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I Always Knew

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10 years before the Collapse.

Today was the day. Everything leading up to this day had been a trial of persistence and resilience. A test of loyalty and commitment to the Project at Eden’s Gate. A show of devotion to the one and only Joseph Seed. Today was the day that High Priestess of Eden’s Gate, Vittoria Arya-Giordano, would be announced as the new Sister Faith. She was sure of it. Vittoria parked her pick-up just right outside the compound, proceeding strolled through as if she were walking the red carpet itself. She held her head up high as she passed by the other inhabitants. They curtseyed and bowed in her presence, greeting her as High Priestess and Lady Giordano. Vittoria beamed with glee the attention. She was well loved by the others, a mixture of respect and fear. Many joked that she was The Mother of Eden’s Gate, serving as Joseph’s main contact with those who inhabited Hope County. She had the charisma, the looks, and the feigned gentleness that they needed to garner the attention of would be members. She gave them hope. She gave them faith. She would succeed where past Faith’s had failed. It only made sense that she be given this next step. To truly become a part of Joseph Seed’s family.

Vittoria approached the church, pushing it’s double doors open, inhaling and exhaling the air from the interior. At first she believed she had been the first to arrive, but she would be mistaken. A figure sat in the furthest pew, the one right before the platform where Joseph gave most of his sermons. The out of style haircut and scarred head were a dead giveaway as she approached. Jacob Seed, the eldest and most dreadful member to exist within the Project. Vittoria could admit he had his usefulness, but since the day she joined the project at the tender age of nineteen, she found him to be insufferable. She was almost positive he could say the same about her.

She would not let his unpleasant presence ruin this day for her though. John and Joseph would be here soon enough so they could hear Joseph’s announcement all together.

“I’m half surprised to find you here Jacob.” she mused as she approached.

When he did not react she took a closer look. He had...headphones on? Vittoria cocked her head curiously as she came around the pew, raising her voice louder, and drawing out her words “Hello, did your parents not teach you it’s impolite to ignore someone.”

Jacob looked up slowly, seemingly fully aware of her presence even before she spoke. He slowly removed the headphones from his head, placing them around his thick neck. With the headphones removed, she could faintly hear the lyrics of the song he was listening to. Only you. An oldie but goodie, that was for sure.

“What is it that you want woman?” he sneered at her.

“Well aren’t you extra grumpy today.” she said loftily, “What is that in your hand?” she gestured.

“None of your goddamn business.”

His hands were clasped around the object like it was a sacred heirloom, but judging by his headphones, it must be some sort of music player. An ancient one albeit. She began to chuckle. Of course he’d have something so prehistoric. It suited him.

“Where ever did you dig that up from? The Mastodon Park?”

Jacob was a large man but that did not mean you should underestimate his speed. He was up and at em in seconds, getting into her face. He said nothing, only looked down at her, probably resisting the urge to throttle her. Vittoria stood in place, crossing her arms, unimpressed by his tough guy act. They would have stayed there having a stare off for an eternity until one of them snapped if not for the entrance of another Seed brother.

“Dear High Priestess, please refrain from agitating the wild animal.” John’s voice joshed as he strolled through the center, “He’s just upset his little pet has left him.”

“Little pet?” she scoffed, wondering what the story was behind that comment.

Whatever it was, it sure plucked a nerve in the soldier. Jacob’s face began to fume, his grasp on the walk-man shaking with each passing moment.

“Brother, please, let our protector be..” another voice presented itself.

Vittoria’s heart fluttered as she looked to the entrance. Joseph Seed himself presented himself, adorned in his black and white attire, his eyes hidden away behind his trademark yellow shades. He entered the church, the doors shutting behind him, approaching the trio.

“As you all know, our most recent Sister Faith has failed to live up to the expectations and needs of this Project.” he stated, taking in the expressions of each one of them, “She has been excommunicated and a new replacement has been found.”

Vittoria felt her heart begin to drum at a wild rate as she braved herself for the announcement.

“Bring her in” he suddenly commanded to unseen figures. Vittoria, while still overwhelmed with excitement, felt a wave of utter confusion as the doors began to reopen. Two other Eden members entered, with them a young woman- no- a girl, shaking like a leaf. They gestured her forward as she looked at each of them with wide eyes. The Father took her hand into his, pulling her to stand in front of him. A flurry of words ran through Vittoria’s head as she bit her tongue, the reality of the situation setting in. Joseph placed his hands on the girl’s shoulder, looking like a proud father. Please no, Vittoria thought as his mouth continued to move.

“My brothers. My High Priestess.” he said with a satisfied look, “I present to you Rachel Jessop. Our newest Sister Faith.”

-----

“Who the fuck is Rachel Jessop? How- was I just not devoted enough? Did I not sacrifice enough? Argh!”

Vittoria was a blur of red as she paced back and forth in her room at the Grand View hotel. While construction of the bunkers were still underway, many Eden Gate’s members had been located to the newly purchased property, Vittoria and her current listening companion included. Megan, another Eden’s Gate member, and the closest thing she had to a friend, sat on the edge of the bed with a hand raised trying to calm the priestess.

“I’m sure Joseph had a valid reason for his decision. I do not believe it had anything to do with your capabilities.”

“If it had nothing to do with my capabilities than why was I not chosen? I am the next highest ranking member of this Project after John. That girl looks like she was just plucked off the street at some hick gas station.”

Megan tried to contain her laughter but could not help breaking out in a giggle. Vittoria was close to cracking a smile seeing her friend laugh but she was so furious at the situation she could not bring herself to do so. She felt like a piece of her had been shattered. The utter feeling of disappointment when you had your entire life set on something, only to have it snatched away. The high priestess found some solace in the situation however. Based on what she had seen, she was confident enough to say that this Rachel Jessop would last no longer than a few months before she was booted. Vittoria would be there and she’d be ready to have her chance again. Her chance to get closer to Joseph and prove to him that she was worthy of him and worthy of the world they would build together.

For now though…

Vittoria snatched up her coat and keys, heading for the door.

“Where are you going?” Megan queried.

Vittoria glanced over her shoulder as she finished sending a text message on her phone, “To take my frustrations out on John of course.”

She could see the faintest look of disappointment on Megan’s face as John’s name escaped Vittoria’s lips. Vittoria knew Megan disapproved of her physical relationship with John. He’s just using you, she’d say. He’s a bad influence. He’ll get you back on drugs if you’re not careful. La dee dah. Vittoria was prideful but she could admit she knew when someone was using her, and in this case she was fine with it, because she too was using him. He was the closest thing she could get to Joseph, her true heart’s desire, though she’d be lying if she said she did not at least some semblance of feelings for him.

“Please don’t give me that look Megan.” Vittoria whined.

“I’m not giving you any look. He rotates between you and Holly. I just don’t think that’s fair for you.”

“I’m not worried about Holly.” Vittoria said smugly, “He just uses her because he thinks it makes me jealous.” Which it does.

Vittoria blew a kiss to her beloved friend before heading out the door and down the Grandview’s interior stairs. She was nearing the entrance when she looked down at her phone, glancing to see if John had responded to her initial text. Looking up at the last possible second from her phone, she saw a green blur before an inevitable collision occurred. Vittoria dropped her phone and stumbled back, look abhorred.

“Watch where you are going buffoon!” she scolded the other individual.

The man knelt down, picking up her phone. As he rose, he looked at her apologetically, “Well fuck me sideways, you’re beautiful.” he blurted leaving her both appalled and blushing.

He was approximately her age, a scruffy beard and tousled hair stuffed under his cap. Outside of her taste range for sure, but at the same time, attractive in a non traditional sense.

“I’m sorry hotcakes,” he continued, “I didn’t see you there.”

“Hotcakes?” she leered trying not to snap at him immediately, “Is there a reason you are here mister ...?”

The aggression in her voice went straight over his head as he smiled, “Charlemagne Victor Boshaw the fourth though my cousin Hurk just calls me Sharky. I’m here to join the cult!” he responded eagerly.

Vittoria stared at him with a doubtful expression, trying to discern if this was a joke or if he was wholeheartedly serious.

“We are not a cult. We are a congregation.” she responded.

He responded with a quizzical look on his face, “Isn’t that the same thing?”

Vittoria snatched her phone that still remained in his possession, pushing him out of the Grandview entryway, “I’m so sorry to say all of our open slots are closed for the moment Mr. Boshaw. Please try again next week.”

“Oh, okay.” he responded naively, “Is there like a waiting list I can sign up for?”

“Please try again next week Mr. Boshaw!” she pushed him out the door, shutting it behind him.

Heaven’s grief, she thought to herself as she looked down at her phone. The interaction had been a nuance, and she doubted he would be back, but at the same time she could not help but hold onto his simple words. No one, not even John had ever referred to her as beautiful. Her phone vibrated in her hand, prompting her to look down.

New Message from John: I’m waiting.

Of course. How could she forget already. She shrugged off her encounter with the Boshaw gentlemen and proceeded onward because afterall, she had unresolved frustrations to take out.

Chapter Text

17 years since the Collapse

.

“Hurk! Hurk buddy you down to fuck with some Highwayen today?”

Sharky roamed into the first room of Chateau Boshaw, hoping to find his partner in crime. The last few days had been quite a fuck fest. If he were as so bold to say, it was has probably been the worst week of his life since the Great Collapse. A few days ago, news came that the Lamb and Seed residence had been burnt to a crisp, and now his dearest friend Nayeli, was missing. His other dearest friend, Jacob Seed, returned to said burnt down house after spending months looking. Now Jacob was off somewhere in the world going gung-ho, like Denzel Washington Equalizer style, looking for his family, while the rest of Hope County sat with their thumbs up their ass, waiting for some kind of miracle. Waiting on the off chance that maybe Nayeli Lamb would return with her daughter, and together with Jacob, they’d kick the shit out of the Highwaymen once and for all.

When his cousin did not respond, Sharky Boshaw continued further in, walking towards Hurks bedroom. Not even twenty feet from the door, he could hear what could only be defined by Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”. Sharky shuddered as he approached, knocking lightly on the door.

“Hurk my man? You gonna be long?”

There was the sound of stumbling, and Gina, Ex-Highwayman slash their latest roommate cursing.

“Heya, you uh go on without me cuz.” Hurk said, “Gina’s got me in a bit of a knot. Literally.”

Sharky tried to conceal the disappointment in his voice, “Yeah. Yeah that’s fine. I’ll uh, catch you later Hurkules.”

The Boshaw man left the Chateau, not wanting to hear anymore of whatever sexual escapades Gina and Hurk were bound to get into. Funny thing about the end of the world was how it brought people together. For Sharky however, that just was not the case. The first few years were rough, so much so Sharky Boshaw was not even sure if he wanted to live in this new world. The woman he had wanted to take out for drinks after kicking Eden’s Gate to the curb had been declared dead following the bombs dropping, only to reemerge five years later with Jacob Seed’s daughter. Nayeli Lamb was a helluva woman, and Jacob Seed was a lucky man. Sharky was just grateful to remain friends with her. She was his confidant when he got into those low moods. Apocalypse or not, Sharky Boshaw was always seen as an outsider. The select few who did not make him feel as such had either moved on, were missing, or were literally getting it on as he performed his inner monologue.

He walked a ways, surprisingly without anything trying to kill him or attempting to steal his clothes. When he left the chateau, it was midday, the sun hanging high over head like an annoying spotlight. Now, it was near dusk, meaning he should hightail it back to the Chateau before the evening’s critter’s came out to play. He heard something though, which drew his curious nature. A melody was being carried on the wind, growing slightly louder with each step. Traversing through some brush and foliage, he came upon a rather large pond and the source of the tune. There was a woman bathing in the pond. He only got a quick glimpse of her before she submerged completely. Sharky watched curiously from the cover of the bushes as she shot back up, flipping her hair back.

This is like some little mermaid shit, he said to himself as he cautiously approached the pond, enthralled by the siren’s song. She waded blissfully through the water as she approached the shore, humming the rest of the song she had been performing. He looked about their immediate surroundings, spotting the woman’s belongings. She had a small sack along with an elongated objected that was wrapped in cloth, keeping it’s identity hidden. She was obviously traveling somewhere. She must be new to Hope County too because no one would willingly travel alone knowing the Highwaymen were out about like flies on a mound of shit. He watched from the safety of the foliage as she began to step out of the water. He caught a glimpse of her bare back down to her tailbone before he hurriedly looked away, ducking down.

His face was flushed as he began smacking himself incessantly, “Don’t look you freakin’ pervert. She’s probably a very nice lady with a great personality.” he muttered.

He sat there silently fidgeting until he could finally convince himself to take another gander, hoping that the woman had put some clothes on so he could at least admire the face of the woman with the voice of a million angels. But like the hot kind of angels, not the Resident Evil looking ones that his Grams would describe from the Bible. Taking a deep breath, he poked his head back up over the bush. The woman’s belongings were still there, but both the object in the cloth and the woman were now missing. Sharky began to stand, a look of confusion marred on his face.

Where’d she go?

Sharky’s eyes widened as he felt something hard pressed against his back. No not like that. He gulped, feeling the barrel of what could only be a shotgun rise along his back before resting against his head.

“Don’t move.” a woman’s voice sneered from behind him.

Sharky immediately stiffened, raising his hands in a surrender pose, “Look I uh-meant no harm- I was just walking by-”

“Turn around. No sudden movements or you can kiss that dead animal on your head goodbye.” she ordered.

“Well this is a load of bolog-na.” he huffed as he began to turn around slowly.

He’d be more concerned about the barrel of the golden plated gun aimed right at his face if he wasn’t so enraptured by the woman standing before him. She had the biggest eyes he’d ever seen. Just green pools that you wanted to get lost in. Her hair a nice auburn color with a subtle aging white streak towards the front. What threw him off however was her outfit. It was similar to what those Peggie’s up north wore, resembling a burlap sack but somehow she made it appealing. Taking in all her features, he sensed familiarity, as if he had known her from somewhere else.

“You ain’t one of those New Edener nut jobs by chance are you?” he blurted out without thinking.

If he hadn’t offended her yet with his unintentional voyeurism, she was offended now as she cocked the gun.

“Why are you spying on me?” she scowled.

“What? Oh-no, no, I wasn’t spying! I swear on little baby Jesus.” he began to stammer, “I mean, I may have saw some side-boob but nothing else I swear. I just heard you singing and couldn’t help myself-”

He glanced back and forth between her killer gaze and the barrel of the shotgun. There was a tight knot forming in the center of his chest as he tried to keep his heart from bursting out of his chest like those little bastards in the ALIEN movies. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously at him as she gave him a once over, her already large eyes enlarging as she was touched with an epiphany.

“I know you.” she stated, her grip tightening, “The buffoon who tried to join Eden’s Gate.”

Sharky blinked a few times as he pulled at his collar, allowing some air to cool down his sweating body, “I uh-technically was a member. For like, three day-...”

Like a swift kick to the ass, he stood alert, realizing where he knew her from. Eden’s Gate. Buffoon. His eyes lit up and his smile grew to the size of a kid playing with a blow torch.

“Holy guacamole, it’s you! Hotcakes.”

Her face scrunched up with a fury, taking aim with her gun. Sharky’s shoulder raised up well damn up near his ears as he placed his hands up, pleading, “Please don’t kill me hot priestess lady, I know hotcakes ain’t for everyone.”

“Get down.” she ordered suddenly.

Sharky could feel his throat begin to tighten as he tugged at the collar of his shirt again, nervously, “Look uh-Miss, you’re drop dead gorgeous and all but I don’t think this is entirely appropriate considering we just met and all-”

The woman’s arm shot out suddenly, grasping his shoulder. She didn’t look like it but the woman had a helluva grip as she shoved him aside. He tumbled to the ground, looking up just in time to see her firing her weapon off. Sharky peered through an opening in the foliage, seeing the body of a Highwayman enforcer launch backwards from the impact of the shotgun shells. There had been two more Highwaymen grunts flanking the Enforcer who stood stunned and then quickly began to retreat.

“Godless scavengers!” She shouted as she marched forward, continuously firing off her weapon at them.

Sharky began to stand, watching her in complete amazement. She was dauntless, no fear in her eyes whatsoever. She looked like a freaking lioness ready to tear up some Highwaymen ass and he had never been more turned on or afraid in his entire life.

She turned to him, lowering her weapon, giving him a look that was both annoyed and concerned, “You alright?” she asked.

Sharky had begun to nod his head when a thunderous noise pierced through the air, startling him. The priestess jerked suddenly, crying out in pain as she fell to her knees.

“Shit balls!”

Sharky shouted as he ducked down, another shot ringing out. The woman clutched her shoulder as she attempted to get up, cursing every word under the sun. The unseen Highwayman continued firing into the bushes, hoping to finish the two off. Sharky grabbed the woman by her unwounded shoulder, forcing her back down to avoid being shot again. She withdrew her hand, her palm glazed with blood.

“Fucking hell.” she uttered, nearly collapsing to her side.

“Whoa whoa whoa.” Sharky threw his arms out to catch her.

He laid her gently on the ground before she promptly shoved the shotgun into his chest, “Finish them.” she growled, thrusting it again when he failed to take it on the first shove.

Fumbling with the gun, Sharky stood up quickly, seeing the bright armor of the Highwayman approaching their location. The seconds flew by as he cocked the gun, the two racing to aim their own weapons at one another. He was not familiar with the design of the priestess’ gun, but he scrambled to figure it out quickly. There was another loud bang, the Highwaymen collapsing like his cohort to the ground, leaving Sharky victorious.

“That’s what you get for hurting a lady!” he shouted at the raider’s corpse, turning to the down priestess.

Shit. The color in her face was draining rapidly as she laid there, still clutching her shoulder. Sharky knelt beside her, tilting her head up onto his lap.

“Hey, hotcakes, stay with me now.”

She may be losing consciousness, but that did not stop her from glaring at him conspicuously.

“The name is Vittoria.” she responded, “Not hotcakes.”

“You’re probably right. Vittoria sounds a lot better.” he replied as he watched her eyes slowly begin to shut.

Panic began to ensue as he held her there, the light of the moon beginning to rise above them. It was too dark to traverse anywhere, and help was miles, and miles away. Now he had a hot lady bleeding out sitting on his lap and no idea what to do next.Did he mention that this was the worst week of his life? Because this was quite possibly the worst week of his life.

Chapter Text

1 week before the Collapse

The last few days were absolute torture for the pyromaniac known as Sharky Boshaw. Hope County’s newest deputy, Nayeli Lamb had been M.I.A. for quite some time and which the shit that had been going on, that either meant she was just super busy kicking Peggie ass, or the Seed’s had her in their grasp. Sharky hung around the Hope County jail, which had become the main hub for the Cougar resistance, waiting to see if perhaps Whitehorse or any others had heard from the lamb. Last he had seen her had been at the Spread Eagle bar. She looked drained, and troubled, the whole word dumping its shit upon her at once. Sharky remembered the scene in incredible detail only because he had taken the plunge of asking her out on a date one all this chaos was over. She had given him an exhausted smile and looked upon him with those beautiful hazel eyes.

That sounds like a good plan, she had said. Prior to that, they had shared quite the momentous moment together. It wasn’t the most romantic scenario of course: hot deputy just escaped from possible brainwashing at the hands of Jacob Seed. The two of them hole up in the Silver Lake Trailer Park for shelter. Hot deputy came onto him, badda bing bada boom. Most amazing and probably last sex he would have until this Peggie shit was over. It was difficult to not think about the way she kissed him, the way she made love to him, making him feel like just once, someone wanted him in a way that he had craved for so long. He has never been anyone’s first pick, but that night he was hers. He hoped wherever she was, that she was safe, and that there was a small chance she still felt the same. 

Sharky laid in his assigned room, on the verge of dozing off when he heard a commotion from the main floor. Exiting his cell, he peered over the railing. The other big wigs, Whitehorse, Virgil, Tracey among them, gathered around as a person appeared on the floor. His heart swelled realizing it was Nayeli. He was tempted to leap over this railing right then and there, but she had a calculated look in her eye, one he had not been familiar with. Boshaw decided it was better to wait, watching as the others gathered round, spewing jargon about their next move.

From the sound of it, the plan was to assault Faith’s newly discovered bunker with Nayeli leading at the forefront. He finally made his way down, appearing beside Nayeli. The tension radiating off her made him anxious to even say anything. She looked like a shaking chihuahua to be honest: eyes wide, her breathing labored as if she had just ran a marathon. Sharky extended a hand out to her, hesitant to touch her, deciding at the last second against it.

He wanted to ask where she had been, if she was hurt, but all he could muster was, “You doing alright there Nay?”

She didn’t skip a beat, “I’m just worried what if this is all for naught?” she spoke, the bravado that she exhumed during past encounters slowly slipping away.

“Hey, we got this! We made it this far after all. We’re gonna send those Peggie’s packing.” he reassured her. 

He had begun to wrap an arm around her shoulders to which she suddenly jerked away. Intentional or not, he felt like he had just been socked in the stomach. She examined the confused look across his face to which she tried to remedy.

“Sorry, I just...I’m just a little sore from fighting my way out of John’s bunker you know?”

“Of course, of course. No worries Nay.” he smiled awkwardly, secretly wondering if he had done something wrong. 

The way her posture was, shifting, restlessly, he knew there was more to what happened at John’s than she was letting on. His mind went to the worst possible scenario, and he felt his stomach churn with disgust. If that bastard laid a single hand on her-

“Sharky” her voice interrupted his thoughts, “I think that maybe we should talk.”

As he waited, anxiously, for what she was about to say, a Whitetail recruit came bursting onto the main floor with a look of urgency on his face.

“Deputy Lamb! Eli has returned, and I think there’s something you may want to see.”

Before he knew it, Nayeli’s attention was elsewhere, leaving him hanging onto a thread of an unresolved talk, context unknown. Part of him felt that he did know, the ever loving pessimism that resides deep inside him finally coming to center stage. How could he ever expect a woman like that to ever love a man like himself? The answer was, he could not. Not ever. 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t too long before Vittoria came to. The woman was a force of nature, taking charge on bandaging herself up with what they could find around them, leaves and other bits that would serve their purpose until they arrived back at Chateau Boshaw. Sharky offered to carry her as well as her supplies but the Priestess insisted on walking and carrying her own stuff.  Within the first five minutes of walking, it became apparent that she wasn’t exactly one for small talk. They spent the entire time in silence, aside from the occasional curse from Vittoria as she held her injured shoulder. She didn’t explain much about why she was out here in the first place. Only that she was attempting to leave Hope County and had made a pit stop. Everything else was left for his imagination to run wild. Considering Eden’s Gate’s history, it was not likely

“Grace? What are you doing here?” Sharky asked, looking absolutely puzzled.

Grace Armstrong was a bonafide badass. If you actually looked up the word badass in the Post-Collapse dictionary that he would one day write and sell a ridiculous amount of copies of, you would see her picture next to it. She had the same scowl he had grown accustomed to ever since they were kids. He was happy to see her, no doubt about that, but he was confused as to why he was seeing her here now and not Hurk or Gina. Like the bonafide badass that she was, fucking using her mind powers and shit, she answered his lingering question.

“Hurk and Gina reached out to me and asked if I could watch the chateau since you were nowhere to be found. They’re off for some romantic getaway or something-”

She paused suddenly, sniffing the air like something had just assaulted her sense of smell.

“What do I smell right now?” Grace scowled, “That scent is too fresh to be you Sharky. No offense.”

“Offense slightly taken.” Sharky responded as he gestured to Vittoria before realizing how asinine that was seeing as how Grace had lost her vision years ago.

“Gracie, I want you to meet Vee.”

“Vee?” Vittoria countered, “What sort of nickname is that- oh nevermind.” Vittoria shrugged it off as if she were shaking dirt off herself.

She took the stance of a socialite, nose tilted up, shoulders nearly up to her ears as she crossed her arms.

“You are speaking with the former High Priestess of New Eden. Vittoria Arya-Giordano.”

“She saved my ass.” Sharky spoke proudly, recalling how she handled those Highwaymen like a freaking Goddess of Vengeance.

Grace’s brows furrowed and Sharky could instantly feel his shirt collar tightening around his neck. He smiled sheepishly as his old friend’s faded eyes bore into the center of his core upon hearing his newest companions former association.

“Sharky, can I talk to you in private?”

Sharky felt a lump begins to form in his throat. He was tempted to look back to Vittoria to gauge her expression but he convinced himself against it. He knew where this was leading. He nodded in concedence before cursing himself again. <i>Grace can’t see you idiot.</i> He scratched the back of his head nervously, knowing his voice was going to crack the moment he spoke.

“Y-yeah.” he piped up.

He looked back to Vittoria who was looking mighty suspicious of the whole situation. She was nursing her wounded shoulder, her foot tapping impatiently. Sharky knew she needed rest so he quickly grabbed Grace by the arm and dragged her out of ear shot of Vittoria.

As soon as they were far enough, Grace yanked her arm away, staring coldly at him, “What the hell are you thinking? Bringing a Peggie home like she’s a lost puppy?”

“Hey now, she’s with New Eden.” Sharky vouched, “From what I can tell, they ain’t done much.”

“New Eden. Project at Eden’s Gate.” Grace snapped as she looked in Vittoria’s direction, sensing her staring at the two, “Same psychos with different branding.” Grace spoke with intense cruelty before looking back to Sharky, “You don’t know her. How can you trust a word she says?”

Sharky could feel a knot forming in his stomach. He never liked to argue, especially with those he was close to, but he felt Grace was out of line.

“Look, we all said the same thing about Jacob. Oh, big bad wolf, can’t trust him. But he turned out to be a good guy, right?”

“The only reason anyone initially trusted Jacob was because Nayeli did. Not only that but he proved that he was worthy of our trust.” She pointed to Vittoria, “We don’t know anything about who this Vee lady is. Why is she out here wandering the county anyway?”

Sharky’s defensive stance immediately fell as he again scratching his head, looking uncomfortable.

“I-she didn’t-I didn’t ask.”

Grace sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose, “Look, Sharky, I get it.” her voice was a lot more sympathetic this time around, “You’re just trying to help, but you have to have some sort of caution.”

Sharky opened his mouth to speak but decided against it. What he was about to say would have opened a floodgate of deep buried emotions and thoughts that he just did not feel like getting into right now. No, his main focus was getting Vee settled in and situated so she could begin what would hopefully be a short recovery process.

“Look Grace I appreciate you watching the Chateau for us, but I got it from here.” He responded, avoiding her earlier comment.

Grace nodded, knowing there was nothing more to say, “Just be careful. I’ll see you around Boshaw.”

Sharky allowed her shoulders to lower, not realizing they were so jammed packed high to his ears with tenseness. That...was not what he had expected to go through once they returned here. He knew Hurk May have some reservations about Vittoria’s presence once he returned with Gina but once he saw how chill she was, perhaps the two of them could talk some sense into Gracie.

“She has a point you know.” Vittoria’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

Sharky turned to see the priestess approaching him with an almost apologetic look on her face, “You don’t know a single thing about me.”

The Boshaw man looked at the woman with emerald eyes, feeling like he could be hypnotized at any moment by the sheer beauty of them. She gazed at him in a way he was not accustomed to. Sympathetic. Concerned. He went to scratch the back of his head once more, an annoying gesture he did when highly uncomfortable, but he quickly shoved his hands into his pockets instead, hoping they would soon cease to be so restless. Vittoria gazed at him as if waiting for a response.

Sharky looked to the direction Grace had departed in and then back to Vittoria with a heavy sigh.

“You’re right. I don’t know if you’re maybe just some seductive extraterrestrial human hybrid looking to eat my brains after procreating or you know, like, a Kardashian or something.”

This comment caused the woman to chuckle before bursting into outright laughter. She was fast to contain herself, clearing her throat as if her laughter had been accidental.

She looked at him, with a more serious look at this time, taking up her portentous stance once more, “Well I can assure you I am none of those.”

Sharky could not hold back the corner of his lips from curling upward as he began to balance on his toes, back and forth slightly.

“I don’t know you,” he reiterated, “but I’d sure as hell would like to try.”

A hint of a smile threatened to crease her face to which she quickly looked away. When she looked back to him, she had the same glow she had when he first met her.

“Well I certainly am not going anywhere anytime soon Mr. Boshaw.” she gestured to her injured shoulder, “I do warn you though, as soon as this is healed, I’m gone. Capiche?”

Sharky felt his stomach slowly sinking as he allowed her words to soak in. What was she running away from? Who was she running away from? He did not want to see her go. Hell, he wouldn’t mind looking at that face every day for the rest of his life. If he only had a few weeks though, or at the very least a few days, he would be sure to use this precious time to learn about everything there was to discover about Vittoria-Hotcakes-Arya-Giordano. He pushed aside the inevitable for now as he stood at attention, saluting her.

“Capiche.”

Chapter Text

Three months before the first seal is broken.

The music from the radio cancelled out any consequential moaning that was occurring within the black SUV driving down the county road. John Seed gripped the steering wheel with such an intensity that one could be sure that it would snap into bits and pieces. He shuddered violently, his grip on the steering wheel loosening. Vittoria Arya-Giordano sat up, wiping at her mouth, looking annoyed.

“You couldn’t hold for five more seconds to let me get up?”

“You weren’t complaining the last time.” John chided.

Vittoria huffed, pulling down the sunvisor to fix her lipstick. The two were en route to meet with a Mr. Lamb who apparently was selling his property. Nasty business that one was. Apparently the ex-wife had been murdered inside the property during a break in ten years ago. He had only just now decided to sell it after all this time for some reason.

Vittoria enjoyed moments like this with John, roadhead aside. She loved watching the scenery pass by as they drove down the winding roads through the countryside. Driving with him like this made her feel like they were a perfectly functional couple,, when in reality that was all but the truth. When they had initially come to Hope County, Vittoria thought of it as nothing more than a backwoods county filled with a bunch of hicks. After spending ten years here though, she did not know where else she’d rather be. Vittoria reached over to John, preparing to hold his hand when his phone began to buzz in the cup holder. Without a second thought, she picked it up, instantly regretting it.

A text message graced his screen with a name that filled her with insane jealousy. There was a reason John and engraved his love with the sin E-N-V-Y after all, and one of the reasons was the person on the other end of the phone.

“I thought you said you and Holly were done.” Vittoria nearly spat in disgust.

John quickly, snatched the phone from her hand, dropping it violently back into the cup holder.

“Oh, you are one to talk sweetie.” he sneered, “You don’t think I know about you sleeping with Joseph behind my back? Or did your druggie ass think I’m just that stupid.”

Vittoria slapped John with a thunderous result. The suddenness of the slap caused John to swerve the car, nearly heading into oncoming traffic as they neared the town of Fall’s End.

“What the fuck!” he cursed.

He pulled off to the side of the road just in front of one of the small shops. As he placed the car into park, Vittoria was already storming out of the vehicle. The commotion and sight of two Eden’s Gate members drew attention from the other residents as they watched from doorways and windows. Vittoria made it halfway down the street when John caught up to her, yanking her by the arm.

What the-

John began pulling her forcefully back towards the car, speaking harshly, “You are going to regret that darling.”

“Not as much as I regret putting your pint sized dick in my mouth.” Vittoria hollered.

John raised his hand like he was about to return the favor when a vehicle screeched to a stop beside them. Both Vittoria and John paused to see a man in a green hoodie and blue hat emerge, holding his hands up in the air.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa there Mr. Gucci pants. That ain’t no way to treat a lady.” he chimed.

Vittoria cocked her head, realizing it was the buffoon who repeatedly continued to try and join their congregation. The infamous Sharky Boshaw, as he liked to call himself. After his first initial attempt to join, he had pestered Vittoria to no end for a consultation, and each time Vittoria brushed him off. To see him here, willingly defending her was a shock to behold.

“Mr. Boshaw this does not concern you so please kindly return to that trailer park of yours.”

“Not until you let Miss. Giordano-hotcakes there go.”

Vittoria groaned, feeling second hand embarrassment, “May The Voice help me.” she mumbled.

John released Vittoria as he approached the Boshaw man. Sharky had his fists raised, seemingly prepared for whatever John had intended for him. Without warning, John socked the Boshaw man straight in the face. Sharky fell flat on his back, howling out loud.

”Fucking shitaki mushrooms.”

John laughed boisterously, seemingly pleased with himself, “Now where were we-”

Without warning, Vittoria raised her foot between John’s legs, mercilessly smashing his prized possessions. The Seed man fell to his knees before belting over on the pavement, screaming every obscenity you could think of. Vittoria debated taking his vehicle and leaving him here but she reshifted her focus back to Sharky. He was sitting up now, nursing his nose. Vittoria did not bother waiting for John to get back up. No, she had a different plan instead. She gathered up the Boshaw man and shoved him into the passenger seat of his own car before hopping into the driver’s seat. A few moments later, she veered off, leaving John behind in a cloud of smoke.

As Fall’s End disappeared from view in the rear view mirror, Vittoria looked over to Sharky briefly who was still holding his nose.

“You fool.” she lectured, “Why did you intervene?”

“Was driving by and saw a pretty lady being harassed by a dude who looks like he belongs on how to catch a predator. I had to intervene.”

“Well I’m sorry to inform you this pretty lady is very capable of handling herself.”

When he didn’t respond, she looked over at him. He was looking out the window, looking down trodden. Perhaps she had been a little too harsh. He was after all just trying to help.

“Foolish as it was, I did appreciate your valiant effort.”

She could see the light return to his eyes, but only slightly. He looked around their surroundings, realizing they were quite a way from Fall’s End.

“Where we headed?”

“I am dropping myself off at the Grandview, then you are going to carry on your merry way doing whatever it is you non-believers do.”

“Oh.” He responded, now fiddling with his hat, “I was just think if you ain’t busy later tonight maybe you want to get some food or something? The Spread Eagle has got the best chicken tenders you’ll ever eat.”

Vittoria cracked a smile in disbelief. Was he seriously asking her on a date right now? She rolled her head from side to side, wondering if she was actually capable of considering such a thing. But how could she let anyone else in when John and Joseph filled so much of her heart already.

No one said you have to sleep with him, idiot. It’s just a date.

Vittoria mulled the idea over as they approached the hotel where she made her residence. She put the vehicle into park, twisting her torso to face him completely. He inched back in his seat like he was in trouble. It wasn’t his fault though, Vittoria just had one of those faces that Jacob so lovingly would describe as a chronic bitch face.

“Say that I consider this ridiculous request, what time would we be meeting?”

The Boshaw man looked shocked at her consideration, and frantically began to ramble, “I uh-jeez I never got this far before. Uh- eight? Eight’s a normal time right?”

“Eight is fine.” Vittoria spoke stoically.

In reality, she was actually really ecstatic that someone was genuinely willing to treat her to a date. The closest approximation she and John had ever had to a date was when he rented a condo for a weekend getaway in Missoula. Granted, they didn’t see anything past the bedroom.

Vittoria and Sharky exited the vehicle. She approached him, holding out her hand with palm facing up. He looked utterly confused before she thrust her hand at him like a needy child.

“Phone please.”

“Oh!” He exclaimed reaching frantically for his cellular device.

What he handed her was a device from another century. Was this a brick with buttons?

He sensed her confusion and chimed in, proudly, “It’s a Nokia. You could probably beat someone to death with it.”

“Charming.” She responded as she input her number, “Well there you have it. I expect you’ll notify me when you are at this ...Spread Eagle?”

“Yeah of course hotcakes.”

Vittoria frowned, “Don’t call me that.”

The Boshaw man’s face became flushed with embarrassment, “Sorry priestess lady. Just a slip of the tongue.”

Vittoria turned her face away from him, hiding her smile, “Very well. Please proceed to make your leave. I must get ready.”

Sharky seemed at a loss for words as he stood there, seemingly shocked she had actually agreed to go out with him. Vittoria left him that way as she entered the hotel, closing the door behind her. She waited until she was sure no one else was present to lightly jump in place with joy.

Vittoria had never known a normal life. Having joined Eden’s Gate at nineteen years old, this was the only world she really knew. Now here she was, thirty one years old going on a date like some naive teenager. She ran up the stairs, anxious to tell Megan about the events that just transpired. She knew John would be furious about her planned evening but Megan would surely be relieved that Vittoria was seeing someone else aside from John.

She threw the door to their joined room open, her arms were thrown in the air like a newly arrived superstar.

“You will never believe what just happened.” Vittoria began to explain.

Megan sat upon the foot of her bed with a distraught look on her face, her face flushed and face wet from tears that had begun to dry. There was a small box and white device in her hand that Vittoria was all too familiar with. A pregnancy test. Vittoria quickly shut the door behind herself, approaching her friend. She took the test from her, seeing those little plus signs that indicated Megan was with child.

Vittoria was left speechless. Megan was nowhere near close to being a virgin, but she was smart, and cautious. Everyone in the cult had been sworn to abstinence, at least until after The Collapse, lest they dare face the punishment. As you could tell, that wasn’t the case for a select few. But Megan would never go back on her sworn word. This had to be a mistake. Vittoria knelt before her friend, taking her hands into her own.

“Please don’t get mad.” Megan pleaded with her friend, “I’m so scared.”

Vittoria looked at her puzzled, “I’m not. We can figure something out.”

Vittoria was calm as a cucumber under pressure, and this situation was no different. Already she was plotting how they could make a quick trip down to Missoula, visit a clinic and boom, no more baby and no punishment for Megan.

Before Vittoria could relay this plan to Megan, she dropped a bombshell on the High Priestess.

“It’s Joseph’s.” Megan whimpered.

The simple act of uttering his name caused Megan to spiral into despair once more. As for The High Priestess, well, she was faring no better. Vittoria felt a heavy pressure in her chest. Like a void had been opened and was slowly sucking her into it. She felt dirty and foolish to think that she was the only one Joseph had willingly shared his flesh with.

“Do you think the rumors are true?” Megan spoke up suddenly again.

Vittoria looked at her puzzled. While she did not want to admit, Vittoria has her nose in everyone’s business. There was not a single thing that happened in this cult that she was not aware of.

“What rumors?”

“That Joseph had a wife and a daughter. The wife died, and he killed the daughter.”

Another hit to the gut.

“Who told you that?” Vittoria interrogated.

Megan looked ashamed to admit but she did so anyway, “Faith did.”

Vittoria scoffed. Faith had been a pain in her side for ten years now. When she started, she was a meekish teenager strung out on drugs. Some may call Vittoria a hypocrite considering she too was once like Faith but at least she had some class. Nowadays, Faith was a force to be reckoned with, something Vittoria did not like at all.

“Why would Faith tell you that?”

“Because I went to her first when I took the first test this morning.”

“You did what?” Vittoria exclaimed.

Megan shied away from Vittoria, wincing at her raised voice, “You were with John and I didn’t know who else to talk to.” She began crying again, “She said if Joseph finds out he’ll kill the baby.”

Again, Vittoria could feel her eyes rolling into the back of her head. Faith would spin whatever lie she could to get something out of others. What she wanted out of Megan was unclear. Megan was Vittoria’s best friend. Perhaps getting to Megan was Faith’s way of getting to Vittoria. Call her conceited, but she knew that was exactly the reason.

“Why would Joseph kill his own child?” Vittoria asked, skeptical.

“Because The Voice demanded it be done.” Megan spoke solemnly.

Vittoria day back on her heels, letting the information sink in. To Take Faith’s word was like trusting a heretic. It would explain however the nameless woman tattooed on Joseph’s arm that she saw via their many intimate moments.

“I’m scared, Vittoria. I can’t stay here. I don’t want to lose this baby.”

Fuck.

Vittoria sighed, pulling at her hair before running her fingers over her eyes.

“Okay, okay. We can figure something out.” She spoke hastily.

What she needed to do was figure out if there was any truth to Faith’s word, and the only way she was going to find out was speaking to The Father himself. Whether he told her the truth or not was another matter entirely.

Chapter Text

A few hours later.

The Spread Eagle was the only place in Hope County to get a decent drink next to the 8-bit Pizza Bar. Sharky Boshaw had gotten here an hour early prior to the arranged meet up time with hotcakes Vittoria Arya-still can’t pronounce her last name-Giordano. All these years of effort finally seemed to pay off. Once a week he’d show up at Eden’s Gate’s compound hoping to have a word with the self-proclaimed High Priestess, claiming to be interested in the Cult itself. But really, he just wanted a chance to see the brunette herself. Hell, he even put up with the Peggy music just because it meant that he could listen to her voice cranking out those sick vocals. She was a woman in charge of her own destiny, and man did she kick ass.

Sharky smirked just thinking of the way she had laid John Seed of all people out. That took some serious cajones. Anything else who would have done that would have been thrown into the back of one of those white vans and never seen again. Vittoria however seemed untouchable. A force of nature in of herself. For ten years he pined after her, and damn if she didn’t age like fine wine. The fact that she had even bothered to converse with him for longer than ten seconds spoke testaments.

The bar was beginning to fill up now as it drew closer to the time Vittoria was supposed to arrive. People always headed here after a long day at the farm or whatever nine to five job they had. With each patron that passed through that door, Sharky’s head shot up, hoping to see the woman in the red dress and long flowing locks. With each disappointing realization that it was not her, he’d lower his head, nursing his drink. He kept at it for a bit longer, peeking at his phone.

8:23pm.

He didn’t want to be that guy. He did not want to hound her with messages asking her where she was but he was beginning to grow a bit concerned. Someone else in the bar must have seen this growing concern because they came to sit down right beside him. Sharky looked up to see the face of Mary May-Fairgrave, the Spread Eagle’s owner and longtime Hope County Resident.

“You doing okay there Boshaw?”

Sharky nodded, hiding his phone away after sending a brief text to his intended recipient. He had opened his big mouth about how he had a hot date tonight, purposely leaving out that she was an Eden's Gate Priestess. He did not want that label to hang over her head when it came to introductions. He wanted everyone to see Vittoria for who she was, albeit, perhaps she was a bit cuckoo considering her affiliation.

“I’m good. Just uh, you know. Still waiting.” he responded.

On cue his phone vibrated. He began searching through his hoodie’s pocket, pulling the phone out with urgency. In the largest print possible on the tiny Nokia screen, he saw it was indeed a text from Vittoria. It was no where close to what he wanted, but he had a gut feeling this was going to happen.

HotCakes: I’m sorry Mr. Boshaw. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it tonight. Something came up. Raincheck?

.

Sharky read the text message over and over before placing his phone face down on the table, removing his hat with a deep sigh.

“She’s not coming.” He scoffed, “I feel like such a dingbat.”

“Hey, don’t say that.” Mary May eased as she placed a hand on his shoulder, “Maybe something did come up. You never know. The way shit’s been going down lately, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch.”

“Yeah I guess you’re right.” Sharky replied, still trying to hide his disappointment.

“Chin up Sharky,” Mary May began to speak with an upbeat tone, “Look who just walked through the door.”

Sharky did not want to look up. He wanted to disappear into a black hole and never emerge. It’d be best for everyone really. No more fires, no more taking up the taxpayers money for jail time, no more Sharky Boshaw getting his hopes up. But he did choose to look up, and boy was he glad. The whole room came to life, Sharky included, upon seeing a long lost face. Each corner of the room began to murmur the same name over and over again.

“Is that Nayeli Lamb?”

“Lamb girl is back. Holy shit.”

Everyone knew Boshaw was sweet on Nayeli, hell, any girl that was willing to give him the time of day was liable to send him into a pile of mush. Nayeli just so happened to give him the time of day and was ultimately, one of the nicest fucking people you’d ever meet in your life. She still had the roundish features of her teenage years from the last time they had seen each other, but overall, she had grown to be an incredible sight to behold.

“Better shut your mouth before a fly gets into it.” Mary May jested as she nudged Sharky before getting up to go greet the long lost Lamb.

Sharky tried to hide his embarrassment as he slid one last glance at his phone. His fingers trembled over the keypad. He wanted to voice his frustration. His disappointment. Most of all though, he just wanted to make sure Vittoria was okay, considering the company she kept. He decided against all of those and shoved his phone away. Taking one last swig of his beer, he stood up from the table and proceeded over to where all the commotion was taking place. Nayeli Lamb was already being swarmed with hugs and handshakes so when he approached, she had nearly glanced over him. When she recognized him though, her face lit up.

“Sharky! Oh my god.”

The last time they had seen each other was when they were taking on two thugs at a bonfire years ago. To think so much time had passed already. Nayeli threw her arms around his neck, bringing him close. Sharky half expected his heart to explode. He waited for the butterflies to begin hitting the inner lining of his stomach. He wasn’t going to deny, he was wholeheartedly hot for Nayeli, but-

There was no beating the brunette in the red dress with eyes like emeralds. He held onto Nayeli, fearful that once he let go he’d just have to face reality. He had a sickening feeling in his stomach. Like whoever was pulling the strings up above was trying to tell him something. Trying to tell him that he’d never see those beautiful eyes again.

Chapter Text

Two days had passed since Sharky Bowshaw reunited with the woman known as Vittoria Arya-Giordano. She didn’t say much. Frankly, she had hardly left the room that had been provided to her except to come out to do her business out in the wilderness. She appeared reserved in his presence. Smiling politely as they passed by one another in the hall and down turning her gaze immediately after. Sharky wondered what had changed between the time he last saw her to now. Seventeen years was a long time after all. Shit happened. People changed. She had that same fire he remembered during the fight with the Highwaymen, but now that it was just the two of them, it was like someone else entirely.

He thought he’d break the ice by cooking up some breakfast for her that morning. Nothing like some radioactive boar steak and geothermal water to start the day. When she exited her room, he was ready, standing at the foot of her door eagerly with a plate in hand. She looked at the plate and then back up at him. Her face was stoic and completely void of any emotion making Sharky wonder if she had been taken over by some alien parasite or something. Or worse: a Terminator.

“What is this?” She finally asked.

“It’s a uh-breakfast.” He laughed nervously, “You uh, eat right?”

“Of course I eat. What kind of question-“ she cut herself off, taking a deep breath. She took the plate from his hands and nodded in thanks proceeding to the kitchen to eat. Sharky me out a sigh of relief. Terminator theory was out. Parasite theory still in question.

He followed her and sat across from her. She looked at him questionably as she began to dig into her food. She wasn’t visibly disgusted, but she didn’t seem too keen on it either. Sharky felt like his shirt collar was tightening around his throat. His nerves were getting the best of him. There was a question burning on the tip of his tongue. The last he had seen her, they had agreed to meet at the Spread Eagle for a date. But she never arrived. In fact, she had literally dropped off the face of the earth. He went to the Peggie’s compound about seven times. Got kicked out each time. Went to the Grandview. Got kicked out. He even showed up at John Seed’s boujee ranch looking for her. He wound up with a restraining order after the third time. He just wanted to know what happened. Why she had stood him up and why she disappeared from Hope County entirely. He cleared his throat, tapping the table nervously.

“So, you uh, like remember anything else other than me being a buffoon? Like, maybe we were uh, supposed to do something together?”

“Mhm. Can’t say I do.” Vittoria shrugged off his question as she continued to eat.

The parasite must have erased her memories, he thought, beginning to panic internally.

“Why are you gripping the table like that?” She asked out of the blue.

Sharky looked puzzled and then realized he was holding onto the edge of the table for dear life.

“Oh uh- no reason.” He laughed it off.

She scrunched her brows looking at him suspiciously as she stood up from the table, “That was delicious. Thank you.” She looked like she was debating her next action, “Would you mind giving me a tour. I’m going stir crazy.”

Sharky shot up immediately, eager to ensure she got whatever she asked for, “Sure can honey doodle.”

Again, she looked at him curiously and then shook her head. Perhaps it was best to lay off the pet names or any name for that matter. He obliged her request, showing her the inner workings of Chateau Boshaw. Hurk and himself had the grand idea of trying to open up a distillery but when that didn’t take off the way they planned it basically became a bachelor pad. Well, it was at least. Everything kinda went off the rails once Hurk and Gina started shacking up.

The tour wasn’t too extensive. There were only so many twists and turns you could do before winding up either outside or right back where they started. Vittoria did not seem to mind though, in fact, he swore she had actually may have cracked a smile once or twice as he explained the history of the Drubman-Boshaw distillery.

“Your cousin Hurk lives here as well then?” she asked as they concluded their tour.

“Yeah, he and his girl Gina. She’s ex-highwaymen.”

Vittoria scoffed, “You actually let one of those heathens live with you?”

“She ain’t so bad.” Sharky responded, “She’s terrifying for sure but she’s good company. Just like you are.”

Vittoria’s expression softened, “Well...when you put it that way.”

The finished up the tour by visiting Sharky’s office, the term office being used very loosely. It was on the furthest end of the Chateau, and the only place where he could not hear Hurk and Gina going at it. Here there was a vinyl record player and a case of vinyls that were salvaged by Boshaw himself. If there was one thing he could not live without in this world, it was music. Vittoria appeared to take a keen interest in the records, gravitating to them immediately. Sharky watched as her lithe fingers danced over the top of each cover, browsing curiously. Sharky remained silent, debating it perhaps he should look elsewhere while she browsed or if he should risk coming off as a creep because he frankly could not keep his eyes off her. Did she even age? She was like a freakin' vampire. The only difference he could tell were streaks of white in her hair, making her look almost like Rogue from X-men which was badass. He shifted in his spot, wanting to talk to her but not knowing what to say. His earlier attempt at gauging why she had left Hope County and stood him up did not go as planned so he figured he should perhaps try a different route.

“So. You like music?”

She looked at him the way many women did. That look of disbelief that he would ask such an idiotic question. She gestured to the records that they were browsing through, and then to herself, “Of course I love music. I am a singer. A performer.” Vittoria spoke passionately enough that he swore she was going to burst a blood vessel.

She seemed to settle down instantaneously, reverting back to her reserved self he had seen so much of the last two days. She looked back to the vinyl record player, her fingers brushing gently against it.

“My name was going to be on television and radios across the country.”

From what he had heard down at the pond, she could have headlined thousands of concerts if she willed it so. The fact that she had somehow wound up at Eden’s Gate was perplexing.

“What happened? I mean, you got the voice of a goddamn angel.” he blurted.

Her eyes snapped to him, a melancholic smile gracing her lips, “If I told you, you would not like me very much.”

“I find that hard to believe Miss. G.”

Vittoria’s smile continued to grow as she picked out an album from the case, “You’re sweet Mr. Boshaw. A bit naive, but sweet. She flipped it around, displaying it for Sharky to see. Donna Summers: Bad Girls Deluxe Edition. Easily a classic. Her smile was now wide enough that it reached from ear to ear, sending his head and heart spiraling into two separate directions.

“In any case, I think that’s enough talk-” she said and with a childish grin, she removed the record from it’s cover, placing it on the player, “I think it’s time for some music.”

Chapter Text

The thing about being a member of an exclusive organization was that leaving it was never as easy as joining. That being said, once you join Eden’s Gate, there was only one way out that was officially known: exile. The second, which Vittoria had just learned about thirty minutes ago, was death. Suffice to say, her meeting with The Father did not go as planned. In fact, she didn’t even get halfway to the compound before bumping into Faith Seed and a few goons blocking her way. The little bitch had run and told The Father about Megan’s pregnancy. Apparently, this preganancy did not fit into Joseph’s grand scheme of things and instructed Faith to deal with the issue. Let’s say run in with Faith went just as well as placing a fly in a spider web and expecting the spider not to eat it. What wasn’t in the plan was dealing with Vittoria herself. That part Faith had taken upon herself to execute.

Vittoria, narrowly escaping the gunfire revved her engine, hauling ass back to the Grandview. Considering most of the residents here were women and children, she did not worry too much about meeting any opposition. Upon arriving, she darted up the stairs to the shared room she had with Megan. Megan had been sound asleep when she arrived, jolting up in a scare.

“Vittoria, where have you been it's been hours! Did you speak to Joseph? What did he say?”

The High Priestess did not respond. Instead, she immediately went to the closet, grabbing two bags and throwing it onto the floor before beginning to shovel their clothes into them.

“We need to go. Now.”

Megan clutched the bedsheet, beginning to look worried, “Vittoria, what’s going on?”

Vittoria was zipping up the bags when the sound of a gun cocking caught both of the women’s attention. Megan whimpered as Vittoria looked up, seeing a figure standing in the doorway. John stood there, standing slightly slumped, probably still recovering from the well-earned kick she delivered to him earlier. While Megan was panicking at the sight of the gun, Vittoria instantly became annoyed.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“What am I doing? I’m trying to stop you from doing something stupid.”

He took a step forward, aiming the gun at Megan. One quick reach under the bed and Vittoria drew her blessed shotgun, Sin Eater. Vittoria was up and at em’ in seconds, aiming the barrel of the gun at John. Seeing this caused the youngest Seed brother to begin roaring with laughter.

“You just don’t know how to keep your nose out of other people’s business, do you?” John sneered, waving the gun around, “Now give me the girl Vittoria. Please.”

It appeared Joseph wasn’t the only one Faith had gone tattling to. Vittoria was half expecting Jacob to come barging in any moment following his younger brother. She could hear Megan behind her crying due to all of the commotion, sending chills down her core.

Vittoria cocked the gun, her grip tightening, “You’re not going to lay one hand on her.”

“She’s not Victoria. That’s not your sister.” he almost began to plead, “You need to hand her over to me.”

Just hearing her deceased sister’s name shook her to her core. Only Joseph and John knew about her true history. Victoria was beautiful and full of life. Naive and innocent in a way that Vittoria never was. Vittoria took on the ugliness of the world head-on so her little sister did not have to. She took all the beatings and the insults from their mother while their father watched on passively, not wanting to get involved. She made sure Victoria had enough to eat and had a way to get to school so she could get out of their abusive household. Vittoria had big plans for them. If Victoria’s medical school fell through, they could rely on Vittoria’s success as a singer to get them the hell out of town. Then one day, or rather one night, her sister died in a hit and run after attending one of Vittoria’s performances at some shitty dive bar. Sweet little Victoria. Buried six feet underground.

“Let me take care of your problem.” John’s voice interrupted, “Just as I always do.”

John began to step forward. Snapping herself out of her own head, Vittoria fired, blasting a giant hole in the wall right near John’s head. The Baptist jolted up so high you could have sworn his head was going to hit the ceiling. His face instantly began to twist into an ugly snarl.

“You really wanna add another person to your body count?” John shouted, “You take one step out of this building and I’ll tell everyone about how you killed your mommy dearest.”

“Go right ahead.” Vittoria spoke smugly, “Let them come. All I can say is I am done with this Project and I am sure as hell done with you.”

Vittoria looked over her shoulder at Megan, gesturing to her to get a move on. She could feel Megan ‘s hands grasp her waist, keeping close to the Priestess from behind. John’s face began to relax as they circled one another. Two predators wondering if the other was going to strike first. The two kept their guns raised at one another, waiting for the other to back down.

“You can’t go Vee.” John stated, “I love you. I always have.”

Vittoria stared at him, her lips moving trying to form words but failing miserably. He stood there, waiting for a response like she was just supposed to disregard the fact that his brother, her other lover, had placed a hit on her best friend’s head. His statement was so outrageous that she actually found herself laughing out loud. John was stunned by her boisterous reaction, but it quickly faded into annoyance.

“I do not see how that can be seen as comical.” he growled.

“Oh John,” Vittoria cooed, “I don’t think a single ounce of you is capable of genuine love. So, get the fuck out of my way.”

-----

A quick tussle and few shots fired later, Vittoria and Megan were well on their way. Megan had been crying profusely since they left the Grandview, still trying to comprehend exactly what was going on. Frankly, Vittoria was still trying to figure it out herself. Part of her just felt numb. She was essentially leaving behind the only life she had ever really known. She joined The Project as a teenager, shortly after her sister’s death. She thought she had found her family, but she was mistaken.

They had managed to avoid each one of Eden’s Gate patrols, no doubt on the lookout for Vittoria’s boisterous truck. Once she felt they were in the clear, she pulled over briefly to the side of the road. Megan was quiet as Vittoria calmly exited the truck before belting over, violently throwing up. Her head felt like it was being crushed by a bulldozer. This whole night had unraveled everything she had ever worked for. In a moment of clarity, she suddenly remembered something.

Sharky.

She pulled out her phone. Fifteen missed calls all within minutes of each other on top of thirty-seven text messages from John. But she wasn’t concerned with that. It was the time. 8:23p. She took a deep breath, unlocking the screen, beginning to type.

I’m sorry Mr. Boshaw. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it tonight. Something came up. Raincheck?

With a heavy heart, she hit send before proceeding to drop the phone to the ground. She hollered in frustration as she smashed it with the hell of her foot until it was completely obliterated. She slipped back into the truck, breathing heavily. She did not know if she would ever see the man in the green hoodie again. The buffoon had made her feel something she thought had died a long time ago. She had looked forward to seeing where they would have ended up. But it appeared fate had other ideas. As Vittoria settled in, Megan whimpered once more, staring off into the distance.

“Where are we going to go?” she asked, her hands resting upon her stomach.

Vittoria reached over, grabbing her friend’s hand reassuringly.

“I don’t know. But we’re going to go wherever it is safe. Far away from here.”

Away from her poisonous obsession with The Father. Away from her toxic relationship with John. And sadly enough, away from the charming buffoon known as Charlemagne Victor Boshaw IV.

Chapter Text

A few days later.

Vittoria Arya-Giordano was by definition an early bird. She was up at the crack of dawn every day for as long as she could remember and did not rest until her work was done. The trouble was she had little to nothing to do. Her arm was healing nicely but it was still at a point where proper functioning would still be a while. She did not have a while though. With her recent blow-up with New Eden’s de facto leader, she figured her days in Hope County were numbered. She didn’t actually think Ethan Seed would send any of The Chosen after her, but who knows. The boy was erratic and had too much of his father in him and not enough of the traits his mother encompassed.

Vittoria sometimes wondered if she had failed Megan by indulging in her dying wish: to bring the son of The Father back to Eden’s Gate. At the time they had returned, Ethan was no more than a toddler, and Megan had fallen so ill Vittoria was amazed she had made it past the state borders. Megan was persistent however, much like her long since passed sister Victoria. Now both of them were six feet below ground while Vittoria suffered her own neverending hell on the surface. All was not so bad. In fact, these last few days had been quite lovely. The Boshaw man was for lack of a better term, eccentric, but he was ungodly kind. After all that Eden’s Gate had done to the residents of Hope County, to let a former peggie into one’s home took the utmost level of bravery and selflessness.

She felt an underlying sadness to the Boshaw man, however. Seeds planted long before she had ever come along. What was his story she wondered? Perhaps if she had actually shown up to their date she may have found out. One may ask why she was feigning not remembering their date. Well, the truth was she could not face disappointing any more people in her life, which was also why she felt that she had to leave Hope County. She wandered the halls of the Chateau, pausing suddenly hearing the careful picking of acoustic strings. Piquing her interest, she followed the sound to Sharky’s corridor, peeking her head in slightly.

His back was turned to the entryway, but he had an acoustic in hand, humming ever so slightly lyrics to an unknown song.

~Tell me something girl…~

He cursed, seemingly twinging the wrong chord before restarting.

~Tell me something girl, are you tired of this modern world. Or do you need more? Is there something that you’re searching for?~

The man’s voice was impressive even by her standards. So much so she stood there stunned that when he felt her presence, she could not move. He seemed equally as shocked to see her standing there, quickly standing but someone managed to trip over himself as he fumbled with the acoustic.

“Vittoria, I-sorry, did you need something? I didn’t hear ya callin’.” he quickly began to apologize.

“Oh, no, no, no, I’m good. I just couldn’t help but overhear you.” she replied, “Mr. Boshaw where have you been hiding this talent all my life?”

His face became flushed as he laughed, “Oh, it’s uh, it’s nothing really. Just something I do in my spare time. Nowhere near as good as you.”

“Oh, don’t be so modest my dear. You have a gift, and I would love to kindle that.”

Sharky looked confused, “Kindle like that tablet?”

Vitorria snorted but quickly retracted her laughter, clearing her throat as she took on a more serious posture, “I mean, let’s work together. That song did you write it yourself?”

“Well, I just got that first bit you heard down.” Sharky said meekishly, “Still don’t know what to do with the rest.”

His eyes lit up instantaneously. Was he realizing what it was that she was proposing?

“You and I should write the rest together!” he spoke excitedly, “Hell, let’s make it a duet!”

Vittoria smiled, her outer posture completely betraying what she was feeling on the inside. She was ecstatic. She had not written a song since her time with Eden’s Gate, and even then, she had no real say in what was being written, save for the one she had written for herself when she was awaiting the news that she was the project’s new Faith. Sharky had taken a seat back on the floor, patting the spot next to him, waiting for her to join him. Without hesitation, she happily obliged.

They spent hours working out the lyrics of the song, occasionally taking breaks to exchange stories of their childhood. Both were easily surprised to find out that neither one of them had a very happy upbringing. Sharky was an unwanted baby, Vittoria the family disappointment. It was hard to believe that someone such as he, so lively and so energetic, could be treated so horribly by his own family. Though looking back at her own experiences, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock at all. Through their tormented existence, they found a sort of kinship, laughing at dumb childhood mistakes, Sharky’s obsession with fire, Vittoria’s longing to be a performer. They also touched on more sensitive topics, such as Sharky’s unrequited feelings for his best friend, Vittoria’s struggle with substance abuse during her time before and during her time in Eden’s Gate. They both had their demons that they hid away from everyone else but together here, there was no hiding.

This sort of camaraderie was something that she would miss. Hell, she would miss this strange bearded man for the rest of her days. She hid her sadness behind the lyrics she hummed as they reverted back to working on their little project. If there was anything she could leave behind as a reminder of herself for him, it would be this song.

-----

Two days later.

“So, ya’ll fuck yet?”

Sharky spat out his food violently, horrified by the question posed by Gina. Vittoria remained unfazed by the comment, continuing to dine on her food while Hurk broke into laughter, high-fiving his soon to be baby-mama. In a surprise turn of events, his cousin Huk was gladly accepting of Vittoria staying with them until her arm healed. Gina having never dealt with Eden’s Gate was indifferent to the matter, but obviously glad another woman had joined their ranks. Returning to the matter at hand, Sharky’s face turned redder than Hurks bottom after Hurk Sr. Was done spanking him back when they were just kids.

“Gina!” Sharky whined, “What kinda sex questionnaire you trying to run here?”

He looked over to Vittoria, calm as a cucumber as she daintily patted her mouth with a handkerchief she had stowed away somewhere.

“Don’t be absurd.” She finally responded, “I’ve left my promiscuous days behind me.”

“Prom-what? Does that mean you had lots of you know-” Hurk leaned across the table, cupping his mouth as though that would help the others from overhearing, “-intercourse? Thought ya’ll couldn’t you know, do the do.”

Vittoria crowned, for the first time this whole time here looking as though she was losing her composure.

“I will admit, I had a very unorthodox relationship with both John and Joseph.”

Damn, two for one. Sharky had no claim to Vittoria in any way, but he would be lying if he didn’t say he was jealous of the Seeds somehow snatching all these beautiful, capable women under their charm. Jacob was the exception - he turned out to be an actual fun guy, go figure. A little quiet, but Sharky was glad that he had been the Seed brother that Nayeli chose, even if it meant Sharky was once more on the sidelines. From the look on Vittoria’s face in that moment, it seemed she was still holding onto those past flings, for better or for worse.

“You slept with The Father?” Hurk busted up laughing, “Was his pee-pee really as small as everyone said it was? What about John? You know he be using one of them Niagra pills.”

“Pretty sure it’s called Viagra, numbnuts.” Gina responded.

Vittoria stood up suddenly, her chair making a horrendous screeching sound as it skated across the floor.

“The food was very delicious, but I think I need to go for a walk.”

Vittoria was gone lickity split, leaving Sharky, Hurk Jr. and Gina staring at one another. Sharky stood up a few moments later, removing his hat in frustration.

“Look what ya’ll did. You made her upset.”

“Well, she’ll get over it.” Gina responded, “I know a fighter when I see one. She’s gonna brush this aside and be on her merry way right?”

“Why she leaving anyway?” Hurk responded, “I mean, we got plenty of space here. She ain’t seem like them other Peggie’s. Plus she’d be like one of those aunts to Blade and Mai. You know, like the kind that are like really rich and have like three ex-husbands that walk around in a big fur coat when the police come to question her about her husband’s mysterious disappearance-“

Sharky finally cut him off following the mention of Mai’s name, her absence a sore reminder of the reality that they were living in.

“Hurk, that’s enough I think.”

Hurk realizing his mistake sunk back into his chair, “Aw jeez man. I ain’t mean-I’m sorry.”

Sharky stood up from his chair, sighing, “It’s not your fault. Just try to lay off the Eden’s Gate talk. It’s very touchy for her.”

Hurk and Gina nodded, watching as Sharky left in a hurry, looking to find where the priestess had run off to. He searched the inside of the chateau before making his way outside, calling for her by name. He wandered for a bit, coming across a hill that overlooked the remnants of what had been the Henbane where Vittoria stood at the top. The sun was setting just on the other side of the hill, the outline of her silhouette glowing like Holy fire. He approached her noticing her arms were crossed and her sight unflinching even with the sun searing into their eyeballs.

Sharky stood by her for a moment, allowing her to feel his presence before he began speaking.

“I’m sorry ‘bout my cousin and his girl. We’re not used to having a fourth person around, just don’t know how to act.”

“All is well.” Vittoria responded, “I believe I will be good for travel in a few days anyway. I’ll be out of your hair.”

Sharky’s chest tightened hearing her say that. A few days was not enough time for him. Not enough for him to get a second chance. But what about her? There was no telling if her heart still belonged to John or Joseph.

“It wasn’t just sex you know.” She blurted suddenly, “I really thought I loved The Father. But I was just so young and naive, I did not see what was hiding under his skin.”

She continued to look onward at the sun setting, looking like an absolute goddess as the beams of light highlighted every facet of her being, but he could see an underlying sadness hiding just below the surface. She never explained why she left New Eden, and still had yet to explain why she left Eden’s Gate to begin with or even why she returned years later. He wanted to ask, but he also had another question, burning on the tip of his tongue.

“Did you love John?”

He asked and suddenly regretted it wondering if perhaps he was crossing a line. Vittoria, however, was unfazed. Actually, that was a lie. Her reaction had been the complete opposite of what he anticipated. She smirked, scoffing. Not at him, but at herself.

“He wasn’t always...the way he was. There were times he could be sweet and kind. Albeit I can count the number of times using just one hand…,” she turned and looked at him briefly before looking back, “...but to answer your question...yes. I did love him. I even wrote that audacious song for him though most of it was written with his input.”

It took Sharky a moment to register what she mean when it suddenly clicked, he couldn’t help but bust up laughing.

“Oh John? Oh man, no freakin’ way.”

Vittoria tried to keep a straight face but her composure was blown as she snorted, joining him in laughter.

“Oh John, bold and brave-” she mocked, “The man could be waist-deep in blood but the moment he spotted a bug of any sort and he would run in the opposite direction.”

Vittoria had even more stories about the other Seeds, from straight-up embarrassing to dirty little secrets. If Jacob ever returned, he’d be sure to fact check if any of these were true, though he knew Vittoria had no reason to lie. She was blunt and brutally honest. They wound up sitting on that hill for hours long after the sun had set, viewing the unobstructed night sky. If there was one good thing that came from the Collapse, it was the fact that he was able to sit here with her under a million stars. Despite not having said anything in some time, she spoke up out of nowhere.

“I know what you are thinking.” she looked at him with an exhausted look that was new to him.

The fire, the confidence buried inside that he had known her for, was not there at this moment. Sitting before him was a woman just as broken as he. Just as jaded as he.

“You want to know why I stood you up all those years ago.” she continued.

He wanted to retort that that was indeed not what he was thinking, though it had crossed his mind upon seeing her again for what seemed like the first time all over again. What he was thinking was how he wanted to touch her hair that looked straight out of one his Aunt Addie’s beauty magazines. He wanted to touch the freckles on her face that had become more evident the more he stared at her face. He caught himself zoning out, completely enraptured by her before realizing she was still waiting for a response.

“Well, you know - uh,” he stuttered, “for the record, you said it, not me.”

Vittoria nodded, seemingly acknowledging her actions. With a heavy sigh, she indulged him. She quickly explained how upon her return to the Grandview, she was met with unexpected news. Another member of Eden’s Gate had found herself in a bit of a pickle: pregnant with man-bun Joseph’s seed. Vittoria said she went to confront the Father, apparently banging him out along with John. Bada-bing bada-boom, shit did not go as planned. Joseph apparently had one of his cracked out visions about a shepherd leading them after the Collapse. It was one of his blood but not Vittoria’s dear friend. After that shit went kind of crazy. The Seeds threatened to dispose of the baby so Vittoria and her friend Megan went on the run that very night she was supposed to be chowing down on chicken fingers with himself at The Spread Eagle.

After that entire explanation, Sharky could only think of one eloquent word that suited the situation.

“Well, shit.”

Vittoria chuckled as she continued to stare off in the distance.

“Your vocabulary needs some range Mr. Boshaw.” she mused, not in a chastising way but she seemed to think so, so she quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“No, no no, don’t, I get it.” Sharky replied, “I may not be as linguistically talented as John or Joseph but you can talk to me whenever Vee.”

For the first time ever she seemed flustered, tucking a hair back as she looked away smiling. To make her more comfortable, he looked away, glancing over their surroundings. They sat silently for a few moments before Vittoria spoke up.

“I must thank you for your hospitality and kindness Mr. Boshaw. No one else would have taken in an ex-Eden’s Gate member with so little hesitation.”

“Well, I ain’t know much about you aside from what you’ve told me but I can tell you’re good at heart, and that’s all that matters.”

From the corner of his eye, he could see her moving, but he figured she was getting ready to stand and paid no mind to it at first, but the moment he felt her lips pushing against his wild terrain of beard hair he shot up like a meerkat. The area that she kissed grew instantly warm as he raised his hand to touch it looking at her with pure astonishment. He couldn’t even form words, all that escaped his mouth was a gargle of random letters. Vittoria, now standing, avoided his sight, clearing her throat.

“I believe it’s time to turn in. Good evening, Mr. Boshaw.”

Sharky, unable to formulate a coherent thought watched her make her leave, still swooning from the light peck she had gifted him. It was only when she was out of earshot, he laid down among the grass, staring up at the night sky. Despite being by himself, he smiled, once again reaching up for place where her lips made their presence known. He would cherish this day forever.

Despite, the high priestess no longer being present, he murmured to the night sky, hoping his words would somehow reach her.

“Sweet dreams angel. Sweet dreams.”