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Pismo Beach
2nd April 2009, early afternoon



The inhuman voice brought her back, her head turning to face front so fast she heard her neck crack. Like a deer caught in the headlights, she stared at the red uniform before her and then the face of a Visitor shock trooper standing not even two inches in front of her. Obviously, she had nearly walked into him. Swallowing thickly, she clamped down on that insidious fear that was spreading all over. Once again, she felt like that little girl who had held onto her father's hand when such encounters had happened. She felt just as small, just as exposed and frightened.

The only difference was that her dad wasn't standing next to her.

"I'm sorry," she managed to force out, her legs propelling her stiffly around him to get to the feminine hygiene shelves further down. Just as she cleared him, Stevie stopped, a hand going to her mouth as she tried to compose herself. She grabbed a box of tampons and looked over her shoulder, trying to see what the Visitor was doing, and then caught two more walking in the back door, alongside the pharmacist, putting more boxes down. Heart beating fast, she was telling herself she needed to turn around and leave, turn around and leave right now, but for some reason her body wasn't listening.

Daniel grabbed the few things he needed for himself and waited at the counter so he could pay for her items as well as his. When he looked at the conclave mirror on the wall facing one of the aisles, he tensed immediately when he saw the distinct red of a Visitor uniform. Damn it, they were in here. Showing no reaction, he casually walked down the aisle in search of Mia, hoping she didn't run into them. He knew how frightened she was of the aliens.

You need to move. Now. I can't, she retorted to that voice inside her head. Yes, you can. Nope. It's either that or he's going to come here and help you choose sanitary pads. Is that what you want? No, but I can't walk past him again. I just can't. You sound like a fucking seven year old! I feel like one! She continued with her internal monologue, all the while standing there, half-facing the shelves and the prescriptions desk at the end of the aisle. Walk to the other end of the aisle then and go back to the front of the store that way, come on, the voice told her, getting ratty. Do this now or you're gonna get caught.

Just as she was about to turn, the shock trooper appeared and Stevie looked away, turning white as a sheet. So much for not attracting attention. He was going to walk to her and cart her off.

Searching the pharmacy for the aisle where the feminine hygiene products were kept, it was the aisle he usually walked past really quickly, Daniel saw the Visitor going about his business while Mia was just standing there, looking white as a sheet. Even if the Visitor didn't seem interested in her presence, Mia's tense stance was going to draw his attention soon.

"Dear," he said as he walked towards her, avoiding the use of her name. A hand touched the small of her back gently. "Have you gotten everything you need?" he asked, leaning forward and kissing her cheek. "We should get back, the children are waiting."

The Visitor raised his eyes to them and then went back to what he was doing.

Stevie blinked, nearly dropping the box she held as well as everything else she had picked up on the way. "Yes."

"Let me help you with those," he said, wearing the same look of calm, avoiding eye contact with the Visitor as he helped her with her things.

"Thanks." She managed to keep her voice from trembling but the tone was flat. She couldn't help that, just like she knew once they made it outside - if they did - she wouldn't be able to stop shaking. God Almighty, why was she so useless when she had to face one that close?

He took some of the items with one hand while sliding an arm around her waist, to steady her as he led her to the counter so they could pay and leave. Daniel hoped the contact would take away the fear she wore.

"You're okay," he whispered in her ear. "I won't let anything happen to you." It wasn't much of a promise but he needed to give her the reassurance nonetheless.

Still tense, she found herself leaning toward him anyway, grateful for his strength and calm. "I can't do this," she replied under her breath after a time. "I can't be around them. I know I should... I always thought I could..." She looked up and met his gaze, feeling helpless. Just the thought that they were heading for San Francisco, another occupied area, petrified her. It was one thing to shoot at them from a moving vehicle; she just couldn't play nice and act normal face to face.

"It's okay," Daniel spoke soothingly, keeping his hold on her, aware that it might look odd but if anyone asked, he was going to claim that he was Baptist. Most people couldn't tell the difference between men of the cloth anyway. "I'm right here."

When they approached the cashier, she tried to smile, faking normalcy, and put her items down.

"You got painkillers?" she asked, glancing at him. She'd forgotten Advil, Tylenol or anything else that could cut through a headache or cramps.

"Yes, dear," he said dutifully. "I got you aspirin, if that helps." He gave the cashier a look as if to say women.

"That'll do," she replied, not trusting herself to venture back there to go get something with more kick. "Thanks."

"Are you sure, sweetheart?" Daniel asked, playing the part of dutiful husband. "I can get something else for you if you need it."

Dear, sweetheart... she recognised what he was doing but found it difficult to partake. And that was unusual. She loved putting on a show, and when would she have the chance to do that with a priest again? "Love," the word nearly stuck in her throat, "Advil would be better... if you don't mind." She gave him a sweet smile, as sweet as she could manage presently, and patted his forearm.

"Of course," he said and left her for the moment, going down the aisle where he had found the aspirin. The Visitors were still working behind the pharmacist station, unloading boxes which puzzled him. However, he didn't linger, finding the Advil as requested and returning to Mia at the cashier.

"Here," he said, placing it with everything else.

It felt to Stevie like she was able to breathe again only when Daniel got back. The woman had already rung up their purchase, waiting patiently for the Advil, which she added to the lot.

"Why don't you wait for me outside?" Daniel said to her. "I'll pay for these and meet you out there." The sooner Mia got out of this place the better. She didn't need to be in here while he took care of this.

"No." The word came quick - too quick - and Stevie felt she had to smooth it out. "I've hardly seen you today," she explained softly for the cashier's benefit and sided close to him, like they were when they'd first approached the woman. "Besides, we're done here. The nice lady's just waiting for you to pay."

"Alright then," he said, leaning forward, kissing her on the lips chastely before turning to the woman and paying her what was owed. "Still a spark after all these years," he joked as she gave him some change back.

The pair came out and Stevie squinted at the bright sun for a moment. Daniel's hand was at the small of her back and she found the contact not only comforting but... normal. Familiar. "I'm so sorry," she said, breathing out in relief.

"Hey, it's alright." He lifted her chin gently so that she could look at him. "We're fine. No harm done. We got what we needed. Let's meet up with Mick and Noah and we can be on our way, Mrs. Ivanov," he teased, a thumb stroking the bare skin where her t-shirt ended.

Stevie was so stunned for a second, she couldn't reply. Mrs. Ivanov. The bastard had some nerve to be teasing her like that. Still, it had a nice ring to it. She nearly rolled her eyes at her own reaction. "Okay," she replied a little breathless before she kissed him on the mouth, taking her cue from what he'd done earlier and how intimate he still was with her. It was a quick kiss, but a kiss nonetheless.

God in heaven, she could give as good as she got. The kiss caused his heart to leap in his chest again and, for a moment, he could only stare into her eyes as they stood there in the sun. "I got you something," he said quietly, reaching into his pocket. He handed her the small velvet satchel. "It's nothing really but it made me think of you when I saw it."

"You what?" She had to pull her gaze from his blue eyes to look down at what he was offering her. "You shouldn't have..." She smiled, glancing up at him, before her fingers felt the soft fabric they held. "Now?" she asked, unsure if she was meant to open it right this moment. This was so... unexpected. "I didn't get you anything," she blurted out stupidly, like she was meant to have known today was to feature a gift exchange exercise.

"You've given me enough," Daniel said, basking in the way her eyes lit up. It could be the sunlight but Daniel refused to believe it was anything else but her. "And it's just a little trinket I bought on the spur of the moment. You can open it later if you like, I don't mind."

"Are you kidding?" Already she was fighting with the satin cord to loosen it so she could free her present from the confine of its velvet cocoon. It was funny how such a simple gesture made her totally forget about what had happened back inside O'Grady's. At least for a moment. A flash of silver and gold landed in her palm and Stevie found herself looking at a piece of jewellery. Lifting it by its delicate chain, she smiled at the studded heart-shaped pendant, complete with devil horns and a crooked tail. Oh, she was so the apple.

"Tell me these diamonds aren't real," she teased. "Daniel..." She didn't know what to say but she understood its meaning. It encompassed them, didn't it? Or at least her.

He wished he could tell her that it was diamond but the truth was closer to zirconia. In all his life, he never wished he had money enough to give a gift of such extravagance until now. Daniel was pleased however, that her attention on it drove away her fear of seeing Visitors in such close proximity. "Penny's isn't known for its diamonds, I'm afraid. I just saw it and thought it suited us."

"It does." She nodded, still grinning ear to ear. "And don't worry about the rocks. I would have made you return it had they been real..."

"I wouldn't hear of it." He smiled. "Come on." He took her hand. "We better go find Mick and Noah."

She held the gift in her other hand as they walked back to JC Penny's. "Thank you," she said after a while, realising she hadn't said it yet.

When they got there, Mick and Noah weren't in front of the store like they had agreed to be. Her jaw set nervously, Stevie looked around, trying to spot them. "You see them?"

Daniel looked around and caught sight of Noah in front of a burger joint. "There." He pointed.

Stevie sighed in relief, ready to throttle both of them when they got back. Taking the few minutes this opportunity offered them, she turned back to Daniel. Grabbing the bag Daniel held, she extended her other hand, the pendant he had just offered her dangling from her fingers. "Mind putting it on me, please?" She turned around, her free hand lifting her hair so he could see her neck.

"Sure," he said, taking the thing from her and stepped behind her so that he could drape the pendant over neck. She had a long, graceful neck, he thought as he settled the pendant over her collarbone and proceeded to fasten the clasp. "I hope you like it," Daniel said with a little smile, his breath making the hairs of her neck stand, he noticed.

His fingers barely touched her skin but she felt his warm breath and it made her whole body pay notice. Her hand went to the pendant, fingering its shape as she turned back to him. How could she tell him that it wasn't her style, not in a million years in fact? But it came from him, and with the devilish design, he really couldn't have chosen better. "I do."

"I'm glad," Daniel said. Once the clasp was fastened, he stepped away, fighting the temptation to plant a soft kiss on her neck. Dear God, he was so lost in her he couldn't think straight. Nothing seemed to matter except how she made him feel. What would I give up for you Mia if I had the chance? My life, my work, the life of others? The thought terrified him.

She noted how he stepped back, retracted his hands and himself, putting distance between them. It saddened her and she wished he would make his mind up already. This was... like having a carrot dangled above her head. What if he chose his Church?

Mick came out and waved at them, oblivious to what had just happened. "Sorry, had to go and make sure Noah didn't get us all damn vegeburgers with chilli." He looked at the pair. "You guys alright?"

"Yes." Daniel turned away from her, unable to meet her gaze at that moment. Ashamed of everything he was feeling for her and afraid for her as well. "We had an encounter with some Visitors in the pharmacy." He glanced at Mia. "But it turned out alright."

"What happened?" Mick dipped his head, trying to catch Stevie's eyes.

She toyed with the idea of not playing ball for a second, of just leaving them all there, leaving Daniel to explain. It was shame she had caught on his face just now and it felt like he had slapped her, making the thoughtful gift, their inside joke, more of a label. She was his temptation and it shamed him.

Why did she always lose sight of that? Why did she hope it would or could be any different? He was a priest. Yeah. A priest who had just called her Mrs. Ivanov, one who had held her close, kissed her, bestowed on her soft touches and tenderness. Was he that good an actor?

"I'll tell you more later," Stevie said, suddenly more composed. She looked up and down the street. "Let's just get the food and go."

Mick's eyes narrowed on Daniel after he watched Stevie walk to the edge of the street to cross it, catching something that glittered in the sun around her neck as she moved. This was pissed-off Stevie and he wondered what the hell was going on. And he didn't think it was Visitor-related.

And he continued to hurt her.

There was no getting around it. No matter how much Daniel wanted her, there was a still part of him that needed to do his work, to follow the path of his life. If he sacrificed one for the other, it would serve no one. Would he resent Mia for making him leave the faith, would that anger chip away at the love for her. He couldn't bear that, couldn't bear the thought of coming to resent her. It was strange, his love for her was stronger than his love for God. If he hated God for forcing the sacrifice, he could live with that. It was the other way around he couldn't stand. And as he watched her go, he understood the choice he had to make.

The only choice he could make.

"They were in there," he said to Mick. "Closer than we would have liked."

"But we're good?" Mick asked, wanting to check they weren't going to have all Visitors in the vicinity on their asses in a moment.

Movement on the other side of the main drag caught his attention and he turned to see a rather antsy-looking Noah waving them over while he balanced their lunch on his other arm. Stevie stood next to him, drinks in hand, her face drawn and anxious. "Come on," he told Daniel before crossing the street at a jog.

"Right." Daniel nodded and kept pace with him, realising her anger for him had evaporated into something much worse.

"What's up?" Mick asked quietly as soon as he joined them on the pavement, reorganising the JC Penny's bags he carried.

"Everything was fine," Noah started to say before glancing back at the greasy joint behind them. "And then one of the ladies from the back started giving me the third degree, asking all sorts of questions."

"This is exactly the kind of attention we don't need..." Stevie commented, remembering what Daniel had said about collaborators but keeping her eyes on Mick as she spoke.

"Let's blow this pop stand," Mick said, giving a knowing look at the priest for he had called it right in the first store.

"Good idea," Daniel agreed. "I didn't think it would take them long to realise we're not from around here." Wasting no time, Daniel started to follow Mick as they travelled the same route they took to enter town. Hopefully once they got past town limits, they could use the bush for cover as they returned to their vehicles.

"I didn't think it would matter," Noah admitted his naivety on this. As they walked out of town, he started handing out everyone their burgers. "Better eat them now or they'll all get soggy." His tone was a mixture of annoyance and resignation. Their world was a fucked- up place and maybe they deserved all they were going to get.

Stevie moved in next to him, her head leaning against his shoulder for a moment. Noah was the kindest soul of them all, the one who still believed people were good at heart, who still saw the goodness in everything before and above everything else. He was also the driving force behind the scenes, making sure the band's songs weren't all about death, deceit and pain.

"Maybe she just really liked you and didn't know how to ask for your phone number..." she joked softly.

Noah was three years younger than she. He didn't remember much from the first occupation. A lot of it had flown right past his head, especially how humanity hadn't been all that humane upon itself. He'd grown up with visions of lizard monsters, with nightmares, but it was all due to the Visitors, none came from what normal folks had done to their neighbours to save their own ass or to gain some illusion of power or peace of mind. This time he would get the full picture and Stevie didn't think he would cope well. Losing Cage and Davey the way they had had hit him hard already, totally shattering his vision of the world, one that had made him strong and sure of himself, able to face life. Daniel wasn't the only one here having some kind of crisis of faith, she reminded herself.

"You think?" Noah played along, glancing down at her, a smile pulling at his mouth. "Cheers," he said after a moment, offering his burger so she could chink hers with his as if they were drinks.

Stevie did, grinning at the idea before she stuffed the thing in her mouth and took a big bite.

Daniel ate the food given without adding very little to the conversation. He knew that Mia was angry with him and he couldn't blame her. Hot and cold. Those words echoed back at him and he had been playing with her emotions, wanting her but not having the strength to give up the priesthood. The two could not exist together. Frank had been right about that. If he didn't cut himself off from her, he would make it worse.

They continued to walk, reaching the edge of town and saw the greenery beyond. They had hidden their vehicles on advice from the folk of the gas station but Daniel suspected if they didn't leave town soon, the Visitors would be actively seeking them out.

"We should put some distance between this place and us and then get under cover if we can. If the Visitors start looking for us, they might connect us to the attack at the ranch."

"Yeah." Mick nodded grimly. And they wouldn't be able to lie their way out of it since both the jeep and the van sported black streaks from Visitors' weapon blasts having burnt the paint off and started eating at the metal beneath.

They slipped into the trees, careful that no one was looking, and found their rides stashed within. They all looked in order, not tampered with as Mick had thought it might be the case. Nothing would have stopped the people from the gas station to follow them at a distance and help themselves once they were gone. But he was glad to see it wasn't the case. No, what was weird now was watching Stevie push him out of the way once he'd unlocked the driver's side door and climb in. She looked at him once seated, her hand appearing under his nose, palm up, silently requesting for the keys.

"What? No more riding with the cool priest?" he asked after picking up his jaw off the ground.

"Shut up and get in," she said, snatching the keys from his hand.

*
Noah stopped walking when he saw Stevie beeline for the van and raised an eyebrow in Daniel's direction. "What did I miss?"

"Nothing," Daniel said, watching her go into the van and realising that perhaps it was for the best. "You head out first and I'll follow." There was no need for further elaboration. It wasn't as if words had been exchanged, it was just his reaction and that was bad enough.

"Can I ride shotgun?" Noah asked around a mouthful of burger, hopeful. Otherwise he'd have to wrestle for the passenger seat with Mick and that was already a lost cause he realised as the drummer was getting in up front.

"Daniel wasn't sure if it was a good idea but couldn't refuse because it wasn't in his nature to. Besides he had made enough of a mess as it was. "Certainly," he said coolly.

"Cool. Wind in my hair, that kinda thing. Will be a nice change from Mick's dirty socks' smell," Noah joked, throwing Daniel a smile, getting into the jeep. The other man's inner turmoil sailed right past Noah's head, at least for now.

"Only way to travel in Africa," Daniel answered almost mechanically, capable of making conversation while inside deeper thoughts were in debate.

*
Stevie let out a sigh of relief when she saw Noah decided to ride with Daniel. She was hurt and pissed off but she would much rather see him ride with someone than by his lonesome.

Fingering the pendant, she slipped it under her t-shirt and started the engine. Mick, next to her, ate silently and Stevie knew him well enough to know his questions would come later. But they would come.

And they came... a whole forty minutes later.

"What happened?" Mick looked at her, studying her profile as she drove, concentrating on the road. It was nice to finally be in the daylight even if it wasn't any safer. It was also nice to have her back in the van.

"I missed Gladys, alright?" Stevie threw him. "Something wrong with that?"

"Nope, but there's something wrong with something else or someone else..." he let trail.

Damn it, Stevie glanced at the radio, wishing the damn thing still worked. It might keep Mick busy on something else than her life. "I don't want to talk about it."

"That much is obvious." He nodded, watching the coast line and the ocean. He could lose himself right there, forget the new order of things, if you just looked at the waves. But she was hurting and that, he couldn't just look at something else and forget.

"I'd have to be blind to not notice you dig him. I don't see it personally," he continued with a shrug, glancing her way. "But he's definitely played a number on you."

"Mick..." She looked away from the road briefly to glare at him.

"He's got it for you too," Mick observed, not paying mind to her silent warning. "So much so that I feel I must err in the realm of bad jokes and quote an REM song..."

"Just drop it."

"That's what I suggested from the get-go and you didn't..." he pointed out.

Stevie tried to relax her grip on the steering wheel and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly.

"Did it work?" Mick cracked, having recognised her attempt at calming down.

"Not with you carrying on next to me, asshole," she retorted. How could she tell him she had fallen for a priest? How could she explain that in a matter of days all she wanted was to be at his side when she didn't understand it herself? In fact, it was pretty much from the moment they'd met...

"You guys done it yet?"

"Mick!" She glanced at him again. "I can't believe you're asking this..."

"Oh, right. Miss All Proper now?"

"It's not even about that," Stevie admitted though she didn't know why she bothered.

"It's not?" Mick raised an eyebrow, dubious to say the least. "You were all over each other that first day..." Besides, that was mostly what Stevie was about, never straying into anything more serious.

"I'm not discussing this with you."

"You don't need to." Mick regarded her a moment, wondering whether to push further or not. "Boy meets girl, or in this case, girl meets priest. Girl likes him; priest likes her but likes God most."

"You can be such an ass," Stevie let out.

"Well, what did you expect, woman? The Thorn Birds?" And even Mick winced at that. The cheap shot and the fact he had just admitted to having seen the damn thing. "I'm sorry."

Stevie sighed, shooting him a glance. "No, you're right. I don't know what I was thinking."

Looking at her, his mouth nearly hung open. There was so much longing, so much pain in her voice. Okay, that shut Mick up.

Scribe31oz 22:16, May 14, 2010 (UTC)

They continued up the coast, leaving Pismo Beach behind, grateful when no Visitor appeared behind them to blast them to bits. They drove for two hours, staying off the highway until the sun dipped lower in late afternoon and they were finally able to take refuge at another motel. This one was boarded up and forgotten, long before the Visitors had come. It was in dilapidated condition and appeared to have been closed down when the highway had shifted, taking business in different directions.

Pulling in for a few hours, they would rest until the sun set again so they could travel safely in the dark.

There was an awkward moment when they were checking the rooms out, see where they could sleep. Scratch that, there had been plenty of awkward moments since leaving Pismo Beach and that pavement where Daniel had put his pretty present around her neck while at the same time reminding her in no uncertain terms that he still could not reconcile himself with the idea of her without feeling ashamed. It made her feel small and dirty, like she would be the reason for his fall from grace, and yet she couldn't stop herself from being attracted to him. And not even in a sexual way. It was there but maybe third or fourth on the list. No, it was him, as a person, his personality, his... soul.

While she stood there in one of the rooms, lost in thought, Noah went outside to get some of their stuff and just assumed it was back to business as usual, taking the next room with Mick. It wasn't until Daniel walked in with his gear that she realised what had just happened. Shit. She swallowed, standing face to face with him and with nowhere to go lest she looked like a silly teenage girl storming out.

He stopped short and stared. "I'll go elsewhere," he said, starting to turn away. He had thought Mick would be in this room. Not Mia.

Okay, so he was going to be one acting like a teenager. "You know what? You stay," she said, passing him to get to the door.

"No, you can stay," Daniel retorted. "You were here first." Oh, he had a sense of the storm that was coming and should have probably appeased her. He caught her arm to make her stay.

Actually, no. She couldn't stay. She needed air. She needed the sky above her head, the fresh crisp air of the night surrounding her like she'd had the past five days while riding alongside him in his Jeep.

"I was where first, Daniel?" Stevie asked, pausing because his hand on her wouldn't allow for anything else. "This room?"

That meant nothing to her. This one, or the one after or the one before, who cared? No, she was referring to something else entirely. God had been there first. Still was.

"You told me you'd think about it, that you needed time to decide... but I never stood a chance. There was never really a choice, was there?" She studied his face, her throat tight but trying to show nothing.

Once again, she was being rejected. Once again, she wasn't good enough.

"All this self-loathing I sense in you..." she said quietly, her eyes falling into his blue depths. For wanting her? For having to sink to her level to be with her? What he had told her back at the creek in St. Marcos was turning out to be a load of crock, she realised. The sense of peace and balance she had felt in him that night after their bath, even though he was still undecided, had vanished and was replaced by this torturous shame. What had happened? She hadn't even played dirty, trying to sway him with some promise of carnal bliss. Maybe she should have had, but she had trusted his words, that she, as a person, wasn't to be underestimated.

Right.

No, maybe she still should play this out like the elections... show him what he was turning away from.

Dropping her pack, she leaned in and kissed him, her hands grabbed both his arms, not letting him pull back if he tried.

Her words hit him like lashes and each drew blood. Nothing she said could be denied and yet she was wrong. He tried to pull away but she denied him that too and he was kissing her back, driven by impulses he couldn't fight. He groaned into her mouth, almost in anguish because she was making this so much harder. If she was angry at him, it would be easy but she wasn't. He was in love with her, if there was any doubt in his mind before, it was gone now and yet it wasn't so simple.

"Mia," he tried to say. "I will end up hurting you... this path will only be worse on you than it will be on me."

To have her was to cage her in his world and he didn't want that. What could he give her really if he chose her? He'd still be tethered to the church, even if it wasn't as a priest, and she'd never fit in and he wasn't sure he'd want her to either.

It seemed to her that there was only a moment's hesitation on his part, and when he responded at first, his lips allowing her in before he returned her kiss with intensity, Stevie thought her heart would explode she felt so happy and complete. Finally. This time she didn't let him explore at his leisure; she was leading, demanding, capturing his mouth with fervour, with a need for acceptance near blinding.

It took a moment for her mind to catch up with the fact he was trying to speak, to put together the message he tried to convey. She let his mouth go, pushing her forehead to his, refusing to relinquish the contact. "What path?" she asked, breathless, her voice cracking.

But it didn't matter really, she realised. He was telling her no. She had offered him all she had, ready to give him all she was, and it wasn't enough. She blinked, tears spilling down her cheeks.

It broke his heart to see her cry but he had to tell her. "Have you considered what it would be like if you came with me? I'll still be with the church. That part of my life won't change but everything else in yours will. It will be a life bound by rules and restrictions. Everything that makes you what you are would change. It's a life that is hard on even those who are committed to it. If you came with me, everything about you would fall under scrutiny and I couldn't stand putting you through that."

"Why would they care about me?" she asked, a moment confused as to why this fell on her. It was his choice: the church or each other. He had told her that both couldn't co-exist, at least not for a Jesuit brother.

"They would care if I chose to remain a part of the church." He met her eyes. "Mia, I don't know how to do anything else. Even if I am not a priest, I will still be able to serve the church and I would be still required to follow its teachings to a degree, as would my wife..." They weren't there yet but that was the other thing. "Mia, there are hurdles, a lot of them, and I don't want your happiness sacrificed because I don't know how to do anything else but be a part of the church."

There were a few shocking revelations she pulled from his words...

One, she didn't even balk at the notion of being his wife one day... didn't even blink.

"We're fine. No harm done. We got what we needed. Let's meet up with Mick and Noah and we can be on our way, Mrs. Ivanov."

Mia Ivanov. It has a nice ring to it, she appreciated again, stupidly.

Two, he couldn't even think outside the box for a moment, couldn't even consider learning something else. He had a brain, all his limbs, had seen the world, had lived through crises and helped thousands while under fire and yet he couldn't even imagine himself standing on his own for her. Not that she was asking him to renounce God. She wasn't, but if the Church needed help, they would accept his in any shape or form. At least that was her beliefs.

Three, he had punched Father Frank for nothing for he was now feeding her the same bullshit line about appearances and what people expected the perfect wife to be and that Stevie was none of those things. They were all about to die... now, tomorrow, maybe three years from now, as fodder to canons or feed for these great big lizards now at the top of the food chain, and all he and his Church were worried about were looks and what they deemed appropriate.

She might have rejection issues, but she had built enough self-esteem the past decade to recognise this was not her problem.

No, she would remain Stevie. She would much rather honour her father, his name (even though he had not thought much of her), for at least he had been able to reinvent himself to be a part of the Resistance and had done so with his family, with the people he loved at his side. Yes, it had cost him... had cost them all, but they had remained a unit until the end of the conflict. Daniel, a man of faith, couldn't even take that leap.

She wiped her face on her sleeve and looked up to meet his eyes.

"I guess now I have an answer as to whether the Church really believes rock 'n roll is the work of the devil," she quipped, her tone amazingly calm. Her hand went to his face and settled along his jaw, her thumb caressing his lower lip for a moment before she leaned in and kissed his cheek. "Sleep well."

It sounded more like 'have a nice life', but she knew they had a few more hundred miles together before they could part ways for good. She gave him a small smile before she bent down to retrieve her pack to then leave the room.

Daniel didn't stop her, feeling the breath inside him still.

How is it that in thinking that he was saving her, Daniel felt as if he were the one dying inside?


To be continued in Firestorm

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