From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Im Pace by John Murdock (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

(posted Wednesday, July 18, 2007)

(Immediately following the events of The Fading Flame)

Transit umbra, lux permanet - Shadow passes, light remains

Seraphic Flame leaned back against the bulkhead, John in her arms; it was a bit of a tight fit for two on the bunk in Sanctuary, but he had not wanted to let her go, nor had she wanted to leave him even for a moment, and neither Thanh Ha nor Bella wanted him to move. He was asleep at last, his poor, battered soul and poor wounded body finding a little peace after so much pain. This scene echoed another, so many years ago, when John's powers had been killing him. Before his fusion. And now...some of his pain was because of...another fusion. He had closed himself off to her, as much as he could. To spare her, she thought. And that other creature that shared his body was in hiding from her.

Astra was back at Portal Corp after only a day of rest, seeing to it that relief shipments were started immediately to that embattled world they had left behind.

Now they knew what had happened, and why--if not for Mandy--they would not have made it home. Their PDAs had stored the coordinates that Aedan and K'takei had tried to use to to get back; all Portals had unique coordinates, and the family did not know when they made that leap for home that the one they were aiming for had been destroyed. If Mandy had not "heard" them re-enter the Symphony, and had not pulled them back to the Portal that had replaced the lost one....

But she had. And now it was time to make good on their promises.

On leaving, their PDAs stored the dimensional coordinates of Shadowed Earth. Portal Corps added Shadowed Earth to the list of worlds where resistance was battling against great evil. Aeden was with Petrograd, making sure CCCP did their part to help it. The old warrior had just shaken his head, when he heard the details. "Am supposink we must start intercepting every second Council arms shipment, da?" was all he said, and took Aedan away, muttering something about "expeditions to Warburg."

Astra was emphasizing the need for humanitarian supplies to Portal Corp; the Family Channel was a wonderful thing, for thanks to that, she knew that CCCP would be covering munitions. The Sarge did not die in vain; his people would be seen to. Nor could Sera truly find it in her to grieve overmuch for him. There would have been no saving him from the powers that were killing him, not without some sort of miracle, and he passed over a personal miracle in exchange for one for his world.

And her John...though deep in leaden, dreamless sleep, she still felt his pain. He had been broken on the wheel that Doctor Garvey had built for him, and it remained to be seen how he would heal. She would do her uttermost for him, but there was another factor now, the one with whom he had fused, the alien/Kheldian fusion that she sensed lurking in the background of his psyche, but which had thus far refused to show itself to her. She only knew that John had reacted to something about it with horror.

But now, in this moment of quiet, with only the ship-sounds about her, and John asleep in her arms...she gave herself permission to fully grieve.

Tears silently fell, as she mourned for his pain, his mental and emotional destruction, mourned for the end of a brief happiness, mourned for the struggle to come for both of them. She grieved for the loss of her children's innocence, for the Fallen had been right; there was blood on their hands. The Fallen had been wrong in thinking they would get a taste for it, but this was a deep psychic wound and it would leave a lasting scar. They would forever be burdened by that knowledge; Aedan and JJ were old souls, and somewhere deep within them, they knew they had faced this before, but Astra was new, and it was a terrible weight for her to carry. And there was nothing Sera could do to ease that, and she cried for them, and for her own helplessness. She grieved, too, for herself, and for those she had been forced to slay. She had begged their forgiveness even as she took their lives, and she begged for it now, but that did not negate the fact that she had killed them. She wept for those who had died helping them to get home, and for those who had been trapped so long behind the barriers the Fallen had set about them. She grieved for the General, alone without his Bella, and that Bella, steadfastly waiting in that unlife until some future day when they would be together again, wept that Bella would willingly suffer that loneliness so that the Zachary Marlowe of Shadowed Earth could serve and fight for his people one day, one week, one year longer.

But she did not weep for Sarge and his Jessica. She could hear them, if she strained her mind; hear them far and faint in the Song, together at last, past fear, past grief, and past pain, at long, long last united in joy. And Death had no dominion over them.

She cried until she could cry no more, hand softly stroking John's hair to soothe him into deeper slumber. He did not need to bear this, atop his own griefs. This was hers and hers alone, for now.

Seraphic who are filled with so very human emotions...Seraphim no longer.

The voice was in her heart only. Michael Azir, she acknowledged. What, then, am I?

A new thing. A pause. We see that it is good. And your John is a new thing also. This...was not anticipated.

She smiled through her tears. So even the Archangels can be surprised?

Verily. Amusement. This means he has back all the years of life he gave, along with so much of his Kheldian energies, so that your first child could be born without fear of suffering the fate of his sire. He will live the long life of any Kheldian fusion now. And you with him.

The knowledge struck her in the heart with a joy very near to pain. But--

He sacrificed those years with no anticipation of this day. The sacrifice is valid. But...he is deeply changed. You are deeply changed...Sera...the connection to the Heart of All Time through him...

Is gone, she interrupted, swiftly. I sensed it. But I can still hear the Song, and I have been able to since the moment we broke through the Shadow, so I have gained back something of my former powers. Michael Azir, if I am neither mortal nor Seraphim, what am I?

A Deva, came the answer, instantly. A Guardian, as you charged those you Redeemed to be. You shall still hear the Song. You five are not permitted to know the futures, but in return for that handicap you are assigned to aid directly, however you can, however seems good to you, and serve the path of Light as best you can. You yourself will continue to wield the Fire of the Seraphim, and bear the grace of the Love of your kin. You five will bear the consequences of those choices you will make. As they are doing, and will keep doing, you too will guide as best you can. But unlike them, for they have not taken on a mortal shell, you will continue to experience all of mortal life and emotion to the fullest, Another pause. And...remember, those who were born mortal spirits can also become Devas.

She knew what that meant without Michael Azir elaborating. It was possible that John--

We your Siblings will hear your calls. Sometimes we will be permitted to aid you. And though you may not come Home on your own, it is not out of the question that we might bring you there as needed.

Her hand stilled for a moment on John's hair. So let it be written, she replied, quietly. So let it be done.

The Presence faded from her mind, leaving behind a gift of fragile, precious peace in her heart, and the Seraphic Flame rested her cheek on the top of John's head, opened her soul to his and to that new being that shared a body with him, and for a little while, was at rest.

John's time Underhill was quickly coming to a close. He'd been here for a month, recuperating, trying to piece himself back together again. He'd made it clear that he wanted to be alone as much as possible for it; still, Sera and the kids came by frequently, spending a day or two at a time with him. Top-side, no more than a few hours passed; one of the wonders of time dilation. For the first week of his stay, he didn't eat, and didn't talk.

At the end of that week, Sera sought him out, where he was sitting, slumped over, staring not at the mossy carpet of the peaceful little glade he was in, but at...nothing. She knelt at his feet, but didn't look at him. Finally, she broke the silence.

"Beloved...forgive me," she whispered sadly.

He slowly looked up to meet her concerned gaze. "Nothin' to forgive ya for, Sera."

"Would that were true...I broke faith with you, my love. I lost hope. I gave in to despair. I failed to believe in you."

"And what did I do?" He shook his head, staring at the ground again. "Like I said, there isn't anything to forgive ya for. Nothin' that I'm not guilty of, too."

"Then perhaps we should forgive each other..."

He kept talking, as if he didn't hear her. "Everythin' said that y'all were dead an' gone. There was no trace of ya; nothing. Nobody could find y'all, or even think of where to begin. Even Azir," John spat the Archangel's name, "He wouldn't help, even if he could. I knew that y'all were dead."

She closed her eyes. So this was the explanation for why the path to the Heart of All Time was closed. "The Siblings are not omniscient; there are things they are not given to know."

"Then what good are they?" John shook his head again. "I'm sorry."

"What good are we?" She looked up into his face. "We do the uttermost that we can with what we are given, and when we fail, we hope that either someone will catch us when we fall, or take up the task we cannot. The Siblings did not know where we were. We were utterly, utterly closed from them." She gave him a glimpse of what she had felt in that Shadowed world; the isolation, the crushing despair. "It was...a hell. And the Siblings could not see inside it. Could not know which hell held us." She shook her head. "If we had not won free...we were worse than dead to you. Even dead...the Shadowed and the Fallen might have held us still. And..." her voice thinned to a saddened whisper. "I very nearly succumbed."

"Y'know, in the last 20-some subjective years, I've never lost contact with any of you. Not with JJ and the twins since they were born. Not you, or Ratt and Shuma. But we did." He sighed heavily. "I need to be alone some, Sera. I need to---to figure this out." His mind was still shut tight against her; the connection was there, but he wasn't allowing anything to escape from himself. She could still feel a sense of shame, coming past even his safeguards.

She bowed her head. "Then I will go. And if it is your will, I will...leave."

"Just for now."

She kissed his hand. "Know this. I never ceased to be less than half myself without you. And I never will."

Head still bowed, holding back her grief from him, she slowly rose, and slowly took herself away. Out his sight. Out of the same pocket realm. Back to the place where they had raised their children, where she gave herself up to mourning.

Once Sera was gone, John doubled over, shaking visibly. Nothing without her, without my family.

< Well, that's not so true anymore, now is it? >

John took a few minutes to compose himself, finally rising to stand. "We're alone now, Monster. You can come out now; I don't have all Eternity to deal with you."