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End of the Affair

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End of the Affair

The first time it happened, it was to make a point as much as for any other reason. You wanted to prove you had meant what you said about the Centauri superiority in the arts of love, and about giving him pointers. You were both drunk and frustrated after the celebration of Delenn's and Sheridan's wedding, and something of a frivolous mood, though the old nagging guilt was never far away. In any case, you hadn't really thought of him in terms of sexual attraction before, despite your admitted curiosity about him and Mariel.

One or two experiments on Earth with humans and a pass at Delenn when you were really very drunk aside, you never were interested in sleeping with members of other species, as opposed to him. The fact that the one kind of female he had never been seen consorting with during his entire time on the station were Narn women used to amuse you. But you thought it was understandable: human women were a joy to look at, and Centauri women, well, was there any question they were the most beautiful of the galaxy?

(That old curiosity again: what did he do to satisfy Mariel, who had rather high standards in this regard? What did she do?)

You didn't have much interest in men, either. It was something firmly consigned to the period of adolescence for the Centauri, though a fling now and then in later life was considered acceptable, as long as one did one's duty to one's family as well.

(No children from your body. Never any children, not with any of your wives, not with any of the many women you've lain with. Sometimes you wonder how much that had done to embitter each of your marriages. Not that you could blame Timov, or Daggair, or Mariel. It was obvious where the fault lay. Judging by the way Timov dealt with Urza's children, she would have loved to have children of her own. Strange, so strange, that your crimes should finally give her what even a better marriage could never have done.)

Still, there had been times, rare in between but there, when it hadn't been women. Happy times, too, and remembering how you used to tease Urza about the inappropriateness of his nickname when you were both little more than boys used to bring a smile on your lips in reminiscence, until his blood was on your hands and you knew you had irrevocably poisoned those memories as well.

Knowing the bodies of women and men of your own species were not much help, though, when it came to G'Kar. You were both long past youth, firmly entrenched in middle age, and had lain with countless people, and yet that first time you were as clumsy and awkward as any adolescent who hadn't even passed his first Day of Ascension yet. Passionate, yes, and in a corner of your mind that surprised you, considering you hadn't even thought about desire, but the way you both hit the wall of your quarters, with him so angry and aroused he didn't even take his gloves of until much later and you not sensible enough to remove your waistcoat in a civilised fashion that would have saved the tailor the trouble of mending it afterwards, that way was decidedly embarrassing.

The second time, now. You will never tell him this, but after the failure of your left heart nearly killed you and you woke up, finding him watching you together with Vir, you forced yourself to recall one of the most unpleasant hours you ever spent in Cartagia's company. The Emperor, frustrated at being unable to break G'Kar, had consulted yet another pain technician, and in one of his whims had ordered you to be present at the conference as he asked this new torturer to explain to him, in detail, how the Narn body worked. Expressionless, the man had called up diagramms and gone over nerve centers and succeptibility to pain and pleasure, until it seemed there hadn't been a single spot he had not covered. Cartagia, so easily bored otherwise, had been astonishingly patient throughout the entire lecture, though he had looked at you nearly as often as at the pain technician.

"Hasn't he had quite the reputation, Mollari?" he had asked finally. "Maybe we have been going about this the wrong way. What do you think, would an aphrodisiac and some expert stimulation give me my screams?"

You would have been too appalled to speak if you hadn't known by now that any word not spoken in Cartagia's company could be as dangerous as an unguarded reaction would have been. But anything to spare G'Kar this.

"Majesty, it would be too great an honour for such a barbarian as he," you had replied, trying your best to sound debonair. "Besides, what has he ever done to merit even a second of pleasure to relieve him from his well-deserved misery? His crimes against our republic make anything but pain a complete waste of grace."

Cartagia had looked at you a moment longer, then slowly nodded. "A good point, Mollari, a good point. But I must have my scream. One way or another. Still, it would be far more dignified for me if the wretched creature finally proved we are not paying our pain technicians their wages for incompetence."

You had never told anyone about this conversation, not even Vir. But in your feverish and restless state in medlab, more aware than ever of your own mortality and all the things undone and unsaid, you went back to that hour and tried to remember everything the pain technician had said. So, the second time it happened, after the two of you had dinner and he tried to convince you your recent epiphany ought to result in some kind of dreary philosophical enlightment, you were prepared. You knew what to do. And you did not feel even guilty about the source of the knowledge, not then, because you were happy, happy and free. You could feel the scars on his back under your fingertips and not feel the old horror, you could tease him with the agility of your brachiarte, feel his hands on you in return, without recalling even once the sensation so often dreamed that it was as familiar as a memory now, the knowledge of what it will feel like when he strangles the life out of you on that day that haunted you since you met him. The last time it happened, the very last time, in all likelihood, was in your suite in the Royal Palace when the two of you were trying to find out what secrets were hidden on Centauri Prime. Despite all the disquieting reports that did not add up, the recent assassination attempt, and your awareness that no matter how successful your investigations would be, your time of freedom was rapidly running out, you were in a mostly happy, mellow mood, and not a little aroused by the verbal sparring. There was some anger in him, not really surprising after the way everyone at court had reacted to him, and considering what Centauri Prime meant to him in general.

There was also a strange sense of triumph. Maybe it was because he knew very well that you wanted to be secretive and discreet for a change, and yet here you were, with courtiers and potential assassins nearly breathing down your neck, seducing and being seduced all over again. He could never resist a competition, after all. Maybe it truly was because of your title, and that throne that was almost yours, no matter what he said to the contrary. You know him. The last time he was here, he had to give up on his cherished pride and dignity altogether, and had become a plaything for the Emperor of the Centauri Republic. Having the future Emperor at his disposal would be a sweet revenge indeed, and no matter how enlightened, G'Kar still has his temper.

Whatever moved him, he was the one to fall asleep afterwards this time. You watched him, and wondered whether what you had been doing to him was, in truth, any kinder than what Cartagia had done. Perhaps he would have been better off if you had never cajoled him into talking to you again, if the two of you had never moved beyond that icy truce he had maintained the first month or so after your return to the station. No, he almost certainly would have been better of, still locked firmly and safely in his life of boring meditations, lectures to his acolytes and the conviction that he was at peace with the universe.

Weeks later, when the Drakh had spoken his poisonous words, and you spent your last minutes as a free man attempting to say goodbye to him, you looked at him looking at you and realised he had never expected anything else but being sent away, all this time. It was on the tip of your tongue to give up on pride altogether and ask him to stay, because the thought of the horror awaiting, the prospect of facing it alone, really stripped you of all the dignity you had left. But even you could not be that selfish. The words unspoken, you saw him return with Vir, Sheridan and Delenn to the station, untouched and unharmed by the Drakh. And then you were Londo Mollari of the House Mollari once more, Emperor of the Great Centauri Republic.

At least the emptiness within was familiar.