Summary: The Rebirth ceremony is finally completed.
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Londo Mollari, Emperor of Centauri Prime, seldom came down to the dungeons below the Imperial Palace. One memorable time he had come to make a deal with his greatest enemy, who was arguably also his greatest friend. But that was long ago, another time, before he had ascended the throne. This time it was another visitor from the past; someone with whom he had also both worked and fought. It seemed lately that all the strands of his past were converging, tightening their hold on the end of his life.
"Open it," he said wearily to the guard, who had snapped to attention the moment he had come into view. His personal bodyguards had been left at the long tunnel-like entrance to this area of the cells. There was no danger in this section; there was only one guard, and one prisoner. The underground cells were beneath the oldest part of the Palace, and they formed a extensive labyrinth of pain and stolen dreams.
The guard made to follow him into the cell, but Londo waved him away. "You may stay outside. Leave the door open if it makes you feel better. Do not even try to overhear our conversation or I will have your ears removed from inside your thick skull."
Moving into the cell, he noted that the small light he had ordered was burning low. Soon, the cell would be plunged into darkness. His face twisted in derision. Dying in the dark would be a fitting end for someone who had styled herself a warrior for the light. There was a stone shelf that served as both seat and bed, and he stumbled as he made his way towards it, taking small steps to avoid falling. The light state of inebriation he had cultivated prior to this visit had served to quiet his jailer, but there were no guarantees. There never were.
The voice was just as he remembered, low and quiet, with the power of damnable certainty behind it. Maybe now, there was some fear. Good, he thought. He wanted her to know fear.
"Delenn," he said, and carefully lowered himself to the seat beside her. "Are you enjoying your stay? I hope the entertainment I arranged was to your liking." He chuckled dryly, then began to cough, spasms racking his brittle and now frail body.
His prisoner made a motion in his direction. For one insane moment, he thought she was about to embrace him. Then she shrank away, leaning back into the corner, her face in shadow.
"What do you want?" Delenn asked. Her voice was steady, but did not quite conceal a slight tremor.
"Redemption," Londo replied. This got her attention. She moved closer and he could see her face in the dim light. It was lined, especially around the eyes and mouth, and like his own, her hair displayed the grey of age.
"That is something I cannot provide," she answered. Then, her voice cracking, she asked, "Will you tell me of my son? Of John?"
He laughed silently for a moment, then reached over to pat her hand. "Always concerned about others; that's the Delenn I remember. Yes, never worried about your own fate." Londo leaned back against the cold hard stone, careful to avoid letting his right side and shoulder touch the rough wall. He wanted no interruptions. "The boy is no longer in my care, and no longer my concern." He heard the swift intake of breath, and wondered if she would faint. Perhaps she would scream. That would have pleased his predecessor, but it was not his desire to wrench such emotion from her. His were subtler pleasures. "Your son escaped earlier today. Whether it was your people or mine, I do not know, but a ship shot its way out of our main spaceport, made it to the gate and jumped. It is my understanding that the younger Sheridan was on it."
He waited, but that was all she seemed able to say. "Well, enjoy the rest of your stay," he finally said with a shrug. Struggling to his feet, he stopped when he felt her light touch. This time the hand on his arm was real, the strong slight fingers exerting pressure on him to stay.
"Do you remember the re-birth ceremony, back on the station, after John had broken away from the Earth government?"
He stared at her in astonishment. This was her response to her dilemma? She wished to spend a little quality time reminiscing, prior to her appointment with the executioner? "No, Delenn, I have no recollection of such a ceremony."
"You did not attend," she replied, adding wryly, "Actually, it was never even held. But there was something I wanted to tell you, at that ceremony. I would like to tell you now."
"Must you?" Londo wondered at her motivation. In all likelihood it would be another lesson for him, as if he need more instruction in his own failures. "Will it take long? Because you have an appointment, you realize." He wanted to break her serenity in the face of death. His own was coming closer. Every day, every hour, every minute brought it closer; and he was still not ready.
"The ritual requires that you tell something you have never told, and that you give up something of great value. It is a way of putting the past in perspective, of allowing yourself to be reborn to new possibilities. At the time I had already given up my self, my racial identity, and my position. But there was still a secret I wished to share, and I wished to share it with you."
Intrigued, Londo leaned closer towards her. "Me? But why me, of all people? At that point in time, we were not what you would call friendly. Why not tell Sheridan, or even G'Kar?"
"You were the only one that I felt might understand." Delenn sighed heavily. After a moment, she continued, her voice now shaky, "To this day I have never told anyone of my true role in the war."
"Which war?" Londo again gave that silent wheeze of laughter. "There have been so many, and you have been involved in them all!"
"They are all the same war. I did not understand that, not in the beginning." Her voice steadied, almost settling back to normal conversational tones. "The war with Earth that my people waged, almost to the point of the annihilation of the entire human race...I was responsible for it."
"You!" Londo was rocked, but also amused, by her admission. "How were you responsible?"
"I gave the command, broke the impasse on the Council's vote. I wanted revenge. I told myself I wanted justice, but it was fury that drove me," she said, her voice still laced with guilt all these years later.
Londo shook his head, surprised by her apparent misery. "They fired first, Delenn. I do not see that your people could have reacted any other way."
She said emphatically, "There are alway choices. I made mine, and millions died as a result."
"You might as well say that war was my fault," Londo mused. "I was the Centauri representative to the humans at the time. I warned them to leave you alone, but I often wondered if I did enough, was forceful enough. If I had convinced them, they would not have entered your space, not at that particular moment, and your leader would have not been killed. You might as well say I was responsible, or the human who gave the order to fire first, or the human who fired the weapon...there are too many possibilities. Too many responsibilities; no one person bears them all."
Delenn remained silent for a moment, absorbing Londo's words. Finally she spoke, "I wish we had spoken earlier, Londo. But I am glad to have had this chance."
There was a scuffling noise at the door, and the guard entered after ostentatiously clearing his throat to warn of his approach. "Your guards wish to know if you are ready to leave , Your Excellency. They say you are expected elsewhere."
"Well," said Londo. "I must go. I would say I have enjoyed this little talk, Delenn, but it would not be the truth. Is there anything more I can do for you?" He enjoyed watching her struggle with the words, knowing she wanted to plead for Sheridan's life.
"There is nothing," she finally replied. "I hope you find what you are looking for, Londo."
"Good-bye then," he replied, and signaled to the guard to shut the door behind them. After he got outside, and watched the lock slide home, he said to the guard. "Wait two hours, then take her to the other prisoner, the human. Leave them together. Let them have their final moment before the end."
Londo walked away, chuckling at this last twist of the knife. Heightening their emotional reactions would help ensure that the final act in the play he had staged would succeed. He would gain their acquiescence along with their gratitude. There was surveillance in Sheridan's cell, and he could watch their tearful farewells while he finished drugging his little master. Then he would summon them to the throne-room and lay out his proposition. First, he had other tasks to complete; difficult, but not impossible to accomplish in his current state. He was used to this half-life, constantly masking his thoughts, with all his actions having dual purposes.
When he got back to the throne room, he found he had unanticipated visitors. The intrusion annoyed him at first, but he found he enjoyed recounting the story of the past few decades to Jaddo's descendants. The historical review seemed fitting somehow; his life passing before the eye of memory. Later, after the children had been taken away, Londo slumped back on the throne. He uncorked a new bottle, and filled the great gold goblet he favored, slopping the liquid in and around it. Raising it to his lips, he activated the screen and watched the reunion of his old friends. There was something a bit off in their reactions, but his mind was too unclear to settle on it. Perhaps it was simply his unfamiliarity with this type of relationship, his own having been superficial and distant of necessity. His hand shook and droplets fell to the ground, like golden sparks of fire. He thought he had known loneliness before he had been raised to his high station, but this; this was of a different order. The human and Minbari had each other, and their son. Even those two children had one another. He had no-one.
At last the keeper was fully asleep. The damned thing sent slight tremors through his nerve endings, almost like a rasping snore in the back of his mind. It made him want to shake his head hard, to make the off-tune buzzing stop. Of course he could not; it would awaken, alert the others, and put all his careful plans to flight. Besides, the annoyance was a small price to pay for a fleeting taste of freedom.
Sheridan and Delenn would be here soon. Then he would reveal his secret to them, and make his plea. Releasing the prisoners would ensure his own doom; he knew that, and so his end would occur as foretold so long ago. Londo, somewhat to his surprise, found he was now ready. Having done all he could to secure the safety of his people, he was finally prepared to lay down his burden, and to welcome death.