John splashes cool water on his face, leans heavily on the metal sink. Everything hurts.
He looks at his reflection in the mirror. The too-bright fluroescent lights make him look even paler, even more washed out than usual. There are a couple blossoming bruises around his left eye and his lip is split. His eyes are still Bliss-white, though his usual blue is starting to peek through and his pupils are starting to look a little more normal. He touches his split lip gingerly— the bleeding seems to have stopped for now. That’s a good sign, right?
John takes a couple sips of water from the tap, in a futile attempt to settle his stomach, to somehow wash the Bliss from his innards. A couple hours sleep, and maybe he’ll stop feeling so nauseous and dizzy. A couple hours sleep, and the sinners are going to be back to their usual awful selves, Deputy Rook included. That’s when things are going to get really bad. He needs to be back in his best form for then. He’ll find himself some coffee, prepare to argue himself hoarse. He can’t rely on the faithful and the Chosen to protect him— not right now. His words are his only weapons of self-defence.
John dries his face on the towel hanging by the sink, heads back into the dormitory. The sinners have sprawled themselves over the bunks, those that don’t fit in that limited space sitting against the wall. Someone— probably Burke— managed to calm Nick Rye enough to get him bundled into a blanket, sandwiched between those awful Drubman cousins, all three dead to the world.
Grace Armstrong looks like she’s about to pass out, but she’s propped herself against the wall near the door, clearly intending to play protector for the other sinners. There's an empty wooden chair on the other side of the room, but she clearly wants the tactical advantage of surprise.
It’s pointless: Joseph has decreed that the sinners should be welcomed, and so they shall be. But if Grace's paranoia distracts her from John, he welcomes it. He’s not useful any more. He needs any advantage he can get, lest the sinners turn on him. Now they’re stuck in such an enclosed space, there’s nowhere John can run if things go south. Grace’s eyes flicker to John briefly, and then she focuses on the floor in front of her, obviously redoubling her efforts to stay awake.
Hudson is unconscious, either from exhaustion or from medication. John wouldn’t be surprised if there were sedatives in the water the nurse gave her. She’s leaning on Whitehorse’s shoulder, the two of them on one of the bunks near the door. He’s gently stroking her arm, in the absent-minded manner of an anxious father. It’s a miracle he’d managed to pry Hudson off John before she did any real damage.
John receives a small nod of acknowledgement from Whitehorse, which is more than the faithful of Eden’s Gate are wiling to give him right now. John nods back, stepping over Adelaide’s legs, sitting against a clear patch of wall that has clear line-of-sight to the door.
There are a couple sinners who aren’t here— Deputy Rook, most obviously, though Jess and Lindsay are also gone. Pratt and Burke went with Rook, and the housewife— Tannie? Tallie?Whatever— is nowhere to be seen.
Rook should be back soon. It feels like it’s been days, but the clock above the door insists that barely one hour has passed since he left to speak to Joseph.
John already has a pretty good idea of what Joseph will ask: Rook, if nobody else, must be brought into Eden’s Gate. The other law enforcement officers will likely be forced to publicly apologise for their actions, face some minor kind of punishment for the sin of attempting to arrest the Father. The sinners will have to attempt to integrate themselves into the little society Joseph has built, keeping themselves just useful enough to appease the faithful.
If it were up to John, he’d insist that all the sinners went through a full Cleansing, Confession and Atonement. If it were up to John, he’d demand that the sinners should be imprisoned, for the safety of the saved, until they fully accepted the Word of the Father into their hearts. He knows these people, has learnt enough the last couple weeks to understand how most of them can be manipulated into doing the right thing. John should be the one negotiating with them, not Joseph. John should be the one to force Rook to bow his arrogant head.
John loves Joseph, he really does— but Joseph is too good. He’s too perfect, if such a thing is possible. His kindness is unmatched, his love beyond all compare, his capacity for forgiveness endless for anybody who isn’t John. His leniency with the sinners is going to get somebody killed— probably Joseph himself, if not John too.
John leans back, resting his head against the wall. This would be so much easier if Joseph would just talk to him. If he would acknowledge John as anything other than spiritually and physically dead. So far he hasn’t, but it’s only been a couple hours.
Joseph is stubborn— it might take days. Weeks, even— John did publicly show doubt, after all. He doubted the Father, and he’d even said so, openly, in front of the sinners. He had dared to proclaim Joseph insane, said that his prophet needed psychiatric evaluation instead of strict obedience.
John is no fool. He knows he's overstepped a boundary with that. Jacob had never even believed in God most days, let alone in the Voice or the Collapse. But he’d still obeyed Joseph, even if he’d complained and objected in private, away from the prying eyes and ears of the faithful. Even on his worst days, Jacob would never have publicly expressed doubt or disapproval of Joseph’s words or actions. And John— John had. He’d actually said...
John forces himself to breathe deeply. Everything will be fine. It has to be.
There’ll be another opportunity to be Cleansed and therefore reborn again. There must be. Joseph has to be aware that John didn’t kill the men who’d been sent to save his soul. That he didn’t just abscond with the harbinger of their doom for reasons unknown. That everything that John did at Faith’s Gate was done out of duress (and it was, Rook or Pratt or somebody else would’ve found an excuse to kill him if he hadn’t).
A terrible thought occurs to John. Joseph’s always had a way of knowing John’s sins, even before he confessed them. He’d known of John’s deep abscesses of wrath and lust long before he’d ever accidentally shown them to his brothers. He’d figured out John’s addictions, how he’d been abused under the Duncan’s care. He might even already know about the tiny sliver of lust that’s wormed its way into John’s soul— and lust is all it is. It isn’t John’s fault that Deputy Rook is handsome when he smiles, that he’s the only sinner in this stupid county that’s been consistently vouching for John’s survival. Rook’s muscles and his kind words don’t change the fact that his soul is stained with the blood of the countless faithful he’s slaughtered. It doesn’t change the fact that he is a fundamentally evil person, the worst of the worst.
John laces his fingers together, clasps his hands so tightly together that his joints and knuckles ache. Joseph might see that tiny, barely-there sliver of lust and believe that’s why John started to doubt. He might believe that John willingly betrayed everything he’s ever loved for the chance to get his dick wet. It wouldn’t be the first time John’s done that, after all. But that had been a long time ago, before the therapy, and it hadn’t even been a big betrayal— missing a couple family dinners, a couple sermons and church meetings. Things that had been big at the time but could never, ever compare to the entirely hypothetical, entirely indelible sin of sleeping with the harbinger of the Collapse, the person who murdered Jacob and took away their protector.
John squeezes his eyes shut, praying desperately that God will let Joseph see the truth. If Joseph thinks— if he thinks that John has fallen that far, then there won’t be any hope at all. Joseph would never willingly let a snake like that into New Eden. Not even if that snake wears the face of his beloved baby brother.
Oh, God. Anything but that. Please.
So loud is the beating of John’s heart inside his ears, so wholly devoted is he to his prayers, so lost is he in the terrible fear threatening to overwhelm him, that John doesn’t hear the footsteps returning to this room.
“Rookie,” Whitehorse croaks, and John’s yanked firmly back to reality, his heart beating too-fast, his lungs struggling to take in enough air.
Deputy Rook stands in the doorway, gently swaying. Pratt steps around him, looks at John for a few long moments before standing near the bunk with Whitehorse and Hudson, his arms crossed. Burke stops beside Rook, clearly frustrated at the current situation.
“We talked to Joseph,” Burke says, as Whitehorse pats the bunk beside him, gesturing for Rook to join him.
“And?” John presses. He needs to know what Joseph said. Did Joseph say anything about him? He probably wouldn't, but if he had, John needed to know.
Rook takes an unsteady step forward, and almost immediately stops. His eyes flicker over the rest of the dimly-lit room, the sleeping sinners strewn on every available surface. His mouth quivers a little.
“I, uh,” he starts, and his voice is just as unsteady as the rest of him. A trembling hand comes up to his mouth, and he blinks rapidly. “I want to wake up.”
Burke puts a heavy hand on Rook’s shoulder, looking solemn. Pratt merely crosses his arms, watching Rook start to unravel with cold, disinterested eyes.
“This is a nightmare,” Rook manages, his voice cracking. “I don’t… I just—“
Rook shakes his head, helplessly, and there’s a tear dripping down his face. Burke pushes him, firmly but not unkindly, in the direction of the bunk, and Rook staggers over, joining Whitehorse with a soft thump.
“I want to wake up,” he says. Then he lowers his head into his hands, starts weeping softly. Whitehorse looks very sad, settles one hand on Rook’s shoulder.
“What did my brother say?” John demands. What on earth could Joseph have said to provoke that reaction?
“Why do you care?” Pratt sneers. “Why are you even here? You got what you wanted. Now we're all rats in a cage.”
There’s no way that Pratt hasn’t seen the way that the saved are politely ignoring John’s existence. The way the nurses wouldn’t answer his queries, the way that Joseph brushed him off, the way that the Chosen talked about all three Heralds being unfortunately deceased. He knows exactly why John's still here, and he'll never stop goading until John cracks and admits how far he's fallen. Well, he won't. He won't give Pratt the satisfaction.
“Curiosity,” John hisses, but he doesn’t say anything else. There’s no point. He won’t get a straight answer until Rook stops crying, which probably won’t happen until he actually sleeps— how long has it been since he got more than a snatched hour here and there? Days? Weeks?
It doesn’t matter, John decides. Nothing matters, not if the Gates of Eden are still closed to him. He’ll have to find a way to get them open again.
Burke shakes his head.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” he says, before crossing the room, settling himself on the plain, wooden chair in the corner. Pratt stays where he is, glaring at John.
It’s going to be a long night.