THE DAWN AT LAST
By A. J. Breton
Summery: This story deals with David and his thoughts and feelings after Sheridan's death.
Spoilers: Za'ha'dum, Season 5, especially "Sleeping in the Light" Feedback Please! <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Any faults or inconsistancies, are entirely the fault of my own laziness.
Favorite Quote (one of many): "Show me a man who is completely content, and I will show you a failure."
On a White Star headed for Minbar-
David Sheridan's Journal-
I found out yesterday. My father is dead.
My mother said, "He has passed beyond the veil." Others say he has disappeared, but the word "passed" is the word most used. There are whispers that he will return, that he is not truly gone, but I know that he's dead. I know I will never see him again outside of memories. Oddly enough, I haven't cried yet. I try not to feel guilty about that, but it's hard. Mom has asked me to return to Minbar as soon as I can. I will be there tomorrow, there is to be a memorial service. I find myself looking in the mirror a lot. Mom always said my eyes are just like his. Humans say "Eyes are the windows to the soul", I wonder if there was a piece of my father's soul in my eyes. If there ever was, it feels dead now.
I feel like I should write something, some memory or some outpouring of emotion or something, but I don't feel anything. I feel numb. I feel dead. Cold and black like the emptiness we soar through. I always used to like traveling on white star vessels, to "feel space beneath my feet" as dad would say, but today the hallways seem too narrow, the ceilings seem too low. I can almost feel the vacuum outside the vessel, the restless darkness pounding against the hull, ready to consume me. Everyone on board has been very nice, too nice. Silence prevails when I enter a room. I am starting to hate silence. God I wish dad was here. He didn't always say the right thing, and we didn't always see eye to eye on things, but he could always make me laugh. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever smile again.
Mom is a wreck. She is trying to be strong, for me and the others, but I can see through her act, she is crumbling inside. I am doing my part, organizing, greeting people whom I've never met but who claim to be aquatinted with my father's. There are many solemn words and a few forced smiles. I barely had two minutes alone with mom today, I hope I can speak to her tomorrow. It is odd being here again after being gone in Ranger training for the past year and a half. I keep expecting dad to round the corner and trap me in one of those huge bear hugs that nearly crush the air out of my lungs while slapping my back with his hand. I keep expecting to hear his voice boom across the room. He always told me how proud of me he was, how much he loved me. I would always get embarrassed and try to slink away from him, but how much I wish I could hear his voice now. I wish I had the chance to do the same for him, look him in the eyes and tell him how proud I am to have had him as a father, to tell him I love him.
Well, I guess I don't need to feel guilty anymore, I'm finally crying.
Things finally calmed down a little today. It's basically me, mom, and Aunt Susan. Most everyone else has gone away, at least until the official service tomorrow. Uncle Mike will be here then along with his family. I think Uncle Stephen will be here too, and maybe Zack. I had some time with mom. We stood out on the balcony and watched a storm front move by. Dad always liked to watch storms, he always said they relaxed him. I tried to ask her about what had happened, but it was hard. We just stood in silence. We talked a little about Ranger training. No one brought up what was going to happen now that Dad wasn't there to lead.
I don't know what to do. One moment I feel fine, as though nothing is wrong. The next moment I feel like the whole world is falling apart around me, like I'm falling into an abyss. I said that to mom today. She got this strange look on her face. I wanted to ask her. I want to know so much what the hell happened. Where is my father? Why did he go? So many questions, but that's the main one: Why? Why now? Why like this? Disappeared. No grave. No body. Nothing to morn over but memories. Why?
As hard as I tried, I couldn't bring myself to ask anything. We wound up talking about the weather.
Delenn watched her son as he looked out toward the heavy clouds. He looked so much like John. His profile was almost exactly his father's. His hair was the same color, his build was the same, though he wasn't quite as tall. His voice was deep like John's was, though not quite as rough as the years had made John's voice. His eyes, oh God David's eyes, were his father's eyes. They were the same color, they had the same depth, and now, unfortunately they held the same well-hidden edge of pain that his father's had held. It was hard to look at him, and yet comforting at the same time to think that so much of John would live on in his son- in their son.
She still remembered John's face after they'd found out she was pregnant. Her collapse had scared him, but after they had found out what it was caused by, John had been aglow for days. She remembered how he and Michael had smoked those foul-smelling cigars in celebration of the news. Stephen had just chomped on his, complaining about how unhealthy they were. John had gone about clapping people on the back and gloating over his yet-to-be-born child, which he just *knew* was going to be a son. He had been so excited. They had gone to Earth to tell his parents in person and to "pick up some things" John had said. Baseball, and mitt, and bat, all of which were John's when he was a child. It had been a whirlwind weekend, so many comings and goings, she had still been reeling from the shock of it. She had been very worried. What if there were complications? What if she couldn't carry the child to term? What if the different genetics caused some sort of birth defects? These were questions that kept her awake for months. But now, nineteen years later, here he stood, her perfect baby. Of course her baby was taller than her and starting to sport a thin goatee, but he'd always be her baby.
The storm clouds had blown past without much rain and the sky was clearing into a brilliant blue hue. David was fidgeting in that way he did when he wanted to ask something but wasn't sure how. Delenn sighed softly. She knew he must have so many questions. Too many questions. A part of her resented John's decision to not tell David what was going to happen. She had contended that as his son David had every right to know and to spend those last few days with his father, but John had been insistent, David was not to be told until after. Perhaps John just couldn't bring himself to say the words to his son. Perhaps he didn't think he'd have the strength to handle it. At any rate, now David needed answers, and Delenn was the only one who could provide them. Oh, John had left messages, recorded over the years in private. She didn't know what most of them said, they were for David only. There was an entire box of the data crystals containing dozens of messages to be delivered. The last message had been recorded and placed in the box just before….just before he had gone…But messages from the past would not be enough. David would want explanations, reasons. Delenn sighed again. She herself understood so very little about what had happened at Za'ha'dum, how could she explain to David? How could she explain her betrayal? John's anger? The Fall? The explosion? The Return? It would not be easy. It would have to be done.
I don't believe this.
I can't believe this.
My head is reeling from yesterday. The service, seeing everyone again, all the hushed words, all the silent glances, the smell of rain in the air, the scent of flowers on my father's memorial stone….it was too much, way too much, I started feeling sick. I thought I was going to be ill at the service. The walls seemed to be closing in on me. I managed to stay on my feet through to the end, but as soon as I made it to the bathroom, I vomited. I fell asleep shortly thereafter. It's early morning, now. Everyone probably left last night. Everyone except for Susan, that is. I was glad to hear that dad had chosen her to replace him.
I'm starting to feel better now. I dread leaving my room. My parents have kept it almost exactly as it was when I first left for Ranger training. If I stay here, I can almost believe that the past few days never happened. I can almost believe that soon I'll hear my dad's voice in the corridor, telling me to get my lazy self out of bed.
I have to get some answers. I'm going to have to confront mom today. She's been so quiet. I've never, ever, considered mom to be fragile, far from it, but since I've gotten here she looks so delicate and breakable. I have to talk to her.
The data crystal dug into the palm of David's hand. He couldn't help squeezing it. He had browsed through the recordings his dad had made over the years. It was strange seeing his father so young. He had to smile at some of the messages. Dad was known for being a good negotiator and diplomat, but those who knew him well, knew John Sheridan sometimes had problems expressing his personal feelings. David had heard all sorts of stories he'd never heard before, and quite a few others he had. There were still many other recordings he had not yet seen. Some of them were dated not to be seen until he was older. The one message that baited him, though, was the one in his hand. It had been recorded last Sunday. The day he left.
He turned the crystal over and over in his hand, feeling the sharp edges press against his skin. This was the message he wanted to see. The crystal caught and refracted the light, shattering it across his palm. This is ridiculous, David thought, just put the damn thing in already. It took a few more moments, but then he placed the crystal in the player and waited.
John Sheridan shuffled down the corridor. His uniform was much too tight. He groaned, again. He felt much weaker today than he had yesterday. He hoped he would have enough time to do what he wanted to do, what he needed to do. Delenn would be up soon, perhaps she was already. He wanted to record this message first, before seeing her again. He bit back the surge of emotion caused by the thought of seeing her again. Seeing her for the last time. She was everything to him… He shook his head. He had to calm himself and collect his thoughts. He couldn't be a sobbing wreck for his message to David.
This is a happy day, he thought. Keep it that way. He unclenched his hand. He hadn't realized that he'd been squeezing the crystal. Almost as if he gripped it tight enough, he could force it away. Hesitantly, he put it into the recorder.
"Ahem..humm." He cleared his throat. "David, you're seeing this now, because…" he hesitated, "because I had to leave." He shuffled his feet, but tried to keep his gaze level. "Ahh, I wanted to leave you one last message telling you why. Oh, hell, David, I had a speech all worked up, but now…." He sighed heavily. "You know about the shadow war, how we fought, and that we won. What you don't know is the whole story. Very few people actually do. You know about the Vorlons and the Shadows and the First Ones, but you don't know everything. Twenty years ago, during that war, I went to Za'ha'dum, the homeworld of the Shadows. You may have heard stories about that. Some are of the opinion that I was forced or tricked into going. Your mother for a long time thought it was her fault. It wasn't her fault. I wasn't tricked. The truth is that I knew I had to go. From the moment the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to go. I knew that the only way we had a chance of winning that war, was to go. I also knew that if I went, I would die. It was a choice I made of my own free will, with my eyes wide open.
"I'll spare all the details, son, but suffice it to say that while on Za'ha'dum I learned a great deal about the Shadows, and why they did what they did. They weren't the great evil menace I expected. They were just different. Diametrically different, but still, not evil. That knowledge didn't change what I had to do. Evil or no, they were still a threat, still an enemy I needed to contend with. I used a White Star loaded with massive explosives to destroy that world, and cripple the Shadows. I thought I would die right then and there, but I didn't. I was shown a way out. I wish I could tell you it was some grand adventure where I cunningly fought my way to freedom, but I can't. I ended up falling down a great abyss. It was deeper and more vast than anything I've ever seen on Earth or Minbar. I fell for days." His eyes unfocused for a while, remembering. "I think I was falling for about a week, though I didn't really have any concept of time. People ask if I really died there. I think most rational people have a hard time believing it, I know I did at first. It's true, David. You've probably heard stories from the Rangers, it's true, I died there. The story could have ended there, as I thought it was going to. But I was given a chance. I was given the chance to choose life, to finish what I started. It was a last hope for my future, and I clung to it. I realized that I had something to live for, something worth living for. Death is cheap, David, anyone can die for a cause. But it takes real determination and strength to live for one. Your mother was what brought me back, David. She was the reason I came back from Za'ha'dum. She's been what I lived for every single day since.
"All choices have consequences. Though I'd like to think that my coming back was for the greater good of things, there was still a price to pay for the opportunity. Time was my price. I was allowed twenty years to live and do anything I could. Twenty years and no more. At the time it seemed like a good deal. Hell, it was twenty more years than I had. But time slips past so quickly. Before you know it, a year has past, then five, then ten…. Before I knew it, I was a father, I was at war again, I was trying to hold together everything I had fought so hard to build. There's so much to do, so much yet to be done. Twenty years isn't enough, but then a hundred probably wouldn't be either. I wish…" he hesitated, he had never said this out loud to anyone, "I wish I had been better. A better leader, a better soldier, a better husband, a better father… Now, at the dawn of my last day, I can't help but wonder what might have been if I could have been a better man. It's a futile question, I know. I can only take pride in that I did the best I knew how, and I can only hope that that was good enough." John cleared his throat again.
"I don't have much more time, David. I can almost feel the end coming with every hour that passes. I hope you'll forgive me for all the mistakes I've made while I was here. I hope you'll understand why I couldn't stay. Your mother wanted you to be here for these last days, but I told her no. I hope you can forgive me for not saying good-bye. As much as I love you, and because I love you, I don't want any good-byes between us. I'll always be with you, David. A part of me will always go with you, wherever life leads you, whatever fate tempts you to do. I leave now, secure in the knowledge, that my son will be a better man than I could have ever been. I love you, David. I will always love you. Someday, a long, long, time from now, I'll see you again. In a place where no shadows fall."
David stared at the viewer long after it went dark. The tears didn't come right away, but when they did it was a torrent that couldn't be stopped. He sobbed at the desk in his room for what seemed like hours before he felt the soft pressure of a hand on his shoulder. He didn't need to look up to know who it was. Delenn said nothing. She stood behind her son, hand on his shoulder. Tears were streaming down her own face in spite of the promise she had made to herself to stay strong and calm for David's sake. Finally, the tears subsided. David looked up at his mother.
"There's still so much I don't understand." His voice still trembled.
"Why now? Why like this?" He wiped the tears away as frustration played across his face.
"Your father.." she sighed, "your father chose to end things this way because he thought it was the best way. As for why now? He had no choice on when."
"The best way?" David stood to face his mother. "This was the best way?" His voice rose as his gestures became more animated. "To just sneak off some Sunday morning and not tell anyone!?!"
"David…" Delenn tried to put a hand on his arm.
"Oh wait, he did tell everyone. Everyone knew. Everyone but ME!"
"He didn't want to distract you…"
"Distract me?!? Having me find out like this, from a recording, was supposed to make it better? This was supposed to not distract me?" David paced in agitation, the tears sliding unwanted down his face. "Dad said he didn't want any good-byes between us. He said he loved me. But if he loved me so damned much, why didn't he let me see him before he left? Why couldn't I even have talked to him?" He was sobbing again. His breath was ragged between his raves. Delenn stood silently, letting her son say his peace. He paced some more before facing her again. "My father wouldn't do that! My dad wouldn't just run off to Corianna 6 and never come back without letting me know about it first. He wouldn't! What kind of coward does that to his son?!?"
"David!" She stepped up to him, "Your father was a great many things, but he was NOT a coward. Don't EVER use that word to describe him." His anger ignited, David wasn't about to back down.
"Why not, mother? What else would you call a man who can't face his own son and tell him he's leaving? A man who could tell all his other friends, but not his own flesh and blood? What do you call him?"
"I call him…a man in pain. A man in misery because he knows what he must do will hurt most to those dearest to him. A man who LOVES his son, and wanted to spare him the agony of a last meeting; wanted to leave him only with good memories and positive words. John Sheridan is not a coward. He is one of the bravest men I have ever known. Brave because he left, not in spite of that. To stay here, to linger on in the company of his wife and son only so he could be comforted in his final moments while we suffer the agony of watching him pass…" her voice broke, "That would have been the action of a coward. But to go, alone, and leave us with the memory of him as he was and had been, in tact and untainted… that was an act of incredible bravery." She took in a great, trembling breath. "I hope someday you will accept that as the truth."
I stood on the balcony this morning and watched the sun come up with mother. We haven't said a word to each other since last night. I keep thinking about my father's last message, and my mom's words. I'm still angry. It's not fair that mom and I should suffer because of the choices he made before I was even born. There was something dad told me about six or so months ago after I had been passed up for a position on the main deck of the White Star where I was training. I told him that I was every bit as qualified as the trainee chosen, and that it wasn't fair that I would be denied that position just on the random whim of another person. He'd told me, "Son, the hardest lesson to learn is that life is not always fair. The hardest thing to do, is to be fair in spite of life." I didn't take much comfort in those words at that time.
Choices have consequences. He was brave for going, not in spite of going.
I'll be leaving Minbar tomorrow. My new assignment will take me close to the rim, I could be gone a long time. I'm trying to think of something to say to mother before then. I don't want to leave with this silence hanging around us. Dad wouldn't like that, but I can't stay here, I belong out there.
I'm taking dad's messages with me. I think it will be awhile before I'll be able to look at them, but somehow it just seems wrong not to have them with me.
"A part of me will always go with you, wherever life leads you, whatever fate tempts you to do. I leave now, secure in the knowledge, that my son will be a better man than I could have ever been."
Better? Maybe not. But I'll try to be fair, in spite of life. That's the best I know how, and for the time being, it'll just have to be good enough.
David Sheridan, Ranger Trainee.
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