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Really Sleeping in Light


~ Prologue ~


"...Timeless love, ageless us
There's no end, always was
A timeless love, heaven born
Ancient vows, never to be torn..." -- Timeless Love


'And so it begins.'
'There is a hole in your mind.'
'Nothing's the same any more.'
'May your life be free of shadows and lightened by happiness.'
'What do you want?'
'We live for the One, we die for the One.'
'Why are you here? Do you have anything worth living for?'
'Who are you?'
'This is my soulmate, Minashol.'
'You are the one.'
'It's like a marriage between fire and ice...'
'And the shielding will fall away...'
'The pilot is alive, but extremely hard to reach. He seems to be deep in some sort of coma...'
'The Entil'Zha has encouraged us to learn and seek knowledge.'
'So I bid you welcome in his name.'
'Only one person was able to betray him.'
'Starfury pilot, identify yourself.'
'Do you know how much it hurt every night to go to sleep alone with nothing but the memories tearing me apart?'
'You will know when the time has come to meet with another to become one.'

- Kosh, Minbari Assassin, Jeffrey Sinclair, Delenn, Jeffrey Sinclair, Marcus Cole, Lorien, Sebastian, Valen, Kosh, Londo Mollari, G'Quan, Siriell, Dalaren, Le'anna, Dalaren, Valen, Jeffrey Sinclair, Kosh


'This is the story of a time of great sadness, a time of pain and a time of joy.
It is the story of a love that overcomes all obstacles -- even time and space.
For history is not written in stone, and destiny is not predetermined.
It takes determination, and a willingness to sacrifice many things you hold dear.
For when you start on a great journey, you have to leave behind the life you knew
in order to travel to the edge of the known world... and beyond...
And in the end, history will be altered forever, and you will be really sleeping in light...




~ Chapter 1 ~


"...Another night slowly closes in
And I feel so lonely
Touching heat freezing on my skin
I pretend you still hold me
I'm going crazy, I'm losing sleep
I'm in too far, I'm in way too deep over you
I can't believe you're gone..." -- The Flame


The same thing all over again. Only this time, Michael Garibaldi wasn't surprised. To the contrary, he would have been far more surprised hadn't it happened. Had the pattern of the last couple of nights been changed. The pattern he rapidly had grown accustomed to.

Awakening with tears on his face.

Crying in his sleep for things long past and gone. For a person long gone -- in every sense of the word.

Jeff.

Valen had to be nothing but dust by now. Thousand years. Nothing left. Nothing at all. Whether there had ever been a grave, a tomb or anything Garibaldi had never bothered to learn. Never had dared to ask Delenn. For a confirmation would have made it so final, permanent; so undeniable.

Jeff. Dead for hundreds of years by now. Dead.

Michael had even skipped most of the pages in G'Quan's book relating to Valen. He hadn't been able to read them and, at the same time, see in his head the unpreventable transformation from his best friend into a bone-crested stranger. A visionary. A messiah. A Minbari.

Oh, Jeff had always followed the demands of his conscience, even if that meant big sacrifices. Even the greatest of them all. Sacrificing his love on the altar of his duty, Michael liked to tell himself ironically.

But irony didn't help.

Nor did work.

Oh, during the day he could easily forget. The evenings, spent most recently always in the company of friends or comrades, were bearable. Going to sleep was hard. And awakening in the mornings was hell. Several people -- even the captain, dear God -- had already remarked on his reddened eyes. They knew they weren't the result of alcohol, although Michael had started to long for that again -- longed for oblivion.

But so far, he hadn't given in. But, after all those years, the temptation was there again. He liked to blame Jeff for that, as well.

I still can't hate you, Jeff. Not for loving and not for leaving me. Why can't I forget? Will the pain ever go away?

He closed his eyes and let the water stream over his tired, tired face. He stepped out of the shower, shaved, brushed his teeth and put on a clean uniform. Took his sidearm, attached his comm unit, rubbed the heels of his hands over his slightly swollen eyes, took a deep breath and went to the canteen.

A morning like all others. But he didn't seem to be able to shrug off the feeling that had captured him since the first day he had started to think of the days before he had been shot. Before everything on Earth had changed for worse. Before Jeff had left.

He felt strange. Withdrawn from every-day life.

He would have liked to ask Lyta whether it was all an aftereffect from Bester's manipulations of his mind. Whether that had caused those old memories to resurface so powerfully. But since having been scanned by her on Mars, he felt awkward around her. Stripped bare, although she never said a word, never indicated that she knew.

That the memories and the old, lingering pain they brought refused to disappear angered him. He was helpless against them.

So far, their presence hadn't hindered his efficiency in his job -- he had replaced Zack Allan once again who had accepted his demotion gracefully, even eagerly. But the security chief of Babylon 5 no longer was doing his job whole-heartedly, and Michael hated that as well.

But the past refused to leave him out of its claws.

So he had suffered.

That evening, after his shift, he was finally fed up.

Spotting Dr. Franklin alone at a table in the casino, he sat down next to the medical officer. Not seeing Susan here any longer was disturbing, he thought distractedly, just seconds before Steven mentioned the same thing.

Michael couldn't help grinning. "Right, doc. Just thought the very same. You know anything about the officer Earth wants to send us to 'replace' her?"

Franklin shook his head and smiled. "Rumor's though that he's going to be female. My staff's been betting that the president wants the new commander to keep an eye on Sheridan. And evidently she decided..."

"...That he can't be rude to a woman?", Garibaldi snorted.

Just in that second, Michael felt a hearty clap on his shoulder. An accented voice exclaimed: "Mister Garibaldi! For sure it can't be more, as Sheridan is a married man by now! As for 'keeping an eye' on him, I thought that was my friend G'Kar's job!"

Londo started laughing aloud at the Narn ambassador's disgusted look, patted Garibaldi's shoulder once more and followed G'Kar who would have clearly liked to be somewhere else -- anywhere else. But evidently the the ambassadors still had some talking to do concerning the foundation of the New Alliance.

Franklin and Garibaldi traded a half-pained, half-amused look and resumed eating.

As Michael was still wrestling with the dilemma how to ask Franklin for a powerful sedative without revealing his reasons for needing it, he listened with half an ear to the dialogue -- or rather, monologue -- at Mollari and G'Kar's table.

Evidently, for Londo, the topic 'Sheridan and Delenn's marriage' wasn't exhausted by far. Londo was just saying: "...but don't you consider those celebration customs of the humans interesting? I know you Narn don't have anything like that, and I can't imagine the Minbari ever..."

G'Kar kept a frosty silence which didn't disturb Londo in the slightest.

Garibaldi sighed inwardly. Despite that, Mollari's next sentence made him sit up and listen more closely: "..such a marriage, not only between two totally different races, but between two so different persons, it's like a marriage between fire and ice..."

That expression hit a string inside him. He had heard the same thing somewhere, no so long ago -- no, read...

ar's snort proved to be the clue he needed.

"G'Quan's book! Of course!", Garibaldi exclaimed, loudly enough that not only Franklin, but also the two ambassadors regarded him curiously.

Michael couldn't have given reasons for the feeling of urgency rising inside him that made him excuse himself to Steven and drag the indignated G'Kar to his quarters to make him lend him the old book once more.

G'Kar wasn't very thrilled at the prospect of having Michael touch it again but didn't refuse.

It took Garibaldi some time to get used to the strange script once more, but after half an hour of eager skimming and muttered curses, he found the place he had been looking for.




~ Chapter 2 ~


"...I turn around in the still of the room
Knowing this is when
I'm gonna make my move
Can't wait any longer
And I'm feeling stronger..." -- Piano in the Dark


"Oh, captain!"

Both Zack Allan and Lyta Alexander were clearly surprised to find Captain Sheridan joining them for breakfast. Lyta managed to hide it better, though.

"No comment over marriage loosing its appeal or 'why are you not eating with Delenn, sir?' or anything like that, please," Sheridan said amiably.

Zack and the telepath traded a look and kept silent.

Sheridan grinned and started eating. Hamm and eggs and an especially big cup of coffee, both noted.

Around a bite of eggs, the captain mumbled: "Mr. Allan, do you know why Mr. Garibaldi called in sick this morning and asked you to cover for him?"

Zack Allan looked at a loss of words. "I don't know, sir. He only said he had some urgent personal business to take care of."

Lyta threw in: "Steven mentioned that morning that Michael had been behaving a little bit strange yesterday evening. He evidently took off with G'Kar to read G'Quan's book once more. Heaven knows why."

Sheridan looked clearly puzzled. "I guess I'll have to ask Mr. Garibaldi for an explanation -- soon."

***

"Michael, would you mind telling me what that all's been about?", Captain Sheridan demanded to know angrily from his chief of security.

Garibaldi's silhouette was almost indistinguishable from the shadows in the room the crew liked to call the "observatory" as it was large, usually dark, next to the axis of B 5 and therefore rotating almost unnoticed by the person watching the stars silently.

The room was near-silent, but Sheridan heard the soft rustle of fabric as Garibaldi moved a little, hidden in the blackest corner of the curved viewing screen.

Sheridan found it difficult to be angry at someone he almost couldn't see at all and almost wanted to give the all-present computer the order to light the room, but he restrained himself. Whatever it was Michael Garibaldi was wrestling with, it seemed to be serious. His anger dissipated slowly. He sat down next to Garibaldi but couldn't keep himself from adding:

"You stay away from duty without reason and -- worst of all -- my wife doesn't return to our quarters but late in the evening and doesn't want to tell me what you two've been talking about, only that I should ask you personally. Real wonderful."

Any comments about how long it had taken him to find Garibaldi as the man had left his comm unit at his desk in his quarters Sheridan kept to himself. Delenn's demeanor had awoken his curiosity.

After a while that seemed to Sheridan like an eternity, Garibaldi began to speak, quietly, hesitantly.




~ Chapter 3 ~


"...So amazing somehow
I believe it now
Without ever knowing for sure
Never before until now..." -- Now that I found You


"John, I don't know how to start properly. Sorry that I did stay away from duty today like that, but..."

Jeff, it's so hard to continue. I miss you so much. Soon...

"Well, yesterday, in the canteen, I heard a phrase I remembered having read in G'Quan's book -- something, that, at that time, didn't make any sense at all. But yesterday night, all of a sudden, it did make sense. I knew that G'Quan had met Valen several times. But only then I saw that parts of G'Quan's book were meant to tell us something about the future. These enciphered sentences weren't ramblings, but prophecies, like the ones of Nosdradamus which used to be so popular during the end of the last century."

Sheridan was listening patiently, but evidently skeptically and not all that comfortable with the mentioning of his predecessor. One gesture made the other man continue.

A smile, not seen, only heard: "I know the important parts by heart now... Listen closely.

'When from the collision of fire and ice a bond stronger than custom is
forged, that marriage shall be an sign that another kind of change is
written in the stars. But beware, it will only be a possibility, for the
current of the forth power is unsecure and never tamed. A step on its
surface, and the wanderer may be lost. Oh, be brave, seeker of things
long gone, and search your heart before you enter the abyss -- only the
strongest of feelings for the center of your search will lead you through.
That will be you shield.'

-- meaningless, general phrases whose sense isn't discernible so far.

But the motto of the 'shield' and the 'seeker' is a connection to other parts, just a few pages later. G'Quan was very careful.

'And the shielding will fall away and to the eyes of the astonished watchers
the gateway will appear once again in the forbidden zone. It will wait for the
seeker for only twice as long as the time he once shared with the center -- no
longer. So hurry, wanderer, or the opportunity will be lost.'

These are the prophecies which admittedly, so far, don't make any sense. But the keywords once again form the relation to other chapters of G'Quan's book. Only this time, not to the parts I like to call the prophecies. Now, they are connected to the historical writings. During our war against the shadows, we skipped most of them as they didn't seem to be important at that time.

Part of these writings deal with the person of Valen. G'Quan and the'Entil'Zha' evidently met on a semi-regular basis during the first war against the shadows. They remained friends afterward but didn't see each other that often.

Still, G'Quan had a quite clear picture of Valen and his life. Perhaps the clearest picture of what became of Jeff that we'll ever get. All details about his life have been, during the course of the centuries, transfigured so much by the Minbari and cloaked by religion that it's real hard to get even as much as a glimpse of the man Sinclair behind it all and even harder still to learn something about his every-day life after the foundation of the Rangers and the Great War.

I guess that some members of the religious caste know more, but the Minbari have always been good at keeping such details a secret among their leaders.

From Delenn, we know that Jeff -- that is, Valen -- evidently had descendants and assumed naturally that that had to have been with a Minbari female, long ago.

But parts of what G'Quan wrote made me suspicious, and three hours ago, Delenn confirmed my suspicions.

Valen didn't marry a Minbari woman then -- he married a man, someone called 'Minashol' who appeared out of nowhere as mysteriously as Valen himself. But as the leader of the Anla'shok trusted that man without reservation, the stranger was accepted almost at once.

And even thousand years ago, the Minbari evidently had about the same amount of genetic engineering at their disposal as today. With that help, Valen and his partner had an unknown number of children together.

More details even Delenn wasn't able to give me. During all the time, Jeff's lover seemed to try to stay in the background -- I couldn't help myself but ask why?"




~ Chapter 4 ~


"...Time heals the wounded
But my heart still bleeds
I can't get you out of my life
Here's my confession
You're all that I need..." -- I come undone


Garibaldi stole a quick glance in Sheridan's direction. The captain was stunned, speechless.

"You mean, Sinclair was gay?", the other man finally stuttered. He evidently didn't grasp the implications of Garibaldi's story. Michael leaned forward eagerly. "Yes, of course, but the most important thing is..."

"You knew?"

"I was his best friend, remember?" Garibaldi bit back an angry retort and continued softly, almost speaking to himself: "These days, I felt somehow disconnected, not totally belonging here. I had buried the past, the way things could have been, as deeply as possible. But now..." His face suddenly split into a grin, the joy there almost blinding, even in the darkness of the observatory. "All the evidence points into one direction -- it was -- or rather, will be -- me to join Jeff in the past. The time distortion in Sector 14 will open just one time more and I will follow him."

If possible, Sheridan seemed to be even more shocked by Garibaldi's last words. His mouth opened and closed, soundlessly.

Michael smiled sadly: "Yes, we were lovers. For two days exactly. Before I was shot and he had to leave. He knew everything about me. Had seen me during my best as well as during my worst days, back at Mars. He loved me nonetheless. He trusted me. All those days after we overthrew President Clark, I pictured a life with Lise. I think I love her, too -- but compared to my feelings for Jeff, what I feel for her is weak at best. I've lived for years without her, and only missed her at certain times; but the constant pain of the loss I've been feeling ever after Jeff's departure... that's so much more.

We were friends before we became lovers... perhaps that's it, I don't know. I only know that I miss him; strangely enough, above all recently. When he left, I continued working here on B5 -- because I didn't want to throw away everything he had done for me, because I owed him that much. But, John -- tell me -- truthfully-- what's really left here for me to do that can't be done by someone else? Zack has been Security Chief for months. He knows what to do. Hell, I don't like to admit it, but the boy is good. And after all the things that happened recently, I don't think that anyone will really miss me."

Sheridan prepared to say something.

Michael interrupted him by gently saying: "John, don't deny it. We both know that I'm right. I still wish I could kill Bester for what he's done to me, but, sincerely, I think it would hurt the bastard far more to know that I'm living happily somewhere and laughing over his efforts to destroy my life than to hunt him down and to give up this opportunity.

The rift in space will only be open for three days longer -- I already wasted one trying to figure everything out, brooding over G'Quan's scramblings. I simply don't have the time to give to Bester exactly what he deserves." Michael's grin was predatory, feral, without warmth.

"He liked to wallow in the two days Jeff and I had together while he was sorting through my brain, liked to tell me how he would have loved me to betray Jeff and watch the pain it would have caused me. But I think he hates you more than Jeff.

But back to the topic at hand. With 'the collision of fire and ice' and the 'marriage' G'Quan couldonly have meant one thing -- the marriage between you and Delenn. I'm the so-called 'seeker' -- I'm searching for Jeff. The 'gateway' in the 'forbidden zone' can only be the Rift. And it will only be open for four days.

I checked that -- the whole universe seems to be still celebrating the deposal of Clark; so even the re-opening of the rift didn't earn that much attention than it otherwise would have, I guess. But there were several reports; the sector is still closed to any kind of space traffic. But Jeff managed to get there three years ago -- I will do the same.

The passages I quoted seem to contain some kind of warning -- it's possible that only people who know exactly where and, above all, why they want to enter the time distortion will be able to use it for time-travel. All others... are thrown somewhere -- by chance -- out of the current... reduced to nothing but remains of people long dead and decayed...

I am sure. I want to go."

He fell silent.

Sheridan did the same for a long time.

Finally, he whispered: "There's nothing I can do to change your mind, isn't it? Short of throwing you into the brig, of course." A short flash of humor.

"No."

"Well, I thought so. Personally, I have to admit... that I'm not very comfortable with same-sex-relationships. We're living in the 23th century, but well... I always admired the friendship between you and Ambassador Sinclair, though."

"And a little bit envious.."

Sheridan started a bit guiltily. "True. I always sort of hoped it wasn't visible to everyone. Seems I'm not as inscrutable as I thought. If you would have ever had to choose between keeping your loyalty to him or to me I always knew what would come first.

As this seems to be the night for all sort of confession...", he grinned a little bit, embarrassed, "I want to tell you that you were the best Chief of Security I had. I could always rely on you. And please, Michael, don't think that this whole thing with Bester's manipulations ever changed that. I was mad as hell at you for all those weeks during which you seemed to disagree with every decision I took and, of course, for that damned interview with those idiots from ISN. But when Franklin and Lyta told me afterwards the real reasons behind your strange behavior, I realized that there was nothing I had to blame you for.

We've never really talked about all this. I'm sorry about that.

I know... that a small part of me's still mad at you that you knew me well enough to use my father against me. That was the one thing that hurt the most when Clark's people 'interrogated' me, and I hated you for it. Sitting next to me at the table in the bar... and calmly turning me over to Clark's bloodhounds."

"John -- I really am sorry..."

"No, Michael, you don't need to apologize. If anybody, it's Bester to blame. He did this to me -- using you."

"Yes, but he found the parts of me that I always had hoped defeated and buried -- envy, insubordination, the will to do everything to reach a goal. When I finally was in control of my thoughts again..."

Michael hung his head and Sheridan had to strain to comprehend the following words. "That was the greatest pain of all -- not the knowledge that I had betrayed you, but knowing that part of me had felt elated to do it. I always thought I was a better man than that."

"Michael, please... Everyone of us has parts he prefers to keep away from others, parts we all aren't proud of. But that's not the fact that matters -- what does matter, though, is the strength of character to fight those feelings and to succeed. You did. Bester dragged them out into the open, violated you mind and used the chasms there for his causes. You had no control whatever over your actions. Don't blame yourself. Hell, I don't do. Michael, I really don't."

A quick squeeze on Garibaldi's arm, a reassuring smile.

Michael grinned, moist-eyed, in return. "So when did this talk drift into the morose? I just wanted to ask you for a starfury tomorrow..." He sobered. "John, I'm grateful for your words. It means much to me that we finally put everything into the open. We talked about the whole issue back then, when you named me Chief of Security again, but somehow, I felt like we were still miles from the level of trust and former easy-going we had before. Thanks again."

"You're welcome." The Captain grew even more serious. "The things you read in G'Quan's book -- are you really sure that your conclusions are correct?"

"I believe that the reappearance of the rift confirms my suspicions. Besides, G'Kar -- once he stopped being irritated at my fervor -- became all excited, held a monologue I only listened partly to... for short, he said he believed my assumptions to be right. He asked me to greet Sinclair."

Sheridan and Garibaldi traded a half-grin. Sheridan said: "You know that we can't have any kind of farewell-party tomorrow, but tell me when you're ready for departure then, okay?"

"I will, Captain."




~ Chapter 5 ~


"...I pretend that I'm in control now
I won't fall apart 'till I walk away
And I say to myself you're gonna be stronger
I tell myself it's better this way..." -- Tears in the Rain


Garibaldi sighed heavily, but at the same time, couldn't quite fight a fond smile.

Evidently, he had been wrong about no-one missing him.

After a teary good-bye in Londo's quarters (the ambassador, half-drunk, had been as embarrassing as they could get, Vir not so short behind), another time-consuming lecture about every safety-measures for the travel through the rift one could think of and a warrior's good-bye by G'Kar (in the middle of some highly official writings for the New Alliance), and some serious talk with Susan on a priority channel Michael had remorselessly used to reach her new ship, he felt drained, but good.

His good-bye to Stephen had surprised him the most, though. After Garibaldi had told what he planned to do to his friend who now was, apart from Michael himself, the only one here on B5 since almost the very beginning, the doctor had only smiled and said: "Of course. You love him, don't you?"

Michael had been to stunned to say anything for almost a minute. It took him even longer to close his mouth. So he had told Stephen everything. In the end, Franklin had embraced him and wished him all the luck in the world. By then, Michael had been ready to cry.

Finally, not to forget the more stilted farewells to Lyta, Lennier and Zack Allan. As well as the second long talk to Delenn. And the gift with which he left her quarters. Something necessary to realize his plan.

Now, there was still one person to say farewell to. This conversation he had feared most of all -- Lise Hampton -- no, Edgars.

For a second, he wished that she'd be occupied with work, but called himself silently a coward and asked her secretary to be allowed to speak to her immediately.

Evidently Lise had given instructions to put Garibaldi through to her without any delay if he should wish to speak to her. He felt guilty -- he hadn't called her for almost a month now.

Finally, her face appeared on the screen. Upon recognizing him, it broke into that breathtaking, wonderful smile Michael loved so much.

"Michael! Brenda only told me that this call was urgent -- she didn't say it was you..."

Her joy made it so much harder to tell her...

"Lise..."

No, he was not going to behave like a coward, to say that he'd only called to see her, to refer to a leave he'd like to spend with her soon, a leave he wasn't going to take, ever again...

Grim determination made him follow through, hollowly echo the lines he knew by heart now, the lines which would hurt her so much... He didn't want to hurt her at all...

The shock on her face, her outrage, and, even worse, her tears...

The screen went blank, and for a long time, he felt numb, cold and incapable to move or think. But he had told her. He hadn't sneaked away without.

Michael hoped that Lise would understand some day. He had loved her, like he'd said. Just not enough. Not compared to his feelings for Jeff.

He shook himself out of it. The captain and Delenn were waiting for him. And a certain starfury.

Jeff was waiting for him.

He broke into a run to the escalator.

***

With an audible 'click', the anchoring of the starfury was removed.

Proficiently, his fingers danced over the consols to turn the ship. It gained speed and shot away, leaving behind the place Garibaldi had spent the last four years of his life.

Babylon 5.

A place of hurt. A place of joy. A place of duty, of friendship, of sacrifices and sometimes failure.

A place of hope.

"Michael." John Sheridan's voice on the communication channel.

"Our friend." Delenn's soft whisper, "we wish you luck. May your life be free of shadows and lightened by happiness. We won't forget you."

"We will miss you."

Even without being there, Michael could picture the scene on the bridge: Delenn, the palm of one hand on the transparent viewing screen, Sheridan standing behind her, holding her other hand, both of them solemnly gazing at his ship slowly disappearing in the distance.

"John. Delenn. I'll miss you too. Good-bye."




~ Chapter 6 ~


"...I swear I feel the power that's greater than our own
And when it all unfolds
We tumble through the darkness
To the great unknown..." -- Healing Power


The starfury hovered motionless, powered only by her stabilisator boosters, in front of the most spectacular sight Michael had ever seen. It was awe-inspiring.

The rift.

A myriad of shifting colors, twisting images, a thing alive, dividing space itself.

So it really had reopened again. G'Quan had been right.

He released a shaky grin.

Thank God.

Right in front of him, so close he didn't need the sensors to make out their inscriptions, hung several observation buoys, lined up like a string of pearls. Gathering as much data as they possibly could from the strange phenomenon. Some miles closer, and the graviational forces from the rift would pull them in.

The same would happen to his ship if he wasn't careful.

Michael smiled self-deprecatingly. He had every intention to do exactly the very same thing, hadn't he?

The little ship ignited its machines and crept carefully to the outermost tendrils of the rift. The beginnings of the current began to reach for it.

Garibaldi averted his eyes. Gazing too long into an abyss... he felt dizzy. He could see the waves of the time distortion, rippling gently, like water, making the stars in its center swirl visibly. Lights and colors he had no expression for, particle streams even discernible with the naked eye.

Michael double-checked all systems for the jump.

Just when he reached out to enter a course into the current, a light started to blink in warning. A ship was opening a hyperspace gate very close to his position.

"Fools!" Garibaldi cursed vividly. Weren't they aware of the danger -- opening a gate so close to the Rift? "Do they want to end in Wonderland or what?"

He held his position and waited for the appearance of the newcomers -- whoever they were.

An EarthForce cruiser emerged in normal space.

"Earth-Alliance cruiser Niobe to unidentified starfury: Stay clear of the anomaly!"

Garibaldi grimaced. The 'Niobe' had, together with the 'Alexander' and many other ships, been loyal to President Clark during Babylon 5's fight against Earth. He was ready to bet that their commanding officers hadn't all been replaced in the meantime. As far as he'd heard, Captain DeMeo had sworn loyalty to the new President and therefore been allowed to keep his command. Nice indeed.

And besides, he really didn't want to discuss why he flew one of B5's starfuries far too close to a sector no-one had a right to enter. And he also didn't want to find out whether they intended to render him incapable of maneuvering or whether they preferred to be a little less refined in choosing their targets. Sinclair had called him paranoid more than once -- well, Jeff had been right.

Better not to respond to the orders via intercom... the less he said, the less Sheridan would have to deny later on. He grinned.

A quick series of commands to his navigation computer, and the starfury carried out a complicated string of evasive procedures, all the while increasing in speed.

The rift grew bigger and bigger in front of Garibaldi's viewing screen, with the first tendrils of energy reaching for him.

The shouting voices over the communication channel died down, covered by first static, then silence. And the waves of energy -- so many different forms even the most famous scientists of EarthGov hadn't been able to catalogue or even discern them all -- swallowed his little ship.

***

The current of energy took him in. He felt like jumping naked into a violent river, the Niagara Falls Garibaldi had once visited on Earth.

At once, the panels in the cockpit reported an all-encompassing systems failure -- only the emergency backup systems kept navigation and life-support at a minimum. The starfury immediately went into a spin.

Distorted images flashed in a cacophony of lights and colors across his front screen. Different fields of gravity made the ship lurch uncontrollably; only his safety belts keeping him in the pilot seat. Michael did the best he could not to loose the contents of his stomach onto the consols while he frantically checked the rapidly changing readouts. He didn't want to loose the two extra oxygen tanks alongside his ship. Without them, he would never make it to Minbar.

After all, starfuries weren't built for long-range flights.

The pressure on the lonely ship and its sole occupant increased. About 3 g, Michael guessed, and still building up. He refused to panic. Suddenly, even the emergency systems shut down.

The ship started to spin; its hull creaking from the pressure. The images on the screen changed to ink black with fiery glows of red and orange. Unconsciously, they reminded him of hell. Or at least, of the hell his grandfather Luigi had described to his grandson, a small, frightened child, in such vivid detail that the boy had had to fight not to cry or cover his ears when the old bastard started his ramblings.

Michael sneered distastefully. Nah, he was over this, even if the whole universe seemed inclined to make him panic. Fear clawed in the pit of his stomach, but he resolutely stamped down on it. He would not give in.

Still, the pressure increased. He imagined little blood vessels bursting under his skin while he futilely tried to swallow. His eyes ached; he did his best to breathe regularly. The air felt like a thick, suffocating blanket, stale and low on oxygen.

The mad colors on the screen made him nauseous. The screech of metal, giving way under too much pressure, burned his ears.

He closed his eyes.

All of a sudden, he was sure that he was going to die. Futilely, he tried to remember a prayer out of his childhood, but couldn't concentrate enough. Suddenly, he saw Jeff's face in front of his inner eye, his lover's eyes calm and encouraging.

He clung to the image, making it his only reference point in the swirl of chaos surrounding him, over-loading his senses, trying to drown him. He conjured once again the few, precious, oh so wonderful hours he and Jeff had spent together as lovers before destiny ripped them apart once more.

A small smile grazed his lips.

Minbar, a thousand seventy-two standard years and 261 days back in time...

The beautiful smile on Jeff's lips, the warm welcome in his eyes, his outspread arms, waiting for him...

Slowly, he realized he could breathe easier.

The trip itself was still too much for his intellect to deal with. Strotoscope-like flashes of past and perhaps future and the other disturbing information the rest of his senses were feeding to his brain...

A young man, almost human, strongly resembling Sheridan with still some traces of Delenn's features in his appearance, standing alone in front of something that might have been a tribunal of some sort ... a group of rangers, fighting an unseen enemy ... Jeff in the door of his quarters, smiling sheepishly ... Lyta, her eyes turning black ... Lise, with white hair, holding a child in her arms, her grandchild perhaps ... Morden, smiling self-satisfactory, unseen Shadows in his wake ... Babylon 5 disappearing amidst a bright explosion, leaving only wreckage drifting away ... Londo as an old man, lying dead in a pompous bed, with Vir sitting on the bedside and reaching for the symbols of the Centauri Emperor ... Jeff, sweaty hair hanging into his face, clutching his PPG ... Shadow ships, firing beams of purplish light at a squadron of starfuries ... Delenn as an old woman, appearing out of nowhere in an ISN studio, her dignity awe-inspiring ... Jeff as Valen, standing in a stone circle, raising something too bright to see high into the Minbari sky at night, a mass of people silently watching ... Lyta in front of Bester, in a mute lock of will, with the PSI-Cop finally stumbling and crying out in terror, the red-haired telepath turning around, a mad look on her face ... Sheridan, alone in a White Star, disappearing in an explosion of light ... Talia, adjusting her gloves and smiling at Susan ... two naked bodies, entangled, starlight streaming down on them ... Marcus Cole, crying, looking down at Susan's still face and feeding her his strength ... a Minbari woman in uniform, addressing an unwelcome visitor ... Jeff, with Minbari bonecrest, accompanied by two Vorlons, walking towards a group of Minbari ...

Mercifully, his mind shut down.

He fell into the abyss.

***

Slowly he regained consciousness.

His whole body hurt worse than even last time he had stumbled into his quarters after a fight in sector brown, being unable to take off his riot gear because his muscles had been to stiff to undress.

Garibaldi moaned and carefully opened one eye.

The light in the cockpit was dim -- too bright for a full systems shutdown, and at the same time too dark for the vast numbers of emergency lights he had expected to blink.

He opened the other eye and tried to sit up.

Bad idea. He groaned.

Michael almost couldn't move enough to reach the medkit. His bruised, battered body gave a wail of protest, and he gritted his teeth against the onslaught of pain. But Garibaldi had never been one to give up. He reached the medkit and fumbled out a painkiller. The effort nearly overwhelmed him, but as the drug coursed through his body, some of the pain dissipated and he relaxed.

Moving more fluidly, he carefully inspected first the interior of the cockpit, then the consols.

Astonishingly -- more like a bloody miracle, Michael though -- all systems seemed to be fully functional.

Garibaldi ran a second check, just to be sure. "Every system fully operational." The computer informed him.

Michael grinned wearily. Well, better this way around, with him hurting and the ship functional. The opposite might have proven lethal.

Next, he ran a correlation check of the star systems detectable by his sensors.

The ship turned slowly for 360 degrees. No sign of the Rift. Only open space around him.

Where was he? And, perhaps even more important, when?

Garibaldi was ready to bite his fingernails by the time the navigation computer had finished. And ready to kick the main processor at its next words: "Position unknown. Primary starsystems do not fit database."

"Computer, try definition of position by altering the star charts. Expand the search parameters by calculating the changes in the constellations caused by drift during the last 1.500 years."

"Expanding parameters. Please wait."

The starfury hung motionless in space while Michael waited for the computer to finish the search.

Thank God even both oxygen tanks had survived the trip.

He undid the seat belts and went to check his supplies -- enough food for almost a week, clean clothes, Delenn's gift and the second most important thing -- a Ranger uniform, but without the gold-silver brooch. If what he had hoped had indeed happened, humans would be unknown to the Minbari race in this time.

Finally, the computer finished and told him a set of coordinates.

About two days of hyperspace travel from Minbar, Michael calculated quickly. But when?

"Calculations of star drift indicate being thousand seventy-two years and 260 days from standard earth year 2261."

Michael Garibaldi strapped himself once again into the seat and wept with joy.

After a long, long time, he started the ship towards a planetary system close to his coordinates that, according to his computer, wasn't inhabited by a space-faring civilization. He chose one of its moons and landed the starfury.

The anchors secured the little ship to the moon's surface.

There were still several things he had to do before entering the course to Minbar. He prayed time would go by quickly. Reverently, he unwrapped Delenn's gift.




~ Chapter 7 ~


"...High above the world where dreams are sailing
Far beyond the brightest shinin' star
Where everything you've waited for is waiting..." -- In the Arms of Love


Dalaren just wanted to give his echelon comrades the order to prepare to jump into hyperspace when his sensors picked up something -- an anomaly on the moon that had just come into sensor range. Not a Shadow ship, but something unknown to his computer.

Was it some kind of spaceship?

He hesitated for a second and then switched on the between-ship communication system.

"Pilots, close up to leader. Check readouts from coordinates 15-102-80. Do you detect something?"

The other three ships went into closer formation and started to scan the given area. One by one, they confirmed Dalaren's readouts. There definitely was something. Something unknown.

He signaled his comrades to form attack formation. Slowly, every sense on alert, the echelon closed up to the barren, rugged surface of the moon. Dalaren kept his sensors locked with maximum enlargement on a spot on the moon's horizon. Soon, the source of the strange readouts would come into view.

There.

At first, it was hard to make out the contours of the little ship -- it had to be a ship, Dalaren thought -- from the crater it had hidden in. Anchors and cables kept it secured to the ground.

Dalaren stared.

From the radio, he heard the excited chatter of his fellow pilots.

"As strange as it looks, it has to be a ship."

"But none we've ever seen."

"See, it's even smaller than our ships. I don't believe it has space for more than one being."

"But which race would use such ships? None we've met so far. It's ..."

"Silence!" Dalaren ordered. "It's definitely no derelict. Systems show that one life-form is aboard. But for whether or not it's alive -- Siriell, would you try...?"

"I will, Leader One."

After a short pause, the telepath answered, sounding exhausted: "The pilot is alive, but extremely hard to reach. He seems to be deep in some sort of coma. I only got several flashes of his thoughts, and they're so jumbled and strange... but I can confirm that it's no Shadow ship, Leader One."

"Thank you, Siriell."

Somewhat reassured, Dalaren stared at the foreign ship. What could they do now? As it was most likely no enemy ship, they couldn't shoot it. Of course, it still could be some sort of trick from the Shadows. With them, everything was possible.

What about leaving it here? An option, but not wise. They knew nothing about the race which had built it.

Waking the pilot? Worth a try.

But his efforts were only met by static. What now?

The Entil'Zha had always encouraged them to seek out the unknown, the mysterious. Was it possible to take the ship with them to B'Ilaron? There, they could try to open it, find the pilot -- who and whatever he was -- wake him... perhaps he needed medical help, find out what he wanted...

Dalaren grinned and ordered his echelon comrades to help him take the little ship in tow.

The Shadows seemed to be beaten. No attacks in weeks, no encounter with a single spider-like ship during the whole patrol. A little mystery would add spice to their daily lief. Le'anna maybe wouldn't show it, but the general would be pleased.

***

The body breathed more easily.

The changes were finished.

Slowly, the inhabitant of the cocoon awoke, stretched long unused muscles, opened eyes which had seen nothing for a long time and, finally, freed himself from the protective shell he had lain in, unconscious, dreaming, like a child waiting to be born.

Gravity from odd angles, making the metallic hull he had awoken in screech protestingly, greeted him.

His fingers trembled and opened carefully before touching his face. Everything felt normal.

Michael rubbed his eyes and, for a second, felt like awaking on Babylon 5, just like he had, every morning for the last weeks. For a second, he was ready to blame everything on the odd, disorientating dreams he kept having these days.

But the feeling of loss he had experienced every morning lately was missing. Memories of Jeff weren't haunting him. That, and the rush of momentary panic as his fingers traveled further, reaching his forehead and the bone-crest.

He forgot to breathe and was sure that his heart had skipped several beats. When he could speak again, he whispered: "Computer, light at 50 percent."

It had been dark around him.

He remembered. He had switched the lights off to save energy while he had...

The facets of the triluminary glowed in a myriad of colors.

Delenn's gift.

"Michael, you know that everything you're planning is only possible when you undergo the same transformation Jeffrey Sinclair did. The triluminary is only a loan. On Minbar, you'll give it to Valen who will pass it on in our lineage to this very day. Take it and use it with my blessing and in Valen's name."

Then she had embraced him fiercely and sent him on his way, for the last time, to his quarters on B5.

Garibaldi shook himself out of his pensive mood and hastened to get a mirror.

He rummaged about in his pack. There.

The dim light in the cockpit made the changes appear less severe but, at the same time, seemed to highlight them, in Michael's eyes. Out of the mirror, a stranger was looking back at him. No hair (well, not that he'd had so much of it to begin with, he thought ironically), but smooth skin, and above, grey bone, forming the Minbari crest he knew. His ears had become smaller and moved lower, just below the crest and closer to his jaw line.

He undressed quickly.

His body hadn't changed so much. But his skin felt a little bit different. With half a thought, he recalled Delenn's instructions for Minbari body care. He would have to put them to use soon enough.

He quickly reached for the Ranger uniform and dressed. Better than wearing a robe, sure. Why did Minbari always have to dress so formally? Well, not that he didn't have a chance to do otherwise from now on. He was no longer human, was he?

His eyes were magically drawn back to the reflection of his own face in the mirror. Hesitantly, his fingers touched once more his face. His features hadn't changed, and he was grateful for that. When you ignored the bonecrest, it was still Michael Garibaldi looking back at you -- the same face he had seen for years while shaving in the morning.

Thank God. He had prayed for that.

Jeff would recognize him, wouldn't he? He smiled trembingly.

The starfury lurched violently to the left. Immediately, his attention was drawn back to his surroundings. If the starfury had been big enough to possess gravity, the mirror would have smashed to pieces on the floor.

Michael stared out of the window, paralyzed.




~ Chapter 8 ~


"...The end of a journey
Back in your arms again
There's no place I'd rather be
Than right here by your side..." -- The End of a Journey


Babylon 4.

It had to be.

The well-known cylindrical form, shining blue like a sapphire in front of a black velvet background. Blocking out the shimmering stars with its feel of presence. So much alike its twin-sister which, now, was not even a dream.

Babylon 4.

Valen's present to the Minbari. Brought back in time, across the rift, as a gift to fight back the Shadows. The very core of the Minbari defense. B'Ilaron, they had called it. The Center.

Babylon 4.

More, than anything, the reason for Jeff to dare the unimaginable. To travel back here. To make sure, in winning that war, that there'd ever be a second one against the Shadows.

Michael was finally able to tear his gaze away from the so achingly familiar view. Only then did he see that his starfury was surrounded by perhaps half a dozen Minbari fighter ships. At least their design indicated that that was what they were. Evidently, it hadn't changed that much over the centuries.

He and the other former EarthForce officers had grown so accustomed to the sleek, organic appearance of the White Star class. Finding himself in the middle of the then out-dated Minbari Fighters rose very unpleasant remembrances of the hundreds of battles in the Earth-Minbari war preceding the final Battle of the Line.

He swallowed.

At least, they seemed to have decided to investigate the origin of his alien ship instead of blowing it up first and asking questions later. He grinned. Strange behavior for the Warrior Caste.

It had to be a patrol stationed upon Babylon 4, Garibaldi guessed. They had his ship in tow to take it there. Originally, he had planned to fly directly to Minbar, pretend to be a Ranger on a special mission for the Entil'Zha. Once Jeff would have seen his face during a transmission, he would have been safe.

But now...

Who knew who was the commanding Minbari officer on Babylon 4. And who knew what he would think about Valen. Michael had learned that in the beginning, Valen hadn't been undisputed. The Warrior Caste had feared to loose its privileges, some prominent members of the Anla'shok had mistrusted the stranger coming out of nowhere...

But perhaps, in that very moment, Jeff was even there himself, organizing the war... Everything would be far easier then.

The station grew bigger and bigger in his windscreen.

The plans from which Babylon 5 had been built hadn't differed very much from the ones used to construct its predecessor, which meant that the two stations had appeared almost identical in outward appearance.

Now, though, B4 was no longer the shiny example of post-War Earthern construction skills. Several changes, easily discernible to a practiced eye, revealed that both stations were apart from each other by more than a mere twelve years in construction. Undeniably, war had left its wounds.

One of the big sensor arrays near the command bridge was missing entirely; evidently, it had suffered irreparable damage during an attack and it hadn't been possible to replace it. That seemed to be the crux of the whole thing -- all damages of the outer hull had been meticulously, but crudely repaired. The sides of the station which had received the most severe enemy fire were gleaming silver in the reflecting light -- the metal used to cover the gashes and holes in the hull appeared to be something totally different from the common plated steel. The Minbari just hadn't had the same materials and tools as the original repair crews from Earth.

But everything seemed to be functioning.

The landing hangar's doors surely did as they slowly opened to let the squadron -- plus unexpected visitor -- in.

Michael could only imagine the vivid discussions going on between the leader of the Fighter patrol and the bridge officer on duty. But that hit him on the idea to switch on his communications systems and to search for the wavelength of the BabCom channel.

He had the advantage of an easily compatible system to the one supposedly used by the station. Soon, he had tuned in the transmissions. At first, he understood nothing until he remembered to activate the translator. Unlike Jeff, he had no knowledge of the Minbari language. He grimaced.

Back on Babylon 5, he had been thoughtful enough to research that topic: mechanical translators weren't know in that time. That meant, that, if he ever managed to leave the starfury, he wouldn't be able to use the unit to communicate with the Minbari. He had to find a way to contact Jeff as soon as possible. Until then, his skills in ancient Narn (God bless G'Quan!) would have to suffice. After all, the Narn were allies of the Minbari in the fight against the Shadows.

The pilot who seemed to be the leader of the squadron was just being dispatched to someone called Le'anna, with the rank of a general and evidently the commanding officer of the station.

"Leader One, what's this ship your patrol has in tow?"

"Ena'rim Le'anna, we found this strange ship on a barren planet on day five of our patrol. It appears to be of a design and race we've never encountered before. The pilot is alive but in some sort of suspended animation or coma. So far, he has made no move to contact us or to break our hold on his ship. I suggest..."

"Dalaren, it was not your place to make such a decision. You should have returned to B'Ilaron after your patrol and reported the incident. Do you realize how dangerous it is to take an alien ship into our most important military base?!" The woman was close to shouting.

Garibaldi admired the pilot's courage as the man replied calmly: "Ena'rim, perhaps the ship would have no longer been there when a second patrol had gone there to search for it. I decided to grasp the opportunity to investigate foreign technology. Who knows what we might learn about this alien race. We confirmed that it doesn't appear to contain Shadow technology. No organic material. And so far, it has made no hostile move. Request permission to land."

"It could still be a trap!" Another voice insisted in the background.

Michael applauded the unseen speaker. "That's the right line of thinking, boy." he murmured to himself. "Ever heard of the Trojan Horse?"

The patrol leader, Dalaren, disagreed vehemently: "Bela'rim Durahl, my telepath has scanned the ship and found nothing -- nothing! -- of Shadow origin. It's powered by machines, not thinking steering units, and Siriell didn't sense darkness. The Entil'Zha has encouraged us to learn and seek knowledge. That's a possibility we have to apply even in times of war!"

The pilot -- Dalaren? -- really had courage, Garibaldi mused. He knew how to defend his convictions. When he had done the same in the past, before taking Jeff up on that job offer aboard Babylon 5, his COs had always called it differently... insubordination. He smiled cynically.

On the bridge, Dalaren's words had triggered a lively discussion among the command staff. Wisely, they decided to keep it private and switched off the transmission to the Fighters.

There was a long pause while all waited tensely. Finally, the channel was opened again.

The general replied, sounding resigned: "Patrol One, permission to land is given. Leader One, I want to see you in my office as soon as you're on board. Two security teams in hangar two. If that ship does so much as to power a single weapon system, destroy it. As soon as it has been landed, raise enough force fields to surround it completely. Maximal caution."

Garibaldi's stomach was turning uncomfortably as the hangar doors closed behind the starfury. In the last second, he remembered to press the switch to polarize the windscreen. He didn't want to be on display like a lab rat.

Now, he had to develop a strategy. Soon. His air supply wouldn't last very much longer than perhaps half a day. By then, he had to have convinced his ...hosts... to let him out of the ship without shooting him.

He was among friends, he reminded himself. Yeah. Wonderful.




~ Chapter 9 ~


"...Deep as it goes, hard as it might be
We'll climb the highest road
Through the clouds to where we'll always be
When the walls crumble down
It's your love that surrounds me..." -- Untouchable


Dalaren was among the first ones to stand in front of the small ship as its door opened with a hiss. A leg, clad in brown trousers, ending in a black boot, appeared in the opening. The man stepped through slowly, taking care so as to not alarm the security detail, kneeling in a small distance, their weapons drawn and locked on his form.

The stranger smiled wryly and kept his hands where everyone could see them clearly.

The pilot and the general, together with her staff, had been talking to him for hours. When the stranger had somehow just managed to log himself into their communications system, a tiring discussion had started. The man claimed to be a Ranger, sent on a secret mission by the Entil'Zha himself. That, perhaps with confirmation from Valen, would have managed to convince everybody. The only suspicious detail about his whole story was ... the fact that the stranger, though Minbari in appearance, spoke no single word of the Minbari language.

They had been able to communicate by means of the Narn representative aboard the station, who had translated everything the stranger had said. He spoke only Narn, and even that didn't appear to be his native language, G'Quan's liaisons officer had said.

The man insisted that he had been picked by Valen himself, actually, that he was a close friend of the famous Ranger Leader. And that his missing knowledge of the Minbari language resulted out of him having been raised, as an orphan, on a colony inhabited by a race called the Drazi. Nobody had heard of them before.

The general and the stranger had had some interesting shouting matches via intercom. The corners of Dalaren's mouth twitched a little in remembrance. The man had tried to stay polite, had even allowed a restricted scan by Siriell and another telepath to prove that he had no hostile intentions. Siriell and her colleague insisted that the scan had been enough to convince them of the stranger's friendly intentions, but Le'anna had pointed out that a surface scan like that proved, in her opinion, nothing at all. And that the confusing, alien visions the telepaths had seen as well might be only the cover of his real thoughts. The man -- he had called himself Minashol -- had finally refused to answer anymore questions until he was allowed to speak to the Entil'Zha.

At that point, Le'anna had, with a smug look on her face, emphasized that that wasn't possible at this very moment, as Valen had left Minbar perhaps half a day ago to fly to B'Ilaron. And as his ship had entered hyperspace almost immediately, there was no way to contact him until the ship jumped back into normal space.

Minashol's look, after her speech, had been interesting, to say the least. The man had looked overjoyed at the possibility of meeting the Entil'Zha soon face to face again, but also devastated that he would have to wait aboard his little ship for Valen's arrival. That was explained soon by the fact that his oxygen supply was dangerously low.

Against her better judgment, Le'anna had finally allowed him to leave his ship. Well, here he was.

The security guards watched every move he made. The stranger's gaze made a cursory sweep of his surroundings and finally came to rest upon Dalaren's face.

He had to be a Minbari, Dalaren thought. And, by the look of his clothes, also a ranger. The trousers, the robe, the calm confidence... No further weapons, though. Not even the fighting stick every Anla'shok wore. Very careful. Blue eyes, broad shoulders, confident stance. A warrior.

***

"You are Dalaren, the pilot whose patrol brought me here." Michael said in ancient Narn, clearly pronouncing every word.

Dutifully, the Narn translated. His gaze clearly said that he found it all terribly boring and was fed up with the whole situation. Garibaldi hoped that the accuracy of the translation wouldn't suffer because of that. No way to make sure of it, unfortunately.

The Minbari pilot only bowed wordlessly and caught Garibaldi totally in surprise. Not a small display of trust to a total stranger. The security detail eyed them warily.

Interesting. Dalaren appeared to be of the Religious Caste. A little bit taller than Lennier, but stockier. A small scar in the corner of one eye. The same centered calm radiated from him -- just as from Delenn's assistant. Michael decided that he could learn to like the guy.

"I am Dalaren. Entil'Zha Valen will arrive here in approximately seven hours. Until he verifies the truth of your statement, you will have to stay in custody, I'm afraid. But first of all, Ena'rim Le'anna wants to talk to you. After everything our enemies have done to win this war, you'll surely understand the extend of our safety measures. Would you please follow me?"

Michael nodded gratefully and stepped in the middle of the security detail. After leaving the hangar and his little ship behind, they ordered him to step into a small room to the left. A thorough, automated medical scan and a search for hidden weapons later he was allowed to step out again. They ushered him along several well-known corridors and lifts 'till he knew that they were nearing the main briefing rooms.

In one of the smaller rooms, the commander of the station was waiting for him. Ena'rim Le'anna, Dalaren and the others had called her. She hardly looked old enough to carry the rank of general, Garibaldi mused. A member of the Warrior Caste, most likely. The expression on her face in addition to the presence of the dozen security guards did show clearly enough that she didn't trust him at all.

Her greeting was formal and cold. The Narn translated it monotonously.

"You said that your name was Minashol and that you were a close friend of Valen," Le'anna continued. She looked like she had swallowed something distasteful. "So I bid you welcome in his name."

Michael once again rehearsed the careful constructed story about his origins and his reasons for coming here.

The general watched him motionless, looking more and more unconvinced and hostile. Garibaldi hoped fervently that the Minbari telepaths followed the same code of ethics as their Earthern counterparts -- at least, the code they should be following. Thinking of Bester and the PSI-Corps still made him sick. He would have no defense against a full scan. He felt nauseous.

Le'anna regarded him dispassionately.

"I have no reason -- no reason at all! -- to trust you. I don't know anything about the planet you claim to come from. You don't speak our language, although you appear to be Minbari. Your ship's computers are sealed against every 'unauthorized' access, and they use a language we don't know."

Michael inwardly sighed relieved. So they hadn't been able to override the code lock he had used. He had been sure that they would try as soon as he left the hangar, though. Looked like he had been right.

"I would just love to order a complete telepathic scan, you know," Le'anna said conversationally. "Unfortunately, not only would my telepaths refuse to do it without your permission, but it is also something Valen prohibited explicitly in the statutes we all swore to uphold when we took our oaths as Rangers. I'm sure you know them, too, don't you, Ranger? 'We live for the One,..."

"...we die for the One." Michael finished softly, feeling a short stab of pain at the memory of Marcus Cole's death. A look at Le'anna's face almost made him gape in astonishment. For a short second, her expression transmitted a sentiment so strong and pure that he couldn't take it for something else. Envy. Envy and jealousy. His mind reeled at the implications. The general was in love with the Leader of the Rangers. In love with Jeff. And the way it looked like, Jeff had either not recognized her feelings or chosen to ignore them. And here he was, a stranger, speaking confidently of the Entil'Zha as his closest friend, perhaps even unconsciously giving hints of his real feelings for the man Le'anna evidently had tried to win for herself in vain.

"Valen will be here soon. Until then, you will have to be observed closely. Four security guards will keep an eye on you. Don't try to do anything to arise their suspicions. If the Entil'Zha does indeed know you, as you claim, I am sure he will call for you immediately."

A nod dismissed them. The new turn of events was even more irritating, Michael thought angrily. At least, he now knew why Jeff had put that woman in command of the most important Minbari defense. She was capable of dividing clearly between her job and her emotions. Instead of following her feelings and kicking him out of the nearest air lock, she had almost apologized for putting him in custody!




~ Chapter 10 ~


"...We stand alone with our pride as protection
We gotta find a different direction
Reach past our minds and end this destruction
Are we the world or the world our reflection..." -- Heart Wars


Michael paced the room like a caged animal. And that was more or less exactly what he was, wasn't he? No matter that he had been given one of the bigger rooms, in the Ambassadorial wing, to be exact. Not when he had to share it with four guards, sitting around the table, two of them watching him cautiously while the other two seemed to be meditating.

Just one more hour, and Jeff's ship would -- finally! -- leave hyperspace and arrive at the station. Dalaren had kept him updated before leaving to begin his sleep cycle. Sleeping! Garibaldi snorted. Impossible at this moment. Not to mention the torture devices the Minbari called beds...

Suddenly, a far-too-wellknown alert made him freeze in the middle of the room. The guards jumped to their feet.

Michael couldn't understand what the agitated voice coming out of the speakers was saying, but the meaning could easily be guessed. Enemy ships must be coming out of hyperspace. A Shadow attack. There couldn't be any other reason for the alert. His heart beat faster at the sudden rush of adrenaline.

Soon, they heard several people running along the corridor outside. The four security guys had drawn their weapons and were watching him closely.

The door banged open and Dalaren and two of his fellow pilots rushed in, the Narn representative in their wake. A short discussion with the animated guards, and they finally holstered their weapons. Dalaren, still out of breath, addressed Michael directly. The Narn hastened to translate, all his indications of boredom dropped.

"Minashol, our echelon must start immediately to join the other squadrons in battle. We've been attacked by a fleet of Shadow ships, a larger force than all the ones we've fought during the last months. There can be only one reason for this massive attack."

Garibaldi nodded, the pit of his stomach growing cold and heavy with sudden fear. Yes, only one possible reason. Valen. Jeff's ship would soon jump into normal space -- directly into the middle of the ongoing fight, unprepared. Until then, the Shadows would try their best to cripple Babylon 4's defenses and decimate its Fighters so that, when Valen's ship would appear, their trap would close around him... Then, it would be nothing more than target practice. And the leading figure of this war, along with its most important base, would cease to exist. The Minbari would lose the First War against the Shadows, and time would change its course irrevocably.

A small gesture from Dalaren, and Garibaldi found himself down on his knees, his arms twisted behind his back to keep him from rising. He groaned in sudden pain as his shoulders threatened to dislocate. Slowly, he raised his head and gazed at Dalaren and the guards in mute astonishment.

"Why..."

"There is only one person aboard this station who knew that the Entil'Zha would grace this place with a visit; who knew the time of arrival. Only one person who was able to betray him." Dalaren's normally so calm face had twisted into an ugly grimace, his voice a vicious snarl. "I don't know how you did it, you being under constant surveillance, but somehow you managed to send a message to your little friends and tell them everything. For this betrayal, you will die."

Not again, Garibaldi thought numbly. Not again. For the blink of an eye, the people around him transformed into Stephen, Lyta, Number One and her men, sentencing him to death on Mars. No!

Frozen, in slow motion, he watched the guards draw their weapons and take aim.

NO!

Garibaldi exploded into action, only peripherally aware of his left arm being almost twisted out of its socket and two energy blasts missing him barely by centimeters. The moves of all the people in the room became blurred. At the end of the confusion, two unmoving groups dominated the scene, like a still life or an ancient photographic snapshot.

Michael, breathing hard, had chosen to retreat against one wall, Dalaren and the guards, crouched in the middle of the room, had still pointed their weapons in his direction. The Narn was nowhere to be seen. There was only one reason why Dalaren and the others didn't shoot Garibaldi immediately -- Siriell.

Garibaldi's demeanor made it very clear that he would break the young woman's neck if anyone continued shooting. He fervently hoped nobody would perceive that that was only a hollow threat. Murdering someone who wasn't an enemy in cold blood -- he wouldn't be able to do that, no matter what the risk for his own life. The classic hostage scenario... something he had always feared in his times as Chief of Security on Babylon 5. He didn't allow his hurting arm to tremble and waited for the negotiations to begin. The telepath kept herself perfectly still and seemed to be hardly breathing.

Dalaren held himself tightly in check and barked a name in the general vicinity of the door. Looking a little bit sheepish, the Narn emerged. Despite the tense situation, Michael had to fight a grin. It was obvious that the Narn representative was no warrior.

So, evidently the negotiations were about to get started.

Before Dalaren had a chance to say something, Garibaldi began to speak: "I don't know how the Shadows could have learned of Valen's arrival here. I only know that I sure as hell didn't tell them. I've know Valen for more than 15 years and would never willingly betray him."

Like you've known John for four years and betrayed him none the less, an evil voice nagged him.

A terrible sense of déjà-vu overcame him.

Perhaps Siriell could have freed herself at that moment, but she didn't even try. She trembled a little.

Dalaren's eyes blazed cold fury. Why should he believe him? Again, Michael gave him no chance to answer. He tightened his hold on Siriell and explained his plan that would hopefully end this nightmare.

***

This time he was at least seated against a wall instead of kneeling, but again furious eyes with their fingers on triggers watched every movement. Siriell reached out -- amazingly calm, Michael thought distantly -- to touch his forehead. Before the telepath could close her eyes and begin in earnest, Garibaldi reached out and grabbed her arm. A shiver ran through the watchers, but they didn't interfere.

Garibaldi concentrated and tried to tell her the most important thing -- something he couldn't say aloud. He just hoped she would understand.

Her touch was surprisingly gentle. Then there was nothing but a storm raging through his mind, sweeping away the here and now.

Gasping, he came back to himself. Siriell smiled at him, exhausted, -- trying to reassure him wordlessly? -- and turned to Dalaren and the others. She began to speak and, seeing that he couldn't follow, asked the Narn to translate again.

"Minashol has told us the truth, Dalaren. Enthil'Zha Valen has been his beloved best friend for years now. They have saved each other's lifes many, many times. He would never betray him.

Although the Shadows have touched his mind briefly, so have the Vorlons -- a powerful female telepath who knows more about the Vorlons than anyone of us has touched his thoughts repeatedly. He hasn't been sent here by anything else than his wish to join Valen again after years of separation.

He's no Ranger by oath, but he really did 'walk in the dark places no others will enter' and stood 'on the bridge and no one may pass'. He would give his life for Valen. No matter how the Shadows might have learned about the Entil'Zha's arrival here -- Minashol was not the one to tell them. He has seen many strange places and many wonders...", her voice trailed away.

Michael almost fainted in relief. She hadn't told them.

Thank God. She hadn't told them.

No way the Minbari would have ever let him out of imprisonment had she told them where he really came from. Had she told them who Valen really was. Where they really came from.

He still felt dizzy, but attempted to get up. His head hurt. The telepath smiled at him and helped him up. He tried to convey his thanks with a look of deepest gratitude. She only nodded solemnly and bowed, just like Lennier.

Dalaren slowly stepped closer, an almost agonized look on his face.




~ Chapter 11 ~


"...I've seen the shadows closin' in
And nothing brought me closer to ruin
All that it seems I've come to learn
Is I've found out which way to turn..." -- Search the Sky


Garibaldi's fingers danced once again over the consols of the starfury. Almost reluctantly, the little ship came to life. We both thought that the flight here had been our last, Michael thought fondly.

He still felt like a miracle had happened in the last half of an hour.

Dalaren begged his forgiveness, not just with a short apology, but rather in a torrent of words, blaming himself deeply for almost shooting Michael upon some vague suspicions. The pilot seemed to be almost worshipping the ground Jeff walked on, and the mistake he had almost made lent his words an ardor that had made Garibaldi blush furiously in embarrassment.

But the severity of the situation forced them both to concentrate on the matter at hand almost immediately. Le'anna had ordered Dalaren's squadron to join the combat against the attacking Shadow ships. Due to the fact that the hangar had been partially blocked by Garibaldi's starfury, only part of the Squadron One's Fighters would have been able to start anyway. Dalaren had originally come to Garibaldi to get the entry code to his ship so that another pilot would have been able to move it out of the way.

After everything that had happened, though, Dalaren had taken responsibility to let Michael fly his own ship and even to participate in battle. Garibaldi knew that he had taken advantage of the pilot's feeling of guilt, but he felt no regret.

When Jeff was in danger, he couldn't just stand back and let the Minbari Fighter pilots be the ones to stand between their Entil'Zha and the Shadows. After all, it wasn't the first time he had sat behind the controls of a starfury and fought the Shadows, was it? Although this time, he would really prefer to leave the battle not enclosed in the shimmering, ink black body of one of the spider-like ships...

***

The hangar doors opened.

Michael's starfury was the first ship to fly through, followed close by Dalaren and Siriell. They had decided that the telepath would stay close to him in case of communication problems. Garibaldi had assured Dalaren that he understood enough Minbari to react to commands like 'attack', 'retreat', 'look behind you' etc. After all, he couldn't tell the man that, while in his ship, understanding Minbari was no problem -- that his computer would automatically translate all incoming transmissions.

And Siriell's presence would -- hopefully -- make sure that Garibaldi's strange ship wasn't hit by friendly fire.

Out there, in front of Babylon 4, the sight was stunning enough. This time, Garibaldi was not in a Minbari war room, surrounded by holographs of the battling ships, or aboard a White Star, trying to organize their forces. Now, it really came back to everything he had learned a long time ago -- piloting a starfury in battle. The ongoing battle right in front of them.

Dalaren ordered his echelon to fan out and enter the fight in battle formation.

Three heavy Minbari cruisers kept their positions at a strategically ideal triangle while hundreds of Fighters surrounded the spider-shaped enemy ships like a swarm of insects. Red and yellow laser beams cut through space. The force shield around B4 glowed yellow each time a beam hit.

Garibaldi felt the acceleration press him back into his harness at the same time as the adrenaline hit.

With half an ear, he listened to a short conversation between the general and Dalaren but didn't bother enough to understand it all. Whatever Le'anna had to say to the pilot's unauthorized decision -- it would have to wait until later.

No jumpgate opening. So far. That meant that Jeff's ship hadn't arrived... and that no enemy ships were entering battle as reinforcements.

The echelon came into firing range to the first Shadow ships, all already de-cloaked and engaged in battle. Right in front of their eyes, a Minbari Fighter exploded in a fiery inferno, cleanly cut in half. The echelon separated, with Michael and Siriell as wingmen.

Two Fighters stayed back to destroy the first Shadow ship.

Garibaldi and the young telepath swerved right to reinforce the thinning line of defense around the second cruiser. Several shots missed them by inches. Another Fighter, and another, exploded in a spectacle of lights and colors.

A thinning thread of the former telepathic connection to Siriell told Michael that the young woman had put her ship on auto-pilot to try to block the next Shadow ship mentally. He cursed and acted on instinct. A short command to the computer, and his weapons locked on the Shadow ship's blurred outlines, hardly visible in front of the starry background, and fired a fraction of a second later. Almost in slow motion, the black hull blew apart into flaming pieces.

They didn't need a common language to congratulate each other via intercom.

Only their reflexes saved them both from two yellow laser beams which burned a trace along Garibaldi's right upper wing and hit the force shields of the cruiser behind them.

"Minimal damage to the cooling system," the computer informed him.

Siriell again managed to block the enemy ship, and Michael destroyed it, hardly able to escape the pieces of shrapnel.

So the battle continued.

Michael forgot how many Shadow ships they destroyed. Both Siriell's Fighter and his starfury had taken more than superficial damage. Luckily, all important systems were still online. Not all members of their echelon had been so fortunate, though. Garibaldi had seen two of the Fighters exploding on his left, unable to help them, and was sure that they had lost even more. The losses incurred by B4's entire fleet didn't even bear thinking about. Still, with all the Minbari pilots giving their best to defend the station and the jumpgate, they seemed to be beating off the enemy.

They had lost one of the cruisers. No-one dared to think of the number of lifes lost. And a second one was almost crippled due to loss of its main engine drive.

The Shadows seemed to be losing ground, though.

With a sick flickering of power, the force shields around the station gave way. The next laser shot, fired without true aim, carved a glowing path across the silver hull. Living areas, a distanced part of Michael guessed. Too easily he could imagine the catastrophe there. It made him sick.

Something like a bright, blinding yellow star seemed to be rising on his right. The jumpgate.

Opening.

A sudden burst of excited voices over the intercom. A female voice, drowning all others. General Le'anna.

"Valen! It's Valen's ship coming through! He will be the main target of the remaining Shadow ships! Defend the cruiser at all costs. Do you hear me, Rangers?"

The people over there, aboard the newly arrived cruiser, reacted fast. Before even the first laser beam hit, they had the shields raised. The maybe two dozen Fighters escorting the cruiser fanned out to engage the attacking spider ships while the remaining Fighters sent out by Babylon 4 closed up behind them. That way or the other, there weren't many Shadow ships left to do real damage, if...

Siriell saw it even sooner than Garibaldi.

Navigating her Fighter between the spider-shaped mass of darkness and the approaching cruiser, proudly bearing the silver insignia of the Entil'Zha (so pure, so beautiful, so unsuspecting -- so utterly defenseless), she once again tried to block the enemy ship mentally.

But she was weak after almost one hour of battle, concentration and the pain of the screeching, whispering, dark contact in her mind. Siriell failed.

Garibaldi desperately tried to get a clear shot at the dark ship, but his targeting system was off-line, and the manual targeting was jammed. Dalaren and the other survivors were too far away. Helplessly, he was forced to watch.

The Shadow ship tumbling towards the cruiser, accelerating in a kamikaze-like attempt...

Siriell's ship entering the line of dive...

A sharp shard of Siriell's agonized thoughts hit him and made him double over in his seat. She was no longer thinking clearly, only telling herself that she couldn't let the Shadow ship impact with the cruiser -- that she had to defend the Entil'Zha...

The two ships collided in a ball of flames, with pieces of wreckage slowly drifting away, carrying fire in all directions...

It was over.

It was all over, save a insistent beep on the incoming transmissions channel, and a voice.

A language the computer didn't have to translate. A voice he would know everywhere.




~ Chapter 12 ~


"...So what's my excuse
When I tremble at the sight of you
How do I explain
When all my defenses are falling like rain I get
Shocked when I feel this feeling
All my senses reeling
Shocked because I'm falling in love..." -- Shocked


"Starfury pilot, identify yourself. Michael, please tell me that it's you!"

Terrible hope and fear, tangled together indiscriminately. Both strong enough to be palpable.

Garibaldi's shaking hand hit the transmissions button. EarthForce standard channel.

"Jeff. Oh God, Jeff. It's me."

"Michael..." The longing and joy in his friend's voice were almost his undoing. But he remembered the listeners and kept it short.

"Jeff, I told everyone my name was Minashol, that we're old friends and that you'd sent me on a special mission, with the order to report only to you. I didn't manage to learn Minbari in the meantime, so we'll have to use Old Narn in front of an audience. Let's meet in Hangar three."

He felt like a young boy before his first date. His heart was still beating way too rapidly. Before Jeff could reply, he added, softly: "Jeff, I missed you, you know. I love you."

Now the hope and fear were his to be felt, until the answer a second later: "Michael, I love you too."

It took all his self-control to close the channel and to concentrate enough to steer the ship.

For the rest of his life, he would never be able to recall how, that day, he'd actually managed to return to the station in one piece. The distance in space separating them was swallowed up by the renewed closeness of their hearts.

Still feeling like in a dream, he climbed out of the starfury, long before Dalaren's squadron had even a chance to land, and had only one destination in mind: The ready room overlooking Hangar 3.

The sight greeting him in the corridor so wonderful it hurt like a shot to his heart.

Jeff.

Valen.

Whatever. His lover, his friend. The other piece of his heart he had been so desperate to find again. To hold again, feel the shocking reality of his body, breathe in his scent, listen to his heart beat close to his own.

Almost without his doing, his arms reached out.

What did it matter that his lover, waiting for him, that beautiful smile on his face, was wearing a Minbari bone crest now? His greedy eyes drank in the sensations of that oh so well-known face, a little bit more lined than before, laugh lines and ones of sorrow both, the dark brown eyes, the generous mouth, opened a little in smiling and breathless wonder...

No time at all to contemplate the differences.

Both men were moving in unison. Towards each other, totally ignorant of the watchers around them.

An embrace.

Two bodies doing their best to merge into one.

Respiration and heartbeat shared. Feeling each other's body, breathing each other's scent. Becoming one again after years of separation.

Time ceased to exist around them.

For a second, Garibaldi was sure that he would die of happiness. This moment just felt so right, so earthshatteringly right. Jeff's body fit against his just like it had before, his own cheek touching his friend's throat. The strong arms were holding him so close it hurt. To finally have that masculine scent, so uniquely Jeff, enveloping him again...

Comfort. Love. Trust. The end of the terrible loneliness he had felt ever since his return to Babylon 5 after his abduction.

There would be no more nightmares. Never again.

Although his new body chemistry denied him human tears, his eyes felt surprisingly misty as, finally, his friend's arms released him reluctantly.

Time to face the rest of the world.

For a seemingly endless moment, Michael's eyes stayed glued to Jeff's hands, and he felt so tempted to reach out again. Comfort denied for the moment, he swallowed thickly and raised his eyes. His lover's brown gaze was warm and encouraging, managing to banish his unease.

Until he met General Le'anna's eyes, blazing green hatred. If looks were able to kill, he would have been fried to death immediately. So far, she had only seen him as a rival in her friendship to Valen. But now she had witnessed her worst fears come true -- the stranger also being her rival in her unrequited love for the Entil'Zha.

Another familiar face drew his eyes. Dalaren. The pilot looked first shocked, than strangely satisfied. Michael managed a small smile. So the squadron leader had also survived the battle. Garibaldi was glad.

The guards just stared and, belatedly, tried to hide their astonishment behind the polite facade the Minbari were so proud of. Several other officers and rangers Garibaldi didn't recognize showed all emotions -- from the wide scale of open-mouthed shock to cultivated amusement, from thinly veiled disgust to tolerant satisfaction.

"Ena'rim Le'anna, Rathalis, Carinneth. This is my soulmate, Minashol."

Jeff was unquestionably master of the situation. Michael envied him. He himself felt anything but. At least he was thankful that Sinclair had immediately adapted to the problem of the language barrier and phrased the introduction in both Minbari and Narn.

Apart from the seething general he already knew, the other two names belonged to two men whose features had been among those exhibiting amusement and satisfaction, Michael was relieved to notice.

"Minashol, I believe you already know Ena'rim Le'anna. And these are Rathalis and Carinneth, members of my staff and also good friends of mine."

Michael stepped firmly onto the tiny spark of jealousy before it could become a flame. The two strangers seemed happy enough to meet him. Polite little bows which he repeated. No murderous glances in his direction. He sighed inaudibly. Just another proof of the far-too-long timespan he and Jeff had been forced to spent apart. Wonderful.




~ Chapter 13 ~


"...From the mountains of faith
Through the river of tears
I believe and I surrender
Even though I don't know what the future might hold
As our fate unfolds now I will not let go
Our love will survive..." -- The last Day of Summer


Jeff drew himself entirely together and visibly seemed to remember something else.

"Le'anna, Durahl, Carinneth, Rathalis." He turned to a small group of strangers waiting patiently several meters behind him. "My ship also served as a travel accommodation to the head of our most important allies. May I introduce the leader of the Narn war council: G'Quan."

The assembled Minbari, together with Garibaldi, drew a collective breath in mute astonishment.

Jeff bowed respectfully, and the tall Narn repeated the gesture.

G'Quan's Narn entourage silently mingled with the Minbari present. Judging from their traditional armors and the sword handles rising behind their shoulders, Michael assumed that they were G'Quan's bodyguards.

G'Quan drew back the hood which had concealed his face and took a solemn look at all the people gathering in the corridor. He seemed to be a bit taller than G'Kar, Garibaldi thought, and he couldn't help but realize that the famous Narn warrior and philosopher towered not only over all the Minbari, but was also taller than Valen by some centimeters.

"When, four turns of the seasons ago, my people left their villages and hometowns to seek refuge under the earth of our world, we just wanted to escape the dark enemy raiding the surface of our planet leaving nothing but destruction in his wake. We are warriors, but back then, we didn't know a way to fight the invaders. Until a group of strangers came to our hearths and offered help and advice. At first, we didn't want to take up our weapons again, fearing the retribution our people would have to suffer for such an action. But the leader of the strangers convinced us that the Shadows wouldn't be content until they'd conquered our whole world -- that they wouldn't even stop there. That they represented an evil that had to be driven away from Narn at any cost.

And so we left our hearths and our beloved ones and went to lay war against the dark ones, and the strangers kept their promise and helped us wherever they could until we had succeeded.

But the dark ones still cast their shadows over this part of space, and so, when our allies asked for our help this time, it was our turn to come to their aid. Now it seems as if this war is finally over. And so I followed my friend's call to the station he named 'B'Ilaron' to finally meet him again face to face. Valen, here I am."

"And I'm honored to welcome you to part of my world this time, G'Quan. General Le'anna, Commander Durahl and Carinneth and Rathalis, two members of my staff. And may I present to you my best friend and soulmate, Minashol." Jeff's warm gaze silently added the words that seemed to hang shimmering in the air: 'My lover'.

Michael felt a sudden rush of heat and knew that he was blushing.

The rest of the sometimes quite flowery greeting flew past him; he kept watching Jeff and only listened with half an ear to the polite phrases that, astonishingly, appeared to be meant in utter sincerety.

The dreamlike quality of his perceptions stayed with him for the rest of the evening. He found himself in a relatively sparsely furnished room that was, despite the spartan atmosphere, clearly breathing "Jeff" to him. In other times -- and with different inhabitants -- intended as a cabin for VIP visitors, it was now the Entil'Zha's refuge... not constantly lived in, as Valen resided in Tuzanor, but still comfortable. The bed may be the reason for that impression, Garibaldi reflected tiredly.

For today, he'd surely seen enough action. The bed, 'bed' as in mattress on a platform, not as in the common Minbari torturing device, was calling out to him.

Originally, he had intended to wait for Jeff. After all, after a four-year-long separation, it just didn't do to be asleep the moment his friend returned. From that oh-so-important meeting with G'Quan and the Minbari war council.

Okay, he knew he was being unfair here. After all, Valen had only come to B4 because of that meeting -- otherwise, Michael would have had to make do with Le'anna... he shuddered at the thought.

The view out of the window was impressive. It reminded him of the observatory room on B5, but not enough to make him forget his tiredness.

Even the possibility of Le'anna's people spying after him even here didn't do more than evoke a crooked grin. Not his problem now. Whatever made the general happy. Michael was going to bed now. Jeff's bed.

With the small private bathroom being exactly where it was supposed to be, Garibaldi was soon snuggled into the covers of the bed. It's pointless to stay up, he told himself. Surely he would wake with Jeff's return. Within minutes, he was deep asleep.

***

Now, one day later, at his first evening in Tuzanor, he could only smile in fond recollection.

He had awakened in the morning, Jeff stretched out beside him, his head propped up in one hand, intently searching his face.

Sleepy blue eyes had met amber, and Garibaldi had reached out and touched Sinclair's face, tracing the line of his cheekbones and the thin, white scar that hadn't been there the last time they...

His thoughts had refused to go back there; he had instantly been fully awake. Sinclair's smile had been tender and hesitant at the same time.

They hadn't made love then, because Sinclair had wanted to return to his residence on Minbar as soon as possible.

Michael had later heard from Dalaren that the Entil'Zha's plans had originally included an at least three days' stay at the station... but that had been before Garibaldi had turned up.

That morning, they had done nothing more intimate than kissing.

Uncertain, careful at first, trying to relearn each other by the tender meeting of lips, not sure how to re-establish the close bond between they had shared, how to re-create the passion of those two nights they'd spent together.

At first, Sinclair had remained passive, letting Garibaldi take control of the kiss, giving me a way out, Michael realized. He's keeping himself so tightly in check he's hardly breathing.

But Sinclair hadn't been able to control his trembling, nor his sudden moan as Garibaldi's tongue had shyly touched his own.

Familiar flavor in his mouth, Michael had lost himself in the kiss, shuddering as Jeff's tongue had curled around his and suckled. His shoulders ached a little in remembrance. Back then, it had taken his brain a long moment to realize that Sinclair's arms had come up and gripped his biceps like bands of steel, fingers digging into his flesh, hard, welcome reality. The sound of panting had filled the air as Garibaldi had tried to lose himself in this kiss...

Kissing Jeff was far better than booze, far better than anything else he could ever imagine, this sweet fire burning him, this raging passion drowning everything out -- the past, the lost years, the pain of separation, the feelings of betrayal, the terrible loneliness, the self doubts...

If not for Sinclair's self control, things would have veered out of control then.

Giving a voiceless moan of disappointment, Garibaldi had tried to maintain the connection, but Sinclair had withdrawn gently and had laid a finger on Michael's lips, silently asking for a pause to think, although his amber eyes had been almost black with passion, his breathing ragged.

"Michael." The deep voice had sent shivers down his spine, "Yesterday, during the meeting, I couldn't concentrate, kept thinking of you all the time, of this moment... I don't want to rush things, give you time to..."

Time to what? Don't you think I've thought it all over in excruciating detail -- before entering the rift in Sector 14? Before going into chrysalis? Before coming here in hope of finding you?

I know exactly why I came here. Not simply because you're my best friend, but because... I love you. There. I've said it. I didn't want to admit it to myself for years after you left for Earth, then Minbar. But finally, I couldn't deny it any longer. I love you, okay? So if you want to take it slow, to give us time to get to know each other again, then that's okay with me, although it will be difficult. Sweet Mary, you look good enough to eat."

Garibaldi's hungry gaze had been fixed to Sinclair's still kiss-swollen lips, but his voice had been trembling, uncertainty coloring his tone.

Sinclair's eyes had flashed black fire, and he had taken an involuntary step forward. "Take it slow? You're right. There's nothing I want to do less. Michael, oh God, you don't know how much I missed you. To speak to someone who really listens, who tries to understand, who sees me as the man I am, not as some religious or political icon, who sees me, not Valen, Anla'shok'Na, leader of the Grey Council, the Entil'Zha...

You don't know how much it hurt to leave Babylon 5, knowing you were still in coma, or later, not telling you of my arrival before I left for B4..." A strangled whisper. "It tore me apart, to think of you, but to not see you again, if only for a short moment."

Garibaldi had watched, breathlessly, as a trembling finger had drawn a line across his jaw, traveling further to touch his lips, then following the arc of an eyebrow.

"At first...", Sinclair swallowed, then continued: "I didn't dare to become involved with a Minbari woman, because I feared that the transformation hadn't been complete, that something would give away my alien origin. And besides, Kosh always hinted mysteriously that I would know 'when the time had come to meet with another to become one'. He was right, of course."

"Kosh?"

"Yes, our Kosh who'll later become the Vorlon ambassador on B5. Why?"

"In my time -- well, in 2261 -- he'll be dead, killed by the Shadows some months earlier. But, of course, here, he's still alive, doesn't even know yet..."

"Dead?" Sinclair had fallen silent for a moment, then had added somberly: "He'll want to see you later, to ask you about everything that'll happen. Don't worry, he's our old Kosh -- a little more cryptic, if anything, but definitely friendlier than Narosh, the second Vorlon. Well, Narosh is not unfriendly per se, just... let's call it a bit more... hmm, distant and secretive, his attitude being either 'you-wouldn't-understand-anyway' or 'that-doesn't-concern-you'. You'll see in time."

He had touched Michael's arm apologetically and had murmured with a crooked grin: "And I'm beginning to sound exactly like them, too. But I'll better leave now. Le'anna has still some questions after yesterday's conference. I'll arrange for someone to bring you breakfast and a change of clothes. My ship will depart in about one hour. I'm really looking forward to showing you Minbar. And to the next evening."

A quick grin, with a "Let's meet in the hangar." thrown over his shoulder, and Jeff had been gone.

Michael had grinned to himself. Le'anna or not Le'anna, who cares? I saw your hand trembling and the hot gaze at the door before you left, old friend. Not as much self-control as you'd like me to think, is there, Jeff? I'm really looking forward to tonight, too...

The young acolyte who had stepped in later with something to eat and a clean Ranger uniform had been left to wonder why the Entil'Zha's friend had been whistling to himself...

***

A touch to his shoulder brought Garibaldi back to the here and now.

Jeff's eyes, gone oddly vulnerable, found his in a mute question.

Garibaldi felt frozen with indecision for a moment, but his chilly hand reached up -- almost of its own volition -- and twined with Sinclair's warm fingers.

He desperately wanted to close his eyes, turn away from Jeff's oh so intense gaze or make a meaningless comment on the beauty of the crystalline city shimmering below them. The air was warm, with just the faintest breeze caressing their faces as they stood on the balcony, looking down at the slim towers of the City of Sorrows.

Tuzanor. A breathtaking sight, especially at night when the crystals reflected the light of the stars.

The night felt like velvet, closing around them.

Garibaldi tried to swallow. His mouth felt dry, and the muscles of his face hurt as he smiled shakily at his friend. There were just a few steps between them and the bed. He didn't understand his nervousness nor the uncomfortable fluttering in his stomach. After all, it wasn't the first time for both of them. Granted, a a lot of time had passed since those two magical nights aboard B5, but...

Jeff's answering smile eased the uneasiness but increased the fluttering in his belly tenfold. The invitation in his warm brown gaze was unmistakable, the accompanying tenderness almost bringing tears to Michael's eyes in return.

It was going to happen again.

Finally.

After years of separation, years of hopeless longing, they had found each other again.

They had recaptured love.

Garibaldi's next smile held no trace of his former insecurities as he reached up to touch Jeff's lips and angled his head for the tender kiss he knew to come.




~ Chapter 14 ~


"...With the touch of your hand
I come undone
With the flash of your burning eyes
I know that you're the only one
I come, I come undone..." -- I Come Undone


The sheets of the bed were cool under Garibaldi's feverish skin as he stretched out in the quiet, dark room, Jeff's body over him just a shadow in the dim light, blanketing his own in a warm, muscular and oh so real embrace, banishing the cold in his heart.

Sinclair's mouth found his again, unerringly. A warm, slick tongue coaxed his dry lips apart, curled around his own and suckled. He moaned low in his throat and reached out to draw Sinclair closer. His head was spinning dizzily by the time they had to part for air.

Then his lover's teeth shimmered in a luxurious grin above him, the deep voice sending delighted shivers down his spine: "Michael, do you know how much I've been dreaming about this?" He fell silent, then added softly: "Do you know how much it hurt every night to go to sleep alone with nothing but the memories tearing me apart? How much I longed for you, thinking I'd never even as much as see you again?" Jeff's voice cracked on the last words, and strong arms gathered him so close it hurt.

"Jeff. I know. I felt the same. It's been years, but I just couldn't forget. Forget you. Forget this." Michael reached out with a shaking hand and caressed Sinclair's intend face.

Their mouths met again. This time, the kiss was more about reassurance than about passion. But soon, the desire flared again, and Garibaldi felt liquid fire engulf their straining bodies as they lost themselves in this moment, so long and so eagerly wished for...

Garibaldi shivered as warm lips nuzzled first the side of his neck, then followed his jawline to nibble on his earlobe. Sinclair's moist breath in his ear sent gooseflesh all over his skin. He heard a soft moan and wasn't sure whether it came from him or Jeff.

Then, Sinclair's hot mouth was a searing flame as it traveled down his tense, straining body. He bucked mindlessly as the fire closed around one nipple. Then sucking, dear God, how he had longed for it all to happen again...

"Jeff." He almost couldn't hear his own voice over the blood pounding in his ears. "Please, please... You..."

Sinclair raised his head for a moment and his predatory, knowing smile made Garibaldi gasp softly. He watched, enraptured, as his lover's head bent down again. A terrible feeling of loss overcame him as he longed to run his fingers through Jeff's dark sweaty hair... and knew that he'd only feel bone and hairless skin.

The past was just that -- the past. And he'd better accept it. For what did appearances matter? Jeffrey Sinclair was with him now. Changed, but still the man he loved.

And he raised his hands and caressed Sinclair's head, smiling in joyful astonishment as his fingers met smooth warm skin and soft light bone, also warm and alive beneath his fingers. It was time to let go.

Soon, his head fell back in ecstasy as the warm mouth traveled even further. He had to fight to keep back orgasm and the harsh, primal yell that stuck in the back of his throat.

"Jeff... please... I need you. Inside. Please. Don't make me..."

"Come without me?" A warm, delighted chuckle. "Don't worry, Michael. But tonight, don't you want to..."

"Take you this time?" Garibaldi sucked in a sharp breath at the arousing vision in his mind. He was close to hyperventilating, his cock a straining misery against the warm flesh of Sinclair's belly. "Yes. Next time I will. But tonight is for..." His throat closed, and once more he had to blink away nonexistent tears.

"It's for the past. For what has been -- for what we have missed all our time apart." Jeff's voice was choked as well.

"It's been my dream for all those years -- to relive that wonderful night with you. To feel you again. Like this. I dreamt of it all the time. Please." And Garibaldi, who normally liked to keep control not only of all mundane and little important things in his life, but also in bed -- and no woman had ever complained about that -- somehow couldn't stop begging, and Sinclair was the only one, the only one he'd ever met, that he'd ever be able to trust with that kind of control, and he'd dreamt about it, oh so many, many times, fantasized, jerked off in his cold lonely bed with Jeff's name on his lips, and oh, he was back here, they were both back here, and he loved the feeling of Jeff's fingers in his ass, stretching him, preparing him, and this time, there was no fear, no fear at all, just anticipation and a terrible longing, just to feel him again, to feel him...

This time, he delighted in the slow, easy entry, his flesh ready, eager even, to give way to the intruder. And soon, Jeff's cock was deep inside him, with them both face to face, and this time, despite all the time apart, it hadn't hurt at all, he had enjoyed it so much and soon Jeff started thrusting, and he could watch every tiny little movement in his lover's expressive face, the intent concentration, the open, panting mouth...

He couldn't help himself and strained upward to devour those open lips, that beloved mouth so close above his with his own. Their tongues met again, and at that moment, the angle of Sinclair's entry changed.

Garibaldi howled and ripped his mouth away as Jeff's cock hit again that magical spot inside him, rubbed over it, again and again and again. He was seeing stars, literally fucking stars, before his eyes the moment his climax rushed through him. But he wanted to see Jeff's face, needed to see Jeff's face, and so he opened his eyes again and locked his gaze on Sinclair's intense, unguarded features; watched, enraptured, as the dark eyes above his went wide, the dilated pupils having swallowed up almost all of the rest of amber, and then he couldn't watch any longer for the face pressed itself against his neck, and sharp teeth bit down at the vulnerable hollow of his throat, and he screamed again as his cock jerked a second time, just as he felt the hard flesh inside him shudder and fill his ass with sweet, warm come.

They didn't talk much afterward. They were both too tired and too happy to waste the moment with talk. They just pressed close together under the light covers, Garibaldi with Sinclair's head above his heart, stroking his face softly, reverently, both taking comfort in the closeness they had found again. Not only the comfort of bodily closeness, although they clutched each other's hands like frightened children in the dark, not willing to ever let go, but also the closeness of spirit and mind.

Best friends, together again.

Whatever would happen after today, it would meet them together, side by side.

For they had found the other part of their soul. And the only words spoken in the warm, silent night of Tuzanor were the ones they had held in their hearts far too long:

"I love you, Jeff. Back then, I couldn't say it. But now I can. I love you."

"I know. Oh God, Michael, I know. I knew back then. I saw it on your face when I left your quarters in the morning after the last time we... I know. And I love you too."




~ Epilogue ~


"...And in the deepest night
When you watch me sleeping
Silently by your side
You will see you're the dream in me
And we're running free
From the dark to the light..." -- You'll never catch Me dreaming


The silent darkness of the night held them save in its comforting embrace while the pale, bluish moonlight bathed their bed in streaks of silver. It looked like they both, entangled, were sleeping in light.

And the melody of the universe rang out joyfully to those few who would hear and understand.

Finally, the ONE was whole again.


"Babylon 5" story by allaire mikháil, 18.595 words, Jeffrey Sinclair/Michael Garibaldi, Garibaldi POV, AU/drama/novel, rated NC-17

Despite not wanting to, I fell for Babylon 5 late in its 1st season. Hard. When the change from Michael O'Hare to Bruce Boxleitner was announced, I couldn't imagine the station and its people without Jeff Sinclair to lead them. Then I discovered slash, met Michael O'Hare at a con, and found Emily Brunson's Sinclair/Garibaldi stories. They cemented that pairing as my OTP, and made me agonize all that much more about Sinclair departure into the past in "War Without End". The idea to reunite Garibaldi with his best friend (lover!) was born, and executed in a tour de force the likes of which I've never felt the need for since then. I wrote. Over weeks. Over months. With one goal in mind - to reach the (already written) final scene. I don't believe I'll ever feel the same passion, the same driving need. This story is the child of my heart, and even though, today, at times I cringe at its emotionality and style, I cannot bear to change it too much.

I ought to add that I hadn't seen the last season when I started writing. So my story, beginning where Emily Brunson's "The House of Flesh" ends, ignores the events occurring there. I only knew the title of the last episode, no more.

Many thanks go to Emily Brunson for creating a dream. As mentioned above, my story bases on her "The House of Flesh", but it's only an unofficial sequel.
And also a thousand thanks to ljnatlet. She beta'd this story while it was being created, chapter by chapter, before we both knew what a beta even was, and encouraged me to not only finish it, but to write faster, damnit!

As for the necessary legalese, I don't own the characters and don't make any money from this. The respective rights belong to JMS and various other people. Nor do I have any right to the lyrics quoted at the beginning of each chapter - they do belong solely to Jennifer Rush et al. Only this story belongs to me.


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