North-east of San Diego
30th March 2009

"Okay," he nodded, watching her for a moment, wanting to frame the image of her in his head. He may well have embarked upon a course that could change the way he regarded his faith but right now, with the taste of her on his lips, he didn't care one damn bit.

If there was anything that drove home the state of the world, it was that evening when they started driving again.

The day had spent taking turns sleeping, resting and keeping watch against all comers in a routine that was almost clockwork despite its lack of real planning. Daniel had taken the time to think, to reflect on what had happened to him in the last twenty-four hours. He had broken a fundamental law of the priesthood but he was now in a position to question if it was necessarily a sin. The laws governing the nature of marriage and celibacy had been created by men. None of it had come from God.

All he knew was that for the first time in his life, he had found something he didn't want to give up for God.

He knew it wasn't just the physical thrill of kissing her. Daniel wasn't that naive. There had been women in the past. There were always women who wanted to turn the head of young priests and he had not been immune to their attention. However, it was always one-sided. This was the first time in his life that he wanted to reciprocate and he had no idea why. All he knew was that with the world possibly struggling for its last gasp, some of the vows which seemed so important before now, felt foolish.

That evening they were off again, driving on the northern side of San Diego, sighting in the darkness other bodies moving away from the city. The mothership was ever present in the sky and it appeared to be right over the Miramar Naval Air Station, rather than over San Diego proper, as they had first thought. Staring at it now, they could see transport carriers moving in and out of the docking bays. Skyfighters emerging from it to go on patrols.

Just seeing it made even a man of the cloth shudder.

Sitting in the passenger seat, Stevie was staring to her left. Leaning her head on the backrest, neck craned, she stared at the mothership. "I hoped I would never see one of those again..." she let out after a while, echoing Daniel's sentiments from the night before.

Somewhat rested, even though she had not slept very well - her sleep either fragmented by nightmares or moments when all she could think of was the priest kissing and touching her - Stevie turned her head to the driver, the said priest, the one she shouldn't entertain a thought for but did nonetheless. Maybe she should have let Noah ride with Daniel tonight.

"Tell me about it," Daniel agreed, trying not to stare through the driver's side window at the thing but it was impossible to avoid it. It hung in the sky above them all, a dark god watching them. "I saw one in Guadalupe," he remarked. "It was like I was nine years old again."

"Yeah." She snorted. "Talk about revisiting childhood boogiemen." Her eyes went back to it. "One flew over Ensenada. It was probably this one, getting into a position." Hell, it could have been any... didn't make one bit of difference. "Makes me wonder why bother..."

"Why bother?" He looked at her. "Why bother fighting?" he asked, fearing that the return of the Visitors might have broken the spirit he admired so much.

"Yeah," she said firmly, glancing his way before returning to the dark threat above to their left. "Think about it. What our parents did last time, what we did, it didn't make one lick of difference. They're back. And they're prepared. There's no pretence this time around. They're not trying to make friends. They attacked us from orbit. From what I heard they took out most of the military across the globe." She shrugged. "I didn't know whether to believe that..." Hell, she hadn't even wanted to believe Los Angeles was really gone. "But it's been what... four weeks? And no help is coming."

She couldn't talk like this with Mick and Noah. They were close. They normally shared just about everything, but this... the boys didn't want to hear. They didn't need a girl voicing their own fears back at them and Stevie respected that. But Daniel here... for some reason, it was different. It was almost like she was doing it, wishing he would prove her wrong... like she needed him to.

And maybe she did.

"Let's say we get lucky again... and that's a big if..." She shook her head, eyes back on his handsome face. "They'll retreat, wait until we're grand-parents and come back again."

Daniel understood her ambivalence and when they had first returned, he thought the same things. "I think this time it will be different." He reached for her hand and squeezed. Funny how easily it came to him to do this for her. It made him feel less aloof, more in tune not just with her but the people he would like to help.

"They came back but I think we're partly responsible for that too. They left and we moved on, assuming they were gone when what we should have done was be prepared. This is a hard lesson to learn but we're learning the price of not being vigilant. We drove them away twenty-three years ago, we cleaned up the mess and then we went back to the way things had always been, learning nothing. Now, we understand the price of ignorance, of assuming otherwise. I think when we force them off the world this time..." He did not say if, he was too much optimistic for that. "It will be different."

"How?" She studied his profile in the dim light while she let the warmth of his hand on hers seep through. His were inspiring words and she really wanted to believe him but... "It's not like we have spaceships to go and kick them out of our Milky Way. How, Daniel?"

"I don't know," he said honestly and these were matters of men who were accustomed to fighting wars. "All I know is that we will win because we don't have any other alternative. I don't want this generation of humanity to be the last."

Oh, well, if the priest wanted it then it would happen. Stevie had to bite on a snort and the sarcastic retort that would have normally followed. She supposed he was drawing that sense of hope, the optimism from his god and she wasn't going to rob him of that. She had done quite enough there, unintentionally wedging herself between he and the requirements of his faith. But the fact he couldn't give her one concrete way or idea of how they could drive out the Visitors didn't do much to pull her from her dark thoughts.

"It's probably a horrible thing to say but even if my parents would probably know what to do... would know how to mobilise and get ready all over again, I'm kind of relieved they're dead... that they got to go without ever realising what was going on." She looked at him, feeling awful for saying it and even worse for thinking it at all.

"I suppose that there is some comfort to be ignorant," he answered, sensing he had done nothing to allay her fears. "I hope my father is alright," he admitted, wanting to trust in God to deliver Vasily from trouble but he had no way of knowing if the old Russian was alive or dead.

"I hope so too," she returned, wanting to sound comforting for some reason. Maybe because he was considerate to her, caring. She turned her palm to squeeze his hand back. "As for my parents, it's not that they were the kind to run and hide, or to prefer to stick their heads in the sand," she felt the need to explain. "It's that it would have killed them anyway to find out they had given up their son for nothing..." Of that she was certain. Stevie's whole family life had changed the first time the Visitors came, but it had changed even more when Dean was killed. They had kept on fighting the good fight but her parents had never recovered. Not even the next twenty years had helped with that.

"I don't think it was for nothing," he replied, squeezing her hand. "Things aren't ideal but I would prefer twenty-three years of relative freedom to twenty-three years of Visitor occupation. We've made mistakes but we halted their plans for two decades, that's worth something." No life died in vain even if it seemed that way at the moment.

"You have a point," Stevie heard herself say even as the pain burned in her chest. "Look at them..." she let out as another stream of skyfighters exited the mothership, two dozens or so, sweeping in a semi-circle before breaking up into smaller formations and heading to destinations unknown.

It gave him chills watching them fly off to fulfil whatever dark purpose was on their agenda this evening. The ships, though seemingly benign, were the symbol of Visitor dominance not only over their planet but more closer to home, their skies.

Tense, Stevie looked over her shoulder, checking the VW van was still behind them. When she turned back around, she was surprised to see that three skyfighters were sort of heading the same way they were. "What's up ahead that could possibly interest them?"

"I don't know," Daniel confessed. "I saw a sign for some chemical factory back there on the road, but there shouldn't be anything else. We may need to think about taking a detour," he commented. He was pretty sure Mick and Noah wouldn't want to go anywhere near those ships.

"Whatever it is, I think they found it," Stevie commented after a moment, watching the three ships suddenly circling an area not even one mile ahead of them. She heard the van rev up behind them and in the next instant Mick was driving up next to them, motioning them to veer off the road. "You better stop," she told Daniel, pointing to the side of the road, a mixture of gravel and overgrown weeds. Shotgun in hand, she got ready in case someone was lurking around the few broken down cars they passed as the Jeep slowed down. "Lights off. They can probably see that from up there..." If they cared to look.

Following Mick's lead, they veered off the main road, killing the headlights as they took cover in the darkness. The van came to a halt in front of them and Daniel brought the jeep to a gradual stop behind them. For a few seconds after they killed the engines on both vehicles, there was no sound, just the chirping of crickets and the occasional sweep of wind against the dry landscape.

Then the sound reached them, one after the other, like burst of electrical discharges, followed by explosions that were nowhere as refined. Booming noise that made the ground rumble. In the darkness, they could see the criss cross of bluishing energy and the following plumes of orange. Whatever it was the Visitors were firing upon, Daniel was fairly certain they were obliterating it.

And finally, as always, riding on the wind, were the screams.

Stevie got out of the jeep on automatic pilot, clutching the weapon tightly. Her eyes were riveted to the light show up head, the tremors underfoot making her heart beat wildly, teasing the human built-in reflex to flee.

Mick and Noah exited the van and stood there, transfixed for a moment.

"We should leave the area, " Daniel spoke, stating the obvious. "They may decide to land ground troops after they're finished doing whatever it is they're doing there." Of course, he did not remark that there might not be anyone left to collect once the Visitors were finished but the statement hung pregnant in the air nonetheless.

His mouth a thin line and an angry look in his eyes, Mick approached the Jeep, while Noah shadowed him a few paces behind. "I know this road leads right past the manufacturing plant," he spoke to Daniel but it was Stevie he went to, trying to make out her expression in the darkness. "Paint compounds and solvents, if I remember correctly, which when you break it down you get the building blocks for explosives. I don't know if there's a way around it." This road was pretty much it. They were in the middle of nowhere.

"Then we should go back the way we came," Daniel suggested, understanding why the Visitors were so interested in blowing it to pieces. This was just the kind of a place that could be exploited by any resistance movements. "At least some distance and wait until they clear out before trying this road again."

"Yeah," Mick agreed.

"Actually," Noah piped in from the back. "I think I saw a dirt road about half a mile back. Not sure where that leads though. How detailed is your map, Daniel?" If the priest even had one.

Stevie stood ramrod straight, still hearing the screams under the quiet conversation of her travel companions. "They're moving again," she let out, her voice tainted with dread. The skyfighters were on the move again, still circling but evolving into a wider pattern. "We really need to move!"

"Quite detailed," he answered, "Let me head for the dirt road first since I'll be able to tell first what we'll encounter." Glancing at Mia as he started towards the jeep. "How well can you read a map?"

"Pretty good for a girl," Noah cracked. "Come on." He nudged Mick.

"Okay, we'll be right behind you. No headlights so take it slow," Mick said, squeezing Stevie's shoulder as he nodded to Daniel.

Stevie jumped back in the jeep, grabbing her pack from the back. She stuffed it between her legs, unzipping one of the side pockets so she could easily access the extra ammo she had there. "Where's your map?"

"Glove box," he said, starting up the engine, making sure that the headlights were kept off. Putting the jeep into reverse, he backed out first so that Mick could follow. Swinging the steering wheel hard, he turned up the path they had come, going in search of the road that Noah had sighted.

Leaning forward on the dashboard, Stevie was squinting in the darkness trying to make sure they didn't drive past it. "This could be it." She suddenly pointed to a lighter spot ahead on their left that soon took the shape of a road the closer they got. Sliding back into the seat, she reached for the glove box, pulling the map out and the pocket light that was stashed there next to it. Unfolding the thing on her lap, she turned the flashlight on and got to work.

Daniel turned up the road, still conscious of the flares of light that could be seen in the rear view mirror above the tree line. Noah and Mick were behind them still and as he turned into the road, noted the press of branches across the dirt track. The track was overgrown and not often used. Daniel supposed this was a good thing.

"I hope you're not too enamoured with your current paint job," Stevie quipped, hearing the scratching along the jeep, like nails on a blackboard. "Looks like this is bordering some kind of ranch and then it heads north before coming back towards the factory... but never quite to it." There was another patch on the map that had been left unmarked. "Could be serving another property and then it pushes north again towards Poway to the east or some wild animal park if we stick with heading north. But I can't tell just how close the actual destruction zone this will take us to before it peels off north again..."

"It will do," Daniel said without hesitation as his eyes glanced up at the rear view mirror again. "Anything that keeps off their radar is worth the paint job." He tossed a little smile but was uncertain if she could see it through the lights of the dashboard.

She folded the map in such a way to keep the area they needed on top for quick reference and flicked the light off. Now, besides the long plumes of flames to their left, she felt blinded, her eyes taking time to readjust to the darkness after the brightness of the LEDs. Stevie was just about to comment on how quiet it was now when they heard shots fired. Ducking on instinct because she still couldn't see very well, her hand went to Daniel's shoulder while the other reached for the shotgun.

Daniel risked taking his eyes off the road, trying to see where the noise was coming from. He remembered bringing supplies back one night on a lonely road across the savannah where it was pitch black and the air stunk with the smell of blood, from bodies left murdered by militia. It taught him how to listen and gauge such noises over the rumble of an engine. "Its not close," he said quietly, "two miles or so," he estimated and then heard that distinctive blast that could only be a skyfighter's lasers.

"Probably hitting on the ranch then. They're gonna kill everyone..." Stevie looked across the vast property, unable to see any of the buildings yet for the soft undulations of the land, she guessed. There were more shots fired, bullets and laser, and suddenly she spotted it. An orange glow at first, reflected by heavy smoke hanging in the air, and as the jeep got them closer, she spied the stables on fire, horses in a panic as their owners tried to free them from the burning building all the while being shot at by ground troops. "I see people..."

Daniel's fingers dug into the steering wheel. "How good are you with that gun?" he asked.

"Good enough," Stevie replied tightly. She'd had to learn the hard way, jumping in the deep end. "But we don't have that much ammo left. "You want to go help?" Of course, he did.

Taking a deep breath, he looked at her. "You don't have to hit anything, just make the noise." With a shrug, he added, "I'm hoping the jeep will do most of it." He tried to smile and suspected that Mick would probably not be happy if they lived through this.

"Are you kidding?" She smirked. "I'm taking those motherfuckers down." Shifting so she could slide one leg beneath her, she checked her weapon was loaded and ready.

Her choice of speech actually brought a smile of affection to his face. "I'll pray for your soul." He winked and turned the wheel in the direction of the ranch. Putting his foot to the accelerator, the vehicle surged through the brush, making scraping noises as it moved. He left the headlights off, hoping the noise would mask their approach.

"What the fuck?" growled Mick, taking a fraction of a second to look to Noah. "Lock and load," he told his friend. "And wind your damn window down first."

He'd known Brother Daniel was going to do that the minute he had spotted the stables and the house behind burst into flames. A priest, of course. That went without saying. And with Stevie next to him... she had probably suggested it to him. Bleeding heart sweet girl that she was. He cursed. The place was crawling with Visitors.

"Hold on," he warned Noah before he yanked the wheel to follow after them.

The jeep rumbled through the foliage breaking through the brush in the midst of shock troopers cutting down the family who lived at the ranch. He didn't know what they had done to incur the Visitors wrath but it was not worth the price of their lives. Remembering that the Visitors had difficulty with bright lights, he turned on his high beams at the last second before they spun around to face him. The powerful beams blinded them as expected, giving him the few seconds he needed to speed up. Their bodies thudded against the fender as he moved them down.

Raising herself to a near standing position, Stevie pivoted, taking aim, and shot the Visitors stupid enough to stir and even get up after being mowed down by the jeep.

"Jesus," Noah let out. "You saw that?"

"I did..." Mick growled, amazed by the priest. "I'm seeing that over there too." Turning the van right abruptly, he angled it so Noah could have a shot. "The gas tank, Noah. Now."

There was another group of foot soldiers advancing, coming from the other side of the stables. Probably the one who had stormed the farmhouse while the others had waited outside to pick the family members one by one.

"Shit... got it." Cocking the revolver first, Noah took aim. The first bullet missed but the second found its mark, blowing up the tank as the Visitors passed near it.

Crushing the Visitor shock troopers under the jeep, he kept going at top speed, pulling the vehicle to a quick stop near the family members who still lived. "Get in!" He ordered.

A terrified woman with a young son no more than nine and half hysterical teenage girl, scrambled into the back. Lying face down a few feet away, a man with the scorch marks of a blaster shot on his back, remained unmoving. Probably the father.

"Come on," Stevie ushered them in when they all momentarily froze when something else blew up nearby. Looking up, she saw the van and more Visitors beyond, some down, others on fire but a few still heading their way. "¡date prisa!" She helped the mom in once the kids were piled in the back. "¡vamanos! Quick, Daniel. More are coming!"

Turning around, Stevie started shooting again as Mick tried to drive away whilst on the receiving end of the enemy's superior fire power.

Daniel could see them on approach and waited for as long as it took for the family to pile in before he hit the accelerator again, only this time in the opposite direction. The vehicle reversed sharply, ploughing into the Visitor shock troopers who had paused to take fire. Once he felt that thud again, he spun the wheel around, creating groves in the loamy grass before he sped up after Mick.

"Heads down," Stevie barked as she kept facing the back of the jeep while she quickly reloaded. Most Visitors were down but she saw two heads move before laser fire whizzed past. "Fuckers," she growled, spending the shells she had already loaded. But soon they were out of range and Stevie held on to the crash bar as Daniel directed the jeep back onto the dirt road.

Sitting back down, Stevie turned to the mother. "Anyone else at the house?"

"No," she shook her head, face filled with tears as she pulled the boy to her on the cusp of being as hysterical as the teenager. "No one...just my husband...." she looked over her shoulder through the rear window at the body lying on the ground that was distant now.

"Why were they after you?" Daniel asked.

"We hid some people in our barn, just for a day...they accused us of being Resistance terrorists!" She sobbed.

Stevie reached out and patted the woman's arm. "Sorry..." Her throat tight, the image of the man's body they had to leave behind too damn close to Cage's.

"Lights out," she reminded Daniel as she started to scan the sky, expecting one of their ship to come checking on their men.

"Right." Daniel nodded, immediately killing the lights again. Speeding away from the scene, he asked them, "Is there anywhere you can go? Anywhere that is safe?"

"We.. we... have family twenty miles from here," the woman stuttered. "We can stay with them."

Daniel looked to Mia. "We should try and get them there," he said.

"Sure," she replied like it went without saying. "Catch up to Mick. They'll be more comfy in the van," she suggested before going back to reloading the shotgun.

Taking her advice, he sped up, pulling up along side of Mick, gesturing at the man to come to a halt further along the road. They couldn't stop for too long because those skyfighters were still in the air and it would only take one to spot them.

They transferred the mom and her children to the back of the Volkswagen quickly, Mick keeping watch on their surroundings.

Stevie knew him well enough to know he was a little pissed off. She approached him nonetheless - or even more so for that reason.

"You guys okay?

He nodded, his eyes barely meeting hers.

"They have family twenty miles away. We'll go dropped them off?"

Now she asks, he thought, though he knew that was unfair. They had no way of communicating their intentions and the situation earlier had given them no time for hand signal crap. "Sure. Let's go."

Wanting to add something but not knowing what, she just tilted her head with a simple, "Thanks."

Back in their vehicles, they got back on the road.

Once they were driving, Daniel turned to her. "Was he mad?" He suspected Mick would be, considering the man's vigilance since they'd become travelling companions.

"No," Stevie said, trying to relax a bit now that things had calmed down a bit. She grinned. "Yes." She glanced his way. "But he's not stupid enough to let it rip out here in the open. He'll have his real say later," she warned him, still smiling. Mick would be fine. In fact, she didn't think he would have driven by without doing a thing had he been in front.

"That's something to look forward to," he joked. "We had to do something," Daniel replied, unrepentant. The irony of a priest feeling that was not lost on him.

"I know, and I'm sure Mick agrees," she admitted. "But he'll have a go anyway." She smirked, still feeling the high from the adrenaline. "You sure you have a licence to drive this thing?" she cracked.

"I'm used to driving while trying to avoid gunfire." He smiled, glad that the tension from earlier was dissipating. "But I probably should get my license renewed."

"I'm glad one of us is..." It wasn't so hard now to imagine him in those places... stuck with dealings with warlords and militia.

Daniel shrugged, not all that pleased with what he had done, even though it was necessary. "I did what had to be done but it is not a feeling I would welcome again," he confessed.

"They had it coming... shame we were too late for the man." Stevie hung on to her anger and indignation that the Visitors would dare coming back and do this to them all over again, but Daniel's words sobered her up a bit. "I had to kill my first man a few days ago..." she said all of a sudden, her voice hollow. "But those fuckers? I have no problem with popping them one." Hatred laced her words, a deep-seeded emotion that no amount of killing would dent. Not even a little. But she would try.

Not about to get into a philosophical debate with her about the Visitors being God's children because he was convinced she would not take it well, he avoided her intense declaration. "This was the first time, I'd taken a life," he replied instead.

She turned to him, surprised. His tales about war torn countries had led her to the contrary. "You mean just now?"

"Yes." He nodded.

Stevie turned her gaze to the night surrounding them, the van just a faint outline on the road in front them, the tyres lifting eddies of dust in the air. She swallowed. Remembering her first - not Visitors but man, a man like Mick and Noah, like Daniel... a scared brother, son, father even, driven to attacking his own kind for his own survival - and she had frozen. Oh, she had fired a weapon before. Warning shots mainly, for effect... covering fire. But two days ago, the situation had called for her to shoot to kill and she had failed. It was only when Cage caught one in the back that she got the nerve. Afterwards, she had puked. Again and again until all that was left was bile. And she'd even run out of that.

"Maybe you just maimed them," she tried to appease him. Not everybody died of being run over.

"Doesn't matter if they aren't dead," he replied. "I chose to harm them. It was necessary but still not something I will wish to do."

"You feel bad because you trampled on a bunch of lizards?" Stevie regarded him. "They chose to harm you, Daniel. There's no turning the other cheek here. They won't slap it. They'll eat it." She couldn't believe she was hearing this. Or was it her? Was she so far gone, so broken that she couldn't see the bad in killing these fuckers?

"You do make a good point," he commented and supposed on this there would be no middle ground between them. She had lost too much to be able to be objective about this and despite his feelings for her, he had made vows to God and his faith hinged on trying to follow as much of his beliefs as he could. Even if being with her meant not serving the Lord as a priest.

Damn right, I do, she thought, but she could tell he was still conflicted. Like what they had to do back there wasn't justified. She slouched in the seat, annoyed. He made her feel like she was some kind of monster.

"I'm sorry," he looked at her, trying to make her understand. "I am a priest, and like other things I've done of late, it's against what I believed all my life. It's not an easy transition to be able to step over the line in the sand." He reached for her hand and squeezed, no longer afraid of such things now.

Stevie felt his hand on hers again and appreciated that he was trying to explain his position, where he was coming from, but he was doing it again: assuming or even inferring that it was any easier for her to cross that line. What did he think she was?

"And I was a singer in a rock band. I wrote songs, played guitar... I didn't go around getting shot at (hell, he had one up on her in that department) or waving a shotgun at people, taking lives." Her voice broke on that last bit and she glared at him even if she guessed he wouldn't see her. "But I will shoot those motherfuckers down and won't lose sleep over it because they are the invaders... because it's either them or us." She shook her head. "And your god's not watching."

"No, he's not," Daniel found himself admitting. "Or he's engaged elsewhere." The admission made him wince because he could feel the threads disconnecting further between him and God. It was disconcerting.

Not expecting him to say that, she felt like an ass for having a go at his beliefs again. "I'm sorry." Sorry for questioning his faith, for kissing him... because she knew instinctively that it had rattled him, probably even started him on a slippery slope and, despite his assurances that he had wanted it, Stevie believed that had it not been for her, he'd still be Brother Daniel, solid and firm on his chosen path.

"No, it's not your fault," he looked at her. "The world is changing and I must change with it."

He had that bit right. It was changing. The Visitors coming back, scarring the planet like they never had before... normal folks turning on each other, looting, killing for food or a ride. Stevie had seen people dobbing scientists and their families twenty-six years ago, had read about similar occurrences in history books, on the news, but she had hoped to never have to see it again.

And another striking change was that she was riding in a jeep, holding hands with the priest.

Her gaze going forward, she yelped suddenly, "Wait!"

There, by the side of the road, were two or three silhouettes, bodies huddled together against a boulder. Stevie wasn't even sure how she had spotted them in the darkness. Shotgun pointed at them, she spied one move but couldn't quite say how many the larger one was covering and if they were all alive even.

Daniel almost slammed the brakes in surprise but managed to control his reaction so neither of them ended up in the windscreen. With the engine ticking, he saw the shapes in the darkness.

"Hello," he said to them in a calm voice. "We're not here to hurt you. Do you need help?"

Silence hung for a couple of minutes that seemed to last a lifetime to Stevie. She started to see different scenarios in her, that whoever it was could be bait for them to stop, with a hidden group ready to strike as soon as the fish was in the trap, or that a gun would be pulled on them, two clear shots hitting Daniel and herself right between the eyes... but none of that happened. Instead, the boy, because he was just a boy, fourteen or maybe fifteen, seemed to unfold as he pulled his gaze away from the smaller body he cradled and turned pleading eyes on them. "Please. She's hurt."

Stevie turned to Daniel. After all, it was his jeep.

"Come with us," he said smiling at the boy kindly. "We'll get her some help. Are you able to climb in yourself?" He asked, remembering his vocation in life which was to serve and these were the flock he was best administering. "Do you need us to help you?"

The boy shook his head as he tried to get to his feet with the other child in his arm and fell back down almost immediately. Pushing the weapon into Daniel's lap, Stevie jumped out of the jeep and made her way to them. "Come on," she said, her arm going around the boy's waist to grab his belt and pull him up. Her fingers found the leather but also a sticky, wet patch. She'd touch enough blood back in the day and in recent days to recognise its feel and smell immediately.

"He's hurt too," she let Daniel know, voice tight as she took on the weight, the boy leaning on her more than expected.

Daniel would have gotten out of the Jeep but he suspected if the Visitors showed up suddenly, he'd need to make a speedy get away. "We'll catch up to that family with Mick," he said as he saw Mia helping the children into the vehicle. "See if they know if there's a local doctor that can treat those injuries."

"Yeah..." Taking the girl from the boy's arms, she placed her in the front seat before helping the boy in the back and climbing in after him.

"You gotta name?" Stevie asked as the Jeep started moving again.

"Jeremy... how is she?" He tried to look around the passenger seat.

"Steady." Stevie placed a hand on his chest. "You're injured too. She your sister?"

"Yeah... when the Visitors came, dad sent us down from our bedroom window," he spoke, the words rushing out. "She fell down when they blew up our tree house."

"Okay," Stevie said encouragingly, imagining the surprise and wind from the blast had sent the girl flying. Turning to the kid sister, she reached around the seat. Head injury, she thought, explaining why the child was passed out. "What's her name?"


Stevie took her vitals, old instincts coming back, her fingers finding the pulse easily at the girl's throat and then checked her breathing. A quick feel of her head revealed nice bump and Stevie reached for her coat in the backpack at the girl's feet, to bundle her up with it before sitting back down in the back seat.

"She's good... probably just bumped her head." She squeezed his shoulder lightly. There wasn't anything as 'just a bump on the head' when a child fell from a second-storey window and lost consciousness but her heart rate was good and there was nothing else she could do for her now. Stevie was more worried about the brother bleeding.

"Daniel, you have a first-aid kit?"

"Yes." He nodded. "Under your seat," Daniel answered, looking at them. Children. They were just children and yet they were jumping out of their homes, running for their lives. He needed to get to St. Ignatius, to begin the work the church would have him do. So that children like Jeremy would be sitting in the backseat of a jeep, bleeding. He cast Mia a look, thinking on the heated feelings that she engendered in his heart, and felt torn.

He wanted her but he also wanted to do the work that God had asked of him.

Starting the car, he resumed their journey, taking them away from the carnage they had wrought at the ranch and the next property over, hoping that there was help at the end of their destination.

It turned out Jeremy had been shot in the side and while part of the lesion was cauterised from the laser blast, there was still a large gaping wound. After packing it with sterile gauze from the kit, making Jeremy moan and hiss, Stevie made him rest against her while she wrapped her arms around his shaking form, one hand keeping pressure on the injury. Shock had set in and she had to keep him warm.

Remembering Daniel's earlier request, Stevie exchanged a few quiet words with the boy before grabbing the priest's attention via the rear-view mirror. "He doesn't know of a doctor but says there's a vet around... not sure where though. But I can probably patch him up, once we get to those folks the woman spoke of."

"Well I'll step on it," Daniel remarked, lips drawn into a taut line. "I don't want to go searching for a vet that might or might not be here. If you can patch him up, we'll meet up with Mick and the others. They might know of a doctor in these parts."

"Mick won't have turned off the road," she warned him. "So don't rear-end him." She figured that Mick would have slowed down and eventually stopped to wait for them - at least for a while. He knew they didn't know where the woman's family was. She hadn't said before being shifted to the van.

"If I'm not mistaken, needle and thread will do the trick, but I'm just guessing at this stage." She hadn't been able to get a proper look.

"Right." Daniel slowed down and tried to see through the darkness. Safety required the headlights to be switched off but Daniel wished he could use even low beams right now. Moving at a respectable rate, he heard Mia's assessment of the injury and made a face.

Needle and thread? He wondered when she had been called on to carry out that kind of patch ups and made a mental note to ask when the opportunity presented itself. Right now, he didn't wish to alarm the boy if they could avoid it. "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it." He didn't want to inflict that on the boy unless they really had to.

"Sure." Stevie tried to relax, welcoming the kid who was now burrowing into her arms, seeking warmth.

"Shhh," she let out, shifting her hold on him. "We're nearly there." She could hear his teeth chattering and it felt so odd as the night air was rather warm.

Daniel glanced over his shoulder and watched her with the boy before facing front again, thinking on the jumbled motions inside him. Since meeting her, he'd been constantly in awe of her depths, like facets of a diamond, each offering an insight into her soul. He wanted to study each one and yet for nearly twenty three years, he had wanted nothing than to serve God. He had never doubted that decision. Even as a teenager when the yearnings of the flesh were the strongest and hard to resist, his course had been clear.

With Mia, how easily she had slipped through his discipline still shocked him. It shocked him enough for Daniel to recognise it was not just some desire of flesh or a need to feel rapture. There was communion almost as binding as any he had shared with his God.

There was work for him to be done, this boy proved it. But by the same token, Mia's tenderness told him, to deny himself of her was equally as punishing.

God was either testing him or wanting him to fail.

To be continued in San Marcos

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