Disclaimer: I don't own Sheridan, Delenn, David or Vir, or pretty much anything, really. I did make up one original character and might bring him out to play in the future. Or not. We'll see. He belongs to me, but I would gladly surrender him to JMS if he asked me (or even if he didn't ask me, so long as he didn't sue me.)
Author's note: I started writing this because I needed a break from my BIG. STORY., which has been eating my soul and causing me to do things like not concentrate at the job I actually get paid for. It's also a response both to my betas and to readers here to do more with the Sheridan family. And why not? I love them, and they're pretty much an open book.
Each tick of the clock slices off a piece of us. Tick… a possibility for joy is gone. – Lorien, "Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?"
A Possibility for Joy
"Good morning Mr. President."
"President Sheridan. Good morning."
The last greeting pulled John Sheridan from his morning haze. The insistence of every fraggin' member of his staff to give him a cheerful, 'good morning' every day, regardless of what kind of mood they might really be in, made him squirm. This little squeal, uninhibited and unprovoked, was more to his liking. He turned his face to the source, beaming at his one-year-old son, who was settled comfortably on his hip. "Dada?" He prompted.
John rolled his eyes and pulled David from his hip to the front of his body, holding the toddler at arm's length and staring into his grey eyes with what he hoped was an encouraging smile. "No, not Mama. You came to work with Daddy today." A last-minute meeting for Delenn to discuss a troublesome Drazi Anla'shok trainee had left them without childcare. This was not the first time this had happened, but it was the first time that he absolutely could not stay at home all day with David. So, on the fly, it was "bring your child to work" day. He knew that in his authoritative position, no one would question the child's presence. Hell, they'd acted as if nothing were out of the ordinary – not a single aide, ranger and staffer he'd met between his quarters and his office had commented on the child he carried in one arm or the diaper bag slung over the other.
"Dada," John tried again. "Dada, Dada, Dada, Dada."
David remained silent and studied his father curiously out of the corner of one eye, as though pondering the suggestion.
Shaking his head in surrender, John lifted David by his armpits and put him in a seated position on a rug that covered part of the hardwood office floor. Then he removed the bag from his left shoulder and pulled out a few of David's favorite toys, hoping to insight the child's interest. He put the bag down behind his desk and closed the office door before plopping down in his chair. A stack of papers needing his signature was already piled high in front of him. He lifted the first one and began to read.
It was a request from the Brakiri for Minbari medical technology in connection with a new virus on their home world. John signed it quickly, put it in a different stack and picked up the next form – a request for Alliance assistance with upgrades to the Hyacto planetary defense grid. He shook his head at a line within the request – the timing for the upgrade was unreasonable, given the cost. Do I have line-item veto power? He wondered. Then he shrugged. Sure, why the hell not.
He set down the weapons upgrade request as the familiar face of Courtier filled the Com screen in his office. He knew Courtier and his family well – they were relatives of sorts, also from the family Mir. Other than an unannounced visit from Emperor Mollari on their first day, Courtier and his wife had been John and Delenn's first houseguests when they arrived on Minbar. John had been unfamiliar with the language, uneducated about local custom and tradition and generally awkward – but Courtier had a fascination with human lifestyle. Their personalities offset each other and formed an almost instantaneous friendship, and over time they had regularly exchanged information with one another regarding their respective cultures. John had appointed Courtier to his advisory board at Delenn's insistence, and as she'd promised, he had been a shining asset.
"Courtier. Back from Drazi space, I see."
"Good. I'm looking forward to your debriefing. Can you be in my office in an hour?"
"Yes… sir…" Courtier's expression transformed from business-like to bemused. "I see you brought your secretary with you today."
"Indeed I did." John peeked around the corner of his desk at David. The child looked over own shoulder back to meet his father's gaze with a mischievous smile. "He'll be taking accurate notes of our discussion, I'm sure."
"I look forward to it." The Minbari man nodded, and then the screen blinked off.
John stood and leaned across his desk, again looking down at his son. "Dada?" He suggested.
"Mama." The child's tone was quite adamant. John decided not to push the issue for now.
"OK, fine." He raised his hands in surrender, and David laughed. "Oh, you think this is funny? This isn't over." He pointed a finger at his son, wagging it ever so slightly. "Sheridans don't give up that easily."
"So in short, the Drazi are not, in fact, stockpiling weapons. The mysterious ships we've seen making runs to their colonies in the last several weeks are simply carrying hundreds of thousands of some native plant, grown only on their home world, that the Drazi need for some sort of… solstice festival?"
"As you say."
John shook his head, laughing slightly. Over his military, and now political, career, he'd had contact with dozens of other races – and none of them confounded him as much as the Drazi. "And the reason they chose not to share this with us before it escalated to near planetary blockade is…?"
Courtier offered an over-exaggerated shrug. He liked the gesture. It was wholly human and, he thought, sometimes went a long way to explain the human race in general – but he had nonetheless adopted it as his preferred method of conveying confusion (or uncertainty, or amusement, and sometimes just because he felt like it) because it seemed easier than words. "The festival originated before Drazi spoken language. There is no name for it, so it is not spoken of. I am not even sure they know why they do it; they simply do."
With all the facts presented, John had to agree with Courtier's shrug. "Well, fine, fine. How often is this… nameless festival held? So we can make a note of it for next time."
"In the Drazi autumn. Roughly once every two years by Minbari time."
"Well! Maybe next time, David and I will attend." John brought the child into the conversation as he felt tiny hands pulling at his pant leg. He lifted David off the floor and plopped him unceremoniously in his lap. "Drazi?" John asked the toddler, who now had one finger in his mouth and was drooling down the left side of his face.
David removed the finger and clapped his hands. "Ziiiiii!" he chimed.
John laughed heartily, and his Minbari comrade offered a polite smile. "Courtier?" John tried, glancing from David to his friend.
David shook his head.
John thumped his head into his palm. David took careful note of his father's actions before imitating by banging his head on John's desk, which instantly brought forth a cry of discomfort.
"Ah. Sorry." John took David in his arms and offered an apologetic look to Courtier, who was already moving to stand. John reached out a free hand as the other arm held David and Courtier shook it and bowed respects. John returned the bow as best he could before the other man departed.
"Davy… Shhhh…" John bounced David slightly in his arms. He ran a hand through his soft brown hair, kissed the bright red spot on his forehead and used his free hand to lower the child's head to his shoulder.
"Incoming Call from Entil'Zha Delenn."
John closed his eyes and slowly breathed in, then out, trying to relax both himself and his son. "Accept." He came out from behind his desk and smiled as his wife's face lit up the com screen. His smile fell at the cross expression on her face. "Meeting didn't go well?" He asked.
"I do not understand. We have had Drazi Anla'shok before. We have Drazi Anla'shok now. But this particular one refuses to cooperate. He insists on sneaking out of the training facility late at night and will not tell anyone where he has gone. He refuses to meditate, refuses to pray, refuses to eat."
The synapses of John's mind fired to connect the dots. "I… think I may have the answer."
"It's a long story. Suffice to say I had a very interesting debriefing with Courtier a minute ago. I'll explain later. And if you keep that Drazi around, he should settle down in a few days."
She shook her head at him. "You and he are very lucky that I trust you." Then a look of concern crossed her face. "Is David all right?"
"Oh, he'll be fine. Just a little bump on the head." The child's cries had already subsided, and one glance at his face assured John the redness was fading and there would be no bruise. "Are you able to come get him? I have another meeting in a couple of hours."
She sighed, giving him a guilty half-smile. "I'm afraid not. While at the Anla'shok training facility, I was approached by Ranger Jalonn regarding some information he gathered while in Pak'ma'ra space. He wishes to meet as soon as possible."
David shifted himself, squirming in his father's embrace as he laid eyes on his mother's face. He beamed at her, reaching his arms forward.
She returned the smile. "David," she said, in a tone Delenn had only adopted after becoming a mother. It both amused and amazed John how her personality had changed to accommodate this new role. "Are you behaving yourself?"
"Yes, yes. I will check back in with you in a couple of hours." She blew him a kiss. David pressed his face into his tiny palm and reached out as if to fling a kiss back at her. "John?"
"I love you."
"Love you too."
"Yes?" John didn't look up from the report he was reading, which outlined a proposed amendment to the Alliance's Declaration of Principles. He was expecting this call; he didn't understand why his staff didn't just put it through directly.
"Vir Cotto on the line for you."
"Yes, yes. Put him through." He begrudgingly set down the report and turned a cordial face to the screen. "Vir. I've been looking forward to your call. How are the old stomping grounds?"
"Ooh, you know. A rumor of war here, a bustle of crime there… but good! Good, good. Just. Good."
The president restrained a chuckle. Deep down, he'd always had a soft spot for Vir, and was glad to see that the former attaché was settling nicely into his role as Ambassador for the Centauri Republic on Babylon 5. Maybe – hopefully – Vir could restore some honor to the Centauri in the eyes of the other races. "Well, good. I… scheduled this meeting because I wanted to discuss the Centauri mission here on Minbar. It's been nearly three years since your position as diplomatic envoy ended, and as you know, Centauri relations with the Alliance are… strained, at best."
"Yes, well. You know. Lo—" Vir cleared his throat to compose himself. "The Emperor feels it is best to – I believe the human expression is 'let sleeping cats lie'?"
Sheridan shook his head and got up from his chair. He began to pace in front of his desk. "But you feel differently."
"It's really not my place to—"
"You feel differently." Sheridan stopped pacing and abruptly faced the com screen, meeting the frazzled ambassador's eyes as directly as he could with light years standing between them. He waited for a verbal response from Vir but didn't get one. However, the nonverbal cues – in particular, Vir's tendency to avoid Sheridan's eyes under sharp scrutiny – told the president he was not wrong. "I would like you to consider propositioning Londo—" He stressed the use of the first name of the emperor –"To send a new envoy here. Whether or not the Centauri Republic chooses to re-join the Alliance is ultimately Londo's decision, but it seems prudent that we at least maintain an open dialogue."
Having said his piece, John straightened his posture and waited. He watched Vir's shoulders rise and fall with a heavy sigh. "I will see what I can do," he said at last, in a tone that John loved to hear from Vir. It was veiled determination – the first seeds of confidence, coming into bloom.
"That's all I ask." Sheridan squinted as an unpleasant smell wafted into his nostrils. He glanced down at David, who was looking up at his father with a trembling bottom lip. "I… gotta go," he told Vir.
"Oh. But I—"
"You're doing a fine job out there, Mr. Cotto. Keep it up, and let me know what kind of progress you make with Londo."
"Yes, Mr. President. But I think that I –"
"Sheridan out." The screen went black just as David began to wail. John dug into the bag behind his desk for a fresh diaper and set about the omnipresent task of changing his son. He handed the boy a teething ring while he worked, and David gummed on it, tears fading as quickly as they had come.
"Dada?" John asked as he pinned the diaper into place.
John furrowed his brow, trying to decide if "No" was progress from "Mama." "You can't say no to me," he said finally. "I'm the president of the Interstellar Alliance. Nobody says no to me. And. I'm your father." He feigned a hurt expression, fully aware that "pity" was not something his son was old enough to understand. At this point he was desperate.
John buttoned David's pants and set him free as he began to kick his legs restlessly. Well, he thought, at least he's consistent.
"Finally, I would like to… extend an invitation to your race… to send a representative to Interstellar Alliance headquarters for a meeting with my Secretary of Diplomacy and myself. I am confident that any doubts you may have about joining the Alliance can be squelched by the sharing of information, and I would very much prefer to do this in person." John paused, lifted his eyes upward in thought and finally nodded in satisfaction. "Well, that should do it. Computer, translate message to Interlac and forward it to Ma'shala Dureen of the Jurmante Federation."
"Translating message. Stand by."
The female voice of John's computer pulled David from his task of using the coffee table on the far side of the office to pull himself into a standing position. He lost concentration and fell back onto his bottom. "Mama?" He asked.
"No, Davy. Not Mama."
"Mama!" The child insisted, and having abandoned his walking attempts, scooted himself across the floor on all fours.
John heaved an exasperated sigh and wished to God (or Valen, or whatever deity might answer his prayer) that Delenn would arrive to take the child off his hands. He loved being a father, he truly did. But there were some things he simply did not understand. He gave all of his love, all of his free time, to this child… and yet it wasn't enough for a simple acknowledgement of recognition. Was he really so wrapped up in his work? Had he, despite his best efforts, not managed to spend enough time with his son to make a connection on the most basic level?
David looked as tired as John felt. Another, more resigned sigh and John pulled the boy into his arms. He sat down in his desk chair and held his son protectively against his chest. He stroked the child's bone crest in the relaxing way Delenn had shown him, in their earliest days as parents, to regulate breathing and encourage sleep. In a human gesture, he ran his fingers through the light brown hair that had begun to appear above and around the head bone. "I love you," he said softly, leaning back and closing his eyes. "I hope you know that. I hope I've shown you that." His left arm held David, and his right hand came to rest on the child's back. He looked down at the innocent face pressed into his chest, lips slightly parted, breath coming in slow, steady puffs. Sleep the sleep of the innocent, little one, he'd heard Delenn say, both in English and Adronato, when she tucked David into bed at night. A wish, a prayer, one John muttered now against his son's head as he pressed a kiss there.
The beeping of the com screen in his office drew John out of sleep. He glanced at David, who was beginning to rouse – John could tell by the way the boy lifted his head. Incoming call blinked in yellow letters against a blue screen; a familiar sight. "Receive," John said groggily, and he wiped the sleep from his eyes and shifted in his chair but did not stand. His numb behind was a small price to pay for the last hour and a half, and he would gladly endure it for as long as David needed to pull himself from sleep completely of his own accord.
"I was beginning to wonder if you would sleep all afternoon." Her voice was a breath of fresh air.
John's responding laugh was a soft chuckle from within his chest. "Earth scientists proved long ago that implementing workplace naptime was good for one's health and morale," he retorted playfully. "And David and I have had a very productive day."
"Both of you?" Delenn raised her eyebrows in amusement, and it caused John's smile to widen. "That is quite an accomplishment indeed. Did Vir agree to your request?"
"He'll put the wheels in motion. After that… it's up to Londo."
"Mama?" David, still half asleep, squirmed against John's chest and twisted his body to locate the source of his mother's voice. His eyes settled on the view screen and he clapped his hands.
"Dada?" Delenn suggested.
"No." The toddler shook his head, but did turn his face to look at John, who raised his eyebrows hopefully. In response, David offered a nonverbal response of his own, blowing a raspberry and spraying John's face with spit.
Delenn offered her husband a look of sympathy. "He will come around eventually. Is it not true that most human children identify their mother by name first?"
"I guess I was just hoping…" John shook his head. "Never mind. Are you finished for the day?"
"Yes. I will start preparations for dinner."
"Good. I think I'm just about finished here. We'll get packed up and be home soon." His eyes sparkled. "I love you."
"I love you." The call ended, and John kissed David's forehead and set him on the floor.
"Let's go home, Davy. See Mama." He situated the diaper bag on his shoulder before lifting the child into his arms again.
"And in memory of the nine and The One, we set aside this place, for his return." John completed the prayer and opened his eyes, bringing the ritual to a close as he took a spoonful of his dinner and set it on the empty plate to his left. Minbari dining customs, once alien and confusing, had become second nature – although he did sometimes wonder, given everything he and Delenn knew about exactly who The One was, why they still followed this particular tradition. It seemed silly to set aside a place for themselves when they were the ones eating the meal in the first place. But the circular reasoning was not worth a potential argument over custom and tradition, so he kept these thoughts to himself. He took a bite of his food and grinned at his wife, who was seated on his right. "Thank you for cooking."
"Nusental. Thank you for tending to David all day." She glanced at the child, who was seated next to them at the low dining table, propped up by a Minbari contraption John likened unto a booster seat.
"It was my pleasure. I think he enjoyed it, maybe even learned a thing or two about politics and diplomacy. What do you think, Davy?"
"Nnnnni." David shook his head fervently.
Delenn bit her lip to suppress a laugh. "He has become quite fond of this word already. I suspect we may be in for some trouble in the coming years. Though…" she paused thoughtfully. "I am glad to see that he has diversified it to both English and Adronato." She took one of David's hands between both of hers and smiled into the child's eyes. "Et'ria, my son. Eat," she repeated the instruction gently in English, lifting a relatively inoffensive vegetable off David's plate and presenting it before his mouth. David opened wide and accepted his mother's gift, chewed on it slightly. One piece of partially chewed food found its way back out of his mouth, chased by spit, before he swallowed the rest. Without missing a beat, Delenn used a napkin to clean the child's chin.
John looked on the exchange wistfully. Delenn had slid seamlessly into her role as a mother. She and David adored each other. For his part, John felt he had done a good job as a father as well – but if he were dining alone with David, would the child have eaten from his hand? Would he have had the grace Delenn seemed to possess as she cleaned their son's face and then went back to her own dinner as though there had been no mess at all? He wasn't sure. On the subject of fatherhood, it had been a frustrating day indeed. Dinner proceeded mostly in silence, and John resolved to abandon his "Dada" mantra and let his wife and son have their moment.
John stifled a yawn behind his copy of Universe Today, but it did not escape Delenn. From her place in the chair opposite his, she rustled her own paper and set it down. "Go to bed, John," she suggested.
"Mmmm. And you?" He looked at her, relaxed in her chair. His gaze shifted to David, who was laid out on the floor between them. He had been quite content with a stuffed toy, flinging it about with one arm and babbling about it in a language only he could understand. Now, though, he appeared to John to be getting restless. He flung the toy as far as he could and kicked his feet in front of him, his tiny brow creased in frustration. "And you," he addressed the child. After a pause, he looked back up at his wife. "Tell you what. I'll put David to bed. And then, I think… I very much think…" his eyes sparkled as he stood and walked toward her, "That I would like you to meet me in the bedroom." He stood behind her and bent down, placing a kiss on her neck.
She smiled and turned her head to look back at him. "In a little while," she promised. David began to fuss, and John abandoned his seduction attempt to scoop the child up into his arms.
"Davy…" he soothed as they made their way to the nursery. "It was a big day, huh?" He asked as he dug into a chest of drawers for David's sleeping clothes. He sat down in the wooden rocking chair – a gift from John's parents – where he proceeded to undress David among whimpers of exhaustion and protest. "I hope you had fun. I know… I know you won't remember today. But I will." He pulled the tiny white robe down over the boy's head, and the volume of David's cries increased. "Shhhh…" He leaned back into the chair and settled David into his arms, mirroring his gesture from their impromptu nap earlier in the day. He stroked the ridges of the child's crest once again, and after a few minutes, the cries subsided to whimpers.
"You know I… I've been a lot of things in my life," John mused, rocking the chair gently in the darkness. "I've been a son. I've been a soldier. I've been a friend. I've been a husband… I am a husband. I've been dead." The admission was profound. He laughed quietly in spite of himself. "And all of that… all of that has led me to what I am now. I'm a father. And it means more to me than any other role I've filled. I might not always be the best at it. I've made mistakes, and you can be assured I'll make more. I'm human, after all." He closed his eyes, lulled by the rocking motion of the chair and his son's breathing – which had quieted but did not yet indicate sleep. "But I love you, David. Never doubt that. I made you a promise before I even laid eyes on you that I would give you that love… as much as I can, for as long as I can." He sighed. "I hope you know… in my own way, I'm making good on that promise every day."
John glanced down. David was quiet, sated, but his eyes were still open. "And now, I think… today is coming to a close on a wonderful note. Take it with you into your dreams." He stood carefully and carried the child to the crib on the wall opposite the rocking chair. A kiss to David's forehead, and then he laid the child down to sleep, his hand lingering on the boy's body just a moment longer than necessary. One last glance and he turned to leave the room.
He was at the nursery threshold when he heard it, soft, lacking the confidence David commanded over the other words in his limited vocabulary… but there all the same. "Dada…"