Half Moon Bay
5th April 2009, evening

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
-- Corinthians 13:7-8

But it did end.

It ended as he stood on the edge of the dock, watching her vanish into the night, like Heathcliff on the moors calling out for Kathy. With Mick and Noah, Mia Stevens was spirited away on the boat assigned to take them on the last leg of their journey to San Francisco, feeling despair like he had never known before. It wasn't until she was sailing out of his life did Daniel 'Leonid' Ivanov understand what he had lost. Until this moment, he had been able to rationalize his actions, telling himself it was for the best. He couldn't be a priest if he loved her and he didn't know how to be anything else. Fear had kept him from choosing her and yet in not choosing her, he felt raw inside, like the guts of him had been scooped out, leaving only empty hollowness behind.

This is my penance, he told himself, for disobeying my vows. My punishment for breaking with God is to never know another moment of peace without her.

Daniel didn't know how long he stood in the darkness, with the wind sweeping through his hair, watching until the boat disappeared in the distance but when he turned around, he found he wasn't alone.

After being present to ensure Amanda and her latest charges left Half Moon Bay safely and to pass along some instructions to Olivia, Murphy Michaels prepared for his return to the Resistance hideout when he saw the preacher staring into the space where the ship had been. Murphy joined him on the dock, having wanted to speak to the man privately since he heard the priest was parting company from his curious entourage. Right now however, it appeared to him that the man needed counsel himself, at least if he was any judge of the somewhat troubled expression on the man's face.

"Amanda will get them to San Francisco safely," he assured the preacher, sensing the man's concern for them, although Murphy was puzzled why he hadn't chosen to join them on the journey northward.

Daniel blinked as Murphy spoke, the man's voice bringing him abruptly back to reality. He was lost in thought, longing for something he couldn't have, debating if the communion with God was worth the sacrifice he had just made.

"I'm sure she will," he answered when it seeped into his brain what the other man said. Drawing a deep breath, he buried his longing for Mia in the same place so many other recent regrets were stored.

"You're close to them," Murphy ventured a guess.

"We travelled the same road for many days," Daniel replied, turning his back to the sea and facing the structure behind them. "It is difficult not to."

"I can understand that," Murphy empathized.

Murphy faced the ocean although the boat's departure had nowhere the same effect on him than it obviously had on the preacher. "Father..."

"Brother," Daniel corrected automatically.

"Brother." Murphy swallowed. "Do you take confession?"

The question was so unlikely that it actually had the effect of snapping Daniel's thoughts momentarily away from Mia Stevens. The priest turned to the SEAL and resistance leader with no small measure of surprise. While it was always gratifying to be greeted by a believer, Daniel had not considered that the faithful might come from such an unlikely source.

"Why yes," Daniel replied quickly, looking at Murphy in question. Suddenly, he was no longer Daniel who longed for a woman. He was again Brother Daniel, servant of God. "Do you require absolution?"

Murphy shifted his gaze forward, staring into the diminishing lights of the boat in the distance.

When Daniel did the same, his calling and instinct to help allowed him to forget his own troubles for a time. He did not press, suspecting that the other man did not volunteer anything about himself easily but a priest was sometimes part spirit guide and part psychiatrist and even the self-assured needed to talk. Thus Daniel waited patiently for the man to gather his thoughts and his resolved, taking comfort in the fact that in the midst of his own pain, he could take solace in the work at least.

Murphy knew the preacher was waiting for him to speak and for a moment, he was tempted to forget the whole idea. He had never been terribly religious, even when Da and Mam would drag him and the others to Sunday church. However, being the product of an Irish Catholic upbringing did leave him with certain conditioning and the belief in the sanctity of the church was one of them. As he thought of his parents, of Bridget, Callum, Sean and all the others that made up the Michaels family in Hyannis, he felt the acute stab of pain in his heart he hadn't allowed himself to feel.

Sucking in his breath to brace himself, the words rode on the cusp of an exhale. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been years since my last confession."

"Go on," Daniel nudged him gently.

Murphy swallowed thickly. "I have kept secrets from those I care about. Secrets that weigh heavily on me."

"Why?" Daniel asked, seeing real torment on his face.

This wasn't a man who allowed things to affect him. He was hardened by the discipline of a military life. However, Daniel could see the weight on the man's shoulders even before now. In the Resistance, the others looked to him as their leader, placed their safety and their trust in him simply because he was there the first day and had brought them out of San Francisco to this place of safety, like Joshua leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. However, that duty turned him into Atlas carrying the world on his back. Or even Tantalus, tormented by things always beyond his reach. At this moment, Daniel could almost relate.

"Because I didn't want anyone else to suffer the horror of the things I've seen," he admitted softly. "I have done things in my life that will damn me to hell a thousand times over. For God and country, I have killed, I have tortured and I have destroyed. There is blood on my hands I can never wash away but that's okay, I've made peace with it. I'm a soldier and that's my life. I accept that but since the Visitors, I have seen things that sicken even my resolve. I saw human beings devolve into monsters. I saw a world where fear can turn the harmless animal into a rabid beast."

Murphy paused a moment, thinking about that little girl he had tried to save the night he had been shot. Her broken body abused by men whom he was more than happy to kill for their sins. What must she have thought, alone, thinking salvation had come in the form of the two adult men who happened to find her in the house they were planning to loot? Her pain had screamed out to him that night and made him see what humanity could degenerate to and how quickly that metamorphosis could take.

"People become focused on their survival exclusively in such times," Daniel answered, finding nothing in Murphy's word to warrant his need for absolution. "It is not your fault that someone allows the fear they feel to lead them into darkness. In the days that it took for me to get here, I saw the same things you must have. I've seen people beaten down by circumstances, forced to commit acts they never imagined they could ever do. I myself have spilled blood to survive and I know that I will be judged for it but God is far kinder than we give him credit. He knows to look beyond deeds into the heart and yours is a good one, with good intentions."

"No." Murphy shook his head, refusing to believe that because Brother Daniel didn't have the full understanding of his sin. "I have kept secrets from my sister I have no right to keep."

He thought back to a week ago when he had seen Chandra after Olivia had made the introduction to the fifth columnist. He wanted her to prove that she could deliver all the things she had promised so he asked her to fulfil a purely personal request and she had done so, much to his bitter regret.

"A week ago, I found out from a fifth column contact that on the day of the Pulse, my father had decided to take the family on a trip. My brother Sean, the playwright, was opening a play, his first one apparently, and Da thought that it would be nice if the whole family was there to support him on opening night. The play was on Broadway, in New York."

Daniel felt a surge of pity for the man, understanding his grief in full measure now. Noah's family was in New York, Mia had spoken of the losses in that city she had loved in the face of the news that the Visitors levelled it. Like Los Angeles, the Visitors had pulverized the Big Apple and the millions in it.

"I am sorry."

"I haven't told Sydney," Murphy whispered, allowing himself to feel the pain that had forced him to push everyone away of late. Even Amanda knew to stay away even if she did not understand why. His anguish had driven her into the arms of another and he was too numb to care. "I don't know how to tell her. She thinks that our family is still alive in Hyannis. That Da took everyone on the Bonny and is sailing the seven seas, safe."

"You have to tell her," Daniel said automatically. "She has the right to mourn them also."

"I can't." Murphy shook his head. "I can't bear to see that light in her eyes die. You've seen my sister, she's happy and she feels everything. She has hopes and dreams that we will survive this. I can't take that away from her."

"You are her brother and you want to protect her," Daniel stated. "But she is a woman grown, with a right to decide for herself. You should tell her because if she finds out from someone else, she'll be hurt even more and her trust in you, the only family she has left, will be broken."

Murphy swallowed thickly. "I don't want her to lose hope. My sister is a loud mouth pain in the ass but she brings a smile to everyone she meets because it's in her nature to be that way. When she was a little girl, she charmed us all with that light in her eyes and that amazing spirit. If I tell that she and I are all that's left of our family, that light could die and I don't want to see it gone."

Daniel didn't speak for a moment, feeling less like a priest listening to confession and more like a man who understood all too well the pain of hard choices. "Sometimes, it is necessary to hurt someone by telling them the worst news they could receive because it's only way they can move on, to find happiness in the future. I know you think you are doing the right thing but if you spare her now, it will be far worse when she learns the news in the future. Lies of this magnitude have a way of destroying everything they touch. Don't tell her and in her anger, she'll lose faith in the only family she has left."

Murphy exhaled loudly. "Do you ever wish, Brother Daniel, that sometimes this cup would pass?"

Daniel stared at the boat he could no longer see. "Yes." He nodded. "More recently than ever before. I wish I was anyone but who I am."

"There's no one else who can do this," Murphy replied. "No one else who can lead these people but me and I never wanted it. I'm a soldier, I follow orders, I'm not used to running everything."

Daniel nodded. "I used to think my path was laid out so clearly. There was no room for doubt, everything was about serving God and following my vows. It was safe and reassuring. I didn't have to think about anything beyond the church, I could put the world into neat little parcels, a parable for each situation. All I had to do was refer to the Book and it would give me answers. As a servant of God, I was quite safe beyond the world of man's daily trials."

Murphy stared at him. "And now?"

"And now..." Daniel swallowed. "I have fallen from a lofty height and I have discovered that I bleed like everyone else. It's a sobering state of being to know that the Book doesn't always have the answers, even though I have been taught to guide others to believe the same."

"It looks like you and I are not that different, Brother," Murphy replied. "We're both equally screwed."

Daniel actually laughed at that. "I wouldn't know." However, in light of Mia's departure, that joke didn't seem all that funny when it sunk in.

"How shall we go on?" Murphy asked, not expecting an answer. It seemed that father was in the same state of turmoil as he. He had wanted absolution but had instead received empathy. It might even be better.

"We just do," Daniel replied softly. "We may wish it otherwise but we cannot allow the cup to pass without drink because that is what we do." He stared into the night as the twinkle in the darkness blinked out completely and Mia was lost from his sight at last. "We do not know how to do anything else."


Continued in the Book of Daniel II