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Secrets are Meant for Keeping

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By Elizabeth Rook's estimation, she’d been in the cage for four days. She wasn’t entirely sure since she had arrived unconscious. They had been providing her with the bare minimum to keep her functioning. Just enough food and just enough water to keep her going. To keep her alive. Classic techniques used to demoralize and control captives. To encourage compliance and complacency. It was practically textbook. She wondered if Jacob had the Quantico manuals.

Rook looked up through the bars at the clear Montana sky licking her chapped lips. At least it was summer. This arrangement would be hell in inclement weather. She looked over to the young man’s cage next to hers. He had laid down yesterday and hadn’t gotten up since. She would have thought him dead, if she hadn’t heard the occasional whimper. Her gut twisted with hunger. If he didn’t get his shit together, he wouldn’t make it. She sighed and leaned back against the bars facing inward, instead of outward towards the courtyard of St. Francis. She was weak. Hungry. Tired. Anything that happened now could be at her disadvantage in this state. She needed to remain alert. She knew at this point her best bet was to wait. Wasn’t there a song about waiting being the hardest part? Tick tock, tick tock

The cages that her and the other captives were housed in were ramshackle. She imagined if she really put forth the effort, she might be able to escape on her own. But would she have the strength to make it in the wild this depleted? Regardless, that would defeat the purpose. She was here for information. Observe, collect, report. Reporting had become a bit of a problem. But the information she collected now, could assist in her counter measures later. Especially extracting Pratt.

The Peggies had managed to disable all conventional means of communication outside of the county and her SAT phone was damaged beyond repair when they set her trailer on fire, along with most of her gear. Rook had been running by the seat of her pants since the helicopter crash. She’d had minimal time to establish her base of operations prior to that fucking idiot Burke coming in to serve his warrant. Marshals and FBI and CIA all pissing in each other’s jurisdictions led to messes. Messes like this one.

After day two Rook had mapped the rotations of the guards. By day three she had figured out what protocols they were operating under to break morale of the captives. Day four, today, she figured was when her audience with one Jacob Seed would occur. Tick tock, tick tock.

To be honest. She hadn’t intended to get captured. She’ll give them that. Their hunting party was very effective and took her before she was ready to be taken. But this kind of work required adaptation and evolution. So here she was adapting, getting her first taste of how Jacob ran his operations.

Rook looked to the sky, the sun had streaked the clouds with a fiery display. The last pale light in the west. Feeding time soon. She heard the sound of a chair being pulled across the gravel courtyard and set before her cage. The ease of a considerably sized man settling in. Tick tock, tick tock. Like clockwork.

She didn’t move from her resting place against the bars, but she did look over her shoulder. The man himself, Jacob Seed, sat in front of her cage. Relaxed and at his ease. One long leg tucked under the chair and the other sprawled before him, practically touching the cage. His leaned far back, almost in a slouch, with his hands folded across his flat stomach. Contemplating.
The sunset set his hair aflame as Jacob sat like that, quietly inspecting his latest acquisition with icicle eyes. Pity he was attractive. It was always easier when they were dull. Pratt stood behind him. His hands clasped before him and his head bowed. She caught a gleam of eyes on her before he cast them down again. Oh Staci, what had he done?

She closed her eyes and turned her attention back towards the opposite side of the cage. Staci was going to make it difficult for her to keep her temper. She’d always had an issue keeping that in check. Especially with bullies.

In her time in the county both Staci Pratt and Joey Hudson had taken her under their collective wings and she had become very fond of her temporary department. Well not Nancy. That backstabbing bitch was going to get hers if Rook had any say in the matter.

Neither deputy knew anything about her beyond her surface. A new deputy transfer to help with the workload of policing a very large tract of land. An immediate comrade in arms. She appreciated their open welcome. It made her job easier.

“Peaches.” Jacob drawled out. “What were you telling me about our Deputy here? That she was new to the county?” His voice was much better in person than over the degraded radio waves. Deep, every word spoken with purpose and weight. To bring about a desire result. She could definitely see why these Seed brothers ran a successful cult. Just their voices made you want to listen.

“Yessir” Pratt answered. Flat, lifeless.

“The file you pulled was a bit light. Kinda vague. Divorced parents. Both deceased. No family. Would have thought she’d have a larger career file at her age.” He spoke to Pratt as if he was reviewing the pedigree for a new bitch. All to elicit her reaction. Was he looking for the Wrath, his brother John accused her of? “She’s a bit too old to be straight out of the academy.”

Rook huffed. Somewhere between indignation and a laugh. She turned her shoulders to get a better look at him and Staci beyond. She wanted to see Staci’s face. To see what he had told Jacob about her. If it was written in his expression. He looked pained, but she was 90% sure he hadn’t spilled any secrets he shouldn’t have had in the first place.

Once Rook moved, opening up her attention to Jacob, he leaned forward, pulling his outstretched leg under him and rested his elbows on his knees. Hands lightly clasped and head bowed. His fatigue jacket stretching across his back, scarred forearms heavily muscled. He was a big dude. And he moved like he could handle himself. He could be a problem. Without looking up he addressed her directly for the first time,

“Peaches here says you’ve got top marks when you went through your orientation with Hope County. Perfect written scores, exemplary physical performance. Nice ass too from what he says.” Jacob looked up through his lashes without raising his head to gage her reaction. On anyone else it would have looked flirtatious and coy. On him it looked, predatory. What was he looking for? Any embarrassment? Guilt? Confirmation? She shrugged. He continued on,

“Easy to work with. Friendly, yet reserved. Shy maybe?” he paused searching her face. “Hmmmmm” he hummed deep like he just discovered a tasty tidbit. His voice reverberating in his chest causing the hair at the nape of her neck to prickle He turned to look over his shoulder at Pratt “No, not shy, huh Peaches?”

Pratt shook his head without looking up. “No sir” Now HE sounded guilty. Well Staci did tell Jacob about THAT apparently. Was he doing it to get under her skin or Staci’s. Annoying.

Rook turned the rest of her body around to face Jacob squarely. Slow and controlled. Meeting calculating gaze with calculating gaze. She had a sneaking suspicion Jacob Seed was able to suss out more than she was comfortable with. Beyond her mutually beneficial arrangement with Staci. Jacob was the type of man to already have the answers to the questions he asked. Again, annoying.

This was not good. She got the uneasy feeling that she was looking at a man who could definitely be a problem. He turned back to her, his head tilted contemplatively to the side.

“You’re not these hick’s type.” Staci made a choking noise. “So, what’s a super cop like you doing in backwoods place like this?” He smiled at her wolfishly. He definitely knew how to look at a girl. Like he could lay her bare in that gaze. She felt her body start to heat. The air became heavy. If she had a spidey sense it would be tingling for sure. Screaming “DANGER WILL ROBINSON.”

She blinked owlishly at him, what the fuck was he after? He moved from his chair, coming closer. Closing the distance and dropped to his haunches with a pop in his knees. Rook felt the metaphorical ice thinning beneath her. His eyes searching her face. She looked up into them, God how were they so blue? The sunset glinting off his ginger hair and the deep shadows providing his scarred face some relief. They say the Devil is handsome. Hunger was making her loopy. Focus Rook!

“How long have you been active kitten?” His soft tone and casual pet name threw her for a step. She had to scramble fast. When in doubt, be obtuse.

“What? Like sexually?” she scoffed and from the corner of her eye she saw Staci’s head shoot up before quickly dropping. “That’s none of your damn business.”

Jacob tsked, disappointed. And dread rushed in and the edges of her vision grayed, but her face stayed the same, with her mock indignation.

“You and I both know, that’s not what I mean. Let me make this plain.” He said leaning in to bore his eyes into hers. “You show up in Hope County three months ago. You have an unremarkable personal file, that is conveniently lacking in any career details. Yet somehow you can handle heavy artillery that even SWAT wouldn’t have their hands on, demolitions, boy do you seem to have a knack for that” he chuckled companionably, “You show obvious training in counter intelligence, highly successful in covert infiltration,” his voice hardening with each word. “and you can fly both a turbo prop fighter plane and a fixed rotor, which I am to believe, according to your file, you have no training for, in addition to a fucking wingsuit and low opening base jumps and air drops. That’s a serious learning curve, even for a natural talent.”

Jacob paused to gauge her reaction to these revelations. Jesus fucking Christ he knew. There was no way he could know, but he KNEW.

She looked stone faced back at him. In retrospect, her not immediately being captured or perishing like the rest of her department wasn’t exactly good for her cover. And she hadn’t been exactly subtle laying waste on her way north. In for a penny in for a pound.

“I play a lot of video games.”

He threw his head back and barked out a genuine laugh. It makes his face soften into true handsomeness and Staci winces. He is dangerous she repeats to herself.

“Oh kitten!” He chuckled and fast as lightening his face hardens again and his hand lashed out grabbing a fistful of her dirty hair.

Rook grunted, but refused to squawk as he drags her face to the bars, mere inches from his. Her eyes darting back in forth across his face. Looking for an indication of his next move. His breath soft across her face. She wasn’t sure if it was her deplorable condition, but he somehow smelled good this close. Like cigars and smoky whiskey and clean man. It’s crazy what sleep deprivation and starvation would make you focus in on during a stressful situation.

“I’ll ask this in a way that I think your spook head might understand. How long have you been Operational?”

“Long enough.” She responds honestly. Why bother lying now?

“Good, this will make it more rewarding when you heel.”

Chapter Text

Rook was jarred from her restless sleep by a loud metal clang. Two of Jacob’s soldiers were dragging her neighbor out by his ankles. His head lolling to the side. It appeared he had unfortunately succumbed to his despair.

Rook had expected her adventure with Jacob Seed to have moved on from her first encounter. After his unsettling revelation and dark promise she was left alone. For two days. On the second day, it started to rain. Sure she’d been fed and watered like any good livestock, but no more visits, no protection from the elements. No warmth. No new information. This was not part of Hostage Management 101. They had severely deviated from the textbook. At this point, they should have done something with her. She was on shaky ground. She could feel her body weaken, her mind slower and her chances to move the situation in her favor shrinking.

As if the gears of her head were grinding at an audible frequency, one of the soldiers looked at her taking exception to her scrutiny.

“You’ll be next girly if you don’t learn your place. Only the strong survive!” His eyes alight with a feverish fanaticism as he spit the words around yellowed teeth.

“Eat a dick weirdo.” Rook huffed around her parched lips. Even in her weakened state she couldn't leave well enough alone.

“What did you say to me.” The Peggie dropped his end of the load, eliciting a squawk from his partner as he was left with the entirety of the dead weight.

Rook had an idea. How good of a one was debatable. If she forced the issue, she could cause enough of a ruckus and move the ball up the court so to speak. Force Jacob to make his next move ahead of any schedule he had. Maybe even escape. Sharky and Hurk had to be searching by now. She had missed her rendezvous time. But, she also knew Jacob wasn’t dumb. That he wouldn’t leave a resource like her languishing for too long. He would be formulating plans and if she accelerated his time table, maybe she could control it.  

Rook stood up and rolled her shoulders before grasping the bars, leaning in and rasping.

“I said what I said Cleetus.”

Rook stumbled back from the bars and the Peggie lunged towards her, grasping. Okay, maybe she should reassess. This was definitely not one of her best ideas.

“I’ll show you what it means to respect your betters girly. You’re just fucking meat until Jacob makes you otherwise.” Rook backed from the gate, giving herself some space to maneuver as the soldier fumbled for his keys, wrenching the door open hard enough to shake the line of cages.

This was probably, definitely a bad idea. God, she hoped she had enough juice to keep this idiot busy before someone put a stop to this and alerted Jacob or she made her escape. Thankfully his buddy didn’t seem as spicy as this fucker.

Cleetus stalked forward. His movements powerful, but sloppy. In her prime this guy would be a piece of cake. Clearly underestimating her as he moved forward with the purpose of “teaching her a lesson.” But Rook was decidedly NOT at her prime. She was going to have to get creative and maybe a bit desperate.

“C’mon big boy.” She wheezed urging him to be rash and rush her. He continued stalking forward in a controlled manner. Welp, that didn’t work. He had better discipline that she had hoped. He closed the distance and squared up to her, lunging first to grab her wrist and draw her near. Rook dodged back, slapping his hand away as she swept around him causing him to stumble forward and past her. With his back to the inside of the cage and hers now to the door, this was her chance. This time he feigned left than right, Rook’s instincts telescoping his moves. He was better than she anticipated. She bobbed and wove as she quickly spun on her heel in the muddy cell darting for the open gate. But in her weakened state she was a fraction of a second too slow with his open hand snatching into her hair. Fuck.

Cleetus dragged her back against his chest as he wrapped his other arm around her waist attempted to lift her off the ground and throw her deeper into the cage. Rook was no wilting flower, even depleted. At 6 feet tall and 170 lbs she was the size of most of the men she dealt with. As he used all his strength to pick her up she flailed backwards driving her head into his face, putting them both flat on their backs in the mud. Cleetus squarely smashed under her. The air exiting his body in a strangled puff. His partner had abandoned his load and dashed into to assist his cohort.

“Dammit Jimmy, you’re going to get us whipped.” Cleetus Number Two’s voice panicked.

Rook scrabbled to her hands and knees, while Jimmy, she guessed, relearned to breath and used the last of her strength to mow over Cleetus Number Two on her single-minded mission to get out that fucking door. This brief scuffle had taken more out of her than she thought. She had less to give. At this point, any previous plan, however bad, to cause a distraction was abandoned in favor of an even worse plan. Make a run for it.

Rook’s vision tunneled down as she threw herself out the door before the two blithering idiots behind her got their feet under them. As she cleared the metal, feet pounding for all she was worth she slammed into a solid wall of flesh, bouncing off and landing squarely on her ass.

Well this was a certifiable clusterfuck. Rook looked up into the flat eyes of Jacob Seed. Back to Plan A.

Jacob’s expressionless face peered down at her. Hard planes and devoid of any hint of his thoughts. His arms folded across his broad chest. A tick jumped in his jaw.

 “Now that I have your attention.” She wheezed as she fell flat on her back, all fight draining from her. “I’d like to file a complaint with management regarding my accommodations.” Her eyes searching his face.

Ah, there it was. A sparkle in his eye. Either amusement or rage, she couldn’t tell, but something. She had him now. Jacob squatted down near her head, speaking softly for a man so large

“If you’re so eager to get to work.” He tilted his head as he swept her mucked up hair from her face. “You should have just said so.” He rose with a fluidity she was instantly jealous of from her place in the mud.

“Peaches.” He barked, his baritone voice deep. “Pick this pup up and let’s see what she’s really made of.”

Staci hustled over, sliding his big hands under Rook’s armpits, hoisting her to a seated position as she scrambled to find purchase with her feet in the mud. He continued to drag her up with ease until her feet were underneath her and she was leaning against him for balance. She had forgotten how strong the lanky deputy was. He pulled her along as Jacob spun on his heel and walked away. Confident they would follow.

She peered into Staci's face for the first time since their capture as they shuffled forward in Jacob's wake. She was horrified with what she saw. Gone was the laughing, puckish demeanor. His eyes and cheeks sunken in from his weeks in Jacob's care. He was leaner, stronger, but wounded. Physically and mentally. His essence was hollowed out from the man she knew. He was a shell. Harder and tempered to Jacob's will.

“Jesus, Staci, what has he done to you.” She reached to touch his scabbed over face as he jerked back. Like her touch would burn him. 

"Please don't." he wheezed.

“Peaches!” Jacob opened the door to one of the rooms inside the center. “Put her in the chair and lets get this party started.”

Rook dug her heels in, using whatever she had left in the tank to resist. 

"Staci, no! I don't want to hurt you." Rook hissed at war with her desire to protect Staci from harm and every nerve screaming to get out. 

He lifted her to her toes and shook her once with more force than she though capable of. He whispered for only her to hear.

“Please be good, please be good, please be good.” His eyes frantic and brighter than she'd seen them since this started.

“He’s going to test you. You have to be strong. You have to survive. Please… please.” Staci hissed as he squeezed Rook’s biceps hard enough to bruise. “You. Have. To. Survive.”

Staci dumped Rook into the only open chair in a room with three other civilians. All of them filthy, and weak and scared. One woman wept openly and loudly. Images of wolves devouring deer flashed across the impromptu film screen set against the wall. The room lit in red. Staci's touch was gentle as he tightened the leather straps in contrast with his treatment of her moments before. Lizzie, she said to herself. What the fuck did you get yourself into this time?

Rook bucked against the restraints as they tightened down. Jacob barely touched Staci's shoulder to push him aside and the younger man looked like he'd been electrocuted as he leaped out of the way. Jacob approached her. His whole body oozing menace, leaning into her personal space as he bracketed her with his hands on either arm rest. His features bathed in red as he searched her face. He looked much the same as when she first saw him. Dirty jeans, military fatigues jacket rolled to his elbows exposing scarred, muscular forearms. Sculpted lips and a well constructed face marred by scars and life.

"Hello again handsome." She quipped flippantly. Trying to keep her raging emotions in check. This was not going well for her.

Jacob's mouth quirked as he hummed a response. The muscled in his forearms coiled as he dragged her chair closer to him and the screen. Never breaking eye contact. 

"Well kitten, you've force my hand." he settled back on his haunches at eye level with her. Hands hanging casually between his knees. Side arm strapped to his hip. Knife strapped to his thigh. He looked completely relaxed his demeanor at odds with his whole aesthetic of violence and this freak show room.

"I had hoped we could have eased into this. Maybe shared some stories and bonded over the necessity of," he waved his hand vaguely around the room, "all this. But your little stunt and your friends in the resistance have made things...hmmm... difficult." the word sounded like a growl as it left his lips. His voice coiling through her. "And we're going to have to do this the quick and dirty way. But you're strong." his smile wolfish "You'll do fine with this little trial." Jacob patted her knee affectionately and rose with a huff of effort.

Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a little wooden box. Casually winding the dial. One of the men strapped to a chair began to keen in panic.

"I'm sure you're a survivor kitten. So let's see you survive." Jacob opened what Rook now recognized as a music box, and for the first time since the whole debacle started, Rook was actually afraid. This was so much worse than they thought. So much worse than a simple cult. These people were building an army from the shattered remains of regular people. And she had fallen right into the thick of it. 

Chapter Text

The overhead florescent bulb buzzed on such a low frequency, Agent Rook wasn’t quite sure if she was hearing it or feeling it in her fillings. She dragged her attention back to the manila folder in front of her. Black and white photographs, satellite imagery in grainy clarity stared back. She had spread the documents out in front of her. Sorting through pictures, maps, collected data.

Articles from the Georgia Bar Association written by one John Seed. Reference to a dismissed DUI charge. Religious pamphlets published by a Father Joseph Seed for the Project at Eden’s Gate. Mug shots of a young Jacob Seed. Arson, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, later US Army photos of a man turned out in his dress uniform being pinned with a medal. Decorated military career with several tours, honorable discharge. Rook shuffled more. Several photos of a woman named Faith Seed. Sister? No early documentation was included. Each photo looked similar, but different. Rook’s brows drawing together. Are these the same woman? She peered closer. Rook jerked her head up as the conference room door opened.

Deputy Director Anderson cleared his throat as he sat down opposite her in the featureless room. His bland pressed suit to go with his bland pressed face.

“Agent Rook, good to see you again. How’s the leg, your shoulder?” Rook had known Anderson for years. Watched his career skyrocket as his ambition and lack of scruples made him an Agency darling. Small talk was not his strong suit though. Rook felt a phantom muscle tick at the mention. Get shot and stabbed and no one lets you forget. Nice of him to set the tone from the get go.

“Well. Thank you, sir.” Rook maintained eye contact, rolling her shoulders in her equally bland navy suit to ease the twitch.

“Good, good.” He hummed dismissing the pleasantries. “Have you had a chance to review the memo on this operation?”

“Yessir.” Rook gestured to the array of documents spread out in front of her. “If I may, this a domestic operation against a cult? Doesn’t seem like our wheelhouse.” Anderson may be her superior, but she had more field time. She wasn’t a fledgling agent, he was just better at playing the politics.

Anderson cleared his throat again. “Very astute.” He said dryly. “This is a wholly domestic operation in a region of Montana called Hope County. Falls under the jurisdiction of the Helena field office. Deep cover observation of a potential religious militia cult, Project at Eden’s Gate.”

“Montana religious militias sir? Wouldn’t this be the jurisdiction of the Marshals or FBI?” Rook questions. Anderson glances her way out of the corner of his eye. The message clear to shut the fuck up and listen.

Anderson powered up the flat screen on the wall displaying a topographical map of the western edge of Montana.

“This operation is of particular interest to national security. Our agents in the Helena field office have been monitoring the reports coming out of the Hope County Sheriff’s office and further to the US Marshal’s office in Missoula with increasing concern.”

Anderson zoomed into a craggy portion of the topo map showing a wide valley cut with ribbons of rivers and a large lake surrounded by the massive Rocky Mountain peaks. Remote and hard to access.

““We’ve heard whispers the Project is forming their own sovereignty with the acquisition of armaments, supplies, personnel, not to mention the cultivation and manufacture of highly psychotropic drugs. Current intelligence puts this Project at Eden’s Gate cult financially on the level of the Mexican cartels. Naturally, we have no validation of these claims for the FBI to act against on a formal level. We haven’t tracked down their funding, but it appears to be immense with their agents purchasing large tracts of land.” Anderson clicks the next slide showing three obvious Cold War facilities. “Including three decommissioned nuclear silos. That we can prove.” He sighed

 “This still seems like an FBI issue, sir. I’m struggling to see how this is in the CIA purview.” Rook persisted.

Anderson pointedly looked at her over the rim of his glasses. Clearly, she was too stupid to understand to just do her job.

“Hope County is also a safe house location for Willis Huntley’s Russian nuclear physicist defector.” Rook sat back in her chair. Oh. “The religious publications of Joseph Seed contain enough allusions government collapse and nuclear fallout that it would be prudent to ascertain the threat. Which is why we’re casting our hat into this. Involving a domestic entity would potentially expose the asset.”

Willis Huntley was something of a universally known prick among the field agents. He had landed some amazing assets, but was also like a tephlon coated piece of shit. Nothing stuck to him and he seemed to weasel out of any actual work or danger. It was no surprise that he would have stiffed someone else with cleaning up a mess that should rightfully be his. Someone like her, who had a few asses to kiss if she wanted to advance.

“We need a dedicated, low profile resource on the ground to assess the risk the Project at Eden’s Gate and the Seed Family poses to national security. This could be nothing more than another David Koresh situation and the FBI can mop that up, but if they’re dealing in international intelligence, we’ve got a whole new set of fucking problems.”

“Indeed.” Rook folded her hands on the table. “And what parameters do you want me operating in?”

“Estimated duration to be six months of deep cover within the local law enforcement. Arrangements have been made for a,” Anderson air quotes “”New Deputy” in the Hope County Sheriff’s office. You will operate in the capacity of a junior deputy for the department for the period of your operation. Anticipate the potential of extension dependent upon the information gathered. You will be assigned a handler in Helena that you will report to via secure satellite com link every two weeks Sunday at 8pm sharp. Should information become available that proves these rumors, you will submit an emergency broadcast on a secured channel with secured equipment and await immediate evac at Lansdowne Airstrip located to the northwest of the county.”

“Is…” Rook shifts through the documents. “Sheriff Whitehorse appraised of this operation?” Rook asked.

“Negative Agent. This is a need to know operation, with the current team list consisting of myself, the Director and his immediate staff, and your handler Evan Sharpe. Your objective is to observe this cult, the people of this region, and ascertain who is funding the Project and how. Additionally you are to identify any risk to the Russian asset, but under no circumstances are you to engage.”

“Pardon my naivety of the situation sir, but wouldn’t a LEO or authoritarian presence preclude my access to such information?” Rook was always asking the annoyingly direct questions.

Anderson grunted. “Under normal circumstances, I would say yes, but our analysts are showing an uptick in recruitment from government positions for this “church” as they try to consolidate real estate and local influence. This is like the Rajneeshees on crack. Literally, if the rumors are to be believed about their drug operation.” Anderson took a deep breath. Now to let the other shoe drop.

“I apologize in advance for this Agent Rook. Due to the sensitivity of the situation and the direction we have received from the Oval Office, your involvement as a U.S. Government agent for this operation will not be recognized should your cover be blown and any emergency extraction will have to be on your own. This is a black op.”

Rook looked up from the file, eyebrows raised.

“Pardon sir?” Rook could not keep the incredulousness from her voice.

“For all intents and purposes Elizabeth.” Anderson using her given name for a personal connection. He was an absolute reptile. ”You’re just a regular, everyday small town cop for the next six months. The Agency is currently not authorized by Congress for domestic operations of this nature. But we’ve always asked for forgiveness instead of permission when national security is concerned. I have every confidence that this is a fact-finding mission and will be a great stepping stone for your return to full operational status in the European theater again.” Anderson spread his hands in a conciliatory manner.

And there was the bait. Full operational status. Rook had been sidelined since the incident last fall. Scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours. Rook was used to the manipulations, being told to jump and how high. Often enough it didn’t conflict with her own personal feelings enough for her to want to dig her heels in, but holding her career hostage was a new low. Even for Anderson.

Anderson taps the table as he begins to rise. He knows she’ll cooperate before she’s even said yes and that needles. But he knows how to read a situation. That’s why he’s where he is.

“I will leave you with the dossier to familiarize yourself with your targets. We expect the first month or two of your station to be by the books to establish your rapport with the locals. Try and blend in and get friendly. We want people to want to talk to you Agent.”

Rook rose from her seat as Anderson did.

“Get a bag packed and you’re on the next flight to Helena. Rendezvous with Sharpe before driving into Hope County. Good luck Elizabeth.” Anderson extends his limp fish hand and Rook looks at it for a moment before accepting it. Full. Operational Status. She repeated in her head.

If she had known how much action this operation was going to entail, she might have stayed on desk duty indefinitely and let Huntley handle his own shit.

Chapter Text

The overhead florescent bulb buzzed on such a low frequency, Rook wasn’t quite sure if she was hearing it or feeling it in her fillings. Had she been here before? Everything was fuzzy and thick with what must be the last vestiges of a rather large Bliss dose. The coiling feeling of fog easing through her senses wasn’t keeping the pain from slowly seeping in.

She was on her stomach, face down. Body a dead weight... Her shoulder. She could definitely feel her left shoulder.

Rook groaned as she began to claw her way back to consciousness. She tried to open her eyes, feeling like they were cemented shut. Move! Her instincts screamed. Staying still was dangerous.

“Hnngh.” She opened her gummy eyes and the effort was exhausting. “Where, am I?”

“Hold her. The Bliss is wearing off and Jacob was very specific about keeping this one functional.” Rook could hear a voice she didn’t recognize. She wasn’t alone, but she couldn’t see them. Her eyes sluggishly roaming the room. She was in a clinic? Medical equipment was strewn across the tray in front of her face. Bloody gauze and utensils. She started to push herself up.

“I’m very fucking aware of that.” Another voice barked back as a hand rested heavy on good shoulder. Pushing her back down. “Easy, Liz. Just a few more stitches.” Rook knew that voice. Staci.

She could feel the rhythmical tug now. Stitch. Stitch. Stitch.

“Okay, Staci.” She slurred.

“Just because you’re Jacob’s dog, doesn’t mean you get to bark at me boy.” The first voice shot back. Stabbing the needle in with a little more force than necessary.

Rook sucked air through her teeth as the burn began to set in.

“Back off, Harris. This “dog” would love to tear you to shreds. The Herald put me in charge of seeing her restored to the ranks. If you damage her further, you’ll have to answer for it.” 

Staci stood over her as the medic grumbled and continued to work. Each prick of the needle chasing away the green edges to her vision. Pain was doing wonders for clearing her mind. Her eyes darted around the room. She was definitely on a gurney in a clinic somewhere being stitched up. If Staci was here, then Jacob was not far. What had she been doing? Was she trying to escape? For the life of her she couldn’t remember the details. Only phantom twitches of muscle memory and the very real physical manifestations of whatever actions she participated in being tended to on her back. The more she dug for them the more they slipped through her metaphorical fingers. A training session of some kind. One. Two. Three. Move. Move. MOVE! Jacob’s voice sliding through her skull like a second consciousness.

She was being groomed for something. She knew that she had been put through conditioning trials. Even if she couldn’t remember the details. You’ve seen this before. You’ve done this before. Did that history make this easier or harder? Her own clandestine training screaming all the warning bells and she had been powerless to stop it. 

She felt one final, solid tug as the Peggie medic snipped the thread and began to tape down the bandage.

As Rook woke up fully. She remembered this wasn’t the first time she’d been stitched up. She’d been shot before. Had taken an arrow to her leg. Her memory was a fuzzy dream of brutal action but if she was asked to describe it, she couldn’t. The fucking Bliss was no joke.

 “Can you sit up?” The medic asked as he stepped back and pulled his medical gloves off with a snap.

“Yeah. Yeah I’m good.” Rook shook off the last of the Bliss fog as she pushed herself up with a groan. She felt like she’d run a marathon while being chased by rabid wolves. For all she knew she had. Everything hurt.Rook swung her legs around and eased herself down with a hiss. Her shoulder wasn’t the only thing that was going to be sore. Maybe move a little more gingerly next time.

“Don’t’ fuck up my work. I’m not going to be blamed if you reopen your wounds.” The medic warned as he began to clean up the supplies.

“She’s tougher than she looks Harris.” Staci grasped her elbow to steady her. His grip firm and warm.

She glanced out the corner of her eye at him. He still looked like shit, but out of Jacob’s immediate presence he stood taller and with more confidence. Speaking to the medic with authority. A sharp contrast to the submissive demeanor he used in Jacob’s company. Staci pulled Rook around and held her at arm’s length taking in her appearance. Whatever he saw seemed to be satisfactory and he maneuvered her out of the room without a backwards glance.

Staci pulled Rook along a dark corridor of the veteran’s center, reminiscent of the last time she saw him. Before whatever happened, had happened.

“Where are we going Staci?” Rook asked as she tried to collect her thoughts, pulling the tatters of her flannel shirt back up her shoulder to little success. Her bra strap had been cut so that Harris could work, and the whole arm was missing from the shirt, but her modesty was reasonably intact. Upon further inspection both the shirt and her jeans were stiff with blood. Hers? Others? Both? Probably both.

“He’ll want to review your progress. You survived. You did well. This is good.” Staci said not relinquishing his hold on her good arm.

There was no need to define who “he” was as Staci pulled her towards another wing of the Veteran’s Center. This part of the facility was much tidier than the outside cages. Crates stacked and organized with the Peggie cross sprayed across them. They passed by rooms with barrack style bunks. Beds neatly made. Workshops and armories outfitted like a military base. The more she saw the more she realized. This wasn’t small time. This wasn’t casual arms dealing. If such a thing could be casual. This was a fully outfitted operation. Jacob Seed was building an army for his brother. Not a rag tag militia of angry religious fanatics, but an organized, trained military force.

She had a sneaking suspicion that his recruits started out in the cages and those that survived their training, and the drugs and the abuse were so broken mentally and spiritually that they would do whatever they were told to survive. Ride or die to the extreme. Which explained the seemingly never-ending supply of Peggies for her to shoot at. They always just keep coming. She had to get out of here and find a way to contact Evans. They had cut most forms of communication, but if she could find a sat phone…

Rook hazarded a glance at Staci. She had only moments to say her piece before she was dragged before Jacob again.

“Staci.” She hissed. He continued to pull her along doggedly. “Staci!” She tried to pull her arm from his grip, her shoulder muscles protesting. Staci stopped, turning to look at her as if he was surprised she was still there.

“We gotta run. I can escape, but I don’t want to leave you behind. I can help you. You have to help me.” Her eyes searched his battered face.

Staci’s eyes widened as his gaze darted around the empty hallway. Panic clear on his face as he dragged her before him. His grip like a vice on both shoulders, squeezing her stitches painfully. His nose inches from hers as he hissed a ragged response.

“Don’t ever say that again. Not out loud. Not here. Not now.” He gaze on a level with hers. Her eyes wide. Rook had no idea how to respond. Was he afraid to leave? Did he think they wouldn’t make it? Was he actually Jacob’s dog like the medic accused him?

The Staci she had known was never this intense. This hard and fearful. She didn’t know how to maneuver with this version of him. Whatever shock he saw in her face satisfied him and with a nod to himself he turned and pulled her along again.

“Not now.” He repeated as he turned on his heel and continued with her down the hall.

Staci pulled her through the rabbit warren of hallways before stopping in front of a closed door. There were no windows or any indication of what would be on the other side. She steeled herself for another testing room, another cage, another horror of some kind.

Staci raised his hand and rapped twice and was responded to with a muffled “Enter.”

Staci turned quickly to her, his eyes boring into hers with an intensity bordering on angry.

“Behave.” He hissed and a fraction of a second later he added softly, “please” before opening the door and ushering her in.

Rook cultured her face to be blank. No shock. No emotion. No pain. No nothing. She had to be ready for anything.

The plain wooden door opened to a large office with a set of French doors opposite. These were currently open, letting in the evening breeze and the distant howls from the courtyard beyond. Easy ingress and egress. Exposed. Arrogant. Potentially useful.

Rook’s eyes darted back and forth, taking in everything she could as fast as she could. Cataloging the details and information for later use. This must be Jacob’s personal war room. Against one wall hung maps and cork boards littered with notes and photos. Radio and jamming equipment strewn across the tables. Maybe he had a sat phone. Against the opposite wall was what appeared to be Jacob’s personal arsenal hung over a work bench. Red framed compound bow, red .50 cal sniper rifle, red D9 side arm. Interesting personal touch with the color. A double bed tucked into the corner and a small efficiency kitchen. It appeared Jacob ate and slept his mini war in this room.

Staci brought her before the desk and relinquished his hold before stepping back. Leaving her to stand alone. Rook glanced over her shoulder at him. His hands clasped before him, his head bowed. All his prior vibrancy bled from him as he made himself as invisible as possible in front of Jacob. Staci wasn’t afraid of the Peggies. Staci was afraid of Jacob.

Rook snapped her attention back to the man seated at the desk in the center of the room. His red head bent over folders and reports. Shuffling through papers pointedly ignoring her. She could stare him down for just a long as he could ignore her. It also gave her the opportunity to study him. Something she wasn’t sure if he was consciously allowing, or just a by product of his silent power play.

He looked out of place behind a desk. A man of action not of paper and pens. His jacket was rumpled and stained with blood. But it wasn’t his. His face smudged with dirt. His hair had fallen in front of his forehead covering some of his scars as he continued to read. He had been active. Recently. And hadn’t bothered to clean himself up before settling down to more mundane business. Like all the Seed siblings he was very handsome, even scarred, but in stark contrast to his little brother John, he didn’t seem to care. Unlike Joseph he wasn’t going to use his baby blues to charm.  It didn’t serve a purpose for his war making. She wouldn’t be able to play to any vanity here. Appeal to any softness. Blatant manipulation he would see through immediately. His contained violence appealed to her. It was something she understood well, it was a personality trait for someone in her line of work. Under different circumstances he would have caught her eye across some dark, seedy bar. Someone dangerous. Someone challenging. Too bad these weren’t different circumstances.

He made a few notations with a red pen. Of course. The silence thick.

She wanted to start a dialogue. To get him talking so she could get information. Learn what made the Seeds, this particular Seed tick. She needed information. But in this little game, she couldn’t make the first move. He had to feel like he had the control. Rook stood for a solid minute and a half watching him work with only the shuffling of papers breaking the silence. For most people that would feel like an eternity, but Rook was patient. She stood quietly hands resting at her sides. Weight evenly distributed and ready. Never fidgeting. Never looking away.

Another minute ticked by before Jacob looked up. His head still canted downward over the desk but his icy blue eyes suddenly snapped up, a bright contrast to his dirty face and tousled hair. He looked for everything like a Viking marauder. A blue-eyed wolf. His full attention suddenly fixed on her and it actually felt heavy. His affinity for the animals seemed only logical with such a predatory gaze.

Without saying a word, Jacob rose to his feet. His metal chair scrapped back from the desk, horrifically loud after the heavy silence. His eyes never leaving Rook, he moved around the desk to stand between it and her. His size looming over her before he leaned back against the cluttered desk, arms crossed before his chest and legs kicked out in front of him. The sudden scrutiny oppressive after being ignored. He was so very good at this intimidation game. Using his size to crowd her. Looking for her to flinch. To Crack. His eyes darted over her face and down to her exposed arm and shoulder. Taking in the dried blood and the shirt not more than rags. The bandage tape peaking around her still blood encrusted shoulder.

“Peaches.” Rook could practically feel Staci stiffen behind her. “You could have at least gotten her a new shirt.” Jacob softly admonished. Never raising his voice or imparting emotion. She could definitely feel Staci wince. “Go get one.” He said flatly, dismissing Staci without breaking eye contact with Rook.

“Yessir.” Staci had opened the door and darted through the second the order was given leaving her alone with Jacob. He continued to look at her a few moments longer before sighing.

“Are you planning on trying to kill me again? Or can we converse like professionals?” He asked. Again? She wondered. She didn’t recall having the opportunity to try. But funny things happen in the Bliss.

“It depends.” Her voice croaking from disuse and thirst. No reason to let him in on her confusion. “Are you going to drug me again?”

Jacob snorted. “Will it be necessary?” He asked. Like her opinion of the matter would ever affect his decision.

He pushed away from the desk breaking eye contact and turned his back to her in a show of his own confidence. He knew she wouldn’t make an attempt on his life. At least not right now. She was getting him to talk and she wasn’t in any immediate danger.

“Do you want water?” He asked as he moved towards the mini fridge. “You sound like you need one.”

Rook narrowed her eyes at his retreating back. Had she tried to kill him during a Bliss induced blackout? It sounded like something she would try to do.

“It depends.” She parroted “Are you going to drug me again?”

He chuckled. A dry, disused sound as he offered her a bottled water. She took it feeling much like Eve conversing with the snake. 

“No. No now. You’ve passed your trials.” Her heart constricted with anxiety. Trials? How many trials? Flashes of memory skirting through her mind. Visions bathed in red. A man pinned beneath her as she bore down with a knife. Her drive controlled by the single-minded need to survive. Barked commands. Gunfire. Cooed praises. Blood and pain. What that fantasy or reality?

“Your value as an asset is one that can think. Too much Bliss and you’ll end up like Faith’s Angels.” His voice laced with disgust. So, he wasn’t in favor of Faith’s methods of control. But he obviously used them.

“Bold of you to think of me as your asset.” She took the bottle.

He shrugged. “Joseph believes that you’ll happily join our cause. He saw it in a vision.” Jacob waved his hand airily. “I’m skeptical.”

“You don’t believe in Joseph’s visions?” She twisted the cap off the bottle and practically inhaled the contents. Gasping between massive swallows. He didn’t answer her, just watched her neck work as she swallowed. Maybe too pointed of a question to fast.

“Why would I join you?” she gasped, wiping the water from her lower lip. His eyes following her movements.

“Because you’re not an idiot.” He said simply. Is that why Staci played along, because it was the only way to survive? Because it would be stupid not to? He moved around her so that her back was to him. It took all her willpower to keep from matching his moves. To keep her facing him. You didn’t let a predator at your back. “Tsk. You’re bleeding again Deputy.” He said the title with humor. Like it was a nickname instead of a position of respect. He slowly approached her as if she was a wounded animal.

“You also know that I know what you are. And that I haven’t killed you yet.” He was so close now she could feel the heat coming off of him against the exposed skin of her back. “Can you guess why?” His breath whispered into the shell of her ear as his heavy paw closed around the back of her neck to hold her still. His skin felt like fire against the clammy chill of hers prickling in goose flesh. Before she could tear herself free the door burst open as Staci hurried in with that new shirt.

Staci’s eyes widened to saucers and his gut twisted as he took in the tableau of the half-exposed Deputy with Jacob almost intimately close behind. The back of her neck cradled in one of his massive paws. The look on her face sheer terror. Staci automatically took a step towards her and immediately realized his mistake and froze. Jacob’s gaze snapped up to him. His eyes narrowed down and a growl left his lips.

“Don’t you know to fucking knock first?” He spat as he gripped the edge of the soiled bandage and tore if free. Rook jerked like she had been shot. A strangled squawk leaving her lips. Staci’s gasped.

“Tsk.” Jacob tutted. Ignoring them both. “Harris is a fucking butcher.” Rook let out a strangled laugh at the absurdity of that statement. Jacob tossed the bandage into the waste basket next to the desk, releasing the hold on Rook’s neck. She practically slumped, all discipline in keeping herself cold and aloof falling to the wayside. Her nerves fried. Jesus fucking Christ.

“Did he give you any antibiotics?” Jacob still loomed behind her. Her mind racing. Why was he all of a sudden giving a shit about her condition? She had been starved, beaten, treated like an animal. Her brain was scrambling to keep up.

“No.” She answered.

“An absolutely abysmal medic.” He continued conversationally. “Peaches. Remind me to have a word with him.”

The way he said it, Rook could guess at what “a word” meant.

“Ah. Yes. Yessir.” Staci stumbled through his response.

“This is going to leave a lovely scar.” Jacob poked gingerly at the stitches, causing Rook to hiss in pain. She wasn’t sure if it was sarcasm or admiration in his voice. “But I’d rather not have you die of infection. Especially after all the effort I’ve put into you.” Jacob continued.

“What effort?” She prompted. Jacob ignored her.

“Hmmmm” Jacob’s baritone hum causing her to gooseflesh all over again as he inspected the wound. “Real lucky here kitten. If you hadn’t been so light on your feet this knife would have been it. Who taught you how to move like that?” He prompted.

“I took a lot of modern dance in college.” She sassed.

“You’ve got a smart mouth. I bet that got you into a lot of trouble, in college.” His calloused hand heavy and warm on her shoulder squeezed. Holding her in place as she groaned.

“Peaches, bring me that first aid kit from the workbench.”

Staci rushed forward now. Not as her savior, but as Jacob’s creature doing Jacob’s bidding. Staci pushed the clean shirt into her hands and squeezed them as he hustled by. His eyes pained before darted away.

Jacob guided Rook into the kitchenette and kicked out a stool never releasing his hold on her shoulder. He pushed her down on the seat with a firmness that broke no argument as Staci opened up the first aid kit on the counter.

“Get me that bottle of whiskey in the cabinet Peaches and you can leave. Set up a secured room for our rising star here. She’s going to need a bit of down time before she’s fully operational again.” Jacob didn’t bother to look up at Staci as he went about laying out what he wanted from the kit. “And, go tell Harris I’ll find him when I’m done here.” 

“L-leave sir?” Staci’s desire to stay near Rook warring with Jacob’s conditioning.

Jacob’s eyes snapped up. The anger practically palpable this time.

“Did I fucking stutter?” His voice cold and hard.

“N-no sir.” And with that Staci was out the door and Rook was alone again.

“I don’t know why I put up with him.” Jacob muttered to himself. “He’s smart. I’ll give him that. He figured out within a couple of days how to survive, even if he’s weak.” Rook didn’t respond. She just watched Jacob fiddle with the supplies before pouring the whiskey into a glass and offering it to Rook. She raised her eyebrow skeptically.

“I thought the Project frowned upon fun stuff like alcohol and fornication.”

“Do I look like a give a shit about those kinds of rules? You’ll want this.” He said flatly.

She took the offered glass and downed it in one gulp, watching his face as he took a deep swig straight from the bottle. Wiping his mouth with his shirt sleeve before washing his hands in the kitchenette sink and filling a pan with fresh water. He grabbed a fresh cloth and moved behind her to get to work.

Jacob worked silently for several minutes dabbing at the area around the wound. Cleaning up the bloody crust that Harris didn’t seem interested in addressing. He had just stitched her up that’s all the sinner deserved.

Rook sat quietly staring at the opposite wall. The one that held his personal collection of weapons. Jacob followed her line of sight.

“Thinking about making a move on me?” He asked casually. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

The whiskey had settled warmly in her stomach. Easing her tired muscles. The lack of food and water making the spirit go straight to her head. The sudden lack of adrenaline making her less prickly. More relaxed than the situation warranted.

“Now’s not the time.” She said, feeling conversational. “I haven’t gotten what I wanted yet.”

Jacob barked a harsh, but genuine laugh. “And what, exactly, would that be.?”

“Oh, I’m sure you can guess. Your Project isn’t exactly low profile. You’re pretty observant. You already don’t think I’m a cop.”

He hummed in agreement. “What are you then kitten?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself red.” The liquor making her mouthy.

“Oh I’m exactly where I want to be.” He purred behind her, his fingers tracing her neck as he moved her hair over the opposite shoulder making room to clean. As quickly as her goosebumps rose and the gasp left her lips, he had drawn his combat knife and slit down the back of her tattered shirt. He was lightning fast and her reactions sluggish.

“Jesus Christ!” She tried to bolt to her feet before his big hand fell onto her good shoulder keeping her firmly in place.

“Sit the fuck down. If that’s what I wanted from you, it wouldn’t be while you’re liquored up and injured. You have blood all the way down your back and your shirt is trashed.” She couldn’t decide if the innuendo was sexual or murderous in nature. Her body felt flushed. From the whiskey or having her naked back exposed to the biggest threat she’s encountered in this never ending shitshow she couldn’t tell.

“Why are doing this?” Rook she asked softly. “Why are you helping me. Patching me up. I’m not one of you. I’m not going to stop. I’m just going to keep coming.”

He sighed and in a moment of candor he spoke.

“You and I are more alike than I reckon you’d want to admit. Why do you think you’re here with me and not with John or Faith? Joseph wants you to join us. He thinks you’ll be part of our family. That I’m to treat you like a sister and you’ll come to understand and love us.” Rook snorted at that.

“But we both know, you’re a weapon. You were started down that path long before coming to Hope County. You’ve always been someone else’s weapon haven’t you?” his words pricking a little closer to the truth than she would have like.

“I told Joseph for a pretty little thing, you’re dangerous and not to fall into this trap, but he’s got a plan for you. Bowed but unbroken. His words, not mine. I’d had sooner shot you.” His blunt statement in contrast with the care he was using on her back. His hands gently scrubbing the blood free.

Rook sat as still as a church mouse as he fell silent. She knew that everything he was saying was implying she was to be indoctrinated into being a Peggie. That Joseph expected her to join his flock. Hell would sooner freeze over. She had to get out of here, but injured and drunk wasn’t the time. She wasn’t in immediate danger and her position in this wacked out situation was improving. If she could bide her time, gained trust, she could formulate a plan to get both her and Staci out. She knew that the resistance would still be kicking and that she had allies on the outside continuing on. She would just have to bide her time.

“And to answer your earlier question.” He broke the silence. “No, I don’t believe in Joseph’s Voice. But I do believe in him. He’s given hopeless people purpose and he hasn’t been wrong yet. Even about you. There’s a war coming and if my hunch about you is correct. You already know this. ‘Sides, I’d rather have you contained where I can see you than running roughshod across the county.” He rinsed the rag and continued to mop the blood off her bare back.

She grunted at this revelation as she held her empty glass up for a refill. Jacob poured over her shoulder another finger of the amber liquid.

“John doesn’t seem to like it when I blow up silos.” She contributed.

“You’re a fucking menace, but it’s hilarious to see him so nettled. He’s an absolute shit when he doesn’t get his way.” Jacob had finished cleaning her back and paused before starting to re-bandage her shoulder. Rook knew he was looking at the patchwork of scars she had across her back. This shoulder injury just adding to the collection.

“You have a lot of scars for a beat cop kitten.” He said softly tracing a warm finger across the puckered bullet wound on her opposite shoulder before digging his thumb into the tense trapezius muscle. She groaned in pleasure. The fact she was essentially topless not lost on her.

“Are you running a honeypot on me Jacob.” Her voice husky from the liquor.

“If I thought it would work.” He left the statement hanging before quickly pouring a douse of the whiskey over her wound.

“MOTHERFUCKER!” She swore.

“I don’t have any antiseptic wash handy.” He said by way of apology.

“You did that on purpose.” She hissed between clinched teeth.

“Well of course I did. I didn’t accidentally spill expensive fucking whiskey on you.” He finished re-bandaging the wound and helped her pull the baggy t-shirt over her head never moving from her back and maintaining her modesty. A strangely chivalrous act.

Chapter Text

After Jacob had set her shoulder on fire, all the liquid warmth from the drink and his words evaporated. He grabbed her good elbow, and pulled her to her feet with a gruffness that contrasted with his care while cleaning her wound. He walked her to the door yanked it open and unceremoniously shoved her out and directly into the waiting guard outside.

“Take her to her room and lock her in. Don’t talk to her. Don’t look at her.” He said before slamming the door in both their faces.

Rook was escorted down a windowless corridor until her and her silent escort stopped before a blank metal door. The Peggie pulled a key card and released the locks before shoving her inside a dim, featureless room. True to his instructions, he didn’t look at her or speak to her before slamming the door shut again. She could hear his feet retreating back the way they came. That was three days ago.

Unlike her prior digs, she was isolated. No courtyard business to observe, no guards to overhear, no interaction at all except a glaring red light on the mag locked door handle and the two meals a day delivered without comment by a different guard each time. Her only concept of time based on when her meals arrived and when the lights turned on and off.

The room was luxurious in comparison to the muddy cages of the St. Francis courtyard. A single bed with scratchy, military issue blankets. An actual toilet (much appreciated), a sink, an unbreakable mirror, and no window. While a vast improvement, this wasn’t as beneficial to her endgame. She needed to be able to actually see her surroundings to gather information. Which she suspected was exactly why she was here in this room to begin with. Jacob was no idiot. He knew her type, and the lack of input was more likely to drive her insane than a lively round of torture ever would.

She could feel her strength returning with each meal and a good night’s sleep. By day two she was becoming anxious and ready to kill time with activity. She’d been in prolonged confinement before and the worst thing she could do was to just lay there and wait.

Day one she took it easy with searching the room for anything she could turn into a tool or weapon, any chink in the armor of this room. Nothing. She had to stop frequently or risk becoming lightheaded. She was definitely feeling the impact of the trials and of sleep and food deprivation. But Rook didn’t think it hadn’t done any lasting damage.

Day two she started to exercise as much as her shoulder would allow. The tug of her healing flesh a reminder that she had been put through a ringer she couldn’t remember and had come out the other side. Most likely to the detriment of someone else.

Day three, she felt like she was operating at about 75% capacity. Her recovery was faster than anything she’d experienced before. Whatever drugs they were using in the trials not only amped aggression and decreased pain receptors, it also sped up healing. She couldn’t remember the last time she bounced back so quickly.

She had stood with her back to the plastic mirror. Her wavy reflection glaring over her shoulder back at her as she hiked up the back of her loaned shirt. She had pulled the bandage off to inspect the damage and was surprised to see the wound had only seeped a little and an angry red welt had replaced the jagged edged gash.

When the door opened again, she would be ready for whatever was on the other side.

Rook laid on the icy concrete floor and began her sets of sit ups. Falling back on her conditioning. To remain alert and active. To not let lethargy and despair lead to her demise. To always be planning. Grunting with each pull of her shoulder. Each tug of healing muscles. She would be operational when she left here. She would survive. She wasn’t weak.

Rook paused on the top of the rep at the odd choice of words for her inner monologue. Operational. Survive. Weak. Was that her voice or vestiges of Jacob’s conditioning? Words he used to describe his hunters, his judges, his pawns.

She flipped onto her stomach to test her shoulder’s tolerance for push ups. Her good shoulder definitely compensating a fair bit, but she would be able to push through without damaging herself. She blinked as sweat dripped from her nose to pool on the gray cement.

Push.

Her stay in Hotel Seed had given her a copious amount of time to think, rethink and think again how this “simple observation” mission had gone so absolutely tits up.

She eased her body down, close but not touching the cold floor.

She had missed her last packet transmittal when Joseph brought down the sheriff’s helicopter. A sheriff, three deputies and a fucking U.S. Marshall had been missing for at least two weeks and she hadn’t heard a peep from the cavalry out of Missoula let alone Washington. Something was horribly wrong. Not just within the confines of Hope County.

Her handler should have made the appropriate responses to Anderson. Huntley should have pulled his asset and she should have been extracted. The National Guard should have been dispatched by now. Hope County should have been delivered from this fucking religious zealot nightmare. That’s a lot of shoulds that hadn’t happened yet.

Push.

She had no response to her contact attempts with Evans since the crash. She had checked the prearranged extraction point twice prior to running afoul of Jacob’s hunters and there was no evidence of her evac, a dead drop with new instructions or anyone coming in or out of the valley by aircraft for that matter.

She could explain some of this by the unseasonably high wind shear at the top of the mountains surround the valleys, but she should have heard something over the radios by now. Someone would have come looking for them. I mean how could they not?

Lower.

But, that little seed of dread had been planted long before she found herself here. And the more she thought on it, the angrier she got. God, how could she have been so fucking stupid?

Push.

Rook knew when she was sent here that she was just as much of a liability to Anderson as an asset. And she knew he was a political weasel and would have no qualms about cutting her loose to save his ass the second anything looked squirrely. She fucking knew this was unsanctioned ops. She just hadn’t anticipated that a recon would turn into a guerrilla operation on home soil. Or that she wasn’t going to be pulled out at all. That Anderson would actually burn her.

Lower.

How could they leave these people to die? How could they leave her to die? This was the organization she had given everything for. She had opened her veins and bled for them. Mortgaged her soul time and again in the name of freedom, loyalty and patriotism. And the moment it was her that needed that loyalty, that fucking career desk jockey Anderson burned her and all of Hope County to save face.

Push.

She was so fucked and she was the only one that was going to unfuck this situation. The more she thought on it the more she realized her original mission parameters were blown the second the Marshall arrived and at some point after that helicopter crash her priorities and loyalties had shifted from her country to these people. To the reality of what was actually happening here.

She was going to help these people.

Lower.

She was going to secure Huntley’s asset one way or another.

Push.

She was going to save her de facto team, starting with Staci.

Lower

She was going to stop this cult and the wholesale terror they were dealing. Even if she had to kill every last one of those motherfucking Seeds. But first, she needed to get the fuck out of here and form a plan.

As the day wore on, Rook could periodically hear footsteps passing by between her silently delivered meals. Some hesitating, Some continuing on. Every so often a set would pause before her door as she held her breath. Would this be her chance?

Rook had moved on from push ups to lunges. She was on her fifth set back and forth across the small space when the footstep routine was broken by two sets of feet stopped before the door. Two? That was a deviation. Something was happening.

Rook turned to the door and used the tail of her shirt to wipe the sweat from her eyes. This was it. She had resolved herself that she was either going to leave this room or die in it.

She heard the lock’s mechanical click and the red light went to green before the door was pulled open. The blazing brightness of the hallway silhouetting two men. One was most definitely Jacob Seed. His wide shoulders and tall stature devouring the space vacated by the door, oozing menace. The other, slighter by comparison, but no less confidently held, radiated its own presence. Joseph Seed.

Rook subconsciously shifted her stance. Lower. Sturdier. Her weight centered over the balls of her feet. Shoulders tense. Ready to bolt, or attack depending what the men did next.

Jacob missing nothing, grunted. His hand resting casually on the grip of his sidearm. Relaxed but ready. She could try, but he had the upper hand here. His message clear.

His brother deliberately oblivious to the silent dialog stepped into the room, his hands spread before him in welcome. His posture benign and approachable. His charisma hanging around him like a shroud. His smile so kind. Everything about him said it would just be so much easier to let go and let him absolve her.

“Deputy Elizabeth Rook.” He greeted her in his soft caress of a voice. The very presence of acceptance and kindness. Rook hazard the briefest of glances at Jacob. His crystalline eyes hooded, giving nothing away. Had he not told his brother her secrets he had so easily guessed? Her brows drawing together in confusion as he deadpan stared back.

Taking her moment of distraction as acquiescence, Joseph stepped into her space, easing his hands along her jaw, cradling her face like a lover. His palms warm and dry. The softly worn beads of the rosary wrapped around his hand rolling against her skin, the faint smell of bliss flowers coming from his skin and the edges of her vision began to soften. What was happening to her?

“My child. You look so tired.” He cooed. “You have worked so hard for so many.”

Joseph’s thumbs brushed her cheekbones in feather light circles. Another hint of bliss as he tilted her chin up and brushed her dirty hair from her face so that he could gaze down at her. His eyes hooded and a bottomless blue as they searched hers. Jacob may not have told him, but it felt like his gaze had seen the darkness inside of her, laid it bare and he had decided would forgive her anyway.

She had never been so close to him. She could kill him now. She could do it and it would be over. For him and for her. She could. It would only take a moment. He smiled and the edges of his eyes crinkled like he could tell her train of thought and could be nothing but amused. He was so handsome when he smiled. The flippant thought raced through her brain and was as quickly gone along with the wild notion to kill him.

Joseph’s dangerous brand of love and acceptance was like the coiling bliss perfume that clung to his skin. It seeped into her every sense and the deepest, tiredest part of her soul hummed in response to that pull of promised comfort and forgiveness.. Rook caught herself a fraction of a second before she allowed herself to crumple. To give in. It took everything in her not to lean into him. It would have been so easy to turn her face into his hands and let go. To stop fighting and let him love her despite her sins.

No. Rook stepped back breaking his spell, pulling her face from his caress as a deep dark part of her wanted nothing more than to fall into his arms. Her breath shuddered from her. He almost had her, but she wouldn’t give in no matter how tired she was. She had good people that were depending on her. His hands hung midair before her. Palms open before he slowly lowered them to his sides. His face losing a portion of its benign serenity at her rejection. A hardness behind his eyes replacing the benevolence.

His next words drove the air from Rook’s lungs, striking so close to her own thoughts earlier.

“Yet even now, you are alone and forsaken by those you claim to protect and serve. Your soul is bruised from the burden of your loyalties to a silent and indifferent government. It hurts doesn’t it? Here?” he placed his hand over his heart. “Why do you continue to fight the inevitable? I can see you know what is coming.”

Rook felt the tightness in her chest and throat. The sting of tears. She wanted nothing more than to throw herself at his feet and beg for mercy. No. She shook her head. That wasn’t her thinking. These weren’t her thoughts. Rook could feel her grasp slipping and she had to stamp down a scrabbling panic. Panic was dangerous. Panic would get her killed.

“Elizabeth. There is nothing to fear from us, if you just accept us into your heart.” He offered.

Rook gasped in a sound of disbelief. He could have struck her and had the same reaction.

“There is plenty to fear Joseph!” her voice cracking on her rage. “Your family is torturing and murdering the people of this county and at any hint of resistance you’ve responded with overwhelming violence. Your followers are taking everything these people have in the name of your cause and murdering anyone who says no. Do you think I want this war? Do you think any of us wants this?” She stepped forward, closing the distance she had created. “You’ve given me no choice but to fight you.” Rook hissed, her rage boiling over.

Jacob caught her eye as he mirrored her movement and stepped squarely into the door frame. Blocking her exit with his bulk. His free hand dipped into the front pocket of his military jacket and casually pulled out a small wooden box, never breaking his eye contact with her. His thumb gently running the worn edge. A silent and still predator. And her always the prey. She knew what that box was. She knew what it could do. How little control she had now. Even over herself. This complicated an already complicated situation.

Her stomach knotted in dread. Jacob had effectively secured her cooperation for this meeting with his brother with that little innocuous wooden box. Her compliance with whatever was about to happen almost assured. She was a fool in her arrogance to think she had any options. That she could control any situation while Jacob had that damnable box. They held her, held the only people she had left. They held all the cards and all the chips. Rook visibly deflated.

“Why are you really here Joseph? Why are you suddenly interested? I’ve been here for over a week.” Rook turned her back on them to lean against the sink. Anything to not have to face them, to no longer bear the sight of the box. “I have a busy schedule of being tortured by your brother to maintain.” Rook used her always handy sarcasm to cover the rapid tattoo of her heartbeat she was sure Jacob could hear clear across the room.

Joseph sighed.

“I apologize for my brother’s less than gentle treatment of you.” Rook’s eyes shot up to catch Joseph’s reflection in the mirror. He actually had the audacity to look genuinely ashamed. “I know he does not have the finesse of John or Faith’s compassion, but Jacob is working in our best interests for survival. He cares about our and your safety. He wants to make sure that you are strong. To help you find that strength before the Collapse.”

“Are… are you seriously fucking kidding me right now?” She could barely contain her absolute disdain for his deliberately obtuse description of his siblings. Her extinguished anger immediately rekindled as she whirled around to face him.

“Your over dressed, homicidal little brother with his angelic face tried to carve Wrath into my chest for my,” Rook air-quoted “Atonement.”

“Your sociopathic, whatever Faith is, hollows people out.” She stepped forward towards Joseph again. Closing the distance she had put between them. Her anger burning off whatever softness the bliss had coated her senses in and any caution Jacob’s box had instilled. “Faith devours their souls and leaves them husks all with a smile on her face and a lie on her lips.” Her voice raising with each word.

“And Jacob? Caring?! Did you miss the cages of starved, beaten, dying people on your way in?” she practically screeched flinging her arms wide.

Jacob pressed his thumb slowly over the lid of the box. The silent “careful” as loud as a shout and Rook barely could contain her scoff. Glaring her defiance at the man himself.

She apparently was just too stupid to live. Antagonizing the Seeds. Trusting Anderson. Thinking she would survive this shit show. Rook fought to control her voice and her now towering rage. At them. At herself. At her own people for letting this happen and abandoning her to it. Maybe if she rushed them, Jacob would put her out of her misery. Anything to end this physical and emotional roller coaster she couldn’t seem to get off of.

“Oh Elizabeth.” Joseph sounded heartbroken, closing the remaining distance between them, seemingly unable to refrain from crowding her. Under Jacob’s watchful eye, she let him hoping her animosity would make him spontaneously combust.  Joseph collected her ridged fist and clasped it in between both of his. The bliss perfume easing around her again. Each time easier than the one before, bringing her an unwanted and confusing peace.

“Why is this happening? Why are you doing this?” Her once vitriolic voice small.

“I am giving them the opportunity to absolve their sins and start anew before this world falls.” He slowly pried open her fist. His hand strong, yet gentle. The fingers elegant and tapered. The hands of an orator. Someone who could speak with both his voice and his body. He spread her fingers and opened her palm before bringing it to his lips. His eyes lambent over her hand.

“I’m am benevolent and accepting, but we also don’t have the luxury of time on our side” Joseph’s voice became tighter. His words crisper and more authoritative as he continued on. His grasp tightened on her hand.

“I’m practical enough to realize that not everyone can or wishes to be saved. Not everyone is willing to cleanse the wickedness.” He hisses between his teeth.

“If they cannot cast out the evil themselves, I will help them. And if I can not help them, I will set them free so as to protect those already saved. Yet we are staring down the End of Days and you still fail to see the light. Jacob has told me how resourceful, brave and intelligent you are.” Rook’s gaze darts from Joseph’s eyes of liquid warmth to Jacob’s hard stare. Her hand held in his grip both gentle and inescapable.

“These people need to be shepherded into the new world with healed souls and clear consciences Elizabeth and we need your help. Think of how many we could save together.”

And there it was.

Jacob could have easily killed her several times over by now. She had resisted her deliverance time and time again, but Joseph wanted her to join his cause. To what end she couldn’t fathom. She had been nothing but a thorn in the side of their Project. They sure as shit weren’t going to let her live when she provided a “thanks, but no thanks” response.

She opened her mouth to respond, but before the words could form, Joseph pressed his free hand to her lips.

“I know how we must seem to you. You have only seen our righteous vengeance on those who wish us harm. Before you respond, I would like you to see the good we’ve done. We are not the enemy Elizabeth.”

This was it. This was the opportunity she needed. Jacob may not trust her, but Joseph wanted to. He needed to. If Rook agreed she would have more room to maneuver. Time to plan a way to get herself and Staci out. Maybe a way to find Hudson and Whitehorse. This wasn’t surrender, but a tactical retreat.

She held her breath for a beat as her chest tightened. This time in anticipation instead of fear.

“Okay.”

A simple word, but it had so much impact.

Chapter Text

Less than a breath after Rook had uttered her simple, non-committal Okay, Joseph’s face brightened in genuine joy. His eyes sparkled as he pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. Embrassing her in his warmth. Her filthy condition of no concern to him.

He smelled so good compared to everything she had experienced in the last month and her arms reflexively rose to his back. The fine fabric of his vest grasped in her fists. Holding on for dear life, as the floor of sanity fell out from beneath her. Oh God, what had she done?

“You have made us, made me, so very happy Elizabeth.” He whispered into her hair as he held her close. She could barely hear him over the rushing in her ears as she met Jacob eyes over his brother’s shoulder. His face a mask. Blank of any emotion. Did she imagine Jacob’s eyes narrowing?

She’d already lost her mind, no question on that. She was well and truly fucked this time.

Joseph grasped her shoulders and set her away from him to search her face. Brushing her tangled hair from her eyes, Joseph took her limp hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm. He rested his hand on top of hers, locking it in place. His grasp gentle, but a shackle, as he turned to Jacob.

“First thing is first my child.” His voice dripped sunlight. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Then we can discuss your future here. John and Faith will be so delighted.” Joseph patted her hand as he led her towards the door still occupied by Jacob’s bulk.

Joseph stopped before him and transferred Rook’s lifeless hand to Jacob’s, giving him no other option than to grasp or leave his brother hanging. Joseph smiled as he rested his hand upon Jacob’s broad shoulder. Rook glanced between the two very different brothers. Joseph elation had cooled to his normal serene presentation. Jacob remained as unreadable as ever.

“Jacob will help you learn about the Project and how best you can prepare for the Collapse. He will introduce you to our people and guide you towards our salvation.” Jacob’s hand swallowed hers whole as he closed his blunt fingers firmly around hers. His skin warm and dry and hers, cold and clammy. She felt faint. She had really fucking done it this time. She needed to think. To figure out what to do next.

“I will leave her to your care brother. She is our sister now.” Joseph squeezed Jacob’s shoulder. His meaning clear. Rook’s heart hammering so hard she was sure he could feel it through her hand as she searched Jacob’s face for any hit of his intentions now that his brother had shifted their dynamic. His face was blank as he held her gaze. His thoughts concealed under layers of discipline and scars.

“Yes Joseph.” Jacob responded flatly.

Joseph collected Rook’s other hand and brought it to his lips on last time before departing.

 “Until we meet again Lamb. May God shine his many blessings down upon you. Thank you for trusting us with your soul.” It took everything in her not to snatch her hands away. God dammit why did they all have to be so fucking weird? Joseph squeezed his brother’s shoulder one last time in farewell and walked away.

 “How’s your shoulder?” Jacob asked conversationally as he watched his brother’s retreating form.

 “It’s healing surprisingly well.” She responded, tearing her eyes from Joseph to glance at Jacob. Confusion lacing her tone.

Joseph continued to move down the hallway towards the exit, humming softly to himself. Once he turned the corner and was out of earshot, Jacob’s hand clamped down on hers before she could snatch it away.

“Good.” He hissed, his grip like iron pulling her back into the cell and tossing her onto the only piece of furniture in the room. The bed.

Elizabeth scrambled backwards across the woefully narrow cot to get some distance as he followed her. Her back hit the wall. His sudden activity more than she could track as he lashed out faster than a man that big should move, grasping her by the neck, his massive hand covering the whole column of her throat. He pressed her against the wall, holding her immobile, yet he didn’t squeeze. He had her between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

“What the fuck are you playing at girl?” Jacob barked. Giving her a shake like dog with a bone. His face was definitely not passive now. No sir.

“I’m not playing, I’m fucking surviving.” She spat back. The lightning in her eyes sparking against his as she gripped his wrist in both her smaller hands, digging her nails in. Jacob huffed as the briefest tick brought the corner of his mouth up. Did he smile? Was that a smile?

“I think that’s the first honest answer you’ve ever given. You’ve been around the block enough to know I don’t trust you. I won’t trust you. That it would be disastrous to do so.” The quick anger tempered for the moment, but he didn’t let her go.

“I don’t think you’d be so naïve.” She looked up at him and for once let her mask slip. A glimpse of actual Elizabeth peeking through instead of the face she presented the world. “You’re not going to let me go. You know what I am. What I can do. But now Joseph won’t let you kill me. So, what’s the next step in this dance?”

“I can still hurt you real fucking bad, kitten.” Jacob leaned in, squeezing ever so slightly.

“I don’t doubt it.” Elizabeth whispered around her held breath. She felt like she was a deer and he the wolf.  Any misstep and he would rip her throat out, damn the consequences. Jacob’s eyes darted across her face, searching for an answer to some unspoken question. Rook stared back. Meeting his gaze and waited for him to make whatever decision he was going to make. Satisfied with whatever he found, Jacob stepped back, releasing her neck and Rook heaved her self upright again, her neck reddened under his attention.

“But you would survive, wouldn’t you?” He asked.

“It’s what I do Jacob. It’s what we were trained for wasn’t it?”

Jacob stood there looking her over as if seeing her for the first time. Taking in her torn, second hand clothes. Her muscles wiry from going hungry. Filthy hair. Scars and wounds.

“You smell.” Jacob said matter-of-factly.

“I’m aware.” Rook responded in kind.

“You need a shower.” He continued.

“I do.” She said. She let the moment sit for a beat or two as he awkwardly stood before her.

“Fine.” His tone exasperated. “But we’re not done here.”

Chapter Text

Two months prior, Rook had landed in Helena, Montana to rendezvous with her contact Sharpe, who was a weedy little fucker. They spent a couple of days setting up logistics, her new identity and gear she was going to pack into the county for this operation that wasn’t an operation. She was running lean with very little redundancy and comms equipment at least a decade old.

“This shit still has sand in it from Operation Iraqi Freedom man.” Rook had griped, tossing a dusty sat phone on the table.

“Listen, this is what I could get with no notice and no budget.” Sharpe fired back, his stick thin arms crossing across his narrow chest. “If you don’t like it, you can call Anderson.”

And that had been the end of that.

Rook had arrived in Hope county that Saturday afternoon looking for everything like a small-town girl searching for a new start to life. Dark aviators hide her watchful eyes as the tires of the fifth-hand pickup truck ground to a stop in the Pick-n-Save parking lot. A jaunty pony tail popping through the back of her Appalachian State University baseball cap and a modest arsenal stowed in the truck’s false bed.

With a conspicuous screeching of metal, she slammed the truck door and walked into the only grocery store in Falls End. Rook subconsciously winced as the door dinged announcing her arrival and the cashier welcomed her with a smile. She would never be used to playing the civilian.

Rook methodically traveled each of the aisles picking up the supplies she would need to set up her place. Food, coffee, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, a bottle of red wine. Okay two bottles of red wine. Thank god Hope County wasn’t a dry county. As she rounded the corner of the end cap, she skidded to a halt to avoid a collision with another person.

They hopped to the side and grabbed the end of her cart for balance. She noticed first the heavily tattooed hands and lithely muscled forearms of a man as her eyes swept up. An apology dying on her lips as soon as it started.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Rook immediately recognized him from his file. She was standing face to face with John Seed and she had only been in the county for an hour. The elegantly dressed man before her smiled toothily, but it didn’t quite erase the temper in his eyes. Her recognition, instant panic and then regathering of her wits processed within a second before she smiled benignly like nothing had happened.

“Oh, I’m so sorry sir!” she covered her hesitation with a girlish laugh and a gracious hand pressed to her chest as she guided the cart around him, her heart in her throat. Rook’s internal instinct go go go.

“No harm done.” He responded as he looked into her cart curiously. “You have good taste in reds.” He said before continuing down the aisle.

“Thanks.” Rook muttered as she hurried, as casually as possible, towards the register casting glances back at him. Fuck fuck fuck.

That was unexpected. She knew this was a small town, but she didn’t expect to run into her targets immediately on accident.

Rook’s heartrate leveled out as she made her way towards the checkout. She needed to prepare herself to run into the very people she was sent to monitor. It was going to be unavoidable.

Rook quickly paid for her purchases in cash, loaded them into the bed of the truck and slung gravel as she pulled out onto the highway towards the address given to her for the mission’s base of operations.

Sharpe had been able to purchase a residence in her name up in the hills above Falls End for her to run the op out of. She had rolled up to a decades old single wide trailer, squarely off the beaten path. It had a clear shot for her sat link and that was the only strategic value of the location. She hadn’t been lucky enough to acquire a property with one of those container bunkers that seemed so popular with the preppers and militia enthusiasts. Her budget was laughable for a deep cover op, but when you’re not even supposed to be here, you take what you can get right? Sharpe had made that abundantly clear.

Her neighbors half a mile down the road had arrived on her front porch before she had even put her groceries away. Betsy and Frank, as they had introduced themselves, had smiled enthusiastically as they presented her with a fresh baked apple pie and an invitation to attend Sunday service with Father Joseph. It took everything in her to accept the pie with a smile and a promise to attend after the shock she had running into one of their leaders only half an hour prior. She wasn’t used to her targets finding her before she found them and the encounter had left her a bit uneasy.

She had promptly thrown the away the pie.

That evening, Rook unpacked her meager belongings and remove the floorboards in the dusty back bedroom to stow her gear. She sat on her back porch as the sun crept behind the western mountains. A glass of wine in hand and her arsenal spread before her to clean and prep. Rook was pleasantly surprised by the view from her perch on the mountainside. The valley stretched out like a golden river of wheat fields and lazily grazing cattle between her and the Henbane River. If she wasn’t careful, she could fall in love with a view like that.

_____

Rook used that neighborly invitation as an excuse to attend “Father” Joseph Seed’s service at the Project’s chapel the next day. Her curiosity was piqued the moment she had ran head on into the youngest Seed sibling. Rook had waited in her pickup watching the people filter in until the majority of the crowd had filed into the white washed chapel. Timing her entrance to be the least obtrusive. She hopped out of the truck and slammed the door in a screech. She winced making a mental note to WD-40 the shit out of the hinges.

Elizabeth shuffled through the door with the last group of church goers, her eyes shyly downcast as she scanned the room through her lashes. She wore her country best with a soft floral knee length sundress and flats. Her hair braided loosely down her back. A boring leather pocketbook slung across her body containing a locked and loaded Heckler and Koch 40 caliber subcompact handgun. The lethal weight a stark contrast to the smiling faces of the congregation as they shook hands, hugged and greeted one another with a whispered “sister” or “brother”. She smiled and responded in kind to the several “sister” greetings sent her way.

As everyone was settling, the Seed siblings entered from the vestibule to the side of the alter. Elizabeth had used the distraction to subtly slip into the back corner of the back pew with a soft smile and down cast eyes. Nothing to see here folks.

Rook scanned the room as she picked up a copy of the Book of Joseph that was nestled into the pew in front of her. Casually flipping pages as she watched the siblings take their positions. The tall, angry looking man that entered first was clearly Jacob Seed. He was built like a brick shit house topped with a fiery shock of red hair. Clearly the enforcer as he stood arms crossed, partially hidden in the shadows, the wall at his back. John Seed, silky smooth in his movements, dressed to the nines, gliding like a big cat across the dais taking the hands offered to him with a dazzling smile. His energy was electric. He’s the politician, Rook noted, garnering adoration. Their sister, Faith came on John’s heels. Her skirts flowing and a flower crown woven into her soft waves. She hugged those that reached for her. Kissing the children, caressing cheeks. Her smile beatific, but her eyes hollow. Rook suppressed a shiver in the warm, faintly floral smelling room.

Joseph followed last as Rook sunk lower in the pew, scanning the man in question. His pristine white shirt was crisply pressed, the sleeves rolled to his elbows, his tattooed forearms exposed giving him a casual, approachable air. His black vest was well fitted and smart, the crease in his trousers razor sharp. He was tall, taller that John, but not like Jacob, and moved like a big cat. Lithe and elegant with a well-trimmed beard and a smooth top knot. Joseph set his personal bible on the pulpit and smiled as he gazed over his flock. His eyes, amber shaded behind his glasses, had lighted upon her long enough that she felt her chest constrict in apprehension, before passing on.

He stood before his church raising his hands for their silence and a hushed anticipation fell over the crowd. Like an invisible bubble ready to burst. She could definitely see why people would be drawn to him. His charisma was staggering.

 “Welcome my children.” His voice carried through the vaulted hall and it felt like a collective sigh of ecstasy was released from those around her. What the fuck was happening here?

Rook sat through the entire service feeling an ever-increasing apprehension. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it directly, but it was like an itch beneath her skin. Something was just… off.

At the conclusion of the hour-long sermon, the congregation formed a reception line to meet with the their “father” and Rook took the opportunity to slip out the chapel door and head towards her truck. The sudden fresh air cleared her head of the faintly perfumed chapel. As she set the keys to the ignition, she caught sight of John Seed behind the vestibule entrance lighting up a cigarette. Not very pious of you John, she thought as she pulled out of the dirt lot.

____

Deputy Elizabeth Rook started with the Hope County Sheriff’s department at 8 am that Monday. After an awkward round of hand shaking and forced smiles, Elizabeth provided her paperwork to Sheriff Earl Whitehorse who was nothing short of elated to have a new deputy transfer to his department.

 “It honestly felt like dumb luck when I received your transfer request.” Sheriff Whitehorse sat behind a drab metal desk littered with arrest reports, old coffee cups and his crisp white cowboy hat in a shoebox sized office. Rook stood in front of his desk, her arms at ease, clasped behind her back. Her new badge gleaming on her freshly pressed olive uniform her expression open like a fresh new officer ready for her new job. “I was submitting a formal request to the state department for additional support the day you requested a transfer and your testing scores are fantastic. Somebody up there was looking out for us.”

Rook made a non-committal sound of affirmation.

“The department has really been feeling the stretch with the population boom.” He continued “Since those religious folks has settled here that is. Weird bunch. I’m sure you’ll meet a few of them on patrol.” Whitehorse’s push-broom mustache wiggled as he settled the coffee mug under it before taking a sip. Whitehorse looked up momentarily distressed. “I apologize ma’am, my mother raised me better. Would you like a coffee, tea?”

His father like casualness with her and towards his department, had set her back on her heels. He genuinely seemed to love being a civil servant to his constituents. She instantly liked him and felt a mild pang of regret at her deception. He was a good man who should have retired at least a decade prior.

“Uh, no sir. Thank you.” She smiled.

He flipped through the manila folder. “Our jurisdiction covers all of Hope County. We have a pretty unique topography that I reckon you haven’t seen much of back east. The Whitetail Mountains keep us pretty remote so we’re used to being on our own, especially in the winter. I hope you have a heavy coat.” He looked up over his wire aviator eyeglasses.

“Yes sir. I spent a lot of time in the mountains back east. It’s not the same, but I’m used to the cold.” Rook smiled. Creating a persona from your own experiences, made it more believable. And her time in the Appalachians would help here. Whitehorse nodded, and pulled out a map that Rook was already very familiar with.

“It’s been tough only having two deputies to cover Holland Valley, the Henbane River and the Whitetails.” His leathery index finger tapped each section of the map to punctuate his sentence. “Have you met deputies Hudson and Pratt yet?”

“Not formally sir.” Rook already knew everything that was in their files. Hudson was a seasoned deputy that got her start on the reservation and Pratt was a born and bred local boy that never would have made a force back east. He was a trouble maker, but he also was an accomplished pilot, and that went a long way on a resume out here.

 “Well we also have a couple volunteer LEOs that help with patrol, but they’re supplementary to the deputies and if you need anything, Nancy’ll help you out.” He shifted through papers again, looking for her file. He paused, looking up again. “You met Nancy right?” Whitehorse chuckled darkly to himself as he found what he was looking for. “Tough old bat, but she knows everything that’s happening ‘round these parts. Don’t tell her anything you don’t want everyone to know.”

Rook smiled “Yes, sir.”

Whitehorse had taken her around the department. Showing her to her own drab metal desk himself. He introduced her to Nancy, a sour looking older woman, Hudson, a statuesque Native American woman and Pratt, the resident play boy. Hudson’s words, not hers.

Shortly after their introduction, Pratt had perched on the edge of her desk and asked her out for coffee, she was fresh meat in a small town after all, but she had politely declined. Hudson had snickered and Pratt had looked… surprised. Like no one had every told him no before, but he smiled and welcomed her nonetheless. She had secretly enjoyed that thrill. The power that held. If she wasn’t who she was doing what she did she would have said yes.

After a short briefing, Rook was assigned to ride with Hudson to familiarized herself with the territory and the locals. Rook’s first day on the force was uneventful to say the least. Domestic disputes. Drunken and disorderly. Disturbing the peace. 

They worked their 12 hour shift with companionable chit chat. What was it like back east? What was it like growing up on a reservation? Do you have any family? A significant other?

Rook responded with benign truths and a spattering of rehearsed lies. Back east she left a dead-end job (false). Her parents had passed away ten years ago in a car accident (truth). She wasn’t dating anyone (truth) because she had a bad breakup (false) and that’s why she moved west to start over (false). Hudson took all of this at face value.

Rook even got to meet the local pyromaniac. Apparently, his burn permit had expired and he was a regular for the department.

Hudson had chuckled as they slid back into the cruiser. “I think you have your first admirer Rook.”

Elizabeth scoffed. “Him?!” She looked in the rear-view mirror at the figure silhouetted by the ridiculously large bonfire. He seems like an absolute character.

“Yeah. Did you see Boshaw’s eyes glaze over? You’d think he’d never seen a woman in uniform before.”

Rook genuinely laughed “Whatever you say Deputy.”

____

Her first month on the job with Sheriff Whitehorse and his deputies was like a vacation from what she was used to. Her duties were easy. Show up to work. Fill out some forms. Go on patrol. Fill out some more forms. She ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. She kept consistent hours. People were friendly. Buying her coffee, saying hello and please and thank you. Each day was a routine, yet never boring. One day her and Pratt where chased back into his cruiser by an over amorous bull that had escaped his pasture. She had never laughed so hard with someone in her life. Actually, she had laughed more in that in that first month then she probably had in the last ten years. She started calling him cowboy after that.

She had settled into her cover like it was second skin. Her large patrol area made it easy to snoop. She also kept her ear to the ground looking for Huntley’s asset. That was a variable she wanted to keep tabs on.

So far Rook had some solid evidence of real estate fraud with some of the Project’s purchases and they were definitely growing something which the farmland they were sucking up. There were a couple of tourists that had gone missing she was looking into, but as of yet, the Project had not done anything glaringly illegal that would warrant CIA scrutiny. Her patrols made it easy to recon Project properties. Casually interrogate locals. Collect information. Her packets where detailed and Evans was as happy as his sour demeanor allowed him to be. Anderson she hadn’t heard from.

It had been a while since an assignment had been… comfortable.

Rook rolled that word around in her head. What exactly was comfortable for her? She wasn’t being shot at on the regular. Or blown up, for that matter. She didn’t have to worry about counterespionage agents or blending into a foreign country.  As far as her status quo went. This was decidedly, comfortable. Dare she say, easy.

It wasn’t often she got retrospective about her life choices. But the casual integration of this job was, nice. It was easy. Was regular life easy? What would have happened if she had followed in her father’s footsteps and joined a police force instead of federal work?

She contemplated these thoughts as she sat next to Hudson at one of the Spread Eagle’s tables. A pretty gauche name to go with a pretty gauche establishment, but the sticky floors, free flowing libations, and loud country music made Rook almost feel like a regular person doing regular things like sharing after shift drinks with a co-worker. Rook wouldn’t quite say she had made friends here, but she felt like she wasn’t having to act, at least not as hard.

“Ladies.” Mary May Fairgrave, proprietor and all-around boss bitch at the Spread Eagle slid up to their table, tray in hand. “Compliments of the two degenerates at the bar.” She set two fresh whiskeys down and scooped up their empty glasses. “Don’t worry, I poured the drinks myself.” She chuckled.

Rook and Hudson tilted their chairs back in unison to take in the bar patrons blocked by Mary May.

“I fucking told you.” Hudson snorted unladylike.

The pyro Boshaw from earlier saluted her with his own beer and a grin and his husky companion waved enthusiastically.

“I just told him I liked his music. Jesus.” She raised her fresh glass in thanks and shot it back. At least the rednecks around these parts were generally easy on the eyes, if a bit rustic. Rook felt that tiny little knot between her shoulder blades start to uncoil. A tension she had carried for so long that it was just background noise slowly began to let loose.

Was this what it would have been like, she thought as she watched the couples on the dance floor swaying together. Would this have been her life if she had pursued a career as a beat cop or even more benign, if she had stayed in her small mountain town and married some small-town boy and did small-town things like go out dancing on a Wednesday night?

The Spread Eagle was probably the only place in the county that you could get a stiff drink and horrifically fried food so naturally everyone in town who drank was there. Though, even if there were other options, Rook thought she would probably choose this place anyway.

“Oooo look Rook. I think our cowboy friend has found himself an easier mark.” Hudson raised her glass to sip her whiskey hiding her chuckle, and pointed across the dance floor. She had found a particularly amusing candidate for their people watching.

Rook barked out a laugh when her eyes found Hudson’s mark.

“Aw honey.” The alcohol drawing out her Appalachian accent. “That one’s just too easy.”

Deputy Pratt looked like a country girl’s wet dream. His dark hair brushed his collar and his face was dusted with a sinful stubble. Both longer than regulation allowed and artfully unkept. His face lit in the garish red neon above the dance floor as he slowly swung the tiny blonde around to the music. Her buxom body pressed flush to his. He still wore his uniform shirt, black wranglers he looked like he was poured into and scuffed boots, but he had left his duty belt locked in the trunk of his patrol car. He was obviously using the uniform to garner some feminine attention. The girl’s eyes were practically stars so it seemed to be working. Rook snorted in disgust, or maybe a smidge of jealousy. It must be so freeing to not have to give a fuck. To be so impulsive. To not have to calculate your every action.

Since her initial rejection of his offer for coffee Rook expected Staci to be standoffish and offended that she hadn’t fallen head over heels. By contrast, he accepted her “no, thanks” with a smile and no hard feelings. Not what she was used to back in DC. Staci was pleasant, funny, inquisitive and an enormous flirt. A handsome guy who skated through his life on his looks and charm, laying it on think for the pretty girls and the old ladies alike. She instantly liked him, but she also quickly assessed him as someone who didn’t take his job seriously which nettled her. As far as she could tell he couldn’t take anything seriously. He had even stooped to dad joke level making a crack about fast food as they ran for their lives from that angry bull. Staci wasn’t a horrible cop. Just not a great one.

She ignored the pang of jealousy for his carefree approach to life and hoped he got lucky. She said as much to Hudson.

“I wish him happy hunting.” Rook said as she signaled Mary May for another round. As she made eye contact with the blonde behind the bar her eye caught on the billiards table towards the back corner of the room.  Set in the shadows was the oldest Seed and his littlest brother engrossed in a game of pool.

Rook sat and watched them. Her eyes wandering on and off the men. Never staying so long as to garner their attention, but enough to observe their actions. Both men had a drink before them and seemed to be in a friendly conversation, but not engaging the other patrons who seemed to give them a wide berth.

Elizabeth caught Hudson’s attention.

“What do you make of that?” She tilted her head in their direction.

“The Peggie brothers?” Hudson scoffed.

“Peggies?” Rook played dumb.

“Yeah, the Project at Eden’s Gate… P.E.G. We call them Peggies around here. Fucking weirdo bunch. I’d say bordering on a cult. People just leave their families and lives behind to join them. They give me the creeps.” Hudson sipped her whiskey.

“Huh.” Rook took her own swig of whiskey. “You’d think a bunch of Jesus freaks wouldn’t be caught dead in a bar. I thought super religious folks frown on all the fun stuff like sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

Hudson giggled girlishly “That’s just what they told Drubman, Jr. when he tried to join.” She nodded towards the husky fellow with Boshaw. Clad in red white and blue parachute pants, a muscle shirt, and bandana he looked like a redneck cliché right down to his “mom” tattoo. “They took one look at Hurk and said nope!”

“Have you ever had any run ins with them?” Rook asked. “The Peggies, not the dynamic duo.”

“Naw. They keep their noses pretty clean. Suspiciously clean. We’ve been trying to catch them up for a while now. Nothing ever pans out, but a lot of the locals aren’t comfortable with them here.” Hudson thrust her chin towards the red head as he bent over the table. His hair catching the light as it fell across his forehead “Though the big one. Jacob Seed. He’s a fighter. He’s had a few altercations since coming here. He’s got a pretty damn big wrap sheet too. But nothing sticks with his hot shot lawyer brother.”

Rook hummed in commiseration.

As Jacob sunk the shot, his eyes darted up and across them. Like he could feel their attention. Rook’s eyes quickly darted back to the dance floor as she hid her face behind polishing off her drink.

“Welp, Joey. I gotta head out. I have patrol tomorrow.” Rook set her drink down with a click.

“Have a good night Rookie.” Hudson saluted. Giggling at her own joke.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and slapped some cash down on the bar as she breezed out the door.

“Keep the change Mary May!” She called out.

“You got it Dep!” Mary May called back.

Rook smiled to herself as she stepped into the crisp early summer evening, pausing to work the stiff zipper of her jacket. The music inside muffled as the door closed behind her but still clearly audible.

“Hey, Rookie, you’re headed home earlier.” Elizabeth’s head shot up as Staci stepped away from the side of the building, flicking the toothpick he was gnawing on into the parking lot.

 “You’re still here. What happened to the blonde?” Rook smiled companionably.

Staci sighed closing the distance between them. His hands stuffed in his pockets, head down looking dejected.

“Her boyfriend showed up.” He sighed.

“Poor him, or poor you. I can’t decide.” Rook snickered as she fought some more with the zipper.

“Poor him.” Staci confirmed. “I hooked up with her last week.” He looked up through the fringe of his hair with a wicked grin and both of them dissolved into laughter.

“Ouch.” Rook laughed as she finally got her zipper up. “Well, I’ll see you in the office tomorrow. Have a good night Staci.”

Rook turned towards her truck.

“Hey Liz.” Pratt’s hand shot out and he caught her elbow in a firm grip. Rook fought the conditioned response to yank her arm away and lay him out. His hand abruptly dropped when he felt her immediate tension.

“Sorry. Uh…” He paused awkwardly, running his hand through his hair as Rook waited to hear him out. “Can I… Can I ask you a question and will you answer honestly?”

Elizabeth’s gears turned quickly. Where was this heading? His inquiry implied that she might not be honest with her response. Her brain rushed through anything she might have tripped up on before answering.

She stuffed the apprehension behind a smile.

“Shoot cowboy.”

His mouth ticked upward into a smile for the briefest moment before he was serious again.

“Why’d you say no?” he asked. His dark eyes searched her face. Holding her gaze.

Rook knew exactly what he meant. Since their first interaction she knew they would be friends and he was definitely no slouch in the looks the department. They laughed and had chemistry. Elizabeth Rook the person would have said yes, but Agent Rook didn’t have the luxury of interpersonal relationships. Agent Rook was a cog in a greater machine. But after this month, and a couple of whiskeys she felt that loss particularly hard. In a strictly analytical assessment. It made her sad. She mulled over the question for a moment and decided to be as honest as she could be.

“I wouldn’t be good for you.” She said, holding the eye contact. It was direct and honest. Getting involved would be messy. And Anderson would have an aneurysm if he caught wind of it.

Staci’s lips quirked to one side in an almost rueful half smile. His face ran from boyish charm to darkly seductive. His tongue darting out to wet his lips.

“Who said I’d be good for you?” He responded in kind.

Rook couldn’t help the quick gasp of a laugh that escaped her lips.

“You’re one smooth operator Deputy Pratt.” Elizabeth couldn’t repress her answering smile. His brazen response was delightful.

“How about this Rookie.” He offered her his hand. “You ask me for dance and we’ll go from there.” The strains of a slow dance faintly heard through the windows of the bar.

Elizabeth looked at his hand a moment too long and Staci started to lose a bit of his unending confidence. As he started to withdraw it, three drink Elizabeth made a rash and impulsive decision.

Fuck Anderson and his bullshit.

She snatched up Staci’s warm hand using it to draw herself closer and placed her other hand on the top of his hard shoulder. Her eyes half lidded as she let him rest his hand on the swell of her hip and draw her flush to his chest. Eye to eye and toe to toe. His smile was genuine. Not a hint of conceit or gloating at his success, just surprised happiness.

“We’ll probably regret this later.” She smiled. Daring to enjoy the moment.

“We’ll definitely regret this later.” He chuckled as the hand on her hip moved to the small of her back and squeezing her just a bit closer. His jean clad thigh pressing between her legs as he slowly spun her around the deserted parking lot. He had an infectious laugh and she couldn’t help the warm rush the closeness brought her. Who was this chick? having a good time? Absolutely unprofessional. She squashed that judgmental voice down. Fuck not being her own person. Giving the uptight agent in her the metaphorical middle finger, Elizabeth pressed her flushed cheek to Staci’s stubbled one, drawing even closer. God, he smelled good too. Like spice and fresh mountains.

With a breathy sigh, Elizabeth threw caution to the wind and whispered into the shell of his ear.

“Well, are you going to kiss me or not cowboy?”

Chapter Text

Staci’s chuckle devolved into a groan as his hand dropped hers to thread his fingers along Rook’s jaw and into her hair. His thumb brushing her cheek, bringing her face before his to capture her lips. Elizabeth marveled in how softly he was cradling her face as he delicately picked his away across her lips. So gentle. Not demanding or greedy. Like he was savoring a fine wine or he was tentative. Unsure of her reaction and how his attention would be received.

Rook didn’t have time or the desire to be wooed.

Elizabeth took her free hand and fisted it in his tousled hair and crashed her mouth into his, running her tongue along the seam of his lips demanding entrance and reciprocation. If she was going to make a mistake, she was going to do it all the way.

In for a penny, in for pound.

He chuckled into her lips as he granted her entrance and demanded the same. Their tongues sparing for dominance before he pulled away gasping with a laugh.

“That’s how it is uh?” his eyes half lidded and sparkling with humor and lust as they darted across her kiss moistened lips

“Yeah that’s how it is.” She responded breathlessly.

Staci made some unintelligible, purely masculine grunt of affirmation as he ran his hands down Rook’s ass to cup her thighs, the muscles of his shoulders coiling tight under her hands, before hoisting Rook up and dropping her on the open tailgate of her truck. Her thigh’s bracketing his hips as she grasped at his collar and brought him to her mouth again. She could swallow him whole and still want more. They both tasted of whiskey and heated desire. She hadn’t felt this free and wild in years. Her heart thrumming in her ears. His hands moved to her hips and pulled her flush against him. He leaned in, running a hand into her bound hair and grasping tight as he slanted his mouth over hers, sliding his other hand up under her jacket and across her rib cage. His trailed touches like a furnace in the chilled air as his calloused thumb grazed the bottom of her bra. Elizabeth gasped into his mouth as she hooked an ankle around the back of his thigh, pulling him tight to her. She could practically feel her pulse in the V of her legs pressed tight against the bulge in his jeans.

The door to the Spread Eagle slammed noisily behind them and Rook tore away with an audible gasp. Her eyes wide as she realized how absolutely exposed they were pawing at each other in the parking lot of a bar. Real smooth Agent Rook.

“Is there a place we could go?” She asked.

“Yeah,” he leaned nipping her lower lip “Give me your keys.”

Staci drove her truck the three blocks to his little cottage on the edge of Falls End. He slammed the vehicle in park and pulled Rook across the bench seat and out the driver’s side door with him. An uncharacteristic giggle on her lips, her fingers laced through his. Jesus, was she some sort of teenager sneaking into her boyfriend’s house? She followed behind him admiring the view of his painted-on jeans as she told her inner realist to shut the fuck up. His uniform shirt pulled tight across his back muscles as he fished his keys out of his pocket and opened the door.

Pratt pulled her into the darkened interior, the glow of a fish tank the only illumination, as his mouth reclaimed hers, his booted heel kicking the door closed behind them. His hands deftly unzipping the jacket she had so much trouble with earlier. The irony not lost on her, as he shoved it off her shoulders to drop on the floor as he crowded her deeper into the house. She kicked off her slides and reached to pull his shirt from his pants.

“Where?” She gasped into his mouth. Her hands running up under the newly freed shirt to feel the blissfully warm ridges of his abs.

“Bedroom’s down the hall.” He hissed at the initial chill of her hands.

Her fingers fumbling with the tiny buttons of his uniform shirt before Staci let his impatience get the better of him and popping the final two with a hard yank to expose his tanned chest. His stomach dusted with a dark trail leading towards the low-slung pants. The tink of buttons hitting the hardwood floors barely heard of their frantic shuffling

He gripped the bottom of her t-shirt and slid it slowly over her head like he was peeling back the wrapping paper of a Christmas present. Humming appreciatively when he revealed her black bra. The shadowed buds of her nipples clearly visible through the sheer fabric.

“Hmmmm darlin’, you’re good enough to eat.” His voice husky in the dark as he shed his ruined shirt. Elizabeth’s eyes roving approvingly over his toned torso, and tightly muscles arms and shoulders. He wasn’t a big man, but he was definitely built. His left arm sporting a half sleeve of tattoos she couldn’t quite make out in the dark. She trailed her fingertips up the ink.

 “Are you hungry then Deputy Pratt?” she whispered looking up from tracing indistinguishable patterns into his hooded eyes.

“Starved.” He growled as he used that strength to scoop her up. Elizabeth automatically wrapped her arms around his neck and dipped her head to claim his mouth. Clenching her thighs to his side to stay up. Her lips bruised against his as he carried her down the hall, kicking open the half-closed door to his bedroom. The street light casting a golden glow through the window illuminating a queen bed and rumpled in sheets. Much like the man himself, enticingly disarrayed.

Staci broke the kiss and eased her body down his, relishing the feeling of her tits dragging across his chest. Slowly moving his way south, Staci took one nipple into his mouth through the gossamer thin fabric of her bra using the pad of his thumb to run lazy circles around the other.

Rook groaned as he increased the pressure, carding her fingers through his chestnut hair.

“You like that, darlin?” He whispered against her skin, his breath cool across the moist fabric creating goosebumps.

“God, yes.” She huffed.

Staci dropped to his knees like a penitent man before her, tracing his hands down her flat stomach. Ghosting over the scar on her hip. His eyes darting reverently over her body before grasping the edge of her jeans and dragged her hips towards him by the belt loops, making quick work of the button and zipper before slowly sliding her jeans over the swell of her ass down her thighs all while watching her face. His fingers trailed the jeans down. His lips gracing her hipbones and her outer thighs before Staci dropped her pants. Rook watch this painfully slow undressing with parted lips and a gasped sigh. Brushing the hair from his face so she would watch him watching her. Rook placed her hand on Staci’s smoothly muscled shoulder for balance as she stepped first one foot than the other out.

Leaving her jeans where they lay he rose trailing fiery kisses along the way, his eyes devouring her face and body, running his hand up her neck to cradle her head, Staci crowded Rook again, herding her towards the bed until the back of her knees hit the mattress. Perched on the precipice, her body flushed and thrumming, liquid heat pooling between her legs.

“Will you take it down for me?” His request whisper quiet. Rook didn’t have to ask what he meant, she reached up and tugged the elastic out of her messy bun. Shaking her wavy locks down as she reached behind her to release the clasp of her bra. Shimmying the straps off as her honey blonde hair cascaded down past her shoulders and over her breasts. Staci groaned as he tangled his fingers in her tresses. Pulling her forward and against his mouth.

“God you’re more beautiful than I could have imagined.” He hushed against her lips. Her smile soft. She wanted his honeyed words. She wanted to feel special and cherished. To feel like a woman instead of a hollowed-out robot. Even if was for a moment and had dire consequences. She would pay the cost if she had to.

Staci nipped her jaw quickly before lightly shoving her backwards to bounce on the bed. A breathy squeak escaping Elizabeth’s lips as he placed one knee on the bed, reaching for her ankle to drag her back towards him again.

She placed the ball of her foot squarely in the center of his chest. Keeping him at bay. He wrapped his warm hand around her foot, leaning forward to place a warm kiss on the inside of her ankle, using his tongue to trace the delicate bone. Staci devoured her with his eyes through the fall of his hair, sliding his hand down her ankle to her calf, gripping it lightly.

She dug her toes into his chest and pushed harder.

“Take them off.” She demanded huskily. Rook sat wide eyed as she watched Staci’s hand release her leg and reach for his belt buckle. The metallic clink loud over their heavy breathing. His eyes locked on to her face. Relishing her every reaction. His thumbs slid into the waistband of his jeans and boxer briefs, dragging them over his narrow hips, inch by inch, exposing the deep indent of the V in his lower stomach. Rook’s breath catching in her throat. She will forever questioning her sanity over this.

Staci dropped his jeans releasing his manhood to stand at attention against the soft dusting of black curls. Elizabeth’s eyes the size of saucers as her tongue darted out quickly wetting her lips to only capture the bottom one in her teeth. Perfectly sized to her liking, thick. Staci’s body checked all her boxes, including the slight upward curve of his cock and the flushed, swollen head.

Oh boy. She should have said yes sooner.

His eyes only a gleam behind the fringe of his hair as he slid his fingers beneath her underwear, dragging them down. His movements agonizingly slow. First one leg, then the other before tossing her drenched underwear over his shoulder.

Staci knelt at the edge of the bed with Elizabeth laid out before him. Her hair cascading around her head like a halo. Her breasts heaving under his scrutiny.

He was glad she hadn’t said yes sooner. The suspense made this better.

He gripped her ankle again moving his way down her leg sliding both hands behind her knees before dragging her to the edge of the bed and settling down at the apex of her thighs, draping one of her legs bonelessly over his shoulder.

Elizabeth gasped as he huffed a warm breath across her core, humming appreciatively. Slowly sliding his blunt, calloused fingers long her slit as he rubbed his stubbled chin along her inner thigh like a cat.

“God, Liz, you are so wet.” He breathed so fucking close, but not quite there. The contrast of tickling scratch and slick caress almost too much to bear. Her heart was in her throat and she couldn’t breathe and he decides to speak now?!

“Shut the fuck up Pratt and kiss me already!” her eyes on fire as he looked up at her. A cheeky grin on his face as he dragged his check against her thigh again. So slow, inching his way downward.

“Here?” he asked pursing his lips and blowing warm air across her cunt. She reached down and grabbed a fistful of his hair.

“Yes!” she hissed.

Staci chuckled darkly as he closed his mouth over her bud, sucking hard before lathing his tongue across her folds. Every breath Rook and ever took was shoved from her lungs as he set her on fire. Her hips bucking up towards his face, Staci wrapped his hands around her thighs to hold her down as he tasted her like she was the sweetest nectar, his groans thrumming through her.

The tightly coiled spring he worked so hard to create erupted with her orgasm, her hands gripping the sheets to keep from clawing him.

 “Jesus Christ Staci.” She sobbed out.

His eyes rose, his face glistening with her release as he flicked his tongue across her nub one last time. Her overstimulated body jerking in response.

“I like the way you say my name.” he said as he prowled northward, sliding his hands around her lower back and pulling her into his lap to capture her lips and share her taste. “Say it again.” He whispered against her mouth as she ground her pelvis down onto his rock-hard thighs. The hair tickling. His cock twitched between them.

“Staci. I need you to fuck me.” She moaned into his mouth. She could feel the corners of his lips tilt up as he tipped them both backwards, nestling himself at her entrance. So close, but not quite there.

“Is that an order Deputy?” God he couldn’t stop teasing her for a moment.

“You’re going to regret teasing me.” She warned before clutching him to her chest and sinking her teeth into his shoulder. Sucking hard she wrenched a guttural moan from his throat. Staci could no longer deny her, or himself. He let a wordless sound of pleasure escape his lips as he slid home. All the way home. The sting and stretch of finally feeling full was euphoric for Elizabeth.

Rook’s sigh of satisfaction was almost enough to undo him. Staci rested his forehead in the crook of her shoulder taking in her scent as her silky smooth walls hugged him tight. Elizabeth ground her hips upward wrapping her legs around his hips, bringing him closer. Jesus, this was going to kill him.

“Move your ass cowboy.” She breathed into the shell of his ear and he did as he was told for once, raking his teeth across her own shoulder, grazing her bullet scar, before diverting his attention to her breasts. He was more than delighted at how they fit his hand perfectly.

Staci set a slow languid pace, bracing one hand above her head and using the other to palm her breast. Slowly rolling his hips in and out in rhythm with the circular motion of his thumb across her nipple. Whispering sweet encouragements.

She trailed her hands down his arms to dig her nails into his biceps. She relished feeling the coil and release of his muscles as he worked above her.

 “Faster cowboy.” Rook captured his gaze her lips parted and moist. Her demands music to his ears.

“Yes, Ma’am.” He huffed increasing the pace. Elizabeth could feel the gushing warmth of her body reacting to his as he rolled his pelvis against her clit. Each graze somehow more than the last. The rushing heat flooding her core and expanding outward warning of her eminent release.

Elizabeth hooked her foot around Staci’s calf and with a quick movement wrested control form him, rolling them both without breaking stride. Her thighs straddling him as she sank back down, agonizingly slow, this new position hitting all the right spots. Staci’s hands settling on her hips with a pleasantly surprised moan. His eyes fluttering closed as he tilted his head back.

“Nuh uh Cowboy.” She sighed “eyes on me.”

His fingers gripping tighter as his eyes flew open and his hips bucked up into her. Rook braced one hand on his chest as she swept her hair back, grinding down to meet him before rolling her hips back up, coating him with her desire. Staci looked on the verge of implosion as she continued to ride him.

“Darlin'. I don’t know if I’m going to make it much longer.” He gasped between labored breaths. Elizabeth grabbed his hands, lacing her fingers through his and pinning them above his head as she rolled forward dragging breasts across his chest.

“Go on Cowboy. Let go.” She gasped into his ear as she rolled back down again to the hilt. Staci made a strangled noise before wrestling her back over and plowing into her hard and fast. No longer able to tease and quickly chasing his own orgasm. Their hands still laced and each thrust driving a whispered “yes” from Elizabeth. The sudden frantic change in Staci driving her clear over the edge. Her walls seizing down on him as she let go herself with a gasped “Oh, god.”

“Unnnf. Baby, I’m gonna come.” He managed between gritted teeth as Elizabeth bucked up to meet him. “Fuck.” He hissed as he pulled out to spend across her heaving abdomen. “Jesus, fuck.” She wheezed in response, her body completely boneless. Staci rested his sweating brow in the crook of her shoulder as he tried to relearn to breathe.

“I should have said yes sooner.” She huffed out the thought she had earlier.

“Uh huh.” He huffed, gingerly rolling to his back besides her. They spent a few minutes in companionable silence before he brushed the hair from his eyes and rolled to his side. Staci pulled her face to his and kissed her slow and sweet. The fire banked from earlier, but still present. He eased back to gaze at her. Tucking a stray lock behind her ear as her eyes searched his. His afterglow making his gaze soft and his smile slow and drowsy.  

Staci face lit up and he suddenly rolled away from her and off the bed. Rook felt the loss immediately.

“Where are my manners.” He chuckled as he made his way towards the kitchen.

“Back in the bar parking lot.” Rook teased as she watched him walk bare ass down the hall to return with a couple of bottles of water and a warm wet rag for her.

Taking the bottle with thanks she sat up to drink before she flopped back down with a hearty groan.

“Listen, Liz. If you want… I would love…” he started as he used the rag to wipe her stomach clean.

She already knew where he was going with his line of thought and headed him off at the awkward pass.

“Hey Staci” She smiled up at him. “Do you mind if I stay here tonight?” He beamed all boyish charm again, sliding into bed beside her and drawing her close, his nose buried in her hair.

She didn’t know where this dynamic was going to go, or how they would feel in the morning, but, Jesus she had missed this. In college she had always been comfortable with sex and intimacy, but her professional life had effectively murdered her personal one and she hadn’t realized how starved she was until Staci had wrapped his arms around her and she nestled her head onto his chest. His hands trailing lazy circles along her back. Grazing her scars here and there, but not prying.

 “Thank you.” Staci smiled down at her like she had given him a gift. Their legs intertwined as he pulled the light blanket over them. What felt like a decade’s worth of tension was suddenly gone. No wonder he was so good with the ladies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Elizabeth Rook wasn’t in the business of regret. When she made a decision, she stuck by it. Her sanity wouldn’t survive otherwise. So, when she woke in a room bathed in early morning light, face down in a bed that smelled a hell of a lot like Staci Pratt, she accepted the fact that she’d made a decision, and there would probably be some consequences, but she definitely didn’t regret it and she’d probably do it again given the opportunity.

She definitely didn’t regret his warm fingers laying a trail across her back. Tracing her spine, stuttering almost unnoticeable across her scars. She wondered if he would ask her about them.

 “Good Morning, cowboy.” Rook rolled over to face Staci with a sleepy smile.

Staci smiled sheepishly at being caught.

“Hey lady.” He smiled back.

“Hey.” She responded lamely as they just sort of looked at each other awkwardly. So, what do we do now? She wondered.

“You up for breakfast?” And bless him, he broke that awkward tension.

“Starved.” She groaned.

Staci laughed as he snatched up her hand, kissing the back before sliding out of the bed, bare as the day he was born. Rook couldn’t help but admire the view as he moved through the warm glow of the rising sun, picking up a pair of jeans and sliding them on.

“Eggs, bacon and coffee okay?” he asked buttoning the fly. “I usually don’t have breakfast company.” Rook reading between the lines, that his conquests usually don’t stay the night. A flutter of panic in her stomach that he was treating differently. That he would have expectations she couldn’t fulfill.

“Yeah. Uh, that would be great.” She sat up clutching the sheet to her bare chest. Welp, time to bite the bullet, so to speak.

“Listen, Staci. Can we talk about last night?”

His head shot up from where he was trying to find a clean shirt in a pile of laundry. His expression wary.

“Yeah Liz. Absolutely. We can talk.” He went back to rummaging, before triumphantly pulling a dove gray shirt from the pile and sliding it over his head, hiding his sun-kissed body. Liz felt like the sunrise got a little dimmer.

“After breakfast.” He said.

As Staci sauntered from the room, Rook hopped out of bed, scooped up her clothes from last night and ducked into the bathroom to put her self back together. She silently chewed herself out as she washed her face and finger combed her hair into some kind of order.

She needed a plan of action before she walked out of this room.

First and foremost, she needed to get into the locker room without Hudson seeing her in yesterday’s clothes. This needed to be kept to need to know. She had to secure Staci’s vow of secrecy. The precinct didn’t need to know, and if they didn’t know she didn’t have to tell Sharpe or Anderson. And if Sharpe and Anderson didn’t know, this was contained and there was no professional mess to clean up.

Second, she needed to set some boundaries with Staci. She wanted to be his friend, as much as she could under the circumstances. Even though she was attracted to him, she couldn’t let him think they had a future. It wouldn’t be fair. She wasn’t anyone’s girlfriend material. She needed to keep this casual. Real casual.

Third, it didn’t matter that Staci may have caused a tiny, itty bitty, crack in her unflappable conviction to being a professional hard ass, she still had a job to do and was going to do it. It didn’t mean she had to feel good about it, she just had to get it done.

All that clarity from last night’s whiskey fueled escapade had a bit more baggage in the morning light, but she definitely didn’t regret it. Staci, completely unbeknownst to him, broke something free in her. She missed having some kind of connection, any connection, with another person. Maybe when this was all done she could gracefully tell Anderson to go fuck himself and actually be a person instead of a machine.

Rook took a deep, steadying breath at her reflection in the mirror before exiting the bathroom.

Staci stood barefoot in the kitchen scrambling eggs as bacon sizzled in the skillet. He slid her a cup of coffee across the counter as she pulled up a stool.

“Black right?” He asked.

“As my soul” she responded.

He snorted as he turned back to the stove. “Whatever you say.”

He continued to cooked as she took a fortifying sip of liquid hot energy. The silence starting to drag.

“Soooo.” Rook started.

“Soooo.” Staci mimicked, not turning around. He wasn’t going to make this easy, was he?

“I had a really good time last night.” Rook offered, disgusted with herself. She didn’t know how to do this. Counterespionage? On it. Shooting a moving target from a thousand yards out? No sweat. Having a normal conversation with a guy you had life altering sex with? ABORT! ABORT!

“Me too.” He turned and offered her steaming, fluffy eggs and perfectly crisp bacon.

Elizabeth forked some eggs into her mouth before she said something else stupid, her eyes sliding closed in ecstasy as the fluffy little morsels melted. Because of course he could fucking cook.

“Listen Liz.” He started “I know you’re not looking for anything serious.” Her eyes flew open. “I’m happy we’re friends and I want us to stay friends. So, if this is a one-time deal, I’m grateful. And if it’s not, I’d be even more grateful” He smiled devilishly as he leaned on the counter, coffee mug in hand.

Oh god, he was going to be amazing about this. And part of her felt relieved and another part, one that she wouldn’t address, was sad, and hated that she couldn’t just say fuck it and actually be a down home cop in BFE Montana. That this wasn’t real.

She looked up, catching and holding his gaze. “I want us to be friends too Staci. You’re one of the few I’ve got right now.” She was going to strive to have some honesty. As much as she could anyway. “I just have a lot going on with my life back East, and it wouldn’t be fair to anyone to drag them into it.”

“I don’t have to worry about a jealous boyfriend, do I?” He asked, mock concern on his face.

She barked a bitter laugh.

“No. God no, nothing like that.” He dramatically sighed in relief and Rook’s lips twitched dangerously close to a smile.

“This have anything to do with your scars?” He asked, casually take a sip of coffee.

“Actually, in a round about way, yeah it does.” He had surprised her into honesty again. Maybe he wasn’t as unobservant as she thought.

He hummed into his cup and she uncharacteristically offered more info.

“I got shot on the job… and I’ve been stabbed. A couple times.” Close to the truth. He set his mug down and held her gaze in earnest.

“Shit Liz. I’m sorry.” He reached for her hand and grasped it in his. Staci’s genuine concern with no ulterior motive, tugging at her and before she could stop herself, she was offering up so much more than she should have been.

“It’s been less than a year, and the precinct,” She hesitated over the word, “I was at before just took and took and took. I had an asshole CO who held my job ransom on the basis of my fitness for active duty, so I came West. And I just want to do a good job.” She huffed.

Rook swallowed what felt like a boulder before clearing her throat.

“That guy sounds like a total asshole.” Staci offered in solidarity. “I’m glad you came out our way. And thank you for confiding in me.”

“Thank you.” She said softly.

“For what?” He asked.

“For listening to something I don’t talk about. For being my friend. For being a decent guy.”

“Girl, you obviously don’t know me.” He snorted, lightening the mood.

 “I’m pretty good at reading people,” she smiled like a cat that got the cream, ”but don’t worry cowboy. I won’t tell the other girls.”

He laughed. “Thanks. I have a reputation of a lazy philanderer to maintain.”

After breakfast, Staci and Rook agreed that whatever this was, needed to stay between them and it would be their little secret. Staci had kissed her softly before slapping her ass as she scooted out the door. It was a shame she wasn’t sticking around. She really liked the guy.

Rook hustled to the sheriff’s office before Hudson’s shift started. Hudson was a good enough detective to piece together she didn’t go home last night.

~~~

Two days later, Elizabeth came in from her patrol shift, coffee in hand and mentally compiling her next transmission to Sharpe. She had a solid lead on large shipments being made to the old St. Francis Veteran’s Center that the Seeds had just purchased. She was planning recon that evening to see if she would get photos of the crates. Maybe even sneak in and pop one of the tops. Hard evidence would go a long way.

A commotion in Whitehorse’s office brought her head up. Earl wasn’t much of a yeller, and his voice was clearly elevated. She walked past her desk, dropping her files, and continued over to Hudson’s. Staci sat with his feet up on Joey’s desk as they did their best to eavesdrop on the heated conversation happening behind closed doors. Rook casually knocked his feet off to give her a place to perch.

“What do you reckon that’s about?” Rook asked, head tilted towards the racket.

“An absolute shit show, that’s what it’s about.” Hudson said, her eyes wide. “A goddamned U.S. Marshal showed up an hour ago and he’s been arguing with Earl since he walked in. Nancy’s been in a tizzy.”

“About what?” Rook sipped her coffee.

“A warrant for the arrest of Joseph Fucking Seed.” Staci supplied. His eyes alight.

“What?!” Rook practically screeched. Coffee spilling as she leapt to her feet.

Before either Hudson or Staci could respond, Whitehorse’s door flew open and out he stormed. A well-trimmed man wearing the trademark Marshal’s vest hot on his heels. His face red under his caramel tan.

“… and you haven’t established a joint task force yet. It’s just you!” Sheriff Whitehorse continued as he strode into the bullpen.

“This isn’t up for debate.” The Marshal said. His tone steely.

“This is a bad idea Marshal.” Whitehorse looked like he had said that repeatedly.

“And I have a federally issued warrant for Joseph Seed for the murder of three missing college students. We have video. This asshole is a flight risk. This going to happen tonight.”

Jesus Christ. How could Sharpe had missed this? How the fuck hadn’t he told her this was coming? This unexpected turn of events had caught her flat footed. She had spoken to Sharpe yesterday and he hadn’t made any indication this was in the works. He should have fucking known and Rook was going to have to hustle to figure out what the fuck was happening.

“Excuse me Marshal...” Rook looked at the name patch, “Burke. Could I please see the warrant?”

Burke leveled her with a withering gaze. A lesser person would have shrunk, but not Rook. Her eyes narrowed. She had pegged him for a pompous bully the second she laid eyes on him. He obviously was used to throwing his federal weight around in small towns like this. God, Rook hated a bully. She could have shut him down in a heartbeat, but she couldn’t without blowing her cover.

“You can look at it once we’re airborne.” He snapped before turning to Staci. “You’re the pilot right?”

“Uhhhhh, yeah?” Staci stood confused, looking at Whitehorse for direction.

“Well go get the chopper ready. We roll in 15.” Burke barked.

“Do as he says son.” Whitehorse sighed.

This asshole was going to fuck her mission six ways from Sunday.

Chapter Text

Jacob had been true to his word, Rook got her shower.

Jacob had snatched her arm up without another word and marched her in his iron grip from the dank little cell. When she naturally resisted, not knowing where he was taking her, his fingers dug into her bicep with bruising force practically lifting her off her feet.

“Stop.” He hissed. Punctuating the word with a shake.

“You stop.” She hissed back. Her nails sinking into his forearm.

He grunted an annoyed response and continued to drag her down the hall into a deserted locker room before throwing her down to skid across the damp tile of the open shower room. Her lack of cooperation irking him. Her clawing him down right pissed him off. He was trying to be nice.

“There’s soap in the shower and towels in there.” He pointed to a line of battleship grey lockers. “You have fifteen minutes to clean yourself up.”

Rook stood, shooting daggers with her eyes. She grabbed a towel and gripped the knob of the shower controls, turning the water all the way hot. She wanted to scald the filth from her skin. To burn away all the dirt and smells. The pain and the fear. She hung the towel within reach and started to shed her stiff clothing, presenting her back to the biggest threat in the room.

Nothing mattered more than the shower at this point. If he killed her now, at least she’d be clean.

She dropped her loose pants and pulled up the borrowed t-shirt, looking over her shoulder. He stood like a mountain, his arms crossed over his broad chest and his shoulders straining the military jacket. He didn’t seem inclined to leave, blocking the exit.

It seemed to be his thing. Taking up space.

“So, you gonna watch now?” She her voice dripping acid. Her eyes narrowed.

His sharp blue eyes narrowed to match.

“If I want to.” He challenged back. He surprisingly held her gaze with his. Not letting his eyes wander, but ensuring his dominance of the situation regardless.

“Get fucked.” She spat as she stepped naked into the steaming water.

The hot water didn’t redden her skin as much as Jacob’s gaze did. She could practically feel it burning over her now. Assessing her. Her give-a-fuck was completely broken at this point. If he wanted to watch, good for him she thought bitterly.

He leaned against the door jamb as she scrubbed for all she was worth. With her eyes closed and back to him doing her best to ignore his existence, he used the opportunity to take in the little troublemaker. To clearly see what he was working with here.

Jacob imagined his care and training had leaned her down. Honed her from any excess softness she may have had. He thought with satisfaction. Rook had been fit before Jacob got his hands on her. But now she was harder. Stronger. And her ass… Peaches was definitely right about that. Jacob groaned inwardly.

She was annoyingly attractive. Not that her looks would get her any sort of special treatment. Rook was tall for a woman and athletic, but still slight compared to him. She must be used to muscling her way around smaller people with her hell-on-wheels attitude. She was obviously someone who had trained hard for years and used her size to the advantage. Just the way she carried herself screamed operator to him.

She probably could have kept him running indefinitely if his hunters hadn’t ambushed her. He had to admit, it wasn’t skill on their part. Joseph called it divine intervention. Jacob thought god had very little to do with it. They just got damn lucky they got her before she got them.

Rook swept her hair off her back and began to scrub her shoulders, leaving her back exposed. She was a patchwork of new and old scars. Some clearly older than her time in Hope County and some freshly pink, picked up from skirmishes with his people. She definitely gave better than she got, since most of the time it meant certain death for his troops she encountered. She was a force to be reckoned with. He casually wondered what had happened to the person that had shot her. Had they survived? He would be disappointed if they had.

And then there was the pinkened and puckered line his own knife had given her. He hadn’t told her he was the one that nicked her. What purpose would it serve? She already had enough animosity towards him. It felt fitting though that he dressed the wound himself. That he got to see to the mark he had given her. She had almost got him too. He would carry his own memento. Her own wicked gut stab had ricocheted off his rib as he had twisted away from her blade. If he hadn’t hit her first, she would have slipped it between his ribs and into something a little more vital. Like his lungs or his heart. If she hadn’t been running on fumes, she might have gotten him. He shifted his weight uncomfortably at the thought.

Half the reason he had kept her locked up for so long was to give himself time to heal. After that session, he had a healthy respect for her abilities and it solidified his suspicions. Handling her was going to take him at top form. Finally, something challenging.

“I want you to know I don’t give a shit what Joseph’s plan is for you.” Jacob said conversationally, breaking the silence. “You cause any trouble, I’ll beat you. You run, I’ll kill Peaches. You try and kill me, I’ll kill you, and then everyone you care about. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal.” Rook dunked her head under the water to rinse her head and shoulders. Letting it beat down on her.

“Crystal what?” He growled.

“Crystal clear. I’m not calling you sir, you’re not my daddy. Don’t hold your fucking breath.”

She clearly didn’t have the energy for any mayhem, but she still had a smart mouth. A muscle ticked in Jacob’s jaw. His eyes clearly said he was weighing his desire to throttle her against his instructions to keep her alive. He didn’t think it would matter much at this point.

“Ten minutes.” He stated as he spun on his heel and left.

She shrugged at his reminder. She was going to stand in this hot water until that asshole forcibly dragged her out of it. She hoped he slipped and fell. Rook had never felt so good in her life. No, she didn’t feel good, she felt grateful. She was alive, and she had bought herself time. She braced both her palms on the steamed tile and let the hot water sluice through her hair and down her body as she rinsed away the old dried blood. Shades of brownish red swirled down the drain.

She stood there for another five minutes. Soaking in whatever warmth she could into her tight muscles. The wound on her back stung when she had washed over it, but it was only a small blight on the release her muscles had under the pounding warmth of the water.

Rook heard a single set of distinctly male footsteps approach her. The hollow thud of boots echoing around the tiled room.

“I still have five minutes asshole.” Rook called into the stream of water.

She was not expecting the hand that latched onto her and pulled her around. She instinctively snatched at the hand, attempting to twist it into a joint lock, but she couldn’t find purchase with her soap slicked hands.

The man wrenched his wrist free, her feet sliding across the soapy tile as she struggled and clawed out blindly, fighting to see through the wet ropes of her hair. Like hell she was going to add rape to this fucked up situation. She lashed out all nails as she fought the hand on her wrist, blinking the water from her eyes.

“Fuck, ow!” he gasped.

 “St…Staci?” She whispered, the flight leaving her.

She hadn’t seen him since he had left her in Jacob’s office. She had hoped Jacob had kept him otherwise occupied, that he was still alive. He was never one of the Peggies that brought her food. She searched his face. Terrified of what she would find.

He looked, somehow, even worse, but alive! His eyes dark shadows of forming bruises and his nose showing signs of being freshly broken. His looked… beaten and frantic. Rook’s hands came up to frame his face, the stubble biting into her palms, completely forgetting her state of undress in her shock.

His warm, worn hands gripped her wrists as she held his face. The knuckles were split and caked with dried blood. “What have they done to you?” She asked softly.

Fresh scratch marks welled blood on his forearm. That was probably from her and she felt instantly guilty.

“What did you do?” He whispered, ignoring her question and the welling blood. Fear and anger warring across his features. Her hands slipped from his face, unsure of how to answer him.

“He let you out. He let you go.” Not needing to specify who he was. The once steadying grip on her wrist tightening as he dragged her closer, his eyes boring into hers, searching for answers she didn’t have.

“Why did he let you go?” Repeating more forcefully, Staci practically roared. “What did you do Elizabeth?!”

Rook became uncomfortably aware of her state of undress. That she was at a tactical disadvantage if this went the southernly direction it was headed.

 “Let me go Staci.” Rook kept her voice calm, and steady. She didn’t want to fight him.

Staci didn’t wait for her response, looking on the verge of tears. “Jesus, you fucking said yes.”

“What, no…” She began.

“How could you?” his voice broken.

“I didn’t…” she tried again.

“Don’t lie to me! He let you go. He would never let you go, unless…” Staci hissed, his grip turning painful.

“Let me go Staci, before I make you.” Rook’s voice turned hard, her patience thin. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she wasn’t sure she could reason with him.

Before the bubble of tension burst into some kind of action, someone cleared their throat, loudly and deliberately, from the door. Rook was certain both her and Staci’s hearts had stopped.

~~~

Jacob had stood in the doorway a veritable storm cloud of displeasure. He had walked into what, on the surface, looked like an intimate moment between his carefully curated asset and his loyal pet Deputy. He had felt his chest immediately tighten with an unfamiliar flush of uncontrolled rage at Peaches’ insubordination, his hands on her, her bare skin glistening damp, flushed from the heat. He wanted nothing more than to assert his complete and utter dominance over both of them. That they were his, not their own.

“Better listen to the lady, Peaches.” Jacob’s voice held no inflection, only casual boredom. The angry pressure of his gaze at war with his casual words.

Pratt’s hand dropping from Rook’s wrists like she had scalded him.

“I’m so sorry.” He gasped. His eyes wide and panicked before they dropped to the before and he stepped away from her, leaving Rook exposed to the room and Jacob. His immediate submission taking the edge off Jacob’s ire. Ever loyal, even if he had to be reminded.

Rook snatched the towel from the hook and quickly wrapped herself, her embarrassment aflame in what felt like a whole body blush.

Jacob approached, shoving the bundle of clean clothes into her chest, forcing her to take a step backwards to keep her balance and placing him almost between her and Staci.

“No need to feel modest on my account.” Jacob addressed Rook, but his eyes never left Staci’s downcast face. He took a heartbeat to look between the two of them. Pratt looking guilty as hell, trying to avoid eye contact and Rook’s eyes wide and watching. Trying to track the unspoken dialog between the two men.

“Is this going to be a problem Peaches?” Jacob asked as he folded his arms across his chest to keep himself from laying the smaller man out just to prove the point. He could still feel the blood hot in his veins from the initial rush.

Staci looked like he was going to vomit. “No, sir. It’s nothing, sir.”

“Hmmm.” Jacob mulled over his response. Jacob nodded towards Staci’s hands and face. “Go get yourself cleaned up Peaches. You’re a mess.”

“Yes, sir.” He responded without looking up. His hands flexing, reopening some of the scabs on his knuckles before he moved to leave. Jacob grabbed Staci’s bicep before he could slink out the door.

“You win.” Jacob stated, like it wasn’t a question.

“Yes, sir.” Staci repeated, looking straight ahead. His hands flexing again.

“Good. Now git. You have no business with Deputy Rook.” His meaning clear.

“Yes, sir.” without a backwards glance at her Staci marched from the room. Rook’s chest tightened. She had to find a way to get them both out. Even if she had to fight him to do it.

Jacob waited until Staci had left before turning his attention to Rook. She held the clothing to her chest, eyes scrutinizing. He was fairly certain she missed nothing. The posturing, the body language, the unspoken fear and the shift in Pratt’s demeanor. Pratt could hold his own amongst the men, he could fight and win, but he wasn’t strong. Peaches needed someone to lead him, he needed to follow orders. Jacob saw the purpose in such a soldier. And now, watching Rook’s face flush with anger, Jacob realized Peaches was even more valuable. He was leverage. Pratt didn’t dovetail into Joseph’s plan, but he would work in Jacob’s.

“Do you think there’s going to be a problem, kitten?” His eyes slanted her way as he leaned back against the lockers.

“Did you break his nose?” She countered his question with one of her own.

“Not this time.” Jacob shrugged. “Most likely scrapping with the medic again.”

Rook responded with an eloquent grunt. “Then I suppose we don’t currently have a problem”

“Currently.” Jacob barked a laugh. “Well if you’re done at the spa princess, it’s time you got to work. Everyone pulls weight ‘round here. Even the sinner. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Rook had followed Jacob through the meandering halls of St. Francis back to his personal war room. Late afternoon light shining through the windows she passed. The glimpses of the mountains outside bittersweet. She hadn’t seen the sky in a while. This time she wasn’t dragged or manhandled along the way. She wasn’t currently bleeding or injured. She actually got to walk under her own power, in clothes that were clean and shoes that fit. Things were looking up.

Jacob held the door for her and she entered first. The room was much the same as she remembered, but with the addition of a full blooded judge curled up on the floor. Its white body shooting up and a guttural growl curling black lips. The red cross stark across its face. Rook froze and for a heartbeat time stood still. She didn’t think she could take a judge unarmed, her mind rapidly sorting through scenarios where she could survive a tussle with a big fucking murder machine. The judge’s hackles rose sensing her train of thought until Jacob followed behind her with a stern look. The nub of the judge’s docked tail wagged once before it laid its head back down on dingy white paws. Eyes still fixed on this interloper and Rook’s eyes fixed right back. Predator and prey. So much for things looking up.

Jacob gestured for her to take a seat in one of the hard metal chairs set before his desk, moving around it and the judge to ease into the opposite to hers. His knees spread and the metal groaned as he leaned his considerable frame back to observe her. This felt like a fucked up visit to the principal’s office.

“I’ll stand if you don’t mind.” She said, shifting her stance to a military at ease. Feet braced and hands folded behind her back. Eyes forward no longer looking at him or the judge, but ready to react if either moved on her.

“What if I do mind Agent Rook?” His voice laced with something like amusement as he prodded her. Rook’s eyes darted to him but she didn’t take the bait of him using the title. “There are a few things I’d like sorted about our newly forced upon us working relationship.” He propped one very large booted foot on the corner of his desk with a thud.

“And what would that be Jacob?” Her voice carefully neutral.

“Who do you work for?” He asked point blank.

“The Hope County Sheriff’s department.” She responded glibly. Jacob snorted in disbelief.

“You and I both know that’s a lie, so let me know when I’m getting close.” He folded his hands over his stomach. She had deliberately pushed buttons and he was getting more relaxed. His temper firmly in check. He was in this for the long haul.

“My guess, which I gotta since you ain’t gonna tell me and I’m pretty sure I can’t actually beat it out of you, is that you’re a CIA spook. Probable military background, definite field agent experience. And you were sent here because you’re expendable. How’m I doin’ so far kitten?”

“Please continue. I’m dying to hear the rest.” She groused to cover the growing knot in her gut. His words eerily mirroring her inner most fear. His guesses terrifyingly accurate. This late in the game what would it fucking matter if anyone knew who she was. She was on her own. She wasn’t part of an agency out here. She only had herself. The dread that the rug had slowly been pulled out from under her and she had seen it coming, but could do nothing about it. That final, most painful fear, Anderson and the agency she built herself around saw her as expendable.

“I bet one of those starched collar desk jockeys planted you in that fucking joke of a Sheriff’s department to monitor the Project to get you off his books and I bet you were dying of boredom. Fielding domestic disputes and brawls at shithole bars with shithole people. Wasting your talent on writing reports and clicking send. No wonder you fell in with Peaches. Anything to kill the time right?” He smirked. His lips twisted cruelly as she felt an uncontrollable flush spread across her cheeks. Her face hot with uncharacteristic shame and she hated him for making her feel that way and she hated herself for being such a fool. Elizabeth remained silent, warring internally. Her lack of response doing nothing to slow him down. He was building up his momentum.

“You know I’ve been watching you for a while. Even before that moron Burke. Something about you didn’t add up.” He tapped his knee for emphasis. “Why would a pretty, big city cop like you move west to a backwoods place like this where you had no ties and almost everyone else is each other’s second cousin only to immediately start sniffing around the perfectly legal endeavors of upstanding church folk like us?” The last he said with the slightest hint of mirth. Like it was his own little joke. I mean, Rook thought, it was darkly funny to think of this scarred, fire headed behemoth who just naturally exuded controlled violence as legal, upstanding and church going. She wouldn’t debase herself enough to laugh about it with him though.

“And then the shit hits the fan and hold the fucking phone. This small timer is like the god damn terminator all of a sudden!” His voice clearly laced with humor now. “I gotta say honey. It was a joy to watch you work even if it was at my expense. You made Eli look like a chump. Finally, some good quality resistance. A challenge.”

Jacob rose from his chair and headed to the coffee pot set in the kitchenette, the judge’s eyes following him as he moved across the room. He poured them both a steaming cup, all nonchalant like he wasn’t just casually recapping her penultimate failure leading to her current disaster.

He stepped before Rook, offering her the cup. His body closer than would customarily be appropriate. In an empty room, it felt like crowding. His eyes bright with humor as he looked down into her face. She took the coffee because to refuse was just petty and childish at this point. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Rook brought it to her lips to sip the too hot liquid. Her eyes crystalline and hard as she held his gaze over the rim of the mug. Rook struggling keeping herself in check as he dissected her mission. Muting her body language to virtual blankness, almost imperceptible. Jacob was practically giddy to see her subtle reaction to his next verbal volley.

“That’s why I had them torch your house. To remove you from your resources. To weaken you.” His smirk was back, so pleased with himself. He was so fucking smug with that smirk. His blue eyes twinkling like gemstones over his own mug. So proud of his little counterespionage.

Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to throw the piping hot coffee in his face. Smash the mug into his skull. To give him a few more scars. On a professional level, him nailing her entire op was embarrassing. Maybe she deserved this. Maybe she deserved to be disgraced. He heart raced in futile rage.She felt her left eye twitch.

“Ooooo.” His voice so low as to almost be a caress. Her skin pebbled in apprehension. His smile was genuine and feral and terrifying. “That’s the ticket isn’t it.” He was enjoying this one-sided tête-à-tête so much. Pushing her buttons as he watched her body telegraph her shock, her anger, her embarrassment. Her control of all of those so masterful. Her fortitude remarkable, never saying a word but, he’d torn her down and built her back up during her training sessions. She may have never told him her secrets in words when he held her life in those sessions, but he was confident in his ability to know her.

He watched her war internally with a desire to strike him and stepped back to the desk before she convinced herself she could accept the consequences of doing so. He perched on the corner facing her, but a safe distance away. The judge came to sit by his side. A silent solidarity reinforcing her decision to not go ballistic.

“Do all you Seeds compulsively monologue? Is it a genetic dysfunction?” When at a loss for words, always fall back on snark. She could wrap it around her like a paper thin armor.

Jacob chuckled darkly. He had won this round.

“Do you know how to fly a Kaumbat Sky Scarab?” His abrupt subject change as sharp as a slap shocking Elizabeth into answering honestly.

“Uh, yeah. But you already knew that. You seem to already know a lot of things.” The words dangerously close to a confirmation.

“I do, but I thought it would be polite to ask.” He cradled the steaming cup before him, his hand absently falling to the head of the wolf next to him. Scratching its ears, his long fingers carding through the snowy fur. This relaxed, almost normal movement at odds with his demeanor moments before. The tension he worked so hard to create dissipating. She took another gulp of coffee. The warmth pooling low and easing her nerves. The caffeine a welcome relief.

“Like I said before. Everybody works ‘round here. Even you. There’s too much ground to cover between St. Francis, the Henbane and John’s ranch and with your dipshit compatriots on the loose it’s not exactly safe for us to travel over surface roads. I find myself in need of a pilot.”

“Why not Pratt? He can fly. Or one of your little goons? Some of them must be bush pilots. You surely can fly.” She scoffed “Why me? What makes you think I won’t do the world a fucking favor and crash us both into oblivion the first chance I get?” Her face incredulous he would ask her to do something so outrageous like ensuring his safety but thankful that his first decree wouldn’t have her harming her friends.

“Oh well a number of reasons I reckon. One:” he held up his index finger.  “Peaches is alive at my whim and if you want him to stay that way, you’ll keep me alive too. I die. He dies. Simple as that. Two:” he ticked off another finger. “Do you honestly think I believe in Joseph’s god enough to get in a helicopter with Pratt. He’d crash us first chance he got. I only fly turbo prop and I can’t trust a Project pilot not to be high as a fucking kite on bliss.” Rook cracked a reluctant smile. He had her there. “And three: because it sure as hell beats cleaning kennels with Harris.”

“The medic?” A laugh burst forth before Elizabeth could stifle it. “You’re making him clean up wolfshit because of how he stitched my back?”

Jacob shrugged. “Don’t get any ideas that I punished him for your benefit. His incompetency damaged an asset. He’s lucky I didn’t end him that day.” Uncomfortable with her suddenly penetrating gaze. He hid it behind another sip of rapidly cooling coffee. “Regardless, you don’t work for either Uncle Sam or Whitehorse anymore. You’re mine until I find a better purpose for you or I kill you for your smart mouth” She harrumphed at that.

“You know you can only threaten me with death so many times before I just don’t care anymore.” She quipped.

He responded with his own none verbal vocalization then, “Don’t tempt me girl.”

“Now here’s where the rubber meets the road.” He set his coffee cup down on the paper strewn desk with a soft click. Straightening to his full height bringing the judge to alertness. The sun glinting off his hair like a fiery crown as he laid down the rules of her tenuously conditioned freedom. He could bounce between the passive menace of casually petting a killing machine to the active menace of towering over her in a heartbeat.

“I expect you to be ready to fly within ten minutes of getting the call. You will be at my disposal at all times. My office, the armory, the barracks and all of the outside is off limits. If I catch you in any of these places, you’ll be punished. You will not be armed at any time unless I personally arm you. If I find a weapon on you, you’ll be punished. If you deviate from a flight plan, you’ll be punished. If I or my family are harmed that’s lights out for Peaches, and probably you too.”.

Rook couldn’t contain her dramatic eyeroll. “Yes, yes. Anything unsatisfactory will be punished. I get it.”

Jacob shot her a dirty look at her interruption and continued on.

“Curfew is 10:00 pm unless you’re flying or I’ve given you something to do. Wake up is 6:30 am. You can use the locker room and the gym at that time. I expect you to maintain peak fitness. You have free use of the mess hall and you’ve been set up in a room to the right of this one.”

“Keeping me so close!” She cooed mockingly. Elizabeth mentally flashed on a fantasy of her sneaking into his room and offing him one night.

He shot her a loaded scowl. ”I like you better when you shut the fuck up.”

“I’m not really interested in you liking me at all Jacob.”

“Obviously. You’re not to associated with Peaches except on official Project business. He’s got his own job and it isn’t mooning over you. I haven’t divulged the nature of your identity to the people working here. You’ve killed a lot of these people’s friends and family. Some may come looking for blood if it gets out that I have another pet deputy. The Chosen know who you are and are instructed to act accordingly, but if you keep your nose clean you won’t need to watch your back. Clear?” he raised his rust colored eyebrows expectantly. Secretly anticipating the quality of her next venom-soaked snark.

“Chrystal.”

“Chrystal what?” He barked back.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Rook’s arms flopped to her side in exasperation. “Chrystal fucking clear. Are you fucking happy now?”

“Delighted.” He deadpanned.

Chapter Text

“Hey Agent!” A meaty hand slapped the ever loving shit out of the table Rook sat at and she jerked like she’d been shot. A brief and electric jolt of panic racing through her heart as her head snapped up from the metal food tray she was currently seeking the meaning of life from, her muscles tensed to move.

 “What did you call me?” Her voice quiet and eyes narrowed. A scruffy, even by Peggie standards, man stood across the table from her. His beard and hair wild and unkempt. Broad of shoulder, but short in stature, he looked like a solid oak cask wrapped in a Peggie sweater. She’d seen this particularly dim meat sack making guard rotations in the courtyard. Wilson? Watson? Whatever. Was he looking for a fight? What did he want? Was there some kind of angle? She had been out of her little concrete box for less than 24 hours, spending a restless night not sleeping and she was still high key reactive. Expecting the other shoe to drop.

“Yer name’s Agent right?”

“What?” She blinked owlishly. His open expression at odds with how hard he’d slapped the table.

“That’s what Jacob said ‘twas.” The Peggie looked skeptical at her intelligence. “He said go get that blonde girl Agent and there’s only sumthin’ like five lady folk here and none o’ them is blonde so I’m rightly guessing, yer Agent and yer supposed to come with me to see the Herald.”

“Am I now?” Rook pushed the half empty tray away from her and stood. She’d lost her appetite for the slop they served in the hall. It wasn’t much better than what she had gotten when she was on the other side of the bars and this random encounter was proving much more satisfying.

 “Yes’m” Wilson. His name was Wilson, clearly looked pleased she meant to follow him. “That’s what the Herald said. Go get Agent.”

So he was calling her “Agent” now. What a cheeky bastard. He would take every opportunity he could to grind home that he knew. Even if she wouldn’t admit it. This particular dig was rather amusing if she was being honest with herself. She didn’t peg Jacob for having a sense of humor, yet here we were.

 “Did he tell you why Wilson?” The man beamed through his ratty beard that she knew his name. Rook got up from the bench and took her tray to the counter.

“No ma’am. It’s none‘a my business to be questioning himself.” Wilson had his rifle slung over his shoulders and thumbs hooked into a battered leather belt as he waited for her to clear her tray. His stance casual. He didn’t see her as an enemy. Rook took note of his demeanor and filed it away for later use. Let him keep thinking she was just another one of them. Let them all think that. Well not the Chosen. Her eyes darting to couple of men in the corner. Their Judges by their sides as they ate their food. One looked up as he felt her eyes upon him. His eyes not missing her quick glance and tracking her as she left the hall. They were better trained than she had hoped they would be. Putting John’s men to shame. Jacob knew how to pick them.

“Lead the way Brother.” Rook slathered on the honey as she left without a backward glance.

Rook made small talk with Wilson as they went to find his lordship.

Wilson was more than happy to talk about himself and his mama and how his mama loved the Father and Wilson wanted to take care of his mama, so he left the farm and joined Jacob so he could learn to be strong and protect his mama, but those heathen militia burned down his mama’s fields to get even with them. And on and on he went about the sinners and their many sins and the Seeds and how wonderful they were to the people of Hope County. Rook managed to keep her eyes from rolling hard enough to shift the axis of the Earth at that one.

He praised how Jacob was training the men, and John was gathering the supplied, and Faith was farming their food and the Father was going to guide them into a new Eden.  Rook nodded as he spoke. As if she hung on his every word. If she was going find a way out of here with Staci in tow, she needed information. All kinds of information.

She responded with the appropriate sympathetic oohs and awes. Her smile sugar sweet. She supplied pleasant vagaries when Wilson asked why she joined the Project. She just felt bodily compelled to help Jacob. It wasn’t exactly a lie.

They had reached Jacob’s war room and Wilson rapped at the door with his bear paw. A muffled “Enter” replied. Rook stifled a swift wave of dread at what Jacob could possibly want with her before cladding herself in a false sense of confidence. She hadn’t seen Jacob since their tense conversation following her tense encounter with Staci. In fact, she’d only seen the tail end of Staci as he beat feet in the opposite direction of her. Apparently, he was taking Jacob’s warning to heart. She would be lying to herself if she said that didn’t sting a bit.

Wilson smiled as he opened Jacob’s office door for her.

“Thank you kindly brother.” Rook’s mimicked Faith’s singsong softness as she breezed into Jacob’s war room without a care in the world.

“It was a pleasure sister.” Wilson fair beamed. All snaggle teeth and wild hair.

Jacob stood before his desk, his brow furrowed. Rook’s demeanor completely at odds with his expectations. The stack of papers in hand forgotten as he watched the saccharine exchange before him. A look of exasperated disgust quickly masked behind a stony blankness as Jacob went back to reading. He had immediately tracked her manipulation of Wilson and was unamused.

“Dismissed Wilson.” Jacob’s soft instructions held a hint of annoyance, not bothering to look up again. The scruffy man was brighter than Rook gave him credit for as he hopped out the door and quickly shut it behind him. His short-lived camaraderie abandoned in favor of self preservation. Wilson’s escape left her alone with Jacob.

Rook’s eyes quickly sweeping the room taking in her surroundings. The judge was absent today. Jacob’s papers were strewn haphazardly across his desk, his rifle in a state of disassembly across the workbench. His living space always looking a bit haphazard for a man whose mind was organized and as sharp as a trap. She dragged her eyes across the rumpled bed to the man himself to find his eyes back on her, like two chips of blue ice. Unabashedly she stared at his scarred face in return, waiting for him to speak first. He’d asked her here after all.  

He openly looked her over. Returning her gaze, stare for stare and unwilling to alleviate the awkward silence. She had brushed her hair, he noticed, having pulled it back into a loose pony tail. The color had come back to her face and even after her stint in captivity she looked recovered. Her face clean and suspicious.

She raised her hand, swiping an errant lock of hair behind her ear. Not so much a fidget, but to clear her line of sight. Her eyes taking everything in. He could practically see the gears turning in her head. Planning her next move. Looking at all the angles. Against his nature, he was impressed. She had laid waste to John’s strongholds in Holland Valley despite the “help” of a degenerate pyromaniac and that overgrown halfwit Drubman, Jr.

She really was the perfect specimen for his needs and somehow his Chosen had managed to secure her. Something he wasn’t about to let John forget. That his team took her off the opposition’s roster before she could get a foothold in the mountains. She may not be the asset he wanted her to be yet, but she wasn’t currently blowing his shit up, so a win’s a win. He’d bought time.

She was wearing some of the clothes he had John pull from the stores and sent north. The jeans looked painted on and button-down blue shirt, loose and airy, was suspiciously familiar. Jacob’s eyes narrowed. She had rolled the sleeves to her elbows and left it open at the neck, showing a hint of collar bone. The fabric following the swell of her breasts. He looked back down at his desk, reorganizing his papers before she could catch the path his eyes had taken.

She watched him move about his business, taking in his slicked back hair and the freshly shaved undercut. His strong cheekbones framed by sharp eyes and a trimmed beard. He wore clean clothes for once. Free of blood splatters and smudges of dirt. The top buttons of a fitted gray Henley undone and exposing the alternating tanned skin and glossy burn scars creeping up his neck. His jeans were slung low on narrow hips, his sidearm and knife secured firmly to thickly muscled thighs. Always armed. His customary jacket was slung over the back of his chair. Forgotten for the moment. He looked, she paused contemplating, good. Nothing like a man in the middle of planning guerrilla warfare. This was an unexpected change. Jacob shifted, reaching for another stack of papers and his fiery hair fell forward across his forehead and for an uncontrollable moment she felt her body heat at the picture he painted. Flustered with her unexpected and decidedly unwelcome reaction to Jacob Seed cleaned up, her resolve to wait him out cracked. If he was going to force her to be in his presence, she was going to make it annoying.

“So Jake.” She began. He grimaced at the name, like he’d licked a 12-volt battery. “You told your Peggies my name was Agent. I bet that felt clever.”

“If the shoe fits.” He grumbled. Pulling a pen from a drawer and making a few notations on the pages before him. Pointedly no longer paying her attention, seemingly disinclined to tell her why he’d called her there.

Rook pondered his silent form for a moment before taking the only other available chair with a huff, slumping back and propping her feet on a vacant corner of his desk. Her movements earning her a quick side eye before he went back to his reports. Rook was determined to be a brat. To see to what extent she could push him.

“Go ahead and have a seat. Agent.” Jacob said the title like it was a taunt. His eyes not leaving the papers again. Rook felt a little trill of excitement rush through her. His reactions were so controlled, and rewarding. Little digs here and there.

“What’s on the agenda today, Jake? Maybe some more of your light torture to get me to talk Jake?” Rook adding extra emphasis on the name, her eyes not missing the tick in his jaw, taking petty joy in tweaking him.

He set the papers gently down on the desk and braced his palms on its scarred surface. Leveling her with a disapproving scowl. Jacob’s shirt stretched tightly across his shoulders in that stance and her mouth went dry.

“I have been summoned to John’s ranch for a meeting. It’s too far to drive in a reasonable amount of time. You’re going to fly me there, wait for me to finish, and then fly me back.” He said. His tone mater-of-fact. Not rising to her reciprocal taunt and her desire to make him react intensified.

“What if I say fuck you? What then?” She doubled down on her insolence, arms folded across her chest.

Before the words were fully out of her mouth, he’d slapped her precariously balanced feet from his desk and caused her to involuntarily rock backwards in the chair. As she could flail backwards, he grabbed the front of her shirt and dragged her back onto all four feet of the chair. Her hands reflexively latching onto his exposed forearms. Her nails digging in for traction.

“Do you really want to test the limits of my fucking patience?” He shook her like a rag doll. “Are you absolutely ready to see if you’re up to taking me?” He barked. He was well and truly pissed and it was a sight to behold. His eyes setting her on fire, the threat of violence a heady drug sending warmth pooling low in her gut.

“Are you ready for me Jacob? I see you’re favoring your left side.” She grit her teeth and dug her nails in a little harder breaking skin, unable to leave well enough alone and reveling in his unexpected explosion. He leaned into her. His bulk caging her against the chair. A frantic, red tinged memory flashed on a similar situation. Her hands tied. Blood and rage and pain. Only you, the memento hissed in the darkest corners of her mind. A faded memory she couldn’t grasp quickly stomping down fervor.

Rook instinctively leaned back. Maybe baiting him so soon wasn’t such a good idea she thought too little, too late. Her best option at this point was to shut the fuck up. Retreat was the better tactic, but he was already on a roll.

“Would that satisfy your pride princess? Your over-inflated sense of self-righteousness? Because you think that’s all you have left. You’d rather die fighting a fight you can’t hope to win. To sacrifice yourself for nothing. For recognition you’ll never get. You’re stronger than that. You’re better than that.” His voice laced with disgust, he hauled her to her feet like she weighed nothing. The once crisp blue shirt crushed in his fists.  

“Look at your options kitten. You’re fucked. Ain’t no two ways about it. You know this.” His gaze bored into her and whatever story her face told he read it. Ferreting out the truth. He abruptly let go of her shirt and before she could sag at the release of tension, he grasped her face in both his hands. Cradling her head. His hands warm against her suddenly cold skin. Her nails releasing from his forearms but her grip still tight. Fresh tracks added to his already plentiful scars.

“When your Federale friend Marshal Burke accelerated our time table you got burned didn’t ya?” His southern accent becoming more distinct as he went on. “You made your extraction point and no one was there. That must have been pretty fucking depressing. Haven’t heard from your handler and no cavalry came for you. Not your new friends. Not your government. No one at all. I bet that hurt to finally know, for sure, that you don’t matter to them. That maybe you never did.”

She knew her face was telling him how right he was. Her training failing as his calloused thumbs brushed against her cheekbone. Swiping a single moist tract away.

“I know how you feel sugar.” His voice suddenly soft and his blue eyes bottomless and full of understanding. He had switched from adversarial to solidarity so fast it gave her whiplash. He had seen the chink and went for the psychological kill.

That’s where John failed. She could meet violence for violence all day long. He wanted to out violence her and she was a bottomless pit of it. But, Jacob? He saw her. He knew her, even without her telling him. He wanted to give her purpose, or his idea of it. To make her strong and whole. He believed in her.

Rook fought the misplaced feeling of gratitude. Jacob wasn’t being benevolent. He was being manipulative that quiet, cold, reasonable voice in the back of her head said. She shouldn’t feel anything but steadfast resolve. Yet here she was on the verge of tears because Jacob Fucking Seed and her had both been abandoned by their country.

”What do you want from me Jacob?” Her voice a ghost.  

“Your surrender. Your compliance and loyalty.” He responded immediately. His eyes sharpening.

“You know I can’t give you that.” Her tone suddenly tired.

His gripped tightened briefly before he sighed and released her.

“Not yet. But you will. You’ll confess to me eventually Elizabeth.” That may be the first time he’d used her given name. It sounded decadent in his low, gravel tones.

He searched her face one more time before collecting his reports and stuffing them in a folder. His movements once more efficient and business like.

“Get whatever you need and meet me on the helipad in ten. We have a meeting to get to.”

She hated these Seeds so goddamn much.

Chapter Text

Rook had booked it from Jacob’s office to her room, slamming the door before leaning back against it. Her head connecting hard with the solid wood. Her heart in her throat. She had ten minutes to get her shit together and get to the helipad. She breathed in deep through her nose and out again through her mouth. Do it again.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Do it again.

After the third set she could swallow without the lump in her throat. She didn’t have time for emotions. They were messy. They complicated the situation. Rook pushed herself off the door and went to her bed. Falling to her knees before rummaging under the metal frame.

First order of business was to get gear. Focus on something she could control. She had a few items ferreted away, but it would take some time to get together everything she wanted. She retrieved the pack she had secured it to the underside of the bed. She had filled it with a fistful of protein bars she knicked from the mess hall, a canteen she found in the gym, a multitool and flashlight she pilfered off a maintenance cart in the hallway and a first aid kit, also stolen. And a clean pair of socks. Old habits die hard.

She knew asking for a firearm was ridiculous and secreting away a blade would get her into a world of trouble if she was found out. The multitool might be pushing her luck, but she still needed the basics. Elizabeth huffed as she secured the back to her back and marched out the door on a mission. She needed to find Wilson.

At this point, she felt more comfortable talking to him than anyone else she had encountered St. Francis. At least he didn’t know who she really was (yet) and wasn’t trying to kill her (yet). He was currently Switzerland as far as she was concerned.

If she was going to be flying missions for Jacob, she would need some supplies that she couldn’t get and Wilson had assured her, in his puppy dog way, that he was the man for the job. She inwardly cringed. He was being too kind to her, the enemy. Even if he didn’t realize that was what she was. Rook wouldn’t take advantage of this willingness to help. At least not yet. Not unless she had to. Once she did, she would be burning that bridge.

Wilson seemed like a good soul, if a simple one. She could see both sides of the fence for him. The Seeds have given him and his family something they could have only hoped for. Purpose and protection. And the Whitetails were trying to take that away in his eyes. Naturally he would fight them for it.

 “Wilson!” She called, spotting him across the hall. “Can you help me gather some supplies? I have to meet Jacob at the helipad in seven minutes.”

He met her with a megawatt smile and a word of encouragement for garnering the Herald’s attention.

“Ya must be sumthin' special Agent. Himself rarely takes particular notice of the recruits.” Wilson grinned all teeth and a hearty slap on her back.

Rook grunted, stumbling forward on impact. Jesus, the little keg of a man didn’t know his own strength.

“Oh, sorry Agent.” He said as she righted herself. “So, what can I do ya for?”

“Can you get me the things on this list?” She hands him a slip of paper with several items chicken scratched across it.

“That’s all ya need?” He asked a bushy eyebrow raised.

“That’s it for now. Can you get it?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Thank you, Wilson!” She beamed. Borderline optimistic for the first time in what felt like forever. “I’ll meet you at the helipad. Let’s not keep Jacob waiting.”

She hurried down the hall. She knew the way already. She knew the layout of the entire floor plan of this place before she had even become a resident. The pack’s bouncing a comforting weight. It felt good to be doing something. To move with purpose. Even if it wasn’t her ideal one.

Elizabeth was in the pilot’s seat powering up the engine and doing her pre-flight checks, when Wilson rapped on the cockpit glass. He looked pretty proud of himself as he waved at her to open the cabin door.

“I gots yer stuff Agent!” he bellowed over the rotors, slinging two packs containing parachutes onto the cabin floor. “I gots two o’ them since there’s two o’ ya.”

Rook secretly lamented that her fantasy of bailing out of the chopper at a couple thousand feet was no longer a viable option. It would be too easy to just let the Peggies think they had both died in a tragic helicopter crash.

“And the rope. Why’d’ya need rope fer?” He stacked a healthy coil of heavy mountaineering rope on top of the chutes.

“You never know when you’ll need rope!” Rook yelled back.

“And the other things.” She prompted hopefully.

Wilson looked shifty eyed for a moment.

“Yeah I gots them too, but if anyone asks, ya found them yerself yeah?” He slaps into her open hand a worn baseball cap and a really nice pair of aviators. “We ain’t supposed to have such luxuries, but yer carrying himself on important business, so I reckon ya need to see yeah?” Wilson looked up at her sheepishly.

Elizabeth slipped her pony tail through the back of the cap and slid the aviators in place with a sigh. Suddenly feeling almost like herself again. In overwhelming gratitude, she snatched up Wilson’s hand and squeezed it between both of hers.

“Thank you, Wilson. This means a lot to me.”

He sputtered out a “Yer welcome.” Squeezing back before she turned and climbed back into the cockpit.

She had completed her checks and the engines were warmed and ready for dust off by the time Jacob had pulled himself into the cockpit seat next to her. She had put their earlier tussle from her mind as best she could. She didn’t owe him the satisfaction of affecting her.

She nodded in greeting. He took in her cap and sunglasses without comment. His eyes almost imperceptibly narrowing as he settled the headset over his ears. Rook checked the clock embedded in the instruments. Right on time.

“You’re sitting up here?” Rook asked into the mic, flipping the necessary overhead switches and taking the stick in hand. Surprised he didn’t want to be chauffeured from the more comfortable passenger portion of the cabin.

“I can see better from here.” He responded, fastening the harness.

“Suit yourself.” She countered as she swiftly pulled up and hard banked southwest towards Holland Valley. She was hoping the aggressive assent would have caused him to pucker up, but no luck. She guessed Jacob was more comfortable in a helicopter than he led on.

They traveled in silence for several minutes before she worked up the nerve to get out what had been bothering her since she hit the helipad.

“Can I go on record here?” She blurted out over the staticky headset.

“Depends.” The dryness not lost over the tinny speakers. “Are you going to say something to deliberately piss me off.”

“My existence pisses you off Jacob.” Elizabeth snorted before soldiered on with her concern.

“Far be it from me to criticize your organization, but I think it’s a tactical mistake to be flying yourself around in a white chopper with the Peggie cross emblazoned across it. It’s a literal target.”

Jacob mulled over her observation long enough for Rook to wonder if he was going to ever respond before his voice broke over the headset. The scratchy tones nestled in her ear, feeling as if he was closer than he was.

“That your professional recommendation?” he asked.

Without a thought, she answered.

“Yes. I wouldn’t hesitate to take even an unlikely shot in the hopes of knocking one of your birds out of the sky. And I sure as shit wouldn’t steal one if you left it laying around for fear of being shot down by friendly fire.”

“Are you concerned about my safety sweetheart?” He purred. A smirk threading its way across his face before disappearing again. She cringed dramatically at the term of endearment.

“I’m not your sweetheart. I AM concerned about OUR safety Jacob. Until I figure out how to rid myself of you.” Trying to make sure he was under no misunderstanding about her intentions. “If you get shot out of the sky, so do I.”

“Hmmmm.” He hummed in agreement. “Then I hope you’re a better pilot than you are an unassuming small town deputy.”

Rook shot him an offended glare.

“I’m a fucking amazing pilot.” She scoffed.

“TBD Agent. T.B.D.” Jacob leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He stayed that way for the remainder of the flight. She was under no assumption that he was asleep, but he was clearly done speaking with her. That suited her just fine.

Rook took Jacob’s dismissal as time to ponder the reception she would receive at their destination.

If Rook could look back at how bad she thought it was in those first few days in Holland Valley she would probably laugh, or maybe cry. In comparison, that was almost fun.

Ever since her first encounter with John at the grocery store, she had wanted nothing more than to rub his smug, entitled nose in shit. He was a stereotypical asshole, used to getting everything he wanted because he was handsome, rich and charming. She couldn’t quite figure out how he managed to jive with his very different siblings. John’s whole smarmy existence chafed her, so Rook did her best to provide some counterbalance.

Those first few days after Rook had recovered from her busy night of escaping a helicopter crash and riding a flaming truck off a bridge into the Henbane had been a cake walk compared to the last few weeks.

Elizabeth had taken Dutch’s advice and headed to Holland Valley. She needed to get her gear, see if anyone else had made it out and call in reinforcements. Needless to say, things did not go that smoothly. Like, at all.

She had “borrowed” an ATV from the radio tower on Dutch’s island and hit the road. Once she made the main highway towards Fall’s End she got to see how far up shit creek they were.

It was pretty fucking far.

Most of the county had looked deserted. Families gone, houses burning, cattle slaughtered. And then she started to see the dead bodies left to the vultures. Nothing more than carrion on the side of the road. Effigies hung across the bridges warning of what resistance would get them. At the first armed convoy she saw, Rook had stopped using the highways and hit the trails. Surface roads clearly weren’t safe. These guys weren’t a bunch of shotgun toting hicks. They were packing some heavy fucking artillery and the cultists looked less like flower gripping hippies that she had first met at Joseph’s service and more like a heavily armed army full of righteousness.

That little nugget of anxiety when Rook had first laid eyes on Marshal Burke had coiled itself around her into a strangle hold of fear. This was bad. Really. Fucking. Bad. But she was trained for really fucking bad. She just never thought she would see this on home soil.

Rook’s first stop was the sheriff’s office. She had stashed a spare set of keys to her trailer taped to the bottom most self of her locker. Her regular set were somewhere at the bottom of the Henbane. She also needed ammunition and they would have the good stuff. It wasn’t like her co-workers were able to use it.

Rook had approached the employee entrance and was still a good ways back when she smelled acrid burnt metal. Someone had used a torch to melt out the locks. Rook pulled her sidearm and moved to the side of the door, minimizing her chance of being seen. She slowly screwed the suppressor Dutch had given her into the barrel.

She took a steadying breath and moved into the building, clearing each room as she went. As she approached the evidence locker, she heard someone rummaging through the boxes, not trying in the slightest to be quiet. She heard a thud and a colorful curse. Taking that distraction as an opportunity, Rook rounded the corner, weapon aimed.

“Hands where I can see them!” She barked.

If she wasn’t a professional, she would have laughed. Sharky squawked like she’d goosed him and immediately dropped the flamethrower he was trying to wrestle out of a box. Shooting his hands skyward.

“Jesus Christ Dep! You scared the shit outta me! Like seriously. I think I need a new set of drawers”

“What the fuck are you doing here Boshaw?” Rook sighed, thumbed the hammer down and holstered the pistol

“Uhhhh reclaiming my personal property?” He asked lamely.

“From police custody.” Rook stated. Sharky awkwardly shrugged with both his arms still held high.

“She’s my favorite flamethrower, I built her myself and you may have noticed things are getting a little dicey ‘round here.”

“Can’t say that I have.”  She chuckled ruefully. “You can put your arms down dude.”

“Wait, you’re not going to arrest me?” Sharky’s blue green eyes scrunched in confusion as he dropped his arms. Rook had always found his redneck charm endearing.

“Not today. Maybe tomorrow.”

He stooped down and picked up his fallen weapon.

“I can keep this right?” His voice sheepish. He cradled the hodgepodged flamethrower to his chest like he was holding a baby. 

“Yeah man. Help yourself. If you’re out causing a ruckus, it’ll be a distraction…” Rook’s voice trailed off as she really looked at Sharky. He was a decent sized dude, 6ft tall, in reasonably good shape, knew the terrain, the people and how to handle himself and firepower. He could be good in a fight. He could be an asset. She was forming the beginnings of one of her patented “bad ideas.”

“Hey Boshaw, you wanna blowing shit up with…” she started.

“Whoa. Hold up there popo. Are you asking me.” He pointed at himself incredulous. “To team up with you?” He pointed at her like there was anyone else in there with them. Rook opened her mouth about to say forget it.

“YES! Oh sweet baby Jesus yes! This is like that dream I had that one time where I was the fuzz and there were handcuffs and, and never mind… We’ll be like Tango and Cash. Crockett and Tubbs. Murtaugh and Riggs!” Sharky whooped like a teenage boy and did a little skip dance slinging the flamethrower strap across his shoulders.

“Dude. Sharky.” Rook did her best to bring him back down.  “Chill for a second. Let’s make a few things clear. We’re gonna help people here, not just blow shit up. That’s ancillary. Our primary objective is to release captives and shut these fucking Peggies down” She picked up a shotgun from the adjacent weapons locker and handed it to him.

“Word” Sharky nodded his head like she was imparting sage wisdom upon him, taking the offered shotgun.

“What I say goes. If you don’t like it, we can part ways now. If you’re not on board with anything I say, that’s fine, but stay outta my way otherwise.”

“Naw boss lady, I like being told what to do.” And he, honest to God, winked at her before racking the shotgun in his hands. Jesus fucking Christ what had she gotten herself into.

Well after sunset Rook and Sharky had pulled up to the smoldering wreckage of her trailer. She pulled down the cult note stapled to the remains of the front fence with a shaky hand. Sharky standing silently behind her. She was finding it increasingly hard to approach this objectively.

Everything was fucked. Her communications equipment a pile of melted slag. Ammunition and guns destroyed. Data drives, video footage, recon, all literally up in smoke. She was cut off. All professionalism went up in smoke too as she stomped around the debris giving in to an uncharacteristic temper tantrum.

“Motherfucking, piece of shit, cock sucking, goddamned, sons of bitches. I’m going to fucking END THEM!” She screamed her rage to the ember filled night sky.

She threw anything that wasn’t nailed down or on fire as she shifted through the wreckage. Swearing up a storm as Sharky remained silent through her rampage. He helped her sift through the remains, instinctively not saying a word. Knowing she wasn’t ready to talk. He wasn’t going to waste his breath to ask if she was okay. She clearly wasn’t. He was more observant than she had given him credit for.

After Elizabeth had exhausted herself, finding nothing salvageable among the ruins, she flopped down on the open tailgate of her truck, pondering the glowing remnants of her temporary home. Sharky sat down beside her wordlessly pulling a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and offering her one.

She looked at him. Her eyes glassy before pulling one from the pack.

“Thank you.” She whispered as he magically procured a zippo, snapping it open with one hand and lighting it with a flourish.

“No problem shorty.” He whispered back, lighting his own cigarette and gazing out over the smoldering fire. Letting their smoke mingle with that rising from her home.

She pulled a hard drag as she fished the wadded-up cult notice from her pocket and spread it flat across her thigh. Really reading it for the first time. Sharky leaning over to see for himself.

The hand written note was from John. It laid out the terms of her surrender and atonement. All she had to do was say “yes.”

 “With devotion to your everlasting soul, John.” Sharky scoffed at the closing line as Elizabeth crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the embers. “He’s hot for you.” Rook made a disgusted sound.

She hadn’t been here long, but this shitty little trailer in this small backwoods town had quickly felt like home. She wanted nothing more than to snap John in two.

“At least the truck is okay.” She sighed heavily.

“What, this piece of shit?” Sharky choked on his laugh as he exhaled smoke. “We stole a nicer one to get here.”

“Watch and learn young padawan.” Rook handed the half-smoked cigarette to Sharky and climbed into the bed of the truck. She moved the spare tire aside and pressed the back corners of the bed releasing the spring hinge and tossing the false bed over the side.

“Well now, that’s a fuckin’ party trick.” Sharky gasped.

Elizabeth reached into the exposed cavity and pulled out a pack of clothes, one modified 1911 .45 pistol, four magazines, one SA-50 sniper rifle, two extended magazines of standard ammo and one clip of armor piercing, three grenades, two C-4 Packages with remote detonators (Sharky whistled appreciatively as she set those down), one length of mountaineer rope with grappling hook and one fifth of really nice bottle of whiskey for extreme emergencies or a white-hot rage.

Rook looked at the whiskey bottle before popping its seal and taking a heavy swig. The day had constituted an extreme emergency and she definitely had a white-hot rage burning. She passed the bottle to Sharky and took the cigarette back.

“What’s the plan boss lady?” He asked between swigs.

“They have Joey and Staci.” She said as she took the bottle back from him before he could finish it. “The Marshal I couldn’t give two shits about. This is all his fault anyway and that smarmy little bastard left me for dead twice already.” Sharky gasped “I don’t owe him anything. Whitehorse has hunkered down in Hope County Jail. Old man’s a survivor so that’s one less item on our to do list.”

“So what do you want to do first?” Sharky asked.

“I want to cave John’s face in, and get Joey back.” She let the smoke pass her lips. “Then that bitch Faith. Jacob’s not going to let Staci go without a fight and then I’m coming for their boy Joe. I’m gonna need help.”

“I know guy.” Sharky bumped her with his shoulder and it coaxed a reluctant smile from her.

“Let’s find a place to bunk down for the night. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the morning.”

At the time she didn’t know Jacob was the one that had ordered her home burned, she’d squarely pointed her ire at John since the note was from him. He had made it personal. So, Rook went to work on becoming John’s worst nightmare. She may have been angry enough to make some rash decisions and Sharky was all about encouraging those. They were running on instinct and rage instead of tactics and strategy.

Elizabeth and Sharky had started with destroying John’s silos and had a ball hamstringing his supply lines. She actually really enjoyed Sharky’s company as they burned Peggie’s resources to ash. Just like they had Rook’s home.

John, in response, had made increasingly violent overtures towards Hudson. Taking it so far as to feature her battered face in one of his propaganda videos. Rook saw red. So, over a commandeered bottle of liquor, her and Sharky hatched a ridiculously stupid rescue plan. Shark would get the help of his cousin Hurk, Jr. and the two of them would cause a stir in Falls End while she infiltrated John’s bunker and stole Hudson back.

John’s people were well-armed, but not well trained. They went where the loudest noise was and boy, could Boshaw and Drubman make some noise. John did exactly what she expected him to. He deployed his best from the bunker to handle the riffraff in town. John’s temper was his biggest weakness. It made him predictable. Tweaking his nose would goad him into action.

With John’s enforcers mobilized to Falls End, all it took was a screwdriver and an unguarded ventilation hatch. They had never known she was there, until John’s precious toy deputy was gone.

When Rook and Hudson marched over the hill into Falls End, Sharky and Hurk had whooped and hollered as they ran to meet them. Sharky swept Elizabeth up in a bear hug, spinning her around.

“Dep, you are something else!” He exclaimed. His face covered in soot. “I haven’t had this much fun since, well ever!”

“Yeah but you and Hurk are the heroes of Falls End.” She lightly punched him in the shoulder once he set her down.

“Aw nothin’ doing, Dep. I’m just good at being bad.”

Two days later John attempted to drown her with his own hands. Rook had appreciated the personal touch.

In retrospect, breaking into a Herald’s bunker to execute a brazen rescue that absolutely made the Peggies look like fools might have been the thing that clued Jacob into her not being a standard issue cop and pushed John over the edge in to unmitigated crazy town.

She had her first of several unlucky breaks, taking a round of bliss laced riot bullets to the side as she climbed out of a bunker she had just looted. She was alone, no backup for miles, and she had gotten complacent. Her last coherent though was to chide herself. You deserve this. You let your guard down.

Rook remembered very little between climbing the bunker ladder and “waking up” as she was being pulled, sputtering from the icy waters of the river behind John’s ranch high as a fucking kite.

And then he was there in the water with her. Pulling her up by her elbows, her legs as wobbly as a new born foal’s. John was the rock in the ebb and flow of the river. Something solid to cling to. A savior. Elizabeth gripped his vest in her hands, she remembered, her skin looked like cold alabaster, pale as death in the wispy moonlight. A ghost that doesn’t have the good sense to die.

John brushed the wet tangles from her face, his touch gentle and warm as both his hands cradled her skull. He was so beautiful. His glossy black hair haloed in sparkles and flashes like an archangel’s crown. He was smiling at her now. All teeth and charm. He was here to save her they said.

And then he proclaimed that she was not clean. What did that even mean? Her thoughts scrambled and confused. She had showered today, her blissed out mind supplied lamely.

His grip slid down to close around her neck. First lightly, and then slowly squeezing tighter. His eyes crinkled as his smile grew. Why is he so beautiful? His grin became predatory with his impending vengeance, shattering her false sense of salvation.

No, no, no. her mind silently screamed. Rook’s hands scrabbling and scratching at his exposed forearms trying to gain purchase. Her weak gasps escaped around his vice like grip. John was oblivious to the pain of her nails, completely consumed by the ecstasy of his victory. He gently shushed her before kicking her feet out and shoving her back into the drink. His weight bearing her down as heavy as an anchor. He had never stopped smiling.

Rook would never know if John had the cojones to actually follow through with killing her. He suspected he did, but Joseph had stopped him with a soft word of censor. Effectively extinguishing John’s wrath. That was the first time that Joseph had come to her rescue, but apparently not the last.

John fuming at being denied his satisfaction, had packaged her up in a prisoner van, promising that this wasn’t over and that she would atone. Blah blah blah.

He never had a chance to follow through with his bravado when Pastor Jerome flipped the van and cut her loose. She really needed to talk to the good Pastor about his approach. She was lucky she survived his help.

Once she had both feet back on dry land and a gun in her hand, Rook had doubled down on making John miserable and had stolen Carmina back for Nick Rye. Prop planes definitely weren’t her favorite, but she had a very brutal point to make. You hit me. I'll hit you harder.

John was… very unhappy. The Grade A meltdown he had over her radio as she sped away was worth every tense second. Between the bunker incident, the van incident and now losing his new plane, Rook imagined John had personally strangled his head of security.

On and on it had went. Violence begetting violence. She’d destroy his supplies. He’d burn something down. Sharky had said on numerous occasions that John clearly wanted to fuck her. For a moment she was worried that maybe John was taking all this negative attention as flirting. She had laughed uncomfortably and proceeded to do something disagreeable. They had, as far as she was concerned, a hate / hate relationship, rapidly escalating in its destructiveness until she had found her way across the Henbane at Sheriff Whitehorse’s request and then eventually up north to the mountains to help out Hurk. She’d owed him one for the assist at Fall’s End.

It had been a hot minute since she’d been in Holland Valley and the path of destruction she had left was definitely going to make whatever dynamic they now had tense to say the least. Rook’s trip down memory lane only succeeded in heightening her anxiety on what kind of reception she could expect. She was sure that most of his people would know her on sight, John had put up enough wanted posters with her grainy, cap shadowed face across the valley.

Ugh the cap. She immediately pulled it off her head and tossed it in the back, pulling her pony tail down in the process. Yes, that would work. She never wore her hair down. She frantically mused her hair with her free hand. She should have cut it off. It was too long not to be noticeable. But she always had it up so maybe long was good. Maybe she’d get lucky and they wouldn’t equate Jacob’s long-haired lady pilot in the designer shirt with a mud caked leader of the resistance. Or even worse, what if one of the resistance saw her. Her over active mind rushing through all the possibilities and horrible outcomes.

Whatever happened, Jacob had to keep her alive. His brother told him to. God, she would feel a whole lot better about all of this if she had a firearm.

She huffed out a resigned breath as John’s ranch came into view over the treetops. It sat perched above a particularly scenic bend of the river. Serene and peaceful in its location and design. Quite at odds with its owner’s temperament.

Elizabeth reached over and lightly backhanded Jacob’s arm. His eyes snapped open on a quickly sucked in breath, instantly alert.

Jacob hadn’t missed her changed appearance. Her hair mused and loose about her shoulders. Her flushed cheeks and perfect posture. She looked vibrant and tense.

 “You worried someone might recognize you Agent?”

“A mild concern.” She deadpanned. Her eyes hidden behind the mirrored lenses as she glanced his way before starting their decent. “I’m not exactly popular ‘round these parts.”

“Oh, that’s not your problem kitten. It’s that your too popular.” He chuckle dry like it was disused.

Jacob switched the radio to an open channel and hailed the ground crew to communicate his imminent arrival as Rook started their descent.

Jacob switched it back to the private channel and his words crackled back to her.

“Here’s the rules. The grounds are off limits. The private rooms in the main house are off limits. The hangar is 100% off fucking limits. You’re not to leave my side unless I specifically tell you to stay put. You are not to speak unless you’re spoken to. You are not to engage John’s staff or guards. Just pretend you’re a mute, and deaf, and blind. Just don’t do anything that you’re going to make us both regret. Clear? And I swear to god if you say crystal, I’ll boot you out that god damn door and tell Joseph it was an accident.”

Elizabeth couldn’t keep the manic giggle under wraps.

“10-4 Jake.”

The engine noise and the static didn’t drown out his long-suffering sigh.