It’s not John’s fault.
It’s not his fault that Deputy Rook wouldn’t listen. It’s not his fault that Faith is losing control of her region, that Jacob got too cocky and— and— and they don’t have a body to bury.
It’s not John’s fault. None of this is his fault. He did his best. He kept offering salvation to Rook, endlessly generous and merciful. He Marked him, he Cleansed him, he almost Confessed him, and he tried to Atone him. Every time, Rook rejected John’s gifts. Violently. Then, without fail, Rook returned to his chaotic orgy of bloodshed and explosions, fucking up everything John and his family had strived so hard to build for the past fifteen years.
Now John’s here in his bunker office, trying and failing to explain to the Father why he’s locked his Gate down, why the sinners of Fall’s End are shooting off fireworks, why he failed to complete the task that the Father set for him. He's hunched over the radio, gripping the mic as though it's his only salvation. And... well, it might be. Joseph's actually angry at him this time. Not that he shows it like a normal person, but John can tell. Behind the calm demeanour, Joseph is angry, and that doesn't bode well.
“I don’t understand, John,” the Father says. His words cut deeply into John’s heart: the Father deserves better than this constant failure. John hangs his head in shame, even though the Father can’t see him through a radio. “I asked only two things of you: to finish preparations for the Collapse, and to save the soul of Deputy Rook.”
“Rook won’t listen to me,” John tries again. His voice sounds weak and whiny to his own ears, but he needs his brother to understand— it’s not fair! All Rook needed to do was say ‘yes’, and he didn’t. God, John tried so hard for that ungrateful asshole. And yet, every single time John reached out, Deputy Rook just… he just ignored John and kept on destroying stuff.
“I told you that this would be difficult, John,” the Father says. “I told you that that this was your test.”
“I’m— I’m sorry,” John stammers. He didn't mean to fail. Joseph had to know that John tried, didn't he? “Joseph, I know… I— I just—“
“You have failed me, John,” the Father says. His tone is just as calm as it always is, but there is a firmness and a finality in His voice. It’s clear that there is no more room to argue, that for all John’s legal expertise and his silver tongue, there is nothing John can say to smooth things over.
“I know,” John says, dread tying his stomach in knots. He knows what’s coming next, and he can’t stand it. Just in case it’s not too late, John adds: “I’m sorry.”
“I warned you that there would be consequences for failure,” the Father says, and this time there’s a hint of sorrow in His voice: a slight cracking here and there that can’t be attributed to the clear, strong radio signal or the hi-tech speaker system. “I told you that Eden’s Gate would be shut to you. And so it is.”
“No,” John whispers, cold fear clawing through his heart. Anything but that— anything but being alone, barred from his family and his future. He shakes his head, praying that somehow the Father will understand, will relent. “No, Joseph, please… One more chance, please— I just need—”
“John Seed,” the Father ignores John’s feeble protests, speaking with the strength of divine righteousness. “Though it pains me to do so, I cast you out. You are stripped of all authority in my name, of all ties that bind you to my flock. You may not enter New Eden with us.”
“Wait—“ John begs, but the Father does not listen. He finishes His judgement with two words:
And just like that, it’s over. John opens his mouth, but no words fall from his lips. There’s nothing. His eyes do not fill with tears, his heartbeat does not quicken, his stomach does not sink. Numbly, he sets the mic on the desk, lowers himself into the chair. His hands tremble, despite his best efforts. There are no more messages from Joseph, the airwaves silent. There's only John and his racing thoughts.
The worst thing about this entire scenario is that it should never have happened at all.
There have been constant hints that Deputy Rook has the potential be saved, that he is a good man somewhere under his unquenchable thirst for blood: at the Church, he’d been respectful even as he handcuffed the Father. After the Cleansing, the way he’d looked at John and Joseph when he was pulled from the water, all quietly Blissful awe. The way he’d so quickly swallowed and said “yes” at his failed Confession despite the fear in the set of his mouth and the tension apparent in every muscle, the darkly protective look he’d had in his eyes as he glared at John, as though Rook were the one saving people. The way he never hesitated to sacrifice himself for those around him— whether it be a Resistance leader or some random schmuck by the roadside.
Deputy Rook is, at his core, a good man. He’s misguided and cruel and vindictive, but he’s good. He should have joined John by now, if only to save Hudson.
John glares at the map of Holland Valley he has hung above his desk. His vision swims dangerously, the flags and photos and papers pinned to the board blurring together. John gasps, his breath hitching by itself, and he grits his teeth and tries and fails to stop. His thoughts rush and blur, all desperate fantasies of fixing this and half-conceived notions of killing Rook or demanding an audience with Joseph, or just burning Fall’s End to the ground. Eventually, they all end the same: there’s no point, there is no Eden for him. John’s known Joseph for a long time. Joseph is a rock. He will not move.
After some time, the office door opens, jerking John from his whirlwind of thoughts. He looks up, wiping the last of the tears from his face. Several Chosen enter, lead by John’s second-in-command, a man by the name of Grant.
“I didn’t send for you,” John says.
There’s no answer. Grant nods at one of the Chosen, who moves so fast John barely sees the sackcloth in his hands before it’s jammed over his head, tied tightly around his throat.
John panics. He’s never been good at fighting. He’s never had to be— he’s always been able to sweet-talk his way out of trouble. John’s great at torture, but he’s never had to fight the people he Confesses. Someone else always does the hard work of actually capturing people for him. John lashes out at the Chosen leaning over him, his other hand automatically scrabbling at the too-tight twine restricting his airway. His wild blow connects and he hears a yelp, but there’s already another pair of hands holding him down, and then someone else immobilising his legs with their weight as they wrap rope around his knees and ankles. Another Chosen lashes his arms together in front of him, binding his forearms so tightly his hands wind up pressed together in a parody of prayer.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” John demands, trying desperately to throw off his assailants by shifting his body weight— all he succeeds in is knocking his chair over, caught awkwardly and painfully in mid-air by the traitorous Chosen. He’s shifted upward after a moment, slung over a bony shoulder.
“Answer me!” John shouts, and he tries again, bucking wildly. This time, he kicks someone, in the face if the long string of curses is anything to go by, and gets dropped on the floor for his trouble. He’s clearly pissed them off, because someone finally responds.
“Corpses don’t talk!” they snap— Grant, that’s Grant’s voice— and then something clocks John right in the face, bouncing his skull against a wall. His nose shatters instantly; hot, throbbing pain momentarily blocking out everything else.
John’s dazed for a while. He breathes heavily through his mouth, blood pouring from his nose, sticking to his beard, soaking into the sackcloth. He’s pretty sure someone lifts him up again, but he’s not entirely attached to his own body. He doesn’t seem particularly attached to gravity either. The world is spinning slowly, relentlessly.
At one point, there’s a loud clanking noise and there’s cool air on his skin and then he’s lying on hard, uncomfortable metal, the cold of it leeching the warmth from his body. His coat is downstairs, on the hook in his office, and he wishes it wasn’t. A gentle rumbling starts, pulsating through the metal, into John’s skin.
It takes a few minutes for reality to start coming back. Whatever he’s been tossed on, it’s moving. John tries to sit up, but the swaying of whatever he’s on— maybe a pickup truck? There were a couple in the parking lot when he got to the Gate, Deputy Rook hot on his heels— mixed with the general spinning of the universe at large sends him crashing back down again. He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling sick. He doesn’t try again.
Is this an execution? That was always more Jacob’s style than Joseph’s, but— well, Jacob isn’t here anymore. Until today, John thought that his place by Joseph’s side was secure. And now the sanctuary he’s worked so hard to protect and build is closed to him.
John was nothing when Joseph found him, and now he is nothing again.
There’s distant gunfire, and the engine stops, but somehow the truck is still spinning. Someone lifts John, deposits him on unsteady ground, and the Chosen are talking nearby but their words don’t quite register.
Someone drags John along the rough ground, which turns quickly into damp soil. They’re going downhill. That’s not right, is it?
“Wait…” John mumbles. The gunfire sounds again, a little closer this time.
“Hurry up!” Grant orders. “They spotted us, they’ll be here any minute!”
The ground is wet now, and John struggles again. His arms and legs don’t want to work right, his assailant ignoring his pitiful efforts.
“Praise be to the Father,” the man dragging John whispers, pausing briefly. “Sorry, brother John. May you rest in peace.”
Then he drops John into cold water, pushing his mostly-immobilised body deeper in. John thrashes, trying in vain to free himself, to wriggle back to shore— he only succeeds in helping his assailant, inadvertently pushing himself further in. Then, suddenly, the dragging halts and a heavy weight drops onto John’s torso, pinning him beneath the water.
John shifts his weight, trying to buck the heavy thing off— what the hell is it, anyway?
It doesn’t work, he needs to breathe. John grits his teeth, praying for a miracle. He can’t die here. He can’t.
The heavy thing is gone, and before John can question why, a pair of hands wrench him out of the water, struggling with the twine around his neck for a second before the wet sackcloth is yanked off his face.
John gasps, inhaling blessed air. He squints up at his saviour, through the hair that has plastered itself over his face in the struggle. Maybe it’s Faith— or maybe Joseph himself. Maybe he has a chance to explain, to redeem himself in the eyes of the Father. Oh, God, he hopes so.
John’s saviour reaches down, wipes his hair back and out of his face. John’s blood runs cold in his veins. It’s not Faith or the Father, or even anybody who could be considered an ally.
Deputy Rook looks down at John, eyes narrowed.
"Huh," Rook says. "This is interesting."