Disclaimer: Characters and concepts all owned by JMS and Babylonian Productions
Thanks to: Kathyh, for beta-reading.
Author's note: Dedicated to Hobsonphile, as a Christmas present.
Timeline: Shortly after Vir's coronation.
After Centauri Prime had been liberated from the Drakh, Delenn was the first to organize a relief effort. She visited the planet as often as she could, coordinating things with Vir who was grateful, though a little baffled. He had always respected Delenn, even admired her, but he had not believed the Centauri were that important to her. Especially given that she had nearly lost her son just recently, because of that fatal gift in a Centauri urn.
After a long day, they sat together over some jaala Vir had prepared. He wore his old clothes; the white imperial robes were ready for him, but outside of public functions, he could not bring himself to wear them yet. He wondered whether they would always be stained by blood and tears for him.
"There is something which I wanted to ask you," he began, hesitatingly. He had lost most of his shyness a long time ago, but being in Delenn's presence brought him back to the days when he had been young, and she had reminded him of the queens of legend, remote, distant stars that were not to be touched.
"I thought that you might," she replied with a tired smile. "After all, you must have asked yourself what he said in that last hour."
Suddenly he felt ashamed and glad at the same time. It had not occurred to him that Delenn and Sheridan had been the last people who had talked to Londo, other than G'Kar, and it should have done. But then, he had not managed to put in words what he felt about Londo's death, as much as he had tried to. Like all the dead the Drakh's final attempt to maintain their hold on Centauri Prime had left, like the sense of renewed hope the Alliance's support had sparked on everyone's faces, it seemed too big to be bound up in trite phrases.
Delenn told him the story of her last meeting with Londo. When she described the Keeper, Vir said: "I knew about it, of course. But I had not seen it until I found…"
He stopped, and the image came back, as painful and sharp as it had ever been: Londo and G'Kar, dead, and the horrible thing trying to remove itself from Londo's body.
"I squashed it with the imperial seal," he whispered. "Delenn, I have never hated anything as much as I hated it at that moment. Not even Mr. Morden."
"I understand," she replied quietly, and he knew she did. Rumour had it that Delenn had taken it upon herself to destroy the Keeper which had held her son in thrall, even after the Drakh that spawned it had been killed, thus rendering the thing impotent.
She continued her story, and when at last she grew silent once more, Vir wondered whether she had not answered the question he had originally meant to ask after all.
"I think… I would like to think… that Londo knew you would honour his request and help us," he said.
Delenn's hair was full of grey strands by now, and they caught the light of the setting sun as she rose and walked towards the window to look at the city being rebuild.
"Do you think that is why I am here, Vir Cotto?" she asked. Her voice was calm, and as enigmatic as Delenn had ever been.
"I am grateful for your help," Vir replied hastily. "We all are. It is just…"
"Yes," she said. "We turned our back on you a long time ago, I as much as any other. And that is why. When G'Kar wrote that we were one, that the universe spoke with many voices, but had one heart, that we were all responsible for one another, I assumed that I knew what he meant. And within a year all who had signed this declaration were at war with your world. Within a year, we condemned you to live in darkness with the Drakh."
Vir shook his head. "You couldn't have known. None of us did. You had good reason to believe we turned on you first."
Delenn did not look at him. Instead, she stood where Londo had stood so often, her back very erect.
"I sent Lennier to collect the evidence that condemned the Centauri. He almost died for it. If I had not done so, the other evidence, the Shadow remnants that proved your people were not guilty, might have turned up soon enough to save your world. It might even have saved…"
"The Drakh are to blame," Vir said firmly. "Not you. It was their doing. It was also Londo's doing. Don't you think I know that? And so did he. It was his choice that allied us with the Shadows. He accepted this responsibility, and bore it without ever trying to blame it on someone else. Why should I want to?"
At last, Delenn turned around again. Sadly, she said: "And yet your heart is still broken for his sake, Vir, and you have not mended it yet."
Again, Vir wondered whether she had not answered another thing he had not asked out loud. During his time on Minbar and through his friendship with Lennier, he had learned the Minbari were quite capable of conducting several conversations at once, and with the same person, too.
The technomages who had helped him fighting the Drakh, the Rangers, even Sheridan and Mr. Garibaldi, who had once been Londo's friend; none of them seemed to understand that he should feel anything but relief at Londo's death. Reports from Narn and from the Drazi homeworld indicated there were even some public celebrations. Things on Centauri Prime were different, but even here, Vir tried to lock his grief away. His people needed him, and they did not need the anger that he felt within his sadness. He did not quite understand it himself, until Delenn with her questions had dragged it out into the light.
"I wanted to save him," Vir said, feeling as if he could never breathe again. "I wanted to save Centauri Prime, yes, but I also wanted to save Londo. I know what he did, Delenn, but he paid for it. Nobody has had such a penance. It should have been enough. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I… I thought that once we had taken Centauri Prime back, and killed the Drakh, the Keeper could be removed, just like it was with your son. Maybe he wouldn't have lived long, but I thought, at least a few months, or even a year or two, in freedom. Where he could see Centauri Prime in the light again. We would sit here, I thought, and he'd tell me I should eat more, and maybe G'Kar would be there as well and tell him he was being insufferable, and…"
He couldn't go on. His eyes burned, but it wasn't until Delenn put her hands on his face that Vir realized he was, at last, crying. Later, he understood how unusual the gesture was. Save for her husband and Lennier, he had not seen her embrace other people, though Londo had mentioned she had hugged him once. Now, though, it did not register with him. He only felt her pulling him closer, and then he laid his head on her shoulders and cried as he had not done since the last of his innocence had been shattered, more than a decade ago.
"They shouldn't be dead" he said when he finally could speak again, his voice muffled by her silk robe. "Why did they kill each other?"
Gently, Delenn let him go, and Vir flushed when he realized he had behaved like a child with no awareness that the Minbari did not sob all over each other. At the same time, the words were out, and he did not want to call them back. At least once, they had to be spoken.
"There is a jewel in Tuzanor," Delenn answered. "Perhaps you saw it when you were living on my world. It reflects the roof of the temple in which it is placed, but in each facet, the roof looks differently. We call this jewel Truth. One facet might be that Londo knew the Keeper would awake soon and that he needed to die before this happened, so that your world might live. Another, perhaps, that he and G'Kar had given all they had to give, and needed to rest. For G'Kar was strong, and I do not think he would have permitted himself to be killed by an old and weak Centauri, unless he, too, wanted to die. Yet another facet might be called destiny. You know it as well as I."
Vir swallowed, and felt some calm return. "Then I am glad that all the prophecies are over, now", he said. He was Emperor, as Lady Morella had predicted, but even the technomages at their most cryptic had finally taken themselves and their murmurings away from his future. There was no more destiny, and he was free to live what life remained. And Londo and G'Kar were free, too. The ache of his dashed hopes still burned. Yet what Delenn said was true as well.
"I envy you," Delenn said, and her face was not the calm, collected surface Vir had most often seen, nor the smiling benevolent exterior she showed to her friends, but a face engraved with longing, regret, suffering and guilt. It occurred to him that she, too, knew what it was to love a doomed man. Sheridan's time would be coming soon. Impulsively, he hugged her again.
"Thank you," he said. "For everything."
Letting her go, he felt cold all of a sudden. The central heating system was still not functional in some rooms.
"I'd better close the window," Vir suggested, wondering whether he should prepare another hot drink as well. It was good to have something to do, no matter how tired one was. "The sun has set."
"No, leave it open," Delenn replied. "It will rise again."