15 April 2024

18 – Broken

— Too bad for you. But in the end, it’s a matter between you and God.

John shook his hand at the devotee. He walked out of the confession room, sheepish. The dermograph wouldn’t be playing this afternoon. That was good. The Baptist liked this new way of doing things. After all, everyone was free to choose whether they wanted to liberate themselves from the sins that were poisoning them. He was only responsible if they accepted, and he could not be blamed for any recurrence.

He was removing the ink bottle from the machine when the door opened. He stared at the visitor for a moment. Joseph calmly approached and sat down across from him in the seat reserved for victims.

— What’s going on, John ?

The younger Seed gently put down the dermograph to concentrate fully on the discussion.

— Well, I’m changing my ways a little bit.
— No more cleansings, confessions, and atonements ?
— Not exactly.

Joseph’s piercing eyes stared at him, as if trying to read through his mind. The Baptist continued.

— I am always available for those who want me to be. For the others, I assume they are mature enough to decide for themselves whether they want redemption or not. It’s up to them to measure and accept the consequences.
— It doesn’t work that way. I am their Father, they are my children. It is up to me, through you, to guide them to Eden’s Gate. I’m afraid they are not  able to make that decision on their own. Don’t forget that they are blinded by the media and modern life as we all experience it.
— I can understand that you don’t agree and I was expecting that. However, I will not change my mind.
— You are not the same anymore, John. It’s because of her, isn’t it ?

Embarrassed, the Baptist lowered his head to avoid Joseph’s gaze.

— She’s turning you against me. Against us. Against all our brothers and sisters. I warned you, but you still brought a snake into the garden.

He leaned in a little closer until his forehead brushed John’s.

— Well, fine. I’ll let you handle your duties as you want. It is your responsibility to God, after all. But I must warn you. I will not allow this devilish woman to pervert the work of your brother and sister, nor mine. Make sure she doesn’t get in my way, or I’ll have to intervene.
— What would you do ? Banish her, like Holly ?

A sadistic smile spread across the Father’s face. John felt his hair stand on end. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t define what exactly.

— Yes, I’ll banish her too.

* * *

With his mind drowning in thoughts, John almost missed the junction between the Whitetail Mountains and Holland Valley. His fingers were nervously tapping on the steering wheel of the pickup, his ears no longer hearing the cult songs playing on the radio.

Something had disturbed him about Joseph’s behavior, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. When his older brother had mentioned Holly, his attitude had drastically changed from sanctimonious to threatening. Yes, something’s definitely wrong. I’d like to find Holly and ask her what exactly happened when he kicked her out.

His thoughts were interrupted by the crackle of a radio call. His heart leapt. Only one person was communicating with him through this medium. He reached for the receiver.

— Dana, is that you ?

No answer.

— Answer me !

When there was no human voice, he reached out to hear more. His heart froze. He thought he heard sobs. He listened even more carefully. Yes, he was sure now. It was her, and she was sobbing.

— What’s going on ? Are you all right ?

The call was suddenly cut off, without him getting any answers to his questions. Holy crap ! Something’s happened to her !

He slammed on the brakes, causing the car to turn over. The vehicle tipped dangerously before it recovered on all four wheels, sliding across the icy road. John pushed the gas pedal down until it hit the floor.

It took him almost twenty minutes to reach the Henbane River cabin. He had been driving like a maniac the whole way, ignoring all caution.

He rushed into the living room without even bothering to knock on the door. She wasn’t there. He swept the room with his eyes. A half consumed cup of tea was standing on the coffee table, beside a piece of paper and a pen. He approached it and noticed with horror that the sofa was soaked with fresh blood.

Panicked, he shouted her name several times. He rushed to the kitchen, then to the bedroom, but she was not there. He finally pushed open the bathroom door to find her curled up in the bathtub with her arms around her knees.

He feverishly approached her. She was staring silently at the bottom of the tub.

— Are you injured ?

As she did not answer him, he entered in his turn in the bathtub, noticing her blood-stained jeans. He seized her gently by the arm, but she resisted. He insisted.

— Come on, I’ll take you to the clinic. You need some care.

She did not react.

— We must go. Now.
— It’s too late for that. There’s no point.
— Don’t argue !

Seeing that she had no intention of moving, he bent down to lift her up and carry her in his arms to the car. She remained silent and inert all the way to the vehicle. Something told him the situation was serious, but he couldn’t fully realize what it was, too preoccupied with the deputy’s condition.

He recklessly drove once again, keeping his foot on the gas pedal the whole way to Holland Valley. He inwardly grumbled. If only his ranch hadn’t been taken away from him, they would have been near the clinic, and she could have been taken care of more quickly.

Once there, he carried her to the building. Only a nurse and a doctor were present. John rushed to them, shouting.

— My wife is pregnant, she lost blood !

The two women glared at him. John Seed, the man responsible for Holland Valley’s downward spiral, had come to their clinic in person. What’s more, he claimed to be the husband of the deputy in charge of restoring the situation, whom they had instantly recognized from the placards with her portrait plastered all over Hope County.

Despite their doubts, they did not hesitate for a second to take Dana into their care, the medical function taking precedence. They pointed the Baptist to a small examining room and asked him to put her on the bed and leave. He glared at them.

— I refuse to leave her alone !
— Mr. Seed, you can’t stay here. Wait in the hallway and let us work. We’ll let you know as soon as we know more.

Dismayed, he obeyed and sat down on one of the chairs in the corridor, his head in his hands.

Everything had happened so fast, he hadn’t had time to realize. But now, he could only wait and reflect, powerless. He replayed the images of that late afternoon : Joseph’s devilish smile, the disturbing radio call, the blood on the sofa, and her curled up figure in the bathtub. He was angry at himself for having complied when she had sent him away. He should have stayed with her, protected her despite herself.

The wait and the incomprehension tortured him for long minutes before the door finally opened on the nurse, who addressed him in a surprisingly gentle manner.

— You can come in, we’re done.

The Baptist rushed to the bedside of the lying deputy, taking her hand and caressing her forehead. Her bloodstained clothes had been removed and she was fitted with a medical gown.

Wrath, are you okay ?

She didn’t reply, staring into the distance. The doctor took the liberty of answering for her.

— She’s fine. But she’ll have to rest for the next few days.
— What about the child ?
— … I’m sorry, the foetus has been expelled. This is commonly called a miscarriage.

The world seemed to fall apart around John. Rage rose in him and he had a violent urge to smash everything around him, including the doctor. Then his gaze fell on Dana, who seemed to be absent. No, I can’t do that to her. He had to restrain himself. He would scream and destroy everything once he was outside, out of sight. But for now, he had to support her as best he could. Swallowing hard, he turned to the doctor.

— What happened ?
— It’s hard to say. Unfortunately, it can happen, often in the first trimester, which was the case since she was about three months pregnant, without there necessarily being a specific cause.
— Could it have been prevented ?
— I don’t think so. Look, we’ll leave you alone. If you need us, we’ll be in the office right there. Take some time for yourself.

She sympathetically glanced at Dana before continuing.

— If you are the father of this child, she will need you. Right now, she’s in shock and denial. But the hardest times are yet to come. When she realizes this, your support will be a great comfort to her.

As she walked past John to leave the room, he took a firm hold of her wrist and looked at the name tag pinned to her chest.

— Don’t let it get out of here, Doctor… Bell. Otherwise, I’ll find you.
— Don’t worry. Unlike you, we don’t use our patients’ trade secrets to blackmail them !

Stunned by her remark, he let her go. The two women left the room as he sat on the edge of the bed to caress the deputy’s face. He spoke tenderly to her in a low voice.

— Everything’s okay, honey. I’m here.

As he tried to comfort her, tears gradually blurred his own vision. He suppressed them with difficulty and continued to whisper what was going through his mind, increasingly interrupted by the sobs he was trying to contain.

He had not realized how much the announcement of the pregnancy had upset his life in recent days. When he had learned of it, he would have given anything for there not to be a baby. And now, he would have done anything to make sure their child was alive and well. Like when he’d lost Dana’s trust after the morning at the springs, he realized once again that the most important things were only revealed by their absence.

How could I have been so stupid ? How could I have wanted to run away when she told me she was pregnant ? He blamed himself for losing those precious moments that would never come again, as if running away had deprived him of moments with his child.

He stayed with her until late at night. Until she fell asleep, she made no sound. When her eyelids were closed, John finally left the room silently. He was in dire need of fresh air.

As he passed the medical office, he found that the light was still on. The nurse called out to him.

— Mr. Seed ! Did you bring some clothes for the deputy ?
— No. We left in a hurry.
— Maybe you could bring some back for her ? We’ll keep her for observation for a few days.
— What for ? The doctor said she was fine.
— Physically, yes. But the psychic pain is often more difficult to grasp in this kind of case. It is better that she be followed for a while.

The Baptist seemed lost. He stared at the ground silently. Realizing his distress, she added.

— Don’t worry. I will take care of her while you are away.
— Thank you. Contact me by radio at the slightest alert. I’ll write down the frequency I use.

She grabbed a notepad and a pen from the desk and handed them to him. He scribbled down some numbers before handing it back to her. As he reached for the front door handle, she called out to him again, more timidly.

— Mr. Seed… fathers also have a right and need to grieve for their child. We are here for you too, if you want us to. You can talk to us with an open heart, nothing will come out and we will not pass judgment.

He left without turning around, so he wouldn’t have to face the nurse. He didn’t want her to see the tears that had gathered in his irises, blurring his vision once again.

Once in the pickup, he sped off in the direction of Henbane River. As soon as the clinic disappeared from his mirrors, he screamed like hell until his vocal cords ached so much he could hardly breathe.

Questions raced through his mind. If she was three months pregnant, then our first relationship was probably the cause of her pregnancy, and every event since then is potentially, at least partially, the cause of the baby’s loss.

I may have been responsible for the death of our child.  What if the stays at Jacob’s weakened her and deprived the baby of valuable nutrients for development ? What if the stress or bliss inflicted during the tattooing and atonement destroyed her nervous system ? What if my violent behavior had unhooked the embryo ?

The flow was endless, he couldn’t help but replay the scenario of their story from the beginning, replaying every potentially dangerous situation. He had always found it difficult to bear the fact that Joseph had deliberately killed his own daughter. The idea that he too could be the cause of his child’s death made him sick.

When he pulled up in front of Henbane’s house, it was as if time had flown by. He had seen nothing of the journey. He hesitated for a moment before opening the door. The thought of the blood-soaked sofa was unbearable. But he had to do whatever it took to make sure that Dana would have a safe home when she returned.

He gathered his courage and stepped into the cabin. There was total silence. Everything was as he remembered it. He went straight to the bedroom to collect some clothes. When he opened the dresser drawer, he found the nightie he had given Dana the day she told him she was pregnant.

The memory was bitter and painful. He hesitated a long time before putting the garment back. He preferred that the next occasion to wear it was more positive than the current situation. He quickly stuffed a pile of miscellaneous clothes into Dana’s backpack and equipped himself with it.

While passing again in the living room, his glance was attracted by the piece of paper on the coffee table. Intrigued, he grabbed it to read the deputy’s handwriting. It was a list entitled “Purchases to be made for baby Seed“.

His legs collapsed without him realizing it. He found himself kneeling in the middle of the room. This time, he couldn’t contain his emotions. Silently, streams of tears filled his eyes and flowed down his cheeks until they crashed to the ebony floor.

Long minutes passed, during which he was unable to pull himself together. Then he picked up the list, folded it carefully and put it in his pocket. He set off again for the clinic.

On the way, he radioed one of his henchmen.

— Joshua ?
— Yes, Mr. Seed ?
— I’d like some of you to go to the deputy’s cabin in the Henbane area.
— Yes, sir.
— Clean the place up thoroughly. If you can’t get the blood off the sofa, change it, if possible find a similar model.
— Dare I ask what happened there ? Is the deputy…

He wiped the tears that were threatening to fall again with the back of his sleeve.

— No, she’s fine. A little… altercation happened at her house, nothing more. Contact me as soon as it’s done.
— Well, we’ll take care of it right away.

When he entered the clinic room, Dana was still fast asleep. John sat in the chair next to the bed and tried desperately to rest for the few hours before sunrise, though his mind was plagued with doubts about how the next few days would turn out.

* * *

Dana’s apathy lasted the entire next day. Other than that, her physical condition seemed quite good, which pleased Seed and the medical staff. Not surprisingly, reality set in as the hours passed, causing her to cry endlessly. John had completely abandoned his duties with the Project to stay at her bedside.

Only a few days later, she demanded to return home. Although the doctor remained skeptical about her mental state, there was nothing to stop her from leaving, so she allowed them to leave the clinic early in the morning.

As his men had informed him, the Baptist was relieved to see the cabin had been thoroughly cleaned. The soiled sofa had probably been replaced with a new one, and the bathtub no longer showed any traces of the tragedy. The atmosphere in the home was cold, and the relationship between them distant and tense.

When evening came, John slipped into bed to hug her to him. She quickly disengaged herself from his arms.

— I want to sleep alone.

Stunned by her rejection, he went into the living room without a word. For the first time since they met, a day spent together had not resulted in an embrace. The Baptist was in shock. He spent the night on the sofa, thinking endlessly about why she wouldn’t want him around.

Seed decided to stay and watch over her, despite the fear that was beginning to grip him. If Joseph learned the reasons for his absence, he would certainly come after her. And he would fire John for his sin. He tried to focus on Dana to keep his mind off his brother. His men brought him a change of clothes and supplies, and he worked to prepare meals and watch over the deputy as much as he could despite the distance she imposed on him.

Each time he became enterprising, she pushed him away, claiming extreme fatigue, a headache or any other alibi justifying an absence of relations. He didn’t want to rush her, but the situation quickly began to weigh on him.

It had been two weeks since they returned and, apart from the fact that she wouldn’t let him touch her, her behavior seemed quite ordinary, even too normal given the circumstances. She would regularly go for a walk during the day, then eat meals while commenting on the weather or anything else that didn’t matter. But in the evening, she always retired to her room, alone.

Concerned, Seed contacted his men to get the address of the doctor who had taken care of her. He showed up at her home near Fall’s End. When she opened the door, her frightened look showed her astonishment. Behind her, two young children were jumping and screaming happily in the living room. She tried to keep her composure as she greeted him.

— Mr. Seed… what’s going on ?
— Hello, Doctor. I need your help. It’s about the deputy.

Reassured, she turned to ask the children to go play in their room, which they did immediately. She invited him to come in and sit in one of the big armchairs. Before he could say anything, she brought up the subject.

— How is she doing ?
— I don’t know. Not well, I guess. She’s acting like nothing ever happened.
— You know, everybody deals with these things in a different way. It’s going to take a while. She’ll probably have a few meltdowns. Is she at least eating properly and taking care of herself ?
— Yes, there is no problem with that. I make sure she does. But…

He seemed to hesitate.

— You can tell me anything. Even if we’re not at the clinic, this interview will remain a professional secret, rest assured.
— Well, since we’ve been back, she’s refused me any contact. Whenever I get too close to her for her taste, she finds some excuse to push me away. Before that, we were close and she was very demanding.
— What you are describing does not seem abnormal to me given the situation. She needs to reclaim her body. Remember that she was pregnant, even though her pregnancy was not carried to term. Be patient. In the meantime, I strongly advise you to talk to her about it. Communication within a couple is still the most important thing after the loss of a child.

“Within a couple”. Are we a couple ? Relieved that he had been able to get his concerns out, he thanked her for listening and left Holland Valley immediately.

That same evening, as the deputy snuggled under a blanket by the fire, he decided to broach the subject.

— Dana, are you okay ?
— Yes, of course I am. Why are you asking ?
— I’m worried about you.
— What are you worried about ?

He decided to get straight to the point.

— Don’t you want me anymore ?

She straightened up to look him in the eyes.

— What makes you think so ?
— Since we returned, you pushed back all my advances. It’s very unsettling considering the rather intense sexual activity we used to have.
— I… I’m sorry, really. It’s not because of you. I still find you attractive and desirable, I promise. I just… I need some time.
— I can understand that. I’ll wait until you’re ready, I don’t want to rush you. I just want you to know that I’m still here for you, and I still want you too. I miss you.

His comforting words warmed the deputy’s heart. She needed support right now, and John was living up to it, even beyond what she had thought she could expect from him. She felt bad about disappointing him, but she didn’t feel ready to pick up where they left off.

Still, the brief discussion they had had was enough to ease the tension and encouraged her to move closer to John. She lifted the blanket so that he could slip into it and curl up next to her. His warmth comforted her. How I miss you. With her face buried against Seed’s shoulder, she silently sobbed.

* * *

John gradually resumed his activities within the cult. Joseph was becoming suspicious and he had repeatedly interrogated him to find out the details of his schedule. Fortunately, Faith had always covered for him until now. However, she was unaware of the recent events, which only Dana and the Baptist knew about.

While the Seed family was gathered at the compound for a briefing, Faith couldn’t help but approach her brother to ask him about her condition.

— How is Dana doing ?
— I guess she’s okay.
— You guess ?
— I’m not supposed to know what she does all day.
— Don’t make fun of me, John, I’m aware.
— About what ?
— About you living together. And…

She took the Baptist’s hands in hers, then whispered to him.

— … about the baby ! Congrats !

From John’s discomfited look, she knew something was wrong.

— Did I say something wrong ?
— There’s no baby anymore, Faith.
— No more baby ??? What the hell happened ?
— I don’t know. All of a sudden she lost a lot of blood. I took her to the clinic, but it was too late.
— Oh my God. John, I’m so sorry !
— You couldn’t have known.
— Do you think Dana would like a visit ?
— Yes, I think she would appreciate your support.

They were interrupted by Jacob, who had reached out to catch a few snippets of the conversation.

— What are you two talking about ? What’s your little secret ?

John, annoyed, replied curtly.

— Nothing that concerns you. We were talking about the bliss convoys Faith sends me.
Bliss convoys, you bet ! I have the impression you were talking about your little princess. Where is she anyway ? It’s been a long time since she’s come to get in our way. This is suspicious !
— How should I know where she is ?
— She’s settled somewhere in Henbane. Rumor has it that she shares her life with a traitor who doesn’t know his place in the Project…
— Well I don’t know about that and I’m not interested in the rumor. You’d better get back to work instead of spreading rumors.
— I intend to do just that. When I get my hands on your little deputy, you can be sure that I’ll train her to the extent of her abilities. And maybe I’ll even spend some quality time with her.

Faith held John’s arm before his fist hit his brother’s face. Jacob seemed amused by the situation. He turned around and headed for the exit, while throwing to John.

— Oh, by the way, next time you ask your men to come and clean up, make sure you don’t leave your stuff lying around her place. It’s not a good idea for an herald to set a bad example.

Now staring into John’s eyes, he added, with a quieter voice.

— I didn’t say anything to Joseph and I made sure they didn’t spread it around. I would advise you to be a little more discreet, though, if you don’t want her to end up like Holly Pepper.

The remark intrigued the Baptist. Holly had been excommunicated. He could hardly see how Joseph could exile Dana, given that she was not even part of Eden’s Gate. He greeted Faith and left the complex, annoyed with his elder brother.

* * *

As the days passed, Dana seemed to be doing better. For the first time in a while, she felt an uncontrollable desire for John as he walked through the front door. She rushed to kiss him and hold him close. Astonished, he returned her gestures.

— Well ! You seem particularly happy to find me today ? What’s the matter ?
— Nothing, I just want you.
— There’s no way I’m going to refuse such a proposal !

He slipped his hands under her thighs to carry her and put her on the sofa. He could not wait anymore, now that made several weeks that she refused to him whereas he was dying of desire for her. He furiously undid his own clothes and those of the deputy, impatient, and presented to penetrate her.

At the last moment, she pushed back him, panicked.

— John, no !
— What do you mean, no ?!?
— Stop ! Please !
— I thought you wanted to ?
— I do.

She got out of his embrace to curl up, arms around her knees. The Baptist sat down next to her and took the blanket that was on the backrest. He passed it around them, wrapping their two naked bodies. Despite his annoyance and disappointment, he tried to speak softly to her.

— Dana, what’s going on ?
— I don’t know… I… I really want you, but… I’m afraid.
— You’re scared of me ? Dana, I’ll never hurt you the way I did at the springs again. I promise.
— No, of course you won’t. I’m afraid… I’m afraid of getting pregnant.

John put his arm around her to reassure her.

— I can understand it. There’s no rush. Right now, all I care about is that you are happy and healthy.
— I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the horrible things I said to you.
— You don’t have to be. If anyone should be held responsible for what happened, it’s me. All the stress you’ve been under and my running away from you when you told me you were pregnant was certainly a factor.

He gently kissed her hair. He wanted her so much it was painful, and yet he had learned to love holding her tenderly to him, without expecting anything in return.

His own behavior struck him. How had the impetuous, impatient, angry Baptist turned into an understanding, patient lover ? He had never imagined he would one day become the man he was today. Never would his past self have thought he could be so excited by a woman that she would then refuse him, and that he would accept this state without flinching, even going so far as to comfort and reassure her by ignoring the fire that was eating him up. That’ s certainly what loving and being loved is all about. This thought surprised him. They remained huddled together until nightfall.

But despite his understanding and acceptance of the situation, John spent much of the night tossing and turning and thinking about the future. Against all odds, the announcement of fatherhood had thrilled him and set off a spark within him. He hoped that Dana’s gloomy state would pass and that she would one day agree to start a family with him.

At least she still wanted him, which reassured him. However, he was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with their lack of rapport, which was beginning to take its toll on his mood. After all, their relation had for origin a simple physical desire, and even if it had evolved meanwhile, he always desired her as much and that seemed reciprocal.

* * *

John had always been an early bird, but he got up even earlier than usual. He kissed Dana carefully so as not to wake her, before hastily putting on a jacket and climbing into his pickup.

The snow on the road dampened the vehicle’s passage and all surrounding sounds. He admired the scenery as he was driving toward Holland Valley. The atmosphere was one of calm and reflection.

Since the deputy had stopped supporting the resistance, their activities had clearly diminished and they were no longer so aggressive towards Eden’s Gate. In fact, the sect had also put a stop to the harvest, even if it had not completely stopped. The situation suited the Baptist, who no longer had to justify to his elder brother his lack of involvement in the cleansings and atonements.

When he parked in the courtyard of Dr. Bell’s house, he realized that once again he had not seen the time pass, immersed in his contemplation and meditative state. He wasn’t really used to feeling so serene and relaxed, but he didn’t mind.

Miranda quickly came to the door. This time, the toddlers didn’t seem to be there, probably at school. She seemed amused to find him on her doorstep once again and greeted him with a big smile.

— John, to what do I owe the pleasure ?
— Hello, Doc. Would you mind if I came in for a moment ?
— Of course.

His drastic change in attitude struck him once again. In the past, he would have forced his way in without a word of politeness, even threatening her.

He sat down in the same chair as the last time. She broke the silence.

— How is your wife doing ?
— She’s doing quite well.
— I’m glad to hear it ! But I guess something is bothering you ? Does this have anything to do with what we discussed a while ago ?
— Precisely.
— Is Dana still avoiding you ?
— No, but it’s complicated. She actually wants it, but she’s completely freaked out by the idea of getting pregnant again.
— Does that scare you too ?
— Not at all, quite the contrary. If it were up to me, I would have wanted her to get pregnant again immediately after the loss of our child. But I can understand her position and I don’t want to rush her.
— You’re being open-minded, which is good and I commend you for it.

He raised an eyebrow at her. Is she laughing at me ? It was extremely rare for anyone outside of his family to congratulate him on anything. When she saw his questioning look, she clarified.

— Not all husbands are so empathetic. Believe me, I see several in my office. The deputy is lucky to have your support.

He took a few moments to absorb and appreciate the compliments, which were also rare. The main subject for which he had travelled came back to his mind, and he resumed.

— Thank you. Actually, I would like you to do something for us.
— Of course, if it’s within my competence.

He seemed a little embarrassed and hesitated before continuing, searching for words.

— Since we… both feel desire for each other, and the only obstacle is a possible pregnancy, I thought you could… well… provide us with a contraceptive.
— Oh, John, I’m sorry. I can only prescribe that to your wife directly, since she’s the one primarily concerned.
— No, no. I didn’t make it clear enough. That’s for me.
— For you ? I think condoms will suffice in this case. Especially if you want to have children in the medium term.
— That’s why I came to you.
— Did you come all the way from Henbane River to here early in the morning just to ask me to get you some condoms ?
— I’m glad you find this amusing, but this is a real problem for me. As you know, non-procreative sex is not allowed in Eden’s Gate. In this case, how do you expect me to get any kind of contraceptive without being immediately discovered ? This situation is becoming really problematic for my relationship. I don’t intend to let it deteriorate without doing anything.
— I never thought of that. Well, it’s not a problem. Let’s go to the clinic, we should be able to find what you need there.

She gave him a friendly smile. Another gesture he was not used to.

— May I offer you a cup of coffee, before that ?

He smiled at her in return, sincerely.

— Yes, thank you.

* * *

With a big smile on his face, the Baptist crossed the threshold of Henbane’s cabin without a sound. Everything was still quiet, the deputy was certainly not up. He slipped silently and carefully into the room, then under the covers, to snuggle up to her.

He took advantage of her sleep to observe her. Her face features seemed thinner when she was relaxed. Her long brown hair spread harmoniously on the pillow. He realized that he found her not only desirable, but also beautiful. This had always eluded him until now.

She was not perfect however, a far cry from society’s beauty standards. He knew that her curves and the few stretch marks cracking her body complexed her. However, all these details only made her more attractive in his eyes. He had been obnoxious in the past, accepting for – paid – partners only women and men whose physical appearance was close to that of models.

He gently placed his hand on Dana’s cheek to grab the lock of hair that was covering it and tuck it behind her ear. He tenderly kissed the back of her neck, trying to gently wake her up. She stirred with a moan. How is she turning me on so much, even when she’s not doing anything for this purpose ?

He resumed his kisses against the thin skin of her throat, while his hand reached between two buttons of the shirt – his – she was wearing, to undo them. The tender and warm contact of her breast against the Baptist’s fingers excited him more. He pushed his hand further in so that he could fully grasp her breast and gently caress her nipple.

Dana let out another moan. Still half asleep, she felt the Baptist against her, feeling his warm breath and wet lips on her neck. She loved it when he kissed her like that. She then felt his hand against her breast. She silently appreciated the caresses he lavished to her. She hoped for more. She desired him ardently. But she was still terrified of getting pregnant.

She didn’t know how to react. She didn’t want to push him away, but hoped he wouldn’t get the wrong idea. She was even more embarrassed when he slipped his hand between her thighs. She couldn’t hide her excitement from him anymore. He caressed her as she liked him to do, continuing to place regular kisses on her throat. She sighed once more, whispering his name.

— John…
— Don’t say anything. Close your eyes, let yourself go. I just want to please you, I expect nothing in return.

Her cheeks flushed. Fortunately he could not see her buried in the sheets face. She loosened her thighs with the contact of his fingers, which insinuated in her to prolong the caresses which they already offered to her outside. She did not delay in coming under her lover’s phalanges and lips.

When she stopped panting and turned to look at him, he was smiling benevolently.

— Did you sleep well ?
— Yes. But waking up was even more pleasant.
— I’m glad.

His hand had not left Dana’s crotch.

— Can’t take it anymore, or should I continue ?
— No, it’s my turn to take care of you.

She turned to grab the Baptist’s belt buckle and remove his jeans, while he took off his shirt. When she brought her face close to his hard cock, he interrupted her.

— Let me make love to you.

She seemed worried. Understanding her doubts, he picked up his jeans and took out a silver package.

— Don’t worry. No unwanted pregnancy.

She smiled. She never thought the proud Baptist would get involved in contraception. In fact, she expected that sooner or later he would ask her to get a prescription for a hormone pill. She rushed over to give him a hug.

— Can you help me a little ? I’m not really used to this stuff.

She took the lead and unrolled the latex on him with a gentle but assertive gesture, while he undid the remaining buttons of the shirt she was wearing. He directed again his hand towards her thighs. She held him back.

— I can’t wait any longer. You’ve turned me on enough. I want you, John. Now.

She pushed him against the headboard, to which he leaned, and sat on him. He grunted with pleasure as he penetrated her insides.

— I missed you so much Dana…
— Shut up and fuck me !

The sentence somewhat shocked the Baptist. It wasn’t the words themselves, but the way they sounded in her mouth. He loved hearing her speak so crudely. He decided to outbid her.

— I’m going to take care of you right, wrath, believe me. Hard and deep.
— Show me instead of promising me !

He grabbed her ribs, digging nails and fingers into her flesh, and directed her in violent movements to impale herself deeper and harder on him.

— You’re so good. I could spend my life banging you, pretty deputy.
— Is that all you have in stock, Seed ?

Excited by the provocation, he grabbed her hair and pulled strongly on it forcing her to arch her back. He brought his lips to her ear to threaten her.

— Dare to keep provoking me, and I will submit you.
— Do anything you want to me.

He violently seized her hips, turning over it so that she finds herself on all fours in front of him, facing the closet mirror. Their glances crossed in the mirror whereas he sunk again in her without bluntness, tearing off her a yell. He threatened her again.

— Do not lower your gaze, otherwise I shall have to get angry.

As to defy him, she closed her eyes, moaning of pleasure under his brutal assaults. He grasped her breasts in full palms to retain her shaken body by the hits he assented her without respite. He absolutely wanted her to look at him fucking her. He released her chest to sink his fingers in her shoulders, forcing her to straighten up. The vision pleased him even more. She was sitting on him and he had full power over her.

He enjoyed her spread wide and fully offered body. She was soaking wet and dripping on him as he bounced her on his thighs. He watched as he penetrated her and came out even wetter with her pleasure. Never had anyone excited him so much, and never had he excited anyone like she was. He seized her chest again with full hands, pulling out her a moan.

— Say my name, sinner !
— Oh John…
— Again !
— John !
— I can’t hear you…
— John !

He contemplated their reflection in the mirror, while she opened her eyes to catch his gaze.

— Is it good like that ? Am I not hurting you ?
— Thank you for coming back and taking care of me.

This small piece of sentence, so simple and so banal, was enough to finish his endurance. He whispered back, with a grunt of pleasure.

— Thank you for calling me.

* * *

It took them a few minutes, entwined under the blanket, to come to their senses. Dana stood up.

— I’m going to freshen up. Would you like something ? A glass of water ?
— No, thanks.

John took advantage of her absence to grab the contents of his coat pocket, before slipping back under the sheets. She returned to the bed and questioned him with her eyes. She had immediately recognized the small square box lying on her pillow.

— What does that mean ?
— That there is no need for a child to justify my request.

She was speechless. The Baptist continued.

— I am serious. If I had married you earlier, maybe none of this would have happened. I don’t want to waste any more time for nothing.

He took the box and opened it. He grabbed the narrower of the two rings and held it out to Dana, while he placed the box in the palm of her hand.

— Give me your finger, deputy.
— Can I try it on ?

She was calmly gazing at the box and the rings. He smiled at her.

— Only if you say yes.

She smiled back and her free hand slid over the Baptist’s bearded cheek. She drew him to her to kiss. He spread her lips with the tip of his tongue so that she let him take total possession of her mouth.

She passed her arms around him, joining her two hands on the box. The contact of the cardboard against his neck made him realize that she had still not granted him a satisfactory answer. He withdrew from her embrace. She tried to maintain him against her.

— Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I would just like you to answer my question. I have never wanted so much for someone to say yes.

She approached to attract him again to her lips and to whisper between two passionate kisses.

— Yes.

He smiled between her lips.

— Then I will pass this ring to your finger, and you will pass the other one to mine. But just to try them on. I want us to officially hand them to each other in front of witnesses.
— Whatever you want.
— I love it when you say that kind of thing.
— I know you do.

John straightened to slide the smaller diameter ring onto Dana’s finger. The ring stuck just short of the deputy’s first joint, making him break out in a cold sweat. He was sure he had watched her hands enough to choose the right size. Noticing his confusion, she reassured him.

— Don’t worry, I’m sure the size is perfect. Force a little, it should be fine.

He brought the ring to his mouth, before making another attempt. This time he pressed more firmly on the moistened ring, which gave way and finally took place on his future wife’s finger.

Dana, in turn, took the second ring and slipped it smoothly onto Seed’s finger. They silently gazed at their intertwined fingers. John then commented.

— Our names are engraved on the inside. I’ll have the date of our official ceremony added when we set it.
— I’d rather have our real wedding date written in…

He looked up at her to contemplate her. Nothing could have pleased him more than this admission.

— As you wish, my darling. Well, now that I’m here, you’ll have to make room for me in this cabin.
— What do you mean ? Are you going to make this your permanent home ?
— Of course I am. I want to be here for you. I won’t leave you again.

Dana, in turn, was overwhelmed by this statement.

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