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From Easter and all the way to Christmas, a great deal of change had taken place on Crockett island, the one place that they had all thought would remain untouched by the passage of time. 

 

It all started with the return of Monsignor Pruitt, and his unassuming wooden trunk.

 

No, Millie ponders, it started long before that, halfway across the world.

 

When John stumbled into the maw of the beast in a place which of all places should have protected him, there hadn’t been much he could have done, lost to the haze of delirium and dementia as he was.

 

When he woke, when he saw his hands, when he understood, John had a moment of weakness.

 

It seemed to be a miracle. A second chance. A blessing.

 

But his neck still ached, and he remembered the terror, and then the feeling of slipping away. With Millie in mind, with Sarah in mind, John faltered. He couldn’t do that to them, not without their knowledge. Much as he yearned, he could not play God.

 

John stared at the Angel, and the Angel stared back.

 

No offering was made, but a request was granted, in the form of the few, precious vials that he had brought back.

 

John had lied, of course he had; it would have been mad to confess who he was from the very start, when so few on the island who would recognise his young face lingered. 

 

And so, Father Paul Hill had begun leading daily mass, offering communion to the few faithful who would turn up.

 

And to one who could not.

 

Now, with her mind restored, the memories of that time remain fragmented, distorted, as if their recording in and of itself was mishandled. But even in that jumble, Millie recalls the moment of clarity she had when she first saw him again.

 

John hadn’t played God with the rest of the island, but he had done so for her, took her life in his hands and breathed it anew with each blessed mouthful of tainted wine.

 

Weeks passed, and “Monsignor Pruitt” did not seem to get any better.

 

Weeks passed, and Mildred Gunning made an impossible recovery, out of sight of everyone else.

 

Sarah had been baffled. Thankful that her mother was lucid once more, naturally, but understandably baffled - and wary, in the way she had always been a skeptic, her little scientist who wanted to know how things work, who always asked her for explanations.

 

This time, she’d have to find her own.

 

By the time Sarah drew blood samples, Millie had recovered enough to hold full conversations.

 

John, dear John who visited daily and brought her that blessed poison, stepped forth and told her everything - about his trip, about the wine, about having a second chance.

 

Neither of them yet knew about the fine print that came with their miracle, and so they carried on. Millie stopped needing glasses, and lost the grey in her hair, and soon enough seemed younger than ever Sarah.



It was around this time that her blood samples began to explode in the sun.

 

Millie saw the worry and doubt and manic disbelief in her daughter, and knew the time had come.

 

John came by, and they sat down, all three of them. 

 

They finally told Sarah who John was to her. The sting of being lied to seemed dulled, when George remained the father she’d always known, the father she’d always loved and had been loved by. She had never missed having John in her life. 

 

Beneath the natural doubt that had formed (her little skeptic, who doubted that this was Monsignor Pruitt even as she saw with her own eyes that her mother grew younger each day) Millie could see understanding dawn. Decades spent wasted looking across the church, as John had put it, not because he judged her, but because he couldn’t join her.

 

John made sure Sarah knew how proud he was of her. How much she loved her. How she wasn’t a sin.

 

It made for an awkward first few days as they fell into their new dynamic, no secrets left unspoken in their little family.

 

Every day John would visit with Millie’s mass, and every day he’d stay for dinner, catching up on lost time as he and Sarah got to know each other.

 

Next time Sarah’s girlfriend would visit, they hoped to meet her, even if they couldn’t be introduced as her parents - not without raising questions Sarah still raced to find answers to.

 

The blood samples continued to explode, both Millie’s and John’s, and even one precious sample from the wooden case that John readily parted with, but neither of them showed any side effects, any aversion to the light. 

 

Their daughter had wanted them all to go to the mainland, to find out what it was that had cured them, the answer to humanity’s illnesses coded in their veins.

 

It seemed it was also the answer to their mortality.

 

Before they could go, John collapsed during dinner. Millie held him, and in spite of resuscitation, Sarah had to declare him dead after a few minutes.

 

And then he drew in breath once more.

 

That night, and the next day after, were a blur to them all, as they realised the extent of the blood’s qualities.

 

They ran some tests, and time passed without Millie undergoing the same reaction. Sarah came to the conclusion that the reaction happened because John had overdosed on the blood, building up too much of it in his system.

 

Millie stopped taking the tainted wine. John started taking small vials that Sarah drew for him.

 

None of them knew what to do about his new reaction to sunlight.

 

John shifted the daily mass to the evenings, and brushed Beverly aside when she attempted to get even nosier than she had already been, suspicion in her eyes and the profile of a cult leader in her mind.

 

On Easter, when John revealed who he was, when Millie finally stepped out after years, when he gave the congregation the good and the bad of the blood he freely offered, John bluntly ignored Beverly’s attempts to twist this into the Will of God.

 

God may have provided the challenge (temptation felt too wrong a word given their cure and new time together, and chance felt too wrong a word given all they would endure in its wake), but it was up to each of them to decide what to do with it.

 

Sarah, as the doctor of the island, could not give her medical consent to ingesting the blood.

 

Still, in a small, carefully controlled and monitored dose under her supervision, Leeza healed and walked again. She suffered no side effects, even her blood sample remained unchanged aside from a few errant bubbles floating to the surface in the morning light.

 

Sarah herself refused to take any. As did most of the residents of the island.

 

And yet, they kept silent on the matter.

 

Crockett was a small community, and they looked after their own. Leeza could walk, Mildred Gunning was once again lucid, and Monsignor Pruitt had returned to them. None had taken the blood, though they rested confident in the knowledge that Pruitt’s door was always open, should they change their minds.

 

Why rock the boat, and involve the rest of the world, a world which had never cared for them? No. They cared for their own, and they wouldn’t spit in the face of this gift, this choice. Not when nothing had happened to them. 

 

Not when Leeza danced at their summer festival, sun in her hair and red in her cheeks to match those of Warren.

 

More months passed in this still-settling peace.

 

Sarah and Sheriff Hassan continued to consider letting the outside world know, but every time their hands stopped before touching keys on their phones, their feet stopped before they could step outside and towards the Belle or the Breeze.

 

Sarah had gained her mother back. Hassan could have gained his wife back. 

 

Neither of them could begrudge others this chance - paradoxical as it was, if they were to try offering it to more people on the mainland and across the world it seemed inevitable that the chance would be twisted, the doses would be mishandled accidentally or purposefully and they would have far too many people suffering as John was.

 

Sarah and Millie continued bringing him vials. They didn’t sate him, not fully and not for very long, but he was loath to take more. Above all else, John didn’t want either of them to suffer. Especially not for his mistakes.

 

Daily mass continued to be held after sundown, and the communion remained untainted.

 

Erin had her daughter, and Riley moved in with them. They had a sunset wedding during late summer, and John cried after he officiated the ceremony. He was still wiping happy tears away as he joined Millie during the party, and she did not miss the long look he cast at her ring finger.

 

Joe Collins gave up drinking. He continued to attend AA meetings with John and Riley.

 

After some words from John, the parents at the school were dissuaded from Beverly’s speeches, and Hassan no longer worried as much as Ali learned and explored various faiths, even taking him on trips to other religious establishments on the mainland. He still kept an eye on John, of course, and wanted Ali kept far away from the blood - but he had nothing to fear on that front. John himself wasn’t planning on letting anyone fall into the same pitfall he had fallen into.

 

It was late now, with the sun already fading, barely colouring the heavy grey clouds that had taken over the sky in a matter of hours. They had known a storm would be coming in, but Millie wasn’t going to leave John to starve. She put on a warm coat and wrapped a scarf around her neck, and began her trek to the rectory.

 

Sweet Sarah had worried, of course, but she was easily convinced and distracted. Especially since her girlfriend had joined them for the holidays.

 

Musing as she is over all that had transpired since John’s return, Millie is still no closer to a conclusion, to a resolution. Sometimes she wants to kiss him for giving them this extra time, unnecessary as it is, and sometimes she wants to kill him, for endangering them all this way.

 

Since they had discovered the full effects of the blood, they hadn’t spoken much about it, about what it meant for them. Not privately, anyway.

 

But now, with vials carefully secured in her bag, they just might have to.

 

Millie arrives on the doorstep of the rectory, and barely has time to knock once on the door before it opens. John’s senses are far sharper now; it should unsettle her that he can feel her heart beat, but instead it’s sweet, in a way.

 

“Hi,” John says, eyes soft and warm. “Come in, it’s cold.”

 

“Hello,” she greets back, stepping through the door as he moves aside. “Thank you.”

 

“Can I get you anything? A cup of tea?,” John asks as he helps her remove her coat and hangs it up, gesturing towards the couch with a tilt of his head.

 

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Millie follows him with her eyes, even as she sinks into the comfort of the blankets he had left on the seat. “The storm will be picking up soon. Do you need help boarding anything up?”

 

“I’m okay,” he says, giving her a boyish grin. “Really, I’m okay. This building’s held together through much worse.”

 

“I know, John,” Millie says, smiling back. “I still worry.”

 

To this he does not reply, though the corners of his eyes crinkle a little more. He returns with the cup and hands it over carefully, sitting next to her. Millie reaches over into her bag, and hands him the vials in return.

 

She doesn’t pretend she isn’t a little disturbed by how John’s eyes fixate on the vials, by how he rushes to tug one open, by how eagerly he consumes it, by the relief clear on his face.

 

Millie doesn’t bother to hide it from John, and John doesn’t bother to beat around the bush.

 

“It upsets you,” he guesses, a little uncertain.

 

“It does,” Millie agrees mildly, reaching up to tuck an errant curl behind his ear. “For your sake, it does.”

 

“I’m okay,” John says, and there’s that word again, okay.  

 

“Are you?,” she asks, her hand moving to grasp his own.

 

“I am. I’m okay.” A squeeze of her hand, warm and reassuring. “I guess you’re bringing me mass, now.”

 

It’s a poor attempt at making light of their situation, but she smiles anyway, and sips her tea.

 

“Have you decorated your tree? I don’t see it here,” Millie says instead, glancing around.

 

“It’s in the bedroom. I can show you,” he offers.

 

John stands up first, putting the remaining vials away, before helping her up and tucking her hand in the crook of his arm. It’s a comfortable, familiar motion, one he used to do when they would take long walks in the spring, hidden from prying eyes by the trees in full bloom near the rectory.

 

The parallel is not lost on him either, and she catches a flash of wistfulness in his eyes.

 

The tree isn’t much, but John preferred Easter over Christmas. Still, it’s a small thing, and he’s kept it alive and watered in its pot in the corner. Some fraying tinsel is strewn around its branches, and she squints as she recognises a couple of ornaments, banged up and faded. She had given them to him decades ago.

 

“It’s all I need,” he says, a little amused, and just a little bashful.

 

Millie sighs.

 

“Wait here,” she says, marching back towards the door and grabbing her coat and scarf along the way.

 

John frowns, unsure. “You don’t have to-”

 

He stops when she turns to give him a look. “Wait here,” Millie repeats, trying not to let her heart flutter when his arms grasp each other behind his back, his head bowed a little. “I’ll be right back.”

 

It’s not a very long journey, but it’s made more difficult by the biting chill. The storm will be upon them soon.

 

Sarah says as much when Millie gets home, but she helps her retrieve the box of ornaments anyway. She bids her mom to be careful, and to call if she is staying with John to wait it out. Millie kisses her forehead, tells her to have fun, and makes her way back to the rectory.

 

John is still looking lost, even as he takes the box.

 

“You didn’t have to do that,” he says, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders.

 

“It’s Christmas,” Millie says simply. 

 

They settle down on the floor, the tree between them, and work together to string up the lights they dig up from the depths.

 

Next are the ornaments. Millie is very particular about them, picking out a handful to join those already on the branches.

 

She hands him two of them. “Sarah coloured this one with crayons when she was three,” Millie says. “She glued bits of tinsel to this one when she was five.”

 

John handles them like precious things, as if they could melt in his palms. His eyes are glassy as she takes his hand and helps him add them to the tree.

 

Next, she hands him a foam gingerbread man. “She took it for the real deal when she was six.” The fracture is still visible in its torso, and John traces it with a finger. “Sarah insisted on gluing it back together herself.” 

 

“She was a doctor, even then,” John says, pride clear in his voice as the tears spill over.

 

There’s a few more - finally, the little star Sarah had made when Millie taught her to sew at age eight promptly goes on top of the tree.

 

“Thank you,” John says, the lights twinkling across his face.

 

“We can always make more for next year. We can always make new ones,” Millie says, reaching over to hold his hand. It’s the right thing to say - the smile which never strayed from his face breaks out into a grin, and for a moment, they forget about anything else, and press their lips together, soft and warm and as natural as breathing.

 

Like all moments, though, it passes.

 

“Can you forgive me?,” John asks, their foreheads pressed together.

 

It’s a loaded question. Forgiveness is often misunderstood as a free pass, as forgetting all that has happened. John knows better than that. Forgiveness is accepting the mistakes, it’s working together to acknowledge and move on.

 

“I already have.” The words leave her unbidden, and Millie realises how right they feel, how right they are as she hears them. 

 

John sucks in a breath like he’s been drowning, and the inhale stutters with relieved laughter. 

 

“Stay.” Not a question, but a plea, honest and open. “Stay, please.”

 

“I will,” Millie says, and leans her head on his shoulder. John's arm comes up around her, his fingers drawing patterns. 

 

She doesn't know how long they spend like that, but the storm finally hits, rattling windows and threatening to lift their roof and carry it away. 

 

Storms are common, and John was right, they have weathered much worse. But in this comfort, Millie allows herself to burrow deeper into his hold. 

 

Base needs make themselves known eventually. Her stomach rumbles, and John frowns, concerned. 

 

“I don't think I have anything prepared,” he says, stroking a finger down her cheek. “I'll make something.”

 

We'll make something,” Millie smiles, and helps him up. 

 

They make dinner for her with what's left of John's supplies, and then give a long look to the dusty recipe book they'd found in one of the drawers. 

 

“How about some cookies? Or gingerbread men?,” John offers. “I can't eat them, obviously, but you can have some. Sarah and her girlfriend too.”

 

Millie nods. “You can take some to Riley and Erin as well,” she says with a knowing smile. 

 

He lights up. “That sounds great.”

 

They work well together, pulling out ingredients and measuring and adding without bumping into each other. 

 

That's not to say they stay apart - John's arm rests on the small of her back as he helps her get something from a tall shelf. Millie wraps an arm around his waist as she leans in to read the recipe. 

 

It's comfortable. 

 

There's this lost look again, though, flashes of it that Millie doesn't like one bit. 

 

Out of the two of them, John has always been the playful one, but it doesn't mean she can't goad him into it. 

 

So she takes a little bit of the icing for the gingerbread and taps a dot onto his nose. Millie's heartbeat picks up when he goes cross eyed to look at her finger. He doesn't move away, trusting her to do as she likes. 

 

She does the same, trusting him even as she's sure her pulse is so loud he'd be deaf and blind not to notice. 

 

John doesn't disappoint. He retrieves and sips at another vial, but his focus is still on the icing, making no motion to remove it. “What's this?”

 

“What do you think it is?,” Millie says, and taps another dot of icing on his cheek. 

 

John looks indulgent and besotted as he mirrors her, tapping a dot of icing on her forehead. 

 

They amuse themselves with a gentle war, dots littering their faces by the time the trays come out of the oven. 

 

The dots remain there until the icing is done and the cookies and gingerbread have been packed away. 

 

John kisses the dot off her forehead. Millie kisses one off his cheek. 

 

It's slow going, and there's a reverence to it, a gratitude unspoken. 

 

John holds up a cookie for her. 

 

When the icing lingers on her lips, he kisses that off, too. 

 

“Stay,” he says. She nods, and puts on a record. 

 

Baby, It's Cold Outside may be a bit on the nose, given the unrelenting storm giving her the excuse to stay, but it's perfect when John's arms wrap around them and they sway softly to the tune. 

 

“I don't know what I would have done without you,” he says, chin atop her head. “What I would be without you.”

 

She dislodges him enough to look up at his face. “...I'm glad,” she admits. John knows it's not easy, not when he knows Millie was fine having her season. His eyes are glassy again. 

 

They smile at each other, still swaying. “You were never a sin, either,” John says. “You have to know that. You must know that. Never.”

 

Millie knows, but it's something else, hearing it said out loud. “It's always been love,” she says. 

 

John melts at that. “Pure love,” he agrees readily, conviction resting in his voice and eyes. “Every bit of it. God made us for each other, in his image. It's always been love.”

 

“It still is love,” Millie says. She's too old to feel timid about it anymore, not when they don't have to worry about anyone listening in. It still makes her heart race. 

 

“I love you,” John says. 

 

“I love you too,” Millie replies. 

 

They kiss, and it's as if no time has passed at all.

 

The storm rages on, but inside the rectory it's peaceful. There's nothing else but the two of them, an embrace anchoring them to each other, and love