Londo / G'Kar
Written for: bubosquared
The challenge: G'Kar finds out about the Keeper in a scene different from that in the books.
Complication: I haven't read the books.
A/N: I'd like to thank athena25 and hobsonphile for their considerate edits and kind words of encouragement. Any remaining snaphus are entirely my own pig-headed fault.
Afterwards, Londo does not remember the details of how it started. That the curtains were drawn against the fires outside; that the third bottle of brivari rolled and clattered down the throne steps; that the click-click-click of boot heels beat a staccato rhythm across his darkened throne room: yes, those things he remembers. But he does not remember looking up to see red eyes, nor why his guards were not there. He cannot remember if the lines of age had always threaded their way down G'Kar's cheeks, or if the skin of G'Kar's throat had always been blistered and burned as it disappeared into his armour. No, certain things Londo does not remember. He could have blamed infirmity and old age was he still not young; he could have blamed the drink and tiredness were it not ridiculous. He could have blamed his fear and yes, yes, his heart insisted, yes, you can be truthful here. The heavy mist that perpetually clouded his mind and his vision had cleared briefly, washed away by the brivari, but still... flesh remembers, even if the mind does not.
His skin prickled at the familiar presence.
"G'Kar. It is – it is you. I thought you must be dead by now, and was almost briefly happy. Then I remembered that the universe would never be so kind!" And he knows he smiled, for the taste of it felt foreign on his lips. "Hello, old friend."
G'Kar didn't kneel before him, nor sit by his throne. He did not bow his head in greeting, nor smile in return. Instead, he was a still, dark figure on the throne steps, blocking the candlelight from Londo's line of vision. "I sent your guards away, Mollari," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "They went. They were eager to go."
Londo waved a hand expansively, spilling aged brivari across brocade and silk and jewels and not noticing; not noticing, for it happened often. "It is most curious how easily loyalty can be traded now, yes? I see it every day. I had suspected it before, but never to this extent, not here. It is a game to them, do you see?" He lifted the bottle to his lips once more. "It is a game."
In one swift movement, gloved fingers grabbed the slender neck of the bottle and tugged. Londo blinked up hazily at the face now too close to his and his mind struggled fitfully for awareness. Inch by inch, he shrank back into the shadow of his throne; force of habit and fear and nothing more, he thought, merely force of habit and fear and there was nothing of the thick, acrid smell of shame about it, no, not at all.
It was only when G'Kar's eyes darkened with fury that Londo lamented his lost sobriety, only when the Narn turned away and, with a howl of rage, threw the bottle of brivari across the room that he flinched. It was only when he saw betrayal across those sharp features that he wondered why it should feel this shameful, his martyrdom.
"You will hear of my actions!" G'Kar shouted, face contorted into a rictus of helpless fury, "you will hear of their strangeness!"
These were not his words, nor anything close to them, but they were enough for Londo to flinch away. Why this? How could such a small lie cost this much?
"You must go now, G'Kar," the Narn breathed, rage abruptly cooling into something far more potent. He leaned in across the throne chair, hands braced on the wide back, either side of Londo's figure, silent and still and so, so tired. "You said those things to me, Mollari, do not deny it!"
And Londo did not.
"Was it when I was injured, Mollari? Was that when you betrayed us all? Was that when you let them back in?"
G'Kar's eyes were not evenly matched, Londo thought. The reds were the same shade, oh yes, but there was something about the iris, something that let it darken to nearly burgundy when extreme emotion twisted cells or rays of light or whatever explanation scientists would choose. It was disconcerting to watch one change colour while the other remained that brilliant scarlet red, shot through with strands of black and gold.
Londo does not remember how G'Kar would know of his betrayal. Now he thinks it is Vir's doing; yes, he is sure of it, for Vir has always been too full of the milk of goodness to do the right thing. It is Vir's doing to summon the Narn from his voyage, to meddle in this business. It is so like Vir to try to save him from what is inevitable.
It is like G'Kar, too, and for a brief moment Londo feels absurdly grateful that these two care for him enough to do something so monumentally stupid. Five years, yes; this knowledge should be enough to carry him through five more. And then five more – and how long could it be, really, until G'Kar returned?
Londo smiled, and it was not a pleasant smile at all. "You should go, G'Kar. It will wake soon, perhaps within the hour, and I will not be able to stop it from killing you."
A long pause, then in a sudden move, G'Kar sagged against him, pressing his forehead against the carved back of the throne chair. A low rumble came from deep in G'Kar's throat; Londo thought it might be laughter but could not be sure. "Yes, yes, I thought so." He turned his head slightly, enough to look at him out of the corner of one eye. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?" His lips curved in a smile and Londo felt panic suddenly close tight around his hearts. G'Kar's smile was too predatory and though he had not spoken of the grey parasite asleep on gold and silk and brocade, though he had not looked at the abomination, G'Kar had still chosen to rest his head on the throne on the opposite side of where the Keeper slept on Londo's shoulder. Moment by moment, G'Kar's smile grew, all teeth and anticipation; Londo pressed back into silk and wood and cold metal in silent response.
This is not how things were, he thinks, and wonders why he had not told that to Mr Morden. I was not always like this, but, oh, how quickly he had learned. How much easier it was to simply surrender to the voice in his head, guiding his hands and mouth and tongue; how painless it became as he struggled less and less because, really, what was there to struggle for? His dreams of G'Kar grew in number and blossomed in their viciousness and he wondered which were true and which were wish-for true. Wistful, the humans called it, wish-for, wistful, yes, the same to a heavy tongue thick with brivari.
He only needs a break once or twice, now, once or twice a month he drinks until he can't move or think or remember himself. Once or twice until the Keeper at his side sighs itself into sleep. Once or twice, just once or twice, you understand, as a respite from this continued martyrdom. It lets him remember his reasons for living.
G'Kar still smiled that predatory smile at him; smiling at the side of his neck that was wholly exposed and defenceless to those calculating eyes. It felt like insects skittering across his flesh and Londo shuddered, wholly disconcerted. That he should be this off-balance...
G'Kar laughed and turned his head so that their foreheads touched, moving forward as Londo leaned back. "I went to the Rim, Mollari. I went beyond it. I spent my time with Lyta and she found my thoughts most amusing." G'Kar's voice was low and rough, quietly confessing, "I missed you." He sighed. "I had not expected that." He pulled away and slid down to sit at the foot of the ornate throne, face turned away. "I had not expected that at all."
It is odd, Londo thought, bemused. That this should be the first epiphany I manage to have before that blasted Narn, and that I would not feel triumph from it... It is most vexing. "G'Kar," he said, and he could have laughed, "G'Kar," and he did laugh then, freely and from his belly as he had once laughed when free. It roiled and tore at him, for it was not something he still knew how to feel but he embraced it as best he could, for when would he feel it again? After he sent G'Kar away, after five, ten more years, when both were old men and at the end of their lives, when would he feel this free again?
The Keeper did not stir at all and Londo thought he could have laughed forever had not G'Kar turned back to him and laughed alongside. "Yes," he said, "yes, that was my reaction as well!" He pulled himself up by a strong hand at Londo's knee. "I thought the whole idea – hilarious," he said, and that same smile was back. "That you would do something so stupid and not tell any of us!" He slid his hand up Londo's thigh, finally pulling it away before it reached his waist to plant it on the neutral ground of the red plush throne seat. "I thought I knew you, Mollari," he said, and Londo wondered whether the laughter that still bubbled up out of his chest was to blame for this strange light-headedness, or whether four bottles of brivari were really too many.
He opened his mouth for a witty retort. "How can you even look at me, G'Kar?" was not what he had wanted to say, though it ended their mutual hilarity and thus served its purpose. And – "how can you –" but G'Kar already had a hand over his mouth and one at the back of his neck, deftly avoiding the scaly tail of the Keeper to bury itself in the rise of lacquered hair.
"I can't." And then G'Kar was leaning in to bite his earlobe. "Mollari," he hissed, eyes bright with avarice, "let down your hair."
Londo doesn't really remember the details of how it started. Not the minutiae nor where his guards were nor how Vir knew when he would be able to see G'Kar at all. He doesn't even know how G'Kar left the planet, for he woke to find him gone and the next chapter of the Book of G'Kar on his pillow. It is for the best, and he is grateful that his punishment for disobedience is swift and light, for his Keeper is no hypocrite. It knows that when strong brivari is drunk that acuity and memory are lost. The being Londo, it knows, is strongly affected and is not especially at fault.
The guards that deserted their posts, however, are executed the next morning.