Rook was six years old when she first met Joseph Seed.
She hadn’t recognised the name on the warrant, hadn’t connected the dots when she read the lengthy file. It wasn’t entirely her fault though, he wasn’t Joseph Seed when she’d known him, he was just Joe, a scrawny teenager who comforted her when she cried at night.
She’d been such a scared little thing.
It had been her first home after the incident, and to be honest she didn’t remember much of it at all. She’d been young, traumatised after the violent death of her parents. But Joseph stuck with her, even all these years later. She was the youngest in the house by a decent few years. Her foster parents, while kind, had to split their attention between the seven kids. She was too young and too withdrawn for the other kids to want to play with. Joseph had been the only one who had pried her from her shell, taking her under his wing despite the eleven-year difference between them.
Joseph had been her protector, her first and only friend.
He was the one to stand up for her when the other kids teased her for being weird. He was the one to make sure she ate enough food, that she felt safe and happy despite all she’d been through. Rook rarely went anywhere without Joseph, clinging to him like he was a lifeline. And Joseph indulged her, he adored her.
She’d been too young to understand when he told her that he was leaving their home and he wasn’t coming back. He was eighteen, legally he was an adult and therefore no longer the states problem or responsibility. Their foster parents were caring, but they weren’t a charity, Joseph had to go. It had felt like betrayal – she’d loved him, and he was being ripped from her side just like her family had been.
The night before he’d left Joseph had woken her up in the middle of the night and taken her out into their backyard. It had been a cold night, he’d brought out blankets, letting her curl up in his lap and wrapping them both up tight as they sat on the grass.
Even though she refused to speak to him, hoping her childish display of fury would guilt him into staying, he hadn’t been perturbed.
That was the night he’d told her about the Voice, and the destiny it had whispered to him. Don’t worry Rook, you’ll be there too. I’ll see you safely through the collapse, I promise.
The next morning Rook had woken up tucked back in her bed, and Joseph was gone.
She’d cried for three days straight, but Joseph hadn’t come back for her.
She’d stayed at the home for another few months before she was shifted onto the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that and on and on until eventually she too was turfed from her foster home for being too old.
She hadn’t made the connection before, but the moment she laid eyes on Joseph Seed in the flesh it hit her like a gut punch.
He looked entirely different from the memories she had of him, he was a grown man now, but his eyes, those piercing blue pools that were focused solely on her, she’d know them anywhere.
This was a joke, a sick, twisted joke, it had to be. Her Joseph, so kind and sweet, had become something worse than she could have ever imagined. Kidnapping, torture, brainwashing, murder. She felt sick. Dizzy.
This was wrong.
Rook froze as he offered her his wrists, bared in false submission. Everything else – the Sheriff, the Marshal, the Peggies filing out around her, even Joseph’s family closing in around them – all of it bled out into a haze of nothing. All she could see was Joseph Seed in all of his shirtless glory, gazing down at her. The two of them against the world, she would have scoffed at the thought if she wasn’t so busy trying to will herself not to throw up.
Please, for the love of fucking god, don’t let him recognise me, she prayed silently.
He wouldn’t surely, she’d only been a little kid back then. She’d been dependant on him, the only one who ever paid her any attention, but she must have just been nothing more than a needy kid to him, hardly worth recalling after he’d left. He’d barely remember her as it was, much less connect her with the woman she’d become. And yet the way he and his family were staring at her was starting to fill her with unease.
“The fuck you waiting for, Probie? Arrest him!” the Marshal growled, but Rook couldn’t find it in her to move, much less arrest anyone.
He deserved it, Rook knew that, she’d read the file, heard the rumours that flew around town. Then there was the video, she hadn’t watched it herself, but Joey had told her enough to know it hadn’t been pleasant. If she didn’t arrest him here and now, he wouldn’t stop. Joseph wasn’t the kind of man to let anything stand in the way of what he believed to be right. He’d told her all those years about the visions he’d been shown of a world on fire, he’d built the Project at Eden’s Gate from the ground up in response. This was just the beginning, she could feel it deep in her bones. Maybe that was why Whitehorse had been so nervous about coming here to arrest him.
But as she stood there, all she could see was the teenager who’d held her after her nightmares, who’d snuck her an extra cookie after dinner just to see her smile. It was like she was that little girl again, lost and so desperate for love and comfort.
She gulped as a slow smile crept across Joseph’s face. Behind the yellow lenses of those ridiculous sunglasses, his eyes sparkled with a glint of recognition and Rook felt her stomach plummet. Please god, if you’re out there, don’t let him remember me.
Any last lingering vestige of hope was dashed when Joseph started to speak. “The Lord told me he would bring you home to me, Rook,” he said, speaking her name like it was a heavenly revelation. “And here you are. You must realise by now that God will not let your so-called friends take me?”
Rook opened her mouth, but words failed her.
“Rook, you know him?” Whitehorse asked, glancing nervously between his Deputy and the self-proclaimed Father of Eden’s Gate.
“I… I can’t do this,” she muttered, taking a step away from Joseph. “I’m sorry.” She wasn’t sure who she was apologising to, but it didn’t really matter, did it?
A hand closing tightly around her wrist brought her up short, stopping her from making a hasty exit. She glanced up to find Marshal Burke glaring at her, one hand on her wrist, the other on his gun, still pointed towards the Seeds. “I don’t give a fuck if you know him. I don’t give a fuck if you used to be best friends or star-crossed lovers or whatever, you arrest him or I swear to Christ I’ll arrest you for obstruction of Justice and you can kiss your career as a Deputy behind.”
Rook met his glare head on with an icy stare of her own. She didn’t know what kind of power trip he was on, but he needed to take his fucking hand off of her.
“Let go of me,” she hissed.
“Burke, take your hands off my Deputy, right now.”
Burke paid Whitehorse no attention. “I won’t ask again, Rook. Arrest him so we can get the fuck out of here.”
Rook risked another glance at Joseph who was watching the interaction with narrowed eyes and a frown. It was a look that bode well for none of them.
Burke dropped her hand with a satisfied smirk. With a deep breath to steady herself she reached for her hip, grabbing her handcuffs and turning back to face Joseph.
“You left me,” she breathed, her voice barely above a whisper. His frown deepened, but he didn’t say a word as she clicked the metal cuffs shut around his wrists, content to let her say her piece. “I was alone and scared, you were all I had and you just left. I waited for you to come back, or to call or write, but you didn’t.” She nodded to herself and straightened her spine. “That’s fine, I didn’t understand back then, but I do now. I was just a kid you knew for a few months, that’s all. I owe you nothing.”
It was a lie, they both knew it.
It didn’t matter. Joseph was going to jail, and she was going to go home and soak in her bathtub for the foreseeable future. She’d earned that much at least.
“C’mon Rook, time to go,” Whitehorse said, not unkindly, clapping her once on the shoulder.
Obediently Joseph stepped down from the dais, away from his brothers and sister who were watching Rook with open curiosity instead of the hostility awarded to her colleagues. She tried not to let that bother her. He let her place her hand on his shoulder and guide him out of the church. He didn’t say a word as the peggies started clamouring around them, merely stepping into the helicopter calmly, letting Joey strap him in as Rook clambered in after them. It was infuriating that while the world went to shit around them, with Burke and Whitehorse firing off rounds into the crowd of peggies who were trying to throw themselves at the chopper, Joseph only had eyes for her.
“Staci, get us the fuck out of here!” Hudson yelled as rocks began to rain down on the helicopter.
Across from her Joseph started to hum softly, Amazing Grace, the same song he’d sung to her when the nightmares had become too much all those years ago.
Like someone flipped a switch, white hot rage consumed her. “Will you shut the fu-“
Rook never got to finish her sentence, for that was the moment that one of Joseph’s loyal had flung himself at the blades of the helicopter, killing himself and disabling the chopper in one fell swoop. One moment they were airborne, the next they were hurtling back towards the earth, and Joseph was still singing that fucking song.
Rook was knocked out on impact.
When she came to, with a throbbing head, hanging upside down, all she could focus on was Nancy’s voice coming through the headset swinging freely in front of her. Weak, still fuzzy from the crash, Rook reached for it, only for a hand to clasp around her forearm.
Joseph Seed crept into her field of vision, smiling gently at her as he took the headset and spoke to Nancy, reassuring her that he was fine. If Rook hadn’t been struggling to see straight, she might have been angrier at the betrayal from her friend.
“I told you God wouldn’t let them take me.”
Rook groaned. “Joseph, please…” She wasn’t entirely sure what she was begging for, mercy maybe? Thinking hurt, everything hurt.
His other hand found her cheek, stroking it soothingly, “Hush, my child. Everything is as it should be. I promised I would see you through the collapse, did I not?”
Rook whined, trying in vain to push away from his touch as she fought against the wave of darkness that threatened to overtake her. “Why?” was all she managed to croak out.
Joseph’s hand left her face, moving instead to the buckle at her waist. “I told you, Rook, your place has always been at my side. God brought you back to me so you could join my family, so we can walk through Eden’s Gate together.” Deftly, he undid her restraints, lifting her into his arms as if she weighed almost nothing. It seemed those muscles of his weren’t just for show.
“Let me go, I don’t…” she said, trailing off as the wave of oblivion beckoned.
He hummed softly, holding her tighter against his bare chest, ignoring her pitiful attempts to struggle. “Everything is as it should be. I will protect you, you have nothing to fear from me or my family,” he said as he gently manoeuvred them out of the wreckage and into the night air. “We will keep you safe.”
The last thing Rook remembered before unconsciousness swallowed her whole was the feeling of Joseph’s lips pressing against her forehead.