Dusk, the day Priest delivers the head of a vampire to the Church.
Priestess stands in the burn-out town of Jericho, awaiting Priest's return. As night falls over the wastes, the wake of a jet-bike stirs the dust into clouds. The speed and patterning of the wake indicate it is a Priest's bike. As it approaches, she can see it is him, returning alone. She sighs, relieved.
He looks grim as he parks his bike and dismounts. She goes to him, helping him move the bike under cover, hurrying before full dark comes, and the possibility of vampires with it. Tearing off his goggles he says. "Our message is delivered. The Church has proof a new vampire war is starting."
"We will need armies."
"Yes. But not today. You've seen to that. I have contacted other Priests. They are coming. We will be ready." Priest nods. She can see he is weary, and has not paused to wash the blood from his face and close-cropped hair. She leads him to the building. "Come, you're injured."
"Yes.. yes, of course." Priest glances down at his bloodied hand, as though he's forgotten the blood is his own for a moment and is embarrassed by his lapse of concentration. The Priestess leads him inside. The room is pleasantly warm after standing in the rapidly cooling Wastelands night. The walls are reinforced. The windows barred with steel. A good stronghold. The Priestess bars the door behind them.
"I found an old strong-room in the basement: thick walls, strong bars." She gestures to the portal in the floor. "Hicks and your daughter are in there now. Asleep, if I'm not mistaken."
Priest slowly lowers himself into a chair, careful movements, trying to disguise his injuries. The Priestess is not fooled. He continues calmly. "Good. This was just the first. There will be others. Our foe was a vanguard. He was smarter and stronger than any but a hive queen. But there will be others. Soon." She hands him a cup of hot soup. He makes a simple gesture of gratitude, and takes a drink.
"Was it really him? In the black hat. Was it our fallen comrade?"
A pause. "Yes. It was once him. Infected by a hive queen. Not a Familiar, but close." Neither wanted to use his name, the name he carried before he was a Priest. That man was long gone.
"It was cruel of the hive Queen to use him like that."
"He was kind. He would have been appalled by the death of other Priests."
"May they all rest in peace." Silence as they bow heads in remembrance. "Do you think the Church will follow us against the vampires?"
"I don't know. " He sighs. "Many saw the evidence of their return. Civilians and the clergy both. They can no longer deny it. They must see that we still fight only for God, no matter if we break the directives of the Church."
"Good. Now eat. We're safe for now, tonight we can rest. Please." He nods, and Priestess watches his stiff spine melt. The wariness and self control vital to Priests cracks, showing the exhaustion and pain underneath. Her voice is gentle as she says. "Don't think of the war any more tonight. Rest as best you're able. Promise me this concession to your recovery."
"I promise." He finishes the soup, and Priestess refills it.
"We will work once you wake."
"Then do not let me sleep too long." He drinks the soup quickly. She takes the empty cup and hands him a second, this one full of hot sweet tea. At the casual brush of her fingers against his own he goes still a moment, his eyes looking into her own. Then his face turns downward towards the tea, his whole body radiating defeat, and guilt.
The Priests were not only gifted, they were trained in secret arts, and received holy blessings, it made them tougher, stronger, faster. More than human. The superior forging of the righteous. She can see that Priest has pushed himself beyond even that. Too much injury, too much energy expended, too long awake. But still, were they anywhere but a safe room, in any company but each other's, she knows he would maintain his composure still.
As he finishes the tea with a sigh, Priestess says "First a bath. Then bandages. Then into the strong room. I will take first watch."
She takes the pot of hot water off the stove, her bruised body protesting as she takes its weight. The tub is half-filled already, in front of the stove. This last pot heats the rinse water and gives a final extra warmth to the bath. She gestures to it, and moves to go to the kitchen.
"Wait." He says, then looks away. "I cannot wash my back like this. My injuries." Priestess looks at his uncertain stance, his impatience with himself.
"I am a Priest." He says, frustrated.
She takes a breath. "As am I. Before all else, we are soldiers of God. It's only natural to stand by one another both in and after battle. I will show proper decorum, and look away except to wash your back."
"Thank you." He says, grateful for her presence and her tact.
She helps take of his battle garments, stuck to his body with blood. She looks at him then. She feels guilty for it, but she wants to confirm that it's the same body she's seen injured a hundred times. Still carries the same scars from wounds she has seen laid upon him. She is relieved and sad to see that it remains as it always was, gravely damaged but unbroken yet. Beautiful in its strength. She is grateful that her injuries are not so great, her exhaustion not so complete, it might break her to see him like this again. One of the few consolations of the peace times was that he was safe. She turns away as he removes the last of his clothing.
She hears him lower himself into the bath. Silence, but for the trickling of water and Priest's pained breathing as he washes his wounds.
"Tell me of your life." He says, exhaustion loosening his rage, and thereby his tongue. "These past years, living in the cities."
"There was little in my life other than trying not to frighten people away from giving me a job. It's difficult to compare, the Church is all I really remember. But it was hard, because I could do nothing but remain a Priest. Sometimes I tried to hide it, just to gain companionship. It never lasted long. There were none that understood, and I rarely saw the other Priests."
"Myself also. My rosary bound my hands against the actions of a Priest. But I remained true to my path, until Lucy was taken." His voices is grim as he says. "Now I have gone against the Church."
"But it remains to be seen if we go against God. No matter what the Church says, I cannot believe that you have gone against God. You have done everything only to protect human life."
"Our Vow was to be killers at the Church's behest. I devoted myself to it."
"We all did."
"It is all I am."
"You are also a father protecting his daughter."
He he turns to look at her, his gaze intense with the desperate hope that this is true and righteous. Her back is to him, straight but for the graceful curve of her neck pulling her head to the side so he can hear her better.
She continues. "We follow God's path, not the Church's. The Church has shown no care for us, they would not even allow us to gather and console one another in the wake of the war. They broke their vow to us first."
"Yes, I think I felt that, for all these years."
"None of the remaining Priests could find you. We looked. The Church would not say where you'd settled. "
"I am sorry. The past weighed heavily on me, I lived the solitary life that came to me."
She is not sure what to say to this, and gets back to cleaning Priest's battle garments, washing the blood from them and examining the holes. After an interval he says.
"Only my back remains to be cleaned."
Priestess moves carefully to his side, taking the washer from Priest deftly and neatly washing the caked on blood from his back, not touching the angry wound on the left.
"Your shoulder." Her disapproval leaks into her voice.
"I was pinned to a wall. Hung like a picture, really."
She examines the bruised and torn flesh carefully without letting the water touch it. She can guess who gave such an injury, vampires use teeth and claws. "It's a terrible wound."
"I've had worse."
"Not often." Priestess puts down the washer and steps away. The two of them are silent as Priest dries and dresses himself in clean clothes found in the house. They think their own thoughts.
Priestess thinks of how today she told Priest that she had wished the death of his wife would free him. It was her confession that underneath it all, she still held for him a flawed, selfish love, one of a woman towards a man. Perhaps it was cruel of her, but she could not go with him on false pretences. Now he knew, and it had almost cracked his resolve. But he had remained adamant. So she would return to the status of colleagues that they had both managed to maintain all those years.
They both felt it. After training side by side, standing side by side in battle, saving and supporting one other through the darkest days of war they had an iron bond. It was only natural that they trust one another completely. Neither blamed the other for being human underneath their training. Under her blank face, Priestess holds a consuming love. One she fights and embraces by turns, depending on which gives her more strength. His? Behind his walls of self control, it could be the protective affection of a big brother, or something as ugly and passionate as her own. There was no way to tell. But Priestess knows that he is conflicted enough about caring for Lucy, let alone herself.
"I am ready." He says. Priestess turns to find him in only pants, his injured torso bare for her examination.
"Then I will be quick." She puts pain tablets on the table and Priest takes them without a word. She examines his wounds thoroughly, cleaning them and stitching them, salving or bandaging as required. Her touch is professional and gentle. Priest barely tries to stifle his cry of pain as she pushes against each of his ribs.
"Bruised, perhaps cracked. But not broken. The muscles are torn. I have blessed salve. Should I use it on you?" They both knew that while it healed you swiftly, the salve brought great pain, and could scar you badly. It was the recourse of those for whom the battle was not over, despite significant injury.
"Yes. There is little choice in the matter. I will sleep despite." She moves at last to his shoulder. As she examines it further, she frowns. "You are lucky your collar bone was not broken." She puts her hand in his.
"Squeeze my hand." He does so, his pinky and ring finger grip only weakly.
"Close your eyes."
"Can you feel this?" She touches each of his fingers in turn.
"And this?" she pinches him.
"Open your eyes." He opens them to see that priestess is pinching him quite hard.
"Oh." He looks dismayed.
She suspects she does not have the equipment to fix this properly, but there is little choice. "I'm going to numb you." She gives him an injection. "You have nerve damage. Let us pray it is due to swelling caused by your secondary wounds. If anything is severed, it will take you a long time to heal."
"We don't have a long time." He says, and she looks away from the flat look in his eyes, concentrating on the wound.
"This will hurt, brace yourself." She starts probing the wound.
"You must love your daughter." She says, distracting him while she checks what muscles are torn, manipulating his arm.
"Why do you say that?" His voice is strained.
"Lean back." She shines a light into the wound, relieved that the cut was from a sharp knife. She pries it open to clean it and check the damage. "You came off that train with this wound. If you had not taken the first impact with your own body she would have died. You used that shoulder and arm as a cage of protection. It was a terrible wound to start with."
It seems only a single muscle sustained significant damage from the knife, it only clipped the others and slid around the bones, but the subsequent strains Priest put on his body have torn the muscles, leaving it a swollen mess, difficult to heal. She injects holy salve straight into it, and he stiffens, even with the pain killers at work. "You strained your body to it's utmost, to see to it that she has nothing more than a sprained knee and a few scrapes, while a Priest's body is torn."
"Yes." He admits, breathing reflexively against the pain while Priestess stitches him up. "I love her very much. I couldn't stop just because the Church told me to. It seemed a greater sin than disobedience."
"Then I can understand why you risked the loss of your left arm for her."
"There was no other choice."
"You mustn't use this arm for anything heavy, but you must bend it every few hours for the next few days, or the salve will heal everything into a solid lump of scar. You will have to keep it clean. We may not sicken easily, but an infection in the bone is beyond my ability to treat. Do not risk it."
She finishes the stitching and gives it a last clean, wiping away the few fresh drops of blood that leak from it. "Until you are healed I will be your left arm. Call on me, I will be there for you. "
A sterile pad and a soft bandage complete her treatment on Priest's shoulder.
"The last thing to do is set your nose. Leave it any longer, and it'll heal like that."
"I'm glad it's you then. You have a way with broken noses."
She feels his nose carefully to find the edges of broken bone. It's a simple break. Then she looks to check if he is prepared, to find him looking at her, eyes gentle on her wounds. She closes her eyes against such a gaze. "Ready?" She asks, and he says a quiet yes. She opens her eyes and presses precisely and hard. His nose crunches back into alignment, and she puts a cooling strip on it to stop any further swelling. He sits there motionless, too exhausted to even tense against the pain.
"You're tough." She brings out the bandages and seals in the salve onto his other wounds. "But you shouldn't have ridden so far without treatment, your scars will be ragged."
"And ache in the cold. Yes, I've done this before." If he sounded tired before, he sounds exhausted now.
"As have I." She turns to her supplies, worried for him. "An ache like that can bring back bad memories at bad times. It would be better not to make another. Why did you conceal it from me?"
"There was too much yet to be done." He says, stating a fact.
Her deft fingers are cool on his minor wounds, spreading a more mundane salve, antiseptic and soothing. He speaks again, surprising her with his openness.
"They do not only bring pain. I bear them almost happily sometimes."
"Yes. A reminder everything that was done to us was not for nothing. It was in fact barely enough."
"Yes. That too." He looks almost sadly at her. He is wearing civilian clothing. Somehow it is harder to look as him now, as he looks like a man, than it was as he was naked, bathing. As a final ministration she makes a sling for him and adjusts it so the weight of his arm will not pull against his shoulder wound.
Priest watches her pack away the remains of her first aid kit. "Thank you." He says.
"Time to sleep. Tomorrow, we move." He says, a little of his sternness returning. Then he gets to his feet slowly.
The Priesthood no longer ate the divine food of the church, no longer slept in the consecrated beds. They all felt a slowness to replenish their strength that had nothing to do with age. Age touched lightly on surviving Priests. With care, Priestess opens the portal to the basement. There is a soft glow from a lantern barely emitting power. The two descend into the basement easily. It is cold, but dry.
Hicks and Lucy are wrapped around one another, curled in a nest of blankets, fast asleep. At the light and noise Hicks stirs enough to start awake in fear, then realises that Lucy is in his arms, and calms again, touching her hair.
"Priest." He whispers.
Priest smiles a little. "It's all right. Keep her safe. We'll talk in the morning."
"Yes, sir." Hicks whispers, heartfelt. Then he closes his eyes again.
Priest lowers himself carefully onto a cot, fresh sheets laid over it, smelling faintly of lavender. The Priestess tucks him in, taking care to make sure his shoulder is comfortable. She goes and sits, eyes away from the light, towards the door. The Priest falls almost instantly asleep. His dreams are dark and confused, filled with violence and fresh painful memories.
End Ch 1. So, too emo? How are the characterisations?