THE JOURNEY HOME (IV)
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The doctor had re-stitched John's wound and sent him to bed but he couldn't sleep. He could hear the conversation from downstairs coming through the vent.
"How long has John been playing like that - no one here knew!" Delenn asked.
"I did," said Susan, "I saw him once on Io. I heard the most beautiful music one night and followed it until I came to the officers club. There he sat playing music the likes I had never heard before or since, until today."
"When David was posted to Vienna, we were there the longest, " Kathryn recalled. "We had that gorgeous apartment, remember Lizzy! John was about David's age when we moved there, Lizzy was just a baby. We had a neighbor, Frau Arens, she and John took a liking to each other. She taught piano and gave him lessons. At first it started out as fun but he had a real knack. He used to say it was like a puzzle, trying things until the pieces fit. She said he was gifted. He would never give recitals though. But when he got older, eleven or twelve, she used to open the door to her apartment so everyone in the building could listen to him. It was the most beautiful sound you ever heard, he could really make it sing. Then David got assigned to Proxima 4. John begged us to let him stay, he was about fifteen almost sixteen, a junior in high school. He thought if he left now it would ruin his chances to get into the academy. Frau Arens agreed to let him stay with her, but when she found out he had chosen to go to the academy rather than the conservatory it nearly broke her heart."
John had closed his eyes as his mother told her story, then he heard a knock at the door. "Come"
"Hey Dad, I'm not bothering you am I?" David asked tentatively as he poked his head around the door.
"No. Come here. I was just laying here thinking," John said as his son crawled onto the bed and hugged him.
"Thinking about what?"
"Oh, you and Mom, my dad, how much I'm gonna miss him. Stuff like that."
"I'm gonna miss him too," David started to cry. John pulled his son closer, "What's gonna happen to us now, Dad? I mean, I don't want to lose you either!"
"Hey! I'm not going anywhere, I want you to know that. Though I won't be here forever, I'll always be here for you, for as long as I can."
"I guess I'm afraid after what happened to you the other day. I heard you screaming and Susan wouldn't let me go. Then I heard that other man scream. I was scared."
"Sometimes scary stuff happens, but know this, your mom and I and everyone else here won't ever let anything happen to you. Do you understand?"
David only shook his head as he tried to hold back the tears.
Both had fallen asleep shortly thereafter and Delenn had found them so. David sprawled across his fathers torso, John with his hand on his son's back. She hated to wake them but they both needed dinner and John needed to take some more medication.
"Sweetheart." She whispered.
"What?" they both answered.
Delenn laughed, "you both need to get up. Michael has made a wonderful dinner and you need to eat." Both just grunted at her. They were so alike - she wondered how much of her really made it past those strong Sheridan genes. "Come on you two."
They got up slowly, John more so than David, for he was still in extreme pain. He sat on the side of the bed until the room stopped spinning.
"David, why don't you go on downstairs, dinner's on the table," his mother said. Looking at her husband, "Are you going to be okay, John?"
"That's the 64 million credit question isn't it," he sighed. "Yes, I guess. Oh not today and probably not tomorrow, but we have to leave here shortly and I'll be all right by then. Come on they're waiting for us," he motioned towards the door.
Delenn stopped him. "John," she said touching his arm.
"What?" he turned to face her.
She came closer and hugged him hard, "Thank you for sharing your gift with us. I just wish I had known about it before. You play beautifully," she said into his chest.
"Yeah, well it's something I haven't done in a long time," he sloughed off the compliment.
"I'd like to hear you play again. I know your father would have wanted you to continue."
"We'll see!" he said as they left the room.
David Sheridan was buried the following day in the family cemetery beyond the rise. The rangers carried his casket to the gravesite. Since there was no priest, several of those gathered had taken part in saying something. Delenn recited from the sacred texts according to Valen, Susan made a Hebrew supplication, Lizzy read her fathers favorite passage from the Bible and Kathryn spoke of the man she had spent 55 years of her life with. John read a parable from Tao, then spoke the standard military burial words as his father was lowered into the cold December ground. They each then took turns shoveling a load of dirt onto the casket before leaving two of the rangers to finish.
Later when David had gone for a nap, John called a meeting to start planning a new strategy for getting them off the planet and back to B5.
"First, before we begin, I owe everyone here an apology." He held his hand up to stop then from grousing, "This situation was unexpected and it caught me - all of us off guard. I'm sorry. I'll let the others know when we get back to Babylon 5."
"Now Mom," John began again, "Dad once told me how the neighbors liked you both and how he felt safe here. He said that if anything happened they would come to your aid. Well we may need them." He opened a map showing the layout of the surrounding farms and some of the highways beyond them. "We can't go back the same way we came. We'll have to contact our people still in town and at the terminal and have them move to intercept us or to meet us at the new exit point. We can use the trail we used to move the cattle from the high country into the plains. It crosses the Andersen's here, then moves across the Schmidt's here and again there before entering the highway at this junction." Looking up at his mother, he smiled at her, "Do you think we can talk to them about letting us cross their property, they'll need to leave the gates open so we can pass through."
"Absolutely, I don't see it as a problem," she replied.
"Good! Marcus, I want you and Michael to contact the Rangers outside this immediate vicinity and get them moving so they can go ahead of us and secure the forward area. Zack get in touch with G'Kar, tell him we need to move the transport. It needs to meet us here." John pointed out another shuttle port 600 miles to the south-southwest. "I know it may be further away but I don't think they'll expect us to go that far."
"John, do you think that's wise?" Delenn asked.
"I'm with Delenn, John," Michael stated, "once we get on the highway we'll look like a fraggin' convoy."
"I know, that's why we're going to split up." They all raised holy hell over that idea, but he had anticipated it and continued, "Look when we leave the Schmidts' farm and hit this point on the highway, we'll go another half mile before the road splits. Michael you'll take this road leading east for 50 miles then turning south go another 150 miles before catching the highway heading in a southwesterly direction. Mitchell, Chang and Diaz and several others will stay on the main road, while the rest of us will head west first then south. All roads will eventually lead back to our final destination - here."
"I'm really not comfortable with this plan," Marcus contested. "It leaves all of us out of communications range of each other and in the open, I might add."
"Yes, but it's our only chance," John countered. "they won't suspect we'd ever split up. Safety in numbers. I don't think they have the resources anymore to launch an attack on two fronts let alone three. Plus as you said there are over 270 Rangers here on Earth. If we each take 50 or so and have them run interference, it may give us the edge we need. The rest will be used to secure the area ahead and around the terminal. We won't be stopping either. We will start at dusk tomorrow and drive through the night. It should get us there in the morning, then all we have to do is get the hell out of here." He took a deep breath, then looked at his friends. "Now, I need to speak to my mother and sister for a moment. We'll meet again in the morning and finalize our plans. Susan if you and Delenn could stay as well. Lyta, I'd appreciate it if you would look after David."
They all nodded silently as they left. Michael looked uneasy, but then he had somehow felt responsible for John just as he had for Jeff. But he'd lost Jeff and he swore he wouldn't lose another friend. He looked back over his shoulder at his captain. John acknowledged his concern, before turning back to talk to those still gathered.
John was unsure of how to broach the subject with his mother. She was still a strong-willed woman. More often than he'd like to remember were the times she had placed herself in harm's way in the protection of her family. But now he had to convince her that this - these circumstances were even beyond her, much more complex than even she could imagine. He looked at the women gathered at the table and laughed in spite of everything. These women who made up the backbone of his existence, each strong, confidant, capable, and necessary to him. 'What man in his right or left mind ever thought he could get along without a woman'. And here were four of the strongest women he knew. He had hoped to use their strength to persuade his mother she had to go.
"Mom," John started then stopped, looking down at the table then back up again at her, "before Dad died we talked about you, this situation, everything. The long and short of it is - it's not safe for you here anymore. Once we go there will be no one here to protect you. You're isolated out here, and even if we left several rangers here with you, Clark's men will eventually come. Maybe not right away but soon. I can't lose you."
Delenn reached out and took his hand, "John's right Kathryn. I know this is your home but now that David's gone... You need to come with us, it's the only way."
"Please Mom," Lizzy pleaded, "I tried to talk both of you into coming and living with us. Every time Dan and I brought it up you always resisted us, resisted me."
Kathryn got up and stood at the back door looking out over the horizon. Her shoulders heaved as she tried to steady herself. John came and stood beside her, putting his arm around her.
"I know this is hard. Everything is happening so fast and all at once. This may come out selfish but I need you! Lizzy and the boys need you. David and Delenn are going to need you too! We'd love to have you come to the station but it's not entirely safe for you either. But at least you'll be free enough to come and visit whenever you want."
"Look Kathryn," Susan added as she approached, "we can ask the neighbors to look after things here. Maybe things will turn themselves around and you can come back here one day. But it's more important that you come with us now."
"I know you all are right but it doesn't make it any easier. All my life I've known exactly what needed to be done and just did it. God, I feel so lost without your father. I know he wanted me to go too, but I just can't think about leaving him - even though he's gone." She turned to face her son, tears streaming down her face, "Who's going to watch over him! That was always my job!"
John reached out and held her as she cried.
"Promise me that when my time comes - you will bring me back here to be with your father. Promise me John!"
"I promise Mom," he avowed softly, though he wasn't sure if he could complete the promise. He didn't have the heart to tell her that his time too was short.
After breakfast John announced that he, David and Delenn, if she wanted, were going for a ride. Though they wouldn't go nearly as far and anyone else who wanted to come could. He had promised David and was going to keep his word. Kathryn had found some of John's old riding clothes and Lizzy had lent Delenn her riding habit. Delenn was hesitant about getting up on such an animal even after John insisted that it was a gentle creature.
Michael, Marcus and Zack went with them. They left the corral and headed south just over the hills to the pasture. David was in heaven as he rode with his father. However, when they crested the ridge, John held his hand up to stop the other riders. He moved along side Delenn's horse and the three of them rode ahead another twenty yards then stopped.
"David," John started, "I wanted you to see this." Sweeping his hand across the panoramic view. "Take a long look, son. This farm has been in my family for generations. One day all this could have been yours, but now it can't be. Today is the last time a Sheridan will ride it, work it, take ownership of it."
"Why Dad? Why won't it be ours?"
"Because, we can't come back here ever. Lizzy, Dan and the boys live on Proxima 7 now and we've convinced Grandma that it's not safe here without our protection. Plus with Granddad gone, she'd just be lonely. Ownership of such a place usually passes from father to son, but I can't claim it without exposing our presence here. Too many people still don't understand what we fought for. This is a sad day David, I wish we could come back here to live one day but it's just not meant to be."
"Maybe we can Dad, things can change... people can change... they just need to understand... you can make them understand Dad, I know you can," David was nearly in hysterics.
"No son, I can't. I've tried, Lord knows I've tried. We have to go now. Let's go say good-bye to Granddad one last time."
John and Delenn turned their horses back towards the cemetery.
The Andersen's and the Schmidt's were more than willing to help. Susan and Mitchell had taken Kathryn over to talk to them. They said they would like to meet John and his family before they left. Susan had called John to ask his permission. He said that if they met them at the gate between their two properties he would stop for a few moments to say goodbye.
But now Kathryn had come out onto her porch one last time and looked over the mountain range to the west. John and Lizzy came on either side of her.
"It's time to go now, Mom. Do you have everything?" they asked.
She nodded in agreement, then turned to lock the door.
John took Michael aside and told him that Susan, Lizzy and his mother would be riding with him, Zack, and Ian McShay. "I'm trusting you with the some of the important women in my life. I know that you and Susan will do everything in your power to make sure you meet us at the checkpoint. If you can't we will send the Corrigidor to a location approximately 210 miles to east of our final destination. One day from now. We will wait in hyperspace two days. That's all we can spare. Good luck to you, Michael!" They shook hands fiercely as if trying to say all the things they couldn't verbally.
"We'll be there, John, come hell or high water. I won't let you down"
"I know you won't Michael. See ya in the pasture, right?" John laughed in recognition.
As John and Michael came around the corner they heard Marcus tell Susan how much he loved her and to be safe, then took her into his grasp for a drawn-out kiss.
"About damned time you two got down to business," John teased them. "Now if we could pry you apart for a few hours - we have to..."
John, Delenn, David, Marcus, Lyta and another ranger led the way over the trail and through the gates, stopping only to say thank you and good-bye to the neighbors. Though none of them had ever met a Minbari, Delenn was gracious as ever and David was at his most precocious. The neighbors had brought some food for the trip and gave David a small wooden train engine for Christmas. They wished them well and let them be on their way.
After coming onto the highway they made the split and proceeded in their own directions. All still unsure of the smartness of this plan. Even John had doubts, but then he had had doubts about most of his plans during the war and they had all turned out for the best.
Along the way John had met up with other rangers. As they came into communications range they gave situational data and course vectors to follow that had been secured. The driving was arduous. Marcus, John and Lyta had taken turns so they would be rested when they came to the terminal but rest did not come easy. Even David was uneasy in his comportment. John had only wished he could know how the others were progressing.
Michael and Susan were having more of a difficult time. But it was Michael's fault. First he suggested they sing '99 bottles of beer on the wall', then asked everyone when they put on their pants did they put on their socks first, fasten then zip or what. Susan wanted to kill him. She was already stressed out. He had missed an exit and they had to double back. If they made it out of this alive she was going to kill him. She was only certain of one thing, if she told John of his shenanigans, he would probably toss Michael out the closest air-lock. But it was the only way Michael knew how to deal with everything. Make it a joke, keep the magicians hands moving so fast you couldn't see the object disappear. And he so wanted to disappear right off the face of the planet.
Mitchell and his group were probably the least successful. John had been right, and he was living to regret it. Clark's men had followed the straight and narrow.
Clarks people figured if Sheridan didn't go back the way he came they would cut them off at the shortest points between two straight lines. They had positioned themselves on the major highways leading from the farm to those points where the traitorous freak-lover would have to travel.
Mitchell though had been in touch with several of the rangers in his surrounding area and they were moving to intercept and remove the threat.
Morning began to break as they neared the station. Marcus had tried to get in touch with Michael or Mitchell but had gotten no response. He and John only looked at each other. As they entered the town the rangers there had told them they felt as if a couple of Clarks men were at the station, but were confident they could take them out if need be. They had passed along the travel route that had been secured. As they pulled into the parking lot at the far end of the terminal they heard Mitchell's voice come over the earpiece. He was just entering the city and would be there in 15 minutes. But there was still no word from Michael.
Delenn reached out to John, feeling just as uneasy as he was. "Michael and Susan will take care of them. They will be here. Just trust him."
"I do. I'd just like to be sure they're safe that's all."
Just then through the earpiece, came...
"Tonto to the Lone Ranger, high ho kimo sabe. Whatta ya say we blow this one horse town."
John shook his head, he was gonna kill him that's for sure. He was going to make him stand customs duty for a year, by himself.
They grabbed the stuff from the vehicles. John took David as Delenn covered her head with her cape. Marcus then took Delenn into his protection.
They all met at the entranceway and proceeded down the passageway. Rangers met them along the way, encompassing and encircling them, not caring who looked. They had decided not to take a chance with deception. The only way to get the job done was expeditiously . As they moved along the corridor people shifted out of their way. They stared to see who was coming. Then the whispers started all around them. Several among the passerby's had noticed John and called out his name hoping to see him, to touch him. They surged forward against the sentinels. The rangers tried to stop them but a few had broken though. Some had even gotten close to Delenn, but Marcus had brushed them back. David held fast to his father, his breathing had become erratic. Delenn also reached out for the comfort of her husband. Kathryn fearing for her son's safety urged Michael and Zack to go protect him but Michael resisted. He knew what his job was and what was paramount for John was knowing his mother and sister were safe. However Michael did send Zack ahead. This was starting to be a security nightmare and everyone knew it. If they could only get to the gate.
When they were no more 50 yards from the gate, John spotted a group moving towards them. Clarks men. Several rangers had broken formation to lead an attack. John saw the fight break out, had seen some of his people fall in his defense and it pissed him off. Then out of the corner of his eye he noticed the crowd that had been following him also broke and attacked. 'Why would these people who didn't even know me put themselves in danger to protect me? Are they only doing it for me or for my family as well? Was it for the all people who had died in the defense of ridding the planet of the Shadows and their minions?' He wished he could know for sure.
Reaching the Corrigidor, John got everyone to safety before pulling Marcus and Michael back out into the fray with him. He couldn't leave his people here in the grasp of the enemy. He wouldn't leave them behind. Too often in the war he had to leave some behind, but the war was over. And here was as good a place as any to make a final stand against the darkness. With the help of the crowd they overpowered their adversaries. Everyone was heading for the gate but John stopped. He just couldn't leave these people like this after they had put themselves on the line for him and those he cared about. He turned to address them.
"I don't know how to thank you for your help. It means a great deal to me, my family, and my friends. What it means for those who have gone before us, and those who are to come after us, to know that there are still good, honest, decent people. People, like yourselves, who are willing to stand up for what they know to be right and good in their hearts. What better a time than during this holiday season should we come together in brotherhood to stand against the darkness and say 'No More'! What we desire now is peace, hope and goodwill towards all our brothers; human and alien alike. I hope you find this and more now and in the new year and in all the days to come. Once again, thank you."
He turned to leave and saw Delenn and David standing on the ramp, heads unveiled to show their solidarity for him. He picked his son up and took his wife into his embrace and kissed her for all to see. The crowd erupted in cheers. He turned to look at them once more then walked into the transport as the door closed behind him.
They took the shortest route into hyperspace fearing they had already exhausted more luck than was given too all them combined. Once aboard the White Star they were met by Lennier, G'Kar and Neroon, who all looked incredibly relieved. They then proceeded on the quickest route home. During dinner David had fallen asleep at the table. Fortunately they weren't going anywhere for a couple of days, they all could catch up on their sleep. With Neroon's fleet surrounding them no one dared to attack.
John walked his mother and sister to their quarters but as he started to leave, Kathryn called him back inside.
"John there's something I have for you." She reached around behind her and into her bag. "Your father and I discussed this after our last visit to Babylon 5. When we returned to Earth we talked it over with Mark Charlson, our attorney." She pulled out a data crystal and placed it in his hand. He fingered it for a moment then look at her questioningly. "Your father and I knew you couldn't come home yet, that Earth wasn't safe for you, Delenn or David. And after the harrowing journey we just took I wasn't sure we had done the right thing. But seeing the crowd come to your defense at the terminal, how they cared for you and you them, I thought you ought to have this."
"What is it Mom?"
"It's the deed to the farm. It's yours, son. If at anytime you feel it's safe and you want to go home with your family, you can. You won't have to worry about where to go. When Susan and I talked to the neighbors, we told them that David and I had invested money to keep the farm up and Mark would be overseeing the investment. They agreed to hire help to look after the place until such time you feel you can go there safely."
"I don't know what to say," tears started to come to his eyes as he held his mother. "If at any point Lizzy, Dan and the boys feel they'd like to go there, they are more than willing to be there. It's their home too! If Delenn and I or David can't get there, I will deed the property to Colin and Patrick. That way it at least stays in the family. Thank you, Mom. I love you so much!"
"I love you too! Merry Christmas son."
Two days later they reached the station.
Kathryn and Lizzy agreed to stay long enough to have one of Michael's meals as long as John stayed out of the kitchen.
John and Marcus had been absent most of the day, leaving Delenn, Susan and Lyta to entertain his family. They had taken them shopping in the Zocalo for something new to wear when they got to Proxima 7.
Dinner was a complement of great food and wonderful company. They laughed and cried and shared their emotions of the last two weeks. As John got up to make a speech, Marcus left the room.
"To family and friends and comrades everywhere. Because of those things I feel wealthy beyond compare. I have the love of a wonderful woman, a caring family, devoted friends. I don't think anyone else in the universe could ask for more. And so since I seemed to have taken so much from all of you lately, in this Christmas - and holiday season, I want to give something back. But since we are all on a strict budget until funding becomes available - I give what I can."
Marcus entered bearing gifts on top of a piano.
As John put the bench on the floor, Marcus handed a package to everyone. As they opened their gifts, John played for them.
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