OUT OF THE DARKNESS (I)
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All disclaimers apply. This story has nothing to do with my last story since I need all the characters I can find.
Thanks to my beta readers. After taking some of your suggestions and then getting too tired of over analyzing stuff, I decided to make some of the changes but kept with my first instincts on some other stuff. Couldn't have done it without you though.
He sat in the captain's chair, though this wasn't his ship. It had become customary among the Rangers that when John Sheridan needed a lift somewhere, your ship became his ship. John tried to stop this practice long ago, however, he found himself committing a serious faux pas as far as Minbari ritual was concerned. 'If you can't beat 'em, resist 'em for as long as possible' - Sheridan lesson number five and a half, according to his dad. John laughed in spite of himself, but today he found his thoughts as far from here as he was from his final destination.
A wave of anxiety overcame him. 'How could things have gotten so out of hand so quickly?' Yesterday he had received a cryptic message from the new president of the Earth Alliance, only to have the message die in mid-sentence. Susan had tried to reestablish contact, but there was nothing but static on the other end, even through the gold channels. John had commandeered the closest ship while Susan and Michael coordinated efforts to recall those White Star vessels from neighboring sectors to meet him just outside Earth controlled space. But he had to make one stop first. So here he was riding the beacons through hyperspace.
As the ship approached the next beacon, Canaan, the ship's tactical officer had informed him they were ready to reenter normal space.
"Proceed, Canaan." He spoke in a flat, detached voice seemingly unaware of the bustle around him.
"Minbar Control to White Star vessel, identify yourself!"
John never tried to take the same White Star ship, never tried to take the same path to and from Minbar. Even though the Shadow War "officially" ended three years ago there was still cleaning up to do. They still encountered factions of resistance and shadow minions. They held John responsible, which made him and anyone close to him a constant target.
"This is the White Star vessel, Dra'ken, Captain John Sheridan in command. Request permission for shuttle docking at Rej'laht Port 3."
"Welcome back to Minbar, Captain. Permission granted. Prepare for the Rechan Squadron to escort you in. Minbar Control out."
If there was one reason in the universe he hated to come here, this was probably it. Why did they have to send a squadron to escort him in? Why couldn't he be afforded the anonymity of coming here without the fanfare? But he had accepted his role as "The One" some time ago. He had even won the respect of the warrior caste even though the adverb 'begrudgingly' was still associated by some in the caste. He shook his head as he resigned himself to his fate. John turned to address Greg Michaels, the Ranger of whose ship he was now in command. "Greg, I'll be leaving in five minutes. Continue maintenance repairs but make sure the crew rotates duty shifts so everyone has a chance to visit family while they're here. We should be here for a little over a day, then be prepared to break orbit."
"Yes, Captain. Good luck!"
Greg stood and watched him leave. He felt fortunate that the captain had chosen his vessel to bring him here. He knew Captain Sheridan chose to rotate through the fleet, saying it gave him a chance to evaluate each crew, but Greg knew better. The Captain did it to give each crew a chance to take a well-deserved break. To visit family, holy sites, to meditate and recapture their "tai'sha'shan" their balance or center as it were. Greg only wished he could relieve his captain of some of his burdens.
As the shuttle departed out the back of the Dra'ken, a squadron of Minbari fighters came along side. John fell into formation and let them lead the way, though he could make this run in his sleep.
Ten minutes later he was on the ground, taxied, and in the process of shutting down his engines when he saw a ground car pull to his port side. Off to his starboard side and approaching quickly were the dignitaries or "The Gang" as he affectionately referred to them, but only to his closest friends who would understand his frustration at the pomp. He looked back out at the rover seeing Marcus behind the wheel and Lennier motioning that if he was going to escape this he'd better step on it.
He hopped out the back and practically leapt into the back seat of the vehicle in the same motion. Marcus pulled away without the door being fully closed and without being spotted by the visitors.
"Thanks guys, you're a life saver!" John said catching his breath.
"Well, we are only delaying the inevitable, but at least this gives you some time before you will need to meet with them." Lennier remarked almost apologetically.
The drive from the shuttle port seemed to take longer than John had remembered. Marcus had taken a route unknown to him, but Lennier made mention of construction on the main road and this detour would only put him about fifteen to twenty minutes behind. John was grateful just to be out of the city. He let himself lean back and enjoy the view. It had been a while since he'd been on the planet, or any planet for that fact. It felt good to have the sun on his face and the wind in his hair. Breathing air that didn't need to be recycled was in itself worth the pomp associated with his arrivals.
As they made their way past the main temple and up the road toward the falls, John felt his whole demeanor change. 'God, I could get used to this feeling - no plans, no politics, no war. What I wouldn't give to be a regular guy?' A regular guy - he laughed at the thought, nothing he had ever done in his life had been regular. What made him think he could change now? The vehicle slowed, then stopped in front of a modest bungalow. Lennier turned around to John to remind him that the meeting was set to start in the morning at eight o'clock Minbar Standard Time at the Great Hall. John nodded to both Marcus and Lennier and the left the vehicle.
He turned the knob on the door, walked through, and was stunned by the silence. Surely they had known when he was arriving, he had sent word ahead - yes, they must have known. Marcus and Lennier had shown up in the nick of time, but where was everyone else? Irrationally, an overwhelming sense of fear came over him. They should be safe here, that's why he and Delenn had agreed to split the family up. She and the kids would return here. She could run the Rangers just as easily from Minbar as she could from Babylon Five. He put his bag down and started to walk from room to room. Then he heard something coming from the back of the house. He exited through the back door and stood dumbfounded.
"Surprise!" they yelled.
God he hated surprises more than he hated squadron escorts.
There gathered in the back yard were friends: past and present, with Marcus and Lennier bringing up the rear. Even Greg was there, giving John to wonder how he had gotten to the house faster. Before he could dwell on it there were two of his most favorite people running at him from the crowd. He leaned down to scoop one in each arm and gave them a bear hug.
"Hey pumpkin, how's my girl? And you old man, what's new?"
Nothing felt better than David and Shana trying to squeeze the life blood out of him. He gave each a kiss on the cheek and set them down. Well, maybe there was something better - as he stood up and looked in those green eyes. They reached out to embrace the other, both letting their relief express itself through their actions. Delenn pulled back slightly, just far enough, to envelop John in a passionate kiss. She wanted to let him know just how much he was missed and what lie in wait for him. Later.
He whispered in her ear, "You know how much I hate this!"
"Precisely," she responded with a smile. "That's why I do it. It keeps your ego in check!"
"What ego? Oh, you mean being 'The One'. Well would you still love me if I wasn't," he teased back.
"Who's to say? Come on, the food's getting cold."
"So I take it there was no road construction." he said back over his shoulder at the two accomplices, leaning over to pick up Shana and to tousle David's hair, " and I thought Minbari don't lie!"
"They don't, but if the cause is just and no harm is done...either that or I have been influenced by outside forces for too long! You must admit the view was magnificent anyway, was it not?" Lennier remarked with the slightest bow.
John laughed in agreement, "Yes it was, Mr. Lennier, and no harm was done."
Delenn was glad to see John relax, she had been worried about him ever since his call yesterday. She knew the next couple of days were going to be extremely stressful on him, which in part was one of the reasons for the party. She knew why he had come, but what he was going to say to the Grey Council, he wouldn't tell her. She thought by staring at him she would be able to divine the answer. Humans, she noted, usually wore their heart on their sleeve, but John had always been able to shield most of his concerns from others, especially from those who cared about him most. Or at least he thought so. Delenn knew him to be more transparent than he wished. Maybe it had something to do with the soul they shared, each knowing instinctively what the other felt. But she desperately wanted him to take this time here and now, because times like these were rare in his life and hers as well.
John could feel those eyes watching him: caressing and soothing. He turned, tilted his head in her direction and smiled. So lost in watching her the conversation around him melted and became nothing more than background din. He watched her rise, move among the guests, chatting, laughing. Then as she walked behind him, she reached out and ran her hand along the width of his shoulders. Her touch through his clothes was like jolt of electricity, rubbing itself against every nerve ending. He saw her smile in recognition as to just how she was affecting him. 'Later.' he thought, 'but not too much later.'
As night time fell those who had come to the house departed leaving only Lennier, Marcus and John's family. Marcus and Lennier offered to stay and clean up, but John and Delenn shooed them off saying they'd get it in the morning. For now they wanted to put the kids to bed. Marcus and Lennier bowed to Delenn, then turned to John -
"We'll come by for you at seven fifteen, which should get us there in plenty of time." Lennier asserted.
"Especially since we don't have to take the long way around!" John replied with a smirk.
"Well, goodnight Captain, Entil'Zha!" With that Lennier and Marcus left.
Delenn and John looked at each other, smiled, and walked with their arm around each other to go tuck the children into bed.
Delenn was pulling out pajamas for Shana while John finished giving her a bath.
"How'd you get to be so tall? Didn't I tell you to stay my little girl?" John chuckled.
"Oh Daddy, I can't help it silly, but I'll always be your little girl!" She let a squeal as John pulled her from the tub and wrapped a towel around her, giving her hug for a long time.
"Always remember I love you very much, no matter what happens."
"I will Daddy, no matter what!" she said as she pulled away from her father to move her hand along his cheek and stroke his face.
'She may look like a Sheridan, more so like Lizzy than me, but God she's got her mother's way. So aware, so in touch with the universe.' He snapped himself out of his reverie to swing her up like a starfury giving her a ride back to her room, replete with engine noises.
Delenn got her dressed and under the covers. "We won't be here when you wake up but Tra'an will be here to watch over you. Your clothes for tomorrow are laid out on the chair. Get yourself dressed and mind her and David."
John knelt down beside the bed and smoothed the hair off her forehead and tucked it back underneath her tiny bonecrest. "You sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite!"
"We don't have bedbugs here, Daddy!" Shana replied with a snort.
"Then don't let me bite you!" And with that John leaned over to nibble her neck, to which she let out another squeal.
"John, don't get her all excited this late at night! /Goodnight little one!/"
/Goodnight Mommy, 'Night Daddy./
Her parents turned at the door, looked at their daughter, then at each other. John turned out the light and pulled the door until it was slightly ajar.
"Hey Dad, while you're here, do you think we can play some catch?" David asked as he scurried past John on his way from the bathroom to jump on his bed.
"I don't see why not," John replied as he came over and sat on the side of David's bed. "How's school going? Everything OK? How are you doing in physics class?"
"Dad - you know they don't teach physics in the third grade, you're such a goof! Boy am I glad I take after Mom."
"Says you! You may look like her but you're just like my dad, and he's a bigger goof than I am." John laughed as he tickled his son until David cried 'uncle'.
"I find that hard to believe," David said gasping for air. "I miss him and Grandma. I'd like to see them again!"
"Me too son, me too, but I also miss you too very much!" John said as he gave his son a hug.
"I miss you too Dad, more than you'll know." David yawned then slid under the covers.
"I know!" John said back to him as he tucked him in further, "'Night David!"
"Good night Dad!"
"Sweet dreams, sweetheart," Delenn whispered as she leaned to give David a kiss. "We'll see you after our meeting. Remember Tra'an will be here to look after you two, okay!"
"Ok Mom, I'll make sure Shana behaves," he said with a wink.
Delenn turned out the light and shut the door.
John had already gone to their room and collapsed on the bed, legs dangling off the side.
"John, if you're that tired just go to bed. Don't lay there half on - half off the bed. I won't be able to turn down the covers with you like that."
"Come here you!" he summoned.
"You want something?" She replied as he sat up.
"No, not something. I want you!" He reached up and put his arms around her waist and pulled her slowly onto the bed. "I want to feel you next to me, beneath me, to taste you, to remember and forget all at the same time."
"John, are you okay? Is everything all right?"
"It will be," he finished as he buried his mouth on hers. All the feelings welled up inside him: anticipation, desire, fear, hope, anxiety. But there in her arms he felt peace, a peace he knew he could only find when he was with her.
"Lights, low," he called out.
Morning had come all too quickly. John had slept fitfully; tossing and turning, wondering if he was making the right decisions. He had been so sure of himself during the war, even now when it came to matters of defense. So why when it came to matters he held close to him, was he much more unsure of himself?
Delenn was already up. She had cleaned up the dishes from last night and had started breakfast as he went to take his shower. He stood there letting the warm water pulse over him, hoping it would beat the uneasiness right out of him. Toweling off he returned to the bedroom to dress. Coming into the kitchen he was amazed with what precision she could organize not only the Rangers, but the children, the household, and him as well. He truly stood in awe of her. He came behind her, wrapping his arms around her, kissing her neck, letting a moan escape from his throat. "Morning sweetheart," he murmured in her ear.
"Morning to you too sleepy head." She smiled back at him. "Tea is on the table along with your breakfast. Lennier and Marcus will be here shortly and Tra'an will be here any minute. I'm going to finish getting ready." With that she left him there with something that looked like bacon, eggs and toast. "Where the hell did she find . . . " No maybe, he didn't want to know, but that didn't stop him from digging in like someone who had never seen food before.
She worried about him as she made her way back to their room. She knew he hadn't slept well. He kept calling out to her, murmuring something about ships and trust, Dad and David, 'there over there'. Phrases, utterances, thoughts, all meshed into one. She hoped this would be resolved soon if not today. She couldn't stand to see him this distressed. Through the door she could hear voices coming from the living room. After tucking stray strands of hair back under her bonecrest and smoothing out her dress, she stopped to pick up the remnants of last night's frolic - with a smile. For all her worry she was still glad to have him home.
Delenn came into the front room to see Tra'an getting final instructions from John. Marcus and Lennier were coming through the front door.
"Don't let them give you any trouble and make sure Shana brushes her teeth. The children are only to be allowed outside if the one of the Rangers goes with them. If you need to get in touch with us for any reason, contact Lennier's office in the Great Hall, they will get a message to us. Hopefully this will just be a formality and we won't be gone long."
"Captain your children are always on their best behavior. I've never had a problem with them before. We will be fine here."
"Thanks, Tra'an. I'm glad we have you to count on." John said smiling warmly at the young Minbari.
With that the others left for the meeting.
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