Author's Note: Sorry for the long hiatus, everyone! Some personal stuff going on. I'm back though, and planning to finish this! I hope you'll keep reading, and please post some feedback if you are enjoying the story, it really helps me keep it going. The song in this chapter is 'Morning has Broken' by Cat Stevens.
Part 7: Keeping the Faith
He expects a battle, getting Sarah to bed, but she submits to his ministrations without incident. He is so relieved to have her squared away---her skin is already softening as her body starts repairing itself, her face pinking up as her muscles relax in sleep---that he almost doesn't notice the problem with Savannah.
She's wandered outside while he was getting Sarah taken care of. When he finds her, she's got Mr. Fur propped up just like Sarah did, and is staring at him with the same intent, emotional fixation.
"He won't tell me anything," she complains when she sees him come out on the deck with her. She looks away from Mr. Fur to give him this news, and he sees the distress in her eyes.
"Won't tell you what, Savannah?"
"What he did with her. It was something, Uncle James. There was something, with...with..."
And she's crying, the tension of the last few days at last breaking down the strong front she's been putting up for them. He hugs her close, and she sniffles, trying to wipe away her tears.
"I thought I would see it," she says after a moment. "Aunt Sarah and I, we...and Mr. Fur, he's my special friend, and I thought...I thought I could look at him and pick it up somehow."
"And I'm scared again," she says, her voice breaking on the last word and her face scrunching up with tears. "I'm scared because I don't know what's happening."
"None of us do."
She looks out at the vast, wide expanse of ocean, takes in the vista of stars that cocoons their little vessel, and the majesty of the clear, open sky. "You can see everything out here," she says. "You can see what's coming, on every side. So it's easy to be brave..."
There's nothing to say to that. He holds her, until she goes soft and slack in his arms like Sarah did. Then, for the first time in days, he tucks them in, together again.
He dreams. There is a house, on a lake, and it's white with blue trim and a picket fence laced with trims of green shrubbery. There is a dock for the boat, and a thicket of trees that shields them on either side from neighbours. Sarah is there, but it's not his Sarah. He knows, without needing it explained to him, that it's only a copy. A simulation, like the one they took apart in the desert, just after they ran.
"She's right, you know," the dream-Sarah says. "You can't see all around you, here."
"She don't need to see all the way around her," he says. "She has me to cover her on the blind spots."
"Oh? A fine job you've done on that one. You don't even know what you've gotten yourself into, do you?"
He dismisses this. There are always prophecies, especially for a man like him, who believes. But the dream-Sarah shakes her head. "It's not that. It's not even that, this time. There are some things you can't train for. She doesn't know that yet."
He nods. He has seen this in her, this single-mindedness, this focus, this quest for ultimate---and ultimately futile---invincibility. Train hard enough, fight hard enough, kick hard enough, and she still, after everything she's seen, believes that she'll be ready. And she thinks he is weak because he isn't out there kicking with her. But what she doesn't get yet is this---it's not that he disagrees with her on the inevitability of facing one's destiny. He only disagrees that one has to be alone in whatever happens.
The dream-Sarah nods approvingly, as if she has been following his train of thought. "You get it. I think you do. You'll lean on your higher power, just as she'll lean on you. Because here is the problem, there are things you just can't train for, James Ellison. No matter how tough you are."
He jolts awake, and the memory of the dream lingers with him, sharp and tart and strong. And he hears John Connor's words again, that one precious message he's sent to guide them to the future. God is not as far away as you think. Dreams fade, don't they? But this Sarah who has come to him, she's lingering. He doesn't know if it was just a voice inside himself, or if there really was something more, but he can feel that this was part of John's message, and he knows what he has to do.
He hears Sarah stirring, and goes in to her.
"I want to talk to Savannah about faith," he says.
He senses her back go up, but he climbs onto the bed, undaunted. He gives her a gentle kiss and lays himself down beside her.
"You're not alone in this," he says. "None of us are. Remember?"
He's still not sure how awake, how aware she is right now. But he needs an answer. "We're in it, together," he says. "We're in it together, Sarah. She'll need what both of us can teach her."
She says nothing. But she sleepily returns his kiss before turning over and drifting off again.
He drifts off himself, and awakens again as light is creeping through the portholes at first tendril of sunrise. He shuffles into the main cabin and is startled to find that he is now the only early riser. Savannah, in mickey mouse pajamas and a white terrycloth robe that nearly hits her ankles, is camped out at their little table. Mr. Fur is propped up in front of her, against a sweating glass of orange juice, and Savannah is regarding him intently, a silent communion seeming to pass between them as she fixes him with thoughtful, sober eyes.
"Good morning, Uncle James."
She does not look away from Mr. Fur when she addresses him. He pours himself his own glass of orange juice and returns the greeting.
"Good morning, Savannah."
And he waits. He senses she has something to tell him, and he is not disappointed. After a moment's heavy pause, she pushes her little set-up---juice glass, Mr. Fur and all---away and draws up her knees, getting comfortable.
"So, I figured it out," she says to him.
She opens her clutched little hand and there is a micro-cassette tape in it. "I remembered the tracker," Savannah says. "And I wondered if that was the only thing someone put in there..."
"No, it's okay. It didn't get much, you know. We never knew to change out the battery, and I think all the fur muffled the microphone a little..."
He is shattered for her, that her beloved childhood toy could betray her like this, but Savannah seems sanguine. And a part of him can hear Sarah's voice in his head, not his gentle dream Sarah but his tough-as-nails sexily protective real-life one warning him that this small loss of innocence is a necessary part of the process. But Savannah is still talking, and he puts the brakes on his own introspections to listen.
"It was John," Savannah is saying. "That's who she talked to, when she looked at Mr. Fur. It was John. And Uncle James, I think he...I think he talked back to her."
"Yes," he says. And in that moment, he makes the leap for both of them, for all of them, for himself and for Sarah going ahead with this. He makes his choice. This is not from 'crazy' or from whatever she thinks that horrific experiment at Pescadero was. It is not a hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation either. He gives Sarah her moment, just as he had his when she came to him during his dream. This is the first lesson he will share with Savannah about faith.
"Yes," he says again. "Yes, Savannah. I think he did."
And he explains it---the man, Edward, who came back when they were still on land. The messages he brought, for Sarah, for James himself, from John. People matter. And God is not as far away as you think. He explains about Sarah, how she has built herself up, trained herself, made herself into that one strong power she can trust in, just as he trusts in his God and his world. And he explains his own journey, how he came to realize that faith alone is not enough sometimes. God alone is not, either. But faith and strength together...
"I understand, Uncle James."
"I worried you didn't. When I asked you if you dreamed, I worried you didn't. But you see it now, don't you? I dream too, Uncle James."
"Oh? And who comes to you, when you dream this way?"
She nods toward the monkey. "He does. But he's not...it's not him, most times. The colours are different, when it's one of those dreams. And then I know I have to pay attention."
"And what have you learned so far?"
"What you did. That only faith or only strength won't be enough. We have a lot of work to do. I'll need you both to help me."
She looks at Mr. Fur again. "I think we're done with him. Can we...can we bury him or something? Put him to rest somehow?"
"When we land. We'll hold a ceremony."
"No. Now. Tonight. We have to let go of him, Uncle James. For Aunt Sarah. For all of us. Then we have to land. Something important is going to happen. Do you feel it too?"
He does feel it. God is not as far away as he thinks.
He spends most of the day going through their supplies, looking for ingredients for a suitable cook-out. It's the only way he can think of to dispose of Mr. Fur appropriately. He finds hot dogs and marshmallows and a Webber grill they can use on deck to simulate a campfire. Savannah spends most of the afternoon constructing a coffin for Mr. Fur. It seems morbid to roast the stuffed monkey to death this way, but Savannah is insistent. He will be cremated, his ashes sent to sea. And they can move on to the next thing, free of him.
He wonders if he should be worried at how both Sarah and Savannah seem to have anthropomorphized what is, to his eyes, a mere toy. Both are suffering, to varying degrees, with what he is sure is fairly serious post-traumatic stress issues. He supposes, at least in Savannah's case, that a little play therapy is simply her way of working through this a little. And, brave belief in faith notwithstanding, he isn't completely sure Sarah is wrong about Pescadero and its lingering effects. But he has made his stand on this. They have all had their moment of faith, whatever vehicle it chose in which to manifest itself. Who is he to judge?
He finds himself affirmed a little when Sarah finally wakes after a very, very long sleep and is filled in by Savannah. She enthusiastically seizes upon Mr. Fur's cremation at sea and throws herself into the preparations. At sundown, they head on deck together. Sarah has modified the plan a little. They will use the grill's shell as a fire-proof pit and immolate him cleanly. It's more merciful that way, she tells him. Mr. Fur has been anointed with various potions from Sarah's bag of bath products---both to impart the requisite holiness into the occasion, and to mask the smell of singeing fur as he burns. They truss him up in his little coffin and drop a match inside.
"Does anyone want to say something?" Sarah asks.
Savannah starts sniffling. She is bundled up in Sarah's arms, and he has not been able to pry her away from Sarah all night. He under-estimated how badly Savannah would be affected by Sarah's little breakdown, and how relieved she is to have her back with them again...
"A prayer, then," Sarah suggests, looking to him for guidance.
He stands there for a moment, completely stumped, then Savannah, still snug in Sarah's arms, reaches out a hand to him and starts to sing.
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word...
Their song. Back in the desert, when they first got together, the motley lot of them, this had been their first pure moment of love, of connection, of...of faith. And it is, he supposes, a fitting gesture of solemnity for this little tribute they are making to all they have endured.
The flames die out, and Sarah pokes inside the packet with her finger. Ashes. He leaves this moment to her---she's earned it, she and Savannah. The two of them, looking like one all bundled up together, tip the little packet open and scatter the ashes to the sea.