"Letters From an Old Friend"

by Elaine


Babylon 5 is copyright © PTN Consortium. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"Letters From an Old Friend" is copyright © 1996, Elaine.


It was Friday evening. Garibaldi had checked his mail earlier, but the report he'd wanted to see wasn't there. But then, he hadn't expected it to be. He'd never be getting any more reports from him--not now.

Sitting alone in his quarters, he stared blankly at the screen for hours while the ancient video clip automatically played, rewound and replayed over... and over... and over. The stuttering images danced before his eyes, reduced by repetition to meaningless pixels that slowly burned themselves into his brain. Marcus' translation lay unheeded on his desk, doing double duty now as a coaster for his congealing mug of caf. Occasionally, some gesture or movement on the tape would capture his attention and for a fleeting instant he would be spellbound, intently watching the stranger, the alien, and looking in vain for the man he had known and loved as a brother.

<Gone... Erased...> The frenzied words chased each other in ceaseless circles. They scrabbled and tore at the edges of his mind and hammered at the back of his eyes and stuck in his throat. <How could you leave me behind? How could you leave me alone? How dare you do this to me! What right did you have to...!> He smothered the impulse to hurl his mug into the screen. What good would it do? What difference would it make if he beseeched or ranted or begged? The man in the video was talking to them. There were no answers for him.

*

"Minbari flyer, you are cleared to proceed to diplomatic docking bay 15, please stay on the recommended flight path and prepare to turn over control to C&C." Lt. Corwin waited patiently for a response and yawned. It had been a busy night.

"Minbari flyer to Babylon Control... acknowledging... locking on automatic."

"You're back quick, Mr. Lennier. I hope you enjoyed your visit with Draal."

"Yes, thank you, Lieutenant Corwin, it was... illuminating."

"Ready to take control... now. Good night, Mr. Lennier."

"Good night, Lieutenant."

For a moment, Corwin wondered at the odd tone in Lennier's voice, before dismissing it in favor of more important matters as he watched the flyer maneuver towards the docking bay entrance. When he was certain everything was as it should be, he turned his attention back to the remaining business of the night.

"Brakiri freighter, you are cleared for departure..."

*

By the time they returned from Babylon 4, he'd worked himself into a sullen, vicious fury that exploded on them in place of Jeff as they disembarked the shuttle. He'd burnt himself out ranting in turn at Susan, John, Delenn, Marcus--even poor Lennier, who'd tried so hard to help afterward. They'd understood, even forgiven him. But he couldn't forgive himself. Not really. So for the past week he'd paced the corridors on security beat, shown up at the office, gone to meetings, and said all the right things at the right time. Then he'd leave. His guilt, his aversion to their quickly veiled compassion, and his fear that the still-festering hurt would burst out of control again drove him away, back to his quarters, back to the vid where he let his anger break over the only one who couldn't be hurt by it--not anymore. Off-duty, he hid, and watched the scratchy, silent movie over... and over... and over...

*

"Late night, Mr. Lennier?"

Lennier stumbled, scrambling a little to keep the bulky package in his arms from overbalancing, and peered in surprise towards the security checkpoint that sat athwart the commercial side of the docking bay terminus.

"Mr. Allen! You startled me."

"Sorry about that!" Zack's quick step slowed to a stroll when he saw the Minbari regain his hold on the package. "Do you need a hand? That looks heavy."

"No... no... it is not as heavy as it appears, just awkward."

"Well, at least let me get the transport for you," Zack persisted.

"Thank you, you are most kind."

"Nothing to it. Glad to be of help. Goodnight."

The shuttle door sighed open and Lennier brushed past him into the car. For a moment Zack wondered at Lennier's odd expression, then dismissed the thought with a shrug. It was late and, come to think of it, he wasn't feeling all that chipper himself. As he turned away shaking his head, he thought he heard a gentle goodnight echo from the direction of the shuttle car.

As the door closed Lennier sagged against the nearest wall, arms aching, and jeered at himself under his breath, "Oh, no, not heavy at all! In Valen's name..." he groaned, only to break off with a mental jolt, hastily suppressing the memory of his visit to the Great Machine. <No... better not to think of that now. Much better not to think.>

*

He sighed at last and slumped back on the sofa, burying his face in his hands and rubbing futility at red-rimmed eyes that hadn't seen much sleep lately. How long had he been sitting here? <What time is it anyway?> he asked himself, glancing down at his watch. <Sheesh, eleven-thirty!> He picked up his mug of lousy caf and took a swig that nearly choked him. <God, this stuff's bad enough when it's hot; cold, it's nearly lethal! What I really need is a drink.>

That brought him up short. <Damn... damn... damn... damn...> He gave himself a few hard mental slaps. <That's no solution and you know it. You've wallowed in that hole already, don't let...>

The muted beep of the door chime halted his corrosive internal monologue. He rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand and stretched to ease his aching muscles, pondering his options--to answer or not to answer. <Nah, I don't want to put up with any more grief. With my luck it's probably Susan with chicken soup and sympathy. I don't want to talk to anyone. Hell, at this point I don't even want to talk to myself!>

Tuning it out, he pulled his self-pity around him comforter-like and slouched back down to stare numbly at the blurry stranger on the vid and resume his fruitless diatribe. <I would have followed you... I could have made a difference with you... I don't know you... not my friend... not my brother... not anymore...>

The door chimed a second time, then a third. Finally, his unwelcome caller just leaned into the buzzer.


Lennier angled his knuckle into the doorbell and fervently prayed that Garibaldi would answer the door--soon. <I want this to be over!> he thought agitatedly. He sighed, shifting his awkward burden, and tried to keep both a grip on it and a finger on the buzzer. He wanted nothing so much as to unload this encumbrance into Garibaldi's arms and find a quiet corner for much needed meditation.


With a groan Garibaldi acknowledged to himself that his visitor was not going to give up and go away. Still, he held out against the racket for another minute on the off chance. Finally, irritation overcame apathy.

"Okay, who is it?"

"Lennier. I need to see you."

"It's nearly midnight!"

"Please, this is very important."

"This is not a good time, Lennier. Come back tomorrow."

"I am sorry to disturb you, Michael, but I will not go away. You must open the door." Lennier simultaneously cursed and begged absolution under his breath as he braced his load more securely against the wall and leaned on the buzzer again.

The din of the door chime set Garibaldi's teeth on edge as he seesawed between exasperation and capitulation.

"All right! Stop that blasted racket! Come!"

And just as Lennier's rapidly numbing fingers and trembling arms began to give way, the door lifted open with a grudging whoosh.

Garibaldi put his cup down and wearily hauled himself up, barely catching himself in time as his right leg gave way. Hopelessly massaging at the pins and needles, he limped around to face the open doorway. No one was there.

"What the hell?" he muttered, hearing odd scuffling noises just outside his range of vision.

Mentally rehearsing a withering set down, he hobbled painfully across the room and peered out into the corridor. His little speech died a quick death and his jaw dropped at the sight of the usually unflappable Lennier, panic-stricken, fighting to retain his hold on a large metal box that almost completely obscured the upper half of his torso.

"Help!" Lennier gasped as he spied Garibaldi peeking around the open door. "Don't let it drop!"

Galvanized by Lennier's frenzy, Garibaldi instinctively sprang forward with a body block just as the Minbari's grip slipped. The chest slid inexorably towards the floor, barely slowed by the friction of their bodies as four hands scrambled for purchase. With a grunt of surprise Garibaldi felt the weight of the box come to rest on his hands and arms.

"Jesus, Lennier, this thing weighs a ton!"

Fleeting displeasure marred the heart-felt relief in Lennier's face. "I am very well aware of that, Michael," he snapped. "May we take it inside now?"

Abashed, Garibaldi grimaced and glanced over his shoulder into his quarters looking for a likely spot. "Okay, on the coffee table," he agreed.

The two shuffled slowly into the dim room, their burden balanced precariously between them. They silently made their way to the sofa and awkwardly lowered the box to its resting place. Wincing visibly, Lennier massaged his arms and shoulders as he collapsed with a sigh into the corner of the couch nearest the vid, while Garibaldi limped around the table and sank into the other. They sat for a few moments wearily contemplating the mysterious box.

Garibaldi finally broke the uncomfortable silence. "Why couldn't this have waited till tomorrow, Lennier? And how, for pity's sake, did you manage to carry that... that thing all the way here by yourself?"

At length Lennier turned his troubled gaze from the box to Garibaldi and struggled to rise from the uncomfortable piece of human furniture. "With great difficulty, Michael, I assure you. However," he said flatly, "I have accomplished what was required of me, and now I will take my leave."

The brittle, knife-edged tone dragged Garibaldi out of his self-absorption and his narrowed gaze slowly raked in Lennier's haggard, hollow-eyed appearance with growing dismay. <Something's very wrong here,> he thought.

For the first time it occurred to him that the events of the past week might have had an explosive emotional impact on someone other than himself. He reached out in sudden empathy and placed a restraining hand on Lennier's arm.

Arrested in mid-flight, Lennier perched nervously on the edge of the sofa, his eyes resting for a moment on Garibaldi's hand then travelling slowly up to his face.

The expression in them unnerved Michael. It was almost like looking into a mirror. He felt the hurt and anger he'd been clinging to all evening with such passionate intensity slowly drain away to be replaced by a niggling sense of shame that settled down companionably next to his ballooning guilt. He looked away, uncertain how to respond or what to do, when his eyes lighted on his empty mug.

"You look like you could use a cup of caf," he offered tentatively. At Lennier's distracted nod, he hauled himself up out of his comfortable seat and limped over to the kitchenette, snagging his own cup on the way. He poured out twin servings of the noxious brew and sauntered back, casually presenting a cup to the unhappy Minbari.

"Thank you," Lennier said as he took the cup, then looked down at its contents dubiously.

Michael nearly kicked himself. <Damn, I should have made him some tea! Is he really going to drink that stuff?> "Would you rather have some tea?" he asked hastily. "It'll only take a minute."

"No, not at all." Gratefully cradling the comforting warmth between his hands, Lennier sipped experimentally, paused, and sipped again. A momentary smile of pleasure seemed to chase away his distress. "This is good."

Garibaldi relaxed a little and shook his head. <Amazing. I make the worst caf in the known galaxy and he loves it!> Turning, he made his way back around to his own seat. "That's definitely an original reaction," he said lightly, "but why are you here at this hour and what's in the box?"

Soothed by Garibaldi's solicitude Lennier strove to put aside his distress. "Please accept my apologies; I know that midnight is not a graceful hour for a social call, but I have only just returned from Epsilon 3." He stopped for another sip of caf, then put the mug down, thinking, <If I do this quickly, I can leave and find someplace quiet.> He took a deep breath and rattled on disjointedly. "I had to deliver it to you right away. I thought I could manage very well at first. Then it just kept getting heavier and heavier... but by then, it was really too late to..." Lennier's voice trailed off as he watched Garibaldi, fascinated by the parade of expressions marching across the human's features.

"A package from Epsilon 3... for me?" Garibaldi's amazed eyes were riveted on the chest in front of him. The metal flashed in the flickering light of the vid and he could just make out engraving on the lid. He braced himself against the edge of the table, leaning in close for a good look, and read: 'Michael Garibaldi, Chief of Security, Babylon 5'.

Reaching out his free hand to run his fingers delicately over the carved legend, he noticed the designs ornamenting the rest of the dully gleaming box. Minbari designs. The color slowly drained from his face and he looked up at Lennier with a suddenly haunted gaze and whispered hoarsely, "Who sent this?"

Lennier swallowed audibly and went very still. <I should have left... I don't want to talk about this...> he babbled to himself. Looking everywhere but at Garibaldi, he clasped his hands so tightly together that his knuckles stood out against his naturally pale complexion. Then the moving images on the screen snared his attention, and he froze, abruptly recognizing the subject.

Tracking his friend's every movement, Garibaldi's eyes followed and stopped, then slid back down to the box where his hand still rested caressingly. He snatched back his fingers as if the cool metal had suddenly turned red hot. His caf, held negligently in his other hand, sloshed wildly at his sudden move. "Shit!" he yelled and jumped for a towel to clean up the mess. Lennier didn't budge.

Garibaldi finished his cleanup operation between quick worried glances at Lennier. <This is not good,> he thought frantically. <No, this is worse than not good.> Dumping his empty mug and wet towel on the counter, he returned to his seat, reached over, took Lennier by the shoulders and shook him gently. "Lennier... Lennier, snap out of it!" He watched anxiously until the glassy stare began to fade and some small spark of life began to filter back into his friend's eyes.

"I am sorry," Lennier stammered as he blinked unhappily up at Garibaldi, then looked down at his still tightly clasped hands, <I should have left!> he wailed silently and tried to take a firmer grip on his emotions. "But I..." Speechless again, he gestured helplessly and, noticing how his hands trembled, quickly picked up his cup to hide the shaking. For a moment he savored the aroma, using it to center himself once more before attempting to continue.

"This afternoon Delenn called me into her office. She was holding Valen's letter in her hand." He bit his lip irresolutely, still staring down into his cup, then hurried on. "She looked at me strangely, then said I had one last duty to perform for Valen. I was to go to Epsilon 3 at once and retrieve a package from the Great Machine." He shivered slightly at the memory, then buried himself in his drink for a long moment.

"Why Epsilon 3? Do you know how it got there?" A perplexed Garibaldi dropped his questions into the unsettled silence.

Lennier smiled mirthlessly over at him. "I asked the same questions. Delenn's reply was that, according to the letter, he did not want to risk leaving the box in the Sanctuary with the other casket. He was concerned that anything not directly connected to the prophecies might be tampered with. So he gave it to the Vorlon, and asked him to see it safely lodged with the Great Machine until the proper time."

"Vorlons," Garibaldi muttered darkly. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Of course, I tried to depart immediately in our flyer, but was forced to wait a long time for flight clearance. When I finally arrived on Epsilon 3, I was surprised to find that Draal was expecting me. He told me that the Great Machine had informed him I would be coming. He t-t--" Lennier stuttered, then composed himself and continued in a rush. "He took me to the place where the box was stored and then I returned to Babylon 5 as soon as possible."

But Lennier's stumbling speech caught Michael's attention. "That's not all, is it?" he asked suspiciously. "You've left something out. Something important."

"Michael, I don't..."

"No." Garibaldi's tone was accusatory. "You weren't upset about all this business before. You were committed to what you did. You were sure it was right. What's happened to change that?"

"Nothing!" Lennier shook his head in vehement denial. "But before Draal took me to where the box was stored, he gave me another message. It was..." Garibaldi could almost hear him mentally turning dictionary pages in search of the most appropriately neutral word. "...unnerving."

"You're a master of understatement, Lennier." Garibaldi retorted, eyeing him sardonically, then relented. "Maybe it'll help if you tell me what was in the message."

Lennier looked across at him like a cornered rabbit and Garibaldi was suddenly certain he was going to bolt from the room. He was about to reach out a restraining hand when Lennier surprised him.

"He spoke to me, Michael," Lennier blurted. <There, I have said it aloud. Maybe the rest will come easier.> "He told me to bring the box to you myself, tonight, before midnight. That it was important for you to have it on Friday... and he said that you would know what to do."

"Told you?" Garibaldi pounced, "Who told you?" Then he sat back and waited, knowing what the answer was, would be, had to be, and knowing that it would come in its own good time. The silence hummed with tension as the tape clicked, whirred and rewound. Finally the words dropped out one by one breaking the stillness.

"It was Valen... a vid," Lennier whispered.

Despite being prepared, Garibaldi sucked in air with a hiss of shock at hearing it, while Lennier's eyes darted about the room like ping-pong balls, fixing on the vid for a split second before tearing themselves away time and again, looking for a way out and not finding it. <No,> he moaned to himself. <I was wrong. This is not easier.> Abruptly, he transfixed Michael with an impassioned stare.

"He was Minbari and he spoke to me as a Minbari!" he shouted. And once begun, the words came tumbling out of his mouth like living things, tripping over each other on his lips in their haste to escape. "Suddenly it was real, not an abstraction, not an idea, not a paragraph from the Holy Books! The prophecy was come to life in front of me! A Minbari not born of Minbari!"

Breathing raggedly from his outburst, his whole body shaking with the intensity of his emotion, he left the words vibrating in the air between them and slid his gaze from Michael down to the box. "I have spent my life studying the Holy Books, the writings of Valen, everything. In my mind, in my heart, I had such a clear vision of him. I thought I knew who he was."

He stopped speaking abruptly and gulped down the rest of his caf, then hugged the empty cup tightly to his chest like a talisman and huddled back in the corner of the sofa, his inward gaze focused elsewhere and else-when. After a while he felt a firm, comforting grip on his shoulder and looked over to meet Garibaldi's troubled, sympathetic eyes. <He understands...> Lennier marveled at the revelation.

<Of course, he understands...> he acknowledged as he looked past Michael to the vid as Valen raised his arms to the silently roaring crowd, and the great knot of tension that had been churning around inside him for hours began to unravel and his sense of isolation began to dissipate.

It was easier now, and he let the pain of his memories bleed out into the warmth of Michael's compassion a little at a time. "The face I saw... in that vid... it was Valen's. But the person I saw... was Sinclair. It was his voice... his eyes! I never expected to feel like this. I can barely even begin to describe how I feel. Lost... confused... confounded?" His voice sank lower forcing Michael to lean forward to catch his words. "Suddenly... he is a stranger to me."

<Ka-boom!> Garibaldi quoted to himself helplessly. <I guess coming to terms with your greatest hero being an alien just might be worse than getting dumped by your best friend.>

Lennier leaned forward in bewilderment, elbows on knees, mug clasped double-handed, and stared unseeingly over its rim. "But I believe, Michael. All my life I have believed. I still believe. I believe in Delenn... I believe in the Prophecies... I believe what we have done is right and necessary... I believe in Valen." He shook his head sadly and looked back up at Garibaldi. "I suppose believing in my mind is not quite the same as believing in my heart, is it?"

Garibaldi sat contemplating the disconsolate Minbari for a long moment before finding his own gaze pulled back to the vid. "He believed. And lately, I can't tell you how much I've wanted to believe." He watched for a moment longer and then sighed. "I wish I had some answers to offer, but I haven't. I had a friend and he's gone. Now, all I have left is that vid, but he's not there for me either. All I can see is Valen. I suppose you could say that we're two sides of the same coin."

He laughed bitterly, suddenly angry for them both. "I'm so goddamned mad at him! He couldn't even talk to me face to face. Just left a damned tape, 'So long pal, I'm on my way a thousand years into the past to become Minbari and save the galaxy. Sorry, can't stop to say good bye, have a nice life...'"

"He did not callously abandon you! You can't believe that!" Lennier protested fiercely, stung by the viciousness in Garibaldi's voice.

"He was my best friend. We were closer than brothers; at least I thought we were. No matter what he said, what else can I believe?"

"No, he did not mean for you to feel this way." Lennier leaned forward intensely, "I watched him when Sheridan sent you back. He was so sorrowful. It hurt him to leave you behind."

"Well, the hurt goes both ways." Propelled to his feet by his resurgent anger, Garibaldi began to pace back and forth across the room. "But to become... what he became..." He stopped in the middle of the floor, all anger fled, and rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. <Idiot! This isn't helping.>

"Look, I'm sorry... I don't think he meant for either of us to feel this way." He sighed and grinned sourly. "I don't know about you, but I need a refill." He turned back to the kitchen. "More for you?" he threw over his shoulder. At Lennier's nod he lifted the pot and walked over to top off the eagerly held up mug. Then he seated himself and crossed his legs, trying to look more relaxed and calm than he felt. "OK. We're mad, frustrated as hell, confused and unhappy. I think that about covers it, don't you?" They sat together for a while, sipping their caf and staring at the box in front of them unable to find anything more to say.

Finally, Garibaldi broke the silence. "Did you bring back a copy?"

"A copy?"

"Of Valen's message," he said hopefully.

"No, Draal attempted to retrieve it, but it was gone. It was set to play only the once and then erase itself."

"Too bad," Garibaldi sighed in disappointment.

"I am glad it was destroyed." Lennier sounded plainly relieved. "I do not think I could watch it again. If Draal had not been a witness, I would be certain now that I had hallucinated everything."

With a last curious glance at the box, Lennier put down his nearly full cup, heaved a sigh, and made as if to stand. "I should be going." But before he had half risen from his seat, Garibaldi snaked out an arm and pulled him back down on the sofa by the hem of his tunic, this time being careful to keep the caf in his other hand from spilling all over the place when he moved.

"Hey, hey, hey! Not so fast! I don't want to be by myself when I open this." He paused, then continued deliberately, "And I'm pretty sure he wanted you to be here too."

Lennier started. "But..."

"But nothing! Listen to me! Jeff..." He stopped and put his cup down thoughtfully, considering his words. "No... let's get this right--One." He held up a finger for emphasis. "Valen sends me a package from a thousand years ago. Two." Up went the second finger. "He leaves a personal message that you, and you alone, are to bring it to me tonight." He looked pointedly from his raised hand to Lennier. "I'm no dummy. I can put one and two together. He may have left me the box, but he wanted you to be here as well. We're both looking for answers, Lennier. Maybe we'll find some in that box." Then he gave him a twisted smile. "Besides, admit it, your curiosity is killing you."

Lennier smiled at his sally. "I am truly honored, thank you. Yes, I will remain." He leaned forward, his earlier distress consumed by growing anticipation, as he watched Garibaldi reluctantly turn his attention back to the gift from the past.

Michael sat immersed in an agony of indecision, wanting to tear the thing open, but at the same time scared to death of what he would find inside. <Come on, Garibaldi!> he jeered at himself. <It's not like Jeff would send you a 'time' bomb.>

Reacting to his hesitation, Lennier cleared his throat and cocked his head in the Minbari equivalent of a raised eyebrow. His 'come on already' pose was almost as loud as the spoken words would have been. Garibaldi grinned weakly and reached out tentatively to run his fingers over the lid, marveling again at the craftsmanship. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he delicately pressed the catch.

With a soft click, the lid popped up a fraction of an inch. Scarcely breathing, he lifted it with tantalizing slowness as Lennier fidgeted impatiently. Then they both gazed into the box for what seemed like an eternity before they slowly sank back in their seats, the wonderment in Garibaldi's face echoing the awestruck reverence in Lennier's. His hand shook as he reached in and lifted the first one out.

"Oh, my God!" he breathed.

"By Valen!" murmured Lennier in counterpoint.

"Yes, they are."

"What?"

"By Valen," Garibaldi repeated looking down at the printout in his hand. <Absolutely incredible!> he mused. It seemed to be a very thin, supple plastic-like substance, rather than paper. As he marveled at the document, turning it over and over in his hands, he slowly became aware that the crammed text was familiar. <I can read this!> he thought with astonishment. Then his gaze was riveted and the rest of the world faded away... and it was just like old times, Jeff sitting opposite, sharing a home-cooked Italian dinner, the deep, pensive voice bringing him up to date... or just shooting the breeze...


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