Disclaimer: I don't own Babylon 5 or any of the characters therein. They are the property of the Great and Powerful Oz—errr, J. Michael Straczynski, who had the decency to create such a universe so that for years—still counting-- after he closed the book, people like us would still remember how to spell his name (or at least be given reason to look it up.)
Author's Note: This was written because a) one of my faithful readers sort of requested a Daddy!-Garibaldi story, and I aim to please; and 2) after my VERY BIG STORY, I needed something light and fluffy to decompress my brain before I venture into the darkness once again. Set in 2271, directly following The Lost Tales.
Background: This story makes reference to events in both A Call to Arms and The Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark and takes for granted that the reader will understand said references without any recap. If you missed one or both, you might be a tad confused at times, but these pieces of information are not integral to the story, so it will probably still work. (Also, Netter's Syndrome is mentioned. Because… LOL its origin, and also because Lennier never said it wasn't real. He just didn't have it.)
Tea for Two
Michael Garibaldi groaned in the pre-dawn darkness as his alarm sounded. "Off…" He rolled over, trying to savor every last moment of the warmth of the bed and of his wife, who still slept soundly. He smiled, remembering one of their many newlywed nit-picking fights – his love for a loud alarm and the "snooze" button versus her tendency to be a light sleeper. It had taken months of trial and error, but the resolution had been, finally, a little more volume but absolutely no second chances. He got up the first time, or not at all.
Sometimes, like this morning, he would have preferred not at all.
The events of the past two weeks washed over his memory like a gentle rain: the return to Babylon 5 for the 10-year anniversary of the Interstellar Alliance; the formal meeting with President Sheridan about the situation concerning Prince Regent Dius Vintari of the Centauri Republic; the less formal moments with his friend, where titles fell by the wayside and they swapped parenting stories and memories over dinner and tea. And then he had returned home, exhausted but happy, and would have much preferred to spend the morning in bed with his wife.
Lise grunted softly and turned over in bed. Michael brought an arm around her middle as she settled onto her left side, facing him. He reached up to move a stray hair off her cheek, tucked it back behind her ear and studied her face for a moment.
His attention was pulled away from his wife by the beeping of the Comm unit in his home office, located just down the hall. Yes… being the head of Edgars Industries proved almost daily to be equally a blessing and a curse. He was sure he had gotten more sleep on Babylon 5 – which was definitely saying something about the amount of sleep he got now.
He rolled out of bed and pulled on a pair of boxers, discarded haphazardly on the floor the previous night for a "welcome home" roll in the hay, and padded barefoot and barely dressed to his home office. "Computer, play waiting messages," he instructed groggily as he wiped the sleep from his eyes.
"Stand by." There was a pause, and then the face of Julien Frank, a senior member of the Edgars Industries Board, filled the screen.
"Good morning, Mr. Garibaldi!" Michael groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Frank was always too cheerful for his own good. "Welcome home! The Board is anxious for your report on the festivities at Babylon 5. You were correct in your assessment, and lending financial support to the Interstellar Alliance for medical advancement and the development of more technologically advanced ships has proven most advantageous indeed for our public relations. But! As elections are to be held later this year for president of the IA, and as President Sheridan finds himself facing a challenger for the position for the first time, we do wish to meet as soon as possible to determine whether Edgars Industries will throw its support behind the incumbent. And that is why I have taken the initiative and scheduled a meeting for 8:30 this morning." Garibaldi glanced at the clock on the opposite wall. It read, in glaring red numbers, 6:57.
Good thing he hadn't planned to sleep in today.
"See you there, sir."
The message ended and Garibaldi ordered it deleted. "He hates me." He plopped unceremoniously into a plush chair in the office, sitting still in the darkness and rubbing again at his tired eyes. "The universe hates me, Frank hates me, the Board hates me…" He was still exhausted from his trip, but Frank was right. There was much work to be done.
He was interrupted in his thoughts by a sudden burst of sound from the den in the unmistakable voice of Daffy Duck. He stopped by the bathroom to pull on a robe before proceeding toward the source of the sound.
"Mary!" He exclaimed. A small head of unruly dark hair popped up over the couch. "What in the world are you doing awake?"
Her face broke into a smile as she sprang up off the couch and ran around it to throw her arms around his knees. "Daddy!"
Michael chuckled and reached down, lifting his 4-year-old daughter up by her armpits so she could give him a proper hug, and so that he could look her in the eyes. They were Lise's eyes, to be sure, and he looked into them every chance he got.
Mary buried her face in her father's chest and threw her little arms around his neck. "You're home you're home you're home you're HOME!" She was turning her face from side to side during this pronouncement, causing Michael to chuckle softly as her hair was flung from side to side by the motion. "And you're just in TIME!" Now she looked up into his face and said quietly, "I thought you might forget."
"Forget? Forget my promise to one of my two favorite women in the whole universe? Are you kidding me?" He gave her a wet, smacking kiss on her cheek. She shrieked and reached up to wipe the wetness away before he swung her into a seating position on the couch in front of her cartoon. He sat down beside her, his hand settling on her bony knee. "Now, as I was saying. What are you doing up so early?"
"Watch with me?" Her tone was soundly in the category of Guilt Trip. Michael heaved a regrettable sigh.
"I can't, Pumpkin."
"Work?" The same tone, and Garibaldi could see her lower lip pushing out ever so slightly. Where had she learned to work him like that?
He leaned toward her, resting his forehead against hers. "I promised you. Two o'clock, and not a moment later."
"Not a moment later," she repeated softly. He smiled at her, inches from her face, holding her gaze until she smiled back. He recognized, fully and truly, that mischievous smile as his own. He had it coming, he supposed, but it told him he was in for quite a ride in the years to come.
"That's better." He pulled back from her face. "Now. Please do Daddy a favor and turn down Daffy just a little." He held his fingers a few millimeters apart as a visual aid. She scowled at him and made no move to comply. He mirrored her scowl playfully, then tilted his head and raised one eyebrow at her – a warning. It was all she needed, and she leaned over for the control mounted in the console of the couch, turning the volume down several notches. Then – and Michael loved her for it, although he couldn't tell her as much – she too tilted her head and raised one tiny, pointed brow. "Thank you." He stood to exit the room, but hadn't gotten far before he spun suddenly on his heel to face her once again. "Hey Munchkin."
"Hey big guy." She giggled. She knew what was coming. In unison they said, "Love you bunches!" And she burst into a fit of giggles that easily drowned out her cartoon.
Michael smiled, too, as he headed for the bathroom to get ready for the day.
"I agree that Sheridan has done a fine job. All I'm saying is, the title is president, not emperor or dictator-for-life. He should be called to account for the mistakes he's made, and a fair election of our leaders has always been the human way of doing so. His challenger has some good ideas, and the people have every right to hear them."
"Yes, they do. But we're not here to make a decision about whether or not the IA is a democracy – there's no doubt in that. Sheridan is the leader, but he answers to an advisory board to keep his power in check. That will be true for as long as he holds his position."
"And how long will that be?"
No more than ten more years. "He and Delenn formed this Alliance with their bare hands. Their blood, sweat and tears have been poured into making it what it is today, so… how long will that be? I'd say as long as he wants to. Now look. I know as well as anyone that Sheridan can be a pain in the ass – but most of the time, he's right. So if he feels that the best way to solve a problem is with force, he's probably right; and if he feels the best way to solve a problem is with sanctions, he's probably right; and if he feels the best way to solve a problem is by standing on his head in the corner and whistling Dixie…" Garibaldi reflected on Sheridan's hijacking of the Excalibur five years before, based on images from a dream and pictures he had drawn, "Then he might well still be right. Right now, he is the best leadership the IA could ask for." Having said his piece, Michael leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. He had nothing more to say, but clearly that was not true of the rest of the Board.
They argued and discussed and discussed and argued amongst themselves for another 47 minutes. Garibaldi folded his hands behind his head. He counted ceiling tiles. He clenched his jaw as he reflected on past dealings with Sheridan, triggered by comments from members of the Board. He closed his eyes and ran through the morning's events and his promise to Mary. Two o'clock, and not a moment later.
Finally, he sat straighter in his chair, making enough unnecessary noise in doing so that it quieted the Board and brought their eyes to the end of the long table where he sat. "I'm calling for a vote," he said, leaning forward and shuffling the stack of papers in front of him, not knowing and not really caring where he'd cut the conversation short. "Is there a second?" Julien Frank raised his hand. "Good man. All right then. As dictator-for-life of Edgars Industries –" Garibaldi threw a glance at Frank as he borrowed his phrase from the beginning of the conversation – "I formally put before this board a proposal that Edgars Industries endorse John Sheridan, incumbent, in the 2271 election for the position of President of the Interstellar Alliance. Show of hands - all in favor?" Garibaldi counted hands. "Opposed?" A few hands – but only a few. "Good. Then by a vote of 11 to four, the motion is carried. Make sure our marketing and PR folks get on that ASAP – when the mud-slinging starts, I want to make sure we're ready to roll with the punches." He stood. "Now, if you'll all excuse me, this little song-and-dance has put me behind. I have another meeting, and then I have to get ready for my date." He nodded at them as he turned and exited the room, leaving fourteen pairs of eyes staring after him in his wake.
Meeting with medical researchers was Michael's least favorite thing in the whole universe. He had failed both chemistry and biology in high school, so when the High IQ Club were talking to him, he either didn't understand what the heck was going on, or he had to ask them to dumb down the explanations of their work to plus-or-minus an 8th grade level. A few times, he'd let them drone on in Science-Speak and recorded it on a concealed recording device, then played the conversation back for Stephen, who would translate. But, at least for now, he was on his own – Stephen had headed off exploring with G'Kar the year before, and there was no telling when they'd be back.
"So… this," Garibaldi picked up a tiny vile of blue-green liquid, "Is a vaccine for Netter's Syndrome."
"How does it wo—" The former head of security stopped himself mid-sentence. "No, never mind. How is not important. It's the rest that's important. Does it work? Has it been tested? I don't need to remind you how much the Alliance – and in particular, the Minbari – are itching for it."
"It's been tested." A pause, and a cynical look from Garibaldi. "On mice."
"Uh-huh." Garibaldi shook his head and stuffed his hands in his pockets as he began pacing around the Edgars Industries laboratory. "Aaaand those mice would be…?"
"Sooo…" He took his left hand out of his pocket and pointed at the chemist in front of him, taking slow heel-toe steps toward the other man. "You paged me down here, a two-hour shuttle ride from the compound, after I just got back last night from a two-week trip all the way out to Babylon 5 space, to… show me that… your vaccine… doesn't work."
The chemist seemed to suddenly realize that Garibaldi was about two heads taller and 75 percent more muscular than himself. He swallowed hard and looked Edgar's Industries' head honcho up and down, taking several steps away from him. "Yes sir."
"I see." Garibaldi pressed his lips together tightly, but stopped his advance on the scientist. He turned his head away and cursed under his breath several times. Then he turned a tight-lipped smile to his employee. "You know what? I am not going to kill you. Not today. Do you know why?"
"Um. Thank you sir. No sir, I—"
"I'm not going to kill you because if I killed you, I would have to spend the rest of the day negotiating and bribing my way out of prison. And I can't do that, because you see, I have a date. And that date – for the record – is less than half your size, but would kick my ass from here to Proxima Centauri if I was even one second late. So, you see, killing you is just not in my schedule today. But tomorrow, well. Tomorrow is a very different kind of day, because my date has Playschool all afternoon, so I am free to do all the killing I want." He clapped a heavy hand on the chemist's shoulder, causing the smaller man to wince. "So if you call me tomorrow, please make sure that it is nothing less than a good use of my time, or I will make it one. Understood?" The other man nodded hurriedly. "Good." Point made, Garibaldi turned and exited the lab, glancing at his watch as he did so. Crap. Good thing intimidation was not a very time-consuming task.
"You were almost late."
"Almost and actually are two different things." Michael hurried through the front door. "Is she in her room?"
"Ready and waiting." Lise leaned up to kiss his cheek, and Michael returned the gesture. "You best get dressed." She motioned with her arm to their daughter's bin of dress-up clothes, which had been dragged out and, apparently, been through a tornado in the living room. "Might I suggest… the pink boa?" Lise's eyes shone playfully. Michael shook his head as he bit back a smile. "It goes with your eyes."
He adorned himself quickly and, at 1:59 p.m. Martian Standard Time, he knocked on his daughter's bedroom door. She opened it and grinned up at him as she ushered him inside. "Two o'clock," he told her.
She nodded, smiling from ear to ear. "And not a moment later."
The chair was too small for him, the boa was too pink, and the hat was just too damn floppy and weird… and Michael wouldn't have traded it for the world. He lifted a small, intricately painted ceramic teacup to his lips and feigned a sip. Over the top of the cup, he made eye contact with his daughter – who fit perfectly in her chair, looked adorable in her white feather boa, and wore a hat so large she had to keep pushing it back so she could see.
"I loooove your earrings," Mary remarked as she drank imaginary tea from her own tiny teacup, pinky dangling daintily as she did so. "Where ever did you get them?"
"This little shop I know. They were having a sale," Michael responded. "You could tell, because whenever there's a sale, everything's always a mess, nothing ever where it's supposed to be... but I found these stuck inside a pair of high heels. The heels weren't my style, but these…" He reached up to touch one of the large pearl clip-on earrings – which he had, indeed, found stuck in the toe of one of Lise's old shoes at the bottom of Mary's dress-up bin. "Gorgeous."
Mary giggled. It was the kind of giggle that melted Michael inside; the kind of giggle that had turned him from a hard-nosed former GROPO who was suspicious of everyone and had a natural dislike of authority into a guy who would willingly cross-dress and drink imaginary tea – for her, anyway. She brought out the best in him. She brought out the soft side he wasn't sure he had, until she came along. Now he found he was delighted to spend more and more time getting acquainted with that side of himself, the side he had ignored for so long. Not that he didn't still get suspicious of everyone – it still made him good at his job, after all—and not that he would ever admit any of this outside his own mind, or, at the very least, outside his home.
"Sugar?" She lifted a ceramic bowl, painted to match the cups, with a spoon inside.
"Definitely for me, but you, my darling, are sweet enough already." The bowl was empty, just like the cups, but Michael did a very good job of using the spoon to sprinkle invisible sugar inside his cup, and then took another sip. "Mmm… good stuff."
And so it went for another 20 minutes, until there was a soft knock at the door. Mary stood and opened it to let her mother inside. "Sorry to interrupt." Lise smiled apologetically at both of them. "President Sheridan's on the line for you."
Mary began to bop her head from side to side, made especially hilarious to watch by the giant floppy hat, which inched down her face with the movement of her head. "Uncle John," she sang, her face completely covered by the hat at this point. She paused as though to ponder something, then took off like a shot for Michael's office, the hat falling off her head as she departed. From their daughter's bedroom, Michael and Lise could hear her exclaim, "UNCLE JOHN!" And though it was quieter than her shriek and thus did not carry as far, they knew that Sheridan's gentle laughter would follow, and that he would engage her in conversation until Michael arrived, stalling them both.
Michael took the opportunity to remove his tea party get-up and give Lise a proper kiss. "Meeting go OK?" She asked against his lips.
"At the lab, not as such. In the board room…" She gave him a confused look and he shook his head, remembering that she hadn't known about the first meeting when he left that morning. "I'll tell you about it later. I don't doubt that's exactly what John's calling about."
"How was tea time?"
"Informative. Apparently Mary has three boyfriends at Playschool." Lise laughed and leaned into him. "It's that little redhead Peter that worries me most. I think I'll have to have a little talk with him."
Lise laughed harder. "Michael! He's four!"
"Yes, and if he's anything like I was when I was four, the next time we send Mary to Playschool in a dress, he will be chasing her around trying to look up underneath it." But Michael was laughing too. "I have to go rescue John. What say… you and I… pack a picnic dinner tonight and head out to watch the stars come out under the dome?"
"That sounds wonderful. I'll call the nanny." They parted. Michael made his way to his office, where Mary was in the middle of a fairly elaborate story.
"…And I told Daddy I didn't want to wear the yellow dress, I wanted to wear the pink dress, but he made me wear the yellow dress and… Uncle John, since you are the president of everything, can you tell Daddy he is not allowed to put me in timeout anymore? I only colored on the wall a little."
"You colored on the wall with every single crayon in your box of 88 Crayolas," Michael defended as he stepped into the room.
Mary turned to him with a scowl, arms crossed over her chest. "This is private," she told him. "Go 'way."
"I think we were about finished," John reasoned to the child. "You've plead your case and I will consider it. Meanwhile, you should ask David sometime about the time he was punished for coloring on the Proxima-Euphrates Treaty. It might give you some perspective."
Mary tapped a finger to her chin, considering. "What's 'perspective'?"
This drew laughter from both men, but it was enough of a change in subject to send Mary skipping out of the room without an answer. Alone, Michael closed the door before clearing his throat and turning a business-like demeanor to the call. "You can't talk to reporters like that, John. Not if you want to keep your job."
"Ah. I was wondering when you'd get wind of that interview."
"You were pretty tight-lipped about it on B5. It made me suspicious enough to pull up the archive as soon as I got home."
"And that is why I miss you as Head of Covert Intelligence. I haven't had anyone else working for me yet who can manage to stay one step ahead of me – including the Rangers." John's eyes sparkled playfully. "But I wanted to call and thank you for the support. Your PR department has already been in touch."
"Good news travels fast these days. Maybe someday, it will catch up with the bad news," Michael mused. "Speaking of which. How are things going with Prince Vintari?"
"He's arrogant, undisciplined, loud, and thinks extremely highly of the 'great old days' of the Republic. Everything I'd expect from a young Cen…tau…ri… Michael?"
Garibaldi was rocking gently on his heels, hands stuffed into his pockets in a casual pose. "Hm?"
"Is that… a pearl earring?"