Rating: PG, probably, for angst
Setting/Timeline: Tuzanor. David is a child; beyond that, the exact year doesn't matter much. 2269-70ish?
Summary: John has PTSD and doesn't want to talk about it. David has nightmares and thinks Londo's gift is ugly.
Spoilers/"Required Reading": Intersections in Real Time (because this episode simply will not leave me alone); probably Objects at Rest, because it's a better story if you've seen this episode.
Disclaimer: JMS owns Babylon 5 and all its parts and pieces, and he wrote Intersections in Real Time, which is quoted in the first part of the story. I own the rest of the words and not much else.
Of Men and Monsters
“You will cooperate with the State for the good of the State and your own survival. You will confess to the crimes of which you have been accused. You will be released and returned to society a productive citizen if you cooperate. Resistance will be punished, cooperation will be rewarded.”
Shadows on the wall. Shadows everywhere. How is it possible? THERE ARE NO LIGHTS! But there are shadows…
“You will cooperate with the State for the good of the State and your own survival.”
Louder, now. Shadows on the wall. Voices in his head.
“Resistance will be punished.”
“There is no courtroom here, Captain!”
“Cooperation will be rewarded.”
“No tribunals, no attorneys, no justice, no mercy, no fairness…”
Voices in his head, rising, yelling… Have to escape…
“NO HOPE, NO LAST-MINUTE ESCAPE! You will walk through that door when you confess and not ONE SECOND BEFORE!”
No…hope… Dying a little inside. Breaking. Can’t hold up. So tired…
Delenn? What are you doing here in Hell? You don’t belong here…
A hand on his shoulder.
A jolt. So tired… but free of restraints.
Fighting back now, struggling, thrashing – his leg connects. He opens his eyes to darkness.
He blinks to clear his vision, blurred by sleep and unshed tears. He sits up, perfectly still as his mind slowly registers what is real and what is not. Delenn is real. The incline of the bed beneath him is real. The cold, dark cell, the voice of the interrogator… are memories. His sweat-soaked shirt is real.
The nausea – is real.
Without a word, he rises from the bed, walks purposefully to the adjoining bathroom and retches into the toilet. Some time passes, and he remains seated on the floor until his mind fully returns to reality and his stomach settles. He becomes aware of her presence on the room’s threshold but does not meet her eyes. He feels broken in this position, seated on the tiled bathroom floor – pitiful. Dehumanized. “I kicked you.” This is all he says.
“It will heal.” And then she is reaching down for him, using her strength to pull him to his feet. He wobbles slightly, leans his full weight on her, and she steadies him.
“Shhhh.” Somehow she has maneuvered them back to the bed. Here, she uses a wave of her hand to activate her bedside light. And now they stand facing each other, and she is carefully lifting his drenched nightshirt over his head. He shivers from cold and loneliness and she wraps him in her warmth. Then, somehow without entirely breaking the embrace, she reaches for a clean shirt and helps him pull it on.
He holds her for a very long time.
Nights like this used to be routine, in their first years of marriage. Sometimes they were even worse – at least he hasn’t wet himself this time. Now, with the passage of time, the Terrors came less often – but they still came.
They both know he won’t go back to sleep. After the Terrors, he can’t lie down. He doesn’t know why. It doesn’t matter, really. So it is simply a matter of how long he wishes to hold her. Sometimes the embrace was brief; others, they remained like this until dawn. They seldom talked about the Terrors.
Tonight, John is feeling braver. After several long minutes, he presses a kiss to the top of his wife’s head, brushes a stray lock of hair off her shoulder and steps back. “Go back to sleep,” he tells her in his quiet, gruff manner – the voice that says, Don’t ask me if I’m all right. You know the answer. So Delenn doesn’t ask; she nods and lies back down, but she won’t go back to sleep. She never does.
John, meanwhile, pulls on his robe and slippers and steps into the main living area. It’s too early for a run – running in the cold darkness of pre-dawn Tuzanor will do nothing to settle his mind. So he shuffles to his home office instead and begins weeding through the stack of reports waiting on his desk, burying his memories in his work. In the smallest, strangest of ways it reminds him that he is safe, that he is alive.
He is painstakingly making his way through a proposed agricultural trade agreement between the Hyac and the Drazi when a whimper from across the hall draws his attention. It is barely audible – had he been asleep in his own bedroom, he wouldn’t have heard it. But he does, and so he rises from his chair and moves quickly into David’s bedroom before the sound crescendos and alerts Delenn.
David is tossing about in his sleep, kicking at an invisible enemy and softly crying out indiscernible words of protest. Gently, John sits down beside his son and shakes a small, bony shoulder. “David.” No response, except that the boy makes an attempt to swat him. “David, it’s Daddy. Wake up.” Again, he shakes the boy’s shoulder.
The whimpers grow louder, but then David comes awake with a start and a final kick of his little legs. His eyes land on his father and after a long pause, his features register recognition and he crawls into the familiar warm embrace.
John surrounds the boy with his own body, and for a moment he is not sure which of them is feeling more comfort from the contact.
“Bad dream?” He asks softly against David’s silky hair.
A small head bobs in the affirmative. “Monsters,” he whispers.
“Mmm.” A soft kiss to David’s head now, a mirrored gesture of the one he’d given Delenn. “Well, don’t worry. There are no monsters. Daddy’s here. You’re safe.”
John feels another nod against his chest, and then there is a sniffle. “Will you check?”
They have danced this dance before. John stands and turns on David’s bedside light and makes what he hopes is an appropriate show of monster-checking – in the closet, under the bed, in the wardrobe. Turning back to his son, he manages a tired smile. “See? No monsters.” But he realizes David is looking at something, and he follows the boy’s gaze to the Centauri urn on the dresser. John sighs, lifts the lid, and looks inside. Sort of. Then he closes it – the thing makes him nervous – and turns again to David. “No monsters in there either.”
“I don’t like it.”
John chuckles. David’s childhood fear of monsters has lightened his mood considerably; it was easier to check for monsters he knew weren’t there – for the kind of monsters that had not existed when he was a child himself and did not exist now. He sits back at the foot of his son’s bed, facing the boy, one leg folded under his body and the other hanging loosely off the edge of the bed. “To tell you the truth, neither do I. But it was a gift for you from the Centauri Emperor. It’s very old and very special.”
“It’s ugly. And scary.”
“OK, well, tell you what. Technically, we’re not supposed to give it to you until you turn 16 anyway, so I will just take it and put it in a different room. That way I can watch it, and if any monsters come out, I’ll get ‘em before they get you. Deal?”
“I guess.” A pause. “Daddy?”
“Are monsters really real?”
Are monsters really real? John mulls over the question. It is Pandora’s Box, especially on a night like this. He is uncertain if his son is ready for the real answer to that question, but he is trying mightily to adapt the Minbari common law that one does not lie except to save another. Would this be considered a “saving” moment? No. Just a “postponing” one. “Are monsters real?” He repeats quietly, and David nods. John looks down at his son, who is looking back at him expectantly. With a sigh, the elder
“Really?” There is a hint of disbelief in the child’s voice.
“Yes, really.” John tilts his head back, searching for his next words. “It has been our job for a long time. A thousand years, ever since the Rangers were first created by Valen.”
“That’s a long time!”
“Mmhmmm.” A nod, as David is turning his head to look up at him now. “And we are all very, very good at our jobs. So – while monsters might be real, you – you, David Sheridan – you can rest assured that none of them will ever live in your bedroom.”
There is a lengthy pause for consideration on both their parts. John does not know what his son is thinking, but for himself, it is a simple vow – for as long as I live, the monsters won’t get you. They won’t get you the way they got me. As long as I have anything to say about it, you will never know the Terrors. Then David is speaking in a very small voice. “What if they sneak in?”
“Well then.” John picks David up and spins him around so that the two of them are facing each other once again. “If they sneak in, you just yell good and loud for me, and I will be here –“ He snaps his fingers – “Like that. And I’ll take care of those monsters, because you know what?”
“I’ve done it before.” The boy’s mouth forms an “O,” and John smiles at that. “And it was hard, and it was scary, but I’d do it again just for you. I love you, Davy.”
“I love you, Daddy.” The words ride in on a yawn, and David seeks his father’s embrace again.
“Good. So. You going back to sleep now?”
John stands, ruffling his son’s hair gently as the boy situates himself back under the covers. He watches with a wistful smile as David’s head finds the pillow and his eyes close; continues to watch a few moments longer, listening for deep, even breathing before exiting the room. As an afterthought, he takes the Centauri urn with him as he goes, leaving his son to sleep in peaceful innocence tonight, and tomorrow, and for as long as he can.