The journey from Lamb of God to the complex was done in complete silence. The situation was more awkward than expected.
Dana looked down at her fingers, which she was unconsciously fidgeting with. Why did I agree to this stupid ceremony ? How is it supposed to appease Joseph Seed ? How can this pseudo-marriage ease John’s conscience ?
— What are you thinking about, wrath ?
— Oh, sorry. I’m supposed to call you Dana Seed now.
She glared at him. Ignoring her dark stare, he continued.
— Sounds good. What was your name before, by the way ?
— That FBI bastard’s name. I should have known.
John parked near the cult chapel. He opened the door for Dana to help her out of the vehicle. She was still soaked from head to toe. Only Seed’s thick coat kept her from freezing in place.
He put his arm around her waist and walked her towards the small house that served as a confession room. A man stood between them and the building. That asshole FBI. What is he doing here ?
He rushed to the deputy.
— Dana, honey, are you okay ? You’re dripping wet !
— I’m fine Killian, thank you.
The FBI agent glared at Seed.
— What did you do to her this time, you freak ?
She didn’t give John time to answer.
— He didn’t do anything to me. I asked him to come to the lake with me. Let us through. Please. I’m cold and tired.
The man’s eyes widened. He scanned the Baptist from top to bottom. He too was soaked from the waist down. She was right. He studied his face and found no sign of aggression. His eyes finally landed on Seed’s hands. He was hugging Dana like a brother would. His attitude seemed more protective than threatening. John stared back at him calmly before addressing him.
— Can we go inside, Riley ?
— Go right ahead. But don’t you dare hurt my wife.
— I won’t do anything to her that she doesn’t want. I promise you. And she’s my wife, you idiot.
The FBI agent watched them enter the small building and close the door behind them. He resumed his walk in the direction of Joseph’s house.
Something had changed. He hadn’t seen the same madness in Seed’s eyes as before. There was no animosity during their exchange. Dana even looked reassured in his presence. And the way she looked at him… the same way she looked at me before we were married. Something in him had broken. But there was another part of him that was happy for her.
* * *
Once inside the building, John sat her down and locked the door. He crouched down to be at her level and ran his hand over her cheek.
— Do you still want to confess ?
He looked into her eyes, worried.
— What’s wrong, John ? Aren’t you happy ? That’s what you’ve been asking me for the last two months. Now I’m here to tell you yes.
— Are you sure you’re being yourself ? Wasn’t this idea triggered by Jacob’s “care” ?
— It’s my decision, I’m the one who made it.
— Good then. Give me a few moments to prepare my equipment.
He crossed the room to gather his dermograph, a new bottle of ink, a towel and a basin he filled with water.
Back to her, he mounted the vial on the device and plugged it in. He knelt down in front of her.
— Where do you want it ?
She pulled down the zipper of her cargo pants to lower it a few inches. She grabbed the bottom of her shirt to pull it up and wedge it into her sports bra’s band. She indicated with a feverish hand the bottom of her belly, the exact place where John was himself carrying the lust scar.
His eyes widened.
— There ? Are you sure ?
— I’m sure.
— Are you aware that this is a sensitive area ?
He grabbed the towel and soaked it in water to carefully clean the deputy’s skin.
— You don’t have to, you know. You can still give up. I’ll tell Joseph you weren’t ready.
— That’s okay. I’m telling you that I want to and that no one forced me to.
— As you wish.
He turned around and grabbed a metal chair to place it in front of her. He sat down on it and took the dermograph. He intently stared into her green eyes.
— I am listening to you. What is the sin you wish to confess to me ?
— It’s you, John.
Incredulous, he supported glance without blinking. His jaw had opened and he was looking at her like a fried whiting.
— What are you talking about ? This isn’t funny !
— I’m not kidding. All that time at Jacob’s just helped me open my eyes. I don’t care about your so-called end of the world, I don’t care about the people of Hope County not knowing how to solve their own problems, and I don’t care about betraying my country by not stopping Joseph. I’m tired of thinking only about other people’s well-being over my own. The only good times I have had lately are the ones I have spent with you. You are the only person here who is not a hypocrite and who says out loud what he thinks. You are the one who leads me to my downfall. You are my one and only sin and I want to take it on from now on.
The Baptist was stunned by her confession. She had already told him that she liked to spend time with him, but he had never thought that she was so fond of these moments. Nor that she would want to engrave the proof of this attachment on her.
She gasped as he turned on the dermograph. He leaned over her and quickly kissed her forehead before focusing on her belly.
— Try not to move.
She twitched under his fingers as he began to draw the first line on her fragile skin. He discreetly glanced at her to study her reaction. She had closed her eyes. He began to work again, watching her from the corner of his eye. Her clenched fists had whitened all her knuckles, her pursed lips betrayed the pain she felt.
When he had tattooed Wrath under her collarbones a few weeks earlier, he had literally feasted on her pain. He had loved controlling her, watching her whimper and desperately clutch at his arm to hold him back. But now it was different. As the excitation was still present, it was attenuated by the idea to make her suffer.
He turned the device off and put it down. She opened her eyes to silently question him. He seized her hands to slowly slip them in his hair.
— You can hold on to me if you want. I’m almost done.
— But, John…
— Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. It’ll be easier if we both are suffering.
He began to work again. Dana’s hands gripped his hair in fistfuls. He struggled to endure the torment for the time it took him to finish. He felt her release his scalp and sigh with relief when he finally stopped the machine, after about ten minutes that seemed like an eternity. He grabbed the towel again and gently sponged the bruised area.
— It is done. I hope it will please you.
He passed his fingers under the deputy’s eyes to remove tears which had beaded there. She leaned over to look at the tattoo but couldn’t make it out in detail. He held out his two palms to her, which she seized, and helped her to stand up.
Standing behind her, he wrapped his arms around her and guided her to the large walk-in mirror that sat on the other side of the room. He gently pushed aside the coat that hid the fresh ink to reveal the inscription. She silently watched herself in the mirror, running her fingers over the blistered letters whose blended with blood ink were slightly smudging.
— It’s beautiful. Thank you.
John was pleased with himself. He had handled the dermograph with care to draw cursive, rounded letters, not the hard, soulless strokes he had always drawn before. His name engraved on this woman’s belly gave him huge satisfaction and excitement. He put his lips on her neck, drawing a sigh from her, to whisper in her ear.
— Now we’re even.
She smiled and passed her arm back to caress his neck. She pressed so that he would kiss her more passionately. The emotions and his touch had quickly warmed her. She removed the Baptist’s coat as he put his arms around her, careful not to touch the still raw area of her lower waist.
She placed her hands on his as she contemplated their reflection in the mirror. She liked what she saw there. The Baptist’s lips were completely devoted to her fragile throat skin, and his fingers were gripping her ribs. It seemed to her that he felt a compelling need to touch her, which he was holding back to avoid inadvertently inflicting pain.
She couldn’t take her eyes off the name engraved on her belly. The idea of belonging to him and being marked as John’s possession excited her to no end. She wondered if he had felt the same way when she had inked her own name on his chest.
She seized his hand to slip it under her shirt. She wanted him to touch her, more than ever. He didn’t need words. His tongue wandered in her neck in a more supported way. A hand sensually kneaded her breast while the other one gently went down against her belly, brushing his name without touching it.
He stopped his caresses to consider their reflection. She had leaned her head back, closed eyelids, to welcome more intensely the pleasure shivers he provided her. Stunned by his immobility, she straightened up to observe what had stopped him and met his burning glance in the mirror.
Silently, she put her hand on the Baptist’s and guided it downwards, until it slipped under her opened pants fabric, and under her lingerie lace. Eyes in eyes.
As his fingers brushed against her, she sighed. It deepened as John’s fingers moved against her intimacy. She could not retain a weak squeal when one of his fingers insinuated in her. Her cheeks got red at the idea that she had certainly already soaked his hand considering the desire he inspired to her. He smiled at her through the mirror’s prism. His lips approached her ear, on which he placed a kiss before murmuring.
— I’m proud of you. You were very brave today. Now let yourself go. Surrender to me. You’ve earned it.
She closed her eyes, letting her head fall back, held by John’s strong shoulder, but he immediately pulled her out of her slump.
— No, wrath. Don’t close your eyes. I want you to look.
Embarrassed, she struggled to watch the mirror. John’s fingers were becoming more pressing against her. He had slipped a second finger in and caressed in a pressed and faster way inside her. The rest of his hand was employed to run along her labia and clitoris. It became increasingly difficult to her to contain her pleasure. She began to shyly moan while her heart rate accelerated.
— Go for it, don’t be afraid. You can scream. No one will hear you. Remember, this is the confession room, it’s soundproof. And even so, people who work here are used to screams coming from this room.
Encouraged by his words, her moans became louder and consistent. She began articulating his name. The more he turned her on, the more she leaned against him. She could now feel he wanted her as much as she wanted him. As exctasy pointed under John’s fingers, she instinctively tightened her thighs to stop him touching her.
— You want me to stop ?
— No… but I want you inside me ! Come, I’m begging you !
— Don’t worry, you will have what you want. We’ll soon have this marriage consummated. But for now, I want to see you come, and I want you to watch too.
Her eyes focused back on the mirror as waves of pleasure washed over her. How could his fingers alternately deliver so much pain and pleasure in just a few minutes ? Her sight blurred while euphoria and intense pleasure took possession of her. Her two hands rested on the Baptist’s to ensure he would continue touching her this way until she came under his touch.
Panting and trembling, she turned to face him. She pulled him against her as he cupped her face with his previously caressing hand, moistening her cheek with her own pleasure. Dana longed to read her name on him. She furiously opened his shirt flaps to gaze at his torso, which excited the Baptist terribly.
He grabbed her ribs and threw her on the nearby table to savagely rip off her clothes as she unbuckled his belt and unzipped his jeans. She wanted to straighten up to kiss him but he pushed her back, keeping her lying down.
— Stay down, I want to see it as I perform my marital duty.
John’s words made her crazy, the idea he would contemplate his engraved name on her while he was penetrating her excited her as much as his caresses. He grabbed her hips to sink in her in a single stroke, tearing a scream from her.
— Ah, at last you are expressing yourself ! It just seemed to me we had some unfinished business since the evening in the chapel…
— Oh John…
— Good. Shout my name, you naughty girl !
She contorted herself under his hips thrusts, trying to bring her body closer to his. She was not close enough for him neither. He seized the back of her knees to put them on his shoulders. She faced his glance, embarrassed. A smirk appeared on his lips. In this posture, she was completely dominated to him and he could admire every single inch of her body.
— Don’t be ashamed, you will like it. I promise you. Trust me.
He brutally attracted her by the hips to penetrate her deeply. The inclination angle surprised her. John was now striking her inside in a spot she was not even aware of until now, causing waves of pleasure and shivers throughout her body. She felt like shouting his name, but the sound came out in a subdued way.
— That’s good. But like I told you last time, I want you to scream.
Seeing this sinful woman totally surrendering to him excited John so much he could hardly keep himself from coming. He was desperate for her to shout his name before this happened. He decided to attempt another kind of stimulus to quickly drive her to ecstasy and came close to whisper a few words in her ear.
— I really enjoy fucking you, honey. You are so good, so tight. I want to take you like no one ever has, to smash you and make you cum until you’re begging me to stop.
She started wildly screaming his name. Finally satisfied, John allowed himself to come and shouted his pleasure in turn by spreading himself inside her while she was convulsing.
— Good, deputy. That’s how I want you as my wife.
The Baptist checked his wristwatch dial. He was startled to see that it was already so late. He quickly extricated himself from Dana’s thighs to pick up his clothes and get dressed.
— Hurry up, we’re supposed to go to the family dinner in half an hour !
— There’s plenty of time, right ? The meeting room is right next door and…
— Don’t argue ! We still need to shower before the meal. I’ll have Faith lend you an outfit.
— If you’d like. John ?
— Yes ?
His piercing gaze intimidated her. He married you for just one reason. To get rid of the guilt that’s eating away at him. The guilt of using you as a mere sex object. The guilt he feels towards his brother. Not towards you. Don’t forget you’re nothing else for him. Just a pastime.
— … no, nothing. I’m afraid I’m falling in love with you.
Her silence seemed innocent and naive after their brutal coitus. She certainly didn’t know what to say. He attributed the strange look she was giving him to her recent orgasm. He placed a quick, chaste kiss on her lips before running a hand through his hair to put it back in place.
* * *
Once in the barracks that had been assigned to her several weeks earlier, she rushed into the shower. Although John had advised her to avoid getting the tattoo wet, she couldn’t help but run some scalding water over it, which made her wince in pain. Despite everything, she was satisfied to be able to clean a minimum of the tracing, which was still dripping with blood mixed with black ink.
When she got out of the shower, she looked for a bandage to cover the wound. Unfortunately, nothing was big enough to cover the tattooed half of her belly. No sooner had she wrapped a towel around her chest than someone was knocking at the door. Faith announced herself and the deputy shouted at her to enter.
The siren entered the house, her arms encumbered with three dresses that she put on the bed before joining the policewoman in the bathroom.
— Good evening, deputy. How are you feeling ?
— I’m okay.
— I hope my brother didn’t bully you this time.
This time ? What is she talking about ? Noting her puzzled look, Faith resumed on her own.
— I know what happened. At the springs.
— What do you care ? Who told you about the springs ? What do you think you know ?
— John told me he abused you without your consent. I’m sorry, no one should have to go through that.
Dana clenched her fists. The idea that he’d gone and told his sister about it made her very angry. Who else did he tell ? And what right does he have to tell anyone else about me ? She went to the room in a rage. The siren followed her and tried to straighten out the situation.
— Look, I understand you’re angry that he told me what happened. But to be honest, I made him do it. He came to me for help. He was desperate to lose you and wanted me to advise him. I insisted that he explain everything to me and suggested that he set up a meeting with you so he could tell you how he felt, and possibly give you the opportunity to trust him again.
— So you were the one who told him to trick me ? This just gets better and better ! I’d really like to know what’s wrong with this family !
— The truth is, I am not related by blood to Joseph, Jacob and John.
— I fucking don’t care. You’re just as much a part of driving me crazy as they are.
— I’m sorry, that was never my intention.
The siren sadly stared at the ground for a few moments, then found her usual smile back and looked into the deputy’s eyes.
— Look, I brought you three dresses. There’s the one you wore to Joseph’s sermon, which looked great on you. I also brought a blue one and a white one, which looks like mine.
Despite her annoyance, Dana wanted to move on and cut the degrading discussion short.
— Let’s change it up a bit and see. I like the blue one.
The siren handed her the garment.
— I’ll try it on in the bathroom.
— We are both women, I don’t think you need to hide from me. Besides, I must confess I’m curious. I would love to see what sin my brother carved into you earlier.
— That’s none of your business.
— As you wish.
The siren turned away without saying anything more, allowing Dana to put the dress on.
— Too small.
— Try the white one.
— No, I won’t. The ink is still dripping, it will stain.
— It doesn’t matter. It’s just a dress, deputy. Besides, Joseph will get me a new one.
Too bad for her after all. Dana put on the white dress. It fit her curves perfectly and didn’t compress her abdomen too much. No friction would hurt her bruised skin. Perfect.
Faith turned around to look at her and widened her eyes with pleasure while admiring her.
— You look great ! This perfectly suits you. John won’t resist you tonight.
— Who said he was resisting me ?
The siren sincerely smiled and winked at her.
— Let’s go, I’d rather not have Joseph give us any grief.
— Does he ever pick on you ?
— No, not physically. But I know what he’s capable of doing to those who betray him, and I’d rather not be a part of that.
She headed for the exit. The deputy, on her heels, grabbed her wrist.
— Wait, Faith.
— What ?
— My name is Dana.
— It’s a very pretty name. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it to myself. My name is Rachel.
As Dana entered the chapel, she looked at Faith with confusion. She was certain the dinner would be held in the meeting room. The siren didn’t answer her questioning look but pulled her into the back room.
The table had been set and various steaming dishes were arranged in the center. Joseph was seated at the end of the table, as if presiding over an assembly. Jacob, on his left, stood upright like a puppet pulled by some invisible strings. John was positioned facing him. Faith greeted her brothers with a friendly gesture and went around Joseph to sit next to the elder brother, while throwing a knowing glance at Dana who sat next to her partner. Jacob looked at her and gave her a mocking sneer. He called out to Joseph.
— They look like twin sisters ! Perfect, if this Faith disappoints us, we’ll already have the next one on hand !
— That’s enough, Jacob.
The tone was polite but frank, which immediately silenced the elder Seed. Dana called out to the Father in turn.
— Where are deputy Pratt and marshal Burke ?
— This is a family dinner, my child. They don’t belong here.
Jacob couldn’t help but intervene.
— If stooges and druggies don’t belong here, I don’t see why we must accept John’s slut.
This time it was John who angrily stood up to answer his brother. But Joseph didn’t give him the chance, standing between them and pulling them apart with his arms, raising his voice.
— Stop it, both of you ! Jacob, I’ve asked you before to stop your provocations and inappropriate remarks. This is the last time I’ll take you back. The deputy is our guest and you owe her respect, as well as your brother, who has merely carried out my instructions by listening to her and bringing her to us.
The two rivals sat down. Jacob grumbled between his lips : “He has given her more than just his ear…” as he defiantly stared at his brother. The Baptist did not answer him, though there was no lack of desire. Dana had discreetly slipped her hand under the table to rest it on his knee, trying to calm him down as best she could.
As everyone came to their senses, Joseph began to recite a prayer describing his gratitude to God for providing a meal that would bring the siblings even closer together and maintain their good relationship. Everyone helped themselves and honored the food. During dinner, Jacob could not help but provoke Dana once again.
— So, little bird, can you show us that tattoo ?
His request sent a chill down her spine, she didn’t know how to get around the proposal. It was clearly unthinkable that she would show him anything. Neither to him, nor to the rest of his family. Surprisingly, it was John, who had remained quiet until now, who spoke up to get her out of trouble.
— A confession should be private, Jacob. She doesn’t have to tell you if she doesn’t feel like it.
— In that case, why do you keep saying that a sin must be visible to be absolved ?
John didn’t know what to say, he didn’t expect his brother to be so motivated to retort at all costs, and the argument was a good one. Fortunately for him, Joseph interrupted the verbal jousting again.
— That’s enough. John, your brother is right : the essence of carving a sin on a devotee is the fact they can display it for all to see and then absolve themselves of it. However, I think the deputy has earned some respite and modesty tonight, as her behavior today has been exemplary. Let’s give her time to get used to our ways. She will tell us about her sins when the time comes. Like when John makes her atone.
As the situation was already tense, Joseph’s last sentence was the one beyond the pale. Dana remembered Nick’s atonement’s scene in the chapel at Fall’s End. The way John had lunged at him, slashed the flesh around the tattoo and proudly ripped it off and held it up, his hands and arms stained with Rye’s fresh blood. The thought he might do the same to her made her heart pound and nauseous. She abruptly stood up and rushed out of the chapel, apologizing on the fly.
Once outside, she rushed to the stony lake shore to return all her stomach’s contents. Faith soon joined her and crouched down beside her, offering her forearm to hold onto. She helped her to get up and offered her wide open arms. Overwhelmed by emotion, Dana threw herself into and sobbed against her shoulder. The siren comforted her as best she could.
— Don’t listen to everything Jacob and Joseph talk about. Jacob is jealous that you don’t show interest in him. As for Joseph, he doesn’t know about your relationship and it’s not good for him to know. But I’m sure that if he knew how you felt, he would never have said something so horrible. I’m sure John won’t force atonement on you. Don’t worry.
Dana didn’t know what to think. She had seen John in action before and knew it didn’t take much for him to lose control and completely go off the rails. She was aware of his instability and his uncanny ability to change his mind at the drop of a hat. But at the same time, she felt safe in his presence. She wanted to believe in Faith’s sweet words, and in all the promises contained in the Baptist’s ocean-colored eyes. He hadn’t really raised his hand or tone against her since they had settled their accounts at the watchtower. Quite the opposite, she had the impression their complicity was growing. But was this reality, or was she only perceiving what she wanted to see happen ?
As soon as the two women reappeared, the three brothers got up from the table. The family greeted each other politely, and each one headed for their quarters. Dana didn’t want to sleep alone. She hoped John would join her so she could share her concerns about the atonement. She wanted him to reassure her. Tonight, she was dying for him to tell her he loved her, and that everything would be okay. Even if it was all lies.
* * *
She was left alone with her torment. She was still tossing and turning and rehashing her worries when she heard a noise outside. She thanked the universe she hadn’t fallen asleep, because she would have missed it if she hadn’t been on the lookout.
She stomped to the entrance and opened the door to surprise the intruder. The figure staggered and fell against her, catching themselves in extremis with her cotton t-shirt. When the young woman stood up to face her, the deputy breathed a sigh of relief.
— Grace, damn it ! What are you doing here ?
— I came to get you out of this wasps’ nest ! Come on, hurry up !
— I can’t leave like this !
— Of course you can ! Virgil has managed to neutralize the sentinels at the compound’s entrance. We just need to get out of here quickly, to avoid the alarm being raised.
— I… Okay, I’m on my way. Let me just put some clothes on.
She let her friend in and closed the door. She rushed into the bathroom, picking up a notepad and a pen on the bedside table.
John had to know that she had not run away from him, that she had been forced to move away from him against her will. She hastily wrote a note, hoping that the recipient would be the person who found it or would be thoughtful enough not to read it and pass it on to him. She put on her pants and rangers and joined Grace who was getting impatient.