John had been driving for several hours, with no destination. He was following whatever road he came across. All he could do was drive for miles and miles to try to clear his confused mind.
Dana’s words kept echoing in his head, he couldn’t get the memory out. “I’m sure you’ll be the best father ever”. An internal dialogue raged within him. There was the John of before they met, and the one he had become since.
— What’s gotten into you, man ? You’re out of your mind ! You let your old demons take control and now you’re going to suffer the consequences !
— What demons ? Is affection and attachment to a person a sin ?
— No. However, having sex with someone is !
— But I married her. I only fulfilled my marital duties. And she wanted it as much as I did.
— This marriage is a selfish hoax. You’re lying to yourself. If you really cared about her, you wouldn’t have put her through all this horror !
— I had to ! I am the Baptist, I am the Scales, I am the Reaper. That’s my role in the Project.
— Ridiculous excuses. What sane man would tattoo and skin the person he loves ?
— Do I love her ?
— No, you just want her to satisfy your demonic urges.
— That’s not true. If anything happened to her, I would feel terrible forever. I care about her more than I’ve ever cared about anyone. She gives my existence a meaning. Holy shit ! A meaning to my life ? That much ?
Arriving at the end of the stony road he was traveling, he turned off the engine and got out of his vehicle to take a few steps.
He silently admired the Silver Lake that stretched out before him. The moon peacefully reflected its pale light on the still surface. He crouched down to dip his hands in and splash his face. The icy water invigorated his mind.
He remembered the first real contact he had with Dana. His men had captured her after she had caused considerable damage in Holland Valley. They had drugged her with bliss shots first, and she was just as docile as the other recruits there that night. He recognized her immediately among the captives and wanted to baptize her himself.
His heart was filled with darkness and anger. She was the cause of the Collapse, and now that he had a family back, she was there to destroy it. He would never let her do that.
He had snatched her from his men’s hands to plunge the sinner underwater once again himself, keeping her there for longer than necessary. When he had pulled her out of the water, she was staring at him with a blank and inexpressive look, still in the grip of bliss.
He had searched her big green eyes and had noticed the danger that she represented, not only for Eden’s Gate, but also for him. Especially for him. He had not hesitated to make her undergo a new immersion, planning this time to maintain her under the surface until she would suffocate.
It was not counting on Joseph’s intervention, who had arrived unexpectedly and had taken him back while he was drowning the demon, lecturing him in the process.
John felt a compelling need to wash away his own sins. He was the Baptist, but paradoxically also now the biggest Eden’s Gate’s sinner, and the whole community would soon hear about it.
He silently entered the icy water, barely feeling the painful cold bite. He was so used to the pain that it had almost no effect on him and did not stop him from fully immersing himself in the frozen lake.
* * *
It had been several days since Dana made her announcement to Seed. Since then, she had not heard from him. It was clear that he was either terrified or repulsed by fatherhood and had run away from his commitments and their relationship. The situation made her sad. She was alone, isolated in this damned cabin, brooding. He did not deign to answer any radio calls.
Now everything was against her. She was certain that she would become the resistance’s nemesis when they would learn her relation with Seed and the pregnancy resulting from it.
Eden’s Gate had not accepted her either, since she had not deigned to join it. She also dreaded the moment when Joseph would find out about the pregnancy. While only the Baptist and Dana knew about the situation now, it would become clear as soon as her body would begin to change until she couldn’t no longer hide it, and she feared the reactions around her. Her thoughts turned to Killian. He wouldn’t like it either.
Yet, no matter how much she thought about it, none of the reactions she imagined could be as painful as John’s silence and escape. The memory of those painful moments caused her to sigh, which quickly turned into a sob and then into hot tears that she could not contain.
Someone knocked on the door. She was so desperate and in such a crisis of anguish and grief that she opened the door without bothering to hide her tears or her already slightly rounded belly.
When she noticed her condition, Faith’s cheerful face quickly faded. She put down the grocery bags that were cluttering her arms and rushed into the house to hug and comfort Dana. She questioned her while accompanying her in the living room.
— What’s going on ?
Seeing that she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing to answer her, she hugged her.
— It’s okay, Dana. I’m right here. Let out your grief, it’ll make you feel better.
They spent a while together, the deputy sobbing against the siren who cradled her like a mother comforting her child.
When the tears finally stopped, Faith handed Dana some tissues and invited her to confide in her.
— What’s got you in such a state ?
The deputy looked at her with suspicion.
— Dana, I know you don’t trust me, and I can understand it. But I came to see how you were doing because I was worried that I wouldn’t see you anymore, either with the resistance or on my brother’s side.
When John was mentioned, the tears started again, and Faith understood the Baptist was the cause of this huge despair. She comforted her again patiently, waiting for the new sorrow wave to pass. When Dana was about to calm down, the siren resumed.
— Would you like a cup of tea ?
Dana nodded silently, her eyes red and still wet with tears. Faith came back with two steaming cups and sat next to her on the sofa. She restarted the conversation, looking down at her belly.
— Look, Dana, I’m not completely stupid. I think I know who’s causing this pain and I have a little idea what’s going on. I’m not here to judge you. We are all sinners and it is hard to totally follow the path the Father has laid out for us. I care about John and you, and I know that the situation is not because of sin but rather due to your feelings for each other.
The deputy was silently listening. When Faith finished, for the first time, she took the siren’s hands in hers.
— Thank you, Rachel. I was wrong about you. You are the only person in this county who has never made a value judgment about me.
— Who am I to judge others ? No one is perfect, and I’m not perfect, far from it.
Placing her cup on the coffee table, she friendly smiled at Dana before continuing.
— Unless I’m mistaken, a joyful event is about to happen in a few months. Why are you crying ?
— Because I’m on my own.
— How so ?
— When I told John, he left, pretending to have an appointment with Joseph, without saying a word to me. I haven’t seen him since. It’s been two weeks now, and I haven’t heard from him. Obviously, he doesn’t want this baby.
Faith seemed to think for a few moments, then she retorted.
— I don’t think John ran away from you or your child. I think he’s scared and doesn’t feel like he can be a father. Do you know that my brothers never had proper parents ?
— I have a rough idea. But that doesn’t excuse everything.
— I agree with you. However, childhood events often greatly influence decisions and feelings in adult life. My brother never knew tenderness or love. His adoptive mother never hugged him, his father never encouraged him or was proud of him. The only gestures he received from them were beatings. What example does he have of fatherhood ? What do you think he imagines reproducing as a father ?
— I must admit I have no idea.
— Precisely. I think the same applies to my brother. Either he has no idea how a father should behave or he is afraid of reproducing the abuse of his genitor on his own child. I think he doesn’t feel up to the responsibility and doesn’t think he deserves such a gift.
Dana remained pensive and silent for a few moments. Faith continued.
— Anyway, I beg you to have faith in John. I’m sure he will show up soon. He certainly needs to clear his head to be able to think calmly about the future. Whatever happens, don’t forget I am here. I will support you no matter what. I know how it feels to be alone, rejected by your own friends, and to feel lost. I won’t let you down, you can count on me.
Moved by Rachel’s words, Dana put her arms around her and hugged her warmly. For the first time, she felt genuine friendship for the woman she had previously considered a heartless, manipulative devil. True friends may not always be the people you think of.
* * *
Days went by without John giving Dana any news. But she was past that feeling of abandonment. Why spend her days crying about the past ?
Sure, she missed the Baptist’s presence. But who was she to expect him to be faithful and stay with her ? After all, their relationship was based on nothing but lust. No promises had been made, on either side. Except this stupid marriage. Anyway, it has no legal value and I gave in under pressure. Liar.
She needed to get her mind off it before she slipped down the sliding slope of regret. Yes. I’m going to take responsibility and face the other people’s eyes. Besides, I miss my friends.
Winter was convenient. It wasn’t hard to hide her changing body under a loose shirt and thick coat. She went down to Fall’s End, hitchhiking with various county residents.
When she walked through the Spread Eagle door, a warm human torrent descended upon her. Most of her friends were there : Grace, Jerome, Mary May, Sharky and Hurk. Only Nick Rye was missing. They all wanted to know how she was doing and where she had gone. They were worried.
Dana glanced at Grace, who smiled back at her. Apparently, the sniper and Jerome had kept her secret to themselves. She felt like jumping on their necks to thank them. Mary May spoke up.
— A round of drinks to celebrate your return !
The whole audience shouted with joy in echo.
— Thank you, Mary. I’ll have a tea.
— No beer, are you sure ?
— No. Given the temperature outside, a hot drink would be best.
— As you wish, sweetie.
She exchanged some small talk with each person. Apparently, everyone was well and relieved of the truce intervened between the resistance and Eden’s Gate at the time of holidays. She was still worried about the absence of Nick, usually always up for a drink.
— Does anyone know where Rye is ?
Sharky hurried to answer.
— Yeah, at the clinic ! Kim had her baby a little while ago. Another thing you missed !
— Oh, that’s great news ! I’ll go visit them soon.
Mary May intervened in the discussion.
— Let’s hope he doesn’t leave her, now that he has a daughter instead of the son he had hoped for.
Pastor Jeffries interjected.
— Why would he do that ?
— Because that’s the way men are, Jerome. They’re not interested in fatherhood, except for a selfish desire to prolong their own little selves. In this case, he’s only concerned with passing on his family business.
— You are wrong, Mary. Just because you haven’t had a happy experience yet doesn’t mean you have to lump all men together.
Dana spoke up too.
— She’s right.
Her remark cut off all discussion. The barmaid and the pastor looked at her with wide eyes. Embarrassed, she added.
— Well, I suppose so. That’s what I’ve noticed around me too. But I don’t want to ruin the mood. I’m so happy to see you all again, I missed you.
A general hug followed her words. The friendship and human warmth comforted her. At last, she no longer felt alone. The void left by John’s departure would certainly never be filled, but at least she knew now that no one was angry with her and that she was always welcome in the resistance.
A shiver ran down her spine as she thought about Wheaty. Did her friends know about her involvement in the young man’s death ? One day, she would surely have to answer for her crime, both in court and to the people of the county.
* * *
Faith’s premonition came true. A few days after her visit, John showed up at the door of the Henbane River cottage. When Dana opened the door, she was torn between the apprehension of the discussion that would follow and the comfort of seeing him again. She invited him in, and they sat down on the very sofa that had hosted her crying a few days earlier.
She made sure to keep a certain distance between them, both physically and psychically. She didn’t want to get the wrong idea and be disappointed. She preferred to maintain a reserve towards the Baptist.
However, he quickly reduced the physical distance by taking both her hands in his. She did not react. He smiled as he observed her belly and placed his palms on it, through the old Whistling Beaver brewery t-shirt she continued to wear despite the taunts he had made toward it. He broke the heavy silence that was separating them.
— Is my baby okay ?
— It is my baby. And I couldn’t tell you how they’re doing, since I’m on my own these days and your brother didn’t see any point in providing me with a vehicle.
The answer froze John. He hadn’t really realized the implications of this pregnancy for her until then.
— You’re right. I’m an idiot, I’ve only been thinking about myself up to now.
He reached out to caress her cheek.
— How are you ?
She backed away to prevent him from touching her.
— I’m either crying or throwing up, my hair is greasy and I’m going to look like a whale soon. I feel awful. How do you think I would feel ?
— Oh Dana…
He rushed to take her in his arms. She resisted, but he held on. He tenderly stroked her hair and pressed his forehead to hers.
— I don’t want you to think I’m going to leave you again.
— You did.
— Yes, and I’m sorry I reacted that way. You’re getting to know me, and you know that I have a hard time dealing with my emotions and I’m easily overwhelmed. The thought of becoming a father has terrified me in ways you can’t imagine.
She felt like smiling but stopped just as quickly. So Faith was right. He continued.
— How could a man like me, who spent his life torturing people around him, have any right to be a father ? How could someone who has never loved give love to such a fragile being ?
He gently took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes.
— I’m afraid I’m not up to it, that I don’t know what to do. I don’t want this child to become like me.
He paused for a moment, studying the deputy’s reaction. She spoke up in turn.
— Why did you come back ?
— Because I realized this child wouldn’t have a better life if they didn’t have a father. Even if my “father” and Duncan were scum, I would have given anything to have at least one of them there to hold me as a child.
Taking a deep breath, he continued.
— I’m not afraid to take on my relationship with you. I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want to hide you anymore.
He grabbed his coat from beside him.
— I have something for you. I know Christmas is over, but I still want to give it to you.
He handed her a small package awkwardly wrapped in old fishing brochures. As she stared at him, he said.
— Don’t worry, it’s not another selfish gift. Open it, please.
She unconvincingly tore off the wrapping mentioning Skylar Korrs’ latest catches and opened the small cardboard box. Her eyes widened as she discovered two similar silver rings.
Before she could react, John nimbly slid off the couch to stand in front of her, one knee on the ground. The situation was ridiculous. She had to hold back a giggle. Still, she let him speak.
— Marry me.
— I already did.
— I want to make it official. I want the whole world to know that we are a family. I want my brothers to accept you as a real Seed.
— What if they don’t ?
— I will do everything I can to make sure they do. If they still don’t understand, I see no reason to continue working for this Project. Now I am responsible for my own family, and it comes before everything else. Before Eden’s Gate if I have to.
Shocked by his words, Dana stood in awe. But she didn’t want him to realize how much he had moved her. Hold on girl, don’t give in. That’s the way he’s always done it. He blows hot and cold to make you swallow his lies. She persisted in her arguments.
— Are you making fun of me ?
— Why would I do that ?
— If kisses are for lovers, who is marriage for ?
That’s it. His only interest is in extending those crazy Seed family line. She continued.
— I want you to be honest with me. Did you come back for the baby ?
— What do you mean ?
— Do you feel compelled to stay with me because I’m pregnant, to avoid Joseph’s wrath ? Or because you selfishly want a mini version of yourself, to whom you can instill all your horrible principles ?
— What are you talking about, Dana ? Where do you get these awful ideas ?
— I’m just looking at the situation from all the evidence I have. You and I both know that we’re just in it for sex. You don’t have to give me any big speeches.
Seed looked confused and bewildered. He certainly hadn’t planned on taking such a beating. His discomfort was evident in his eyes. He didn’t have any answer to give.
She almost regretted her words. But he had earned the admonition, and she didn’t want him to use her again. She softened and resumed.
— I’m sorry, I can’t marry you, John. It’s not just about me anymore. As you pointed out, I don’t want my baby to grow up following the example of a father who tortures people and gets pleasure from it.
— Dana, I came back for you, and for our child. I want to be here for you. I will provide for you. I will pay for everything, the baby won’t lack for anything.
— I don’t want your money ! Your influence is unhealthy. I don’t want you in the baby’s life.
— Dana ! You can’t do this to me ! They’re my child too !
— Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.
She opened the Baptist’s hand and placed the ring box in it.
— Now go away. I need to rest.
Shocked, he obeyed without batting an eyelid, grabbed his coat and headed for the door. With his hand on the knob, he turned to give her a desperate look.
— Joseph was right. Wrath was your sin.
— And lust is yours.
— No. You are my sin, Dana.
— Leave me alone now. I’m sure there are plenty of women who would give anything to satisfy your needs in the cult. I won’t be hard to replace.
— I don’t want any other than you. I love you.
His heart had cried out what his voice could not express.
— Farewell, John.
She hurriedly closed the door so he wouldn’t see the tears that had filled her eyes. It’s even more painful than I imagined. But I had to do it. She stroked her belly, sobbing. I did this for you. I hope you will forgive me when you are old enough to understand.