NOTE: Episode tag for S.2 episode "The Question". Written for Yuletide 2010 fic gift exchange.



When Markus saw Smith's previously paralyzed arm catch the roll, for a second all he could see was the mosquito-infested woods and the image of Meaghan in her white dress, walking toward him among the ferns.

His heart seized up and he couldn't breathe. He missed it. He blew it. He fucked up, and scorned a miracle.

And for that instant it felt as if he had killed her himself with his lack of faith.

He exchanged a glance with Kurdy, who looked just as stunned as he felt, but more sympathetic. He reached out to Markus' shoulder, but Markus twisted aside.

"Brianna said there was always a chance," he reminded Kurdy. Or really, himself.

No such things as miracles. No God. And the dead can't come back.

He escaped the cafeteria, thinking longingly of the bottle hidden in his desk.

There was no time to get drunk though, and between the new recruits, regular mountain business, and hearing reports of new atrocities, he almost forgot.

Smith watched Markus ignore the people who tried to talk to him as he hurried out. His dark eyes held the same devastation they held last night, and Smith bit his lip and sighed in sympathy.

"I didn't mean to hurt him," he told Kurdy.

Kurdy opened his mouth, looking angry, and then reconsidered. "I know, and I know he knows that, too. But, fuck, Smith ... I thought for sure he'd asked for something ... bigger - the end of the war with Daniel, peace on Earth, I don't know, something like that. I didn't realize he still missed her so much."

Smith just raised his brows, disbelieving, because the loss had still been plain to him, and he wasn't as close to Markus as Kurdy was. But maybe because he had no need to see Markus as greater than he was, he could look a little more honestly.

Smith raised his left arm, wiggling his fingers, and explained to Kurdy, "He asked for his arm, Kurdy, same as I did. But he didn't believe and so now, he has to learn to live without it."

"He'll be fine," Kurdy said, staunch in his loyalty and friendship. "He's not alone and all we gotta do is make sure he knows that."

Smith nodded.

In the evening Smith searched the mountain, now crowded with new recruits, looking for Markus. He wasn't in his office, the cafeteria, his bedroom, the bathroom, or anywhere else obvious. But when Smith finally gave up the search to wander, he came upon Markus sitting on the top of the steps high above the garage.

He lifted his eyes thoroughly unsurprised to see Smith climbing the stairs, and sighed. "What is it now?"

"Nothing," Smith answered and sat down next to him. "I wanted to say I was sorry."

"About what?" Markus asked, with a weary shrug. "Medicine doesn't taste good, but that doesn't mean we don't need it. You meant well."

The absolution let Smith breathe more easily. He didn't want to feel bad about having feeling in his arm and hand again, but it was hard to be glad about it when he knew how much it hurt Markus.

"I ... regret," Markus added slowly. "I regret not staying. But at the same time, it wasn't the right thing to ask for. It was selfish."

"No." Smith laid a hand on his shoulder. "Don't," he advised softly. "You chose what you needed, Markus. You already give so much of yourself." And that was so true it was painful. Markus spent himself as if he had a bottomless pocket of coins, taking everyone's concerns on himself and carrying their needs. "Trust me, God didn't blame you at all for choosing something for yourself for once."

Markus let out a soft breath of relief, and he stared down at the trucks and the people milling around, getting ready, coming and going, even at this hour. "I meant well, at least. Hell, isn't that what this whole thing is about?" he asked. "I mean well. I think it's right. That doesn't make it feel better when people go off to die."

So it wasn't only the missed miracle that was troubling him. Smith realized he should have realized. "You know it's not your fault, right? Meaghan chose to jump and those soldiers chose to fight. Their deaths aren't on you."

Markus' lips twitched in a bitter smile. "If not for me, they'd all be alive."

"Then by that logic, every person in this mountain is alive because of you," Smith pointed out. "Everyone who might have died from Valhalla Sector. Everyone who Daniel might kill without you standing against him. Everyone everywhere who will someday live in a free world because of you."

Markus gave a disbelieving laugh, and slanted a look at him. "You're assuming a lot, there."

"I'm saying if you take all the blame, then the rest belongs to you, too. But they all make their own choices," he nodded down toward the men and women forming the new army of the Western Alliance. "So do we."

"Do we?" Markus asked, regarding Smith with his gaze a little deeper than Smith was used to seeing. Markus usually avoided looking at him directly. "Do you have a choice?"

Smith dropped his eyes to his fixed hand and watched his fingers curl. "No," he admitted. "Not really. Not when it comes to hearing."

"Thought not. Sorry to hear that."

"You ... sound like you believe," Smith said, hopefully. It would feel so good to have someone believe him, finally. He had the feeling Markus was close, since Markus was skeptical, but also less aggressively closed-minded like most people.

Markus frowned down at the gathering. Not one of them had looked up, Smith realized, to notice Markus watching them. "I believe..." he started slowly, "I know there's more to the universe than we can quantify. It's both larger and more amazing than we can imagine. And you... you seem to be hooked into something. Whether those two things add up to God, well, it seems I missed out on my proof." His lips quirked in a rueful smile.

He drew in a breath and added, "But the truth is I don't really want to believe. Man's inhumanity to man is hard enough to understand without trying to fathom God's deliberate neglect of His children."

"It was absence," Smith offered. "Not deliberate."

"See, that's where you lose me," Markus said, his gaze flicking to Smith and then away again, adding lightly, "If I had six billion children who like to fight and kill each other, I'd have kept a closer eye on them."

Smith watched down below and asked quietly, "And in those years when you were the only dad any of the kids knew in here, did you actually watch all of the kids equally? Or were there some you let do their own thing because you thought they were okay, and then you found out that one of them was crying every night and you didn't know?"

Markus thought about that for a moment, pulling his feet up a step closer and resting his arms on his knees. Then he responded mildly, "Difference being, I'm not claiming to be God."

"Point," Smith agreed with a half-shrug. It wasn't as if he understood it, either; he just knew God had been gone and was now back.

Down on the floor, Erin came into view, and she peered all around, looking for someone. Markus saw and let out a breath. "Looks like break time's over." He got to his feet and Erin glanced up immediately, and waved for him to come down.

He hesitated and told Smith, "You mean well, Smith. I know that. And even though I don't necessarily believe God's talking to you, I do appreciate your help."

Surprised and touched, Smith answered, with a smile, "Thanks."

Markus got a few steps down, when Smith called after him, "Markus." Markus turned back around, brows up curiously.

At first Smith wasn't sure what to say. But with a simple gesture, Markus had made him feel better and he wanted to return the gift.

"You turned the End of the World into something to bring people hope," Smith said. "You kept it safe, so now we have a chance. When everything starts weighing you down, remember that."

"God tell you to tell me that?" Markus asked, a little dryly.

"No. Just me," Smith admitted.

"Good. It means more to me." With a final nod, Markus turned and went down the flight of stairs to see what Erin wanted. His step seemed lighter, which made Smith feel both pleased and proud of himself.

Below, Markus listened to what Erin had to tell him, his expression intent, and he left with her, without a backward glance.

But for Smith, that was okay. He'd said what he needed to say and hopefully he'd helped, at least a little.