When the handkerchief was pressed into Vir’s hand, he pressed it to his mouth and stumbled a few paces away to lean his sweaty forehead against the exterior palace wall, his eyes fluttering closed. He felt his knees buckling slightly as he made contact with the cool stone, but he managed to remain standing. Barely.
Great Maker. G’Kar…
“Vir?” Vir felt a hand touch his back tentatively. “Are you all right?”
Tears welled up, but he forced them back. Drawing a deep, shuddering breath, Vir pulled away from the wall and, his shoulders hunched in raw shame, began to make his unsteady way down the path and to the street beyond. He heard Londo come up beside him, matching his step, but said nothing.
Vir could still hear the sound of the lash- could still hear G’Kar’s scream- in his ears. He doubted it would fade tonight. And he feared it never would.
“You should not have been summoned,” Londo said, his voice at once angry and sorrowful and guilty. And then, a fragile whisper: “Great Maker.”
Vir was quartered in an inn ten streets away and the rest of the long walk back was spent in a tight and painful silence. At that hour, only a few lights still burned in the windows of the homes they passed, but the taverns were still open. A roar of laughter and a strain of song burst from the open door of one and it seemed so strange to Vir that people should laugh and sing despite the shadow that shrouded their world.
When they had reached Vir’s room at last, Vir retreated into the washroom. Turning on the water, he thrust his trembling hands into the stream and splashed his face, then rinsed the taste of sickness from his mouth. When he rose from the basin, blinking water from his lashes, he caught a glimpse of Londo standing in the doorway behind him in the mirror. Turning, Vir briefly met Londo’s eyes, then looked away.
“I… I’m sorry.”
Vir tried to move past Londo, but Londo stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “I think… what you need is to be away from the palace for a few days,” Londo said. “I will tell Cartagia that you are young and are not accustomed to such things. Even though…” Londo trailed off. Gently, paternally, he cupped Vir’s chin and tilted it up. “Even though… that is no longer entirely true, is it? Because of me…” Londo shook his head, releasing a grieved sigh as he turned and walked towards the door. He opened the door, then paused, his hand on the handle. His voice taking on a rougher edge, he said, “You should not have to see these things. When I need you, I will send for you.”
“But Londo, I…”
“Rest now, Vir. There are… matters I must attend to.”
With that, Londo exited, closing the door behind him. Vir sat down heavily on the bed, then curled up fully clothed on top of the covers, his eyes wide open and fixed on the window, watching roiling rain clouds obscure the moonlight.
Troubled, the effects of his conversation with G’Kar still lingering, Londo hadn’t noticed he wasn’t alone in his quarters until he heard the voice.
A gust of wind drove rain against the window as Londo palmed his knife and spun, ready to defend himself against the intruder. When he registered that the speaker was Vir, dripping wet and shivering, his hands up shielding his face, he dropped the knife on the floor instantly and took hold of Vir.
“Gods, Vir. Never startle me like that again! I might’ve injured you.”
“I-I’m s-sorry,” Vir stammered, his teeth chattering audibly. Then, in a voice so small that Londo could barely make it out, he said, “I couldn’t sleep. I just… I-I need…”
Before Londo could prepare for it, Vir’s arms were around him, holding him tightly. He stepped back, then awkwardly embraced Vir in return. For a long moment, they stood like this, moisture seeping through Londo’s coat. Then Londo pulled away, retrieved a blanket from his bed, and draped the blanket around Vir’s shoulders.
“You wish to stay?”
The storm passed during the night. Londo sat up with Vir and listened as the rain began to taper off. Then, when the predawn light began to filter through the curtains, he took Vir out upon a balcony and watched silently as the sun rose in a blood-red sky.