sensible. Timov did not believe herself to be cut out to be a mother, but the children needed someone to look after them beside their nurse, and she found herself spending a surprising amount of time with them.

They were all outside, playing in the garden, when the light suddenly dimmed, as if a sudden wind had brought clouds with it. One of the boys pointed towards the sky.

"Look!" he exclaimed. "Oh, look."

Timov raised her head and saw them. Vessel after vessel, incredibly huge, and so dark they seemed to swallow all the light there was. She heard a strange noise in the air, not the usual thunder of rising or landing ships; it rather sounded like echoes of screams.

That night, sleep eluded her altogether. Long after the children had been brought to bed, she walked in the garden, and not even the light of the stars which now shone uninhibited could calm her. Suddenly, she heard a noise. In disbelief, she realised someone was climbing over the wall of the garden. This was impossible; the wall was more decorative than anything else, since the true protective barrier of the house consisted of a force shield which one needed an access code to lower. Now of course a skilful assassin would know how to break such a code, but the only reason anyone would have to kill her or any of the children would be if her husband had somehow fallen out of favour. The Emperor, however, could have just ordered the lot of them to be executed without bothering with a secret assassination, and any private enemy of Londo would find this more satisfying as well.

By the time she saw who was hauling himself over the wall, out of breath since he was really too old for such escapades, she had already figured it out.

"Londo Mollari," Timov said, looking at him and hardly trusting her voice, "you are the world's greatest fool."

"That I am," he confirmed. Maybe it was the starlight, but he appeared very pale to her, almost as on the day he had nearly died on his sickbed before she had given him her blood. "But I had to talk with you, and they mustn't know I did. We'd better stay here, outside; for all I know there are cameras in the house."

There was a lot she could have said, and most of it would have been accusations. But she heard the urgency in his voice.

"I did not know you were here", she said instead, which was the most neutral comment she could manage.

"I arrived only recently. Timov, you must leave Centauri Prime. Take the children with you and go. They might make hostages of you if you stay. And if. events should not turn out as I hope, they'll certainly make you pay the price."

"Who do you mean by 'they'?" she asked, and this time she could not stop the accusatory note in her voice. "The Emperor and his sycophants? I thought you were all friends. I thought you helped to bring him on the throne."

He swallowed, but he did not evade her gaze. "Not the Emperor," he replied. "At least, not just the Emperor."

"Then who," she began, and fell silent as he looked towards the sky, and she remembered how she had seen it darkening only a few hours ago. Then she understood.

"What have you done," she whispered.

"I'll fix it," he said. "I promise you. But you have to leave. And if anyone should ask you about me, tell them how much you despise me. That should keep you safe." The ghost of a smile appeared in his face. "Now that shouldn't be much of an effort, yes?" he ended, seconds before she could say it. So Timov settled for nodding instead. He looked towards the wall, sighed and squared his shoulders.

"You could just walk through the door, you know, " she said.

"That would defeat the purpose of this little exercise," he replied tersely.

"Londo," she said before she could stop herself, "if you manage to get yourself killed by those things or that madman you set loose on us, I shall never forgive you."

His expression was inscrutable, and it took her some moments to realise he was chuckling, barely holding back laughter. Her senseless concern evaporated immediately.

"It seems Cartagia's insanity is spreading," she said angrily. "Only a madman would find this situation funny."

"Well, we've settled that I am a fool a long time ago, my dear," he responded. And that was their farewell.

Timov left Centauri Prime with her charges the next day. She did not return until she heard Cartagia was dead. "And your husband is the new prime minister, my lady," said the beaming official who informed her. "He asked me to tell you he has also been nominated as the next Emperor, once the Centaurum finds it fit to convey this burden again."

The relief made her dizzy, and a part of her felt like dancing, but the larger part shook her had and said out loud: "That's Londo, alright. He never knows when to stop."

She was not sure how she felt about him now. It did not take a genius or someone with Daggair's expertise in politics, or Mariel's knowledge of deadly intrigue, to figure out he must have organized Cartagia's demise during that little trip to Narn she heard about more and more among the Centauri who started to try and approach her again. And she thoroughly approved of his decision to return Narn to its people. Somehow, it appeared, he had indeed managed to "fix" things.

Yet Lady Atariel was still dead, and so were many others on Centauri Prime. So were millions of Narn. She could not just rush home and congratulate him. Timov took her time with the journey back, though the children who wanted to meet their guardian, the new prime minister and future Emperor, complained quite a lot. In the end, he had left again by the time they arrived, having appointed a regent in his absence. She did not know whether she was disappointed or relieved.

This time, the well-wishers and petitioners simply refused to go away, no matter how often she told them to. At least no one expected her to attend any court ceremonies. She went to see the Regent once, just to be polite, and found him an endearingly shy little man with a confusing habit of looking over his shoulder. But then, he had lived through Cartagia's reign in the palace, so that was understandable. Things were looking better again.

There was an odd sensation in her, and it grew. After a while, she realised she was waiting. For what, she could not really say. Surely not for Londo. "The secret of our marriage's success is our lack of communication," she had once told him, and just because she had saved his life and he had demonstrated a certain concern for hers, things hadn't really changed. They hadn't.

Then came the invitation. Not just any invitation; a formal one, brought not via subspace but through a courier, in the old, traditional manner. The lady Timov, daughter of Algul, it said, was asked to grace the station Babylon 5 with her presence for a few days. No reason was given. Another surprise? She wondered. Suddenly it occurred to her that now Londo was prime minister and the future Emperor, he could grant himself a divorce any time he wished. And there was no real reason why he shouldn't.

The children were disappointed she did not take them along. "But why?" they wailed. Babylon 5 sounded like fun, they said, and they would dearly love to meet the prime minister.

"The station may sound like fun, but it is a dangerous place," Timov said sternly. "People keep trying to assassinate each other there."

This, they had to admit. The recent attempt on Sheridan's life had made the intergalactic news. Then there was the news of Londo's nearly fatal heart attack, and everyone on Centauri Prime was convinced it had really been another assassination attempt.

"But we could protect the prime minister," protested Atariel's oldest boy.

"I fear he'd rather try to protect you," she replied. "He's a busy man, and working for the state. We should not distract him."

She wasn't very good at lying, and the children went to bed disgruntled. The true reason for leaving them at home was that Timov felt ever more sure Londo would divorce her, and she didn't want the children to be present when he told her. They would not understand.

The honour guard greeting her as soon as she got off the transport caught her by surprise. Leave it to Londo to show off at any given opportunity, Timov thought. She felt ridiculous, a small figure walking between soldiers in full ceremonial armour and being greeted by the Babylon command staff in full dress uniform, quite a contrast to her first reception on the station, when poor overwhelmed Vir had been the only one waiting for her. The new Captain, a tall woman with auburn hair whom she did not know, greeted her in accented but flawless Centauri.

"I am delighted to welcome the future Empress on board this station," she said. Timov thanked her but had a hard time not glancing at Londo who stood beside the captain and looked as if he were having the time of his life. Future Empress, was it? This would indicate it wasn't divorce after all, unless he wanted to taunt her. Which wouldn't be like him. He could be malicious at times, but never mean-spirited.

"The Alliance, too, welcomes the future Empress," said the former captain, Sheridan, who now had to be addressed as President, Timov reminded herself. She fell back on her despised etiquette lessons and greeted him and the Minbari woman at his side, whom she vaguely remembered as Ambassador Delenn from her last visit. Timov stole another glance at Londo. Yes, he was looking decidedly smug. She was starting to feel irritated instead of fatigued and anxious.

"Well, well, well," Londo said, as soon as they were alone in his quarters. "I must say, ceremony agrees with you, my dear. I haven't seen you so quiet for a long time. We should try it more often."

"It certainly doesn't agree with you," Timov shot back. "You sound even more pompous than usual."

"I try my humble best. One is the future Emperor, after all."

"Which tells the rest of the galaxy all about the state our homeworld is in," Timov commented.

Londo sighed and sat down on the couch. "There are few constants in the universe," he said, "but you are one of them. I do not know whether I find this disconcerting or comforting in this age of change."

For a moment, he reminded her surprisingly of the children when they wanted sweets and didn't get them. Had he expected her to be impressed? And why would he even want to impress her?

"Londo," Timov said, somewhat at a loss and as ever resorting to honesty, "when last I saw you, I was. concerned. I must admit I am glad you survived."

"Hm," he said, non-committal.

"Solely because your death would have spelled disaster for me and our wards, of course," she added more sharply.

"Of course."

"Why did you invite me here?" she finally erupted.

"I was wondering how long it would take you to ask," he replied with a grin. "To tell you the truth, the main reason is that I lost a game."

In disbelief and something which felt suspiciously like hurt, Timov demanded: "You're still gambling?"

"Rarely, Timov," Londo said, closing his eyes as if tired. "Almost never, now. But it does happen."

She bit her lips. But really, she thought, what had she expected?

"Very well," she said. "If that was the reason, I shall leave tomorrow. I don't appreciate being made a forfeit, and there are people who need me at home."

She was nearly out of the door, when Londo said: "I'm glad you're alive, too, you know."

Timov pretended she didn't hear him. Not because she didn't believe him; she did. But if she permitted his words to matter, he would be able to hurt her even further, whether he wanted to or not, and she didn't quite understand why he was able to do so now.

Outside, she took a breath to collect herself, and found herself staring at a Narn. After a moment in which she felt the usual mixture of unease and vague guilt any Narn evoked now, she recognised Ambassador G'kar. He had changed since he had shown up at Londo's party in full armour. For starters, one of his eyes had been replaced by a human blue eye, and it looked very disconcerting. Moreover, he had a strange aura of serenity instead of the aggressive bluster she remembered. Before she could find her voice again to murmur some polite greeting, he spoke.

"Don't go," he said, without bothering to introduce himself again. "He needs you."

She could have asked a great many things, starting with how he knew, and why it should be his business. Or why he cared, considering that the last time they had met, he had given every indication of hating her husband, and that had been before Londo had started the war which devastated G'kar's homeworld. But Timov was too rattled for any of these rather sensible questions.

"The gods know he needs somebody," she said, and to her horror her voice sounded like it was trembling. "But not me. He never did."

And with that, she left.

She did not attend Londo's coronation. He did not wish anyone to be present. In truth, she had never felt less like celebrating. It was a miracle that she had survived the deadly fire the Alliance had brought to Centauri Prime; Timov had been out on the street at the time, buying new toys for the children and chatting with their nurse. But not all of the children had been so lucky. Two were dead, and Timov sat in the ruins of her homeworld with grief in her heart too great to turn into tears, and wondered how she could possibly go on. Yet she had to. She was still needed. As the months went by, she slowly returned to her old self.

The surviving children and Timov were busy making yet another destroyed area of their house habitable again when a young girl showed up, looking no older than sixteen or so, and too well dressed to come from anywhere but the palace. She introduced herself as Senna, of House Refa, daughter of the late and unmourned Lord Antono Refa. Since Timov had not cared for Lord Refa in the slightest, finding him overwhelmingly arrogant even for a noble, she was surprised at the girl's manner, which was dignified but not proud, and filled with a kind of desperate urgency.

"If you come to me because you need the favour of the Emperor," Timov said tiredly, "you come in vain. The Emperor and I are not on speaking terms."

"This is why I am here," Senna said. Timov narrowed her eyes. This was Refa's daughter, after all.

"I won't be part of any scheme against him, either," she warned. The girl smiled at her.

"It is a scheme for him, my lady. I'm here on his behalf, though he doesn't know it and mustn't find out."

This was becoming stranger and stranger by the moment. To gain time, Timov asked about the nature of Senna's connection to the Emperor.

"I threw a rock at him, and he adopted me," Senna said simply.

"Only Londo." Timov said and sat down in surprise. "He says I'm to be the voice of the Centauri people for him," Senna explained. "I hated him once, my lady, but I have come to care for him dearly, and I believe. he needs you. Come back to him."

"This is a bad idea, child," Timov said carefully. "All Londo and I have managed to do with our marriage is find ways to wound one another."

"That is not what he says," Senna replied.

"It isn't?"

She didn't want to sound hopeful, she wanted to sound irritated, but somehow, her voice did not obey her wishes.

"His majesty told me," Senna continued, "that of all the people left on Centauri Prime, you are the only one who truly knows him. He needs you, Lady Timov. The other people in the palace." She waved her hand disgustedly. "They don't care for him. They see only opportunities for advancement, even now that our world lies in ashes. And the palace itself - it's not good for him."

"It never was," Timov said slowly, and Senna nodded, eagerly.

"Exactly. Sometimes I watch him staring at its corners and tapestries as if he hates the very sight of it. It's as if it is eating him alive, and I'm the only one there who sees it, but I'm too young. You are his equal. Please, come back to him. Help me save him."

He sat on the throne, clad in imperial white, leaning back so that a net of shadows covered his face, yet she could see him very clearly. And she understood at once what Senna had meant. In all the years, Timov had seen Londo angry, amused, cold, furious, determined, even afraid. She had never seen him broken. Now the man in front of her, watching her approach, had the look she saw all too often on the streets these days, in the eyes of the people who had lost everything during the bombardment. Her former tailor, who had watched her own mother burn alive, had looked this way, as had Lady Atariel before she killed herself. It was the look of of someone trapped in horrors beyond anyone's comprehension. And it had no right to be there in Londo's eyes. She would not let it.

What did they do to you? Timov thought, and for the first time admitted to herself what she should have understood long ago. But it was not too late. It couldn't be. Of course, she couldn't just tell him what she had realised only now. A declaration like that would make them both feel embarrassed. There were no precedents, either, which she could have used. Love songs were written for young people with life still ahead of them.

She turned her head around as if investigating the room, trying to find the right words. At last, she fell back on the familiar.

"The curtains here are ghastly," she said, looking straight at Londo. "You need more light."

The corners of his mouth twitched, and something of the terrible emptiness in his eyes made room for amusement.

"No surprises," he murmured, sounding more like himself with every syllable.

We can do this, Timov thought. This time, we'll get it right.