Home Is Where

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Calling by Astra Kyne Murdock (Sunday, May 20, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Valley Of The Shadow by Seraphic Flame (Wednesday, June 13, 2007)

(posted Wednesday, June 13, 2007)

Ut sementem feceris, ita metes. "As you sow, so shall you reap."

Useless.

Ever since the events at Portal, the clone known as Sean Murdock had felt utterly useless. He was unable to assist in a meaningful way with any of the ongoing investigations, and even his attempts to reach out to the man whose genetic code was used to create him fell flat. He owed the Murdock family so much, yet could do nothing for them.

This Garvey had made a distinctly Machiavellian move. Sean worried quietly that he, himself, had been unwittingly part of some kind of plot against the Murdocks. He'd heard the rumors of wiretaps used on other heroes, and even implants used to manipulate people into working against their will. Thanh Ha and Bella had both made sure he was clear of any kind of mechanical device, but the fact that Garvey had manufactured him through Crey still made him feel like there was that possibility. John's distance had only added fuel to the fire of self-doubt and worry. Had he been responsible for the deaths of his friends and surrogate family?

It was a haunting thought, one that kept him from sleeping many nights. He'd busied himself with the everyday aspects of keeping the household running, the tedium of housework keeping him rooted. The desire to flee, to prevent himself from causing more damage, was strong, but he also knew that amounted to abandoning a man in his time of need. Soldiers don't leave their own behind; Sean had never served in the military, but there were just some lessons, some bonds, that one gained through association.

It'd paid off in its own way when John had contacted him while he was out on patrol. John had asked Sean to meet him back at the apartment the next day, and Sean had agreed almost before the words had left the other man's mouth. It was a chance to help, a chance to no longer be useless in his own eyes.

He'd arrived at the apartment early. Very early, in fact. Though he had hours before John had asked him to be there, Sean felt it necessary to stay. Even the remotest chance of being late to this made him uneasy. Yet with the house clean and in order, there wasn't much for Sean to do but wait. The apartment was so empty, and unfortunately the act of keeping it looking spotless had also purged the life from it. It looked like a show-house, not a place where people lived, loved, fought and made up again. Yet Sean could not bear to leave all the little bits of left-behind life for John to encounter. Some left-over mess from any one of the younger household members pillaging the kitchen, laundry piled up in a corner of a bedroom, sneakers or boots left out for someone to trip on; small things, but they all served to remind everyone that remained that their owners were not coming back to take care of them. That the room left uncleaned, that had been a source of exasperation before, was now a source of grief. Maybe it was better this way. Sitting under a tree in Sera's garden, the clone read through a dog-eared copy of 'The Art of War', a book he'd borrowed from the library several months back and had been diligently memorizing. The text seemed to speak to a part of him he wasn't consciously aware of, and he quickly got lost in the passages.

His attention was diverted when he heard the apartment's front door open and slam closed again. A few moments later, John rounded the corner of the main living room---and he was different. His stride had purpose, his clothing was clean and wrinkle-free, and he didn't smell like alcohol. He wasn't shaven, still, but it was a marked improvement over his prior state for the last few weeks. His eyes, though, were a little unsettling. Cool and empty, but determined. He came to a stop just outside of the garden plot, as if he was afraid to violate the space which he'd created for Sera; it seemed that it'd been ages ago that he had surprised her with the atrium. John shook the memory from his thoughts, concentrating on what he needed to do. "Sean," he nodded a greeting. "Thanks for meetin' me 'ere."

Sean glanced at his watch quickly, noting the time. He'd really gotten sucked into the book, apparently. "Of course," he said, standing and hopping off the raised garden platform. He spent a moment looking the other Murdock over, nodding thoughtfully to himself. "Y'look good," he said. "At least better than y'have lately."

John affected a smile. "The truth comes out." He looked around at the room for a few heartbeats. "The place looks good," he said, some of the sureness leaving his voice. "I'm sorry I haven't been 'round lately. Just been---y'know." Getting blind drunk was probably what he wanted to say, but he didn't have to. There was still some pain there, and plenty of shame; a person didn't need a Kheldian's telempathy to sense that.

Awkward, Sean thought, feeling very uncomfortable. "I know," is what came out of his mouth, however. He understood the reasons for John's reactions, and had not felt it his place to try and pull him out of the downward spiral. Taking a deep breath, Sean nodded for a long moment before adding, "No worries. Y'look t' be doin' better, and that's what counts, right?"

John's glance fell to the ground. "Yeah, I guess." The conversation was faux-casual, with the underlying tension coming from John seeping into the room. Neither of them were getting to the heart of the matter, the reason why John had called Sean here. It was almost like John was avoiding it intentionally, dreading it. There was a sense that once the words were spoken, a door would open, and what came through it--well, there would be no way to stop it, or close the door again.

But how bad could that be? Anything, anything would be an improvement over the John of the last few weeks. At least now he looked and sounded alive, instead of like someone passively waiting for whatever came along to kill him.

With a deep breath, Sean finally mustered the will to speak. "Alright, then," he said, a slight grin crossing his face. "Now that we've gotten th' bullshit pleasantries out of th' way, I believe y'needed t' speak t' me about somethin'." There was humor in his tone, hoping to cut through the tension with the words.

John looked up from the ground, glancing at Sean side-long as if he was sizing the clone up. After what seemed like an eternity, John spoke. "Whatever we talk 'bout in 'ere can't leave this room. Y'know the drill for that. Right?" John had gone from being somewhat awkward and embarrassed to dead-serious in the span of a few seconds. It wasn't pleasant to watch.

The clone nodded. "Understood. You and I talked about a mistaken identity issue," he stated, his face also going deadpan, features freezing out emotion.

"With what's happened, I've lost a lot of what has tied me 'ere to Paragon. There's still one last thing I gotta do, though. Problem is, I can't do it without ya. What I need ya to do is probably the worst thing I've ever asked another person t'do." He took a step towards Sean, almost as if he were wary of his friend. "I wouldn't be askin' ya this if I could help it, y'know? I don't want to---but I have to. Do y'get it?"

The clone's eyes locked on John's. Without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "If y'need me t'do it, John, I will. I owe y'all big."

John nodded once, then unslung the backpack he had been wearing when he entered the apartment. He unzipped it, and produced three manila folders. One was marked "CCCP", another "RPC", and the third was unmarked. It was the third one that he handed to Sean. "This one's for you, comrade. I'll wait for ya to look through it."

Nodding, Sean took the folder and began to leaf through the papers, reading the documents almost mechanically. Slowly, as he passed through each paragraph, his brow furrowed more and more and his jaw setting more firmly. As he finished, he looked up at John with confusion and concern in his eyes. "Are you serious?" he asked incredulously.

"Sera an' the kids are gone, Sean. Y'bet your ass I'm serious." He shook his head, sighing heavily. "I'll get ya the rest of the details once I can. It ought to be no later than tomorrow. The faster I move on this, the better. I'm not gonna mess this up, too."

Squaring his shoulders, Sean's eyes narrowed at his counterpart. "I'm not as sure as you that they're gone, John," he said, tone low and calm. "We may still find a way of getting them back."

"Cut the crap, Sean. Anythin' that anyone could think of has been tried. Besides, this might be my best shot at findin' out anythin' 'bout what happened to 'em. Or d'ya got a better plan?"

Looking back down at the papers, Sean snorted. "No," he replied, tone defeated. "Can't say I do." Taking a deep breath, he shook his head slightly and began flipping through the papers again. This wasn't gonna be easy.

John looked down at the floor again. "I hate draggin' ya into this. Just 'bout worse than I hate anythin' else. But I have to ask ya, an' I need an answer, Sean. I can't force ya to do this, an' I wouldn't want to try." He looked up to meet Sean's eyes. "I need ya to betray our friends. Will you?"