"She's always there. Staring out of that infernal window, like the view is somehow going to change."
"You can't blame her, really…"
"Blame her? Blame her? I have no intentions of 'blaming' anyone for anything! I just… I just can't stand it! What does she see in that window? What does she think is going to happen?"
"I don't know."
"You're her doctor, aren't you? Aren't you supposed to know? Aren't you supposed to figure out what's wrong?"
"I can only help her if she'll help herself. She doesn't think there's anything wrong, and I don't really think there is. If this was anyone else, I would blame it on depression, but I'm hardly going to label her with that."
"She's insane, doc! She's completely loopy, and you think there's nothing wrong?"
"Lower your voice, she can hear you!"
"I don't care! She knows she's insane! She just keeps insisting, keeps telling me I'm wrong, that you're not the doctor, that she doesn't need you!"
"That hardly indicates that she's aware of her own insanity."
"Doesn't it? She keeps asking for a doctor, but any time I bring one here she just says, 'wrong.' Now what kind of an answer is that?"
"It's the only answer she has. I'm sorry, Daniel, but there's nothing more I can do. I've done my best, but this simply isn't my field. You'll have to find someone else."
Daniel fumed, his hands stuffed in his pockets as he walked back to his quarters. He wasn't sure why he'd asked that doctor to come in the first place. He'd known that it would end in failure, just like the last five had. They all told him the same thing, over and over again. She had to help herself before they could do anything.
He didn't know why he bothered really. But he couldn't refuse her cries, when she'd sob into her blankets, scream into her pillows in a desperate cry of utter anguish. And then night came, and things just became so much worse.
Daniel had come to dread nighttime. True, it was little more than the darkening of the ship, but to him, it was torture. Because she would be there, crying into his shoulder, begging for a doctor before turning to the window and moaning, raging at the stars.
Worse still was the fact that her eyes were perfectly clear. There was no insane light behind them; it was just her.
Her words at night haunted him through the day, and they would echo in his head constantly:
"You said you'd be there for me! You said you'd come back! You promised! You lied!"
And then those arrogant bastards who called themselves doctors would come in the room and say there was nothing wrong. Daniel had many sleepless nights that said otherwise, along with many grouchy neighbors who would agree.
Daniel entered his room and flung himself on the bed, frustrated and exhausted. He knew, deep in the darkest parts of his heart, that she was perfectly sane, perfectly healthy. The only reason she cried around him was because she knew she could.
After all, she was his mother. He was hardly going to shake her off and say, 'go cry in the next room, lady.' No, he cared about her; enough to pay for all the doctor's visits, enough to stay with her every night, enough to worry about what the next day would bring.
Enough to wish that her mind was gone rather than to think that she was really suffering this much.
He sighed heavily, turning on his side. He hadn't bothered to change; there really wasn't much point. By two o'clock he'd be back with his mother, holding her while she cried into his shoulder. He got very little sleep, but didn't really care. He'd nod off at work, but everyone covered for him, taking pity on the 'poor kid who was up late with his mom, who probably won't last the month'.
He closed his eyes, trying to get what little sleep he could. But it wasn't long before the door beeped.
He groaned; had four hours already passed? He checked his clock and was surprised to find that he'd only been asleep for about five minutes.
He rubbed his eyes and called, "Come in."
The door opened, and an orange-skinned, stiff-backed Narn entered the room.
Daniel sat up abruptly. "Ambassador G'Kar!" He stuttered, leaping to his feet in an instant. This was rare; he'd only ever seen G'Kar a grand total of three times, and each was just in passing.
The ambassador was looking pale, a strange quality in a Narn. But he straightened, holding himself with the authority expected of him. "You are Daniel Stride, correct?"
Daniel nodded quickly, unsure of how exactly to handle this situation and hoping he was doing the right thing. It wasn't everyday that an ambassador to another planet walked in a room and asked your name.
G'Kar looked relieved, then asked, "I was told to come here; I'm looking for Helen Stride. I take it she is a relation of yours?"
Daniel nodded again. "She's my mother."
"Excellent." There was a long and slightly awkward pause before he inquired, "Will you take me to her?"
Daniel stared stupidly for a moment, then realized what he'd just been asked. "Oh! Yes. Sure. No problem." He spluttered out his answer, walking out the door and gesturing for G'Kar to follow.
G'Kar did so calmly, as though all humans were generally this incompetent and it was simply to be expected. Daniel felt his cheeks burn.
He took a deep breath as he knocked on the door to his mother's quarters. The second it took for her to reply felt like an eternity.
At last, a light, airy voice called, "Come in."
The door opened, and Daniel gestured for G'Kar to go first. The ambassador did so, walking almost stiffly into the room.
To her credit, Helen handled herself much better than her son had. She turned to face G'Kar, one eyebrow raising in surprise but showing no other emotion. She nodded once, gesturing vaguely to a seat.
G'Kar sat across from her. Daniel felt his stomach curl at the sight; his mother looked incredibly fragile next to the Narn. But she held herself upright, looking him directly in the eye, showing no fear.
The Ambassador reached into his pocket and pulled something out, handing it to her with a shaking hand. "I was told to give this to you."
She looked at it coolly, then took the letter from him. She opened the envelope, pulled out the paper, then looked at G'Kar, as though asking for permission to read it. His eyes were focused solely on the paper, so she went ahead and read it for herself.
Her eyes darted across the page, reading quickly. Her breath caught in her throat, and a tear welled in her eye. She looked abruptly up to G'Kar.
"Is it…him?" The ambassador's eyes were positively fearful as he asked the question.
G'Kar let out a heavy sigh, a strange sound that wasn't quite born of relief nor sadness, but a suppressed fear that had just been confirmed. "You're quite certain?" He asked in a last, desperate attempt.
She nodded again. Her hand went to her mouth as the tear finally fell, rolling down her cheek and sparkling like a perfect diamond in the light. Her breath hitched again, and she nodded yet again, a little more vigorously this time.
When she removed her hand, a smile was stretching across her face. "He's back." She breathed. She laughed lightly. "Oh my stars, he's coming back."
But G'Kar still looked unnerved. "When? Why?"
"Soon." She replied, standing, pressing her palms to the glass of her window. "He's keeping a promise."
G'Kar swallowed. "And… us?"
She said nothing.
"Helen, if he finds out…"
"But… we can stop him, surely! There has to be a way… we can hide it. Hide everything! Make certain he never finds it, never finds us…"
She laughed. "He isn't some security officer, come to talk to you in your quarters. The man has a nose for trouble. There's no point in hiding; he'll find you."
G'Kar flinched, and Daniel stared. There was a Narn in his mother's quarters and he was flinching. He defied the day to get any stranger.
"And the rest of the council? Should we tell them?"
"And risk open panic?" She paused. "Perhaps… No. Not tonight. Tomorrow morning, first thing. I'll address them myself. And it must be private; ambassadors only."
He nodded slowly. "You think that's the best course of action?"
"That's the only course of action. He won't like it, but it's all we can do."
G'Kar took a deep breath. "Very well." There was another pause, then the Narn gestured vaguely to Daniel. "The boy?"
"Will attend the meeting." She replied firmly. "He has a right to know."
G'Kar nodded. "Until tomorrow, then."
He strode out the door, though his composure was obviously fragile.
Daniel was left staring at his mother, wondering what in the stars had just happened.
Helen smiled softly and said, "I'm sorry I kept you in the dark. I had to."
She sat down on her chair, closing her eyes. "It will all be explained tomorrow."
Her breathing grew deep, and for the first night in thirteen years, Helen Stride slept without nightmares.
Commander Sinclair looked around the room. Sitting across from the curved table containing the ambassadors were two humans; a young man and an elder woman.
The man had bright brown eyes and a sweep of untidy black hair. He was thin, and the bags under his eyes indicated many a sleepless night. His face was tan, sprinkled with a few light freckles that made him look younger than he was.
The woman was obviously his mother, as her eyes identically matched his, and their faces were vaguely similar. Her hair was perfectly silver, and her skin pale. Her eyes were lined with wrinkles, but there was a sparkle in them, a fire that refused to die.
As the room fell silent, all eyes turned to her. But none looked more fixated on her than G'Kar, who was wringing his hands nervously.
The woman smiled at the boy, who smiled weakly back, then she stood before the council.
She held herself in a strange way, her back straight, her eyes glittering. There was a graceful air about her, along with a feeling of what could almost be described as royalty.
"My name is Helen Stride." She began. "And this is my son, Daniel."
A few murmurs greeted her introduction, and she waited for them to die down before beginning again.
"Many of you are as yet unaware of why this meeting has been called. However, I can assure you that it is a matter of utmost importance and secrecy."
She pulled something from her pocket; a letter, recently opened.
"This was given to me yesterday by Ambassador G'Kar. The details are tedious and the manner in which it was written is equal to that of an insane man. But its author can not always be described as 'sane', so this fact can be written off easily enough.
"However, the general idea is that we are to expect a visitor."
There was a pause, then more mutters traveled through the room. Eventually, Londo asked, "What sort of 'visitor'?"
Helen smiled. "A legend and a monster. Many planets know him, many hate him, and many regard him as a hero."
Kosh turned his head to the side, and the sound of faint musical notes touched the air for a moment before his voice came in a whisper. "A friend of yours."
It was not a question, but Helen nodded anyway.
"And mine." Kosh continued.
Helen smiled. "Yes."
There was a long pause, then Kosh swept out of the room. "We must prepare."
"I'm sorry…" Sinclair sighed heavily. "But who are we talking about?"
Helen smiled again, a strange smile that lit up her face. "A strange, awful, amazing man."
She placed the letter on the table. "I believe some of you may recognize the signature."
Delenn examined it first. Her breath caught, and her eyes grew round. She looked back at Helen, who nodded.
Delenn slowly slid the letter over to Sinclair, who quickly scanned it. The language was like nothing he'd ever seen. It seemed… old. Ancient and horrible, with an air of secrecy.
He shook his head in confusion and handed the paper to Londo.
Londo turned the letter upside down a few times, then handed it to G'Kar. The Narn simply passed the paper back to Helen.
"Enough with the hints!" Londo growled. "Tell us, who is this 'visitor'?"
Helen smiled. "The Doctor."
Londo's face froze in a perfect expression of shock. He swallowed, turning pale, his skin as white as a sheet.
"Am I the only one who doesn't know who that is?" Sinclair asked, trying to keep his irritation from his voice. "As far as I'm aware, we only have one doctor on this ship, and…"
Helen's laughter shattered the air. "Not 'a' doctor, Commander. The Doctor."
Londo was shaking. His hand clasped weakly on the glass of water in front of him, and he tilted it back quickly. It was obvious he was wishing for something stronger.
"He's a time traveler." Helen explained, for her son's and Sinclair's benefit. "He travels in a machine known as a TARDIS. He's been alive for a very long time and is extremely clever. He's also the last of his kind; a race known as the Time Lords. An arrogant bunch, but they were all right once you got to know them; the Doctor especially.
"I traveled with him for a while. A few years, nothing more. We were friends; good friends. We've saved each other's lives more than once. Sort of an…" A smile drifted across her lips. "Occupational hazard. It's a dangerous and risky business, traveling on the TARDIS. You see great and terrible things, horrors and nightmares, monsters you wouldn't believe. And the most brilliant things; stars being born, planets forming, beauty you wouldn't believe, all out there in the universe."
There was a long pause as everything thought this over. Everyone except Londo; the ambassador was draining a second glass of water that he'd taken from Sinclair. To think of all the horrors and nightmares, all of the beauty and wonder… he couldn't imagine it. He'd seen so much of the universe, so much darkness and pain, and yet there was so much more, so much wonder he could not possibly understand…
"He will be here soon. I believed it was best to warn you." Helen nodded, almost giving a little respectful bow as she dismissed herself, gesturing for her son to follow. "He will be here in two days, at my quarters; if he's not late."
Delenn smiled lightly, as though sharing the private joke.
Sinclair almost called Helen back; after all, she hadn't been officially dismissed. But it seemed as though doing so would be to invite ridicule; this woman did what she wanted. She was the friend of a great man, and that friendship entitled her to do as she wished.
Helen waited, giggling like a schoolgirl and trying to force her giddiness away.
Daniel waited, nervous and questioning.
Delenn waited in excitement.
Sinclair waited apprehensively.
G'Kar waited with wringing hands.
Kosh waited motionlessly.
Londo waited with the strongest drink he could find.
They all waited.
The seven of them had been in this room since six in the morning. It was now twelve, and they'd had no sign of The Doctor.
"Are you sure he won't land in the docking bay?" Sinclair asked for what seemed to be the thousandth time.
"Yes." Helen affirmed patiently.
There was silence again for the next hour. And the hour after that.
"And you're sure he said today?" Sinclair piped up again.
A third hour passed. Londo had already gone through his drink and had called for a second to be brought to the room. Helen didn't object; in fact, she encouraged it, saying that he would need it when The Doctor showed up, adding something about the 'problem' being closer now than 'last time'. Sinclair decided it was best not to ask.
Sinclair began to measure the time by the amount left in the bottle Londo was clutching. It was an easier way to pass the time, and slightly more erratic, though not much. It was actually pretty constant, even for a Centauri.
After Londo ordered the third bottle, and was still not nearly as drunk as he'd like to be, Sinclair became conscious of a strange noise. A bright smile lit up Helen's face as it grew louder.
It was like nothing he'd ever heard before. Somehow ancient, unearthly, and strangely powerful. Like the breath of a giant, a deep and heavy sigh from the universe itself. It spoke of the stars, of a planet lost in time.
In front of them, a large, blue shape was slowly beginning to form. Distinctly box-like, becoming clearer with each second that passed. As it materialized in front of them, a strong wind radiated from it, blowing Helen's hair backwards as she closed her eyes, listening to the sound.
After a moment, the shape became clear. A tall, wooden, blue box, with the words "POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX" written on the top in neat letters.
A door swung open, and a man poked his head out. His brown hair stuck up wildly on his head, in all sorts of crazy directions. His dark brown eyes had a strange, mischievous sparkle to them.
The first words out of his mouth were, "How late am I?"
Helen stood slowly, staring at him. The man's eyes widened, and he walked over to her, giving Sinclair a chance to see him completely.
He was tall, and incredibly thin, wearing a brown pinstripe suit, red tie, and a long brown coat, along with bright red shoes. He was the exact opposite of what Sinclair had been expecting, though he couldn't really identify what that was.
"Helen?" The man's voice had dropped to a whisper, soft and delicate. "Is that you?"
She nodded, a tear rolling down her cheek.
"Oh, stars, I really am late." The man winced. "You're going to slap me now aren't you?"
She shook her head.
The man's eyes popped. "Worse?"
She shook her head again, her expression unreadable through the shock.
"Egad, lady, I don't want to have to regenerate again!" he complained. He closed his eyes, tensing. "Just get it over with!"
For a moment, she just stood there, staring. When nothing happened to him, the man peeked one eye open.
She tackled him in a hug, knocking him back a step as she all but shrieked with laughter. He stumbled backwards, letting out an extremely undignified, "Ack!" as he did so.
She wrapped her arms tightly around him, still laughing. "It's you! It's really you!"
"Chocking. Not breathing!" The man squeaked out. She released him immediately, looking worried, but he laughed and swept her into a hug of his own, and she laughed once more.
When he finally released her, he stared at her face in wonder. "How long has it been?"
"Thirty years." She replied quietly, another tear rolling down her face. "Oh, Doctor… it's been too long."
He smiled softly. "I'm sorry, Helen. I thought… I didn't think it would be this long…" He looked around, his eyes seeming to pass over the people and onto the ship. His smile widened. "I always thought you'd end up on Babylon 5. It seemed like your kind of place." He paused. "But I didn't think it was that far away, time-wise. I dropped you off a bit early, didn't I?"
She smiled, shaking her head slowly. "It doesn't matter. I had a life, met a guy, got married…" She looked up at him, as though judging his reaction, then whispered, "Had a kid."
He looked at her, baffled. "A kid?"
She nodded. "A son."
For a long time, he stared. Then he asked, "Who… when…" His face lit up. "Well, where is he?"
Helen turned to face Daniel, and the man seemed to notice him for the first time. Daniel slowly walked forward at his mother's beckoning, keeping his eyes on the floor, his cheeks turning red.
The man smiled genuinely at him. "Don't worry; I'm not going to hurt you." He held out a hand. "I'm the Doctor."
Daniel looked at it warily, then shook it. "Daniel Stride."
"Stride?" The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "My my. You've got a little celebrity on your hands here, Helen. If I'm right, this kid's got a voice, doesn't he?" The Doctor grinned, then winked at Daniel.
Helen beamed. "'Course he does. He's my son, isn't he?"
The Doctor ruffled Daniel's hair in a way that probably wasn't meant to be patronizing, but was anyway. "How old are you, Daniel?"
"Ah. Not long, then." The Doctor's smile seemed to take up his entire face. "Expect a man named George Green in about… seven months? Nice chap; got some really blue hair. Can't miss him."
He then seemed to notice the others, as though Helen was really the only important one here, and she needed to be addressed before anyone else could even be looked at. His face lit up.
"Ah, Delenn!" He grinned. "You're a lot taller than the last time I saw you."
She smiled genuinely back at him. "I was only eight, if you recall."
"Were you?" He seemed genuinely surprised. "I didn't know that." He looked at Helen, as though she'd verify this fact for him. "Did you know that?" He turned back to Delenn before she could answer. "I didn't know that."
Helen chuckled, and Delenn's smile widened.
The Doctor's attention then turned to G'Kar. The Narn looked as though he'd faint, but held his ground.
The Doctor took a step towards him and held out a hand. "G'Kar…"
His eyes had softened somewhat, and the Narn looked rather taken aback. He took the Doctor's hand, shaking it somewhat dazedly.
The Doctor's eyes were abruptly serious. He whispered something softly, so quietly that Sinclair could barely catch them, and only did so because he was the closest person in the room to the Ambassador.
"Something's coming. I'm sorry."
He placed a kind hand on G'Kar's shoulder, then turned to Sinclair. The smile was back, and looking a little more insane than the last time.
"Commander Sinclair! First Commander of the Babylon 5 station… oh, it is an honor!"
He shook Sinclair's hand until the Commander felt it would fall off.
"Lot ahead of this station." The Doctor told him. "And it wouldn't have gotten far without you."
He then turned to Kosh, and the grin grew impossibly wider. "Well, I'll be. The only Vorlon on Babylon 5 at this time… Kosh!"
A few musical notes fluttered through the air as Kosh's soft voice came out in a whisper. "It is good to see you, Doctor."
"And you. Been a while."
"Still hanging out in that encounter suit, eh?" The Doctor rapped the suit gently, and Sinclair stared, wondering how many others had gotten away with something like that. He suspected the list to be incredibly short.
But Kosh didn't seem to mind The Doctor's antics; in fact, he seemed almost fond of him, in some strange way.
"Won't be long now." The Doctor looked pointedly at him.
The hole for Kosh's eyes narrowed slightly, and he nodded once, microscopically.
The Doctor looked back around, his eyes landing on Londo at last. Within the few minutes after the Doctor's appearance, the Centauri had drained his final bottle, and was now left, swaying slightly, in front of The Doctor. He was shaking like a leaf, his skin pale and glistening with a thin sheet of sweat. Even his hair was flattened slightly, dampened by the same sweat.
The Doctor's eyes darkened. "Londo Mollari."
Londo all but cringed; a rare sight to anyone who knew the Centauri. "H-Hello, Doctor."
The Doctor's eyes narrowed dangerously, glittering, as hard as steel. His features were arranged in the picture of cold fury as he spoke in a soft, venomous, voice. "I wish I could say it was nice to see you, but I think it's best if we don't lie to each other, hmm?"
Londo nodded, clutching his now-empty bottle as though it was his lifeline.
"It's too bad, really." The Doctor looked him up and down, surveying him, watching him as though he was some wild animal, too insignificant to bother with for long, but to be avoided if possible. "You could have been so great…"
Londo looked as though he'd break down sobbing, but he kept his composure as The Doctor walked towards him, slowly and purposefully.
"I'm sorry, Londo. I'm so sorry. But you made your choices. What happens now is your doing. Do yourself a favor and don't lie about it; not to your friends, not to your family… and not to yourself. You'll only make it so much worse."
At this, The Doctor turned away, looking to Helen once more. The smile came back, but it seemed a little more muted this time.
"Know a place to get some grub?"
She laughed. "'Course I do. And I'll even do you a favor and pay for you; since you're the cheapest date alive."
He chuckled with her, and the two walked to the door, as though dismissing the others. At the last moment, Helen called to her son, smiling, as though he was meant to follow all along, but the others were largely ignored.
For a while after they'd left, there was silence in the room. Then Londo sat on a chair and buried his face in his hands. G'Kar would have smiled at the Centauri's bad fortune, but was himself rather unnerved, and could not quite find it in him. Kosh had left the room after The Doctor had addressed him, as though somehow understanding that his presence would not be required again.
Sinclair and Delenn exchanged a look, then the Minbari Ambassador walked out of the room. G'Kar followed shortly, as did Sinclair, until only Londo was left, completely alone, to face his fears.
Eventually, he stood, walking to his room in a daze and resigning himself to become hopelessly drunk in an attempt to drown out The Doctor's words. He had a feeling that this attempt would fail miserably, but it was all he had.
When he tried to pour the liquid into a glass, he found his hand was shaking so badly that it splashed all over the counter, washing over his hands in a wave. He couldn't find it in himself to care. He just stared at it until the bottle fell from his trembling and now slippery hands, crashing to the floor, shattering into a hundred glittering, deadly-sharp shards. Each of them reflected his own tortured face back to him.
And then he was on his hands and knees, desperately trying to put the bottle back together, as though that would fix everything, as though this impossible task could rearrange his entire life, change everything, stop whatever horror was coming, and his world could be fixed just as easily. A whimper escaped through his teeth as he pressed one shard to another, again and again, but they refused to stay together.
Tears were rolling down his cheeks by now, but he ignored them, still trying frantically to mend the bottle. A sob chocked it way up his throat, and his hands dropped. It was hopeless. The whole thing was hopeless.
He stood slowly, retrieving another, equally strong drink. This time, he didn't bother with the glass, drinking straight from the bottle, throwing back as much as he could without chocking himself. He fell onto his couch, tilting the bottle backwards and watching the liquid drain from it slowly.
He had every reason to doubt the Doctor's word, and yet no reason at all. Why should he lie?
In fact, what had he said, really? Only that Londo should not lie to himself. Only that whatever happened was his doing.
Only that he could have been great…
And there it was. The most awful, horrible words the Time Lord could have said were still ringing in his ears, searing through his mind. He could have been great. But he wouldn't.
Londo chocked back a sob, washing it away with another swing of his drink. He was losing it. Just a few words from The Doctor and his world had come crashing around him.
Sad, really, how fragile everything was.