Chapter 6: Eighteen Years of Age
John Sheridan paused wearily at his front door. Instead of taking the transport, he'd walked across the compound from his office to the residential dwelling. It was a bi-weekly routine he began soon after relocating to Minbar. Sometimes it was the only exercise he managed to fit into an all too busy day. The walk always made him feel good, the cardio doing wonders for his heart. Now, it was drudgery, misery. Yet, he persisted, torturing himself at the end of the journey when he opened his front door and the computer program welcomed him home, giving him the time in her sweetest, highly accented Minbari voice.
"Welcome home John Sheridan. It is now twelve thirty and forty-five seconds."
Sheridan sighed. When he'd left his office it was fifteen after eleven. When he'd started this routine it would take him fifteen, twenty minutes, tops. Now, well now he was an old, dying man who took over an hour to walk half a mile.
Shit, John, this isn't good. Who the hell do you think you're fooling anyway? You're too old and out of shape to maintain the illusion. You're dying and that's it. There's no use fighting the inevitable or hastening the process by overexerting yourself on a devil's trek. Besides, the whole point of coming home early is to rest not lie to yourself.
Once John realized the daily fatigue he felt wasn't from lack of sleep, or vitamin deficiency, he knew. Of course, he'd known for a very long time, but the last seven months brought the reality home. His body was simply slowing and would eventually stop, like Lorien said almost twenty years ago. For Humans, there is knowing, and then there is knowing. His body had known all along and now his mind knew it too.
So, John had taken to leaving his office mid-day and going home for a restorative nap. An hour was all he needed to recharge his batteries. The last thing he wanted to do was fall asleep during a meeting or be too tired to make love to his wife. She deserved better, he thought, each time he collapsed on their bed, remembering when he could make love to her until they were both hoarse and drenched. Now, his goal was simply to not embarrass himself and give her as much pleasure as he could before his penis realized how long it'd been standing at attention and decided to go to parade rest, or worse, at ease.
Sheridan shrugged out of Valen's cloak and hung it neatly across the arm of a loveseat. He looked around the open living room, the rays of the mid-day sun shining in through the window wall, brightening the entire room in its Tuzanor warmth. He loved the airy feel of the room, so different from life on Babylon 5 with its dark corridors and false sunrises and sunsets.
Minbar had become as much a home for him as Earth had ever been. Sheridan counted himself fortunate to have found three places to call home—Earth, Babylon 5, and Minbar. What makes a place home isn't the green of the mountains, the blue of the oceans, or the smell of recycled air. No, what makes a place home are the people, the friendships, the laughter, the tears, the love. Yes, John Sheridan counted himself very fortunate indeed.
He sat on the loveseat and bent over to remove his shoes. As he started on his second shoe, he heard a sound. He stilled, listening. Nothing. He shrugged and bent to untie the second shoe. Another sound.
Dammit. What the hell? No one is supposed to be here.
Sheridan slowly rose from the chair, went to a side table, and retrieved a PPG. He surveyed the weapon, set it to stun, and went in search of the sound.
If David has rescued another damn animal and hid it in his room, I'm going to have his rebellious hide.
He cautiously made his way down the hall and around the corner. The sound grew louder but he still couldn't make out exactly what it was. He heard a muffled sound, scratching, and what sounded like whining.
Dammit, David, and your bleeding heart. This house isn't a nature preserve. I didn't come home early just to spend the next hour chasing a ferret or other fury animal around the house, hoping not to lose a finger in the process.
Agitated, Sheridan swung the door to his son's room open. Like the living room, the mid-day sun shone brightly in this room and on the naked couple in the bed. The bed lurched slightly under the movements, scratching the hardwood floor and the whining Sheridan heard . . . well, they would be the happy sounds coming from his son, the girl apparently too enraptured to make any sound.
"Aw hell, Dad," David said, rolling off the girl, and shielding her body with his own. He frantically pulled the discarded covers over their exposed bodies, sweat beading his forehead, but no longer from sexual exertion.
"I can explain, Dad. This isn't what it appears." He paused then amended. "Well, it is, but I can explain." As bad as the situation was, David seemed to think of something far, far worse. "Is Mom with you?" he asked, trying to peer around his father, renewed anxiety coating his youthful features.
Sheridan felt as if he'd just aged ten years. The sight of his son's bare ass going up and down as he took and gave pleasure was an experience he could've happily died without having. But no, David Sheridan could never do anything according to rules. If he wasn't already dying, John knew his son would surely be the death of him.
"Get your ass up and dressed, young man. Escort Miss Lightfoot to the door and have a Ranger take her home and I'll see you in the living room in ten minutes."
Sheridan left the stunned and embarrassed teens alone, slamming the door behind him. He waited for his son in the living room, thinking he should find the whole situation funny. But he didn't. The boy tended to lack discipline and he seemed to take immense pleasure in circumventing established rules, regulations, and customs.
Eleven minutes later, David walked into the living room, his face drawn, hands at his side. He sat on a sofa at the far end of the room.
Sheridan stood and closed the distance between himself and his son, taking the chair to the left of the sofa where his son nervously sat.
"I . . . I . . . didn't think anyone would be home this time of the day."
"You think that makes it better. You think because you plotted to bring Miss Lightfoot here when your mother and I are normally at work, that that makes everything all right."
"No, no," he stammered, "that's not what I meant. I only meant that I would never disrespect this household."
"You have disrespected this household, David, but more importantly, you've disrespected Miss Lightfoot," Sheridan said, rising to his feet.
"I didn't force her."
"Of course you didn't, son, that's not what I meant. Miss Lightfoot is a guest on our planet, David. Her father is the Earth Ambassador, and you've taken privileges with his only daughter. How do you think he'll react if he finds out about today?"
"Politics? Is that all you ever worry about, Dad?"
"This isn't about politics but propriety. You're nearly a man and you have to start acting like one. And that means making better decisions. You're about to officially begin your Ranger training and the last thing your mother needs is to worry about you. She must be able to trust you, David. Do you not understand?"
David leaned forward, his arms resting on his thighs. "So, this is about more than Emily?"
Sheridan ran a hand though his hair and retook his seat. "David, I was a teenage boy once and I know the power of young hormones and a beautiful girl. But you can't afford to act like a horny Earther. Hell, I guess I should've expected something like this, and perhaps I'm being overly hard. You've done nothing more than what most Earth boys your age do. But this isn't Earth and you're no light in the pants young man. I expected so much more from you. What if your mother had arrived home early instead of me? How do you think she would've reacted? Shit, her honor would've compelled her to make amends to the Ambassador. Can you imagine how embarassing that would've been for the family? Damn, David, you gotta start thinking with the big brain, not the small one."
"Do you intend to take Miss Lightfoot as your mate?"
"Mate? Of course not, I'm only eighteen cycles and she nineteen. Besides, I start training in a week's time."
"My point exactly, son. To a Minbari, I guess Human girls are easy conquests. They don't make us go through all the rituals to get to the prize. No, Human girls have different kinds of hoops they make males jump through. But their standards in some matters are far lower than Minbari females."
"I didn't take advantage," David said, his annoyance at the suggestion evident in his rough tone. "In fact, coming here was her suggestion. Hell, everything was her suggestion. I don't know if you know this, Dad, but Human girls think of me of somewhat of a novelty. They want to know what parts of me are Minbari and what parts are Human. To say that about Human girls is a generalization I know, but one based on personal experience."
Sheridan had no idea, but he knew Delenn would understand perfectly. She always did in such matters. To be honest, he'd wondered the very same thing about her when he realized she meant more to him than a good friend and ally. And it wasn't until the Shan'Fal that he knew all of his worrying was for naught. Everything aligned perfectly, but that didn't stop him from feeling like an ass, especially when she told him that even as a full Minbari they would've been compatible enough to have sex. No babies, but definitely sex. Humans just knew so very little about other species, especially Minbaris.
"But Emily's not like that, Dad. She likes me for who I am and understands that our futures aren't with each other. I was her first and she was mine. In the end, when I decide to settle down with a mate, I'll come home and find a Minbari woman as wonderful as the one you found."
He'd been waiting for a time to speak with his son about his future. No time ever seemed right, for either of them. But time was quickly evaporating, his son leaving in only a week. Today wasn't ideal, but it would have to do.
Sheridan moved from his chair and sat next to his son, grabbing his hands. "I don't have much time left," he said without preamble.
David winced but nodded his head. They've had this discussion many times before.
"I know it's unfair of me to ask, but I need you to grow up faster, to be the man your mother needs."
David held his father's hand fiercely, the tears starting to form in his eyes. "I know I can be a pain in the ass sometimes and act like Mom's put no work into me at all. But I know what must be done. I won't let her down. I won't let you down," he promised, the tears falling onto their joined hands.
In that moment, Sheridan knew he only had one week left with his son and no more. He would be leaving to begin his future, and that future didn't include him. He had to trust that David would be the man he believed him capable of becoming. He had to trust that he would protect Delenn from all things, including herself. She would mourn him, and he prayed she wouldn't try to join him too soon, the way she had when she thought him dead on Z'Ha'Dum. He needed David to be her anchor to this place, her rock, her lighthouse in the rough waters that was to come.
He pulled his son to him, placing his arms around David's shoulders, hugging him tight. "I love you, son, don't you ever forget that. You and your mother are the best things that have ever happened to me. And I will miss you so very much."
"I'll miss you too, Dad. Valen help me, I prayed this day would never come."
And they both wept, holding each other in a familiar embrace, David whispering in John's shoulder a pitiful, futile plea, "Don't go, don't leave me."
Today is my first night on Minbar. Our new home. Londo's visit got me thinking about the day my child comes of age. On Earth, that's 21. If Lorien's prediction holds . . . I only have 19 years left. I won't be there to see you . . . come into your own . . . whoever you are . . . whoever you will be . . . Not that either of those things matter. Because sight unseen . . . I know that I will love you . . . because you are my child . . . and the child of the woman that I love more than life itself.
I will give you that love as best I can . . . for as long as I'm here. But a day like this . . . your 21st birthday . . . requires something more. So . . . I give you . . . what little wisdom I have.
Delenn . . . is the greatest ally you will ever have. Her depths of courage and compassion are unmatched in my experience. Look to her . . . for wisdom and fire in equal measure. And if you ever have any doubt . . . talk to her. She will never judge you. She will only love you.
From time to time . . . you will make mistakes. They're inevitable. Sometimes those mistakes will be . . . huge. What matters is that you learn from them. There's nothing wrong with falling down . . . so long as you end up, two inches taller . . . when you pick yourself up off the floor.
At times . . . you may end up far away from home. You may not be sure of where you belong any more . . . but home is always there. Because home . . . is not a place. It's wherever your passion takes you.
As you continue on your path . . . you will lose some friends and gain new ones. The process is painful . . . but often necessary. They will change . . . and you will change . . . because life is change. From time to time . . . they must find their own way . . . and that way may not be yours. Enjoy them for what they are . . . and remember them for what they were.
There's not much left. Except . . . I believe . . . I really do believe that sooner or later, no matter what happens . . . things do work out. We have hard times. We suffer. We lose loved ones. The road is never easy. It was never meant to be easy. But in the long run . . . if you stay true to what you believe . . . things do work out.
Always be willing to fight for what you believe in. It doesn't matter if a thousand people agree with you or one person agrees with you. It doesn't matter if you stand completely alone. Fight for what you believe.
The sensors told him that he had reached Coriana 6, but he kept his eyes closed, mind fixed on the past.
"I won't see him again, Delenn. I won't ask him to come home at the end. I don't want that to be his last image of me. I refuse to do that to our son. He needs to remember me as strong as I am now."
Delenn nestled her head against his shoulder, pulling the blankets up to cover them both. "I know, John, I know."
He felt the first heat of tears on his chest, the droplets painful. He hated for his wife to cry, and she rarely did so. But when she did, it broke his heart. And the tears she now cried were as much for herself as for him. God, he wished he could spare her, wished he could stay, wished he could wrap her in his arms and say all would be fine. But it wouldn't. Her husband was dying and there was absolutely nothing either one of them could do. Yet . . . He pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her slim waist. He could do this for her, for them. His body, his love, his warmth was all he had left to give, and it was hers. All of it.
"I love you, honey."
"I know. I love you as well."
"We still have some time. Not much, Delenn, but some. Let's make the best of it. Please."
She nodded and wiped at her tears. She was a brave soldier, much braver than him. If the situation was reversed, John was convinced he would've broken everything in the house and tore Minbar in two trying to prolong her life. But Delenn had a different spirit, one that wouldn't allow her to drift too far away from her own need for sanity, peace, security. She was brave but not invulnerable and the best person to see her through the pending crisis his death would create in her life had just left on White Star 13.
David, his David. They had raised him together, and now Delenn must finish the rest. He loved them both. Would die for them. His family.
My family. My heart. My soul. My forever. I'll miss you.
A voice shook Sheridan from his thoughts down memory lane, a voice posing old queries.
"Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?
He was tired, so very tired, his Sunday drive at its end.
"Did you think we had forgotten you? We have been waiting for you."
Sheridan opened his eyes and beside him stood Lorien.
"Beyond the Rim?" he asked.
"There's . . . still so much I don't understand."
"As it should be."
"Can I come back?"
"No. This journey has ended. Another begins. Time to rest now," Lorien said, his eyes searching Sheridan's.
"I've had a good life, a good run. I'll have my memories and they will sustain me," he said, his form disappearing in the glow of the First One's light.
And all was silent, all was still.
Thanks for sticking with me through this story. Other fics temporarily diverted my attention from this one and it took me a minute to feel the pull of Raising David bubbling inside once more. I hope the inevitable ending was worth the journey. Thanks for your time and support.