Timeline: Directly before "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place".

Written for: Hobsonphile.

Thanks to: Kathyh, for betareading.

Disclaimer: All owned by JMS.


Negotiations

G'Kar had given up on expecting life to be anything but surprising a long time ago. Still, he was somewhat stunned to be contacted by Londo Mollari at all, and through what appeared to be a public terminal, far from the man's quarters to boot. They had not spoken to each other since what G'Kar tried very hard to think of as the incident leading to his epiphany. It was strange, hearing Mollari's voice out loud now, after hearing it inside his head, asking, cajoling, pleading, raging.

"There is something I have to say to you," the Centauri announced without preliminaries, which in itself was not like him at all. "Alone, without witnesses."

"There is nothing I have to say to you," G'Kar replied automatically while trying to solve this new riddle. If this was a belated attempt at revenge for the... incident, it was a clumsy way to go about it. Mollari was many things, but not clumsy. Of course, it was hard to tell whether or not the event had changed him. The dealer had warned G'Kar that Dust could leave permanent damage; considering that damage had been the point, G'Kar had not minded in the least at the time.

"I think the lives of two thousand of your people should make for a topic of conversation or two, yes?"

That strange feeling which certainly had not been guilt was gone, and his old hatred was back. This was Centauri callousness in its pure form. How foolish to even have considered for a second that the man might actually have learned something. G'Kar glared at the viewscreen. As opposed to all their meetings ever since the war between their people had started, Mollari didn't avoid his gaze. There was no sign of flinching, either, or of the bombastic gestures which the Centauri was so good at hiding behind. The man's eyes were utterly opaque.

"Meet me in one of the turbolifts. I don't care which one – make your choice and tell me. And remember, G'Kar, no witnesses. This is important."

If this was a ruse, its purpose was still not clear to G'Kar. And the idea of not being able to figure out Londo Mollari, of all people, was both annoying and disconcerting, even if no lives had been at stake.

"How do I know you didn't prepare all the lifts?" he asked, trying to make up his mind as to whether he would be able to be in Mollari's company once more without strangling him.

"G'Kar, any attempt on your life on my part will not take place on Babylon 5," Londo replied drily. "I am sure Mr. Garibaldi would love to offer your old cell to me on a permanent basis, but unlike yourself, I find they hold no attraction for me."

"Of course not. They might actually force you to face yourself," G'Kar retorted, and then abruptly shut his mouth. It was all too easy to fall into the old routine of sparring with Mollari, and it shouldn't be, not with the cries of his people echoing in his ears, not with that glimpse of his planet being destroyed he had caught in Mollari's mind. He named one of the lifts at random and then switched off his Babcom unit.

On the way to the turbolift, it occurred to G'Kar that meeting him alone could not have been the easiest decision for Mollari to make. He could still feel the man's battered, bruised and tear-stained face under his fingers. That was a strange thing about the Centauri; they were so fragile and weak when compared to the Narn, and yet they had managed to uphold their tyranny for a century without help from the Old Enemy. Superior technology explained only so much. G'Kar had always known they were capable of cruelty, but only recently had he acknowledged to himself that somewhere in the Centauri gene pool there had to be courage as well.

That young aide of Mollari's, smuggling Narns to freedom. The dead old Emperor, Turhan, coming here despite knowing he risked his death. Even Mollari himself, in some ways, if this entire affair wasn't a trap after all. Which G'Kar did not truly believe it to be. He knew more of Londo Mollari now than he had ever wanted to find out, and thought he would be able to tell when the man was lying, and when he wasn't. Of course, Mollari having the courage to face him made the Centauri all the more hateful. Creatures like Lord Refa probably were doomed to be scum from the moment their parents inflicted them on a helpless universe. Mollari, though, Mollari could have been more.

G'Kar would never forgive him.

He didn't have to wait long. The self-important steps were recognizable to his ears even before Londo showed his face, which gave G'Kar the time to arrange the most sardonic and indifferent expression he could muster. They didn't talk until the lift doors shut behind them. It didn't escape G'Kar's attention that the Centauri had positioned himself on the other side of the lift, as far away as it was possible to be in this small space. So it wasn't that easy for Mollari, either, and the thought was strangely satisfying. The harsh bright light reflecting on each of the tasteless jewelry Mollari wore made his head ache.

"Well?" he asked at least.

Londo told him. When he had ended, G'Kar stared at him in disbelief.

"The universe must have finally succeeded in driving me mad," he said slowly. "I could swear I just heard you ask me to leave my sanctuary here on the station and return to Narn to commit a murder for you. Leaving aside the stunning assumption that I would trust you in any way not to use the opportunity to capture me, I must confess to a certain curiosity. Why don't you kill him yourself? Don't tell me someone with the blood of millions on his hands is suddenly squeamish because the next victim will be another Centauri."

"It's not enough to see him dead," Londo replied, ignoring the first part of G'Kar's statement. "I want him destroyed."

"Well, given your ample practice in destruction, I am sure you can come up with other means. I thought you would know by now I will never serve a Centauri, in any capacity whatsoever, but obviously, you are even more ignorant than I had assumed. Good day, Mollari," G'Kar ended, and pressed the next button.

"You forget the two thousand Narn," Londo said coldly. G'Kar whipped around. With a great effort, he kept himself from doing anything. It would be all too easy to hurt this man; he knew exactly how.

"I'll arrange for a thousand to be freed now, after you accept my proposal," Londo said, "and a thousand after Refa is dead. That much I can do. If you need any additional incentive, I can provide you with documentation about Refa's role in the war. It was he who brought the mass drivers to your planet. I said – "

"Nothing," G'Kar interjected. "You forget that I was exposed to your pathetic collection of memories. You said nothing."

For the first time, Londo looked away again. "I have not forgotten, G'Kar," he murmured. "I have not forgotten anything."

The lift door opened, and a couple of Drazi entered. When they noticed the occupants, they froze.

"Out!" Londo yelled. The Drazi looked confused and annoyed.

"Did you not hear?" G'Kar hissed. "Out!"

Angrily, they muttered among themselves, but obliged them by vanishing. Londo pressed a new button, then halted the transport tube.

"Truly, the death of Refa would be a joyous day for my people. But why should I believe you want Refa dead more than you want my own death?" G'Kar asked, determined not to let the conversation go anywhere near the ruin of Narn or certain more recent events again.

Londo's eyes returned to him. Some muscles in his cheeks moved. For a moment, he appeared to be on the verge of saying something else, but then his face grew dark.

"Because Refa murdered Adira," he returned.

Based on his own memories, G'Kar might have had trouble recognising the name. The dancer Mollari had been in love with some years ago had been pretty, though too thin in his view, and besides, anyone with the bad taste of actually caring for Londo Mollari was immensely forgettable. But Mollari's memories were another matter. He had tried to get rid of them and suppress them during those weeks of meditation in his cell, but a great many of them were still with him, and the passion Mollari had felt for the girl coloured a lot of them. It was a very strange sensation. G'Kar had bedded countless partners. Some of them had been good friends. But he did not recall feeling what Mollari had felt for that girl, ever, not for a person at any rate. Passion for a cause, for one's people and for one's home, that was understandable. But to be obsessed with a single individual in that way was not, G'Kar thought, and studied the figure on the other side of the cabin whose features were as familiar to him as his own.

Still, incomprehensible or not, he did not doubt Mollari had cared for the girl enough to wish revenge for her murder more than any satisfaction or heightened status G'Kar's capture and death might bring him. This did not mean G'Kar would simply agree, no matter how desirable the release of two thousand Narn prisoners or the death of Refa. Things could not be simple between them; they must not ever be allowed to be.

"Let us assume for a moment that I do as you wish," G'Kar said. "Your aide is an abysmal liar. I have often suspected him of being a changeling, because his face is too honest for a Centauri. If he pretends to betray your plans to Refa in order to lure him to Narn, he will be exposed and questioned at once. Like most of your plans, this one is foolish and short-sighted."

"Like most of your statements, this one is based on false and arrogant assumptions," Londo shot back. "Refa has a pet telepath. Of course I will not send Vir to lie to him."

"Well, then..."

"Vir will be completely convinced he's telling the truth when they interrogate him. He will believe I intend to take you prisoner on Narn because I will tell him so, and because you will pretend to agree to go there when he comes to you afterwards."

That, G'Kar had to admit, did change the odds. It was clever. It was also viler than usual for Mollari, not that that meant anything, of course. G'Kar thought of little Vir Cotto trying to apologize to him, and of the reports he had heard about the Narns Cotto had rescued.

"You would set your own aide up to be captured and interrogated by a telepath?" he demanded, more because he wanted to see Mollari flinch than because he doubted it. G'Kar could spend a moment of regret for Vir Cotto, but not more. His people were more important, and besides, the aide had chosen his own fate by staying with someone like Mollari to begin with. Why anyone would want to do that was a mystery to G'Kar. The very smell of the man was sickening, that mixture of stale brivari and some decadent Centauri perfume. It had remained with him for the sixty days of his incarceration, no matter how much he tried to cleanse himself with the water Garibaldi had provided.

Londo did not flinch. Instead, he continued to look straight at G'Kar. "It is a fate one survives," he said. "As I know, yes?"

"You know nothing, least of all what makes you truly despicable, Mollari," G'Kar said, fists clenched. "This plan to murder Refa is the first death I have seen you plot out of hatred. Yet you brought death to millions of my people, not because you hated us, but because you wanted more power. And now you offer to free some of them, not because it finally dawned on you that you committed a crime but because they are useful tools in a negotiation."

The words remained in the room between them long after G'Kar had finished speaking. Londo didn't say anything. In earlier times, G'Kar had wondered what it would take to shut Mollari up. Yet this somehow didn't feel like the victory he had once imagined it to be.

"Here is the data crystal which they need to find with Refa," Londo said finally, taking something out of his waistcoat, "and here is the hologram you are to play for him before he dies."

G'Kar could have protested that he had still not agreed to any of this. Instead, he stretched out his hand. As his fingers touched Mollari's, he felt a little jolt. Obviously, there was some static electricity around the hologram carrier.

"How do you know," he asked, unable to resist, "that I won't let them find both of these with Refa? This would still leave me with a thousand freed Narn and two dead and disgraced Centauri butchers instead of one. A bargain, a true bargain."

"I know it for the same reason that lets you know the guards will not have been ordered to capture or shoot you once you and your friends are done with Refa," Londo replied, teeth sharp in a humourless smile. "I know it because I know you."

G'Kar set the lift in motion again and used the first stop to leave. All he could think of was what a relief it was to be free of Mollari's company once more. It did not occur to him to tell Londo he was wrong.