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Half Moon Bay
5th April 2009, early morning



Suddenly appearing so quickly through the doorway of the bakery, that Daniel barely had time to register he was there until he appeared, was a man in his thirties, with dirty blond hair, intense looking eyes and an AK47 in his hands.

"Passing through?" he asked.

~


Stevie had him in her sights but Noah had been busy unhooking the spare and his hands felt miles away from the 9mm he had stashed in the waistband of his jeans.

On the other side of the Jeep, Mick watched their six, expecting trouble to come that way now that all their attention was supposed to be on the newcomer.

"Would have been passing through quicker too if someone wasn't taking potshots at us," Stevie replied.

"Sorry about that," the man apologized and shifted his gaze past the jeep, giving a decidedly military hand signal.

"Guys," Mick called out from inside the Jeep, wanting to warn his friends that the situation was fast changing.

Daniel saw the appearance of others across the roofs, from inside the shop front and even one from the inside a seemingly abandoned car. Subtly, the barrels of other weapons appeared through windows, from around corners and even one from inside one of the parked vehicles on the street. It became very clear to Daniel that they were surrounded, even if he couldn't see everyone.

"Didn't mean to hurt you," the man continued. "But we needed to get your attention."

*

Once contact was made, the vehicles that seemed abandoned came to life and three cars surrounded them, filled with other armed people. Allowing Daniel enough time to change the blown tyre of the jeep, Daniel found himself, Noah and Mia escorted to the sprawling expanse of the Half Moon Bay Country Golf Club. The place sat on the edge of the water and as they drove up, Daniel saw a small community thriving, carefully hidden from prying eyes. While they had a tendency to stay indoors during the day, Daniel noticed that the folk they did encounter were devoid of the fear and anxiety he had seen in the faces of people they had seen before this.

He wondered if this paranoia was due to the fact that this community in Half Moon Bay was a haven that needed such precautions to keep safe.

Led into to a room that appeared to be an office of sorts, the leader of the group dismissed the need for an entourage but ensured Daniel and the band were disarmed while he granted them an audience. He also instructed that Mick be separated. While none of them liked this, they were not in a position to argue, at least while everyone else around them seemed to be so well armed and Daniel did not want to escalate any hostilities until they knew what their situation was.

Stevie and Noah were seething, staring a new asshole in the man's forehead as they and Daniel were forced to sit down in front of this desk. Mick had been taken away from them at gunpoint, just like the way they'd been escorted in this office, without being told why and to what purpose.

Biting her tongue, Stevie was fighting hard against the desire to bite the guy's head off, at least verbally, if no other way.

Fucking Olsen, Murphy Michaels thought.

He had hoped to have the cars bring the jeep to a stop when it came into town. The sentries that he, Kris and Rick had set up gave them the warning of the jeep's arrival as soon as it turned down the Juniper Serra Highway. There was only one possible place the vehicle could be coming and that had given Murphy the time to prepare. He had planned to have the vehicle brought to a halt and its occupants interrogated to determine who they were. He assumed and rightly so that these people were fleeing towards the north but it wasn't unusual that the Visitors used infiltrators either.

Olsen, one of the civilians who had only just started taking on sentry duty, a weekend warrior who was eager to shoot at anything much to Murphy's chagrin, had jumped the gun and pulled the trigger before Murphy had given the signal for the cars to move in. Once that had been done and the occupants emerged, rightly pissed, Murphy had to be careful. All were armed except the preacher and a preacher was a good cover to put people off guard. He had wanted the introduction to go better but once that shot was fired, Murphy had no choice to ride this thing to its conclusion.

These people were pissed, paranoid and not open to listening without something compelling to make them listen and frankly Murphy hadn't the patience to approach this with overt diplomacy when it was easier to just tell them what he needed to and get what he could out of them the old fashioned way.

"I'm sorry about your tyre," Murphy opened, suspecting that it was not an apology that was going to be accepted. "One of our sentries was new. He saw a vehicle he didn't recognize and panicked." The better explanation was the guy was an idiot, who would get his ass reamed later.

"Does he shoot at skyfighters too or can he recognise those?" Stevie asked sarcastically. Noah threw her a look, which she ignored. "I want to see that other guy who was riding with us," she carried on, not about to use their names just yet.

Daniel shot her a look to let him ask the questions. Facing the man before him, who bore all the looks of someone who had a military background, he asked in a calmer tone, "Why was our friend taken?"

There was something in Murphy's Irish Catholic upbringing that made it hard for him to give lip to a priest. "He looked hurt," Murphy replied without hesitation. "We've got a doctor and a paramedic here. I thought it was a good idea for them to check him out. See if he needs further medical help. We've had people come through here with injuries that were a lot worse then they looked. Thought it was the least we could do after shooting your tyres. We don't meant to be busting your balls but as you can see we've got a few people here and keeping them safe is my priority."

Stevie shifted in her seat, about to give Daniel a piece of her mind. They owed this self-proclaimed leader of Buttfuck Bay nothing. If they wanted to remain safe in their little hidey-hole, they should have let them drive on through.

Noah shook his head at the man's words, his patience also wearing thin. Sensing his friend's annoyance go up another notch or two, his hand went to find Stevie's in her lap so she wouldn't fly off the handle.

"He was getting better until your stupid stunt," he commented. "Why take him at gunpoint if all you want to do is help him?"

"Would you have let him go with us after the said stupid stunt?" Murphy declared, seeing that these people were getting even more pissed off as the minute passed. Tough. "Look, sorry for the fuck up but we survive here, being able to figure out who comes to town is a friend or foe."

Stevie snorted. "A, the way you're going about it is going make any potential friend a fuckin' foe, and b, I'm a nurse. Our friend did not need to go with the likes of you." She might not have been in a position to fix up Davey but Mick's injuries had not been as severe. Not by a long shot. What she had done had been enough. Given time and rest, he would have mended fine.

Murphy shot the girl a glare that everyone who knew him knew better to provoke.

Daniel didn't know the man but he had been around enough military types to know this one was barely restraining his temper in reaction to Stevie and Noah's hostility.

"We've been on the road for quite some time," Daniel offered, trying to diffuse the situation. "It's been a difficult journey for us, keeping one step ahead of the Visitors."

"Shooting you people would not have been my first choice but once that was done, this wasn't going to go by the numbers. If your friend doesn't need medical attention, fine but I'm not about to take that on your word when I have no idea who the fuck you are. For all we know, you could have been Visitor collaborators or Visitor infiltrators. There are families here and sorry your feelings were hurt but we'll do what we have to to stay alive."

Shoot at people and take one of their own and then worry about hurt feelings? Stevie stared at the man in front of them.

"What do you want us to do? How can we prove to you who we are one way or another?" They were going in fucking circles and Daniel there, priest of the year, was trying to play fucking nice. It was driving her batshit. "It's not like we have any idea who the fuck you are."

Noah squeezed her hand. Hard. "Sir, we just want our friend back and be on our way. We didn't ask for this. We're just passing through, heading north. If you want a target, why don't you try Grover Beach?"

Ignoring the comment about Grover Beach for the moment, he studied the trio, pegging the preacher pretty quickly. The other two, well he guessed what they were by the guitars strapped to the top of the jeep. Fucking civilians who were used to having it soft and easy, who had gotten a major fucking wakeup call with the Pulse. Now they were running scared, spitting piss and vinegar and probably had a real dose of reality on the way up from Mexico. No, these weren't infiltrators. The girl was mouthy but almost everything that came out of her was being driven by fear. She reminded him a little of Amanda.

"We can talk about Grover Beach later," Murphy said, reminding himself that he was dealing with civilians. "We're done here for now. I'm guessing you stopped in town to rest up?"

"Yes," Daniel nodded. "We've been travelling by night."

"Good call," Murphy nodded and stood up, going to the door and opening it. He saw Rick standing there in the hallway, cautious as always while he spoke to the newcomers. "Give them back their guns, would ya?"

Not one to disobey an order, Rick nodded and disappeared for a second before he entered the room. A shotgun, among other things were in his arms and he set it all on the table.

"Thanks," Murphy said to Rick and gestured to the man that they were safe and he was alright to talk to them further without Rick needing to stand guard.

"Alright." His glance said he wasn't sure about that but he'd trust the older man's instincts.

Daniel exchanged looks with Noah and Stevie, trying to convey that he thought these people and Murphy could be trusted even if their first meeting could have gone better.

"Well, you're free to go," Murphy declared without hesitation. "If you're travelling at night, you're welcome to get some rest and some food. Jacey's going to be doing breakfast soon so you might as well stick around for that. We've got supplies so we can spare some if you need it."

How fucking gracious of him. Stevie just wanted to get the hell out of that office and of that town but she guessed with all the time wasted, thanks to that idiot, the sun would be way too high now to risk it. Reaching for the desk, she grabbed the twelve-gauge.

"We'd like to see our friend," Noah spoke as he picked up his and Mick's weapons.

"Is that all the ordinance you've got?" Murphy asked, not missing the glare the girl gave him. Brat.

Noah looked to Daniel. "There's more in the Jeep." Now, were they going to get stripped clean? Maybe that was all those folks were after... ammo.

"Before you go," Murphy started towards the door. "Take a look at our armory, we managed to salvage some ammunition from a couple of the ships that got hit by the visitors before they went down in the bay, we'll get you loaded up."

Oh, now he was playing nice? Noah was just as confused as Stevie was. For a guy who was worried about the safety of his 'community', he was pretty trusting, wanting to show them their firepower, having already imparted that families lived here, etc. Not that Noah cared one way or another, but someone else, appearing harmless now, might use that information later on when pressed for it.

"Thank you."

Stevie stood up and went to the door, facing the man who was now offering them refuge, food and ammunition but still did not answer their request for Mick. Had something bad happened?

Murphy nodded in acknowledgement at the thanks, guessing they were trying to figure him out. Certainly the priest was eyeballing him with that intention.

Daniel stood up, ruminating on the whole encounter, trying to decide what the man was playing at. He suspected that there were reasons for the man being so accommodating. "How long have you been here?" Daniel inquired as he followed the others out.

"Long enough," Murphy replied as he led them out into the corridor.

While he had been talking to the trio, Rick and the others had gone through their vehicle, examining everything in it. Mark was plying the injured member of their party with questions, seeing if their stories conflicted. However, the girl was Murphy's best indication that they were who they claimed to be. If she were a collaborator, she'd have given up everything and been superbly pleasant about it. That she was so suspicious was a good sign.

Whether or not she liked it, her pissy personality had been the best reason for believing this group was on the level.

"We kind of fell together when the Pulse happened. Stuck in the same place at the same time."

"You're military?" Daniel inquired.

"SEAL." Murphy shrugged. "Wrong place at the wrong time." He took a turn down another corridor. "Your friend's in our infirmary."

Military. It figured. Shoot first and ask questions later. Stevie rolled her eyes, not caring for his damn life story. Where was their infirmary was what she wanted to know.

A couple of turns down the hallway and they were in what used to be the spa area of the country club, now converted into the infirmary. Murphy couldn't see Mark but Sydney was there, playing nurse.

"Hey, big brother. Just talking to the cute musician guy here," Sydney said brightly, giving Mick a smile as she brought him a glass of water and some antibiotics that Mark had insisted he take.

Murphy winced. It had to be his sister.

Noah noted the family ressemblance even as the girl called their 'host' - and Noah's brain supplied the term loosely - big brother. Catching the smile she threw their drummer, Noah nearly smirked. Mick would be lapping this up in any other circumstance.

As it was, if Mick was smiling it was because his friends were finally returned to him. Trying to rid himself of the tension in his shoulders, he looked at Stevie, Noah and Daniel, assessing their state. "You guys alright?" he asked before checking Sydney's brother out. Popping the pills into his mouth, he downed the glass of water and handed it back to the girl with a nod.

"Yeah," Stevie said, moving forward, not waiting for His Worship to let her know she could.

"Great, Syd." Murphy gave his sister a look. "I'll leave them to do the introductions," Murphy replied, deciding his sister could show them around a lot better than he could. "Help them out with anything they need."

"Sure, now that you shot at them." She smirked.

"Don't make me wish I was an only child." Murphy glared at her.

Daniel could see Mick had been treated well even if Noah and Mia especialy were still quite suspicious.

"Jeez, lighten up, Murphy." Sydney swatted him. "Go plot the end of the Visitors or something. They're good for now. Right?" She looked at Mick and winked.

Murphy shook his head and left.

Stevie shot the boys and Daniel a look before she settled on the woman. For some reason she had utterly enjoyed this Murphy squirming in front of his sister.

"Hi, I'm Stevie." She extended her hand.

"Oh, yeah, sorry..." Mick scratched his head a little, surprised by the immediate change in Stevie. "Noah over there and Brother Daniel. Everyone, this is Sydney. She's been checking me out..." Mick faltered and dipped his head.

"Yeah, we got that," Noah returned as he and Stevie exchanged a grin. "Hi, Sydney."

"Sorry." He looked to Sydney, grinning a bit himself. "I blame the meds. There was another guy..." He looked around but didn't see him. "Mark. They checked my injuries." This time he said it carefully. He didn't tell the others he'd also been interrogated. There would be time to bitch about that later.

"Hey, good to meet ya." Sydney took the hand offered. "You gotta excuse folks around here for being a little paranoid, my brother too. Although I suspect the asshole who shot at your tyres is going to be pulling garbage duty for the next week."

"Nice to meet you," Daniel greeted the girl.

"Wow, you're a real live preacher, huh?" She studied him a moment before shifting her gaze away to Mick, who was describing Mark.

"Yeah, he's our paramedic. We kind of picked up people on the way here. A couple of military types around here, that's why Murphy's a bit edgy. The Visitors have a thing for soldiers and anyone with a uniform."

"Does that extend to priests?" Stevie asked, but the earlier bite in her tone was gone. "We're still puzzled as to why your people shot at us if you're all so wary of travellers. We would have just passed on through if you'd stayed hidden..."

Mick nodded. He'd been wondering about the same thing. Hell of a way to attract attention when you claim to want none. That said, he'd been told the shot had been a fuck up. Truth was, he'd known Daniel had been aiming to stop here for the day but they all had had a funny feeling about the place upon entering it, he doubted they would have stopped here. No, they would have pushed on for the next town, or a spot in the brush to hide in.

"They apparently didn't mean to fire," Noah reminded Stevie, not wanting to put Sydney on the spot. She seemed to be a lot easier to talk to than her brother so he didn't want to piss her off with their whining. That said, any chances of really relaxing here were pretty much shot to hell, even if the community turned out to be a nice spot to rest at. Even he couldn't forget the way they'd been carted off and separated from Mick with not so much as a word of explanation.

"True. I guess it boils down to this Murphy's manners then," Stevie said, her gaze returning on Sydney. "No offense."

"It's okay." Sydney shrugged. "He's a SEAL and he's used to being in charge of other SEALs. He was coming to visit me when the shit hit the fan and suddenly he got stuck with a whole bunch of scared civilians that didn't know what to do and expected he did. He's working on his people skills," she explained, seeing that Murphy had been in rare form today by the way none of these people could seem to relax.

"How many of you are there?" Daniel asked. "I saw a number of people coming in here."

"At last count, I think, about fifty," Sydney explained. "We were about a handful when the Pulse hit and then things just got from bad to worse. Murphy got us out of San Francisco, organised to get those who wanted up north to be taken up by boat. The rest of us, we're staying here. Somebody's gotta fight them right?"

Daniel's eyes widened. Resistance. That's why they were so paranoid. "You're Resistance?"

"We're working on it." Sydney smiled.

Oh. Stevie looked to Daniel before moving closer to Mick, wanting to check what had been done to him. She'd seen him being given pills and wondered if they were for the pain or something else.

"The group you've been looking to meet?" Mick asked Daniel. He had said it was a church but maybe he had detoured this way on purpose. Not that he wasn't past his distrust for the priest - he was.

Not that I'm aware of," Daniel answered. "However, my contact at St. Ignatius is a Father Fulton and he has connections with the Resistance." This was something of a coincidence.

All eyes went on Sydney to see if the woman had heard of the name or not.

Stevie was the first to avert her eyes. While she guessed it would be easier to not be travelling with Daniel anymore, a constant reminder of what she couldn't have, she wasn't looking forward to the moment they would be parting ways. She hoped it wouldn't be so soon... that he wouldn't leave them to stay here.

Reminding herself that she should be cautious with what was revealed, Sydney was careful about blurting out too much. "Well, I do know that we've had contact with St. Ignatius. Some of the people who still have family in the city, sometimes go to St. Ignatius to get in contact with us."

That would fit with what Daniel knew about the church as a point of contact for the network he was meant to be helping establish.

"So, it's hard to get in and out of San Francisco," Noah remarked, given that the folks here hadn't been able to bring their families in. He looked to Stevie and Mick.

Mick cleared his throat. Maybe it would make more sense for them not to enter the city at all. He figured there was no way Stevie would want to remain here so maybe it was time they split up. Let Daniel go to his church as planned and them be on their way north. But the bridge they needed on the other side of the San Francisco would be heavily guarded so their only option really would be to head back to San Jose and circumnavigate San Francisco Bay that way.

That meant finding another ride.

He ran a hand over his face. He didn't like their chances with that. It was more populated here, and there were more Visitors about. Surely by now the enemy had noticed the exodus northward. They would be stupid not to. Travelling that way would be increasingly dangerous. Should they go in with Daniel and wait for him to do good on his promise to be able to smuggle them north at some point? It seemed risky to enter in San Fran at all to only try to flee it later, especially now that they were on their radar.

They needed to talk about all this but it wasn't something he would do in front of Sydney, no matter how sweet her smile was.

"Getting into San Francisco is actually easy," Sydney explained. "The Visitors have checkpoints outside the city so anyone wanting to go in, can unless you've been flagged for something, in which case they'll pick you up. However, they really don't care too much about folks getting in; it's the getting out they have a problem with. I mean we make most of runs in Frisco by boat. Before the Visitors cracked down, Murphy and Rick scavenged a lot from the big navy ships the Visitors torpedoed in the bay. They got these boats called zodiacs, which we hide and use to get out at night. The Visitors aren't so good on water it seems. They're not used to it."

Flagged for something. That would describe them surely. They would know to look for their numbers and that Jeep. They would endanger Daniel by staying with him. They all exchange a glance before Stevie's gaze settled on Daniel.

Mick noticed but didn't comment. These two would have to talk eventually. Thinking back on what Sydney had just said, he wondered if getting into the city and try crossing the bay by boat by night would be the way to go. If they could locate a boat. A lot of ifs...

"It's getting out of San Francisco that worries us," Noah said. "What do you mean by 'cracked down'?"

"Well, it took them a couple of weeks to really start paying attention to how many people were leaving the city. The first few weeks, they were more interested in filling up the motherships, getting their stormtroopers to replace police and setting up collaborators in positions of power. Not to mention restoring utiltiies, bringing in food supplies and getting things up and running again to make people believe they were really okay guys. Now, they're starting to pay attention to people running up to the safe areas where the dust still works."

"Which means running north is getting trickier the longer we take," Stevie let out. Looking around the room, she asked, "So what's your game plan? I mean staying out here, hidden... you're helping people along?"

"Eventually," Sydney replied. "I think that 's the plan for us, to get out there and take a more active role in things."

Nodding, Stevie looked to Daniel again. This was exactly what her parents had joined twenty-six years ago, what they had helped build back in Los Angeles. A network helping people through the occupation. She sensed the pull, the familiarity of it, but at the same time she was absolutely terrified to find herself in occupied territory again.

"We should get some rest," Noah suggested. "Maybe a bite to eat first..." He turned to Mick.

"You hungry? Want us to bring you something or can you tag along?"

"Breakfast is being served about now," Sydney said brightly.

"I think I better tag along then," Mick said, pushing himself up to step off the gurney with Stevie's help.

"Come on I'll show you guys where you can grab some food as well a place to get some rest if you're leaving again." Sydney started towards the doorway.

"Thank you," Daniel said graciously on behalf of them all.

~

As promised, after breakfast in the main dining hall where most of the Resistance was assembled for the meal, Sydney led Daniel and the others to the rooms in the hotel part of the country club. Daniel was impressed by the facility even if their method of greeting left a lot to be desired. The Resistance was composed of many people from different walks of life but there were enough military presence to be able to forge the rag tag team into an effective fighting force. He considered briefly staying here, because these people needed the comfort of a priest, whether or not they knew it. However, he soon discounted the notion because he was needed elsewhere and there was Mia to consider.

The fact that they could be flagged had not skipped his notice and Daniel realized that his Jeep would make them a target. He recalled what Sydney said about boats going to San Francisco and felt that this would be a better choice with Mick's injuries than trying to make it there by road. Once inside the room, he joined Mick and the others by slipping through the adjoining door into their room.

"We should talk about where we go from here," he said, meeting Mick and Noah's gaze. He did not look at Mia.

"You're thinking of staying here?" Stevie asked Daniel from her spot on top of one of the double beds. She was already lying down on her side, shoes kicked off and legs brought up to her chest.

"Might not be a bad idea," Noah remarked before Daniel could answer. "They seemed fairly organised..."

"You call what they did to us organised?" Stevie asked, her gaze touching on Mick. "That pompous, condescending prick..." Mick shot her a look and she stopped that line but added, "They're just as scared and paranoid as us."

"How else should they be?" Mick asked, piling pillows on one side of the other bed. Slowly, he sat down, swinging his legs carefully onto the bed to recline against the little nest of cotton and polyester filling he'd just made himself. Arm still wrapped around his middle, he winced as he shifted until he found a comfortable position.

Stevie looked at him and shrugged. He was right, of course, though in her eyes nothing would excuse shooting at them and nearly causing them to crash, or worsening Mick's injury by having him thrown around when Daniel had nearly lost control of the vehicle. And she wasn't even touching on what had followed. That said, she revisited in her head the idea of staying here. If it wasn't for Murphy...

Mick recognised Stevie's ambivalence because he felt it too. He didn't like the military slant - and didn't care much for their leader - but he'd much prefer remaining outside of occupied San Francisco.

His eyes went on Daniel, back to Stevie's question. "So you're thinking of staying, Daniel?" It wouldn't be that surprising if he did.

"It is tempting," Daniel confessed. "These people do look like they could use some spiritual guidance." Of course, he couldn't say the words without feeling utterly hypocritical. "However, I have obligations at St. Ignatius and to Father Fulton, who is expecting me. I'll be continuing on to San Francisco."

Trying to look like she didn't care, Stevie was nonetheless paying attention. She knew what needed to be done... why stick around him when nothing could come of it? But she couldn't help herself wanting to.

"I'm worried about your Jeep drawing attention," Mick told Daniel. "They'll be looking for three or four people... maybe we should split up in two."

"I can ride with Daniel," Noah suggested, not having missed the fact there was something definitely off between Daniel and Stevie even though the pair had shared a room the night before. It seemed to be this constant on and off, these two. "You and Stevie can maybe get on one of those boat trips Sydney was talking about..."

Stevie didn't like the idea of taking anything from that man Murphy, even if it was via his sister, but there seemed like they didn't have much choice.

It didn't sound like a bad idea though, had he not been injured, Mick would have preferred riding with the priest rather than Noah do it. Murphy's people would surely offer better protection and knowledge of the local goings-on to whoever travelled with them, both things Daniel would be short on. And not to take anything away from Noah, but Mick was the better shot of them two.

Mick turned to Daniel again to see his reaction to it.

"Thank you for the offer, Noah, but it may be better if I make the rest of the journey alone," Daniel offered. "They might be more reluctant to suspect a man of the cloth travelling on his own to be a possible terrorist than one who is not. Besides, it's best that you remain together."

His eyes touched Mia's briefly. He didn't want her to lose any more of her friends and he was accustomed to breathing the same air with men who were prepared to shoot him. "Sydney indicated that they had contacts in the city, who would be able to help you once you arrived in the city."

Frozen in place, Stevie didn't even blink. So that was that. Not only was he ditching them, he wasn't even planning on meeting up once they would all be in San Francisco. He instead was steering them toward Murphy again and the help the man could offer them. It made her feel sick all of a sudden, like a bad trip from too much booze or too much dope - or both. The room was spinning but she pushed herself up anyway and rolled off the bed.

"What's up?" Mick said, his gaze studying her.

"Just going to go unload the Jeep," Stevie said, staring at the floor as if slipping her shoes back on was taking all her attention. "Wouldn't want to delay Brother Daniel here with taking our shit out of his car later on."

Daniel stared at her, shocked.

He heard the words but couldn't fathom the clear hostility in them. She refused to look at him and her words were laced with anger. He had said what he had because it was safer. She understood that, right?

"That's not what I meant..." he stuttered, uncertain how his words had become so misrepresented.

Stevie narrowed her eyes on Daniel. Did he really have no clue?

Mick and Noah exchanged a knowing look before Mick cleared his throat.

"Guys, I understand that this should be our cue to exit the room and let you two hash this out, but it's better if my ass doesn't move..."

Noah tried to hide a smirk. While Mick's remark was rather funny, he knew there had to be some real feelings involved here on Stevie's and Daniel's parts.

She didn't understand. She thought that he was trying to leave her. To discard her because she did not fit into his life. A part of Daniel felt incensed she could think him so callous and another wanted to convince her otherwise. "I thought that with Mick's injuries, that would be the safest way."

"The safest?" Stevie didn't even know why she bothered. "The safest for all of us or for your soul?"

"Aw, fuckin' hell." Mick motioned to Noah to help him up while he burst out into wah-wah-wahs, nearly putting his fingers in his ears.

"Mick, shut up," Stevie told him. "And don't bother getting up. We're done here anyway." She opened the door and was about to walk out before she paused on the threshold, her eyes touching on Daniel.

"The safest would be with one of us to watch your back." She didn't care who it would be. She had to admit she would have liked it to be her but understood Daniel's position. Sort of.

And while she had expected they would part ways, and had even wished for it, thinking it would lessen the longing and frustration she felt, she didn't like it now that they were at that crossroad. But the bottom line was that she didn't like the idea of him carrying on by himself. On top of being risky, of knowing he would be on his own out there, it made their separation... final.

She looked at him one last second before walking away.

Noah sighed and sat down heavily on the bed Stevie had just vacated, his hand going to scratch the back of his neck while Mick shook his head slightly before he glanced at Daniel.

"She does that a lot."

The theatrical exits - or entrances... but Mick was with her on this. Daniel would be safer if not alone and he too had felt like the priest couldn't wait to ditch them and move on. While he wasn't sure what the deal was between Daniel and Stevie (but had read between the lines it was no longer heading anywhere), he had certainly grasped during the last few nights riding with her that she had a real thing for the man. And abandonement issues could have been Stevie's middle name so it was no surprise she was taking it the way she was.

"In the jeep, we're a target," Daniel said after she'd gone. "I didn't want her to lose you two either." Knowing that he'd probably regret this, he went after her, uncertain of what he'd accomplish by doing so.

"Daniel," Mick called out after him.

It was too late, Daniel was already out the door and hurrying after her.

*
Walking around the corridors of the country club, Stevie was looking for Sydney. She had no idea where the Jeep was so her earlier plan to head out there to go get their stuff was a little messed up now. Good thing nobody was there to see her distress and frustration. Add worry and embarrassment to the mix and you weren't looking at someone who was in a frame of mind to be out and about amongst other human beings.

"Mia," Daniel called out once he saw her in the corridor. "Wait, please," he pleaded with her, wanting to explain.

And just when she was thanking the stars for not having to face anyone in her current state, Daniel had to come running after her. She slowed down but didn't quite stop.

"It's okay. I understand. It's not like we promised each other anything when we hooked up," she said and then realised how that sounded. "I mean started travelling together, the four of us..." She worried her bottom lip, flustered. "I know there could be this thing and you can't but I find it difficult to let go, alright? It's my problem. I'll deal. And you're right; it's best if we go on our separate ways. If it's half as hard on you as..." she faltered. As it is on me... Honestly. She was a mess and had she known where the damn exit was, she would have simply just taken off.

He closed the distance between them and took her in his arms, pulling her to him. "I don't want to hurt you but I'll keep doing it because I'm torn between wanting you and who I am. I didn't want you to lose Mick and Noah because of me, Mia, I swear."

Stiffly at first, she let him pull her in his embrace. Burrowing her face into the crook of his neck, she spoke against his collar. "I just thought we'd have a little more time."

He let out a breath. "The more time we have together, the harder this will be, Mia," he whispered, feeling the same anguish she did. He could feel her hair against his cheek and pressed his skin against the soft strands. "I don't want to keep hurting you. I'm sorry I can't be the man you deserve. I'm not strong enough to walk away from God but I don't want you to lose anyone else either. On the boat, all three of you will be safe. If they catch me, perhaps that will be my penance..."

Her throat tightened and she screwed her eyes shut at the thought of Daniel in Visitors' hands. When had he become so vital to her? "Don't talk like that or I'll kill you myself."

He lifted her chin upwards, so he could look into her eyes. "I will never be able to think of God in the same way after you, Mia, no matter what happens. I will carry you in my heart forever but I'm not strong enough to leave him or the church. I'm a coward," he admitted readily. "However, it will give me strength, knowing that you are alive and happy. Noah and Mick are your family, and I don't want you to lose them because of me."

Stevie understood what he was saying but she knew something else. "It will kill me if I find out you got caught, Daniel," she said quietly, as if saying the words would make it happen. "And we could all die on that boat..."

But he had made his choice and she should respect it.

Her green eyes studied his blue depths and she reached up to kiss him, her lips pressing to his before she tasted them with a swipe of her tongue. She pulled back, unable to slow her heart or look away.

"Tell me. Tell me you need me to be strong so you can walk away. So we can both walk away..."

He wanted to kiss her back, to revel in the pleasure of her lips but to do that would be to lose himself in her.

"I need you to be strong," he said quetly. "Because I'm not."

Her heart sank and she blinked. He'd really said it. Part of her had wished he wouldn't. A big part.

"Okay."

She'd already made the decision to let him go, once or twice before when he'd asked, and for some reason she fluttered back to him like a moth to a flame. She took a step back. She really needed to make it stick this time.

He almost wished she hadn't stepped back, that she would claim him as she had done before, crumbling his weak resolve until he had no choice but to submit to her, but Mia did not. She was strong, his precious Mia, and he had decided before this, that of the two of them, she was the strongest.

"I wish..." the words died in his throat. He'd only make it worse.

"Don't." A whispered warning before she took another step back. This was it. The goodbye. It should be. It had to be. She didn't want to have to go through it all again tonight or tomorrow or whenever one of them would be ready to leave - whoever it would be first.

He remained silent, watching her, feeling an iclcle of pain stab him through the heart at her sorrow. He had done this. He had brought them to this and for all his life Daniel would never forgive himself for the hurt he caused by being weak, by not stopping this before it had gotten as far as it did.


To be continued in Confessions

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