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When Shadows Fall

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When the stims stop working and he can barely focus on his instruments for a heartbeat, he puts it down to exhaustion. Slowly staggering towards a chair, he decides to rest, only for a minute, only so he can continue afterwards. Doctor Hobbs wakes him two hours later, barely contained panic in her voice. Three of her staff have shown signs of dizziness, and fear is growing rapidly. When Franklin hears the news, he doesn't need to tell her. She notices in his gaze that he has realized it, too.

"What do we do now?," she asks, desperately holding on to the wish to do something.

"We continue," he replies, with a quick glance at the clock.

* * *

When the call arrives in his office, he hopes for good news, for a breakthrough, but the Doctor's face tells him this is anything but.

"Stephen! Any new insights?" He tries to sound hopeful, he really does, but he cannot ignore the nagging feeling in his stomach that something is about to go horribly wrong.

"Yes, and I'm afraid you won't like them." Franklin's exhaustion shows through the screen, but even more concerning is the apologetic look in his eyes. The most optimistic person of his entire senior staff seems to have given up.

"It crosses species. Humans are susceptible. We already have a few cases down here."

Sheridan feels the blood drain from his face, and all he can do is mouth a hollow "No..."

* * *

When they are gathered in his office and he has let them in on everything, he buries his face in his hands and shakes his head, biting his lip to focus on something else.

"I suppose that since I don't have any surviving family I should make the call to EarthForce while you two tie up some loose ends?" Ivanova's voice is controlled, almost calm, but it is no secret she is using it to mask the turmoil behind.

Garibaldi has clenched his jaw tightly, one hand holding his PPG so strongly that his knuckles stand out white. "We can't tell them, John, or there'll be a massive panic. This has to stay between us."

Mechanically, he nods, lifting his head. "You tell a few people you trust and try to keep this under control. I'll call EarthGov. Susan, you talk to the ambassadors. Maybe they can get help from their governments."

Ivanova is already at the door when she turns around and asks: "How long did Stephen say we have?"

"Three days, maximum." She just nods and drafts away.

* * *

When word gets out, fires erupt in Downbelow, and Security has trouble to keep rioters away from the docking bays. Fights break out all over the station, smugglers advertise their services and get shot when arguments over prices escalate, a bomb explodes in the core shuttle and barely anyone takes note. The Zen garden turns into a pillar of destruction. Dead bodies gather on the ground like mayflies, and no one cares.

* * *

When Zack races into C&C, they know something is wrong before he has opened his mouth. Shock gleams in his eyes, and his shoulders tremble. Ivanova places a hand on his arm to steady him. He answers before she gets a chance to ask.

"The Chief has been shot. He-"

But they know what he means, and are already too far gone to mourn. "I'm sorry," Ivanova murmurs, then squeezes the security officer's shoulders. "Can you take over?"

He nods, more out of necessity than because he actually feels ready.

"Good." She lets go of him, staring at the ground, and he leaves, because he does not know what else to do and because there is so much to do and so little time left.

* * *

When she enters Sheridan's office and sees the look on his face, she knows that EarthGov won't be sending any help. And because there is no hope for a happy ending anyways - her Russian instincts tell her that - she foregoes sugar-coating the news.

"Garibaldi is dead."

Sheridan stares at her, obviously unable to process the information. "Earth is abandoning us."

"Great, then who of us is gonna kill the Chief again for taking the easy way out? I bet being shot is a lot faster than this damned plague."

Something in the Captain's expression has changed, and slowly, very slowly, he pulls out a PPG from the desk drawer and slides it over to her. Now it is her turn to stare.

"Take it," he says. "You don't have to stay. I'll be fine." It is a lie, but none of them deem it necessary to point that out.

She slides the gun back. "We're with you. Wherever this goes, however it ends."

John tucks the weapon away, gratefulness shining in his eyes, then squeezes her hand. When he says "Thank you," his voice is rough with emotion.

* * *

When they open the quarantine zone, more motivated by the desperate hope to cut open a corpse and find a magical solution inside than because they think they can do any good, his heartbeat drowns out every other sound. He longs for Delenn, for someone to share the burden with. In the call with his father that he just finished, he tried his best to sound strong and hopeful, but it took more energy than he had left.

Stephen can barely stand, leaning against the doorframe with his full weight, his eyes clouded and distant. The sight frightens Sheridan, as much as he hates to admit it, but he has felt the first small waves of dizziness and dammit, he is not ready to die yet, not like this.

Lennier slowly stands up, then almost races towards them, and having to shatter the spark of hope in his face feels like the hardest thing yet.

"Have you found a cure?" They are surrounded by corpses, yet the little Minbari still clings to the light. It flickers out like a candle when the Captain shakes his head.

"We…" After a glance at Franklin, who does not seem to have registered the conversation at all, he clears his throat, trying to continue. "We're two days away from everyone in this place being dead, Lennier. We hoped that maybe we could find something in here, some… some clue."

The only reply he gets is a headshake. "No," Lennier breathes, and this time his voice trembles. "They are all… gone."

Sheridan's heart contracts for a moment. "Delenn?," he forces out. Lennier's face darkens, and he turns around and moves away.

When he cowers down on the ground, the Captain follows, arriving to find her barely conscious on the ground. He grasps her hand and croaks "Delenn?"

Her eyelids flutter open, and she looks so at peace that he knows it is too late. She smiles, squeezing his hand weakly. "John," she murmurs, then her eyes fall shut again. He is left speechless, until she stops breathing, the smile still on her face, and a sob wracks his body.

* * *

When it's evident that there is no escape, for no one, Ivanova stands on the upper level of the Zocalo, just watching. She finds it curious to see how different people react differently. The Drazi have collectively committed a ritualistic suicide, many humans have followed their example in a less ritualistic way. Most Centauri she has seen so far appear to be drunk, many - including Londo, who oddly enough seems happier than she has seen him in a long time - to the degree that they will probably not even notice their deaths. G'Kar is furiously writing a book.

In corridors, corners, sometimes surrounded by corpses, people pray, Minbari, Brakiri, Humans, and she has caught herself doing the same. It won't serve any purpose, she knows that, and her faith has never been strong enough to believe in salvation and life after death. But it can't hurt now, can it? Some of the assembled groups sing, something about a better future, of reuniting one day in a place where no shadows fall. She can't imagine that place, but she assumes it looks the opposite of the view before her eyes.

Order has long broken down, and she finds she does not care. Her own thoughts have become light-headed, although she is still in control, can still function, almost as if she was slightly tipsy. The temperature is the only difference. Being drunk feels warm, fuzzy, while this is cold like ice. Maybe she has finally managed to freeze her feelings so she can be hurt no more.

Normally, she hates not being able to do anything, but in these last hours, she is strangely peaceful. It's not the good kind of peace, it's the kind of peace one succumbs to with a gun pointed at them, but it's peace nonetheless. She has prepared herself and everything else as good as she can, now that she is in command, now that Sheridan too is almost gone. She left him in the observation lounge, supporting his swaying steps as he stared at her with such pleading eyes, unable to not grant the wish. He asked her to leave, did not want her to see him die, and that wish she granted too. C&C must be empty now, or at least void of life if not of bodies.

Once, her career, her rank and regulations used to be so important to her. Now, she finds it doesn't matter. She has neglected to name someone as her successor for when she unavoidably will be gone too. It doesn't matter either. It's not like anyone would be able to control the events on the station now; they have long spiralled beyond that. C&C is broadcasting two messages on a loop; one to incoming ships to stay away as far as possible, with her final report, much too short to capture the situation, attached; one to outgoing ships, warning them they will be destroyed if they maneuver too far away. The defence grid is set on shoot to kill. Everything is ready.

The walk to her quarters is littered with bodies, and her steps are no longer fully steady, so she stumbles. One cup of coffee and one of vodka later, she sets her uniform on fire in the shower, lights a candle and places her Link and command bar next to it on the table. She instructs the station computer to open her log, but it must have been affected by some of the destruction taking place and doesn't comply. With nothing else to do, she rips out the drawer that contains the few memories she has of home, adding a picture of her mother and father and one of her with her brother to the arrangement next to the candle. For a brief moment, she considers taking out her earring, then decides against.

The hallways are quieter now, more of those that screamed whimpering now, more of those that whimpered silent forever. When she reaches the Cobra bays they are empty, and so no one disturbs or even sees her as she slowly puts on the flight suit, her movements growing less coordinated by the minute. The warning hammers into her ears as she launches, so she mutes the announcements and turns up her thrusters to full speed. She doesn't care whether she crashes into the hull or is hit by the defence grid, all she cares about is going out as a soldier, on the line, with a boom.

* * *

When Babylon 5 goes out, it does not do so with a boom, but with a stumble. Slowly, yet unstoppably, it is swallowed in darkness. Mourns grow quieter and finally disappear. There is no one to take care of the bodies, and not enough infestation for them to rot either. After a while without maintenance, parts of the equipment start breaking down, some explode, but almost as an ironic echo to its predecessors the station is never destroyed.

Less than a year later, the Centauri Republic destroys the last Narn colony, leaving the species virtually extinct. Only a few months after that, EarthForce drops bombs on Mars to quell the independence movement. It succeeds as Marsdome shatters and renders survival on the planet impossible. On Minbar, a Human man who must have aged a decade in the last year begs the Gray Council to intervene, but they decline.

It does not take much effort for the Vorlons and Shadows to squash the quarrelling, divided younger races in their fight. Some think they might not even have noticed. More species go extinct this time than have in the last Shadow war. Lone Ranger ships try to deliver aid, but they are powerless against the enemies on either side and the government they live under. The galaxy is torn between fire and darkness, and who does not succumb to one falls to the other.

In orbit over Epsilon III, two million five hundred thousand tons of metal have stopped spinning. The five mile long grave for a quarter of a million Humans and aliens is dark, a beacon long extinguished, the echo of a dream. It has not seen any of the wars that are still ravaging the surrounding sectors. It just exists, peacefully, all alone in the night, except for small pieces of debris still drifting around it, remnants of those who tried to flee.

On the only planet that has not yet fallen to the Vorlons or the Shadows, a hooded figure burns a letter, watching the flames dance, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the official commissioning of Babylon 5.