Rook was two weeks into her new job as the Junior Deputy of Hope County and still living out of a motel when Deputy Marshal Cameron Burke waltzed into the Sheriff’s Department with a warrant in hand and announced their orders to arrest Joseph Seed.
Rook hadn’t even heard the name before. Sure, she knew about the Project at Eden’s Gate, she’d seen the signs across the Valley, had caught sight of the giant looming statue on her first drive through the Henbane with Joey, and people talked. It hadn’t slipped her attention either that the Sheriff seemed determined to allay everyone’s concerns.
“They’re not hurting anybody, Rook, they haven’t broken any laws or caused any harm. We mind our business, they mind theirs and we’re not gonna have a problem.”
The video Hudson passed her sure put that theory to bed. The sight of Joseph Seed, his hands coated in blood raised to the skies in heavenly rapture… it was like a car crash that she couldn’t look away from, no matter how horrifying. Rook knew cults, she’d studied the Peoples Temple and Heaven’s Gate, she understood what drove people to join them - their leaders were charismatic and kind… manipulative beyond measure. She never expected to stumble across one in the small country town she’d made her home and she certainly never expected to be part of the task force sent to arrest Joseph Seed himself.
She had two weeks of training, and Burke slapped a gun in her hand and told her to get on the chopper.
Hudson took the liberty of filling her in on the way to the compound, told her all about Joseph Seed his family - as much as they knew, at any rate. It didn’t surprise Rook to hear that they’d been abused as children, both by their biological parents and their foster families. That, at least, she could empathise with. The first few foster families she’d been placed with weren’t exactly parents of the year award contenders, but she was one of the lucky ones. She was fourteen when she was adopted into a loving family, one where she didn’t have to fear a hand being raised against her, or whether or not she’d spend the night locked in a closet for accidentally breaking a plate.
What had been done to them was undeniably awful, but it didn’t excuse what they’d become.
Rook would have preferred silence for the remainder of their flight, but the Marshal liked the sound of his own voice, going on and on about how they were all going to be on the front page, get their five minutes of fame. Rook knew better, she’d studied what happens when police and cults built up on violence and religious zealotry clashed. They were going in with handguns and no backup, if they all made it out of this alive, Rook would thank her lucky fucking stars.
The anxiety in her stomach didn’t ease as the chopper touched down and her boots hit the ground once more. The men and women armed to the teeth with rifles and shotguns (Peggies, Pratt had helpfully supplied) watched with icy glares and bared teeth as they marched through the compound.
Quiet jeers and insults were hurled across the courtyard, one of the braver men stepping in front of the Marshal and spitting on the ground before him, but otherwise they made no move to try and stop them. Maybe that gave the Marshal a sense of confidence, but it only made Rook more nervous; they didn’t interfere because they weren’t surprised. Whether they’d known Rook and the others were coming or not, they were prepared for that eventuality.
An icy chill ran down her spine.
“You with me, kid?” Whitehorse’s voice jerked her back to the present and when she glanced over she found him watching her, his brow furrowed and apprehension swimming in his eyes.
And despite the bad feeling in her gut and the goosebumps on her arms, Rook nodded, plastering a dry smile across her face. “Yeah, I’m with you.” She tapped the barrel of her pistol with her index finger for emphasis - come hell or highwater.
His lips quirked, his eyes quickly darting to the Marshal - striding ahead with God given purpose, before leaning in closer to her and Joey, “So long as Burke doesn’t do anything spectacularly stupid, we’ll all get out of this okay. Still, keep your head screwed on straight. Hudson, keep an eye on the door would ya?”
As the old, wooden doors to the church were thrown open, all Rook could hear was the pounding of her own heartbeat in her eardrums and each unsteady breath she dragged into her lungs.
And there he was, bathed in golden light, standing on the raised platform amongst scattered candles. The Father. Another shiver slipped down her spine at the sight of him in the flesh.
At first he didn’t acknowledge their presence, just continued to preach to his devoted flock, though the words he used were clearly intended for them - each syllable dripping in carefully controlled anger and contempt. You shouldn’t have come here, the traitorous voice inside her head whispered as Burke stepped forward and brandished his precious little warrant. She didn’t flinch as the Peggies swarmed, she held her ground, kept her face carefully blank, her hand fixed on the pistol at her thigh just like she’d been taught.
She was far more interested in his siblings coming up from the flanks and closing in with practiced ease, not one of them looking even slightly concerned. She caught the scowling red-head’s (Jacob, the eldest: ex-military and a grade A psychopath, Staci had supplied) piercing stare. For a split second something unreadable flickered in his eyes - his head cocked ever so slightly, his brow furrowing as he stared at her like she didn’t make sense. Whatever it was, it unnerved her and Rook quickly averted her gaze to the clamouring Peggies that separated them.
If she wasn’t almost certain that they were all about to be slaughtered like sacrificial lambs to this madman and his followers, she might have laughed at the ease with which he stepped forward and with a few touches and a handful of reassuring words, they dissipated. As the Peggies filtered out around them, growling and glaring, Rook couldn’t help but wonder whether, if he told them to leap from a cliff, just how many would willingly fall to their deaths just to appease him. She didn’t doubt that they’d kill for him, gladly torture, but to what limits could he push them? She’d seen him kill a man with his bare hands, but that wasn’t what scared her about Joseph Seed. No, it was the blind loyalty that he inspired, and the horrifying thought of what he might choose to do with that loyalty that truly terrified her.
As his church emptied, Joseph raised his hands to the heavens and continued to rant about the end of days, barely pausing when the Marshal interrupted him. Obediently he stepped down towards them, jabbing an accusational finger at Burke as he preached, “And I saw! And behold, it was a White Horse,” his gaze shifted over to glare at Whitehorse, “and Hell followed with...” his words died as his eyes finally settled on her, standing between the two older men.
Rook tensed as his eyes narrowed, his head tilting in much the same way as his older brother’s had as he appraised her. Unable to help herself, she darted a glance at Whitehorse to find him staring between her and Joseph with confusion, clearly just as bewildered as she.
“Oh,” he murmured in quiet surprise, which somehow made things worse - she almost preferred his religious rantings to the sudden interest he had in her. He took a small step towards her, and Rook had to fight with every fibre of her being not to skitter away. It was only Burke who seemed blissfully unaware of the sudden shift in tension in the room, even Joseph’s siblings were eyeing her with unabashed curiosity.
“Rook, arrest this son of a bitch,” he commanded with a scowl.
Not a single soul in the dilapidated church paid him any mind, least of all Joseph. He’d adopted a soft smile, his arms reaching towards her in supplication while Rook’s still hovered uncomfortably over her pistol. “I doubted,” he began with a self deprecating chuckle, shaking his head, “I doubted when He told me that you were coming. I thought that you were lost to us, our little lamb, taken-”
The Marshal cut Joseph off with a grunt, rolling his eyes, “Rook, put the fucking cuffs on him would’ya?”
A low warning growl sounded from the platform behind Joseph, and Rook didn’t need to glance up to know from which Seed it originated. It hardly mattered. She didn’t need the reminder of how unwelcome they were, how very thin the ice they were skating on was. One wrong move, one wrong word-
She couldn’t speak even if she wanted to, much less move to grab the handcuffs dangling from her belt. Under Joseph’s stare, she was utterly frozen and she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why.
“Rook,” Joseph mused, still smiling, “An interesting surname, but not the one you were born with, am I wrong?”
Her heart, racing away inside her chest, skipped a beat.
“What?” Stupid and foolish, it slipped from her lips before she could stop it.
Joseph’s grin widened as he took another step towards her. “You were adopted as a child?” He phrased it as a question, but the knowing glint in his eyes told Rook that it was anything but. That cold pit of dread that had settled into her stomach the moment she’d stepped into the chopper spread like ice through her veins, draining the blood from her face.
“H-how-” she couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips as she tried to focus on just breathing, fighting the nausea that rose up in her stomach at his revelation. It wasn’t like those records were sealed, but they were hardly public knowledge, buried under layers and layers of red tape, not even Joey and Staci knew - hell, Rook would be surprised if anyone in the County other than Whitehorse knew, and yet Joseph said it with such certainty, as if the possibility of being wrong had never occurred to him.
In the peripherals of her vision she saw the Sheriff subtly shift towards her, holstering his pistol in favour of reaching towards her. “Rook…”
But she couldn’t move.
“Rookie, I am ordering you to arrest him!” the Marshal spat, but outside of the slight chuckle from the youngest Seed brother (John, ex-lawyer - as charming as he was painful and twice as sadistic according to Hudson), nobody paid him the slightest amount of attention.
The smile on Joseph’s face shifted slightly, a tinge of sadness simmering in the blue depths behind his aviators. “You were taken as a baby, ripped from your family and placed into foster care. How many families were you passed through, like used goods nobody wanted? How many promised to love and care for you, only to break that promise and return you when you cried too loud, begged for too much attention? You were only a child, an innocent, how many of those families took advantage of that?”
Each word hit Rook like a blow, but she refused to show any more weakness before him. “We are not the same.”
But that confident little smile didn’t waver. “We are more alike than you realise, Deputy.”
Rook didn’t like the way he said it, or the twinkle in his eyes as he studied her, as if he knew some big secret that she wasn’t privy to. And maybe that was the snap she needed to kick her ass into gear, because before she even realised what she was doing, Rook’s hands were at her belt, yanking out the cuffs.
“Feel free to exercise your right to remain silent,” she muttered as she slapped the cuffs on his wrists, pointedly ignoring the choked snort from his brother on the podium.
Joseph didn’t show any signs of resistance as Rook closed the handcuffs just a fraction too tight. “God will not let you take me,” was all that he said as she took him by the shoulder and guided him forward.
She half expected all hell to break loose as she led him towards the doors, but it didn’t ease the tension that gnawed away in her gut when his brothers and sister merely stepped from the platform and trailed after them.
It was wrong, they were too calm.
Whitehorse shot her a meaningful look as he took the lead with the Marshal, forming a protective guard up front. “Nice and easy kid,” he said, drawing out his revolver once more.
If she thought that the Peggies were hostile as they walked into the compound, it was nothing compared to the rabid fury that surged around them as she tried to lead Joseph back to the chopper. With the Marshal and Burke at her front and Joey bringing up the rear, she should have felt protected, but with every step she took Rook felt the tension rise around them - thick and toxic. She was also distinctly aware of the three remaining Seeds following a few feet behind them, their calm, leisurely pace at odds with the raucous upheaval that was closing in on every side. And yet despite the uproar, no bullets were fired, no stones hurled. For now the Peggies just yelled, screaming insults and hurling threats like they were grenades.
One wrong move, one word and the world would erupt in a haze of gunfire and blood, and yet Joseph walked serenely through the crowd, entirely unbothered. The hundred yards between her and the helicopter never felt so long.
As they caught sight of the chopper Rook almost let out a sigh of relief. Joseph must have felt her muscles shift because he turned his head to look at her, that same sad smile still playing across his lips. “I don’t blame you, my child. You couldn’t have known, they never gave you that chance.”
He jerked to a sudden stop and Rook almost stumbled over him. She righted herself with a growl, opening her mouth to snap a retort, but fell abruptly silent as she caught sight of something small, black and brick like arching up over them in a perfect curve, falling onto the ground between her and the others - now almost at the chopper.
A moment too late, realisation struck, her fingers tightening on Joseph’s shoulder as her eyes went wide with horror.
“Get DOWN!” a rough voice yelled a fraction of a second before that little black brick exploded and all hell broke loose.
There was a deafening bang as the sky lit up with a fireball that seared the bare skin of her arms and face. The impact of the shockwave should have knocked her off of her feet, would have if a pair of strong arms hadn’t wrapped around her middle and yanked her backwards into a rock hard chest.
Instinctively, she curled into the protective embrace, flinching as the sound of gunfire and screams erupted around her. Despite the ringing in her ears, Rook heard a voice call out over the chaos. “No! Leave the others. Let them run!”
Too late, she remembered where she was, and why she was there, but as she started to fight against the tree trunk arms that were wrapped around her middle constricted, “Settle down, pup. You’re only gonna hurt yourself if you keep struggling,” the voice rumbled at her back.
“Get your fucking hands off me!” she snarled, bucking wildly against him in an effort to free herself. Jacob only grunted, tightening his hold even further.
Distantly she heard someone yell her name, Joey maybe, but she couldn’t see any of them anymore, not through the fire and smoke or the sea of armed Peggies that separated them.
Even if she screamed, she doubted they’d hear her, and it wouldn’t make a difference. Run, fucking run, she silently begged as an imposing figure stepped into the field of her vision: Joseph, standing tall with his hands unbound, John and Faith at his sides.
It was pointless to struggle, Jacob’s grip was too strong, her team too far away, but that didn’t stop her from thrashing violently, the tears building up in her eyes as he approached with calm finality.
Rook knew that she was going to die, all she could hope for was that he’d make it quick, that he’d do it painlessly - that he wouldn’t gouge out her eyes like he had with that poor kid.
She wanted to scream, to yell and fight and bite, but when he stopped in front of her, ever so gently cupping her face in his hands, that last little spark of foolish resistance sputtered out like a dying fire and all Rook could manage was a whimper.
He frowned, his thumb gently brushing across her soft skin - wiping away the tears that spilled down her cheeks. Rook couldn’t bear to meet his probing gaze, nor the curious stares of John or Faith, instead she closed her eyes, shuddering once more in Jacob’s iron embrace.
She had two weeks of training, and she was going to die forgotten at the hands of a madman and his family. The compound had fallen eerily silent - had the others escaped?
Please… please let them be alive. Let them be okay.
Joseph hummed quietly, “Don’t be frightened - you’re safe.” She fought to keep her eyes closed as she heard him take a step closer, her nails cutting half moon crescents into her palm as she squeezed her hands into fists. She waited for the pain - fingers digging into her eye sockets, hands wrapping around her neck, but instead all she felt was his forehead against hers, “You’re home now.”
She couldn’t help but flinch as another voice spoke, soft and hesitant, “Joseph…”
“Everything will be fine, John. Have faith.”
Rook felt his lips press just once against the crown of her head. “Look at me, Rook.”
Childishly, she shook her head - as much as Joseph’s tender grip would allow. Jacob chuckled, his large chest rumbling against her back. He brought his lips to her ear, whispering in that low, gravelly tone that set the tiny hairs on the back of her neck on end, “Don’t make this any more difficult than it needs to be, sweetheart.”
Joseph sighed. “Please, Rook. Open your eyes, my child. I won’t hurt you.”
Rook didn’t believe him, not for a second. She didn’t know why Jacob had pulled her away from the blast, didn’t know why he hadn’t just snapped her neck, but it didn’t put her mind at ease. That they hadn’t killed her quickly only meant that they intended to draw it out - make an example of her. Joseph could shout his benevolence until he was blue in the face, she still wouldn’t trust him not to hurt her.
Nevertheless, she opened her eyes.
Her heart skipped a beat.
Joseph, still too close, was smiling at her again - gazing from behind yellow lenses with a soft wonder that had her stomach twisting into knots. “God brought you to us for a purpose, Deputy.” His thumb brushed against her cheek once more, “You will understand that, in time. You have nothing to fear from us.”
The funny thing was, he almost looked like he believed it. But Rook knew better than most that words meant nothing - monsters wielded kindness as another weapon used to hurt, they hid their malice behind gentle promises and honeyed word. Joseph was no different.
“You don’t believe me,” he surmised after a long, drawn out silence, dropping his hand from her face and shifting backwards.
Her tongue darted out to wet her lips as she shook her head. “No,” she murmured.
And yet instead of the anger she half expected, Joseph’s expression morphed into something uncomfortably close to pity, as if he could see every hurt that had ever been inflicted upon her, and suddenly it was all too much. Rook couldn’t bear to meet his burning stare, but as she tore her eyes away she caught sight of the look on John’s face - gone was the cocky bravado she’d witnessed in the church. Standing at his brother’s side, John Seed looked almost pained, his hands twisting together in a nervous tic. The moment her blue eyes met his, he shuddered with a breathy gasp, jerking forward, reaching for her -
One sharp glance from Joseph halted him in his tracks, and his outstretched arms fell back to his sides, his gaze dropping momentarily to the ground like a kicked puppy.
Joseph sighed wearily. “I know that you’re afraid, I can only imagine what lies you’ve been told about me, about us,” he said, spreading his arms as he gazed at his family. “Come, Rook. I have something to show you.”
She made no effort to move - it was pointless considering the unrelenting iron grip that held her in place, and Jacob showed no signs of loosening his hold any time soon. A tense beat passed, no one uttering a word. Joseph didn’t quite sigh, but the corners of his lips twitched downwards, his eyes narrowing as he looked over her shoulder at her captor.
“Jacob, she will not run.”
Rook held her breath until finally, Jacob spoke.
“Not if she knows what’s good for her,” he grunted in reply, slowly unwinding his arms from her midsection, squeezing her arm just once (in warning?) before stepping away.
She breathed deep, fighting the urge to curl up in on herself and skitter away like a frightened bunny. Joseph smiled encouragingly at her, holding out his hand in a silent offering - an offer Rook pointedly ignored.
He frowned, but otherwise passed no comment, letting his arm fall back to his side as he began walking back up the pathway to the church. John brushed past her as he made to follow his brother, and with Jacob breathing down her neck with arms folded across his broad chest and Faith watching her curiously, Rook quickly jumped into gear and strode after them.
It was quiet as they walked, most of the Peggies had dispersed, and those who had stuck around didn’t speak other than offering the occasional reverent greeting to the Father and his Heralds. Instead of leading her back to the church, he breezed past the white wooden doors, instead taking a pathway that led to a little cottage on the edge of the compound - his home, she belatedly realised as she was ushered inside.
The cottage was bare - the walls sparsely decorated, the furniture rustic, built for use, not comfort. Yet Rook hardly had time to process that before John was pulling her out a chair, smiling softly as she awkwardly settled down into it. Neither he nor his siblings sat, dotting themselves around the room while Joseph disappeared down the hallway, watching her carefully - did they think that she was stupid enough to try and run?
He reappeared a moment later holding a picture frame in his hands. “I imagine they told you about me and my family before you came here to arrest me?” Joseph asked as he strode towards her.
Rook nodded, her eyes flickering between him and his siblings and the picture frame in his hands. Was that why he’d brought her there? To show her a photo?
“Did they tell you that we had a sister?” He continued, dropping into a crouch in front of her chair, offering her the frame.
Rook glanced down - the photograph was old and worn. Even protected under the glass, she could see the creased edges. The image itself was faded and spotted with stains, coffee maybe, and yet despite its sorry state, one look at the gentleness with which he held it, and Rook knew that it was cherished.
It was a family portrait of sorts, four children sitting stilted and posed in their Sunday best. Even at a glance, Rook recognised Joseph and his brothers: Jacob’s fiery hair unmistakable, and even as a toddler John’s pretty blue eyes and dark hair made him seem almost cherubic. Between them stood Joseph, gangly and awkward, wearing a half hearted smile; clearly uncomfortable at having being forced to have his photo taken. He wasn’t the only one, either; Jacob, brawny even then sat leaning back against his seat, staring down at the camera with his lips curled up into a slight sneer, a challenge shining through his narrowed eyes.
And yet despite his barely concealed hostility, Rook couldn’t help but be drawn to the baby he cradled on his lap. Of all of them, she was the only one who wasn’t posed - the camera having caught her mid gurgle, a wide toothless grin on her little face.
Joseph watched her for a moment. “She was a sweet, innocent thing. She was only a baby when they took her from us - just over a year old.” He smiled softly, a distant look in his eyes. “We used to sing to her to drown out the fighting, calm her when she cried. She liked my voice the best, I think, but it was always Jacob that she reached for.”
Rook took the offered photograph, smiling despite herself at the chubby cheeked baby resting on her big brother’s lap. She couldn’t help but wonder what it might have been like to have a family like that, to have siblings who cared, who wanted to protect her from the abuse and the pain… but Rook had nobody but herself.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Joseph said, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiled, “My little sister. The day she was born, Jacob and I swore that we’d protect her - John, he was too young, barely a toddler himself, but we promised that no matter what, we would keep her safe. We would love her, even if our parents couldn’t.”
Rook didn’t miss the edge of bitterness in his voice, but when he glanced at her again there was nothing but sorrow written across his face. “They came for her first, you see. We were at school when we were called into the Principal’s office, a woman from the child protective services already inside waiting for us… By the time we got home, it was too late, she was gone - ripped from us before we even had a chance to say goodbye.”
“They wouldn’t tell us a goddamned thing about her, either. Kept sayin’ that she was ‘safe’ and that was all that mattered,” Jacob scoffed, shaking his head. “Lying fucking assholes.”
There was a niggling feeling in her gut as she stared at the picture - as if there was something was staring her right in the face, but her brain just refused to make the connection.
The silence was heavy in the room and Rook was all too aware of the four pairs of eyes bearing down on her. It felt like they were expecting her to say something, but she didn’t know what, her mind refused to cooperate, refused to make sense of this bizarre turn of events.
“What happened to her?” she asked, not because she wanted to know - no, Rook just wanted them to stop staring at her with those wide, expectant eyes. She didn’t want to be there, sitting amongst his family, trapped and playing games she didn’t know the fucking rules to.
But so long as she played along, said the right things, kept them happy they wouldn’t hurt her. Oh, she was under no illusions that she was getting out of this unscarred, eventually the warm and compassionate guises would slip away and Rook would be left at the mercy of monsters, but stalling was the only card she had left to play.
It was John, who up until then had been suspiciously quiet, that answered her. “We lost her, and not too long afterwards, we were separated ourselves. When Joseph found me, I tried-” he broke off abruptly, swallowing and shaking his head minutely. He licked his lips before he continued, “We didn’t have much to go on, just a name. We found out bits and pieces, some of the foster families she’d been placed with, medical records from ER visits, we even found a picture, but it wasn’t enough and I-I couldn’t…” he trailed off, the rest better left unspoken.
Rook hadn’t forgotten the stories Joey had told her about John - the whispered horror stories of those who went into his bunker for confession and came out broken. John was as narcissistic as he was sadistic, Rook knew that, but as she met his imploring gaze, saw the tears well in his eyes, the unsteady bob of his throat as he held back a sob… her heart ached for him.
Wordlessly, Joseph rose beside her, extending an arm in offering, first to John, who swept across the room to embrace his brother, clinging to him as he buried his face into Joseph’s bare shoulder, and then to Jacob, who stoically followed suit - touching his forehead to his brother’s in a rare gesture of intimacy. Faith was the only one to remain where she stood, offering Rook a wide, beautiful smile that sent a chill down her spine when their eyes met.
Rook held her breath as they embraced, her heart thumping like a runaway horse as she shut her eyes and willed herself to disappear entirely.
No such luck.
When her eyes fluttered open she found the three of them staring down at her once more. Joseph still had one hand resting on John’s shoulder, but the other was extended towards her. “Our faith wavered, Deputy, but God had shown me visions, our sister would be at our side when the Collapse came. We would walk through the Gates of Eden as a family, together once more.”
Rook stared numbly at the offered hand, that cold dread that had been gnawing at her gut starting to spread through her veins as the pieces of the puzzle that had been staring her in the face finally fell into place with horrifying clarity.
She opened her mouth to tell him that he had the wrong girl, that it had to be a mistake, merely an awful coincidence, but as she tried to form words all that came out was a choked, shuddering gasp. As if he could read her thoughts he smiled with a knowing glint in his eyes, and when he spoke next it was to drive the final nail into the coffin of her denial. “Her name was Judith, but I believe you now prefer to go by Jude, Deputy.”
Judith Seed. Jude.
She couldn’t move, couldn’t think, could barely breathe - Rook was helpless to resist as Joseph reached forward and took her hand in his, squeezing for just a moment before he pulled her to her feet and once more cupped her face. The photograph she’d been holding slipped from her hands and hit the ground, shattering the glass, but nobody paid it any mind. She didn’t fight it when John’s arms wrapped around her waist tightly and he pressed his lips against her temple again and again, feverish words falling from his tongue and washing over her like waves on the shore. She didn’t flinch when Jacob shifted her to his side, tucking her head under his chin, his own muscled arm slinging over hip.
All she could focus on was the euphoric grin that Joseph wore as he bowed down to kiss her brow with gentle reverence.
“We thought you were lost to us, little one, but God has guided you home.”