Author's Note: Sorry! I know I made you, my faithful readers, wait an indecently long time for an update to this fic. I shouldn't excuse my tardiness, but all I can say is that RL has been crazy and quite challenging and I didn't have as much time for writing as I would have liked. Again, I'm so so sorry! I really didn't want to make you guys wait this long. Thank you so much for your patience, though. You've all been wonderfully supportive. ^_^ And, as always, thanks so much for reading in the first place and for reviewing. saichickAnnaErishkigal, Aphrodite96, WickedAmethyst and Genius626, you guys are the best! I do hope you enjoy this installment.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Priest nor any of the characters associated with the manga series/movie.
Part I His
"She's yours." It was what the doctor said to him, handing over a tangle of blankets that fit easily in his long arms.
"She's all yours, son." The words were spoken with warm pride. The doctor cleared his throat, his Adam's apple bobbing over his unbuttoned collar as he glanced over his spectacles at the new father. "Did I forget to mention it's a girl? Your wife's given you a nice, healthy daughter."
Ivan lifted his head, the doctor's voice buzzing dully in his ears, like the distant puttering of an old motorcycle ridden hard over the salt flats. He was aware of the room around him and yet detached, his spirit separated from his physical body and invested in the tiny, bulbous creature lying swaddled in his arms.
Her. She. His daughter.
Suddenly, his hands began to shake.
The steamy air of the birthing room was rank with obnoxious odors, blood and sweat, the last, keening, pitiful screams of his wife as she struggled through the final moments of labor. He'd seen Shannon with her body twisted in agony, gripping the bed sheets, a strange hue of marbled red rising up into her cheeks, her jaw clenched against each relentless wave of pain.
And Ivan had been heartbroken at the sight of his wife, which was why the doctor had tried his best to keep him away from Shannon. The cantankerous old physician usually didn't allow the fathers in the birthing room. It wasn't so much about tradition as it was instinct. Because in that instant, in that rare, dark moment when the mother hovered close to death in her attempts to give life, fear could work a strange kind of hatred into a man's heart. Fear could make him hate his child at the time when he should have loved it the most.
But that wasn't true for Ivan, who had a way of centering himself in moments of crises. He could calm his mind by repeating certain prayers the parish priest had taught him and he could draw his soul away from terror, until only his flesh resounded with the tell-tale intoxication of adrenaline.
It was different now though, now when he held the child and felt her weight and the heat coming off her tiny body. Now as he stared into her eyes, little slivers that hinted at filmy blue. Now when he let his fingers brush over the few fine strands of reddish hair clinging to her scalp. Now when he realized that she was indeed his, that she was of him and Shannon, a gift, a blessing, a miracle…
Ivan looked up and saw that Shannon had pushed herself onto her elbows. Her legs were bent, her knees flopping together, the sheets tented and damp with angry splotches of blood. The nurse hadn't gotten around to changing the bedclothes yet. But Ivan could almost appreciate the scene, which highlighted a certain primal beauty that only his human heart could recognize.
He edged over to the bed, carefully leaning over the baby so that he could press his lips to Shannon's head, his nose nuzzled against her hairline.
"Ours," he corrected, speaking with a reverence that suited the low shadows of the room. The walls loomed around them, thick with stucco and unadorned save for the solitary wooden cross over the headboard.
Shannon reached up a hand, her fingers slick with sweat, to touch the bundle. "You win," she said drowsily, for there had been a debate amongst the couple lately, Ivan asking for a girl, while his wife had wanted a son to name after her husband. The futility of their good-natured squabbling was exposed now, however. Ivan closed his eyes. He bent his head over Shannon and their daughter. The throb of life was forceful between them and he could hear a change in his breathe, a new beat to his heart as his soul adjusted to parenthood, to the achievement that had been the secret wish of his threadbare existence.
Suddenly, the world seemed thick with color and scent and promise. It was fresh and sparkling, like Eden on that first day, verdant with danger and a dazzling beauty that he thought might blind him. For his heart was already heavy with this new love. Ivan did not think he could bear the exquisite, almost torturous magnificence of it any longer.
"I want to name her Lucy," he said. His voice grated in the back of his throat. Ivan choked on emotion, on the tears that splashed down his face.
"I like Annabelle," Shannon said. Her lips curved in a tired smile. Red streaked the whites of her eyes like the thin veins of lightning that speared the Wastelands sky on those rainless, endless summer afternoons. "But she's your girl. She's what you wanted. Lucy…" Shannon played with the name. "Yours."
"Ours," Ivan mumbled again, although he knew she was right.
This child, his daughter, had somehow always been his.
"I won't lie," Shannon lisped. "She looks a lot like you." Her head came to rest on the very back of her pillow, her neck arched, the rhythm of her pulse exposed in her bare throat. In hectic candlelight her skin was stained the color of diluted blood. The satisfaction in her smile, the weary acceptance of her body's limitations, was taking her away from the waking world. Ivan could tell that his wife was desperately trying to stay awake in order to solidify and extend the first precious moment between them. She was fighting to keep her eyes open and yet loosing ground with each heavy sigh of her bosom.
"You'll stay with her, won't you?" Shannon asked in a child-like voice, maternal instinct softening and reshaping her sense of self even now. It was an ancient ritual, like the rising and falling of the great moon, a rhythm of earth and life and nature all bound into one as Shannon shed her girlhood and became a mother.
And she was all the more beautiful for it, Ivan thought, as he watched her eyelids droop, her breath exhaling gently through her dry, parted lips.
He kissed the top of her head lightly, even though he wished to gather Shannon into his arms along with his child and hold them to him until he was certain that he understood the miracle that he had been given, that he had received from God, because she was his.
As Shannon moved towards sleep, the nurse gently reasserted her presence in the room, coming between Ivan and the bed as she began to strip the soiled sheets. Ivan looked away. There was something intensely feminine in her actions. As a man, he knew there were certain mysteries he was not meant to understand, particularly the pain and struggle that accompanied birth, mingled with the frantic, overwhelming joy he had seen in Shannon's eyes as she labored.
Instinctively, Ivan wandered out of the room with Lucy still in his arms, leaving the nurse to fuss over his wife with her mother-henish solicitude. The sparse living room of his house blazed with light and warmth. He saw the doctor reclining in the rocking chair by the pot-bellied stove, his own weariness showing now that his work was done.
Grudgingly, Ivan cleared his throat to speak. He was by nature a quiet man, something Shannon never minded, and he had a habit of losing himself in prayer. Not fervently, like the wandering zealots who would sometimes appear in the back of their church and remain on their knees throughout the entire Mass, but with a thoughtful distance that separated himself from most men, even the parish priest.
The doctor seemed to understand this, but he still looked toward the new father expectantly.
Ivan lowered his eyes to Lucy, who, like her mother, was dozing. "Thank you," he replied, speaking with his whole heart, for he had heard tales of mothers who had labored endlessly and birthed babies that were born already dead. "Thank you for…" He trailed off. What could he say? What poor, dry words could describe his gratefulness, his true appreciation for what this man had done?
But the doctor seemed satisfied. He nodded as he went about cleaning his spectacles with his handkerchief. "All right, son," he muttered. "You just take care of your girls for me. Especially your little one. She's got something of her father in her, I think. More than what she has from her mother."
Ivan was oddly flattered although he knew he shouldn't be. Pride was a sin and he, of all men, had never been prideful. Balancing Lucy in his left arm, he extended his right hand. "Doctor," he said.
The doctor reached forward to grasp his fingers, but the sound of approaching motorcycles ruptured the moment. Ivan looked up. There were at least four bikes, one with a engine that growled and groaned and choked as it chugged up the uneven pathway to his house. The others hummed sleekly, a faint whir accompanying the rotation of their wheels over the dense, hard-packed sound. It was a sound Ivan could easily define, even though his memory told him he had heard it before. His nerves bristled even as he cradled Lucy closer. He felt as though a series of tiny electrical pulses were skittering down his body, making his flesh tingle in a way that was uncomfortable, but not unknown. In times like these, when the nights were long and haunted by the elephantine cries of hunting vampires, no man could sleep easy in his bed. Especially now, Ivan thought, glancing down at his daughter. Especially now.
The bikes were slowing and circling the front of the house so that he could see fitful flashes of their headlights through the thin curtains. Ivan looked at his long rifle perched over the sideboard. He could make it across the room in two strides, hand Lucy off to the doctor and load the weapon before the door was breached. For once, he was glad for his preternatural speed and strength, which had marked him as odd in the eyes of all his neighbors and the residents of his hometown, Augustine. Not being a prideful man, Ivan had never told everyone, not even his brother, that he was particularly adept at violence. Nor did he dare admit to anyone, maybe even to himself, that he liked it.
The bikes stopped. The engines clicked off. The silence outside was disturbed only by the hesitant shuffle of booted feet, the caution of hunters and predators alike.
But it wasn't any fanged carnivore that came for his family that night, only his brother Owen who stomped into the house, hat in his hand like he was intruding on something private and in a way, Ivan reasoned, he was.
He wanted to breathe a sigh of relief. He wanted to relax and given into that giddy sort of humor that comes with gazing at death and living to tell the tale. But Ivan saw that Owen was pale and sweating, his younger brother dazed and rattled and so clearly shaking in his boots that his own heart skipped a beat.
Something was wrong, he reasoned. Something had to be wrong, for no man was allowed to be this unjustifiably happy.
"I'm sorry," Owen was already apologizing. He had a nervous habit of swiping the side of his hand against his brow, his fingers tangling in the tuft of amber-colored hair that fell over his forehead. "I didn't mean to come by so late…with Shannon and…" He broke off and looked at his brother with a miserable sort of smile, gesturing wordlessly at the bundle of blankets in Ivan's arms.
"A niece," Ivan replied. He paused, and then added. "Shannon's doing fine. Sleeping."
"It was an easy birth, thank God," the doctor remarked.
Ivan was inclined to disagree, as he knew Shannon would.
Owen only laughed, a short, sparse sound that hissed through his teeth. "Never thought my gangly old milk-haired brother would make a father someday," he muttered, "but I'm so happy for you Ivan…and Shannon. Can't say I ever thought of myself as an uncle either…but…"
There was a beat of silence. The weight of Lucy's soft body pressing down into Ivan's elbow joints. He felt wretchedly possessive of his little one, holding her close to his chest, shielding her from the world that already seemed too large and too loud and too dangerous for any innocent to survive. But Ivan was far from innocent and he experienced an animalistic surge of pride, knowing that he would protect his daughter from all the predatory threats that loomed like shadows around his tiny house in the Wastelands. He had a family now, a proper family and it seemed as though his purpose in life had been rewritten. The aimlessness of his youth dissolved into robust maturity and responsibility. He had a lot to live for and even more that he would die for.
Owen was twisting his fingers in his forelock again, his dusty boots leaving vague footprints on Shannon's lavender braided rug. "The truth is," he said, "I didn't come out here just to take a look at my new niece, pretty sight that she is, though. There's some people rode into Augustine 'bout an hour ago. They're looking for you, Ivan. Wouldn't be satisfied till I brought them right out here to you."
Ice settled into Ivan's stomach, although he tried not to show it. While Owen was speaking, the doctor had risen stiffly from the rocking chair and walked over to the window.
"There's people on the porch," he said, plucking back the curtain.
And before he could finish, the front door was thrust open, heavy footfalls thundering over the threshold. Startled, Ivan took a step towards the bedroom, half-turning his body so that Lucy was blocked from the intruders. It was if the night had bled into the house. The figures were swathed in rough, black fabric, their heads covered by hoods, with only a glint of cold silver showing at their waists where steel rosary beads dangled against their knees.
"I tried to hold them off till morning," Owen croaked even as the strangers brushed him aside.
"Pardon me," the doctor fumed as he too was pushed away.
"We're looking for the man called Isaacs," the foremost figure announced.
Ivan was surprised to hear the voice of woman.
"Isaacs. Are you Isaacs?" She removed her hood with a gloved hand, revealing a badly scarred face and red hair pulled back into a sleek braid. There was an ash-colored cross tattooed to her forehead. At once, Ivan knew who the strangers were.
"I am Isaacs," he said, taking a step forward. He hesitated, for one moment, for one excruciating, seemingly endless moment, and then handed Lucy over to his brother.
Author's Note: A little retrospective on Priest's life before he was a Priest. The next installment will focus on Priest/Rebecca and then, afterwards, I'll finally explore Priest/Priestess's relationship. Should be fun. ^_^
Although I don't like to discuss my personal life, I'd like to ask for some prayers/good vibes for next week. On October 30th I'm scheduled for some major surgery to have a gastric pacemaker implanted that will (hopefully!) manage my gastroparesis, which is pretty severe. As a result, updates might be delayed as I recover, so I do apologize in advance for any delays. Thanks, guys! And thanks so much for reading! If you have some free time, please leave me a review. Feedback will certainly cheer me up when I'm in the hospital. Until next time, take care and be well!