[main] - [updates] - [my fanfiction] - [recommendations] - [livejournal] - [about me] - [miscellaneous] - [guestbook] - [webrings]

Empty Chairs
by Nat Carter


Title: Empty Chairs
Author: Nat Carter
Author's Website: Slash and Burn
Fandom: Babylon 5
Pairing: Jeffrey Sinclair / Michael Garibaldi
Rating: R (for language, m/m love and disturbing content)
Warning: This is a death story!
Author's Disclaimer: Anyone you recognize in here belongs to my eternal god, JMS, and to Babylonian Productions. The plot and any original characters are MINE and cannot be used without permission (although if you ask, I'll probably say yes.
Author's Notes: Thank you ever so much to my incredible beta-reader, Allaire, whom I would be lost without!! She did an incredible job on this story. Anything still here that you hate is completely my fault.
Warnings/Spoilers: Big ones. First and foremost, this is a death story. Don't know how much plainer I can get. This story takes place before the episode where Franklin gets the alien healing machine. Also, this is a slash story. If you don't like m/m relationships, go away now and save both of us a lot of pain.
Mucho thankies also to Allaire, for writing and allowing me to use the wonderful prologue you are about to read...



Prologue

In which we listen to Earth's most well-known tv-channel




"This is ISN News. Welcome to the 20.00 news. The date: August 18, 2258. The news for today:

New York, Earth. The most famous scientist in the NewAIDS research, Thomas Y. Hewitt, was found dead five hours ago in his apartment in the Metropolitan Complex. Doctor Hewitt was the head of the NewAIDS research department on Earth and had been searching for over a decade for a cure for the terrible mutated virus that developed 150 years ago. At the beginning of the last century, we all believed the Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome to be extinguished, only to find that although we had found a cure against the original disease, there is still none against most of the mutated forms that originated from contact to other species. Unfortunately, still 23 different forms of the virus discovered so far are all able to be passed on to humans and related races. And over half of them cannot be detected by previous medical check-ups. As soon as the illness breaks out, it's still almost every time too late for the infected person. Dr. Hewitt dedicated his life to the search for a cure. He will be missed by all his colleagues. So far, the police couldn't give any information to the further details of his death, but many suspect murder as part of Dr. Hewitt's research documents have apparently vanished from his office. We will keep you informed.

New Athens, Mars. Tomorrow one of the greatest trial of this century will start on Mars Colony. In 20 hours, the prosecution will call for deletion of personality in the cases of the former EarthForce General Dean H. McArthur and his three subordinate officers who were responsible for the bomb attack to the Minbari delegation and over 300 assembled primary school pupils in april 2254. McArthur and his staff, having fought in the Battle of the Line, claimed to try to "free Earth from the Minbari pollution". President Santiago himself has expressed his wish to see justice served in all firmness.

Los Angeles, Earth. The festivities for the 230-year-celebration of the legalization of same-sex-marriages have just started in the great metropolis. The Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement (GLRM) have coordinated the festivities and succeeded in creating the tourism magnet of the decade. For a detailed report see our ISN Special in two hours.

Perinosid, Brakos. President Santiago's ship is scheduled to arrive on the Brakiri homeworld in about three hours. The state visit is..."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



I.

In which Ivanova gets a surprise



When Michael Garibaldi woke up on the third day, he knew something was wrong. Not in his immediate surroundings -- no, concerning the outside world everything was as it should be. His quarters were warm and dark, the air heavy with the scent of flowers, a fresh bouquet of roses that sat on his coffee table. The flowers had been a surprise, a present from the firm warm body that snored peacefully beside him in bed, oblivious to Garibaldi's knowledge. No, the sense that something was wrong came from inside Garibaldi, from the fact that for the third day in a row he had woken up with a headache and a sore throat.

Garibaldi reached over and shook Jeffrey Sinclair by the shoulder. "Jeff? Hey Jeff, sweetie, wake up," he whispered against the other man's forehead. Tilted his head to lay the gentlest of kisses on Sinclair's cheek. "Get up."

Sinclair gave a soft murmur of complaint and rolled over. "Shuddup," he yawned, wrapping his arms around Garibaldi's waist, tucking his face against Garibaldi's side. Garibaldi carefully extracted himself from Sinclair's possessive grip and padded to the kitchen. He had gotten himself a glass of water and was leaning against the counter by the time Sinclair untangled himself from the blankets and joined him.

"How are you feeling?" Sinclair asked, kissing Michael softly, pressing his nose into the warm curve of Garibaldi's shoulder.

"Not too good," Garibaldi replied, nuzzling Sinclair's hair. A mild flu virus had been working its way around the station, and Garibaldi had caught it. The very nature of the virus had been, in fact, the thing that tipped him off there was a problem. The virus, which normally ran its course in a day, had lasted three in Garibaldi. As much as everyone assured him it was the same virus that everyone had caught, he was worried. "I think I'll call in sick today and go see Franklin, get some tests run. Just to make sure I'm okay," he added at the sudden panicked look on Sinclair's chiseled features.

They showered together, out of a sudden desperate need to be close, a need neither of them understood but both recognized and obeyed. Emerged from the shower and dried each other gently, kissing and touching in Michael's cramped bathroom. They dressed in near-silence, Sinclair in his uniform and Garibaldi in civvies -- soft blue shirt and black trousers, an outfit selected by Sinclair when he saw the horrific red and green checkered number Michael had planned to wear. Garibaldi stopped Sinclair at the door. "When are you getting back?" Garibaldi asked quietly. Sinclair shook his head.

"Late. I don't know exactly when."

Garibaldi nodded. "Okay. Just make sure-- well, never mind. I love you, Jeff."

Sinclair grinned and kissed him before sweeping out the door to begin the day.

***

"Have you seen Garibaldi?" Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova asked Sinclair the moment he stepped into Command and Control, or C and C as they usually called it. Sinclair stopped short and took an instant to consider her question and formulate a discreet response that would give her the necessary information without revealing anything about the relationship between him and Garibaldi.

"Uh... He called me this morning, actually. Said he was feeling pretty awful and was staying home. He looked really sick, so I ordered him to go to Medlab and get some tests run. The sooner he recuperates the better -- Everyone knows how much we need a Chief of Security around here." Sinclair ducked quickly behind his desk, shuffled papers busily, then after a minute chanced to look up at Ivanova.

Ivanova stood, leaning against her own console, a bewildered grin on her face. "A simple 'yes' or 'no' would have done it," she chuckled to herself before turning her attention to a bleeping screen on her console. "Earth Alliance freighter Jefferson, you're cleared to dock in Bay 7..."

***

Ivanova kept her eye on Sinclair the whole day. She saw how he was unable to concentrate on his work, how he kept drifting off, how he would sometimes gaze out the observation dome and seemingly fall asleep. She approached him at one point when he was like this, sneaking up on him almost silently and whispering "Commander?" from behind him. He started, then smiled and turned to face her.

"Yes, Ivanova?" His smile was perfect, his tone friendly and neutral.

"Could I speak to you for a moment? In private?" she motioned toward the door of his office a few steps away.

"Of course," he agreed, following her into the office and locking the door behind them. Sinclair took a seat behind his desk and motioned to Ivanova, who sat also. "Now, what did you want to talk to me about?" "What's going on?" she asked bluntly. He cocked one eyebrow at her.

"A lot is going on, Susan. What thing are you talking about, particularly?"

"You know what I'm talking about. The something that's had your attention all day today instead of your job. The something you were thinking about when I walked up to you a minute ago." She paused and watched his expression. "It's Michael, isn't it," she said when he refused to meet her eyes.

Sinclair's head snapped up at the mention of Garibaldi. He regarded her warily, unsure of how much she knew. "Why would you think that?" he asked cautiously.

Susan grinned, not unkindly. "Jeff, it's obvious. When I asked where he was this morning, you got all stiff and nervous, like you were guilty or something. All day you've been zoned out, you're never like this when he's around." She paused and leaned forward, meeting the Commander's hazel eyes with her own. "You can tell me anything, Jeff, you know that," Ivanova continued, lowering her voice to a more personal, private level. "Anything at all."

Sinclair looked away, biting his lip. Then, with a deep sigh, he began to speak. "He's been waking up sick for three days now. At first we thought it was just the flu that's going around, but now... I don't know. It was his idea to go to Medlab. I'm scared, Susan, I don't know... God, if I only knew what was going on... "

Ivanova frowned slightly, realizing something. "Michael didn't call you this morning, did he." It was more a statement than a question. Sinclair shook his head. "You didn't wake up in your quarters this morning, did you." Again he shook his head. "In fact, I don't think you've woken up in your quarters for a long time. Have you. No, I didn't think so." It was now Ivanova's turn to sigh. "Jeff, why are you keeping this a secret? Why are you trying to hide this?"

"We thought it would be better this way." The Commander's reply was barely audible, even in the silence of his office. "You know... Sort of a 'don't ask, don't tell' kind of thing. We thought the less people knew about us, the better." He huffed out a breath he didn't know he had been holding, glad to get the secret off his chest.

"How long, Jeff?" Ivanova asked quietly.

"How long what? How long have I been sleeping with him? How long have we been keeping it a secret? How long have I loved him? There are a lot of possibilities in that question, Susan."

"All of them. Answer them all." Ivanova's voice was soft, slightly shocked as everything she had long suspected was confirmed.

Sinclair couldn't look at her. "We've been sleeping together for around a year, since just before the station came online. It's been a secret since around then. As for how long I've loved him... Susan, I think I've loved him since the beginning of time. I think I've loved him since before humans became aware of the ability to love, and I think I'll love him long after that ability is gone."

Susan didn't look at him for a long moment, couldn't look at him. In a way she was jealous--jealous of his happiness, of what she saw in his eyes when he said Michael's name. Why him and not me? she wondered. Why do they get to be happy and not me? Susan felt her eyes getting misty. She forced a smile, and looked up.

"Well," she said, clearing her throat, "I hope I'll be on the guest list for the wedding."

Sinclair gazed at her for a minute, perplexed. Then suddenly he burst out laughing, and Susan joined him, glad to be past that painfully awkward moment of truth.

***

Michael Garibaldi squirmed uncomfortably on a standard-issue Medlab chair. It was an astoundingly quiet day in Medlab, the only visitor aside from Michael being a terrified Narn mother whose pouchling had contracted the flu and had been throwing up all morning. Franklin had reassured her and sent her home with a small bottle of liquid that would ease the child's discomfort.

After the Narn's visit, Franklin had drawn blood from Garibaldi, several small tubes worth, and spirited it away for tests and analyses and God knows what else. Garibaldi was a little nervous, sure -- After all, he wasn't sure what was wrong with him. But, he reasoned, I've been through too much on this damn station to be taken out by something I can't even see. Garibaldi sighed and leaned back in the chair, getting into a better position from which to study the ceiling tiles.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



II.

In which Sinclair nearly has a heart attack



Sinclair pushed away his plate and grinned, rubbing his distended stomach. "Delicious, Michael," he said happily. "I can't believe how lucky I am to have you in my life."

Garibaldi stood and began clearing away the remains of their pasta dinner. "I've got an idea, Jeff," he said quietly. "After all, I've got you."

Sinclair followed him, wrapped his arms around his lover's waist and kissed the back of his neck. "Do you know how much you mean to me? Do you know how much I love you? It would kill me to lose you."

Garibaldi turned and looped his arms around Sinclair, pulling his lover against his chest. "I'm not going anywhere, love," Michael assured him. "Why are you so clingy all of a sudden?"

"I don't know." Sinclair's voice was muffled from against Garibaldi's chest. "I just... I've got this awful feeling something is wrong." He pulled back a little, smiled up at Michael. "Crazy, huh?"

Garibaldi beamed down at Sinclair, enveloping him in warmth and light. "Yeah. Crazy."

He leaned toward Sinclair, claimed his Commander's mouth with his own. They were still wrapped in the kiss a minute later when Garibaldi's viewscreen bleeped politely. He pulled away, kissed Sinclair quickly. "I'll be right back." Franklin appeared on the screen, his focused face creased with worry. "What's up, Doc?" Garibaldi asked.

"Mr. Garibaldi, your test results are back. Could you come down to Medlab immediately, please? I need to speak with you."

"Uh, sure Doc. I'll be right down."

"Oh, and Mr. Garibaldi? If the Commander is there with you, bring him along. I actually need to speak to both of you."

Garibaldi turned to Sinclair as the screen clicked back to the scrolling BABCOM logo. "Does he know?" Sinclair asked. "Did you tell him?"

"The doc's known for a long time, Jeff. I think he's known for longer than we have." He hugged Sinclair reassuringly. "Come on. We're wanted down in Medlab."

***

The three of them perched on chairs pulled into a half-circle, a quiet oasis in the nighttime bustle of Medlab 2. Franklin was oddly collected, seemingly preoccupied with some sort of awful knowledge. Sinclair was jittery, unable to keep still. Garibaldi was the calmest, reclining in the chair with his legs stretched out in front of him.

"First of all, it is just the flu," Franklin said as a way of starting off. "It's the same strand everyone else had, it should be gone in a few days."

"Then it's good news," Garibaldi said. "I'm fine."

Franklin shook his head. "No, Michael, I'm afraid... " He paused, glanced at Sinclair.

"He's all right, whatever you have to say he can hear too," Garibaldi told Franklin. Franklin looked a little uncomfortable, but continued.

"This is extremely important for you to hear and understand. I want you -- both of you -- to just sit there and listen until I'm finished. Michael, yes it is just the flu, but that's not the reason you've been sick for three days. The reason it's lasted so long... Well, Michael, I'm just going to give this to you straight up. You have a form of NewAIDS."

"What?" Garibaldi's whisper was stunned, disbelieving.

"The abnormality in your blood is a mutated form of the AIDS virus. As we learned how to treat the original virus, and developed antibodies against it, the virus began to mutate. The first mutations appeared about 150 years ago, and we have developed some ways to treat them. However, I believe the form you are infected with has never been seen before--not by anyone in Earthforce, anyway." Franklin paused for breath. "The virus is transferable mainly by blood. In a small number of cases, it has been found to be transferable by--uh--bodily fluids, but the number of those cases is small and the risk is almost nonexistent."

Complete silence. With a certain amount of interest, Franklin noticed Sinclair looked just as devastated as Garibaldi, if not more so. After a minute, Garibaldi took a deep, shuddery breath. "Jeff..." he whispered.

In an instant he was in Sinclair's arms, held tightly against Sinclair's chest. The expressions on their faces were pained, tortured, and Franklin suddenly felt guilty. Like he was intruding on them, on their relationship, during this extremely difficult time. The doctor suddenly couldn't stand it anymore. He pulled his chair closer to them, reached out and placed one hand on each of them.

"There is something we can do," he assured them. "A series of medications, laser therapy, and surgery could eliminate the disease. I'm not sure it'll work and it's a long shot, but it's something to try."

Garibaldi sat up and cleared his throat, moving away from Jeff to sit close by in his own chair. "Am I gonna die, Doc?" he asked.

Franklin paused. "It's a possibility, Michael. But if we attack this aggressively, we should be able to beat it." Garibaldi nodded and reached out for Sinclair's hand, holding it tightly.

"Commander, in light of you and Mr. Garibaldi's... relationship, I'll also need to test you for any signs of the disease. If you'll let me take blood now, we'll know in a few hours."

Sinclair held out his arm and allowed Franklin to draw three vials of blood. Sinclair watched it go numbly, unable to speak, unable to move, unable to do anything but clutch Garibaldi's hand, as if the world would end if he let go. Franklin disappeared, and Garibaldi looked at Sinclair. "What's going to happen to us? Can we go on the way we are knowing this?"

Sinclair leaned over and kissed Garibaldi firmly. "I will never abandon you," he whispered. "We will go on just the way we are. Michael, for as long as you need me, as long as you want me, I will be there."

Garibaldi's eyes were brimming with fresh tears. "I love you, Jeff," he whispered. Sinclair gave a choked, strangled cry and pulled Garibaldi close.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



III.

In which Sinclair begs



"Commander Sinclair, we're going to get started on some laser therapy. There's really no way you can help, no reason for you to hang around. You want to come back in two or three hours? We'll have your test results back by then," Franklin snapped out as he swept back into the room. Sinclair looked up, nodded comprehension. He squeezed Michael's hand, afraid kiss Michael like he wanted to.

"I'll be back soon, Mike, I promise," Sinclair whispered. Garibaldi nodded, let go of Sinclair's hand reluctantly.

Sinclair needed to talk to someone. Oddly, the first person he thought of was Susan Ivanova.

***

Susan Ivanova was relaxing in her quarters with a glass of wine when her door chimed softly. "Who is it?" she asked, sitting up and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

"Commander Sinclair." His voice was a little tinny over the speaker. Ivanova smiled.

"Come." She frowned when she saw his face. "What's wrong?"

He ignored her, flopping bonelessly on the couch. Susan suddenly noticed the tortured look on his face--he looked as if he had just been through Hell--or worse. "Jeff? What is it? What's going on, Jeff?" She knelt in front of him and put a hand on his knee. "Come on, Jeff, talk to me."

Sinclair looked up and Ivanova gasped. His dark eyes were pools of suffering, and she immediately crawled up beside him on the couch. She wanted desperately to hold him, but knew he wouldn't react well. Instead, she put her hands on his shoulders, tried to meet his eyes. "You can tell me anything, Jeff, you know that."

He turned so he wasn't facing her. After a moment, he whispered, "Michael has a form of NewAIDS."

"God, Jeff... I'm so sorry," she whispered instead, pulling him as close as she possibly could. "Is he going to be okay? What about you? Are you okay?"

His eyes were almost black, brimming with unshed tears. They were the eyes of a man who had seen too many indescribable horrors, who had been hurt beyond any realm of comprehension.

But every blow that had gone before had been nothing, mere inconveniences, compared to what had transpired in Medlab. "Franklin says he's got a chance if we attack it with lasers and surgery and all sorts of stuff. I don't know about me yet, I just gave Franklin blood, he should know in a few hours."

"Do you want to stay here until then?" Ivanova asked cautiously. Sinclair nodded silently, and she smiled a little. "Okay. Stay here with me, Jeff. It'll be okay."

***

Susan Ivanova walked with Sinclair to Medlab. He had completely regained his composure after the breakdown in her quarters, and if Ivanova didn't know better, she could swear nothing was wrong. Franklin grabbed them as soon as they came through the door, and dragged them into a small exam room.

"Good news," he said happily, and the smile made his face glow. "You're okay. I just got your tests back, and you're absolutely fine."

Sinclair tried to smile and almost succeeded. He was glad he was okay, but had a bigger worry than himself. "What about Michael? How's he doing?" Sinclair tried to make his tone casual, but there was no hiding the note of fear.

"Resting," Franklin told them, skirting carefully around the meaning of the question. "He just got out of the first round of laser therapy, and it pretty much knocked him out. He'll need to just sleep for a while, but then he'll be okay."

"Can I take him home?" Sinclair asked hopefully. "I'll take care of him, I don't mind, really." Franklin looked a little uncomfortable with the idea. "Well... "

Sinclair smiled, succeeding this time. "I'll be good, Doctor, I promise," he said, a hint of wry humor creeping into his voice.

Franklin laughed, glad to hear Sinclair joking around. "Okay, okay. But he has to stay on complete bed rest -- and I mean REST -- for the rest of tonight and all of tomorrow." Franklin stood up, unable to remain sitting for long, and paced the room as he continued. "He can get up a few times, to go to the bathroom and things like that, but he needs to rest as much as possible. He won't want to eat, I don't think, but you need to make sure he drinks something every few hours, or he'll get dehydrated and we'll have another problem to deal with."

Sinclair was nodding as he committed every word to memory. Ivanova watched him and smiled at the look of rapt attention on his face.

"Bring him back in tomorrow afternoon around three, and we'll run some more tests."

"I'd be happy to cover for you if you want to take tomorrow off, Commander," Ivanova volunteered. Sinclair smiled.

"Thanks, Susan. That would be great." He turned to Franklin. "Could I see Michael? I'd like to spend some time with him, sort of get used to this."

"Of course," Franklin agreed. "And it'll take time to get used to. Michael will get very sick before he gets any better. Things between you will probably have to change a little, maybe a lot. It's going to be a lot of stress on both of you, and I don't want you to think you have to be his caretaker. He can always stay in Medlab, if you need some time away from all the responsibility."

Smiling, Sinclair shook his head. "Thank you, Stephen, but I think I can handle it. For as long as Michael needs me, I'll be there for him."

Franklin shook his head, chuckled a bit. "How did I know you were going to say something like that?" The doctor entered a code on a door and stepped aside as it swooshed open. "Go ahead, take as long as you like. Come find me when you're ready, and I'll arrange to get him transported to his quarters. Or to your quarters. Or whatever." Franklin walked away, looking a little bit flustered. Sinclair grinned after him, and entered the room.

"Oh, Mike," he breathed, sitting by edge of the bed and taking Garibaldi's hand in his own. "How are we gonna get through this? How am I gonna manage without you?" Sinclair bit his lip and abruptly ended that train of thought. Raised Michael's hand to his lips and kissed it. "We'll be okay, love. We'll be okay." Sinclair rested his cheek on the bed and closed his eyes. It was late, and he fell asleep quickly, clutching Garibaldi's hand against his cheek.

***

Franklin and Ivanova finally came looking for them two hours later. Sinclair was still asleep, leaning on the side of the bed. Ivanova nodded silently, and Franklin went for a Medlab team. They returned a minute later with a stretcher, and Ivanova put a hand on Sinclair's shoulder. "Jeff? Jeff, wake up. Come on Jeff, we're taking you guys home."

Sinclair sat up, rubbed his eyes with both hands. "Let's go to my quarters," he said blearily. Stood up, stumbled as he tried to take a step. Smiled, a little shaky, and took a place beside the stretcher. Sinclair reached for Garibaldi's hand and held on tightly as the Medlab team navigated them home. "Thanks, guys," Jeff said as the team tucked Garibaldi into Sinclair's bed. One of the team, a short woman, looked up and smiled.

"Just let him sleep," Franklin instructed again. "Sleep, and I'll see you tomorrow around three."

Sinclair nodded, and let the team out. He locked the door behind them and turned back to the bed. Suddenly, Sinclair realized just how tired he was. Glancing at the chrono on the wall, groaning at the notion of going back to work in five hours. Then he remembered Ivanova was covering for him, and smiled. I have good friends, he thought with a grin. It only took him a few minutes to strip down, changing into plaid boxers and a big fluffy sweatshirt.

Sinclair climbed into the bed and wrapped himself around Garibaldi. "I love you, Michael," he murmured against Garibaldi's spiky hair. Wrapped his arms around his love, tucked the limp body against his chest, head cradled against his shoulder, and fell asleep.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



IV.

In which Garibaldi has some tea



"Will you quit babying me?" Garibaldi laughed as he said it, drawing a smile from Sinclair. "No. Franklin told me to take care of you, and that's what I'm going to do." Sinclair handed Garibaldi the steaming mug and kissed his cheek. "Drink your tea and stop complaining," with that same wry humor creeping into his voice, enough to let Garibaldi know he was joking.

Sinclair disappeared into the bathroom, and Garibaldi heard water running in the sink. Garibaldi chuckled silently and shook his head, then sipped his tea.

"What time is it?" Garibaldi called toward the bathroom.

"Quarter to three," Sinclair called around a mouthful of toothpaste. "We gotta go in, like, five minutes." He rinsed his mouth and wiped his face with a washcloth. He pulled some clothing for Garibaldi out of the closet, dropped them on the foot of the bed. "Get dressed and finish your tea. Franklin's gonna yell at me if we're late."

***

"Everything's looking good," Franklin told Garibaldi. It had been a month since Garibaldi had been diagnosed; a month spent moving between Sinclair's bed and Medlab. The laser therapy had totally knocked Garibaldi out, and he had slept through most of the past thirty days. Sinclair had worked a little, going in about every other day, but Garibaldi suspected Ivanova would be overjoyed when the commander took back complete control of the station.

Franklin cleared his throat, and Garibaldi turned his attention back to the doctor.

"You seem to be responding well to the laser therapy; the percentage of antibodies in your blood has increased by nearly fifteen percent. That's about all we can expect from this particular phase of therapy, so we'll move on. Today we'll start a round of medications that will prepare you for surgery."

"What kind of surgery?" Garibaldi asked, turning a little green at the notion of going under the knife.

"We've been able, in laboratory tests, to identify and remove the source of the virus in the bloodstream -- its 'home base', if you will. The drugs contain a special compound that will attach itself to the source, making it easier for us to find it. The surgery itself will most likely be long and complicated, with a recovery period of one to two weeks." Franklin's words were clinical and detached, but his tone and his eyes were sympathetic, friendly and gentle.

Garibaldi swallowed nervously. "Um... That sounds kind of undesirable. Is there any other way?"

Franklin shook his head. "No. As you know, research hasn't come up with a cure so far. I knew Dr. Hewitt. It's a shame that he had to die. But we're not powerless. I know, it's a scary thing you have to go through, but it's really your only chance. I think I speak for everyone on the station when I say we'll be here for you. You won't go through this alone, Michael."

"What are my chances for survival with the operation?" the security chief asked.

"Well, it's still an experimental treatment. I'm not sure about the exact statistics, but laboratory tests have shown about a twenty-five percent survival rate." Garibaldi frowned. "Pretty grim. What're my chances without it?"

"Zero." The doctor's expression showed his own pain at the prospect of losing his dear friend. Garibaldi nodded and bit his lip, then sighed.

"Okay then. Let's get started." Franklin led him to a small treatment room. Sat him down on the bed and hooked up the first round of IV drugs.

"Stay here, it shouldn't take more than ten minutes. I'll be back with some pills, and then you can go home," Franklin said with a professional smile. Garibaldi reached out and caught him by the wrist. "Stephen?" The doctor looked back inquisitively. "Thanks, Stephen. Thank you." Franklin smiled, warmer and friendlier this time, and squeezed Garibaldi's hand.

Franklin's absence was hardly noticed. Garibaldi's mind was caught in a turmoil, as it had been ever since Franklin had mentioned surgery. He refused to considerthe possibility that he could--no. I won't go there, he thought firmly. He was afraid, reluctant to consider the source of that fear--the fact that he was mortal, just like everyone else.

Garibaldi shook his head. He forced himself to stop thinking along those lines, and instead turned his thoughts to his lover. Jeff was, undoubtedly, working his way through a mound of paperwork, or perhaps mediating a dispute between alien nations... Michael imagined the hard gleam in Sinclair's eyes, the slight lines that were doubtlessly evident in his forehead... He could almost sense his lover's boredom, his exasperation with the whole scene.

Garibaldi smiled, mentally counting the hours until he could see Jeff again.

***

Susan Ivanova stood at her console, hands folded behind her back, head angled slightly back. She gazed out the observation dome blankly, mind wandering. She didn't even register the door behind her swooshing open, didn't notice the new presence in the room until he was literally breathing down her neck. "Susan."

She leapt a full foot in the air when he whispered her name. "Commander! God, you scared me." She turned and smiled at him, holding her back ramrod-straight. "What can I do for you?" she asked formally.

Sinclair smiled at her. "Relax, Susan, this is an informal visit. What can I do for you?"

Ivanova chuckled. "Well, to start with, you can take your station back. It's driving me crazy."

Sinclair laughed out loud. "Good." He put a hand on Ivanova's shoulder. "Walk with me." She followed him out of C and C, into his private office. Sat behind his desk and smiled at her. "I think I will take it back," he said with a sigh.

Ivanova frowned. "Really? But what about..."

"Michael will be fine. Stephen's taking him off the laser therapy and starting with some drugs. He won't be in such bad shape, and he even wants to come back to work. I think I'm going to let him." Sinclair shrugged. "Actually, I sort of have to let him. We both know how persuasive our Mr. Garibaldi can be when he wants something." A shared chuckle.

"I'm assuming that means he's feeling better?" Ivanova asked. Sinclair nodded. His face was expressionless; Sinclair was well-used to keeping his emotions under wraps. But the slight excited gleam in his eyes gave away his true feelings.

"Yup. Franklin said there's been a fifteen percent increase in antibodies. He's doing great."

Ivanova grinned right along with Sinclair. "That's super," she said happily. "Oh, by the way-" Ivanova reached over and tapped a sheet of flimsy on Sinclair's desk. "This came through for you the other day."

Sinclair snatched it up, read it quickly. Looked at Ivanova, who cocked a curious eyebrow at him. "They got my application," he summarized.

"Application?"

Sinclair blushed, ducked his head. "Adoption. It's something Michael and I have been discussing for about six months now. I filled out the application and sent it in just before... we found out. I couldn't tell them about my relationship with Michael, for then, they would be obliged to inform EarthGov, and you know how vigorously they act in cases of superior-subordinate relationships. I don't intend to have Michael take a job somewhere outside the B5-command structure so that I might never 'be tempted to save his life at the cost of others' -- you know the favorite mantra of EarthGov in such cases."

Ivanova nodded knowingly, then smiled and put a hand over his. "You'd make wonderful parents," she whispered. Sinclair's eyes flashed up to meet hers, and he smiled weakly.

"Thanks," he whispered. Then cleared his throat, curled the flimsy into a tube and tucked it inside his jacket. "I'd better go tell him," Sinclair said huskily, standing and starting toward the door. He stopped just inside the office and turned back. "You can take tomorrow off, Susan -- you've sure as hell earned it. Thank you, for all you've done."

"Anytime." Ivanova's smile spoke volumes. She watched him go, then shook her head. He looked normal, the same stiff gait as always, but there was something new, different.

Ambassador Mollari passed him, turned for a second look, then hurried up to Ivanova with a frown on his face.

"Lieutenant Commander Ivanova," he said, glancing at Sinclair's retreating form, "Dare I ask what has happened to Commander Sinclair?"

Ivanova shook her head, holding back a chuckle. "I wouldn't," she suggested. "You don't want to know."

Mollari nodded gravely, accepting Sinclair's new odd behavior. "Ah well, it really is quite ordinary compared to last night," he muttered.

"What happened last night?" Ivanova asked.

Mollari shook his head. "An ugly scene," he said, then leaned towards her. "Let it be known," he whispered, as if he were transferring some extraordinary secret, "that the Pak'ma'ra HATE losing at poker." He bobbed his head, then turned and waddled off.

Ivanova waited until he disappeared around the corner before bursting out laughing.

***

"I can't believe this is happening," Garibaldi groaned, rubbing a hand over his face. Sinclair chuckled, coming up behind him, wrapping strong arms around his lover's waist.

"I rather like it," he murmured, sending his tongue exploring into Garibaldi's ear.

"Stop that," Garibaldi giggled, leaning back into Sinclair's embrace. "And besides, I'm thirty years old. I'm not supposed to be losing my hair yet." He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror again, made a face.

Sinclair kissed Garibaldi's neck, sucked on his shoulder. "It's a side effect of the medicine, Stephen told us that."

"Yeah, he also said it wouldn't grow back." Garibaldi was still grumpy, but was beginning to smile a little. Yelped when Sinclair's roving tongue slipped into his other ear. "What did I tell you about that! Cut it out, you're driving me insane!"

Sinclair chuckled, licked Garibaldi's cheek. "But I like driving you insane," he whispered. Suddenly Michael went stiff in his arms.

"I wish it could be like that again," he whispered. Sinclair immediately realized he had pushed too far. Things between them lately had been... different. Not exactly strained, but... changed. Although Franklin had okayed sex (while blushing mightily), it had been with the condition that they use condoms and be extraordinarily cautious. It had required some planning, and some of the spontaneity had gone out of their relationship. Sinclair knew Garibaldi missed it, but had thought he could avoid turning it into an issue.

"Oh, God Mike... I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so eternally sorry . . . " Turning Michael in his arms, pressing the face contorted with grief into the crook of his shoulder, murmuring inanely, stroking gently. Soothing, reaffirming.

"I'm sick of it, Jeff, I'm so fucking sick of it," he whispered when he managed to control his sobs. "I mean, day in and day out, I've got to be so secretive. I can't tell anybody anything. It's like I'm a fucking disease, people avoid me, even people who know me. Kari" an old friend from Michael's days in the army, "hasn't called since she found out, my dad's probably turning over in his grave... God, it's like even you're off limits to me now... " Garibaldi needed this, this release, this chance to pour out all the pain and suffering, and Sinclair sensed that. He didn't attempt to stop the tears, but simply held Garibaldi close, stroking his back gently, protecting him until the storm had passed.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



V.

In which Sinclair sings



Michael Garibaldi stepped into Security H.Q. with a big smile. "Hey, what the hell's going on around here?" he yelled in a mock-stern voice. "I disappear for a month, the whole place goes to hell."

"Chief!" A delighted cry came from the back room. There was a loud crash, then Alison Bartelle, a young lieutenant, came running out. "Chief! Hey, where have you been? We missed you!" Bartelle threw her arms around Garibaldi in a quick, impromptu hug, then raced into the back room, yelling, "Hey, guys, the Chief is back!"

Garibaldi smiled, sat down behind his desk, and began to slog through a month's worth of backwork.

***

Garibaldi was near silent at dinner that night. Sinclair watched him for a minute, then asked, "Mike, are you okay?"

Garibaldi jumped as if shocked. "Huh?" he asked. "What're you talking about?"

Sinclair smiled wryly. "You've been drinking out of an empty glass for the past five minutes."

Garibaldi shook his head, forced a grin. "Nope, nothing's wrong."

Sinclair reached across the table and took his hand. "You're lying to me, Mike. I can see right through it. Now, come on. What's wrong?"

Garibaldi sighed. "I'm nervous, I guess."

Sinclair sighed. "Mike, it's okay to be scared, but I don't want you holding things back on me. I can help you, but only if you tell me what's going on."

Garibaldi grinned at him, squeezed his hand. "Okay, Jeff. I promise, from now on, no more secrets." Sinclair smiled, then spontaneously leaned over the table and kissed Garibaldi.

"I'll come with you tomorrow. You won't have to be alone," Sinclair murmured.

"Promise?" Garibaldi's voice was low, and Sinclair could detect a hint of fear. The commander's smile was gentler now.

"Promise," he whispered.

***

Sinclair held Garibaldi's hand tightly as Franklin hooked up the IV bag of anesthetic. "Just close your eyes and go to sleep, Michael," Franklin instructed. "When you wake up, it'll all be over." Garibaldi nodded, a little fearfully.

Sinclair pulled Garibaldi's hand to his lips and kissed it. "I love you, Michael," he whispered. "Will you be here when I wake up?" Michael asked. Sinclair smiled endearingly.

"Of course I will. Now listen to Stephen. Close your eyes and go to sleep."

"Sing to me," Garibaldi murmured, beginning to fall asleep.

"Okay," Sinclair breathed. Lay his head on the pillow beside Garibaldi, kissed his cheek. Took a gentle breath and began to sing. "You are my sunshine... My only sunshine... You make me happy... When skies are gray... You'll never know, dear... How much I love you... Please don't take... My sunshine . . . Away." It took him less than a minute to get through the first verse of the song. By the time he finished, Garibaldi was asleep.

"I love you, Michael," Sinclair whispered. Kissed Garibaldi tenderly, gave his hand one last squeeze, and walked out slowly.

***

"Ready, team?" Franklin asked, holding up his gloved hands to keep them sterile. His operating team -- consisting of three techs, an assistant for Franklin, an anesthesiologist, and a guy appointed to watch monitors -- nodded in unison. "Okay, then. Prep him and get ready to cut."

The team nodded again and began to bustle around, carrying out Franklin's orders. The doctor paused and looked at his friend, lying unconscious on the operating table. "We'll take good care of you, Mike," he muttered. "Just hang on. We'll take care of you." He touched Garibaldi's cheek gently with one gloved finger. Then he turned, straightened and took control.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



VI.

In which Sinclair has a brownie



Three hours into the surgery, Sinclair was asleep. Curled in a plastic chair in the Medlab waiting room, he had finally succumbed to exhaustion. Sinclair had spent the entire night awake, holding Garibaldi and watching him sleep. The stress of over twenty-four sleepless hours had finally caught up to him, and even though the Medlab waiting room wasn't exactly private or comfortable, Sinclair was past the point of caring.

Ivanova stood and watched him for a long moment, unwilling to disturb him but knowing she had to.

"Commander?" she whispered, sitting beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder. "Commander? Wake up, I need to speak with you." He mumbled something unintelligible and squirmed in his chair. "Jeff," she tried next. "Jeff, wake up. Wake up, Jeff."

Sinclair yawned and sat up, rubbing his eyes blearily. "Hmm?" One eye was closed, the other only half open, and Ivanova smiled.

"Wake all the way up, Jeff. This is important."

He swung his feet down to the floor, sat up straight, and forced his eyes open. "Yes, Ivanova?" he said firmly, slipping into Commander Mode. She grinned at him, shook her head.

"No, relax. It's a good thing." He tilted his head inquisitively. Ivanova was unable to contain her grin as she said, "You've been accepted." Sinclair looked a bit confused. "The adoption application. You got a message from the agency on Earth, you told me to tell you if it came through, remember?" Still speechless, Sinclair nodded. "Well, it did. It came through. You're approved." Sinclair was beginning to grin, but the grin disappeared as he thought of something.

"Do they know that I can only offer one parent, and that I don't have the most safe job myself?" Ivanova nodded.

"They know, and they don't care. I guess there are just so many kids back home, they've lowered their requirements. One stable parent is enough."

"I guess that's good," Sinclair chuckled. Ivanova laughed also.

"A social worker, Delilah Wintergreen, is coming out from Earth next week to talk with you about the adoption. With luck, it'll be finalized in three weeks."

"Great!" Sinclair said enthusiastically. Then he paused. "Hey," he asked Ivanova suspiciously, "How do you know all this?"

Ivanova ducked her head, embarrassed. "I called them back and said you'd be unavailable for the rest of the day, but if they'd give me all the information I'd get it to you. You're not mad, are you?"

He smiled at her. "No, Susan, I'm not mad. In fact, thank you very much."

Ivanova stood up and laid a hand on Sinclair's shoulder. "I've got to go, but I'll come back later, okay?" Sinclair nodded wearily, blinked twice. The corners of Ivanova's mouth turned up in a tender smile. She wanted desperately to touch him, reassure him, but knew that she couldn't. She simply nodded at him, then turned and retreated to C and C.

Sinclair yawned. He was still exhausted, but suddenly hungry. He left a note with Franklin's secretary saying he went to find a sandwich and would be back soon, then wandered off toward the Zocalo.

***

At 6:00 that night, Sinclair was beginning to get worried. He paced around the waiting room, biting his lip and glancing nervously at the clock. Sinclair was hungry again, but didn't dare leave to get dinner. At 7:00, Sinclair's knees started to hurt so he sat down. He pulled a novel he had been reading out of his pocket and cracked it open. Ten pages later, he realized he didn't remember what he had just read and put the book away.

At 8:00, Ivanova showed up carrying a paper bag leaking delicious smells, and a big cup of coffee -- the real kind, not from the cafeteria. Ivanova sat in the chair next to Sinclair and handed him the coffee. She pulled over a little plastic table and put it in front of him, then opened the paper bag. Sinclair started to drool as she removed goodies from his favorite restaurant -- a Mexican place in the Zocalo called Pedro's. A giant burrito, dripping with meat and sauces and other good stuff, was followed by an apple -- just like Ivanova to make me eat healthy, Sinclair thought -- and to top the meal off, a chewy chocolate brownie. Sinclair smiled at Ivanova, a full-blown smile. "Thank you, Susan," he said, a little sheepishly. "I've been starving for hours, but I... I couldn't bring myself to leave."

Ivanova smiled tenderly at him. "It's okay," she murmured, laying a hand on his shoulder. "I understand. Now. Eat," she commanded, pointing at the food.

"Yes ma'am," Sinclair laughed, and attacked his dinner.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



VII.

In which Franklin nearly cries



Sinclair fell asleep after he ate; nodding off almost immediately after the last crumb of the brownie disappeared. He slept quietly for a good half-hour before he began to moan. Ivanova watched him carefully. After a minute, he began crying out in earnest, thrashing around in his chair. Ivanova couldn't stand it. She reached over and took his hand, rubbing it gently, reassuring him.

After a minute, he relaxed, his cries growing quieter, tense muscles relaxing.

Ivanova watched him with a smile on her face. She knew the news about Michael, when it came, would probably not be good. She was glad she could at least give him this one moment of peace, happiness, before he had togo back and face the world.

The chrono on the Medlab wall read 21:37 when an exhausted and bedraggled Stephen Franklin emerged from the operating room. Sinclair awoke immediately, sensing the new presence in the room and bouncing to full alertness in a fraction of a second. "How is he?" Sinclair asked anxiously, already halfway across the room.

"Jeff, sit down." Franklin yawned as he said it. Both sank into chairs, Franklin drooping and Sinclair perched ramrod-straight on the edge of his seat. Ivanova moved a few chairs closer.

"Michael is a very sick man," Franklin said quietly. "The infection has progressed much farther than we thought. Jeff, if you could have seen what I saw in that room..." Franklin shook his head.

"Is he going to die?" Sinclair's voice trembled violently.

Franklin sighed. "I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, Jeff. I really don't know. We removed as much of the disease as we could, but I'm sure there's something left. He could go either way, at this point." Franklin reached out and put a hand on Sinclair's knee. "I've done all I can, Jeff. All we can do now is hope."

Sinclair squeezed his eyes shut, struggling not to cry. Ivanova touched his shoulder gently. After a minute, Sinclair took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "Can I see him?"

Franklin nodded. "Yes, but you have to make it quick. He's probably still knocked out from the drugs we gave him."

Sinclair was numb. He followed Franklin to a small private room in the rear corner of Medlab 2. "Hurry up, okay?" Franklin said quietly, letting Sinclair in. Sinclair bobbed his head and stepped inside.

"Here we are again, Mike," Sinclair whispered, taking Garibaldi's hand. "I'm right here with you." He sat, determined to take as much time as Franklin would let him.

The doctor returned a few minutes later, tapping Sinclair's shoulder. "Jeff? You have to leave now." Sinclair looked up at him. "Stephen, I promised him I'd be here when he woke up. I have to stay with him."

"Jeff, I understand, but we have rules here. No visitors allowed after 22:00, no exceptions." Franklin was sympathetic, but resolute. Sinclair gave up.

"You'll tell me immediately if he wakes up, won't you?" Sinclair didn't look at Franklin, choosing instead to press his cheek to Garibaldi's.

"Of course," Franklin said kindly. "You'll be the first to know." He gave Sinclair a reassuring smile.

Sinclair kissed Garibaldi gently, then stood up. Franklin could see the inner struggle in the way Sinclair's knees trembled, the way his eyes gleamed with a sheen of tears, the way his right hand -- the one accustomed to being clenched in Garibaldi's -- flexed mindlessly. "Jeff," Franklin asked gently, "do you want Ivanova to walk you to your quarters?"

Sinclair nodded, unable to speak for fear of crying. Franklin wrapped an arm around Sinclair's shoulders and led him out to the lobby. "Susan? Would you mind walking him home?" Franklin's eyes told Ivanova what words couldn't -- He's going to break down if he has to go alone, please take him. Ivanova agreed rapidly, and led Jeff away.

"I'll come check up on you in the morning, okay Jeff?" Susan said as he unlocked the door to his quarters. Sinclair nodded, still unable to speak. Ivanova hugged him gently. "It'll be okay, Jeff, you'll see," she whispered.

Sinclair smiled weakly. "Thanks, Susan," he said shakily. "You've really been great."

"You and Michael have always been wonderful friends," she told him. "I owe it to you to help out." Sinclair smiled again, nodded, and ducked inside his room.

Ivanova smiled, shook her head, and walked off.

***

Sinclair was too tired to shower. He stripped on his way to bed, scattering clothing all over the floor, making a mess and not caring. He crawled into the bed, curled up and pressed his face into the pillow.

He was lonely.

Sinclair lay awake for three hours before he noticed he was freezing. He liked sleeping in the cold; there was a certain joy in waking up in a warm cocoon of blankets, the air chilled and clear. Sinclair climbed out of bed and shivered, realizing he was wearing nothing but his boxers. He tossed a look of disdain at the temperature controls, then went to the dresser and pulled out the biggest, fluffiest sweater he could find. Clutched it to his chest and scrambled back to the bed.

Sinclair sat up in the bed and crossed his legs. He caught a sudden whiff of Michael's scent as he pulled the sweater on, and he looked around hopefully for a minute -- then looked down and saw the embroidery on the sweater, and everything was explained.

Across the front of the sweater, embroidered in two-inch golden letters on the black background, was the word SECURITY. Michael's sweater, Sinclair thought. He started to take it off, then stopped. He sniffed the sweater, was comforted by the smell of his lover. Sinclair lay down and closed his eyes.

Burying his face in the arm of the sweater, the Commander of Babylon 5 fell into a fitful and haunted sleep.

He dreamed.

***

Sinclair was suddenly sitting up in bed. He cradled a sleeping Garibaldi in his arms. He knew it was late, but Sinclair wasn't tired. He was content instead to watch his lover sleep, stroke his back and shoulders, trace the lines of his face. Garibaldi smiled in his sleep, nestled closer to Sinclair, who tightened his hold.

Somehow, in his dream, Sinclair knew this was a time before Garibaldi got sick. He leaned down and kissed Garibaldi, waking him up with a tongue exploring the inner crevices of his mouth. Garibaldi woke up and responded, slipping his hands up Sinclair's body to cradle his face. Garibaldi shifted to straddle Sinclair, moved closer, pressing his body tight against Sinclair's.

Sinclair slipped his hands down Garibaldi's sides, stroked over his ribs, slipped his hands into the waistband of Garibaldi's boxers. Sinclair's lover arched against him and groaned, half crazy with need. They kneeled on the bed, skinning off layers of clothing--

--And suddenly Sinclair was alone in the bed, wearing checkered silk boxers and Garibaldi's SECURITY sweater. Garibaldi himself was nowhere to be seen. Sinclair realized it been nothing but a dream.

The second verse of the song he had sung to Michael that morning came to his mind, and he whispered the words like a prayer against the dark and the loneliness.

Sinclair took a deep, quivering breath and wiped his eyes. The room was still dark and cold, and Sinclair was exhausted. Unable to keep his eyes open any longer, Sinclair collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



VIII.

In which Sinclair runs away



Michael woke up at 9:07 the next morning. He was confused and disoriented, alone in the treatment room. His entire body ached steadily, and his head spun. "Jeff?" he called out weakly. "Jeff . . . Jeff, where are you? Where are you?"

As Garibaldi's cries became louder and more desperate, Franklin rushed into the room. "Michael, I just called him. He'll be here any minute. Michael, calm down!" Garibaldi's eyes seemed to shift back into focus. He stared at Franklin, tears building in his icy blue eyes.

"He's coming?" Franklin nodded.

"He'll be here soon, I promise." Garibaldi grinned shakily.

"Hey, look who's awake." Garibaldi spun toward the door, his grin increasing exponentially.

"Jeff!" Sinclair crossed to the bed and wrapped Garibaldi in his arms. Franklin, sensing he wasn't needed, sat just outside the door.

"Hello, Mike." They clung to each other for a long couple of minutes. Sinclair pulled away and sat on the edge of the bed, holding Garibaldi's hand. "How do you feel?"

Garibaldi grimaced. "I feel like I've been trampled by a horde of angry Narns," he complained. He tried to sit up, fell back with a weak moan, and added, "Narns wearing baseball cleats."

Sinclair laughed and kissed Garibaldi. "I love you, you know that?" he murmured.

Garibaldi kissed him back. "I figured." He took a good, close look at Sinclair. "Have I ever told you just how delicious you look in that uniform?" he murmured, running a finger along Sinclair's collar.

Sinclair raised his eyebrows. "I believe you have," he chuckled, pressing his lips to Michael's. He pulled away and cradled Garibaldi's cheek in his hand. "I'm going to talk with Dr. Franklin, okay? I'll be back soon."

"Okay," Garibaldi whispered as Sinclair stood up and left the room.

"How is he, Stephen?"

Franklin busied himself shuffling papers in a file. "He's hurting, understandably," the doctor said. "But Jeff," Franklin sat, motioning to Sinclair, who sat also, "Jeff, he's very very sick. We monitored him overnight, and to tell you the truth, it's not looking good."

"What are you saying?" Sinclair asked, knowing perfectly well.

Franklin couldn't look at Sinclair. "He's going to die, Jeff."

Absolute and total nothingness. Sinclair's world shrunk, dissolved until there was nothing but a single word screaming in his head, NO... Almost as if he was watching the scene play out on a movie screen, Sinclair heard himself ask, "How long?"

The doctor raised his eyes. "I give him a month at best, Jeff. I'm sorry."

Suddenly everyone in the room was staring at him. Sinclair could feel eyes, what seemed like thousands of eyes, resting on him as everyone spread the news around -- Our Security Chief is dying of NewAIDS, and the Commander's his lover. He had to get out.

Sinclair stood up, so quickly he knocked his chair back a good five feet. He could hear Franklin behind him, calling him back, but he didn't care. The only thought in his head was Get out, Get out, Get out out out out. He ran.

Sinclair ran blindly, head down so nobody could see the tears in his eyes. He didn't know where he was headed -- he just knew he had to run. Sinclair found himself taking familiar corridors toward C and C. He knew he shouldn't go there, but he didn't have the power to find a new path.

Sinclair's feet turned him down instead of up at a critical junction, and he realized his destination wasn't C and C after all. He leaned on the pad beside the door, entered the command override, and entered, locking it behind him.

He flung himself down in Garibaldi's chair in the main Security office, pulled his knees up to his chest, and let himself cry. He was lost, drifting in a sea of denial and pain, getting a taste of what it meant to be really and truly alone.

Sinclair didn't know how long he sat there, nestled in a chair that bore the imprint of Michael's body, surrounded by Michael's things, Michael's job, Michael's life. There was no one else in the Security office, which Sinclair was grateful for. He didn't want anyone else to witness the complete and total breakdown of Babylon 5's Commander.

It was a long time before his sobs began to quiet, before his breathing returned to normal. He was just beginning to relax and think about going back when he heard a voice from the door.

"I thought I might find you here."

Sinclair spun the chair slowly around until he was facing Susan Ivanova. "How did you get in here?" he asked, his voice small.

"I overrode the lock." She moved around the desk, sat on the edge close to him. "Want to tell me about it?" Ivanova asked, not pushing him. Sinclair took a ragged breath and wiped his eyes.

"Michael's not gonna make it," he whispered. "Franklin said-" he almost started crying again and had to stop and wipe his eyes before continuing. "Franklin said it was out of control and there was nothing we could do. He's got no chance. He's got a month at best."

"Oh, God... Jeff, I'm so sorry," Ivanova whispered. "Is there anything I can do to help out?"

"I don't know." Sinclair wiped his eyes and put his feet on the floor, beginning to regain his composure. "I'll, uh... I'll talk to the doctor and see where we're going from here." He stood, and offered Susan a smile. "Thanks, Susan," he said quietly. "I'll talk to you later." He walked out, leaving Ivanova to marvel at the speed with which he went from being a complete train wreck to being totally and completely in control.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



IX.

In which the boys meet a baby



Michael got out of Medlab a few days later, after promising Franklin he would stay in bed. Since the morning after the operation, not a word had passed between Garibaldi and Sinclair about the fact that Michael was going to die. If you looked closely, though, you could see that they knew. Sinclair walked around with an empty look on his face, like he wasn't completely there. When he and Garibaldi were together, they were always touching, clinging to each other like they couldn't bear to let go. Ivanova began to make it a habit to check on them, and every night the three of them, and sometimes Franklin, would sit and talk over steaming mugs of hot cocoa.

Sinclair made a few calls, and set up a meeting with a social worker for a week after Michael's operation. Both men knew that Michael couldn't be there for the meeting; but no matter how often they rationalized it, the reality didn't hurt any less.

The social worker, Delilah Wintergreen, told Sinclair that she would be bringing along a child for the visit, and if all went well, the little girl Sinclair met would be the one he eventually adopted.

Garibaldi moved the few of his possessions that obviously did not belong to Sinclair back to his quarters, where he would stay until the social worker left. He was sick the night before, waking three times during the night to race to the bathroom and throw up. It killed Sinclair to see his lover hurting, but deep down he knew there was nothing he could do, save hold Garibaldi, comfort him. Neither of them got much sleep, and by morning they both looked haggard and worn.

By the time 9:30 AM rolled around, Garibaldi was back in his little-used quarters. Sinclair took a hasty shower, and looked almost human again. He paced around his quarters uneasily, missing Garibaldi's presence desperately. There was nothing left to remind him of Michael; most of the other man's things were gone, and Sinclair got a taste of what it would feel like when Michael was gone. He didn't like it one bit.

Delilah Wintergreen showed up at 10:30 sharp, exactly the time that they had agreed to meet. She was tall and beautiful, with wavy dark hair pulled back into a severe bun and an elegant face. Delilah carried a screaming baby in her arms, and she sank gratefully into a chair provided by Sinclair.

"This is Mikayla," she said, struggling to be heard above the baby's cries. "She's angry because I interrupted her nap."

"Let me see her." Sinclair reached out for the baby, and Delilah passed her over thankfully. "Hello, Sweetie," Sinclair cooed, holding the baby at eye level. After a minute, Mikayla seemed to notice Sinclair and her sobs quieted. As Delilah looked on, Mikayla reached out and took hold of Sinclair's nose with a miniature hand. They looked at each other for a minute, sizing each other up. Then Mikayla released Sinclair's nose and clapped her hands, beginning to laugh. After a minute, Sinclair and Delilah joined her.

"Mikayla is nine months old," Delilah said. "Her mother was seventeen, unmarried. Her father disappeared after he found out his girlfriend was pregnant, and hasn't been heard from since. The girl and her mother signed Mikayla over to Earthgov when she was six months old. She's been in an orphanage in Russia ever since."

"Poor kid," Sinclair muttered, as Mikayla struggled to get away. "What's going to happen to her now?"

Delilah grinned. "Well, that's why I brought her with me today. I wanted to see how she would react to you. From what I see-" Delilah watched as Sinclair set Mikayla on the floor. The baby crawled unsteadily toward Delilah, but fell over halfway. She dragged herself up into a sitting position and laughed. Delilah smiled. "From what I see, you two seem comfortable together. If you'd like, I'll get some wheels turning back on Earth, get her name put on your papers. If I start today, the adoption will probably be finalized in two weeks or so."

Sinclair barely had to think. "Of course," he said. "That would be great."

Delilah Wintergreen's smile almost took over her face. "That's wonderful. I'll call the Agency the minute I get back to our temporary headquarters." Delilah reached out to gather up Mikayla, who immediately began to cry. "You can come visit her as often as you want at my room," Delilah said, raising her voice to be heard. "I'm in Red 14, and I barely ever go out."

"Thank you, Delilah." Sinclair stood up and walked her to the door.

"No, thank you," she laughed. "I'm not parent material, believe me. The sooner I can get back to my nice quiet desk job, the better." She got just outside the door, then turned back. "I'll call you tomorrow, we'll set up a day when she can come over for a night to see how it works out." Delilah was looking more and more harried by the minute.

"Great. We'll talk to you tomorrow, then." Delilah Wintergreen nodded, waved, and walked off, cooing soothingly to Mikayla.

***

"How does it look, Doc?" Michael asked cheerily. The daily check-ups were more a matter of protocol now, a daily routine that allowed Michael to keep a closer meter on his life. His days had fallen into a certain pattern, a schedule of sorts, which allowed him to get his affairs in order without too much exertion. He had been training his second, a bright young guy named Zack Allen, to take over the Security Chief post. Unbeknownst to Sinclair, Garibaldi had met with a lawyer and had a will drawn up. It left almost everything to Sinclair, with a few things to Ivanova and Franklin. "About the same as yesterday," Franklin said, engrossed in the latest analysis of Garibaldi's blood. Garibaldi nodded. He hadn't expected anything else. He pulled his shirt back on and left Medlab, waving to one of Franklin's assistants as he went. Garibaldi's next stop was Security Central, a place where he wasn't really needed anymore. Zack had pretty much taken over, and Garibaldi's visit was a brief one. Feeling unneeded and lonely, Garibaldi stopped at C and C to pay Sinclair a visit, but was told the Commander was in a meeting and couldn't be disturbed.

Garibaldi found himself very quickly becoming bored. He watched the vids for a while, but could find nothing that held his interest. He was contemplating going shopping when Sinclair returned, looking droopy and exhausted. He collapsed into Garibaldi's arms, going limp against his lover, finally letting himself relax. Garibaldi closed his eyes and smiled.

Garibaldi made dinner. Sinclair was constantly underfoot, arms around Michael's waist, nuzzling his ear, being playful and adorable. At any other time, the attention would have been welcomed, but while Garibaldi was cooking, it was simply a nuisance. Finally, as he tripped over Sinclair for the third time and almost spilled a pot of boiling water on himself, Garibaldi yelled at Sinclair and told him to buzz off. Sinclair backed off and glared at Garibaldi for a moment before walking off. Garibaldi heard the door cycle open, then closed. He called out to Sinclair, but there was no answer. When Sinclair hadn't returned in half an hour, Garibaldi got worried. He turned down the heat on the stove, then went to look for his missing lover.

He found Sinclair almost immediately, slumped on a bench in the Zen gardens, a half-empty vodka bottle dangling from his hands. Sinclair was lucky--the section of the gardens he had chosen was relatively private, and since he was in civilian clothes, the one Narn who had passed by hadn't recognized him.

Garibaldi sighed, shook his head, and sat down next to Sinclair. "What're you doing, Jeff?" he asked quietly. "This isn't the way to deal with it. Nothing good can come out of this, Jeff. Trust me."

Sinclair looked up at him blearily. Garibaldi could see the beginnings of a drunken haze in his eyes. "I know," Sinclair said, his words mercifully clear. "I just don't know what else can help."

Sinclair's hand was lying on his knee. Garibaldi reached out and took it in his own. "I can help, Jeff," he said quietly. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I don't want to be mad at you, not now."

"We need to get away," Sinclair muttered. "We've gotta get off this station and have some time alone." He lifted the bottle, was about to drink from it, but stopped. He slowly and deliberately set it on the ground, and Garibaldi grinned. "I've got an idea," Sinclair said. "Let's leave."

"And go where?" Garibaldi asked, already liking the idea. Sinclair shrugged.

"Back to Earth. We'll find someplace nice, preferably with a beach, and just hang out for a week."

"Sounds great. When do we leave?" Garibaldi squeezed Sinclair's hand.

"Let's go tomorrow. It's a two-day jump to Earth, we'll spend a week there, then a two-day jump back. I think this place can manage without us for eleven days." Garibaldi nodded his agreement.

"We'll pack tonight, get reservations in the morning, and be off the station by lunchtime." Garibaldi laughed at the notion. "We're going on vacation, Jeff."

Sinclair developed a grin to rival Garibaldi's. "Yes we are," he said. Then he leaned over and kissed Garibaldi, something that up until that moment they had never done in public.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



X.

In which Sinclair gets a backrub



Ivanova woke the next morning to a BabCom message from Sinclair, detailing his and Garibaldi's plans for the next eleven days. She frowned at the prospect of managing the station on her own for eleven days, but quickly reprimanded herself. This could be the last bit of time alone together they ever have, Ivanova thought. I can't begrudge them that. Ivanova got Zack Allen on the link, found he had received a similar message. "Something makes me think we're going to be working together a lot in the future, Zack," she said. "I've got this feeling Sinclair won't be of much use once Garibaldi... well, once it happens."

Allen agreed. "You can see it already. Whenever they're apart, y'know, like when Sinclair's working, he's never really payin' attention. You can tell he's thinkin' about the Chief." There was a pause. "Y'know, it's weird. They're probably, in their own ways, the loneliest people on the station. It's pretty ironic that they'd find each other."

"They're very lucky," Ivanova agreed, before signing out. She looked around, then sighed and headed for the command deck.

***

Sinclair and Garibaldi arrived in Geneva, Switzerland two and a half days after they left Babylon 5. They were constantly touching during the two-day jump, almost never letting go of each other. From Geneva, they took a shuttle across the ocean to Northern Florida. From there they rented an antique car, a 1998 model year Jeep, and drove to the southern tip of the state. A day after they landed on Earth, they were settled into their hotel in Key West.

They fit right in -- Key West was notorious for being a gathering place for gays. It was a wonderful release for Sinclair and Garibaldi -- nobody knew them, recognized them. They were free to kiss and touch in public, to walk around holding hands, to simply enjoy being together. The first night, they went to a bar and sat at a table in the corner for three hours, talking with Rob and Ian, a couple they had literally walked into that day on the street.

"So. Mike, Jeff, where did you meet?" Ian asked, reaching for Rob's hand.

"Mars," they replied simultaneously, then looked at each other and laughed.

"I was working on Mars after the war, when Mr. Big Bad Earthforce Officer here" Garibaldi poked Sinclair in the shoulder, and Sinclair retaliated with a kiss on the cheek, "showed up at my office and said he needed transport across the surface. I was the only one stupid enough to accept."

"I thought it was pretty smart of you, I mean I had people lined up to shuttle me across the surface."

"Bullshit," Garibaldi muttered, and it was his turn to get poked. Ian and Rob looked at them, recognized something special. "I was an alcoholic. Drunk myself out of my mind, got high on a thousand different things." Garibaldi looked at Sinclair, smiled at him. Sinclair smiled back. "Jeff here rescued me. He took me in, got me off the drugs and the booze. Got me living the straight life. I guess, as he was takin' care of me, I sorta fell for him." Garibaldi shrugged, embarrassed. "It's stupid, I know." Ian shook his head. "No. It's not stupid. It's sweet."

"What about you?" Sinclair returned. "How did you two meet?"

"Bad luck," Rob said. "Seriously. I got fired, and was out looking for a job. Ian and I applied to the same place. We met sitting in the lobby. We started talking, met each other that night for dinner, and... well, it just sort of went from there."

The four of them sat talking late into the night. Around midnight, Garibaldi went to get another round of drinks for everyone at the table, and mineral water for himself. Ian leaned over the table, looked Sinclair in the eye.

"How much time does he have left?" Ian asked quietly.

"What? What are you talking about?" Sinclair pretended he was clueless.

"It's obvious he's dying, Jeff. It's NewAIDS, isn't it." Rob's voice was quiet, knowing. "That's why you're here. That's why all of us are here."

"You too?" Sinclair's voice was breathy. Rob nodded. "I've got two months. Look, on the dance floor? That's James. He's got a few weeks. Tom, at the bar, has month and a half. Eddie, he's got-"

"Stop it. Rob, please. I don't- I can't-" Sinclair hung his head, tears leaking down his cheeks. "The doctor gave him less than a month. We've known for about two months. We're just about to adopt. She's eight months old, her name is Mikayla. I don't know what I'm going to do without him, I don't know, I just don't know..." Ian and Rob looked at each other. They clasped hands gently, and then Ian reached across the table to lay a hand on Jeff's arm.

"We're sorry," Ian whispered.

Jeff nodded, cleared his throat. "Yeah," he said, almost gruffly. "I'm sorry too."

***

Sinclair sprawled on the beach, eyes closed. He lay on his back on a white beach towel, snoring softly. His body still shimmered faintly with suntan lotion, applied over an already glorious tan. Sinclair was asleep.

Garibaldi emerged from the ocean, wiping his eyes and panting a little from his exerting swim. He strode through the sand toward Sinclair, smiling when he spotted his sleeping lover. Garibaldi plopped down beside Sinclair on the sand, reached for the suntan lotion. He squirted some of the lotion onto Sinclair's chest, began to rub it in.

Sinclair woke up and looked at Garibaldi, smiled.

"Hey Mike," he yawned.

"You're starting to burn," Garibaldi informed him. "You shouldn't fall asleep on the beach without a shirt on." Sinclair chuckled, sat up and reached for his sunglasses.

"You're treating me like a child," he protested faintly as Garibaldi rubbed suntan lotion over his back. "Mmm, that feels good, do that again," as Garibaldi hit a particularly tender spot. Garibaldi returned to the spot, dug his fingers in, and Sinclair groaned with pleasure.

"We'd better take this back to the hotel," Garibaldi murmured, kissing the back of Sinclair's neck. "We stay out here one more second, and I can't be held responsible for my actions."

Sinclair turned around and looked at Garibaldi for a minute, then burst out laughing.

"Then I guess we'd better get going," he rumbled, kissing Garibaldi's cheek gently, taking pleasure in the sheer normalcy of the gesture. Sinclair stood up and reached a hand out to Garibaldi. "Come on. We'll order in, and you can give me that backrub."

***

Sinclair and Garibaldi returned to Babylon 5 on schedule, stepping foot on the station exactly eleven days after they had left. Ivanova met them at the spaceport, dropping jokingly to her knees in front of them when she saw them. "Please, Jeff, dear God take this station back!" she pleaded. "It's driving me insane!"

Sinclair chuckled. "You're just jealous because I have a tan," he teased. Ivanova shook her head.

"No, I'm Russian. We don't tan well." She walked with them to Sinclair's quarters, chatting busily about station business. They had changed back into uniform on the trip back, but their glowing tans were sure signs of a week spent on the beach.

Sinclair tapped in his access code, not noticing that Ivanova was still standing there. The door slid open, and the three of them stepped into the darkness.

"SURPRISE!"

Sinclair and Garibaldi looked up. Everyone was there -- Franklin, Ivanova, most of the Medlab team, the C and C day shift, most of the Security force... just everyone. Sinclair turned to Ivanova.

"This was your idea, wasn't it?" he asked. Ivanova shrugged, allowing a little smile to cross her face. "Well, the adoption was finalized yesterday, and Stephen and I were talking, and we decided you guys needed some help on becoming parents. So, we got everyone together, and we planned a baby shower." Sinclair grinned, shook his head. "Thank you, Susan," he said. Garibaldi had disappeared into the rooms, was probably talking with someone. Sinclair hugged Ivanova, then followed Garibaldi into the room.

The party was a huge success. Everyone had a wonderful time, talking, laughing, some drinking. Sinclair spotted a game of limbo taking place in the living room, a pair of spanners wired together substituting for the traditional pole.

Ivanova pulled him aside about an hour into the party, took him out into the hallway. "Jeff, I talked to Delilah Wintergreen while you were away," she informed him. "She's going to bring Mikayla by for an overnight visit tomorrow night... she said for you to call her if there was a problem."

Sinclair shook his head, smiled. "No, that's fine. I'll just have to find out what time she plans on coming by, so I can make sure Mike's out of here... " Sinclair's face fell. Chasing Michael out had been hard enough the first time; now, it would be incredibly more painful.

Susan saw the pain, put a hand on his shoulder. "He can stay at my place for a while, until she clears out," Ivanova offered.

Sinclair brightened immediately, and nodded. "Great!" He looked through the door, which had stayed open throughout their conversation. "Um, now if I'm not mistaken... it looks like Dr. Franklin has a cake." Franklin was, indeed, staggering into the room under the weight of a huge cake. Sinclair chuckled and went to the poor doctor's rescue.

***

"Okay, one last time. Fill the bottle, hold it upside down while feeding her, and keep her in a semi-reclining position. Do you remember how to change diapers?"

Delilah Wintergreen looked exhausted. Sinclair smiled, nodded at her. "Don't worry about it. I've got it under control."

"Thank God," she sighed. "Good luck, and I'll see you in the morning." She hurried off toward the lift.

Sinclair watched her go, balancing Mikayla on his hip. As soon as Wintergreen was out of sight, he hurried to the comm station and called Michael, told him the coast was clear and he could come home.

"Well, Mike," Sinclair announced as Garibaldi entered, "You and I are on our own with an eight month old baby."

"God help us," Garibaldi whispered, then smiled.

***

Sinclair woke, for the third time that night, to the sound of Mikayla crying. "Your turn," Garibaldi said sleepily from his position, curled against Sinclair.

Sinclair untangled himself from Garibaldi, stood up. "I'll be back soon," he murmured, kissing Garibaldi gently. Garibaldi wasn't used to sleeping alone, but was too exhausted to care. He rolled over, pulled the blankets up around his chin, and was asleep within seconds.

Sinclair stumbled to the living room, where he had set up Mikayla's crib. He lifted the baby out, cradled her close. "Come on, sweetie, what's wrong?" he yawned, rocking Mikayla gently. Her screams only grew louder. "Sweetheart, come on. Daddy's tired." Sinclair paced back and forth, rocking the baby.

She didn't want her bottle, her diaper was clean, and she was warm enough. Sinclair was at a loss. He spent an hour and a half walking back and forth across his quarters, rocking Mikayla while she screamed. Finally, she took a deep breath and stopped crying. "Finally," Sinclair sighed. Moving impossibly slowly, he lay Michaela in her crib and tiptoed back toward the bedroom.

Halfway there, he was stopped dead in his tracks when Mikayla started crying again. Sinclair paused, shook his head. "To hell with it," he muttered. He lifted Mikayla out of the crib and carried her back to the bedroom. "Michael, move over. I'm coming back in." Garibaldi shifted obediently, and Sinclair, cradling Mikayla, climbed in.

Garibaldi whimpered. "Oh Jeff, come on, I'm tired," he groaned.

"I'm tired too, love. Maybe she'll quiet down." "I doubt it." Garibaldi was skeptical, but he wrapped his arms around Sinclair and the baby. She quieted down almost instantly, nestled into the crevice between Sinclair and Garibaldi's bodies, and fell asleep.

"Good job," Garibaldi said. He kissed Sinclair, nuzzled close, and passed out again.

Sinclair joined them a minute later, arms around the two people he loved most in the world.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XI.

In which Sinclair does some paperwork



The next two days passed uneventfully. Sinclair ran the station, Garibaldi commanded Security, and everything went as it was supposed to. They spent the nights together, going out to dinner, cuddling on the couch. Not once did they mention that the month Franklin had given Garibaldi was almost up. They lived like they had before Garibaldi got sick. They were free. They were happy.

Ivanova and Lou Welch took them out on the second night. "It's your last night as a family of two," Ivanova explained. "We wanted to celebrate. Plus, we're bored."

"Nothing like the truth," Garibaldi said dryly. They went to the Fresh Air Cafe. Ivanova and Welch had pulled a few strings, cashed in a few favors, and had gotten the whole place reserved for the evening. A Russian string quartet roamed the room, playing soft music. Conversation was light and purposefully easy. They joked and laughed, skirting carefully around station business and of course, Garibaldi's illness. Nobody wanted to be serious. They were out to have a good time.

Ivanova walked them home, as Welch had been called to pull an extra shift in Security. "Well, guys, I'll see you tomorrow," Ivanova said. "Take care." She spent an extra long minute looking at them before walking off.

Sinclair took a shower, then joined Garibaldi on the couch. "Hey," Michael said, looping his arm around Sinclair's shoulders and pulling him close. Sinclair snuggled into Garibaldi, cuddled up without saying a word. He slipped his arms around Garibaldi's waist and held on tight. "What?" Michael asked. "What's wrong?"

"I'm gonna miss you so much," Jeff whispered. "I'm gonna miss being with you. You're everything to me, Mike. You are my whole life. Everything that is good in me is you. What am I going to do without you?" His voice was hopeless and quivering.

Garibaldi pulled him up and kissed him fiercely. "You will be just fine," Michael hissed. "You're forgetting, Mikayla is coming to live with us tomorrow. She will become your life. She is nine months old. A baby, Jeff." Sinclair nodded, his face pressed against Michael's stomach.

"I know. Mike, I can't... I can't imagine life without you. I can't imagine going through all this without you by my side. I'm going to miss you so much." Sinclair dragged himself upward and kissed Garibaldi. "I love you, Mike. I will always love you. No matter what."

"I know." Garibaldi buried his face in Sinclair's hair and closed his eyes. They stayed that way for a long moment, clinging to each other like shipwreck survivors clinging to a life raft.

Sinclair closed his eyes and sighed. "Mike, will you stay with me?" he murmured, beginning to fall asleep.

"Forever," Garibaldi whispered into Sinclair's hair. "I will always be with you."

They fell asleep that way, lying in each other's arms.

***

Sinclair and Garibaldi awoke the next morning to the frantic chiming of the door. Sinclair disentangled himself from Garibaldi's grasp, groaned at the crick in his neck (I'm too old to sleep on the couch, he thought with a wry grin), and hobbled toward the door.

Susan stood outside, looking fresh and perky. She laughed when she saw Sinclair's haggard face. "Good morning," she said. "I just thought I'd stop by and remind you of your appointment with Delilah Wintergreen to pick up Mikayla in fifteen minutes."

Sinclair blinked at her. "Fifteen minutes?" he questioned, his voice and mind thick with sleep.

Ivanova nodded. "You'd better get ready. If you're late, she might decide to come track you down..." Susan looked past Jeff to where Michael slept on the couch, "and I don't think you'd want that."

Sinclair shook his head, smiled. "No, definitely not. Thanks for the warning, Susan."

He showered, dressed, and made it to Blue Sector in record time. There were some papers to sign, a few forms to fill out--all in all, nothing that would take more than a few minutes. The thing that held Sinclair longest was a space on one form that asked him to "Please fill in full name of child: " He hesitated for a long time before writing "Mikayla Ann Sinclair" in the space.

It was easy for Sinclair to carry the baby and a pitifully small duffle bag packed with all her worldly possessions back to his quarters. Garibaldi and Mikayla bonded quickly, easily, and when Sinclair left to report to C and C, they were sitting on the couch, playing an elaborate game involving a length of ribbon, four of Michael's fingers, and a plastic key ring.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XII.

In which part of Sinclair dies



Three days passed. It had been almost exactly a month since Franklin had numbered Garibaldi's days. Sinclair grew more nervous every minute, to the point where Ivanova threw him out of C and C, telling him he was doing more harm than good. Sinclair raced home to find Garibaldi playing peek-a-boo with Mikayla, both of them still in their pajamas. Mikayla shrieked happily when she saw Sinclair, reaching for him while still holding carefully to Garibaldi's sweater. Sinclair solved the problem by sitting on the couch next to them, and placing the baby between him and Garibaldi.

They just hung out all day, watching movies, talking, and sleeping. Ivanova and Franklin came over after dinner, and stayed late.

Throughout the evening, Garibaldi kept getting up and getting a drink. On his fourth or fifth trip, Ivanova accompanied him. "Mike, are you all right?" she asked as he guzzled half a glass of water. Garibaldi wiped his mouth, smiled.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bit of a sore throat, that's all. Nothing major." Ivanova nodded, not sure if she believed him.

They said goodbye to Franklin and Ivanova around 11:00 that night. They put Mikayla, who was still bouncing around with a sunny grin, to bed. Then they climbed in themselves, exhausted. Sinclair immediately pulled Garibaldi into his arms, cradling the other man close. "I love you," Sinclair whispered. Garibaldi tilted his head up for a kiss.

"Love you more," he whispered with a tiny smile. Sinclair shook his head.

"Not a chance. You're the most loved being in the universe." He kissed Garibaldi again, pulling him close, pressing their bodies tightly together. Garibaldi broke away and placed a gentle kiss on Sinclair's chest. "Mmm... Whatever. Goodnight, baby. I love you." He closed his eyes. Gradually his breathing slowed, his body relaxed. Sinclair lay awake watching him sleep for a good two hours before surrendering himself.

Sinclair dreamed.

***

He was sitting on a stone bench in the gardens, holding Garibaldi's hand. They were perfectly silent, until Garibaldi sighed. "Time to go, Jeff," he said quietly. "I love you."

"Mike, stay," Sinclair pleaded. "Come on, just a little longer."

Garibaldi shook his head. "I have to go, Jeff. Take care of Michaela. Always remember I love you." Garibaldi stood up and was gone.

***

Sinclair woke up abruptly, certain something was wrong. He realized he was holding Garibaldi, and relaxed. "Mike," he whispered, shaking Garibaldi gently. "Mike, wake up."

Garibaldi was perfectly still. Too still, Sinclair realized suddenly. "Mike? Mike, come on," he whispered, feeling himself begin to cry. "Mike, Mike... Come on, Mikey, wake up. Wake up," he pleaded. There was no rise and fall to Garibaldi's chest. Sinclair felt frantically for a pulse, found none. "Mike... Mike... Please, Mike. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up..." Sinclair's voice died away, lost in his sobs as he realized Garibaldi was dead.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XIII.

And then there were three



He lay there for a long time, holding the body of his lover and crying desperately. It had been coming for a long time, he had known for over a month, but knowledge made the loss no less painful.

Michael Garibaldi was dead. Nothing could change that. After a while his sobs quieted. Sinclair stood up, laying Garibaldi's body carefully on the bed. "I love you, Mike," he whispered, kissing Garibaldi's forehead. Sinclair pulled the blanket up gently to cover Garibaldi's face, tucked it in carefully. Sinclair walked slowly, deliberately to the comm unit in the corner. He activated it, summoned Dr. Franklin.

"Jeff." Franklin was surprised to see the commander. "What's up?"

"It's over," Sinclair said blankly, dully. There was no emotion in his voice -- he had already numbed himself, insulated his heart from any emotion. "Michael Garibaldi is dead."

Franklin's mouth fell open slightly as his face went limp with shock. "Oh, my God," he whispered, his eyes beginning to tear up. "Oh, God... Jeff, I'm so sorry. I'll be over in five minutes."

Sinclair next called Ivanova. "Susan? Sorry to wake you up, but I need you to come over."

Ivanova gave him a blurry gaze. "Now? Jeff, it's two in the morning. Why now?"

"Michael's dead." Sinclair watched with almost detached interest as immediate tears rolled down Ivanova's face.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry. I'll be right over." Ivanova arrived first, having merely thrown on a silk bathrobe over her nightgown. She padded barefoot into Sinclair's quarters and wrapped her arms around him. They sank down on the couch, and clung to each other until Franklin and the Medlab team arrived.

They took care of everything, leaving the remaining command staff sitting on the couch. Franklin pronounced Garibaldi dead, supervised loading the body onto the stretcher, then left with the team. He and Sinclair exchanged about three words the whole time.

When the team was gone, Sinclair and Ivanova were left sitting quietly on the couch. After a few minutes, Ivanova asked "Jeff, do you want me to take Mikayla for a few days?" Sinclair shook his head. "No, we're fine," he said.

"Fine? She's been crying for three minutes, Jeff, that's not 'fine'." Ivanova rested a hand on his shoulder. "It's not a problem. It's the least I can do to help you out."

"Okay," Sinclair said breathlessly. Ivanova gathered up some of the baby's things and carried them back to her quarters before returning for Mikayla.

"Will you be okay?" Ivanova asked before she stepped out, cradling Michaela in her arms. Sinclair nodded. "Yeah. I'll be fine," he husked. Ivanova nodded and left. The door cycled shut, closing Sinclair off from the rest of the world.

He was alone.

Sinclair couldn't bear going back to the bed. He grabbed his pillow and a spare blanket out of the closet, then settled down on the couch.

Sinclair realized he was wearing Garibaldi's SECURITY sweater. Suddenly it was too much.

Sinclair's tough mask crumbled, and he began to cry. He didn't get any sleep that night.

***

Jeff Sinclair sat behind his desk. There were large bags under his eyes, eyes red from the endless outpouring of tears. He was wearing the SECURITY sweatshirt--he had gotten a few strange looks when he had shown up without his uniform, but he was completely past the point of caring.

In a chair off to the side, Franklin was leaned back, his eyes closed against the world. Ivanova rushed in a minute later and took a seat beside Franklin, smiling encouragingly at Sinclair.

"Ready?" A young technician stood at a control board, preparing to put Sinclair onto every monitor on Babylon 5. Sinclair nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be," he said quietly.

"If I could have your attention please," Sinclair said when he saw the green light on his console flash on. He was live on every monitor on the station. "This morning, around two AM, our Security Chief Michael Garibaldi passed away. He has been sick for a very long time, and his death was not unexpected. He-" Sinclair choked up, and paused. Tears rolled down his cheeks, he swallowed convulsively. Ivanova stood up and started toward him, but Franklin held her back with a hand on her arm. After a minute, Sinclair cleared his throat. "He will be missed," Sinclair managed to finish.

The technician cut the transmission, and Sinclair went limp, tears rolling down his cheeks. Franklin and Ivanova helped Sinclair out of his chair, and they walked with him to his quarters.

***

When Lou Welch booted up his computer the next day, he found a message from Commander Sinclair waiting. Welch was busy, but opened the message out of curiosity.

"As you probably know by now, Michael Garibaldi is dead," it started off. "He has been sick for nearly three months, and it's probably better for him this way. Dr. Franklin and the Medlab team pulled out all the stops to save him, but nothing worked. Maybe it was fated to be this way. But knowing nothing could be done makes it no less painful.

"I, for one, loved him. I know many of you knew and liked Michael. It was easy to like him. He was outgoing, always looking for the best in any situation. He was the authoritative leader of the station's overworked Security force, keeping the station in line with most of its members pulling double and triple shifts.

"Michael was almost always happy. Over the past three months, even as he grew sicker and sicker, he was almost never unhappy. It was always a treat to come home and see his smiling face after a hard day at work. After our daughter came to live with us, seeing them both was a double happiness.

"Michael may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. In the heart of everyone who considered him a friend, in the minds of everyone who knew him, Michael Garibaldi will never disappear. We will carry him with us forever. Michael, I love you.

"Sincerely, Commander Jeff Sinclair."

***

Jeff Sinclair entered his quarters and collapsed on the couch. He was completely drained, ready to break down and hide forever. He had just attended Garibaldi's funeral, and watched as his lover's body was committed to space. Sinclair couldn't move or speak at the funeral, able only to stand there, tears running down his face.

After the funeral, it seemed like half the population of the station had offered their condolences in quiet, respectfully muted tones. He didn't care. Without Michael, he felt like half a person. He was a shell, a shadow of his former self. Ivanova saw it, as did Franklin. Most of the others didn't. Sinclair was good at hiding his feelings.

On the couch, he wrapped his arms around himself and squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't want to even think about moving. About living. It would be better if I was dead too, Sinclair thought miserably. I'm nothing without you, Mike. I need you.

"Jeff, come on. What's wrong?" He looked up. Ivanova stood above him, balancing Mikayla on one hip.

"Leave me alone, Susan," Sinclair replied, surprised at the raspy sound of his own voice. She did the opposite and sat down beside him on the couch.

"Jeff, I know how you feel. You have to-"

Sinclair sat up abruptly, cutting her off. "You have no idea how it feels, Susan. You have no FUCKING idea. You don't know how it feels to have half of you ripped away. You don't know how it feels to wake up, reaching for someone, only to remember they're not there. They'll never be there again. You'll never see them, touch them, kiss them, be with them again. Never, because they're dead. Dead. He's dead, Susan, and he's never coming back." Sinclair's voice dropped as he lay back down. "He's gone, Susan. I miss him so much. I don't know what to do without him. I should be dead too. Nobody needs me here anymore. I should be dead too."

Ivanova was silent, and for a minute he thought she had left. Then he felt something. Slight pressure moving up his legs, over his back, sliding down to sit next to him. A tiny hand on his cheek. He looked up. Mikayla sat next to him, gazing at him with a concerned expression.

Sinclair sat up, pulled the baby into his arms. Ivanova smiled. He was going to be okay.

***

C and C was unusually quiet. Everyone went about their respective business quietly, the death of Garibaldi and the absence of the Commander heavy on everyone's minds. Ivanova directed ships quietly, with none of her usual vigor and humor. The room had lost its bustle and was, like many of the things on the station, simply existing.

When the door cycled open, nobody paid any attention. It was as routine as the soft bleeping of various instruments.

The person at the door entered silently, with slow, measured step. One by one, officers looked up and gasped in surprise. They fell silent, staring at the newcomer.

Eventually, Ivanova noticed the silence. She turned around slowly, speaking as she went. "What's wrong, people? We still have a job-" She too fell silent as she saw the person's face.

Jeff Sinclair stood, in full uniform, on the bridge. He was clean-shaven, standing straight. For the first time in nearly a week, his eyes were clear and bright.

"What?" he asked, an astounding little smile on his face. "Has my clearance expired or something?"

A technician in the pit was the first to start clapping. The whole pit soon followed. The navigation corner was next, with everyone else joining in until the whole team was applauding vigorously. Ivanova, her smile so wide it stretched all the way across her face, moved around the pit and wrapped her arms around Sinclair, held him for a minute before pulling away and clapping with the rest.

Sinclair smiled, basking in the glow of his team's smiles. He still missed Garibaldi -- suspected he always would. He had promised Garibaldi he would love him forever, and he would. I still love you, Michael. I will never forget you. But I have to get on with it. For Mikayla's sake, as much as anything. Sinclair accepted the hugs and handshakes of greeting, trading words with people he hadn't talked to for months. Inside, his heart soared.

You showed me how to love. You showed me how to cry. You showed me how to laugh. You showed me good times and bad. You taught me how to smile through it all. Most importantly, you taught me how to live. Thank you, my love.

Sinclair suddenly found himself bursting out in raucous laughter. He still felt empty inside, but the emptiness wasn't so complete, and a corner of his soul began to glow. Suddenly, he had a reason to live.

Sinclair was back.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



Epilogue

A Family of Two



Fifteen Years Later


Mikayla Ann Sinclair, or Kayla Ann, waved goodbye to a group of friends. She kissed her boyfriend on the cheek, smiled at him. "See ya later Raphael, girls," she called as she punched in her access code. The door cycled open, and she bounced inside.

"Daddy, I'm home," she called into the quiet room. Her father padded out of the kitchen, clothed in his favorite worn sweatshirt, blue with SECURITY embroidered on it in gold letters. She kissed him on the cheek, pushed her golden brown hair behind one ear. "Feeling any better, Daddy?" she asked. Her father had been a little sick that morning, and had stayed home from work.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Jeff Sinclair said to his daughter with a smile.

"I saw Aunt Susan this morning, she said she hopes you feel better," Kayla said, digging in the cupboards for a snack. She came out with a cookie and sat on the counter, munching quietly. "Hey Daddy?" she asked after a minute. "Are you okay?"

Kayla was a smart girl. She knew, that when her father wore that sweater, he was remembering Michael. She knew that her father missed the other man, the man who had been Kayla's second father in everything but law. She had only faded memories of him, of playing games, of laughing. But she remembered enough to know why her father had loved him as much as he had.

Kayla bounced off the counter and sat beside her father on the couch. "Dad, tell me about the time you guys went to the beach," she prompted, knowing that sharing his memories always made her father feel better.

Sinclair smiled and sat on the couch beside his daughter. "We were on vacation in Key West. It was cloudy and cold the first day there, but we didn't care. It wasn't very often we got away, so we went to the beach. It was a wonderful vacation. In fact, we got back just a few days before you came to live with us..."


~ The End ~



* * * * * * * * * * * * *


There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
Here they talked of revolution
Here it was they lit the flame
Here they sang about tomorrow
But tomorrow never came.
From the table in the corner
They could see a world reborn
And they rose with voices ringing
I can hear them now
The very words that they had sung
Became their last communion
At the lonely barricades at dawn
Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone,
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Phantom faces at the window
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends will meet no more
Oh my friends, my friends, don't ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends will sing no more.


----------

Thanks:
To my very best friends -- Libby, Kristin, Allie, Jen, and Cait.
To Curtis, for being there.
To Allaire, for being so dear to my heart and understanding my complicated self so well, even though you're so far away.
To Brian S, for understanding and not giving up on me.
To Alayne, for giving me the confidence to keep writing.
To my parents, for understanding that writing slash doesn't mean I can't win a Pulitzer Prize someday.
To Raphael, for giving me one week of unconditional happiness.
And to Mr. Bo. I didn't realize the parallels between the story of us and the story of Sinclair and Garibaldi until it was too late.


Notes: Wow. It's over, it's done with. I'm amazed. It's been a year since I started work on EC. One of the most wonderful years of my life. And it's fitting that I finish the last chapter, post it on the very day that the current chapter in my life comes to an end. But there's always something new around the corner. A door closes, a door opens. EC is as perfect as I can ever make it. And with that, I give it to you -- to all of you -- as a sign. A message that there's always another door. And if that doesn't make any sense, I'm sorry. I feel like my head's going to explode.

Signing off,
Nat


<<<< back to the "Babylon 5" recommendations back to the main index >>>>
<<<< back to the main recommendations page back to Storyteller's Campsite >>>>