Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by JMS and Babylonian Productions.

Spoilers: for all of Babylon 5 and the Lochley episodes of Crusade; more obscure ones for iLost Tales/i.

Author's note: written for the Matrithon. Thanks to Kathy for beta-reading!


Proserpina, Returning

Death by oxygen deprivation was supposed to get you high. That was what they said. That pilots dying all alone in space while their air ran out had a good death, actually, because the lack of oxygen produced a lot of endorphins and felt like you were shot up with drugs.

Whoever "they" were, they lied, Elizabeth Lochley decided. She had done every drug she could get her hands on as a teenager, and it felt nothing like it. A good thing, too. She had no intention of succumbing and dying, and even after two decades without a drop of alcohol or any kind of drug, she didn't trust herself when it came to a rush, any kind of rush. It gave her the reputation of being a tight-ass; she didn't drink or relax with anyone. She wasn't loved by the crews she served with, but she liked to think she was trusted to keep them all alive. That was what counted, surely.

Yeah, but we did have fun, didn't we, Lizzie? Zoe had whispered, that day when the dead had come back, and she had denied it, knowing in her heart that Lizzie was dead as surely as Zoe was. Which should not hurt the way it did, just then, while talking to the person she'd loved better than anyone before or after.

I do remember my death, Lizzie.

Lochley wondered whether Zoe would be waiting. Then she slapped the thought down. Apparently the oxygen deprivation was getting to her, after all. Which she couldn't afford. She needed to keep her head. She had to survive. Her distress beacon was still active; she made herself send another request for help, hearing her voice sound absurdly throaty in its dryness. Someone had to hear her, if she just didn't give up.

You gave up long ago, a voice in her head said that didn't sound like Lochley at all, but like Lizzie the teenager, impatient and angry. That was the way Lizzie had yelled at her father after finding him drunk yet again. Maybe you'll survive. But are you sure you're even alive right now?

Not really, she thought, but then the Excalibur, having heard her distress call, arrived, and she managed to push the thought away for another day.


II.

There was a painting in Lochley's quarters on Babylon 5 which she had brought with her, just as she had brought it to every ship she'd served on. But she had never hung it up in any cabin before. She hadn't on B5, either, not at first. Then she had managed to help Garibaldi, to his surprise and hers, and in the process had talked about her father for the first time. Afterwards, she decided hiding that picture away was pointless.

"It's beautiful," Vir Cotto said when he had tea with her, something they did on a weekly basis because after the personal attacks on him and the anti-Centauri mood on the station barely soothed by the bombing of Centauri Prime, Lochley had decided some gesture to make it clear the new Centauri Ambassador wasn't going to be anyone's lightning rod was called for. As it turned out, she rather enjoyed those tea times. Vir was pleasant company, she could practice what limited Centauri she spoke, and he didn't ask her about her past and her record during the civil war anymore than she asked him about Londo Mollari's continued refusal to accept Alliance help for the rebuilding of Centauri Prime. Vir was right about the picture, too. It was a beautiful landscape, using the new colours space exploration had gifted humanity with to great effect, a sensitive work of great promise, and it still broke her heart a little each time she looked at it and read the signature of the painter. When it didn't make her feel like someone had punched her, that is. She had first discovered it after the death of her mother, and only then had finally understood her father. Understood that the man she had known all her life, that strict tough soldier who alternated between being entirely closed up when sober and lashing out at everyone when drunk, had been a lie. He hadn't wanted to be in the military at all. He had wanted to paint. Forcing himself to kill off the artist in favour of becoming a soldier had poisoned him, and through him had poisoned the rest of them, his entire family who felt guilty because they weren't good enough for him to live for.

"Do you like it?" Lochley asked the Centauri. Vir nodded enthusiastically. He opened his mouth, and knowing he would ask about the artist next, Lochley forestalled him. "Then you can have it," she said, acting on impulse. Vir looked both confused and pleased.

"But Captain…"

"Really, it would mean a lot to the artist. It should be somewhere where people can see and appreciate it," Lochley explained. "Which isn't in my quarters. The Centauri ambassadorial suite, on the other hand, is full of visitors on a regular basis."

There was still some doubt in Vir's face.

"But surely this is precious to you."

"So is working for interstellar peace," Lochley said blandly. "And a human painting in your suite would indicate that despite leaving the Alliance, the Centauri still treasure our friendship."

As manipulation went, this was somewhat shameless. "I understand, Captain," Vir replied softly, and going by the seriousness in his eyes, she suspected that he did, all too well.


III.

Talking to Sheridan on Minbar still felt odd, though not as odd as living on the same space station with him during her first year as commander of Babylon 5 had felt. Most of the time, it was next to impossible to connect the serious bearded man in civilian clothes she addressed as "Mr. President" with the laughing young man she'd been married to for all of three months. They had both been fresh out of officer's training school, and she had fallen in love with him at lightning speed because he was everything she wasn't, except ambitious and dead set on a military career. He had photos of his parents and sister on ready display, called them and received visits on a regular basis, joked all the time, flashing his very white teeth, and was an absolute dork in his obsession with fresh fruit. The worst thing that ever happened to him was a bloody nose in the last fight he'd lost. If you still woke up dreaming of cockroaches and rats crawling all over your best friend who had choked on her own vomit every night, this was incredibly endearing. She never told him more about herself than that she came from a military family and was carrying on the tradition, and he didn't ask. He certainly wouldn't have believed anyone who'd told him the ambitious young officer who never ever touched a drop of alcohol and was so strict eve her hair was braided had lived in a run down motel only two years ago, doing absolutely anything for the next shot.

What broke them up was her present, not her past, the constant arguments and the realization they had been young and stupid and acting on hormones instead of common sense. After their divorce, they agreed those three months together were best forgotten and kept their distance from each other for the next few years, until they could graduate to being cautiously friendly aquaintances. He moved faster on the career track than she did. When he scored the only human victory in the war against the Minbar, she found she didn't mind anymore.

"There's still mail for you arriving addressed to the station, sir," Lochley said when Sheridan called her to ask how "the old tin bucket" was doing. "Reebo and Zooty sent an edition of their collected films and filmed live performances, with signed autographs."

His face lit up. "Send those to Minbar per courier immediately, Captain," he said. "Delenn's the only one on this planet who knows about the greatness of Reebo and Zooty. We need to fill a gap here!"

Starkiller strikes again, she thought, and allowed herself a tiny amused smile.


IV.

Zoe would have demonstrated against Clark early on, and then tried everything to get to the rebels on Babylon 5. Not because she was politically astute; as far as Lochley knew, Zoe never voted for anyone, not even for prom queen, and she probably couldn't have named a single cabinet member in the year she died. But she questioned everyone and everybody in authority, which was part of her appeal. She'd never have understood why Lochley made the choices she did during the civil war, any more than Michael Garibaldi had done.

"This stinks, Lizzie," she'd have said when Nightwatch was established, when ISN was stormed, when the news from Earth was clearly doctored and a free media didn't exist anymore.

It does, Lochley thought back then. But I swore an oath.

You're scared, Zoe would have replied, and there would have been truth in that, and yet not enough of it to change Lochley's mind. EarthForce was the one thing which had never let her down, and where she hadn't let herself down, either. When she had found Zoe's dead body, she'd have been dead in less than a few months if she hadn't changed, changed utterly. Humans died on you. They hated themselves so much that they killed themselves, either by degrees or all in one rush. And your own judgment was invariably screwed up when it came to yourself. But there was something greater, something bigger than the eternal me, me, me. Loyalty, honor, obedience; when she enlisted and swore her oath, she had made herself someone who would embody these ideals, who wouldn't betray them, who was utterly unlike a teenage runaway who couldn't even keep her best friend alive, let alone anyone else who trusted her.

Lochley made it through the war without losing her command and without losing her crew. But after Clark's suicide, when news started to get out again, several of the men and women who served with her found out what happened to some friends or family members who dared to protest Clark's policies, her first officer among them.

"We should have fought with Sheridan," her first officer, a fierce Italian woman, told Lochley when they oversaw the de-commissioning of the crew.

"It wouldn't have kept your brother-in-law out of jail," Lochley, who had just heard the story, replied carefully. "Might have gotten him killed, if he hadn't a sister-in-law who was a loyalist in EarthForce."

"Maybe," her first officer said doubtfully. "But I wouldn't feel like I was the one keeping him in jail right now."

To this day, Lochley wasn't sure she made the right choices during the war, just that she thought she couldn't make any other. But when Sheridan offered her the position as Babylon 5's commander, she accepted.


V.

Garibaldi set her teeth on edge the moment she met him, and the feeling was mutual. For her part, she knew why. His mixture of stubbornness, of sarcasm and paranoia covering a well of self-loathing, and all liberally dosed with his judgmental attitude towards her, reminded her so much of her father that she could scream. On some level, she also found him attractive, knew how messed up that was and was sane enough to stay the hell away from him when he didn't make her punch him by bursting into her office and assaulting her guests. In the end, she was almost as relieved that he left the station as she was about the fact he left the station sober and not as another corpse.

Matthew Gideon, on the other hand, also set her on edge, but in another way. During their first few encounters on Mars, they argued, but he also displayed a wicked sense of humor that made her smile a couple of times and brought out a playfulness she wasn't aware she still possessed. She had assumed she had buried it with Zoe. Still, it was fun making him splutter during dinner, it was fun teasing him back about his "ruggedly handsome" appearance. When she was near death in her Starfury, he didn't figure large in her thoughts, not compared with all the worries and regrets she had, but at one point she thought she might as well have done more than just have dinner with him, that time on Mars. He certainly wanted to, and that would have been fun as well.

The Excalibur, which appeared to be engaged in a very classified mission that involved a confrontation with the Drakh near Earth, rescued her, and the next few hours she was too busy leading and coordinating a defense of the ship to make casual conversation with Gideon. But the third time she saw him, he was on her territory, on Babylon 5. She won a bet with him by cheating, which he admired, and they ended up being hunted through Down Below, running for their lives. At some point between sharing fast food with him and setting a trap for their would-be assassins, she realized she'd been having a blast. And a rush. And wasn't afraid this would lead her into disaster. When they ended up in the shower together, having sex, it wasn't really a surprise. Afterwards, once she'd calmed down a little, caution reasserted itself. It was great, and she really liked him, but she wasn't ready to make more of it yet. She didn't want to repeat the mistake with John Sheridan, because she was really too old for that. On the other hand, she didn't want this to be their last meeting, either.

As it turned out, Gideon wanted pretty much the same thing as well. It occurred to her that she might not see him again before the time the Drakh had given Earth had ended, and either the virus was defeated or it had killed off every single living being of her home planet. Gideon's mission was to find a cure within that time frame, and that didn't leave much time for non-essential visits.

After Gideon's ship had cleared B5 docking space, Zack Allen asked her: "Are we going to see the Excalibur more often, Captain?" She gave him a look. "Speaking strictly as a security officer," he added hastily.

Lochley opened her mouth to tell him about the unlikelihood, to repeat just what she had thought earlier regarding Gideon's mission. Instead, she found herself saying: "You know what, Mr. Allen? We just might. The odds are against it, but some people like to cheat."


VI.

Back when they were all cadets, everyone had wanted a deep space assignment. A ship like the Excalibur, beautiful with its mixture of Minbari and Vorlon technology matched to Earth designs, had been everyone's dream. But when Gideon asked her once, only half joking, whether she didn't want to swap jobs, Lochley truthfully said: "No."

She hadn't expected to love the station when she took the assignment. She had wanted to contribute to the healing after the civil war, and maybe there was some guilt there, but she had known it would be an incredibly awkward position, reporting to both EarthForce and Sheridan and trying to walk a tightrope between what either demanded. Once she was there, she also found out the station was full of ghosts of the people who had previously worked, bled and died there, more than any ship she'd ever served on. Humans were actually the minority, also something she wasn't used to. A year, maybe two, she had thought, and then back to space. But then she discovered that space was coming to her in this place, that dealing with aliens when your ship didn't leave the next week was far more challenging and ultimately rewarding. By the time the tenth anniversary of the Interstellar Alliance was celebrated, long after the Drakh Plague had been defeated, she was still there: the commander of Babylon 5, probably the last one the station would have, as it was getting old, and there were more and more space stations built elsewhere to accommodate the need for more neutral territory for interstellar commerce.

After the celebrations were over, she had an unexpected guest. The official representative of the Centauri Republic had been someone else, the late Emperor Cartagia's offspring whom Sheridan had taken a liking to, so Vir's visit came as a surprise, but an agreeable one. She served him tea, and told him about her recent encounter with the creature who had claimed to be a fallen angel, one of Lucifer's own, possessing one of her crew.

"And was he?" Vir asked, wide-eyed, which made his middle-aged face look young again. She had assumed she'd have to explain Earth mythology first, but evidently not.

"I don't know," Lochley said. "But I do know I defeated it, and that Simon is free of it now. What can I do for you, Ambassador?"

"I'm not the ambassador anymore," Vir said ruefully. "I – there are things going on at home, and I finally – that is, I don't think I'll come back to the station any time soon, Captain. And with all that is going on at home, I'm not sure I can promise to keep your picture safe. So I wanted to return it to you."

He pointed to the parcel he'd brought with him, and she understood that it held her father's painting. "It's really very beautiful," Vir said carefully, "and it has brought me great joy these past years. Still, I think it would look just fine in your quarters, Captain."

Around her, she could feel the subaudible hum of the station turning. She knew that her com link was bound to interrupt them any time now, announcing some new event requiring her attention. And when she left her quarters, she would meet people to whom she was as familiar as the planet Epsilon III below, and strangers who would just see a woman in uniform passing by, everyone holding their own stories, their own secrets.

"You're right, it would," Lochley said slowly. "After all, this is my home."