24 July 2024

20 – Family ties

She suddenly realized that she was alone, in the middle of nature and in the cold. She had lost all sense of time, absorbed in the horror of the thoughts that had been running through her mind since Seed’s revelations.

It could have been me, damn it. She remembered his fury after Joseph’s visit to the ranch. Slowly coming to her senses, she tried to clear her head. I need to get it off my chest. I need someone to tell me I’m going to be okay. But I don’t have anyone. Oh, yes, I do… Killian !

She walked along the side of the road for a short while until a vehicle stopped and agreed to give her a ride. She remembered that Killian had taken a room at the King Hotel. Those fucking springs. Luckily, it was on the route the driver was taking. He dropped her off at the main entrance.

Dana suddenly realized that she had just crossed a good part of the county in a ridiculous outfit, to say the least. How do I look ? It couldn’t get any worse. I’ve been crying, my mascara has probably run, I’m in a short dress in the middle of winter, wearing a coat with little airplanes on it, and I’m going to my ex for comfort.

Holding back a sob, she went to the reception desk and asked to speak to Mr. Riley. The understanding receptionist called Killian right away. He immediately went down to get her. He hugged her and walked her to his room and sat her down on the bed after removing her coat.

— Dana, what’s going on ? Did that asshole Seed hurt you ?

She sniffled, still trying to hold back the tears, in vain.

— No, not me…
— Your friends ?
— No… it was before Hope County. When he was a lawyer.

Unable to hold it in, she collapsed into Killian’s arms, shedding all the tears in her body. He hugged her gently against him.

— Shhhh. It’s okay. I’m here.

He cradled her against his chest for several minutes until she stopped crying.

— Thank you, Killian. I don’t know what I would do without you. You’ve always been there for me.
— You’re welcome, Dana. It’s okay. You’re… you were my wife.

She looked up at him with sad eyes.

— Hold me. I need you.

He granted her request.

— Whatever you want, Dana. I love you so much. I still love you. You know that, don’t you ? I’m so sorry it didn’t work out between us.

She pulled away from him to look him straight in the eye.

— Fuck me, Killian. I need to feel you inside me.
— Dana… I’m not sure this is a good idea…
— Please. Just one more time. So we can say goodbye.
— What about Seed ?
— That asshole is the last person I want to think about. He’s a freak. There’s nothing between me and him anymore. There never was, anyway. Liar.
— Alright. But I don’t want to fuck you. I want to make love to you. Like when I still had a place in your heart.

She put her lips on his to keep him quiet. Happy memories came back to her. Their wedding, his laughter, the house. Oh, it’s so far away. So far from the hustle and bustle of Hope County, so far from all the pain and passion I’ve endured since I came here. I wish I could find that stability and love again. He shyly returned her kiss, then kissed her more passionately. She felt nothing. She raised her arms so that he could pull her dress over her head.

— You’re still so beautiful. Despite those horrible scars he gave you.

He undressed quickly in his turn, not ceasing to kiss her. She gasped when he slipped his hand between her thighs.

— You’re not ready. Still so dry. It’s always been difficult on that side.

Oh no, Killian. Not with him…

He brought his fingers to his mouth to moisten them before putting them on her again.

— Still no pill ?
— No.

She reached into her coat pocket, pulling out a silver package. Killian grunted as he grabbed the condom.

— At least that asshole’s careful.

If you only knew.

He sat down and unrolled the latex over his erection, then reached out to Dana.

— Come here. Get on me.

She swung around to sit over him, eye to eye, their faces brushing against each other.

— Oh, Dana. I’ve missed you so much. It’s so good to be inside you.

He gently grabbed her by the ribs and undulated his pelvis languidly to slowly sink into her. He was gentle, patient, delicate. All the opposite of John. However, all this tenderness did not fill her. She still felt empty.

Killian was aware this had nothing to do with love and that she would never come back to him. Yet he couldn’t help but love her and wanted to enjoy this last bit of their broken marriage.

— Please Dana, kiss me. Pretend you love me, for the last time.

She put her lips on his, without conviction. She saw someone else’s face, despite all the horrors he had done and the terrible revelation of the previous hours. She clutched his hair with all her strength, as if to give herself courage, whereas Killian enjoyed in her by repeating tirelessly her name and “I love you”.

They held each other for a few moments, then Riley took a deep breath to build up courage.

— Come on Dana, you must go.

She looked at him quizzically.

— Where to ?
— To meet that son of a bitch Seed.
— Are you crazy ? Have you heard a word I’ve said ?
— Yes, I have. I would never condone his actions. It’s pretty clear the guy’s an asshole. But I know one thing for sure : he won’t hurt you.

She stared at him like it was snowing in the Sahara.

— I saw the way that fucker looked at you… and the way you looked at him… he obviously loves you. And you love him back.
— Killian, he’s a fucking drug addict. He beat up a woman !
— He was, Dana. People do change. I mean, look at you. I’m the only one who’s still the same idiot. But you’re not the sweet, innocent young woman I married anymore. You’ve gotten strong, you’ve gotten tough. You can handle this situation, I know you can. I never knew how to give you what you needed, that’s a fact. When you’re around that guy, your eyes light up like they never did with me. I’m not stupid, Dana. I love you too much to keep hurting you. I want you to be happy. And if that means being with that psycho, then I’ll accept it, as long as he treats you right and takes care of you. 

— Oh, Killian…

Her eyes clouded over. I never knew that man loved me so much.

* * *

As soon as she disappeared from his sight, John was filled with rage. An uncontrollable wrath, as it often was with him. But this time it was directed at Joseph. He sped off and headed for the compound, pushing the gas pedal with all his might.

The chapel doors slammed violently against the walls. All the congregation and the siblings jumped. The enraged Baptist appeared and strode nervously up the aisle to the platform. All eyes were on him.

An angry aura spread around his figure, accentuated by the black look he cast on his brother. None of the followers dared move from their seats, all of them stunned by such vehemence. When he was within inches of Joseph, John yelled in his face.

— What right did you have to tell her about Atlanta ?

Instinctively, Jacob moved closer while Faith took a step back. Joseph raised his arms to calm down his younger brother, who immediately threw them back, leaving him stunned. John turned to address Jacob, pointing an accusing finger at him.

— Don’t you dare interfere, this is between Joseph and me. If you interfere, I won’t control myself.

Joseph smiled before speaking in turn.

— You never control yourself, John, that’s the problem.

The Baptist raised his voice again.

— Shut your mouth Joseph, SHUT THE FUCK UP ! You hear me ? Why are you doing this ? Why do you always have to destroy everything I try to build ?
— Don’t forget I saved you, brother.
— Saved me ? You saved me ? 

He chuckled and continued.

— No ! You used my faults and weaknesses against me, to force me to serve your own interests. I’m just a tool for you, just like Faith and Jacob and all those people. If you really wanted to save me, you would have helped me get out of my addictions, instead of encouraging my urges.

Faith tried to intervene to calm him down.

— John…
— Please, Faith ! Don’t you see what’s going on ? Don’t you understand that he is using you since he found you ? Don’t you see that he’s abusing your blind trust and your loneliness ?

He pointed an accusing finger at Jacob again.

— And don’t you understand that he picked you up just to get you to train his pseudo soldiers ? He’s using your guilt to lead you.
— No, I am protecting our family !
— What family ? What are you protecting us from ? At least not from Joseph’s madness !

He stopped to catch his breath, tears in his eyes. Joseph tried to regain control.

— John… you’re letting your wrath get the better of you again, you don’t mean what you say. Yes, you sinned in Atlanta. You and only you committed that barbaric act. I told the deputy because no sin can be absolved without being confessed and atoned for. You know that very well. She has a right to know, and you obviously weren’t going to admit it to her yourself. And yes, I saved you. Without me, you would have been locked up for life.
— You think you’re above it all ? Above the laws of men, and those of God ? No, Joseph. You are above nothing, and one day you will regret all the evil you have done, and on that day you will burn in the fires of hell.
— John… I love you, brother…
— No, you don’t ! If you loved me, you wouldn’t break me when I’m just trying to be happy. I had finally found someone who cared about me, and who appreciated me despite all my flaws, no matter how heavy they were. And you ruined it. You drove her away, you did everything to keep her away from me and make me an even worse monster than I already was. Now she’s gone, and I may never see her again.

A stream of silent tears ran down his cheeks. Jacob tried to intervene.

— John…
— What ? Are you going to call her a whore, a slut, a slag ? Or me a weakling ?
— No… I don’t like to see you like this, John, I love you. I just wanted to tell you that Killian can probably help you find her. He’s taken a room at the King Hotel. If you want, I’ll go with you.

Quickly wiping away his tears with the back of his sleeve, John looked at his older brother in amazement.

— Thanks, Jacob.

Faith intervened in her turn.

— I’m coming with you.

John addressed Joseph again.

— You, go fuck yourself.

He turned and ran out of the chapel, followed closely by Faith and Jacob, to jump in his pick-up and start off in a cloud of dust.

* * *

— Wait for me there.

Faith and Jacob remained silent, still sitting in the pick-up.

The man behind the hotel reception counter immediately raised his arms in the air as John pointed his gun at him.

— Killian Riley’s room.
— Y… yes. Let me check my register. 508.
— The key, quick !
— Mr. Seed, I can just ask him to come down…
— I’ll go up.
— But… he’s not alone !

Not alone. For God’s sake. Would she be with him ? I wouldn’t be surprised. He grabbed the magnetic card the man handed him, then snatched the phone cable before turning on his heels and rushing up the stairs.

He stopped on the fifth-floor landing, out of breath. He took a few seconds to think. Maybe she’s with him. He’s probably armed. Don’t do anything irreparable, John, you’ve done enough damage as it is. He took a deep breath, pulled his wedding ring from his pocket, and slipped it on his finger before silently passing the key card in front of room 508.

He slowly pushed the door open. The scene before him petrified him. Yes, she was there, with him. And more than that. It seemed the world was collapsing around him. His brain tried to assimilate the information which overflowed him, one by one. She was in this guy’s arms, her ex-husband. She was kissing him. He was making love to her. He was telling her he loved her. She was clutching his hair to hold him against her.

Shocked, he closed the door as slowly as he had opened it. He turned to walk back toward the stairs, dropping his gun to the floor. It felt like his heart was going to explode. He wanted to burst with wrath, to be enraged, to destroy everything in his path.

But he couldn’t do it. He had no strength left. The pain annihilated everything else. You’re just a poor bastard. This is what you deserve. The Duncans were right. Now you’re reaping the evil you’ve sown, you’re going to rot in hell. You were always bad.

Faith and Jacob were waiting for him, leaning against the pickup. He pushed them aside with a wide gesture and opened the door.

— John, what’s wrong ?
— Not now, Jacob. Leave me alone.
— Where are you going ?
— I need to drive to clear my head. Don’t insist.

They watched helplessly as the car left with a screech of tires.

When Dana stormed down the stairs, the receptionist rushed to her.

— Deputy, are you all right ?

She frowned.

— John Seed didn’t hurt you ? I was worried about you, and about Mr. Riley.
— John Seed ? Explain that to me !
— He didn’t come to see you ?
— What the hell are you talking about ?

He gave her a brief description of what happened.

— How long ago was this ?
— A few minutes ago, I’d say. He left the hotel just before you came down.

Damn it.

With a panicked heart, she rushed outside, only to find the siren and the elder Seed standing at the door.

— What the fuck are you doing here ?

Faith rushed to take her in her arms.

— Dana ! John went crazy, he confronted Joseph in front of all the congregants. Jacob and I accompanied him here to make sure he wouldn’t do anything he’d regret. Did you talk to him ?
— No, I haven’t seen him. Where is he now ?

Jacob intervened in his turn.

— I have no idea. He took the truck and ran like hell, knocking us off our feet.

Her hand went to her waist. Damn it. No radio. She unconsciously fidgeted with her bare ring finger. This is not good, not good at all. Oh John, don’t do anything irreparable, please.

— We need to find a ride. Follow me.

* * *

With his foot on the gas pedal, he was driving through the bushes, in the middle of the forest. He had decided to leave the road to avoid the peggies spotting him and sending Faith, Jacob or worse, Joseph, to reason with him. The branches crashed one after the other under his wheels, against the sides of the vehicle and on the windshield, causing a deafening crash.

The engine, pushed to its limits, roared heavily, but still couldn’t drown out the howling in John’s heart. He barely avoided obstacles, abruptly turning the wheel to one side or the other at the last moment. Joseph was right. The Collapse was happening. At least in the tumult of his tortured mind.

A sudden feeling of weightlessness pulled him out of hell. Instinctively, he raised his arms in front of his face. For what seemed like an eternity, it seemed to him that he was flying away, that his body no longer existed and that his heart was light. It seemed his life was shattering before his eyes. Yes, he was sure of it. Shards of crystal were flying around him. That’s beautiful.

Now everything was white. Am I in heaven ? No, certainly not. This is not where bad children go. His hand rested in front of his face. He saw the silver ring on his finger. Dana. I’m so sorry I’ve been a jerk my whole life. If only I could erase all the horrible things I’ve done.

He couldn’t feel his body anymore. Still, his right arm struggled to reach into his pants pocket. With a thousand efforts, he managed to extract the second ring, which he brought close to his face. He contemplated it, until an acid and scarlet veil covered the soft white and silent mantle that surrounded him.

* * *

— There, down there ! That’s his vehicle !

The henchman pointed to a ditch along which all the trees had been bent or broken. Jacob rushed down the snowy slope, followed by Dana and Faith, who had put on a coat and rangers.

Oh my God. The pickup truck was lying on the roof, way down in the pit. I hope he’s okay ! Dana risked breaking her neck several times, slipping on the icy patches and twisting her ankles on the stones hidden by the snow. She let out a guttural, inhuman howl as she approached the vehicle.

The windshield was shattered and stained with blood. A tree trunk had pierced it and was sticking through the passenger compartment. She rushed to the door, her eyes flooded with tears. Jacob screamed.

— Dana, here ! John is here !

She rushed toward the sound of his voice, a few feet away. The Baptist lay in the snow, his face and body covered in blood, Jacob kneeling beside him. Dana threw herself at his side, taken by an uncontrollable panic. Faith arrived at the scene, in a similar state as rook. Dana turned to John, nervously stroking his hair.

— John, please ! Please, I’m begging you ! Please wake up !

Jacob gently took her hand to pull her away from her brother.

— Don’t touch him. He’s breathing, but he looks badly hurt to me. We mustn’t move him for the moment, not until a doctor has examined him. Faith, give me your coat !

The siren complied immediately and the elder Seed covered John’s body to keep him as warm as possible.

— Dana, go back up the road, tell my men to send us a doctor.
— No ! I’m not leaving John.
— Damn it ! Stay there then, I’ll be back. And don’t let him move !

No risk, you idiot, he’s unconscious ! Faith sat down in the snow and sobbed silently, her arms around her knees. Dana took the Baptist’s hand in hers. His cold fist remained clenched. She gently spread his fingers, one by one, to reveal the wedding ring nestled in the palm of his hand. A flood of tears flooded her face again. She did not hold back from crying, completely ignoring the world around her.

* * *

I painfully open my eyelids. She is there, close to me, holding my hand. I spread my fingers to interlace them in hers. Our rings clink against each other. She smiles at me. She’s beautiful and her eyes are full of love for me. I know she loves me, but certainly not as much as I love her. She saved me, she is my oxygen, my redemption. I whisper “Hi”, she answers “Hi”.

A delicious smell fills the room. I guess it’s warm pancakes and freshly ground coffee. She runs her hand through my hair. I’ve always loved this gesture, which she has given me many times, even when we hated each other and I wanted to hurt her.

— Your breakfast is ready.
— I don’t feel like going to eat, I’d rather stay here with you.
— My darling, you can’t spend all day in bed. Although I would love to stay there with you. You are very expected.

Expected ? Who is waiting for me ? Why ? I sit up and stretch slowly, yawning. I put my hand on her beautiful face and my lips on hers.

— I had a horrible nightmare.
— Tell me about it.

My hand slides a lock of hair behind her ear, then down her perfect throat.

— I was hurting you, and I liked it.
— Oh. Luckily, it was just a bad dream.

She sweetly laughs. I smile back at her. My hand continues to move downward. It caresses the scar on her sternum, grazes the tip of her breast, then stops at her prominent belly.  

— Your daughter has taken up kickboxing in earnest. I can’t wait for her to get some fresh air.

My daughter ? High-pitched, joyful shouts snap me out of my reverie. Dana quickly gets up and puts on a robe.  

— I hope they haven’t done anything stupid. You should never leave them alone for too long.

They ? Who is she talking about ?

* * *

Dana was still sobbing, stroking John’s hair. It seemed like an eternity had passed between the time they had discovered him and the time help arrived. The doctor rushed over to the Baptist, gently pushing her aside. After a brief examination, he mechanically announced.

— He’s lost a lot of blood. He is unconscious and unresponsive to stimuli. I think he has several fractures. We need to get him to the hospital quickly to diagnose any internal injuries. I cannot determine if his spine is intact.

Jacob, who had followed him, intervened.

— There is the Holland Valley Clinic, but it’s several miles away. And I’m not sure it’s equipped to do these tests…
— Mr. Seed, I don’t think I’ve made myself clear. If we don’t take care of your brother right away, he won’t survive.

Faith’s sobs increased. Gathering all her composure, Dana stepped in between the two men.

— I know what we’ll do. We’re going to take him to the Hope County jail. Doctors Perkins and Lindsey will take care of him.

Jacob glared at her.

— The jail ? It’s in the hands of your little friends in the resistance ! They’ll never let us in !
— We have no other choice, Jacob. We’re running out of time. They are clearly better equipped than the clinic, and the prison is only a few miles away. I refuse to let John die without doing anything.

She wiped the tear from the corner of her eye, struggling not to break down. Not in front of Jacob.

* * *

I stand up in turn and follow her, grabbing her hand. No sooner do I step into the kitchen than two little tornadoes pounce on me. The little girl has my eyes. She holds my arms and shouts “Daddy !”. I carry her and hold her close. She smells good, just like her mom. The older boy clings to my leg and shouts “Happy Birthday Daddy !”. I ruffle his hair. “Thanks, big boy.” Dana smiles at me as she pours coffee into two cups stamped “Hope County”. She hands me mine. The china warms my still numb from sleep hands .

I walk to the glass door to look outside. The house is surrounded by greenery. We are not in Hope County. Maybe Europe, judging by the species of trees I don’t recognize. As I bring the drink to my lips, my wife puts her arms around my waist and places a kiss between my shoulder blades. I turn around, put my cup down and wrap my arms around her to kiss her. Her warm, wet lips caress mine, my tongue explores her mouth. Her fingers dig into my back, mine squeeze her hair to keep her close to me. I love her to death. Time stops. This precious moment seems to last forever.

* * *

Against all odds, Tracey and Whitehorse immediately opened the prison doors when Dana announced herself. Once face to face with Jacob and Faith, the atmosphere quickly deteriorated.

— What the hell are they doing here ?
— Tracey, they’re not here for a confrontation. They came for John. So have I. We need your help, right now. I’m begging you.

Seeing her hesitation, she added.

— As long as they are with us, we have nothing to fear. Come on, Tracey, what do you want Seed to do to us ? All his brothers and sister are here, one of them is between life and death.

The young woman yielded, and some members of the resistance came to lend a hand to the henchmen of Eden’s Gate in charge of carrying the stretcher.

John was installed in one of the cots usually used for the detoxification of individuals addicted to bliss. Lindsey quickly examined him while questioning Dana.

— What happened ?
— He was in a car accident. He went through the windshield.
— I guess he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

She frowned. A lump formed in her throat at the memory of the tree trunk going through the car.

— No, and thankfully so. That’s what saved his life.

The vet resumed his examination, more thoroughly.

— Deputy, can you step outside ? I need to remove his clothes to examine his wounds.
— No. He’s my husband. I’m staying.

She resolutely stared at the ring she had placed back on her finger. Lindsey heavily sighed without turning around.

— Then at least help me.

* * *

The doorbell rings. The two toddlers rush to open it. The little girl cries out “Uncle Jacob ! Aunt Faith !”. I head into the hallway. My brother has grabbed the girl and is holding her proudly, she’s covering his chiseled face with innocent kisses. My sister is not wearing her usual white lace dress. She is dressed in a modern way and wears high-heeled boots. Strangely, it suits her. I then notice that Jacob has also exchanged his fatigues for civilian clothes. They are both beautiful. They’re glowing. They take turns hugging me and wishing me a happy birthday. We all go together to the kitchen.

On the table, there is now a huge cake and a nice wrapped gift box. Dana holds me by the waist and whispers in my ear, before placing a little kiss on it : “Open your present, darling. It’s from all of us”. I sit down and take the package. The little boy climbs on my lap, impatient. He helps me untie the ribbon. His hair, the same as mine, tickles my nostrils as I bend down to tear the iridescent paper.

Oh. I didn’t expect that. I am moved. It’s a model of my plane, the Affirmation. The same one that Dana shot down before taking pity on me and sparing me. The colors are rather clumsily applied in places. I realize that my family put together and painted this model especially for me. Tears well up in my eyes as the people I love smile at me. I don’t deserve all this love. I don’t deserve to have a family.

* * *

Dana had never seen so much blood. At least not on a living person. Lindsey had given her the task of cleaning up as much of John’s body as possible, so that he could assess what care he needed to take. While she mopped up the blood, Charles had placed a tourniquet on his thigh, which had been deeply torn by a sharp shard of glass.

Sarah Perkins soon arrived to help. They exchanged a few words in a language Dana didn’t understand, probably medical terminology. She felt helpless. She couldn’t take it anymore and asked the question that was burning in her mind.

— Does he have a chance to recover ?

The two doctors exchanged a brief, concerned look. Lindsey took it upon himself to answer.

— It’s too early to tell. He has lost a lot of blood and I think he has a concussion. For now, it’s best for him not to regain consciousness. If he should wake up, we will put him in an induced coma while we operate on his fractures, and to avoid unnecessary suffering.

Dana broke down and burst into tears, falling to her knees beside the bed. Someone lifted her by the shoulders and took her in their arms. Through the tears that flooded her irises, she saw a name patch sewn onto a lattice. She had hated him since she met him. Yet she didn’t struggle when Jacob pulled her close to his chest.

— It’s okay, little bird. We’re all here to support him, he’ll fight. John’s not a weak, he’s going to make it. You must stay strong. For his sake.

She let herself grieve completely, clutching the man in her arms in turn.

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