THE JOURNEY HOME (III)
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David tried to jump out the car but John reeled him in. "Hold on there sport! I know this is Granddad's house but you go no where without me, Michael, Susan, or Marcus. Not even with your Mother! She too will be with someone - always. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir! Sorry, I just...sorry Dad."
"Look, David, I know you're excited, I'm excited too, we just need to be extra careful." Turning to those in his vehicle, "That means all of you. Let's go if your ready Michael."
"All clear." He said into his lapel, telling his teams they were on the move.
Kathryn Sheridan appeared on the sweeping front porch as her son and his friends neared the house. Tears streaming down her face as she took her son in her arms. "God John, we thought we'd never see you here again. Let's get you all inside first." Leading them into her house, she and two of the Rangers stationed at the farm started taking everyone's coats. But after she had removed David's all she could do was hold him. And that's how Lizzy found her. Lizzy had been sitting with her father when she heard the commotion downstairs, he had begged her to go and see John, meet his family and friends. David insisted he'd be all right.
Lizzy stood at the top of the stairs looking over the railing when John spotted her. He met her half way taking the stairs three at a time, bringing her into his embrace.
"God, look at you. You look wonderful, you feel wonderful... I've missed you so much." He hugged her for a long moment and kissed her cheek. Both were crying.
"Johnny, I've missed you too. I can't believe you're really here. They said you'd come, but I didn't believe. Jesus, just hug me." He did so without reservation. From far below came a 'Ahem' followed shortly by an 'Ouch'. John knew instantly the noises came from Michael, the last one though was as a result of an Ivanova punch.
He took Lizzy by the hand, "There's a lot of people I'd like you to meet." Letting go of her hand as they reached the last tier he move to pick David up and take Delenn's hand. "Delenn and David you've talked to before, but..."
"Johnny you've always been too formal," Lizzy leaned over and gave Delenn a hug and kiss on the cheek, to which Delenn returned in kind. "Now give me that boy before Mom takes all his hugs." She stuck out her hands and David went without hesitation. He knew that this was his Dad's sister, he had talked to her on the comm channel, but even though he'd never met her, he seemed to know she was special.
John did get around to the other introductions but turned to slip away after looking at his Mom and Delenn. They both knew where he was headed.
John came to stand outside his father's room trying to compose himself. Now that he was here he wasn't sure he wanted to see his father this way. He had always thought of his father as a strong man. Kosh had used his father's image when he had died and it wasn't until then that John even thought of the possibility of his father dying one day. Feeling very much like a child, unsure and anxious, he knocked on the door before entering. He had prepared himself for the worst but upon seeing his dad he was surprised how well he looked. But as time wore on, John could see how much his father had faded.
"I'm glad you came, son. My only concern is for your safety. However, I've spent time with your Rangers. They are all wonderful people and they care for you and your family very much. You don't know how it warms my heart to know that people like that are looking out for you."
"They're really under Delenn's command even though she insists we share them jointly. She's the one who organized this whole trip. Well her, Marcus, and Michael. Of course they had a lot of help from people I thought were my friends." John mused.
"Well in order to have good friends you first have to be a good friend." David said with a wry smile.
They talked about old times and friends. John told him about his job and how everyone in the New Aligned Worlds seemed to come to him. How sometimes it was overwhelming.
David was about to ask after his namesake when a small rap came at the door -
"Hey Granddad," David called as he opened up the door.
"Hey yourself, come here and give me a hug. I don't care what you parents told you, I want a big squeeze."
Delenn followed her son in and came to stand behind John.
"How are you Delenn?" David said as she leaned over to give him a kiss, "I was just telling Johnny how great it is to have you here. I just wish the circumstances were different."
"We all do David. I'm glad we could come too!" she said with a tear in her eye.
Though Delenn hadn't really known John's parents long she felt close to them. Since her own father was dead, David was the closest thing she had to it. From the very first moment she met him, he put her at ease with his soft demeanor and endearing smile. Just by looking at both of John's parents she knew instantly where he had gotten his wonderful nature. But as she looked at David, she couldn't help but feel as if she were losing her father all over again.
Several days had come and gone. Some of the rangers had taken David out front to help him make a snowman, or to go sledding down the hill behind the house. John and Delenn used this time to spend with his parents and Lizzy, trying to make things as comfortable as possible. But as time wore on John was feeling the need to get out and stretch his legs, get out of the house and be by himself. Never before had he felt more like a prisoner in his own home.
"Marcus, I'm going for a ride," He stated on morning after breakfast.
"Captain, I don't know if that's such a good idea. There was a noise in the woods several nights ago and we found a man dead and there was remnants of a light plane crash nearby. While there doesn't seem to be any indication of further activity, I'd really prefer that you don't go."
"Look I just can't stay in the house cooped up anymore, I need to get out, need to..." How could he explain.
Even Michael was unsure of letting him go. But Kathryn and Delenn had convinced them that he would be okay. He could take a couple of the rangers with him for protection. Kathryn's argument was more convincing, "It's a 200 acre spread - he can go just about in any direction and not meet anyone. He needs to go. You can't keep him locked up in here forever, I won't have it."
No one willing to argue with Mrs. Sheridan, she was more of a force than her son. So they relented.
John went up and changed his clothes only to have David stare mouth agape at his father.
"You look like a real cowboy, Dad! Are you going out to get some Indians - can I go, can I huh?"
John knelt down and took his son by the shoulders. "Not this time - maybe if everything goes okay and we don't say anything to your Mom, I just might be able to sneak you out for a ride. Just let me go this time and check it out. I wouldn't want my son to be scalped by Indians - ok?"
"Okay Dad, but next time you promise?"
"I promise son." John stood and mussed David's hair.
Susan, Lyta and Delenn had just the opposite reaction - they'd never seen anyone in such a get up. Though they did discuss 'how rugged he looked, roguish almost..." They would have gone on but he shot them a parting look of semi-disgust as he walked out the back door. But that didn't stop them from laughing once he was out of earshot.
"I think it's the chaps," Susan gasped.
"No, I think it's the hat," Lyta chortled.
"Well I think he's pretty darned handsome," Kathryn interjected into the conversation.
"Yes, but you're his mother." Susan answered.
"But that doesn't negate my opinion," Kathryn shot back.
"No, no it doesn't. I think he looks cute!" Delenn said almost in defiance.
"Mom, cowboys aren't cute, they're tough and that's my dad, he's tough too!" David said back over his shoulder while watching his father head towards the barn.
John and four other rangers had saddled up the horses as Michael was still trying to talk him out of it.
"God Michael, you're like an old woman, you said nothing could go wrong, right? Look, I've even got my own posse!"
They all mounted and left the corral, Michael just stood shaking his head, 'Maybe John is right, maybe I'm just being over- protective.'
The riders had started out towards the north paddock, John explaining along the way how the cattle are transferred from place to place on the farm so not to over graze the range grass. But mostly the other riders hung back as far as they dared to give him the space he needed. John was in his glory. He remembered coming here to spend summer vacations, when his own grandparents owned the farm. Here he would roam the countryside, spending the nights out under the stars, rounding up the cattle, feeling free.
It felt wonderful to have the wind in his face, to breathe the cold, crisp air, have the feel of a horse beneath him. It was the freest he had felt since coming to Babylon 5. He only wished he could share this with his son...'Maybe someday'.
Lost in thought John had ridden ahead of his companions. He turned when he heard them calling after him. He stopped his horse and as he turned to wait for them he heard a whiz and felt a sharp pain. He looked down almost disconnected from himself to see a crossbow arrow protruding from his chest near his right arm. He immediately reached for it, felt the blood start to pour from him. Reaching into his pocket he removed a handkerchief and placed it on the wound. Three of the riders had taken off in the direction from where the weapon had been fired. Emerging from the woods moments later they had someone in tow. As they approached, John just barely able to stand the pain, threw a rope at his attackers feet.
"Tie his hands behind him and take him to the barn. Get his ass there now, and if he won't run, drag him..."
"Sir it's over two miles!"
"I don't give a shit... just get him there and just make sure he's alive!" John turned his horse and headed back towards the house with one of the rangers following in pursuit. He knew he was losing a lot of blood, but the arrow needed to come out before it would stop. Traveling at full gallop only aggravated things. Worse than the pain was knowing he'd have to listen to Michael and Marcus when he got back.
John and Ian were pulling up to the back porch as Michael came out with coffee in hand. "So how was..." then he noticed Ian having to help John off his horse and realized what happened as John's chest came into full view. "Jesus Christ," he dropped his coffee and helped John into the house yelling, "Someone get the doctor...take it easy... just sit down." One of the rangers assigned to the house was a doctor by profession.
At the commotion everyone came into the kitchen to see what was wrong, only to stop abruptly. The doctor, however, pushed through as did Delenn.
"In Valen's name what happened?" Delenn asked in horror.
"Can't you see what happened!" he snapped back at her.
She hadn't seen him this angry since just before he'd left for Zha'Ha'Dum.
"Jesus, Doc do something! And someone go make sure David doesn't come in here."
Lyta turned to go take care of David but John stopped her, "No Lyta you stay, I'm going to need you - Susan you go, whatever you do you make damned sure he doesn't see me."
The doctor leaned John back against the chair, "We're going to have to take this out before we can stop the bleeding. It doesn't seem to have done any damage except to the surrounding muscle tissue. I can knock you out if you'd like..."
"No!" John shouted, "Just pull the fucking thing out!"
"I'm going to have to do this in stages, we have to get the tail off first then push the arrowhead and shaft out the back. If we try and bring it back out the front it will cause more damage."
"I don't care - God, just get the damned thing out NOW!"
It took a few minutes to get the tail off but John knew that was the least painful part. With morbid curiosity no one had moved or said anything. John silently prayed they'd all just leave, but knew in his heart they wouldn't or couldn't. The doctor leaned John forward so the arrow could pass through his back without too much difficulty. John grabbed the front edge of the table as the doctor pushed on the arrow. He let out a scream that reverberated throughout the house. The pain was all he could feel, he thought his heart would explode from it. Once it was out the other side he collapsed against the table top, most of the pain subsiding to a dull ache. The doctor stitched him up, bandaged the wound and gave him something for the pain and infection.
"You're going to have to take it easy..."
"No, no way, I've got an asshole to ream," he barked as he pulled his bloody shirt back on and grabbed his coat, "Michael, Lyta you're with me," and stormed out the back door.
It was all Michael and Lyta could do to keep up. As they rounded the corner of the barn they saw the other rangers dismounting with the prisoner on his knees behind them gasping for breath. John came over to his assailant and as the man looked up towards his victim, John did something no one had ever seen him do - he kicked that man right along side his head sending him reeling backwards. Then reaching down with his good arm, John grabbed him by his coat and snarled at him, "When I get through with you, you're gonna wish you had killed me! Get him inside," he ordered the rangers. Once inside John threw the man into a stall.
Michael came over and grabbed John's arm, "Let me interrogate him."
"Fuck you Michael, fuck all of you - you said nothing would go wrong, well it has - hasn't it?" He turned to Lyta pulling her inside the stall with him. Hovering over the man he yelled, "Who are you? Who the hell sent you? What is your mission? Who are you to report to? What are they planning? Answer me you asshole or I swear to God..."
"You won't get any information out of me," the man said laughingly, "I know who she is, she's just a P5, she can't get inside my head, so kill me now 'cause you'll get nothing from me you freak loving schmuck!"
John leaned in to give him another swift kick but Lyta grabbed his arm and turned him towards her. Looking deep into his eyes she conveyed what she couldn't audibly.
Turning to face the prisoner, "Yes I may have been a P5 but that was before. Now I'm going to be your worst nightmare." Leaning closer to the man as her eyes starting to go black, her gills appearing on either side of her neck, and her voice dropping about two octaves she said, "Now, you can either answer the man's questions in the next five seconds or I will rip it from you inch by inch until you beg me to stop - if you're lucky and so far no one has been lucky!"
His eyes just about fell out of his head but he stood his ground, "Screw you, you'll have to take it from me if you can," he said defiantly.
In the emptiness of the barn the sound of his screams echoed like nothing any of the rangers had heard before. They echoed all the way to the house. When she was through getting the information from him, she collapsed against John.
"Get him out of my sight! Take him down to the springhouse, near the river. I want two guards on him at all times, one inside and one outside, just in case. Keep him there until we leave. After we're gone release him into the woods, let him find his way back. We'll see how good of a hunter he really is!" The rangers proceeded to drag the man's limp body out the barn. Michael only hung his head in disgust and walked out.
"Are you all right, Lyta?" John whispered.
"Yeah, I'll be okay, it just takes a few minutes. How are you holding up?" She asked trying to calm her breathing.
"A little weak-kneed from the loss of blood," he replied, "I'm sorry I had to ask you to do this - to go this far. I shouldn't have..."
"John, don't," she stopped him. "You saved me from the Psi- Corp, from Kosh, even from the other Vorlons. I've always felt as if I could never repay you. If my getting the information from him will protect you, your family, all of us, I'll do it willingly. It's this only thing I have to give." She turned to leave but John stopped her.
"Thank you Lyta!"
She smiled weakly at him then turned and left him there.
It was dark by the time he made his way back to the house. They heard him come in the back door, but no one dared come near him. Everyone found somewhere else to be - no one wanted to be in the line of fire if they encountered the Captain. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop even the silence was deafening. Delenn hung just outside the doorway. She knew she had put him in this situation, she had promised him nothing would go wrong, but it had gone wrong - very wrong. Now she had to face up to it - face him. She turned to look at John's mother and sister. Kathryn had David in her arms, Delenn glanced in their direction as they left to take David upstairs.
David had heard the screams but said nothing, he knew his father was responsible for that man's pain, but he also knew that man was responsible for what was going on now. He knew his father did what he had to, to protect his family.
Delenn entered the kitchen to find her husband slumped across the table. She reached out to touch him but found she couldn't, though she tried several times. Finally he pushed himself away from the table, stood up, looked at her and walked right past her. Slowly he navigated up the steps to his room, shutting the door behind him. Alone she stood in the darkened kitchen.
They had had disagreements before, but never like this. No one had expected the situation which they now found themselves in.
Delenn walked out of the kitchen and into the living room. She stared out the front window at the night sky silently demanding answers from the universe. 'How could I have been so wrong? How could things have deteriorated so quickly? All I wanted to give him was some peace, now all I've done is create a whole new set of problems.' She fell into the chair heavily.
Kathryn had found her there sometime later, but left her. For she knew her son too well, knew he had to solve his own problems, his way. Kathryn had shared with her husband the events as they had unfolded, what had transpired, but declared she was no closer in knowing how to help and it frustrated her. David Sheridan was concerned for his son was well. He knew from past experience how circumstances sometimes could spin out of control. But he knew he had to straighten out his son before they could move forward. David knew the Rangers were doing a good job, he knew they were more than capable, now he just had to make his son see it.
John had gone to bed angry. He couldn't remember the last time he had done that. But he needed to be in control and he wasn't. What he had found out from Collins before he had collapsed tore right to his soul. Those loyal to Clark were after him and his family. They had known he was here at his father's farm. One of the passengers at the terminal had been Nightwatch on the station before B5 seceded from Earth and recognized them. Collins had come at night when the moon was new. He flew in on an ultra-light three days ago, 'three fucking days he had been in a tree stand, stalking them like deer before he got the shot off'. The man they had found must have been his pilot. Clark's men knew they couldn't come with an all out assault, but if they could create enough chaos - 'that's what it always was about - chaos', they thought they could surprise them if John decided he had to go in a hurry.
He awakened in a cold sweat, his arm was killing him. He reached over to Delenn, but she wasn't there, her side of the bed hadn't even been slept in. He sat up - she wasn't even in the room. Cold terror gripped his heart. He feared Clark's men may have taken the initiative while surprise was on their side. He bolted up pulling on his robe, going from room to room. He needed to find her, needed to know she was okay. Stopping at David's first, he found him sleeping with Mitchell keeping an eye on him, but no Delenn. John nodded and left the room. As his search progressed his panic grew until he came to the top of the stairs. Looking over the edge into the living room, there sitting in the chair was his wife. He descending the stairs slowly, half relieved, half chiding himself as he approached her. He could hear her breathing rhythmically. He came and knelt before her. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Marcus enter from the kitchen. He had been looking out for her, keeping her safe. John looked at her wondering what he would say when she awoke. He gazed behind him to see the sunrise over the hills. He turned back and placed his head in her lap. He felt her hand reach up as she ran her fingers through his hair.
"Delenn," he said without lifting his head, "I'm sorry."
"No John, it's my fault," she interrupted , "I convinced you to come, I thought we would be safe. I should have known better!"
He looked up at her, taking her hand in his, putting her palm to his face. "We all knew the risk. You were right in making me come here. I just felt vulnerable last night, but that's no excuse for treating you like that. When I woke up and you weren't there I went looking for you . When I didn't find you right away I was terrified that something had happened. If I hadn't been so bull- headed you would have been beside me. I don't know how much longer we can stay. They know we're here, it's just a matter of time before..."
She took his face in her hands, "I know, but I don't think I can leave your mother or father without some sort of closure. I know we may be more at risk but now that we're here, I think we need to stay until..." She looked away from John then back again. "Please, we can work something out I know we can." She tried to smile bravely at him.
John knew she was right, he couldn't leave his parents either. He knew that Clark's men would come here even if John left. He couldn't put his parents at risk, couldn't leave them to fend for themselves against their ruthlessness.
John knocked on his father's door as he walked in, "Dad, Mom said you wanted to see me."
"John, I heard what happened yesterday. I know you have a lot on your mind, but there are some things I need to discuss with you."
"I know what you're going to say..."
"No, I don't think you do!" David spoke angrily at his son. "First off, what did I tell you when you married Anna, about settling your differences before going to bed. Just because Delenn is not Anna doesn't mean the rules change. I care about Delenn and if you ever treat her like that again I swear to God I will come back to haunt you. Secondly, everyone one of those people downstairs, outside and involved in this adventure are capable people - trust them as you always have. You should know better than anyone how even under the best of circumstances things can go wrong. I think you owe everyone down there an apology. As for that man, I understand you did what you had to do. Don't blame yourself. Now," David said in softer tones, "most importantly, after I'm gone, your mother may not be safe here. You need to convince her she has to leave. I've tried to discuss it with her but she won't. And Lizzy, you need to make sure she gets back home. I'm leaving it in your hands John. You must see to this. Promise me!"
"I promise, Dad."
"Johnny, there is one other thing I want you to do for me. "
"Anything Dad." John said softly.
"I want you to play for me like you used to."
"Dad, I can't... I haven't in a long time... I don't think..."
"Please John," his father whispered back.
John lowered his head, then got up from the side of the bed. On the way out the door his father called after him, "Son, I love you."
"I love you too Dad," John choked out as tears started to form at the corners of his eyes.
Slowly John came down the stairs and opened the doors to the library. There sitting facing the bay window was a baby grand piano. 'Does he know what he asks of me? Can I not do this and live with myself?' John argued as he sat down looking at the black and white keys. 'Do I really remember how...' He lifted his hands above the keys and then looked outside as his hands started to move across the keyboard. Sad, melodious, discordant notes began to make their way out the belly of the instrument. He felt his friends come to the doorway one by one or in pairs. They stopped just outside to watch but didn't linger for long as he continued to play. His hands seemed to know what they were doing even if he wasn't so sure. He knew Susan was the only one, other than his family who knew he played. On Io when he couldn't sleep he would make his way to the officer's club after it had closed and play. She must have just gotten off of watch, he hadn't heard her come in - only looked up and there she was. She watched him for a moment as he continued then turned to leave, but he knew she hadn't. Sometime later he heard the door snick open and then close. It wasn't until someone else had heard him play and began piping it to various parts of the station that he stopped playing altogether.
But here he sat playing for his father and that was all that mattered. Once John had started all his emotions flowed right out of him and through the keys. Out of the corner of his consciousness he heard Delenn stop David from coming in. He had felt Lyta brush the edge of his mind. What she saw frightened and amazed her. As he played, in his mind she could see not only the notes but a montage of John's life with his father. Tears came easily now, mostly because of his dad, but also because the pain from his wound was nearly white hot. But he couldn't stop, this was what his father had wanted and this was what he could give.
He didn't know how long he had played, he only knew he had to keep playing. He felt the loving touch of his mother as her hand came to rest on his shoulder then move down the front of his chest, "You can stop now, son" was all she said. His hands stopped in mid stroke as he turned into her embrace. He didn't even have the strength to get up off the bench. She held him as she had when he was a child. Finally he did get up to hold her. Seeing Lizzy over his mother's shoulder he stretched out his hand for her and they held one another.
Susan, who was being held by Marcus, turn towards him only to see that his broach had started to weep three tears. They all were shocked - it was only to weep for other Rangers.
When John emerged from the library they noticed his bloody shirt. He had popped his stitches while playing, but to him it hadn't mattered. He went over to Delenn and picked up David as his family went upstairs to pay their final respects.
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