FINDING PEACE (III)

By Lara Nicosia

 

 

 

 

 *****

The rushing water of Crystal Falls provided a familiar welcome as I walked toward the spot where my mother had been laid to rest. Someone was sitting next to her stone, facing the falls. Going over, I sat down beside him . . . or plopped down was more accurate. I was seven months along and heavily showing now. I still wasn't accustomed to the added weight.

   "Hi, Dad."

   He looked over and smiled. "Hi, there."

   "So this is where you been disappearing to every day for the past few months."

   "Yeah." He stared out at the falls for a few moments, his hazel eyes becoming slightly unfocused.

   "Dad, is everything all right?"

   "Isn't that usually my line?" he asked with a chuckle.

   "I worry about you. You've seemed a little distant since you came back. Did something happen after you left Euphrates?"

   My father shook his head. "No . . . no. I . . . ended up at a Ranger encampment near where Babylon 5 used to be, on Epsilon 3. It was . . . nice. I was with friends. I stayed there until Marcus got me your message."

   "Then what's wrong?"

   "It's hard to explain, Jay. Remember I told you I went to Z'Ha'Dum years ago? Faced the Shadows?"

   I nodded. The time he left my mother before they married.

   "Something . . . happened to me while I was there. Something which I've been waiting for years to catch up with me. Only, now . . . I don't know if it's going to happen. It's been so long."

   "But . . . isn't that a good thing?" I asked, not understanding.

   "It's not that simple. I had resigned myself to it long ago. I knew it was going to happen, and I had accepted it."

   "What was supposed to happen?"

   He shook his head, picking at a blade of grass. "It doesn't matter, Jay. If it happens, it happens. If not . . ."

   I didn't like the sound of this. "Why won't you tell me?"

   "Because . . . please, just let this be. I know it's hard, but will you do it for me?"

   "I would do anything for you, Dad. You know that."

   He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me to him. "Thank you. And don't worry about me. I'll be fine. You have more important things to deal with anyway." His arm dropped away as he looked over at my mother's stone. "Speaking of which, have you been reading the journal?"

   "Yes," I replied. "The things she wrote about, the things that you went through . . ."

   "All in a day's work at Babylon 5. I don't think a day went by where something *didn't* happen. Between fighting races, the split from Earth, the Shadow War . . . it always seemed like we were just waiting for the place to blow up. There was a belief that the Babylon Project was jinxed, and sometimes, we thought they were right." He smiled wryly. "But as Ivanova liked to say, No Boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow.'"

   That sounded like something Susan Ivanova-Cole would say. Marcus's wife had been my father's second-in-command on Babylon 5; now she was a member of the Rangers. She had joined after the Shadow War, after they left Babylon 5. She acted as an envoy for Marcus, often going out on missions to other Ranger encampments.

   I hadn't met Susan until a few years before. The Centauri had put a price on our heads, and the Rangers, whose ranks had been decimated but had never completed died after the war, found out. Marcus had sent Susan and a Ranger named Zack Allan to find us and warn us. They were followed shortly after that by bounty hunters. Somehow, I had ended up with Susan and Zack in the ensuing confusion. Dad, Mother, and David had tried to escape, but my parents had eventually been captured. After we had reunited, they had never said much about what happened on Centauri, other than Emperor Londo had freed them. Following that, he had died, along with G'Kar, the former Narn ambassador. The current emperor was someone who also knew my parents -- Vir Cotto, Londo's attache when he had been on Babylon 5. Vir and my parents had been in contact several times before my mother's death. The Rangers had agreed to help with relief efforts on Centauri. The planet had been torn apart by civil wars and attacks, but Vir was slowly putting the pieces back together. And the Rangers were gaining more people -- of many different races -- with each passing year. It would never disappear again.

   I had seen Susan a lot since I had returned to Minbar, though her work with the Rangers kept her very busy. She was currently on a long-term mission to Centauri Prime -- she had left right after I had learned I was pregnant -- but Marcus expected her back sometime soon. He had asked me not to tell my father. He hadn't told her that my father had returned either because he was planning on surprising them both.

   "I wish I could have seen Babylon 5." I had been born after they had left.

   "It was quite a place." As he said this, his hand brushed against my mother's stone. "But has the journal helped any?"

   "It makes some of my worries seem silly in comparison."

   "Jaylen, no worry is silly. Not when it comes to your children."

   "I just want to do right by my child."

   "You will." He gave me another hug, then got up. "Now, I think it's time for me to leave. I'm sure you and your mother have some things you want to discuss."

   "I don't want to --" I began.

   He shook his head. "I've spent most of the morning here. She's probably getting tired of listening to me, so I'll give you some privacy. I'll see you back in the city. Just be careful."

   "I will," I promised. My father headed down the hill, disappearing beyond the ridge I had come from a few minutes before. Somehow, he always seemed to know.

   Today, I had suddenly felt the need to come up and spend some time here. My mother's presence was everywhere you looked.

   Opening up the pouch I had carried up with me, I pulled out her journal. For a few moments, I just sat there, holding it to me.

   "Even though you've passed beyond the veil, you're still giving me advice through your experiences. I hope I'm half the mother you were."

   I could just hear her answering, "You are who you are . . . and that is always good enough."

   Settling into a more comfortable sitting position, I turned to the spot I had marked with a thin, grey ribbon.

   /As my pregnancy progresses into its eighth month, things have been happening that I'm not used to. I've been having curious cravings lately. There are times when I'm hungry for the strangest foods. One of the most peculiar was when I wanted to put dill pickles and ice cream together. It sounded so good at the time, but now I don't know why. The one food I've been wanting most has been a salty, crunchy Earth snack food called potato chips. For some reason, I've developed a liking for this food, though it has no nutritional value whatsoever. John found it for me and makes sure that we always have a bag of chips in our quarters./

   I stopped reading and looked over at the bag that stuck out of the pouch I had brought up with me, trying to keep from laughing. So that explained it. About a month ago, I had started getting cravings for the same thing. At the time, though, I hadn't known what I wanted; I had never had potato chips before in my life. None of the Minbari or Earth foods that were normally stocked by the Rangers satisfied my cravings. Aaron, bless his heart, had used his connections to get me some other foods to see if any of them would do. Finally, I had tried a bag of potato chips a visiting Ranger offered. That had proved to be just what I wanted. Now, Aaron made sure that we had enough bags around, just in case.

   "I'm definitely your daughter," I said aloud as I pulled the bag out of the pouch and opened it. I ate a few chips before setting the bag up against the stone. "Here, just in case you want some, too."

   Her light, which looked slightly dimmer because of the bright daylight, seemed to flicker with laughter.

   /In fact, John has been wonderful these last few months. My moods tend to be erratic at times, and he has been so understanding whenever that happens. Dr. Franklin, John, and all the files I've read say that it's due to changing hormones. I don't like the feeling of not being able to control my feelings when that happens. Today, I became somewhat depressed. Everything that has been happening lately seemed to become magnified, and I broke down earlier. John took it upon himself to cheer me up . . ./

   -----

   Delenn sighed, putting her head in her hands as she leaned forward and rested her elbows against her knees. She brushed the tears away from her face, trying to keep from crying again. Every time she thought about what was going on, about the threats Clark had made against the people she loved, against her unborn child, she felt the tears welling in her eyes. She shouldn't be crying. She had faced far worse than Clark in her time, but she couldn't help it.

   A few moments later, she heard the door open and the sound of footsteps entering the quarters. John had come home. She didn't look up. She didn't want him to see that she had been crying -- even if it was just the hormones.

   The couch cushion shifted as he sat down next to her. An arm slid around her shoulders and drew her close to him. Delenn leaned her head against her husband's chest, listening to his heartbeat and taking comfort in its steady rhythm. So much like him.

   "Did I ever tell you about my Universal Uncle Mike Theory?" he suddenly asked.

   "What?"

   "I have this theory. My mom has a brother Michael and everyone calls him Mike. Almost everyone I knew growing up had an uncle named Mike. So I figure, everyone in the universe has to have an Uncle Mike. I think it's a law of the Cosmos. And the uncle doesn't have to be a blood relative either, just someone the person calls Uncle Mike."

   Delenn looked up at him and saw his bright hazel eyes twinkling. He was trying to cheer her up, she realized. Wasn't that usually her job? "But I do not have an Uncle Mike'," she pointed out. "Blood relative or otherwise."

   "You have to . . . or my theory is shot to hell. Hmm . . ." He stopped and thought for a moment. "You once said that Minbari usually have many children because they're trying to rebuild the planet's declining population, correct?"

   "Yes."

   "So, your mother and father had many brothers and sisters."

   Delenn nodded. "My father had two brothers and a sister. My mother had two sisters and two brothers."

   "What were the brothers' names?"

   "Ferienn, Yorann, Sorinier, and Mikier."

   John grinned at her. "Mikier . . . Delenn, you have an Uncle Mike, and he's a blood relative. My theory has been proven."

   She stared at him for few moments, then began laughing. "What about our child?"

   "Well, since I have an Uncle Mike, our child automatically has an Uncle Mike, too. Even though he's actually his great-uncle, it still works."

   Delenn shook her head. "Human relations are a very complex arrangement. You have uncles, great-uncles, great-great-uncles, uncles that aren't really uncles but you call them that anyway, mothers, fathers, stepmothers, stepfathers, brothers, sisters, stepsisters, stepbrothers, half brothers, half sisters, blood brothers, blood sisters, *bros* . . ."

   John laughed, putting his finger up to her lips to stop her litany. "Now just who is cheering up who here? Besides, who are you to make fun of human relationships? Minbari clan relationships are just as complex."

   "That's true, I suppose." Delenn suddenly felt a sharp twinge in her abdomen. Her eyes opened wide as she put her hand down on the burgeoning swell to make sure what she had just felt had really happened.

   "Delenn?"

   "The baby just kicked me."

   "What? Really?"

   She nodded, taking her husband's hand and putting it down on her abdomen. John smiled broadly as the baby kicked again.

   "He's going to be good at martial arts with a kick like that," he said, looking into her eyes. Then he kissed her. "I love you, Delenn."

   -----

   My father had been right. David was a martial arts expert, in both human and Minbari forms. He had learned and perfected them very quickly while growing up. No matter where we had been, he had always found the time to learn and practice.

   I turned the page to the next entry. So far, my baby seemed to only like doing gymnastics. I wondered what that meant.

   /Every day, I see more changes happening . . . both to my body and on Babylon 5. While our child continues to grow inside me, so do the tensions between us and Earth Alliance. There will come a point when the baby will have to be born because he or she has grown too large for me to carry. I fear these tensions with Earth will be much the same -- they will grow to point where they will be borne out in violence . . ./

   -----

   "We have to be prepared," John said as he addressed the War Council. He stood directly across the table from where Delenn sat, fulfilling her dual role as Minbari representative and Ranger One. "Clark's threats are growing more hostile with each passing week, and he could decide to make good on them any time now."

   Susan Ivanova spoke up from her spot to Delenn's left. "I would suggest putting the ships around the station on alert. Have them ready to go to full battle mode at a moment's notice. That way if Clark decides to send his ships to attack, we'll be ready to defend ourselves as soon as a jump point is detected. We should also run continuous scans for jump activity or anything else unusual."

   John nodded. He looked at the races gathered in the War Room's lower area. "Everyone should contact their respective race's ships and see that they are put to readiness. We'll set up a communications relay so scans are reported to ships as they come in; though ships should conduct their own scans as well. Delenn, will the Rangers see to it that the people down on Epsilon 3 are prepared? Make sure they have supplies and can protect themselves."

   Delenn inclined her head. It was all she had to do to let him know that the Rangers would do whatever was needed.

   "Good. I'm putting Commander Ivanova in charge of coordinating the alert. Everyone should be ready within the next twelve hours. Any questions?"

   No one had any.

   "All right, then. Contact Ivanova if any come up. We're adjourned."

   Everyone immediately departed to take care of their respective tasks. Soon, only John and Delenn remained in the lower area. As she began to rise from her chair, he went over to help her up.

   "Everything okay?" he asked.

   "I'm fine," she answered with a smile. "You don't have to worry."

   With a sigh, he admitted, "I can't help but worry. Sometimes, I want to send you back to Minbar, so you and the baby will be safe. So you'll be away from Clark's threats."

   She shook her head. "I can't leave. I have my work with the Rangers, and I won't leave you. Not when our time together is so short. My place is here."

   "I know. I keep telling myself that . . . but it doesn't make it any easier. You're just going to have to put up with me and my human worrywart tendencies."

   "I guess I can live with that," she said as she put her hand up to his face. John covered it with his own, squeezing it gently. "Now, I must go and coordinate the Rangers. I will call you if I need anything."

   He smiled and nodded. Delenn kissed her fingers, then put them to his lips before heading out the War Room for Ranger Hall.

   -----

   Aaron was home when I got back, which was surprising for the time of day.

   "What are you doing here?" I asked.

   "Susan decided to surprise Marcus and come home early. She got back about two hours ago. Marcus told me to take off for the day. He was going to take the rest of the day off, too. And no one is to call him unless life as we know it on Minbar is about to come to an end.'"

   I grinned, knowing exactly what Marcus meant. If I hadn't seen Aaron in five months, I would want to be alone with him without interruptions; though I understood that Susan used to be the queen of such things.

   "However, he said we're to bring your father over for dinner later tonight. If we tell him that Susan's home, he's going to come after us with a Minbari Fighting Pike. And Marcus is not someone you want to make mad."

   "Well, I wouldn't want to cross Susan either. I hear she can perform lung surgery with her bare hands," I said with a laugh.

   I went to call my father and tell him that Marcus had invited us to dinner. I think he knew that we were hiding something, but he didn't ask what. He and my brother came by later. David also knew that Susan was back, so my father was definitely getting suspicious as we walked through the Minbari Gardens to where they lived.

   "What are you three smiling about?" he asked.

   "Are we smiling?" David responded in an innocuous tone of voice.

   My father's eyes narrowed into slits as he looked sideways at my brother. "Don't play that game with me, David Caynier Zachary Sheridan. What's going on, Jaylen? You three are definitely hiding something."

   "Us? Hiding something?" I asked. "Never."

   "Jaylen Susan --"

   "Uh oh, Jay. He's pulling out the middle names. We'd better watch it," my brother said, waggling his eyebrows.

   "I don't know what I'm going to do with you two," my father sighed as Aaron started laughing. "Don't you start, Aaron. You're just as bad as they are."

   We all pled innocence, but Dad kept badgering us. So we were very happy when we finally reached their home. Susan answered the door.

   "Jay, Dav . . ." Her eyes opened wide when she saw my father. "John!"

   "Susan! Wh . . . when did you get back?" he asked as he gathered his former second in a bear hug.

   "Today. I didn't know you were here!" She looked at us, then back at her husband, who was standing in the hallway, wearing a huge grin. "Why didn't you guys tell me he was here?"

   "And miss seeing that expression on your face?" Marcus teased as he walked up. Susan swatted him gently on the arm. "Come on in, everyone. Dinner is almost ready."

   "Can I get you guys something to drink?" Susan asked, going over to the human-style liquor cabinet and opening it up. "Whiskey for John, right? Without the gun and two bullets."

   My father laughed. "I can't believe you remember that."

   "I know everything, I remember everything . . . though I no longer consider myself God," she replied with a devilish grin as she poured the drink for him. She handed him the glass, then turned to me. "Jay?"

   "Just some water or fruit juice. No alcohol for another two months."

   "Orange juice?"

   "My favorite," I said as my father gave me an approving smile.

   She got drinks for everyone else, including Vodka for herself. Then she sat down next to Marcus, who put his arm around her shoulders.

   "What brought you back, John?" she asked.

   "The fact that I'm going to be a grandpa . . . can you believe it?"

   "Yeah, we're getting old."

   "Speak for yourself," Marcus replied and was rewarded with another swat from his wife.

   "It's not going to be too long now, from the looks of things," Susan said. "Getting big there, Jay."

   "Tell me about it. Sometimes, I feel like I'm carrying twins."

   "Well, you look beautiful."

   I smiled as Aaron leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I agree."

   From the look on Susan's face, I wondered if she regretted never having any children of her own. I hoped not. She had led such a full life, done so much. Marcus absolutely adored her, and she often acted as den mother to David, Aaron, and myself. In addition, the two of them were like second parents to many of the young Rangers who came to Minbar to train.

   A timer pinged in the kitchen area. "Dinner is ready," Marcus said. "Shall we?"

   We went in and helped set everything on the table for dinner. As Susan put the salad bowl down, she suddenly started laughing. "John, remember when Stephen had us go on those ridiculous diets, and we decided to trade our food because we couldn't stand what he was making us eat?"

   "How could I forget? I couldn't look at rabbit fo . . . er, salad for at least a year after that."

   "Couldn't have been as bad as your cooking."

   "I got better!"

   "After Delenn finally taught you," Marcus interjected.

   "Who asked you?" my father asked as we sat down. "I seem to remember a certain someone trying to make *blini* to impress a certain someone else and causing the fire alarms on *three* levels to go off."

   "You try translating a Russian recipe. I misread the time and temperature."

   "Yeah, right. Excuses, excuses," Susan teased.

   "Well, now, I seem to remember some interesting phrases coming from someone trying to teach herself Minbari," Marcus shot back in a light tone, causing her to turn red.

   During the dinner, we listened to the three of them needle each other while remembering Babylon 5. The friendship and camaraderie they had built during their time there were easy to see as they talked. It was nice that they had some good memories of the place.

   When dinner was over, we decided to go for a walk in the Gardens since it was such a beautiful evening. David and Aaron walked in front of us, discussing the Rangers. I ended up hanging back and listening to my father, Susan, and Marcus. They continued talking about Babylon 5 and what had happened to some of the others that had once been there. I learned that Zack Allan now headed the Ranger encampment on Epsilon 3 where my father had been staying. Eventually, the conversation turned to my mother.

   "I never got a chance to tell you . . ." Susan said sadly. "I was so sorry to hear about Delenn's passing. I wish I had been here, but . . ."

   My father reached over and squeezed her hand once. "We knew. And we understood."

   "She was a good friend. I miss her."

   "So do I, Susan."

   "We all do," Marcus said, taking his wife's hand in his.

   We walked along for a little while longer before Marcus and Susan took their leave. It was easy to see that, though they enjoyed spending time with us, they desperately wanted to be alone. As they left, Aaron came over and put his arm around me.

   "How about you?" he asked. "Ready to go?"

   I nodded, suddenly realizing how tired I really was. Dad and David headed back toward their respective quarters while Aaron and I continued through the Gardens in the direction of our home. Suddenly, I stopped, took Aaron's hand, and put it to my abdomen.

   Aaron's eyes seemed to bulge when he felt the kick. "That . . . that's the baby?"

   "Uh huh."

   That silly grin I thought he had finally managed to wipe off his face suddenly returned. "Wow. Oh, Jay, this is so wonderful. I wish . . ." Suddenly, his face fell slightly. Someone who didn't know him might not have noticed it, but I did.

   "Aaron? What's wrong? Why didn't you finish?"

   "Nothing . . . it's nothing."

   "You can't fool me, Aaron. Tell me, what's wrong."

   "I . . . was just thinking . . . watching you with your family these past few months. You get to share this with them. I see the happiness, the pride in your father's face when he looks at you and David. You get along so well. It just . . . makes me wish my family had had the same thing, a better relationship. That I could share my happiness about this life, our baby with my mother or father." He paused. "It's something I envy, Jay."

   I wasn't sure what to say. "I . . . didn't know that."

   "I didn't even know until recently. I came here because I needed to find my own way, because I knew that my family and I could never see eye to eye on things. Because I know that we stand for totally different things. And I don't regret that decision for a second. But . . . sometimes . . . I do long for what you have that my family was missing."

   His admission stunned me. My family was close, but we had also gone through so much pain and so many problems. I had always wished that my family could have had a normal life. But from what Aaron told me, he regarded what we had together as normal. It suddenly made me realize how lucky I had been. "Well . . . as you said, we're your family now. And that does include my father and brother. They regard you as a son and a brother," I told him. "I know it can't totally take the place of what you've lost out on, but it is a good start, isn't it?"

   "It's better than a good start," he answered with a smile.

 

 *****

 

 

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