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WHITETHORN, CALIFORNIA
Channing Tatum - 1 - A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Ryan Matison

June 18th

It was not easy to see the terrain when they left the Klamath Mountains behind, however in the darkness as they drove down the barely seen tar road, Xenia imagined the woods of Mendocino and Trinity, dwindling as they descended the range. Her gaze brushed across the night sky, marvelling at how clear the stars were without the pollution of city lights to obscure their brilliance. At first driving at night felt disconcerting but Xenia was becoming used to it and to some degree, travelling cross country with only the road to guide her way was symbolic of the journey she was taking. The closer she got to Daniel, the more it seemed that she was changing and she wondered when she finally arrived at her destination, would he even recognise her?

Her progress had been slow largely due to the considerations taken for the benefit of her new charge. She did not know why she was expending so much time ensuring Ethan Kelly survive but a part of her was determined to have him do more than just survive but to live. It was important to Xenia that she aid him recover after his terrible ordeal. Perhaps, it was because she knew what anguish he was suffering and unlike herself, where she had people like Jonas, Ana, Timm, even Jerry and Jace to help her, Ethan seemed to have no one to aid him through his grief. And as terrible as losing Lukas had been, she did not have to endure anything as horrific as what Ethan had been forced to see during the last few hours of Jilly's life.

A lesser man would have been completely distraught, allowing the loss to break him but Ethan tried to hold himself together and as they days went on, she saw him become stronger and though Xenia had no doubt the wound he carried was raw and bleeding still, he was trying to come to terms with what had happened to him. Ethan was even trying to make an effort to be a suitable travelling companion, appreciating what she had done for him by helping her where he could. While he was incapable of anything too physical, he was able to stay awake and keep watch when she stopped for a few hours rest. He was even well enough to sit up front with her and keep her company. And with this new arrangement, they spoke about all manner of things, trying to cram the past into the present so that they could remember that they were once civilised people, living normal lives that didn't seem so desperate and fraught with danger.

And she had to admit, it was nice to have someone to talk to on the long drive.

"You were really an ice skater?" Ethan laughed as they continued on Highway 36 through the night. His spirits was starting to improve a little which was encouraging but Xenia knew that it wouldn't take much for him to descend into despair again. It could be a simple as a word or a smell and the next thing he knew, he'd be tumbling headlong into a memory he didn't want. Lord knew she had gone through the same thing.

"I was actually a rather famous you know," Xenia declared haughtily, feigning hurt. "I went to the last Olympics and won gold. Hollywood even wanted me in a remake of Ice Castles." She sniffed like a wounded animal.

"Ice Castles?" He looked at her in puzzlement.

"Ugh..." she rolled her eyes in contempt like it was knowledge everyone should have. "It’s only the greatest ice skating movie ever made...."

"I thought that was Blades of Glory," Ethan quipped, knowing perfectly well anything with Will Ferrell and Jon Heder couldn't possibly be the greatest anything ever made but he was in a teasing mood.

"That's it," she gaped at him aghast. "I'm kicking you out of my van for your rotten taste." She retorted before breaking into a smirk.

"So how come I didn't see you on screen if you had a movie deal?" He teased, liking to see his saviour's smile. Aside from the fact that she was incredibly beautiful, her radiance made his spirit lighter and the things that could do that was scarce of late.

"I'm an athlete," Xenia snorted. "Not a performer. Besides, you don't remake an original when it’s perfect. I liked the original, I wouldn't want to ruin the memory of that by making a substandard modern version."

"Your principles do you credit young padwan," he joked but he admired the sentiment nonetheless. "So what do you plan to do in San Francisco? Skate?"

"I don't think I'll be doing that while I'm pregnant," she pointed out to him, feeling a tug of discomfort at the suggestion. "You should know better than me about that."

"Right," he nodded with a smile. "Still there's no reason you can't skate. Besides, even with the Visitors giving us back some television programming there's not a lot to entertain people. An Olympic skater could find something to do, I mean people go to those ice shows all the time." He pointed out, though he had never gone to one in his life.

"No," she shook her head discounting the notion of performing as a skater any time too soon. "I'm done skating for now." She replied resolutely, her expression softening with sadness whenever she thought of Lukas and all the reasons why skating was so hard now that he was gone.


"Hey I'm sorry," Ethan apologised, seeing the light dim in those amazing blue eyes of hers and guessing her reasons were borne of pain, "I didn't mean to bring up any unpleasant memories." He wondered if hers were anything like his, torturing him every time he closed his eyes to sleep. He hoped not. "It is it because of Lukas?" He ventured a guess, knowing the name if not the circumstances of the man's death.

Once he was able to pay closer attention to the woman who had saved his life, it wasn't long before Ethan noticed the deep sadness in her eyes, even when she was trying to hide it for his sake. It was able to penetrate the raw grief in his heart to touch him on an intimate level for he then understood why she took such care with him. Xenia recognised a kindred soul, similarly marked by tragedy and wounded forever. He wondered if this would how it would be for him when enough time had passed, would he wear the same cloak of sorrow every time he thought of Jilly? Right now, the answer was too obvious because the pain sliced him to ribbons every time he thought of her and how she had suffered. The circumstances of her death had managed to blight every moment of their life together until the only way he had been able to cope at all was to push all thoughts of her in a deep, dark place where he would not be forced to remember how she had died.


"Yes," she nodded, drawing out the strength needed to expand on that answer. "He told me that he'd fallen in love with me when he saw me on the ice. He had utterly no interest in ice skating before that but apparently, when I performed my Dying Swan piece, he couldn't take his eyes off me. It was part of the reason that he took the job to protect me when I was travelling to Tuscany." "I


Pausing a moment, her eyes misted over and involuntary tears spilled over her cheeks. The sight of her tears made Ethan feel immediately guilty and he wanted to tell her to stop, except she was already talking. "I haven't been able to get on the ice without wanting to see him in the audience," she admitted, wiping the moisture from her eyes with the back of her hand before sucking in a breath to compose herself. "Every time I stop and remember that he's not there, that he'll never see me on the ice again, it feels like I'm dying."


"I'm sorry," Ethan apologised, feeling like shit for making her go through this. "I shouldn't have asked," he said quietly reaching for arm to squeeze.


"No, its alright," she sniffled the last of her tears away and squeezed his hand back in gratitude for the gesture. "Someday it will pass or maybe it won't. I have his baby at least and that will enough for me to go on."


The doctor in him found himself needing to console her, to say the words that he knew would have little effect and felt like ash in his mouth. However, he was like Pavlov's dog, forced to make it anyway. "Things might change Xenia, you could meet..."


"Don't," she shot him a look and shook her head a moment later. "Don't tell me I'll meet someone else. I'll never meet anyone who'll make me feel the same way and even if it were possible, I don't know that I want that. Its too easy for people to die now and if I lost him the way lost Lukas, I couldn't take it. I just couldn't." She meant it too. What was the point of loving someone with all your heart, only to watch them die? When Lukas died, everything that could feel that deeply for any man had been burnt away. Whatever she had left was for the baby, no one else.


"Besides," she said once she had recovered, " thanks to the baby, it will be a long time before I'll even have time to think about that."


Ethan didn't argue deciding to leave the subject alone, largely because he shared a similar sentiment.



A few hours later, the van was travelling along the winding highway of Route 101 that took them through the enormous Humbolt Redwood State Park when Xenia saw flashes of blue in the sky that she first thought was lightning. However, on closer examination, her blood ran cold when she realised they were not a natural phenomenon but rather the lasers from a sky fighter’s gun turrets. She hit the brakes, contemplating turning around but saw the flashes occurring some distance away. As the engine idled, she could feel the slight tremors through the surfaces of the van as the blast impact caused the ground to shudder and shake. Ethan who had been asleep next to her on the passenger seat, sat up abruptly and looked around with confusion as his brain recalibrated to their surroundings.


"What's going on?" He asked, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.


"Visitors," Xenia answered as she killed the lights of the van before starting the engine again. Not that it mattered. The flashes were soon followed by the glow of the forest ablaze, illuminating the night sky with an amber light that would have almost been beautiful if it was not hundreds of years in redwood growth going up in smoke. "They're after somebody in there." She glanced in the direction of the distant inferno.


"Have they seen us?" He asked, completely awake and sitting up in his chair, his back rigid and tense.


"I don't think so," she replied as she started driving again, her eyes alternating from the flashes to the road in quick succession, deciding that the only course was to get out of the area quickly before they were seen. "They're after someone in the woods I'm guessing."


"Maybe we should turn back..." he suggested, looking over his shoulder at the road they were leaving.


"No," she shook her head. "We don't know which direction they came from. We could end up running straight into them anyway." She replied, deciding the worse thing they could do right now was second guess themselves.


Thus they continued travelling along the highway, becoming increasingly alarmed at the growing intensity of the fire in the distance. It was becoming an inferno that was laying waste to more and more of the forest, until the smoke billowing into the sky obscured the stars. Xenia kept her eyes fixed ahead, unable to watch the sight of all those thick trunked redwoods ablaze, their majestic beauty burning away like massive candles. The fire had yet to reach the road but Xenia was hoping to clear the forest before that happened.


Fortunately, the grey fog in the air ensured the difficulty of airborne Visitors from catching sight of them, though how long this anonymity would last was anyone's guess. However, the road ahead to was becoming filled with smoke and Ethan was concerned just how much they could take before the toxicity caused them to flee or be adversely affected. However, their journey out of the smoke was hindered by low visibility and the fact that she had to keep the headlight off to avoid being seen by Visitors. All of this kept Xenia tense, especially when she knew there were sky fighters out there.


Coming around a curve of road, already obscured by smoke, Xenia saw vague shapes moving through the grey fog coming up fast. As the smoke swirled past the van, the air cleared long enough for her to see a handful of people trading fire with a squad of Visitor shock troopers emerging from the tree line, who were cutting them down mercilessly under a barrage of laser fire. A woman was struck square in the back and Xenia's stomach hollowed when she realised what the lady was carrying in her arms was a baby. She managed to fall without crushing the child, her back smoking from the heat of the cauterized wound. The man running alongside of her dropped to his knees, scooping up the child as two others covered the action, a black man in his forties and a boy no more than twenty, who was tugging the arm of a girl who was even younger with one hand while shooting at the enemy with the other.


"They won't last long," Xenia declared, seeing enough to know they had to act now. "Get ready to open the door."


Ethan was about to remind her of what had happened the last time he helped anyone but held it back. No, he would not let those animals make him become one of them by refusing people who genuinely needed help. "Right."


The Visitors were closing the distance between themselves and the humans when Xenia put her foot down on the accelerator, leaving the road to veer into the shoulder of the road and unto grass beyond it. The van sped towards the Visitors who were still distracted by the gunfire when she flipped on the headlights at the last minute, pouring high beam into their eyes, blinding temporarily. It was all the warning they got before she mowed them down. Their bodies making thudding noises as they hit the fender and bounced off the hood. Xenia didn't stop to see if they had gotten up. Swinging wheel hard, she sped up alongside the fleeing people.


No sooner than the van had pulled up to a screeching halt, kicking dirt and soil in all directions, Ethan swung the door open and hollered to the group. "Get in!" He ordered them.


Ryan Mattson, Army Ranger, Airborne.. had been in a lot of shit situations.. but never once did a Volkswagen van show up to save his ass or anyone else's. He stared at the guy in the van for a moment, and if his arms hadn't been full with Deanna, he would have gone for the second gun tucked into the back of his pants. Some part of him hoped that if this guy in the van was the decent sort, he'd understand Ryan's hesitancy in climbing in. Degens would save you.. just to kill you, just for the mind fuck.


The leader of the group, a man in his late twenties with dark blond hair stared back at him with concern and with flash of insight Ethan realised this guy was trying to figure if they were safe.

"COME ON!" Xenia barked from the driver's seat, conscious of the clock ticking. "Get in here before those goddamn sky fighters show up!"

"Its okay," Ethan said meeting his blue eyes. "We're here to help."

A blast of energy at coming from the trees impacting against the side of the van, made up his mind for him. "Take the girl!" Ryan asked, shifting Deanna in his arms. She didn't resist... finding comfort in sucking her fist, her eyes wide and tear-filled. "You heard them, get in!" He ordered, ushering them in. When Deanna shifted to the man with the floppy hair, Ryan grabbed for the second gun, a police-issued Barretta and moved out of the way to lay down cover fire. "Abe, help Donna!!"

Ethan took the child as he helped a teenager, a girl who barely looked sixteen, the woman who had been hit, with three other men, including the leader who was more interested in the others entering the van first before he climbed himself.

"Go!" Ethan shouted.

With everyone loaded, Xenia shifted the gears and was about to drive away when suddenly a dark figure appeared next to her window. Before she had time to register the presence, an arm sneaked through the half window to latch a black gloved fist around her throat. Xenia uttered a cry of indignation as she saw the Visitor whom she hadn't killed with her van, trying to snap her neck. His grip was powerfully strong and Xenia felt herself struggling for air as he tightened his grip. Aware that there was no point in trying to break free of the vise like grip, she fumbled for the handgun she had tucked in the side of her seat and promptly fired.

The sound was like a thunderclap inside the cabin, causing her ears to ring at the same time she clamped her eyes shut at the blast of glass shards and fragments. The strangulating pressure around her throat vanished prompting Xenia to open her eyes. The Visitor had been hit at point blank range, his body dangling from the van by his arm stuck across the window. His visor had cracked apart like an egg and gratefully kept the ruin of his face hidden from her. Xenia opened the door and shoved the Visitor away.

"Xenia!" Ethan had left the new arrivals long enough to see how she fared behind the curtain separating the cabin from the front seats.

"I'm fine!" She assured him as she was getting rid of the Visitor body when she saw the Visitor had his sidearm still in his holster. Looking up, she could see more of them emerging from the tree line and at the sight of the van immediately provoked them to open fire. On impulse, Xenia jumped out of her seat and made a quick grab for the Visitor and lobbed off two shots in quick succession to halt their advance before she jumped back into the driver's seat again.

"Give that to someone who knows how to use it," she ordered tossing the weapon onto the seat as she regarded Ethan who was torn between helping the others into the van and ensuring that she was unhurt.

"Are they in?" She asked putting the vehicle in gear to drive away.

"Yeah," he nodded, "they're in."

Wasting no time, Xenia hit the accelerator and sped away as the Visitors started to shoot again.

Ethan picked up the gun and saw blood on her neck and her arm from the glass. "You're hurt."

"Its superficial," she said quickly as she drove away from the scene, knowing it wouldn't be long before the Visitors would send those sky fighters after them. "Get one of those guys back there," she ordered. "We're not out of this yet."

Ethan knew which one. Still holding the Visitor weapon in his hand, he stumbled to the back of the cabin and spoke to the blond man who had been doing all the shooting. "She needs you," he said to the man. "The sky fighters will be coming after us soon."

"She's not wrong," Ryan retorted, lurching with the van before moving past to head out front.

The baby had started to cry and the teenage girl was doing her best to quieten her down. Meanwhile one of the men, the one who had picked up the infant was weeping over the injured woman. Seeing her blood kick started Ethan's baser instincts. "I'm a doctor," he announced, brushing past the others. "Let me take a look at her."


"You're a doctor?" The African American in the group stared at Ethan as if he were heaven sent. "Please, you have to help her..."

And just like that, despite all the hurt, the anguish of what had happened to Jillian, the fugue that had him in its grip so completely begin to lift as he remembered his calling, what he could rely on when all else abandoned him, his ability to heal. While he had that, he could go on living, he could survive this. Taking a deep breath and dispelling more than just breath, Ethan scrambled towards the woman and went to work doing what he could to save her life. If it was at all possible.

Glancing up through the windshield, Ryan eyed the sky critically before he glanced at Xenia. "Where are you going?" he asked, dropping into the passenger seat like he'd just come from a 25 mile hike in full combat gear.

"You tell me," she looked at him. "You know this area? We need to get under cover and fast." Xenia said as she kept the headlights off, moving along the road that was too much of a main artery for them to remain on safely. "We saw sky fighters earlier, they won't be far away."

Jesus... her eyes. Blue as the winter sky... Ryan blinked, shaking his head. Soooo not the time to think on how damn beautiful his rescuer was. Like an angel... he snorted inwardly. That was corny. "I know the area," he nodded, easily coming back to the subject at hand. "They were shooting at our camp. Most of us got away but..they hit the truck we were on and we get out on foot."

"You're Resistance?" She asked hastily, her eyes darting to the sky to catch sight of enemy ships.

"Nothing that fancy," he answered. Yeah, what.. ten guys, four women and a toddler. He wished they were resistance that any of them had the heart to fight more than just enough to save their asses. That wasn't fair and he knew it but part of Ryan found himself wanting to shake the teenage girl back there for delaying them even a second. "Just people who aren't willing to become hot lunches." At least they had desire going for them but Ryan saw the despair in their eyes. How long would it last? "A bunch of us were hiding up in the woods hoping that we'd stay off their radar as we head north, but it didn't turn out that way." Nope, it hadn't... and if he ever laid eyes on Henry Standish, he was gonna kill the mother fucker for going turncoat.

She wondered how many of his company had died under that barrage she and Ethan had witnessed before stumbling upon them. "Nothing ever does these days," she said sympathetically, getting a sense that he was a man who cared a great deal for those he considered his own. "Where can we go? She asked him, returning her attention to the business at hand. "We need to hide at least for a few hours. At least long enough for them to think they lost us."

Agreeing with her completely, Ryan rubbed his face, trying to pull all the trips he'd made up here with his grandfather out of his tired brain. Glancing out through the windshield, he got his bearings. "Keep driving up this road, there's a turn off about a mile from here," he said after a moment, squinting as he tried to see the darkness. "The Briceland Thorn Road leads into the hills and there's an abandoned copper mine that hasn't seen any business in a while. You should be able to drive this in there."

"Sounds like a plan," Xenia replied, keeping the headlights off to avoid being seen by the sky fighters that would be pursuing them soon enough.

"I guess I should introduce myself since we'll be travelling together a bit," he replied, soaking those incredible eyes of hers that seemed to glow in the semi-darkness. "Cap... uh.. Ryan. Mattson." Porcelain features aside, Ryan wanted to keep the fact that he was Airborne quiet and that slip hadn't helped.

"Nice to meet you Ryan," Xenia shifted her gaze at him long enough to offer a smile of greeting, "Xenia Ivanov."

"Xenia?" So angels had names. "Don't hear that very often."

"Its a Russian," she explained as they reached the side road he indicated and she turned into it, travelling down a gravelly and less maintained road that ran over the hill in front of them. He showed no other reaction to her name so Xenia guessed that he wasn't a figure skating fan which was a good thing.

"Glad to meet you Xenia," Ryan replied, extending his hand which Xenia accepted. "You do this a lot?" He asked, indicating the forest in general and he resolutely steered his thoughts from how soft her skin was or the strength and grace in her arm. For one, it was an absurd thing to dwell on, considering their situation and two, his grandmother, may her soul rest in peace, would freak. Ha... maybe he was dead... lately, that seemed more and more the likely story.

"What?"

"Coming to people's rescue." Something like a smile ghosted Ryan's face as he kept his eyes on the road ahead.

Xenia looked over her shoulder at Ethan who was attending the injured and nodded, "quite a bit it seems."

Following her glance to the guy in the back, Ryan looked back at Xenia and then forward. What was that about? "Well, on behalf of my group back there.. thank you," he offered, glancing back again. Ryan leaned a little, trying to get a look at what the guy was doing and from his view point, all Ryan could see were scraps of Donna's t-shirt laying everywhere. "Hey! What the hell....?"

"It's okay, Ryan, he's a doctor." One of the men, Jerry French, offered from where he was cleaning a gash in Abe's bicep with some cotton and rubbing alcohol. Man, they didn't teach this shit at the McDonald's University of Management.

"Yeah?" Ryan's gaze, all dark and haunted again, landed on Xenia for confirmation.

"Yeah," she nodded. "He was a trauma surgeon in Sacramento," she explained as she kept her eyes fixed on the road, trying to see everything without the benefit of headlights. "I found him on the way down south. His wife didn't make it." She said without going into further details.

Staring at Xenia, Ryan nodded after a moment. Didn't make it... when her eyes seemed to dim, that told him everything he needed to know. A trauma doc AND beautiful strangers...

Fuck, he was exhausted. Rolling his shoulder, where the ache had come back, Ryan nodded. "Good...uh.. the mine. Goes pretty deep, we should be able to hide in there for a while and if my knowledge of V-tech is worth anything, their scanners won't punch through the cobalt. Scrambles their readings or something." Things were coming back to him, from those endless training classes he'd sat through.

"That's good to know," Xenia replied as the road in question came into view and she drove off the highway into an older stretch of road. Behind them, the glow from the blaze was starting to die down a little. "You're heading north?" She asked him.

That had been the plan.. still was, Ryan figured. "Yeah. Trying to get the civilians north," he said, twisting slightly to check on his group. "Carrie.. how's Deanna?"

The teenager with the lost look on her face glanced down at the young girl in her arms. "She's.. fine. Just a few scrapes from when.. when..." Her eyes flitted to Ethan's back, hiding Lori from the rest of them.

"I got ya..." Ryan gave the young girl a slight smile and a nod, both of which he hoped were encouraging.

"I'll look at the scrapes as soon as I'm finished with Abe." Survival, Jerry wasn't so up on. But first aid? One didn't manage (herd) a bunch of teenagers around industrial cooking equipment without knowing how to clean a wound.

"Thanks.." Ryan replied, with a nod before leaning in to Xenia, his hand on the armrest of her seat. "I hope this doesn't sound ungrateful or imposing, but do you have any water I can give them?" he asked quietly, head inclining towards the back.

"Yes of course," she shot him a look as if such a thing could be an imposition. "Its in the back, in the clear jerry cans. Don't grab the coloured ones, that's the gasoline." Xenia smiled faintly.

"Alright..." Had they been bottles of water, Ryan would have passed them out now but cans meant a little more complicated dispersal. Since this whole thing had started, he'd made everyone carry a canteen on their belt. Once they stopped, and a quick glance told him that would be soon, he'd do the fill ups. "The turn off should be coming up soon... should be a sign... there...." Pointing it out, Ryan squinted in the near-darkness. Yes, that was the sign.

There was indeed a sign and Xenia followed it as the van shuddered a little at having to travel on the uneven road. It wasn't long before she saw a battered sign leading through some dilapidated gates. Ferguson Mining. As they drove into the place, the place was abandoned and didn't appear as if anyone had been here in years.

"Charming," she commented.

Glancing at her, a smile managed to come out. Definitely the eyes. "I try, can you hit the headlights?" Dipping his head to see out the windshield towards the roof, Ryan pushed the door open. "Alright, everyone out..." he called as he climbed out and popped the side door of the van. Jerry scrambled out first and turned to help Carrie with Deanna. "Hey, tough stuff..." With a smile, Ryan ruffled the little one's hair. As silent as she had been the day they'd found her, Deanna only blinked at him before her hand came up, pointing at his shirt.

"What?" Looking down, he found what she was looking at. Blood. Not his but that of Mike Collins, one of the camp that had died in the rout. "Oh... that's not mine, sugar, I promise. Carrie.. still with us? You alright?" Ryan took her chin gently, ensuring she made eye contact. The teenager was also a tough little thing, whether she realized it or not.

"F-f-fine." She nodded, eyes widely taking in their new surroundings. "Always wanted to see what this place was like..."

Abe was next and Ryan exchanged a few words with the man before clapping him on the shoulder and climbing into the back of the van. "Doc? How is she?" he asked of Lori, fully prepared to hear that she'd died, that the doc couldn't help her.

"She's still alive," Ethan answered after a moment, his gaze still fixed on the woman. "I'm more concerned with the heart arrhythmia than I am with the wound. Visitor blasts have the effect of electrocution." He explained. "I'll have to watch her closely for the next few hours."

The chances she'd survive were slim but at least she wasn't dead yet. Ethan would have preferred to have the facilities of a hospital but right now, Xenia's first aid kit was the best he could do for the lady.

"Alright.. should we leave her here, in the van?" Ryan asked, dropping down to rest on one knee. "That way, we don't move her?" He was no medic but the ones he did know always put up a fuss when you had to move a patient. "Oh.. didn't get a chance to thank you for the rescue. Ryan Mattson," he offered with a nod and extended his hand, just like he had Xenia.

"For now," Ethan nodded and took the hand offered. "She should be moved as little as possible. "Ethan Kelly." He said belatedly. "Looks like your people were taking quite a beating, what happened?" He asked as his eyes shifted to the front of the van where Xenia had climbed out, wiping the blood off her neck. His eyes filled with concern.

Shifting his gaze between the doc and Xenia. Maybe they were together. Maybe they weren't... and he was too damn tired to be standing and had no business thinking about Angel Eyes over there. Didn't matter, though, not when he considered his answer to Ethan's question. Hate could keep a person going a long while but Ryan knew it wasn't a good sort of 'second wind'. Too hateful made a person sloppy.

But damn, what Ryan wouldn't give to have that bastard.

Ryan, I swear.. they said they could help us!!

He flung a hand into the air, where sky fighters were bearing down on them. Does that look like fucking helping? he'd roared, right before he knocked the guy out and started for the cave they'd found.

"We were turned in..." Ryan said finally, voice dark with anger. "Thank Christ I'd posted a scout... she spotted the sky fighters and warned us.. " And died doing so. Letting out a sigh, Ryan rubbed his face. He had people to look after. "Xenia said there was water in the back?"

Xenia approached them, hearing the question. "Yes, there is." She replied. "Please help yourself." She was trying to conserve her own supplies but Lukas had died to save strangers because he was a good man and Xenia owed it to the man who gave her a baby, to honour his life by doing the same to help others. "I've got rations, its mostly canned food but you're welcome to it."

She was going to be a little more particular about the gasoline though.

As this was the first time he'd seen her on her feet, Ryan found himself a little dumbstruck at the lithe woman who moved so gracefully. And the eyes... now in the dim light of the mine, which was more than outside, her eyes still seemed to glow, lit with a drive he hadn't seen in many since the Pulse. And she was pregnant.

What?

He'd been taught better of course but considering this was a woman who'd just saved his ass and the others and blew away a Visitor at point blank range, Ryan found himself staring at her rounding bump and then up into those eyes. Like the first time, Ryan stared at Xenia, stunned before remembering his manners and moving his ass. Climbing out of the van, Ryan used the action to cover a mental shake of the head at himself. Pregnant. Right... "If the Lizzies haven't scared them away, we might be able to find a deer and there's a stream about a hundred yards south of here," he said, careful not to bump Angel Eyes. "I can catch us some fish.. so we don't have to use your supplies."

Xenia saw Ryan's eyes shift to her belly and almost protectively, she rested her hand on her belly, caressing the swell of flesh to soothe the baby beneath it. "Well I appreciate that but I can spare some food at least for a day or two before you have to do that." She remarked, looking around the place and grateful that the moon was up, it was providing them with some illumination in the darkness.

"I'm going to stay in the van with Lori," Ethan gestured to the woman lying in the back. "She took a bad hit and the next few hours are going to be critical."

"Sure," Xenia nodded, "whatever you think is best Ethan." She was pleased to see him focussed on something else other than his losses.

"Thanks." With a nod of gratitude for the doc, Ryan glanced once more into the back of the van, worry and exhaustion aging him much more than his 28 years. After a moment, he turned back to Xenia, gaze shifting to her belly and back up to her eyes. Sure, he'd guessed at the pregnancy but the hand over her belly confirmed it. "I owe you some introductions." Ryan inclined his head towards the rest, now gathering in a small group several feet from the van. "Come on, they may look rough but no one bites..." Despite himself, he found a tired smile for her.

Xenia chuckled at that, "that's good to know," she replied and allowed him to lead her to him companions.

Hours later, daylight was encroaching upon them and the only thing to do was to hide themselves away for the time being, until the Visitors hunt for them abated. Xenia had wanted to keep going but guessed that the Visitors would be out in force, searching for the group and it was wiser for her to stay hidden with them than out there in the world. Besides, Ethan was intent of staying close to the woman Lori and Xenia could not begrudge this bruised and wounded group the services of a skilled doctor after their ordeal hours before. In any case, by the time dawn was breaking, Xenia was ready to drop and she found herself making her way back to her van when she ran into Ryan who had to be exhausted by now.

"You should get some sleep," she pointed out. "You've been getting everyone settled in, you need to leave some energy for yourself." Xenia said with concern.

"Only if you do the same," Ryan replied, not looking up from where he sat on the uncomfortable ledge of the van's sliding door. In his hands was a folded up map salvaged from Abe's backpack. In exchange for it, he'd promised Abe that he'd sit here, keep an eye on Lori while the man got some rest. Now, as Xenia approached Ryan realized he'd been staring at the same spot on the paper for a few minutes now. Folding the square in half, he secured it in a pocket and reached for the canteen between his feet. "Here... you look like you need sleep too."

Xenia accepted the canteen and took a swig of it, allowing the cool water to soothe the rough trail down her throat. "Thanks," she said exhaling with satisfaction. "I could use it, I feel like I've been driving and walking forever." She laughed, climbing on board.

"You and me both." Her laugh, like her eyes did something to him...which was just crazy. Ryan Mattson was a player, best that way when your job required you to disappear for weeks on end and not tell anyone. And yet... here, drinking from his canteen was the one woman that strikes him dumb.. and in the middle of a god damned alien invasion. Just his luck. Oh and add to it that Carrie said she recognized Xenia... Xenia Ivanov, two time world figure skating champion and then she went into something about a dying swan... Ryan had tuned her out after that. Army Airborne Rangers did NOT get their asses saved by pregnant chicks and they sure as hell didn't get saved by.. figure skaters.

Five minutes later, he was over it. Some wouldn't be, Ryan had known guys whose egos wouldn't survive being pulled out of the fire by a knocked-up figure skater and a doctor from Sacramento. And hey, at least it wasn't a male figure skater.

Shifting so he could sit inside the van, Ryan put his back against the inside. "So what's your story? Heading north?"

Xenia occupied the position he did a moment ago before she answered. "Actually south. I was heading to San Francisco to find my brother. He's a priest whose doing some work with the underground." She noted how tired he looked. Poor guy, Xenia thought. It had to be a lot of work to be responsible for so many people, she felt the pressure just caring for Ethan and the baby she carried.

"San Francisco?" Ryan's head came up off the wall behind him to stare at her. "Lady..." He laughed dryly and shook his head. "You and the Doc? By yourselves?" he asked.

Xenia didn't blame him for his scepticism. "I found Ethan on the way here," she explained, grateful that the doctor had gone into the mine to check on the others for awhile. Still she kept her voice low. "He and his wife ran into some DeGens. They had him tied up and she..." Xenia had to pause, just thinking on what she had seen was enough to make her skin crawl. "They weren't so kind to her. By the time I got there, she snapped, made a play for one of their guns. They killed her of course but not before I was able to put them down from where I was. There was nothing I could do for her so I got Ethan out of there, shot the two SOBs in the knees caps and made sure their car wasn't going anywhere before I just footed it and drove. Didn't look back until I was two hundred miles away."

She shot... Whoa. Ryan found himself staring hard at her before he glanced back towards the entrance to the mine. "Fuck...." And Ethan... Ryan didn't need detail to know the fate of his wife. He'd seen it, pre-Pulse during an Afghanistan tour and then recently. Only, this kind of thing happening now only made him sick. Ryan wouldn't have stopped at their kneecaps. He would have gone berserk... just like he had with those shits fucking with Marilda and her son when they found her.

"Yeah," Xenia nodded slowly. "He had to watch all of it, tied to that tree. You should see his wrists, he would have gnawed through his hands if he could have gotten to her." She shook her head, eyes misting slightly even as she thought of it, thought about what poor Ethan must have endured. A different kind of hell from what his wife had suffered but no less horrific.

"That's what the bandages are for then..." He'd seen them earlier, when Ethan was stripping off a pair of gloves after tending to Lori. God, the poor guy.. Ryan got ten kinds of angry seeing any woman suffer like that, let alone.. someone like a wife. Speaking of.. his eyes flitted to Xenia's stomach. Catching himself, Ryan looked away. Wasn't his business and for all he knew, the father had died just recently. With a sigh, he glanced back towards the mine before leaning back. "Can't believe only the six of us made it out." Surely someone else had.. they just weren't with this group. "There were.. twenty.. twenty-five of us."

Henry Standish didn't count. He'd given up his claim to humanity.

"I'm so sorry," Xenia reached for him shoulder and squeezed gently, offering her support and her empathy. She had noted his eyes and where they had rested a moment ago, guessing that he was wondering about her physical state. "I'm almost four months along." She commented with a smile. "That's why I’m going to San Francisco to be with my brother Daniel. I didn't want to do this alone."

"Where's the father?" Damn, he was tired and that had escaped. Giving her a look of apology, Ryan waved a hand. "Don't.. you don't have to answer that. I don't mean to pry." Four months... wow. He only hoped that whatever grace God gave mothers, was bestowed upon her now, for a safe trip to her brother. "That's determination.. you'll make it," Ryan said confidently, patting her hand softly.

"Thank you," she said with a smile which faded when she thought about Lukas. "The father....Lukas," she swallowed thickly. "He and I met in Tuscany on March 1st. He got me through the Occupied Territory and died just before we got to the mountains where the dust still works. He helped a truck load of people escape the Visitors and they shot him. I couldn't do anything except bury him."

Three days, that's all she had with Lukas and he was gone, just like that.

Now it was his turn to comfort her. Ryan reached out, covering her hand with his. "Lukas... " She had loved him, even though their time had been so short. "I'm sure he'd be proud of you.. did.. " He frowned slightly. "Did you say Tuscany? As in Italy? How.. .?"

Xenia smiled, "I was in Zurich for the World Championships, and I wanted to go to Tuscany so I took a train. My manager, wasn't happy about me going alone so he hired a bodyguard that was Lukas." Her eyes dimmed a second. "He was former Swiss Army I think. Anyway, after I got back, Zurich was gone, the Visitors had flattened it. I found Lukas family and stayed with them for awhile, then I got a job with World Liberation Front as a courier, they gave me passage to Quebec if I acted as their courier and since then its been a plane, trains and automobiles to get this far."

"You're tough," Ryan nodded, his tone respectful, feeling like he'd been punched in the gut when the light faltered in those pretty blue eyes. "I'm sorry.. for your loss." He squeezed her hand once more and let it go before a yawn overtook him. "Look. Why don't you get some rest? Abe's got the first watch and I've got the second. You look like you could use the sleep."

"Thanks," she tried to stifle a yawn. "I've been driving mostly at nights and getting sleep during the day," she explained seeking out her sleeping bag in the back of the van, making sure she did not disturb Lori. "Best way to stay off the Visitor's radar." Xenia met his gaze. "So, what about you? You from around here?"

"Yeah.. about fifteen miles south of here," Climbing out of the van to give her more room, Ryan leaned against the edge of the door. "I was home on leave when the Pulse hit..what are you doing?"

She looked over her shoulder at him. "Getting my sleeping bag, I was going to stretch out on the front seat. You should stick close to Lori. Here," she grabbed a blanket and tossed it at him. "Last one." She smiled.

Catching the blanket, Ryan snorted. "Please..." he protested, tossing the blanket to the floor of the van and reaching for her sleeping bag. "I'll take the front seat. You.. here..." Undoing the clip on the belt holding the bag, he shook it out and laid it on the pallet across from Lori. "Now and don't make me pull rank. Somewhere, an Airborne Captain has to outrank a figure skater," he teased dryly. "Besides, I got enough shit to deal with. We do not want my grandmother coming out of her grave because I didn't let the pregnant chick have the most comfortable bed."

Xenia laughed, not bothering to argue because men felt this need to protect a pregnant woman and she knew that in his case, it was stronger because of the people he'd been minding and the fact he felt some obligation to her for the rescue she had provided. "Okay, I won't argue with you. Thanks." She smiled. "But I'm not so delicate you know. I jumped out of a B25 over the ocean when the Visitors shot it down."

"You what... ?" Damn, her laugh.. it was like a hot shower. Cleansed him right through. Ryan chuckled and shrugged. "Yeah so? I jump of out 'em all the time..." He was teasing her because dammit, it felt good to laugh after today and didn't they deserve it?

"Yeah you can show me how to do it without screaming all the way down while a gay RAF pilot was hanging on to me." She retorted, her expression showing him she really wasn't kidding about any of that. "I swear all that's true..."

With the sleeping bag in place and properly fluffed, Ryan glanced back at her before unzipping the bag. No, she wasn't kidding and just the craziness of it made him laugh. Climbing out of the van, he gestured to the 'bed'. "First, you have to close your mouth, you probably swallowed a bug," he smirked. "And second.. " There was real warmth in his smile for her, probably more than there should be as he continued, solemnly this time. "You're tough. I'm impressed."

He had a nice smile, she thought. "I've had to be. Its the least I owe his father," she said touching her belly. "Nothing is going to hurt this baby if I have any say about it. Since Italy, I've learned to shoot, use guns, trained in jujitsu, parachuted from a plane, killed Visitors... its the steepest learning curve I've ever had. I didn't figure that these would be the important life lessons when I got pregnant." She joked.

"His?" Ryan found himself looking down at her bump again. "I think this Lukas would be proud of you... he'd also want you to get some sleep." Inclining his head towards the back, Ryan dared her to protest.

"He probably would," she thought but supposed she'd never know. Lukas was dead. He was beyond anything, beyond knowing about their baby, which she knew was going to be a boy. "He is a boy, I know it. Just one of those things." She shrugged unable to say why she knew it with such certainty except that she did. Talking about Lukas brought the pain of his loss back to her acutely and suddenly, she didn't want to talk about him anymore.

Crawling into the sleeping bag, she tried to get comfortable. "I think I'll go to sleep now," she said softly, "goodnight Ryan." Xenia smiled before rolling away, trying to put Lukas back in the bottle she had corked up inside of her before she started missing him again.

To be Continued...

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