Michael Garibaldi sat alone in his quarters, silent, unmoving, in total darkness. Even taking a breath was too hard; each time his lungs expanded he felt as though he'd explode with pain. Eight hours of waiting, praying, hope against hope, that somehow his best friend would be on that ship when it returned, even though Jeff himself had said he would not be. The sick dread had grown within him, moment by moment, until it had taken only one glance at Delenn's weary, haunted face to know the truth.
They had tried to explain, but he had hardly listened. It was crazy. Minbari religious nonsense, and none of it meant anything. None of it could bring Jeffrey Sinclair back. And he felt... betrayed. By all of them. Marcus was sworn to protect the man he called 'Entil'Zha', Susan had been his friend. And Delenn... who had known even before any of them that this was coming, had done nothing to stop it. As for Sheridan, it had been all Michael could do to keep from hitting him, but he had known somewhere deep inside, that if he had taken that one first swing, he'd have never been able to stop until the Captain was dead.
Even so, he'd let his words strike for him. "You wanted this, you sonovabitch!" he'd screamed, uncaring of who overheard. "You've been jealous of him since the day you came here. You'll never be half the man Jeff is... was... and you know it. So let him go to his death without even trying to prevent it. You should be the one who's dead!"
Delenn had reached out to him in protest, even as Sheridan had frozen, a look of horrified shock transfixing his youthful features.
"No, he's not dead. Not really... I mean..." Delenn had stumbled to a halt, unable to find the proper words, and he'd turned angrily on her.
"Give it up," he'd snarled. "Don't give me anymore of that bullshit about Jeff transforming himself into some ancient Minbari holy man. Save it for someone who gives a damn." Turning away before they could see the tears threatening to sting his eyes, he had fled the room. Run blindly down the halls, ending up in his quarters; not for any good reason, except the simplest habit.
And now... now. He couldn't even find the tears. Jeff's somber voice kept ringing in his ears. "You see, Michael. I'm not coming back from Babylon 4, and if you went too, you wouldn't be coming back either. I couldn't let that happen."
"Dammit, Jeff!" he shouted to the empty walls. "Why do you always have to play the hero? Why is it always your life that must be put on the line? Why didn't you let me make that choice for myself? It's not fair. It's just not fair."
Burrowing his face in his hands, he shook with silent sobs, unable to bring forth a sound or squeeze a drop of liquid from his burning eyes. The pain ran too deep; he felt sick so deep inside he thought he'd die from sheer agony of it. His PPG sat abandoned in his holster; he hadn't even bothered to think of using it, as he had more than once before. Somehow, he was past even that. The pain, at least, was something to hold onto. Something that reminded him of the one true friend he'd just lost.
<brrr... brreeep> The door chime rang. He ignored it.
<brrr... breeeep> It sounded again. He ignored it again.
The door swished open anyway, letting in a rush of air and light into the stifled, blackened room. A large figure loomed in the doorway, standing dark against the light. Michael didn't wait to see who his intruder was; he moved by instinct alone. Sweeping his PPG out of its holster, he aimed it without getting up out of his seat.
"Don't shoot!" came the strongly accented, gravelly voice of the former Narn Ambassador G'Kar. The identity of his visitor was enough of a surprise to penetrate even the shock of the moment, and Michael paused just long enough to throw out a question.
"How the hell did you get in here?"
"I got the Captain to give me an authorization code," G'Kar responded, stepping fully into the room.
Somehow that struck Michael as funny, and he started to laugh, though the sound came out bitter and cold. It only lasted a moment, and then he said fiercely, "Well you can take your code and get the hell out!"
G'Kar loomed over him, refusing to move. "Not yet. Not until you see what I've come to show you, and listened to what I have to say."
"Forget it." Michael swept his hand at the silent, dark room. "Can't you see I'm busy right now? Why don't you call my office and make an appointment? I'm sure I can squeeze you in next week sometime."
"No, you will see me now," G'Kar replied firmly.
With an angry growl, Michael leapt up out of his seat, only to have an amazingly powerful hand shove him right back down. He fell heavily against the couch, the PPG dropping to the floor with a loud clatter. The big Narn leaned down over him, and said softly, but with unmistakable certainty, "You will listen to me now."
"All right, all right." Michael had no choice but to give in. "Why not? What does it matter anyhow? OK, you can let me up now, G'Kar. Lights."
As the room flooded with a steady stream of light from the ceiling tiles, G'Kar pushed himself up off of the smaller human and sat down on the couch beside him. Bending over, he retrieved an object from the floor where he had dropped it earlier. With reverential care, he brought an ancient, loosely-bound set of parchments up into his lap.
"Look, G'Kar, I've learned some neat stuff from your Book of G'Quan, but I'm really not in the mood right now for another history lesson." It was tough to keep his voice from breaking, but Michael was an expert at hiding his feelings, and those years of practice came in handy.
"I know. But this you have to see. I promised that I would bring these to you now, and I will keep that promise."
Michael threw the Narn a suspicious glance. "Promised who?" he demanded, though he knew the answer before it came.
"Ambassador Sinclair. He came to see me before he left."
"He came to see you!" He pounded a fist into his thigh, barely noticing the pain. Jeff had managed to see just about everyone, it seemed, except him. The fact that he had been away, investigating the disturbances in Sector 14 didn't make a difference. Jeff had deliberately avoided him, and that hurt. Couldn't he at least have waited to say goodbye in person?
"There wasn't time. History does not tend to be patient," G'Kar easily read and answered his unspoken question.
Michael swore under his breath, shaking his head. "Don't you start giving me more of that bullshit about Jeff being this great Minbari hero... what's his name..."
"Valen," G'Kar finished for him. Michael shot him a daggered look, but the Narn was unfazed. "Before you make final judgment, perhaps you should take a look at this first." He undid the ribbon holding the fraying parchments together, and carefully opened them to a marked page. Withdrawing the single document with meticulous care, he held it out in front of the disbelieving human.
"This is a section--the only section--remaining from G'Quan's diaries. His Book survives to this day, nearly complete, but his own private records were almost totally lost when the Centauri conquered my world the first time. My family managed to recover and hide this one piece, and it is the most prized possession I own. I have never shown it to anyone except one or two of our priests--until Sinclair came to see me yesterday."
"So..." Michael shrugged, trying to appear uncaring; unwilling to sit through another damned history lesson while his best friend was off riding a space station down some blasted tunnel in time.
"So..." G'Kar took him literally. "G'Quan knew Valen. The Minbari came to Narn to help solidify the alliance between our peoples against the Shadows. G'Quan led the Narn in that battle, but he led them to Valen's call. And here, in these pages, is his record of that first meeting, including a drawing of Valen himself. Drawn by G'Quan's own hand." G'Kar pushed the page further into Michael's line of sight, and reluctantly, the human's eyes were drawn downwards to it.
Centered on the page was a inked sketch of a face, the eyes seeming to burn their way through the page itself, so intense was the fire that lit them from within. A characteristic Minbari crest rose above a domed forehead, but it was the square forceful chin, the full mouth, and above all those eyes--those incomparable eyes--that struck the observer like a fist in his gut.
Michael shook his head, as though clearing cobwebs from his mind, then he grabbed the drawing from G'Kar's hand. The Narn protested faintly, but fell silent as the human jumped to his feet and walked over to switch on a decorative lamp. Holding the sketch up to the additional light, he stood silently, totally focused, for an endless moment; then his shoulders sagged and his knees almost buckled beneath him.
Michael never quite noticed it when G'Kar seized him from behind and dragged him back to the couch. His eyes couldn't leave that face--that too familiar, too strange face. It was Jeff and it wasn't Jeff. It was him, and it wasn't him. But he knew those eyes, and that jaw, and the expression itself. He knew them even better than he knew his own. How often had he sat and looked into them, watching those chocolate colored orbs alter from humor to anger, from compassion to anguish. And finally, the truth of it sank in.
"It's all true," he whispered hoarsely, his own voice coming from a thousand miles away.
"It is so," G'Kar answered.
"My God, Jeff..." Michael's voice trailed off in total astonishment. "Oh my God." He fell silent, unable to cope with this revelation.
G'Kar let him sit in silence for a while, respecting this man's anguish and his love for his friend. When he felt that time enough had passed, he spoke slowly, thoughtfully.
"G'Quan wrote much of Valen in his diaries, and there is some, also, in the Book as well. But listen to what he says here... listen: 'The light itself poured through him, blazing from his eyes as though they alone could break the hold of darkness. The light formed in his hands, and he raised it above us all, through us all, and led us forth against the Great Darkness like a blazing sword. He stood against the stars themselves, and they shook before him. He drove us ever forward, and together we scattered the Shadows outwards, chasing them beyond the edge of the universe. He brought us to triumph, creating a temple to the light that will shine for a hundred generations. We will honor his name. We will not forget.'"
G'Kar's voice deepened as he finished quoting, and began to speak from his own heart. "I know what it is to lose a friend. I know what it is to lose a loved one. My people were the first to fall to the Darkness that is coming for us all, but we will not be the last. I have borne my burden, made my sacrifice to the cause of the light--and now it is his turn. Your turn. I wish... I wish it could have been otherwise, for you as well as for us. My people..." His voice threatened to break, but he too had long practice at holding in that pain, and he did so yet again.
"Your friend has gone to a great destiny, Mr. Garibaldi. He has been called to the service of the Light and that is a call that cannot be ignored without great evil resulting. He was needed. Without him, without Valen, our peoples would have lost the last Great War. And if that had happened, the cost, the terrible, terrible cost, would make what my people are now suffering look as to nothing. The last thousand years of civilization, of life itself, would cease to have existed. He had to go; he knew that, he accepted it. When he came to me yesterday, he was a man at peace. A man who had found the purpose for which he had been shaped, the cause for which he had been born. Honor the choice that he made, Mr. Garibaldi. Honor him, as the Minbari have done for a thousand years. As my people have done for a thousand years. He has given us all a chance at life."
"But why him?" Michael gasped out, staggering beneath the weight of these revelations. "Why Jeff?! Why does it always have to be him?"
G'Kar paused for a moment, finding it difficult to frame the answer. "Because it is who he is."
Michael threw him an look of pure irritation and G'Kar couldn't help chuckling. Then he tried again. "I know that sounds like something the damned Vorlon would say, but it is the simple truth. Jeffrey Sinclair became Valen because he had what it took to become Valen. Because he was, as you Earthers say, 'the right man for the job'." G'Kar peered closely at Michael's pale face. "And I think that deep down in your heart, you know that I am right. I think that you could give me more examples than I could ever offer you of ways in which Sinclair proved his worthiness for this great task. But if it will help you honor and remember your friend, I can tell you one of mine."
Michael sat back, all the remaining energy leaching from his body. He had been strung so tightly, that now he felt worse than an overcooked noodle. The worst of the sorrow and pain had lessened, though he knew it was not finished with him yet. But there was a kernel of truth in G'Kar's words. How many times had he seen Jeff reach out to the peoples of this station? How many times had Sinclair found a course of action that turned disaster into triumph, violence into peaceful accord, anger and distrust into cooperation? Michael had never doubted that his friend would find a great destiny, but he had always assumed that it would be here, or in the future. That he, himself, would be there to help and support his friend. That...
That at least he'd have a chance to say goodbye.
Swallowing hard, Michael brushed away the tears that had somehow managed to leak down his cheeks unnoticed. G'Kar was now silent, watching him, and Michael had to struggle to remember what G'Kar had asked him. When he did remember, he found himself nodding slowly.
Looking up through liquid-filled eyes, he answered softly. "I think I'd like to hear your story, G'Kar."
"Good," G'Kar said, smiling broadly. "It began on the eve of the most important religious ceremony of my people's religion..."