Chapter 11: Something's Brewing
It was a tedious process, but it was finally over. Their inventory count paid off and they were able to start fresh on how they would use their resources over the next seven years.
Oh gawd, so much toilet paper...
Just counting the rolls alone had taken half a day and given her nightmares for days, what with her constantly messing up and having to start counting all over again until she felt a nervous twitch in her left eye.
The task had been about as dull as it had been annoying. Mary wanted to bang her head now that it was over, too many numbers, too much counting, and too much writing. Not to mention, thinking of all the years of eating military rations once the frozen, canned, and dry food were all gone. The Deputy grimaced just thinking about it.
Oh, Mary also apparently got sick from freezing her ass off in the walk-in freezer counting inventory. She imagined the stress, her waning period, and touching so many different items in her counting probably lowered her immune system enough that standing so long in the freezer just opened the door for something to hit her, despite the warmth that Joseph's blanket had provided her with.
Nope, not sick. It's allergies!
There were no live plants down here and it was December, but still.
Her second sneeze was louder, startling the fish as she fed them. She cursed under her breath with a prominent snuffle. It took her pets a little longer to race to the surface to start swallowing the floating fish chips, and the Deputy sighed.
"Come on guys, it was one little sneeze. Not gonna eat ya. I doubt that could scare you after having to listen to Dutch's snoring all the time."
As she turned away from the fish tank, her aching head suddenly spun and she took a couple of stumbling steps to catch her balance. She went over to the couch and sat down, groaning and sniffling. She reached out towards the coffee table and snatched up one of the thousands of toilet paper rolls to blow her nose.
Mary stayed there awhile, resting her watery eyes, trying to clear the constant tickling burn of her throat without coughing.
She opened them to the sound of clanging cabinets in the kitchen and narrowed her eyes at Joseph's tattooed back as he shifted through the kitchen for something.
Oh god. Not Mr. I-Told-You-So. Act cool, Mary. It's just allergies.
The Deputy fought the urge to sneeze and ended up doing some horrible alien sound that was part snort, part sneeze, and part groan. She sat up straighter and blew her nose again. And lo and behold, the cult leader caught the sound, looking at her curiously from the kitchen, pausing in mid-pour of his morning coffee (that she had made, coffee was an essential necessity in her life so she knew how to make that real well. Sometimes it had been the only buffer between her and murder). Mary saw the shift in his eyebrows, knew him well enough to know that he was piqued, and inwardly groaned.
Joseph quietly walked over to her, steaming mug in hand, and sat down in the recliner near the fish tank, taking in her disheveled appearance. She fidgeted under his gaze, resisting the need to sniff. But her runny nose continued to ooze, and she didn't want to show off a deluge of snot. She sniffed loudly, and pressed another clump of toilet paper to her nose.
The way Joseph smiled, so faint but amused, as he figured out what was wrong with her caught her off guard, made her heart do some weird loopy-loop. Outwardly, she almost hissed at him like a cat that had its tail caught in the door.
"Don't you dare fucking say it."
He paused a moment, hung on how his name was squeaked from her mouth, and then smugly added, "Told you so."
"Damn it, I'm not sick! It's...allergies!"
The preacher sighed, a faint trace of amusement in his face as he leaned back in the recliner and enjoyed a sip of his coffee. "Allergies?"
"In an underground bunker?"
"Yes!" Soon after a sneezing fit overcame her. "Godda-" she halted at his glare and grumbled. "Fiddlesticks!"
Joseph stood and placed his coffee on the table. He came around to her. Mary leaned back deeper into the couch, hoping it would swallow her up as Joseph bent and reached for her face. She braced, but felt only his cooling, soft hand upon her forehead. He held his hand there for a moment, feeling, and traced his fingers delicately across her cheeks and temples next.
"You're running a fever."
"No, I'm not!" Mary's voice rang a bit higher-pitched than intended, flabbergasted by how nice and coolhis hand felt on her skin.
Joseph shook his head. "Look where your obstinance has gotten you. Sickness down here can be serious. We need to take the right measures for this. And fast."
"But I'm fine!" the Deputy insisted. The look Joseph gave her made her suddenly feel she was arguing with her mother.
"This isn't up for debate," The Father replied. "Just rest. I will take care of you."
Mary didn't have a chance to argue further. The cult leader left the den, likely making his way to the infirmary. She rolled her eyes. Her defiant nature reacted to his command with the urge to do anything but rest. If only to strain Joseph's patience even further, which she enjoyed with impish glee.
He returned later after she had begrudgingly stayed where she was to read her book. He went to the kitchen, poured her a glass of water and returned to her side. He handed her the glass and a couple of pills. "Vitamins and cold medicine. Take them."
"And if I refuse?"
"I will get them down your throat one way or another, Mary. Doesn't matter to me how. The choice is yours."
She held his gaze for a moment, contemplating the seriousness of his tone. And she soon remembered the cult leader was quite capable of that and worse, and so heaved an aggravated sigh.
"Fine! Fuckin' mother hen," she muttered, and popped the pills and washed them down. "There! Happy now?"
He rewarded her with another smile that did make her feel sick in a funny way. "That wasn't so bad, was it? I'll make you some soup."
As he went into the kitchen, Mary called at his back with a chuckle and another loud sniffle. "You're overreacting, Hipster Jesus. I'll be better by tomorrow. Just you wait."
She didn't see Joseph's smirk, but she heard it in his tone. "I've been waiting a long time on many things, Mary. I'm done waiting for most."
Not sure what he means by that, but whatever. I'll be better tomorrow, for sure!
And she did not, in fact, get better by tomorrow.
Fuming on the couch with two blankets, a cool, damp washcloth on her forehead, Mary blew her nose for the upteenth time in the hour. And all she got for her destroyed wishful thinking was The Father's trademark headshake of disappointment.
"I thought you said you would be better? What happened? Change your mind?" he teased.
"Shush it, Flanders."
Joseph handed her a hot mug of peppermint tea. The warm, minty aroma wafted up her runny nose and she gratefully took it and drank. As she sipped, Joseph felt her flushed face again. Without realizing it, Mary closed her eyes to his gentle touch. His fingers lingered, brushing, soft and warm. Something other than the warm, spicy tea pooled in her lower stomach. Something familiar and tingling that she quickly shooed away.
She felt cold, barren, when he retracted his fingers. Mary slowly opened her eyes, watching as he seemed to genuinely look her over out of concern. He then left her side to fetch her more pills and cook her breakfast.
Mary had to admit, she was pleasantly surprised by Joseph's nurturing side. It was a side she hadn't seen much of at all, considering all that had happened before the Collapse. She had seen Joseph's persuasive and manipulative side. She had seen his grace and mercy. She had seen his pride, and even the violence he was capable of, bred into him like his brothers but so much more restrained.
His caring and tender side was foreign to her, but it piqued her interest. And she wondered how many sides, how many depths, there were to Joseph Seed exactly. She was cautiously curious where their quite strange, seemingly constantly changing, relationship would end up next.
In all of his years, Joseph had never met anyone so headstrong. The fronts this woman put up to keep from showing the world what he saw deep inside were a lot to keep up with. Mary was adamant she wasn't sick, which meant she knew she was sick but refused to admit it, to put herself in a position where she showed weakness to him.
But what Mary didn't know was that Joseph already understood how she ticked, knew exactly what her fronts concealed. He may have still been trying to figure out her quirks and other inner workings, but he knew underneath all that Wrath, stubbornness, and rough exterior there was a woman who had been cut so deeply by the world, put in a position so helpless that she never wanted put there again. Pain, sorrow, and even guilt fueled her sin. And, in time, Joseph would learn exactly why.
For now, he had to deal with her exhausting, unrelenting belief that she only had allergies, even as he showed her the thermometer's 100.6 temperature it got from her.
"I'm just that hot," she joked terribly. And then proceeded to wheeze like a sick goat.
The preacher had never met someone so in denial for so many different reasons. Joseph took a moment to recall that God really had a twisted sense of humor at times. To think that not only was his future wife and mother of his children the Deputy that destroyed his Project (and most of Hope County) and killed his family was twisted enough. But Mary was his complete opposite as far as their bare natures went. If Joseph hadn't seen marriage and children in their future, he knew his patience would've been in trouble and his darker impulses that his brothers openly fed would've came knocking.
Hell, Joseph thought his patience was unlimited until he became trapped down here with her. And he had only just begun any sort of effort to pursue her.
Lord, give me strength...
Mary was also so different from his first wife. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. She had been graceful, polite, quiet, and patient. Yes, even more patient than him. Perhaps that's where his infinite patience had come from.
Despite that, Joseph never desired a woman as much as he desired Mary. Perhaps it wasn't all Mary draining his patience away, but his self-control eager to kiss and fondle and take what would soon be his.
"What is that?" Mary griped, pushing the cup away with a curled lip.
"A concoction for your ailment. Drink it," Joseph answered.
"No, it smells like minty barf. And yes, that's an actual thing, I got sick on peppermint rum before. Let me tell ya, that was not a good night for me."
Joseph sighed. The brew would be harder to force down her throat than pills, and thought over ways to persuade her.
He met Mary's challenging eyes, as if she could be a challenge wrapped up like a cocoon on the couch.
"Fine. I will just give a sermon to you instead."
"Hell no, hand the nasty juice over!"
He rolled his eyes and gave the mug to her. The Deputy slurped it down in nearly one go. When she pulled the mug away, Joseph stepped back because she looked like she was about to throw it back up.
She grimaced after swallowing. "Yuck. This better work."
Joseph quickly brought her water to chase the concoction down. He smiled softly at her as she gratefully took it and drank it.
"Are you finally admitting that you are sick then?"
Mary huffed. "I'm maybe just a little sick...but it's mostly allergies."
"Do you ever think that maybe your life would be less difficult if you would reign in your stubbornness a little? You're not fooling anyone, Mary. Not even yourself."
The Deputy bristled, and Joseph prepared himself for a tantrum of some sort. A sneezing fit cut down her colorful words. The Father smiled at the quick, cute squeaks before Mary gave a loud, knackered whine.
"Okay! I'm sick! You were right. Are you happy now? As if your head needs to get any bigger than it is."
Joseph gave a weary sigh. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He sat down just in front of her on the coffee table so he could be close enough to take care of (touch) her. She was still warm. He noticed, even while annoyed, that Mary didn't pull away from his touch.
"I just hate when you're right. Sucky things happen when you're right. Stop calling sucky things, Joseph. You jinxed me, is what you did. Maybe you jinxed the world with the Collapse."
The cult leader shook his head at her words, straining excess water from a cold washcloth and patting it across her fevered skin.
"That's your excuse now?" he scoffed. "I showed you the Collapse before it happened and you still didn't believe me. The Collapse was something I foresaw for years. And everything I said would happen did, in fact, occur, did it not? Telling you that you would get sick because of your careless decision to stay in the freezer was merely a rational observation that happened to come true."
She didn't have a counter to that and fell quiet, holding his hard gaze with her own. Joseph barely quirked his lips, self-satisfied, the hand with the tangled rosary touching her knee.
"And trust me, Mary. I'm about to be right in a lot more ways than just those."
Her eyes fell to his hand on her knee, his skin brushing across hers through a tear in her jeans. Her larynx bobbled from a particularly large swallow and she forced a tight-lipped smile to conceal her nervousness.
"Whatever you say, Joseph. Just uhh...spare us from being right about any more end of the world prophecies, alright?"
The Father rose, towering over the Deputy. "The world will be ours, Mary." The Adam and Eve of a New Eden. "And under our care, the world will only need to end once."
He left her there to simmer in her own confusion and made her some more soup. She said nothing more while he worked in the kitchen, and when Joseph brought her a bowl, the Deputy took it with a mumbled thanks. Mary gazed into the steaming contents of the bowl, frowning. She stirred the spoon around, mixing the broth, vegetables, and noodles.
"Is something wrong?"
Mary looked up at him, quickly shaking her head. "N-No. It's just...I remembered making Sarah this kind of soup before. I always took care of her when she was sick...it was up to me to take care of her no matter what when our mother didn't."
Joseph sat down nearby in the reclining chair, the buzzing of the aquarium's filter thrumming behind his head. "I'm sure she appreciated you doing so."
"Most of the time," Mary replied, and weakly smiled. "She was...pretty stubborn sometimes. I one time threatened to hogtie her to her bed so she could rest while sick. She just wanted to go out and play."
"I'm not surprised to hear that you took violent measures even as a child."
Mary laughed. "I had to! You think I'm stubborn? Sarah was mostly laid back but oh boy was she even more stubborn than me on some things."
That scowl inflicted her pink lips again, and she deflated a little. As expected, the Deputy pushed the attention off of her and her inner conflict and looked at Joseph expectantly.
"I guess you took care of Jacob and John when they were sick, huh?"
"Yes. John especially. Jacob whenever he allowed me to. He was pretty stubborn in his own right. But he was hardly ever sick growing up. Sturdy as a rock."
"You ever take care of your parents if they were sick?" Mary asked after a long pause.
"No," Joseph replied flatly. "Not willingly anyways. And when they did make me there was nothing "caring" about it." He sighed, surprised there was still bitterness in him over his parents after all these years. He needed to let it go.
Mary ate a couple spoonfuls of her soup, assessing his words. "Yeah...know whatcha mean. I never had to take care of my father, he was always healthy as a horse. Besides, he had my mother back then if he needed it. But after he died...I took care of my mother all the time. She was constantly sick from all the drugs." Mary's fingers clenched around the ceramic bowl, jaw ticking. "Despite all of her promises that she would get better, she would stop, and that she was so sorry, well, she never tried. And in the end...I hated her for it. Like you said...there was nothing "caring" about it. Not like with Sarah."
Joseph squeezed his rosary hard without realizing it. "It's understandable how your mother fell into such a bad place after your father died based on what I know. But she should've stayed strong for her children. Instead, you became strong for them. You rose to the situation, became what you needed to be, just as you were destined to. It's unfortunate that your mother didn't realize what she had in front of her."
Mary blinked tears from her eyes, staring into her bowl. "But I didn't become strong enough."
Joseph leaned forward, closer to her, cocking his head a little to study her creased face. "No, you didn't."
That made her look at him, green eyes insulted. Joseph gave her a consoling smile. "You couldn't. You were a child and there was no way you could. The world failed you. Because of people's apathy and greed. Your mother failed you. Because she was consumed by her own demons. Such is the tribulation of our childhoods, Mary. Readying us for our futures and fates. But I guarantee you this...you are absolutely strong enough now."
It took her a long time to respond. So long, Joseph thought maybe he'd angered her, but he at last he saw her breathe, the tension fading away from her body. And she looked at him gratefully, although it was only with his adept people reading skills that Joseph was able to catch it.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Once she was feeling better again, Joseph kept his word on teaching her how to cook - and it wasn't necessarily the steam from the pots and pans that was causing her to break into a sweat. Nor was it the "hard work" of chopping vegetables or kneading dough either. No, it was actually Joseph himself - or rather what he continued to do to her. She couldn't shake the feeling that he was continuously testing her, gauging her reactions, looking for something. If only she knew what…
Just thinking about having to willingly stand in the kitchen, armed with only a wooden spoon to dig herself out of this mess made her break out in goosebumps. She stood in the doorway, shivering. Joseph was already in the kitchen, picking up ingredients from the fridge and cupboards.
Mary noticed since Joseph had come out of his self-made isolation in his room earlier this week, things had noticeably improved between them. Their conversations were now mostly peaceful, and interaction with him was no longer as stressful as it had been in the beginning. They had both relaxed somewhat and were now something approaching friendly, almost amicable with each other. It was scary.
Antagonistic Joseph, that she knew how to handle. But this? First he took care of her while she was a sick (but mostly allergic) and sniffling mess, and now he was about to give her cooking lessons? Her head still spun from the very idea of it, but here she was, Officer Samson reporting for kitchen duty.
Here goes nothing. She approached Joseph at the kitchen counter.
"Sooo...what's on the menu today, 'Mister Manbun of the Year'?" she asked cheekily as she walked up behind said award-worthy man bun. "Like I said before, I'm not a picky eater, but even the sturdiness of my stomach has its limits. I'm fine with just about anything, as long as it doesn't include roadkill of some kind." Mary joked half-heartedly, shuddering as she thought back to Chad Wolanski's special brand of "cuisine", if one could even call it like that.
Thank God she had never been desperate enough to give Chad's cooking skills a try, pretending to be full when he offered her a "delicious" looking skunk burger; Mary was known to be curious and adventurous - but not that curious and adventurous. Her stomach had twisted with a silent but resounding NOPE as she eyed the suspicious looking patty on the grill that Chad had tried his best to warm her up to.
She had then made a show of patting her supposedly "full" belly like she'd just had a real good meal - even though her stomach had been yawning with emptiness after over half a day without food and had made itself loudly known at this very unfortunate moment, vaguely resembling a hangry grizzly bear in the process. The Deputy had assured that she'd have come back and try one another time, which she clearly never intended. Being open to trying new things was one thing - inviting food poisoning or disease another. Better to be safe than sorry.
She was tentatively optimistic that Joseph's skills were better than that, guessing from the soups he had made for her while she had been ill. Grudgingly, she had to admit that they had even been tasty, not just "edible". Who'd have thought? That man clearly had many hidden talents it seemed. She wondered what other talents that included, besides making the perfect man bun and cooking delicious veggie soup...
When she reached him at the kitchen counter, he turned to her, giving her a full view of the contents he had picked for their meal: canned tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, green olives and mushrooms as well as a packet of lasagna sheets, a large chunk of some type of cheese as well as an assortment of different mediterranean spices. Yummy, I love Italian food! A happy grin passed over her face.
Further down the counter he had placed a large mixing bowl as well as some more ingredients which seemed to include flour, dry yeast, a stick of butter, powdered milk, sugar, salt, raisins and a small plastic ice cube tray with some frozen yellowish-orange ingredient inside. Wonder what that's for, she thought curiously.
"Ohhh, so we're gonna eat Italian today? You're lucky, that's my favourite." Mary praised his choice of food with a nod.
"No, you're lucky because you get to cook it. I'm just here to assist you if needed," Joseph had to smile at her enthusiasm.
"What? But I can't! I don't know what to do!"
"Luckily for you, you got me," the cult leader smirked smugly at her, eyes sparkling with amusement. "But first…"
The preacher bent forward to reach past her, giving her a heart attack for a moment when she thought he was leaning in to grab her face. She stood like a deer caught in headlights, barely managing to keep herself from flinching back, forcing her eyes awkwardly over his shoulder. It wasn't like she expected him to do anything violent to her these days, just...something (un)expected. Thrilling. Dangerous.
She had no idea where that thought came from, but even though she didn't feel threatened by him, she felt a tickle of something creeping down her spine. A forbidden part in the back of her mind that she had desperately tried to quarantine and silence in the last few weeks buzzed to life. What was he up to now?
Instead, he grabbed an apron that Mary hadn't noticed, hanging from one of the simple metal hooks beside the counter, right next to the fresh dish towels. When he retreated, he pressed the slightly wrinkled cotton apron in her hand.
"Can't be too careful," he offered after her puzzled look. "Hot tomato sauce can give you nasty burns if you don't watch out. Put this on."
"Are you serious? You gotta be kidding." Mary scowled as she held out the black barbecue apron at arms length to inspect it. KISS THE COOK, the apron boldly demanded in crimson, western style letters. Underneath the slogan, a simpering, juicy steak the size of a small European country wearing a white chef's hat was sitting proudly atop a barbecue fork with folded arms. She had no idea why the steak would want to sit there though, let alone smile - that had to hurt.
"I'm not wearing this! This is silly," the Deputy weakly protested. Who knew that Dutch had such awful taste in cooking apparel? So insulting. And wearing it would possibly be giving off the wrong vibe. And it wasn't like she wanted to give anybody any ideas or anything. Not in the slightest.
Wouldn't dream of it. Ever.
Underneath her fuzzy warm sweater, a small trickle of sweat ran down between her shoulder blades, unseen by an amused Joseph.
"Put it on, it's just an apron. It won't bite." Joseph couldn't fully keep his face as neutral as he had intended, thoroughly entertained by her disproportionate indignation. She was clearly nervous and off-balance, and the lesson hadn't even started yet.
When Mary stubbornly crossed her arms holding that fashion disaster of an apron, making no move to put it on, Joseph sighed and calmly argued. "Look, Mary...you need to put this on before we start. Your clumsiness is legendary and I won't spend the rest of the evening taking care of any avoidable burns or stains on your clothing. Just humor me. Nobody cares what that old apron looks like. And I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry. Shall we?" He held his arms out, almost as if asking her for the next dance.
His bunker mate was clearly confused by the gesture for a moment, judging by her widening eyes and blown out pupils, but then she seemed to understand that he was asking her nicely to put on that infernal apron and finally get into gear. Giving him one last annoyed look before rolling her eyes, she shook out the apron once before putting it on with a huff, struggling to tie the too large apron in the back without seeing what she was doing. The cult leader turned cooking instructor watched her pitiful attempts patiently for a moment before offering help. He had no intention of going to bed hungry if this was going to take all night.
"Allow me." Stepping behind her, he reached out and grabbed the loose straps from her hand before she could object. Quickly and dexterously, he twined the long straps around each other before he put his arms around hers. She froze, inhaling sharply, as he wrapped the ties to the front, all around her waist, before lacing them around each other again and tying them with a neat, skillful knot.
"There, that should do the trick." He flashed a lopsided smile even though he knew she couldn't see it with him still towering behind her as his hands rested on her apron-clad hips for a short moment longer before letting his fingers slip away. He gave her no time to overthink his closeness as he placed the metal mixing bowl waiting on the counter before her instead. Mary only now remembered how to breathe.
Joseph making quick work of the fiddly process of tying herself up in the apron from hell came out of nowhere. She had no time to think and wasn't mentally prepared for him to suddenly put his arms around her, even if it was a completely innocent act - at least, outside of her overactive imagination.
Caged in between his too warm arms (she had also dubbed him human furnace in her mind by now, right beside his rightful title of Hipster Jesus™), she could only watch dumbfoundedly as the preacher laced her into that mockery of an apron with skilled and fast fingers. He was clearly good with his hands, no matter what he touched...her mind really needed to stop straying. Pesky little thing.
A small sigh slipped out between her parted lips as she pinched her nose. Get it together, girl!
By the time she'd recovered from his unexpected assistance, he had already turned back to the duty at hand and picked two small glass bowls from a cupboard, filling one with lukewarm water and popping two of the orange-yellow ice cubes into the other bowl.
"What are we gonna make with this?" The Deputy couldn't contain her curiosity any longer and frowned as she peered past his shoulder.
"Something special," he replied mysteriously, a subtle smile in his eyes. He fished a measuring cup from the cabinet, handing it to Mary.
"Well...obviously. But what?"
He snorted. "Patience is a virtue."
"I never said I was virtuous." Mary shrugged dismissively.
"Neither did I."
"Hey!" came the indignant sputter from his side.
His deep chuckle did funny things to her knees. Unholy things. Knee-weakening things. Bad knees!
She discreetly pressed her legs together, trying to shoo away the odd sensation as quickly as possible as she watched him lean against the counter.
"If you must know...we're making something that I used to make for John when he was little. Our grandmother spent some time in Europe with her parents as a young girl and was introduced to the local customs and cuisine there. When she moved back to the States later, she brought with her the recipe of a speciality that children in Germany used to eat on St. Martin's Day."
"And what is that?"
"Raisin what now? I've never tried those."
"Not surprising. They're not that well known over here, but in Europe, Germany especially, they are popular treats around Christmas time. My grandmother used to make them for Jacob and me when we were young." His eyes had taken on a nostalgic look as he looked at the kitchen floor, lost in thought.
"She was our only silver lining back when I was very young. Comforted us a lot whenever she visited us, which wasn't as often as we would have liked." He crossed his arms and cleared his throat. "After she passed away, I took over and made them for my brothers and me. It always reminded us of her and the happy moments we spent with her." A nostalgic smile snuck itself onto his thoughtful face. "I made them whenever we could get our hands on the ingredients. John in particular loved them...he had a real sweet tooth." Joseph's smile turned from nostalgic to sad.
Mary felt a flush of shame sweep over her face. The guilt that she usually managed to wrestle into submission broke through to the surface. She stood there wringing her hands awkwardly, mulling over a way to bring the conversation back into safer territory.
"You know…" The Deputy rubbed her neck slowly as she often did when insecure or embarrassed. Joseph had noticed that quirk quite a few times before, whenever she was either distracted, brooding over something, or feeling slightly unwell in her skin.
"That was a really nice thing to do for your brothers. I bet they appreciated what you did for them," she offered finally.
After another moment of silence between them, her smile turned sheepish. "Always the mother hen, eh?" she joked tentatively.
His eyes met hers, and after a moment, he responded with a subtle smile of his own.
"I've been called worse."
Once they went back to the task at hand, Joseph had placed the mixing bowl before the Deputy and let her push up the sleeves of her sweater.
She glared at him. "What am I, five years old? Of course they're clean. Freshly washed even. You can even still smell the soap. Here!" She first smelled it herself before she held her balled fist under his nose, an unmistakable middle finger to him questioning her hygiene.
He chuckled as he took her wrist and slowly pushed her arm down without force, ignoring the annoyed look she gave him.
"No need to feel offended. Just checking because those hands-" (and there her stomach had the audacity to do an electrified flic-flac when she felt his thumb caress over her inner wrist once) "-are going into this bowl, together with the dough for the raisin buns. Wouldn't want to ruin them by accident."
Mary fought down the oddest feeling of disappointment (now where did that come from?) when he released her arm and prepared the powdered dry yeast in one of the two small bowls he had filled earlier.
Taking a sneaky but deep breath the Deputy turned her attention away from what she thought he had just done to what he was doing now. Watching him mixing the yeast with the water in one of the bowls, she looked into the other one with the frozen orange-hued liquid.
"What's that orange goo? Kinda looks like molten cheddar with frozen orange juice. Eww." She wrinkled her nose, poking it.
"What, really? I didn't know you could freeze those!"
"Obviously, you can. It's actually quite smart. That way you get to use eggs long past their normal expiration date. You just can't freeze them in one piece, and you need to separate the egg white and egg yolk to be able to use them separately once unfrozen."
"My, aren't you a walking encyclopedia of kitchen knowledge!" Mary teased. "You're full of surprises."
Not looking up from where he was bent over the bowl to stir the yeast, he merely offered a deadpan "...I try."
"So what do we need the egg yolk for?" she wondered. "Didn't know eggs go into yeast dough."
"They don't." Sensing her raised eyebrows, he turned to her giving her a faint smirk. "You get to make what you do best - a nice little mess. Only this time, the worst that will happen will be some egg yolk on the floor. You get to paint the buns with your 'orange goo' once it's completely defrosted."
"Paint? Like how?" She looked at her empty hands, wriggling her fingers. "Finger painting?"
"In your dreams. There's actually a silicone brush in one of those drawers."
"Again...I've been called worse."
She grinned mischievously. "I bet."
"You know, this actually isn't as bad as I thought it would be," Mary said. "I thought this lesson would be a pain in the ass, but I like this." She watched as Joseph finished pouring the last ingredients into the metal bowl where Mary had her hands buried in what was supposed to become the yeast dough for Joseph's infamous raisin buns. She squished the soft contents of the bowl between her fingers, enjoying the pillowy feel of it.
"This actually reminds me of the times Sarah and I would bake cookies together back when Mom hadn't lost it yet. We always had fun, although it was mostly me baking and Sarah mainly doing the 'quality control'." She laughed, remembering her clever little sister back in happier times. "In the end, we were lucky every time there were any left at all after all her intense 'sampling' of my Christmas cookies. I often got into trouble with Mom and Dad in the years before...because I could hardly ever say no to my sister's pleading eyes whenever she asked me to try 'just one more...pleeease!'. I was supposed to bake enough for the four of us, but Sarah often made short work of our stash. She literally inhaled them." Mary grinned. "Now that I think about it, I guess that was a big compliment..."
"Sounds like you were the prime example of an older sister...taking care of your younger sibling while spoiling them rotten," Joseph noticed.
"The 'spoiled rotten' part is debatable, I still gave her more than enough shit when she screwed up which admittedly didn't happen too often. But I did try to pamper her by keeping the bad stuff away from her as much as I could. Baking cookies for my little sis was just the cherry on top. It was one thing I did well."
Lost in thought, thinking about Sarah and the sometimes difficult last years they spent side by side, Mary started to punch the soft, goopy mass in the bowl, taking out her inner tension on the unsuspecting dough. She didn't even notice how she was abusing the helpless pastry until Joseph's hands closed gently around her wrists, halting their movement. She raised her eyes to look into his.
"I'm sure you did the best you could, considering the circumstances." Joseph murmured, a serious look on his face.
"Sometimes, that's not good enough."
"The best is always good enough, even if you fail. Don't be so harsh on yourself. Nobody expects you to give more than you can. We're all only human after all." His eyes lingered on hers for a moment longer.
Just when Mary thought he was done with his little pep talk, he surprised her by continuing.
"I used to prepare the food for my brothers when our parents neglected us. When I ended up alone after we first got separated from Jacob and then later John was taken away from me, I stopped cooking altogether for a long time. I was all alone and didn't see much point in it. There was no joy in it for me, just cooking for myself and nobody else. It was somehow a 'family thing' for me to cook for others." He looked pensive, as if he were far away. Then his eyes focused intently on Mary again.
"I only took up cooking again once my wife was pregnant. I actually enjoyed it, and she relished to have me take care of her that way." He smiled, a hint of nostalgia in the depth of his eyes. "But looking back I wish I had done it more often. Even before she was expecting. But regrets get us nowhere in life and just make us miserable...unable to savor the moment or prepare for what's ahead of us." He softly grabbed her wrists since her hands were buried in sticky would-be dough, and it felt strangely intimate to her.
Her hands had stopped working as their talk had become more serious, and the dough lay forgotten in the bowl, her eyes riveted to his. She felt hot under her apron. What was going on? She was way too young for hot flashes! Almost two decades off...
"We always need to look forward...not backward." Joseph concluded his little speech, almost whispering. Mary couldn't help feeling there was a deeper meaning hidden in there somewhere.
They looked at each other for a long moment, and right before things had a chance to turn really awkward, he pulled back and smiled wistfully.
"Are you good at giving massages?" he asked quietly, still holding her by her wrists.
"W-What?" she stammered.
He couldn't possibly have said what she thought he just said. His sudden, totally unexpected change of topic threw her for a loop so hard it actually gave her the intellectual equivalent of whiplash. She was suddenly reduced to the eloquence of a dyslexic goldfish.
"Your hands...are they any good at kneading?" He looked first at her hands, then up at her, clearly noticing her confusion. His smile still didn't wane. Was that jerk having fun at her expense? Screw you, Mr. Shirts-Are-For-Sinners.
"Ummm…ahh," she vocalized inanely, her brain desperately grasping for purchase. Her mind came up blank. Yep, still mentally a goldfish. Well done, chica.
"If so, then get going. Those buns won't make themselves, after all." He pressed her hands back into the dough with a ghostly smile, leaving her standing there open-mouthed.
When the Deputy finally woke from her frozen state of confusion and disbelief, Joseph had already turned his back on her to set a pot on the oven and start chopping away at the sauce ingredients.
"Why you- !"
"Language...your fishy friends are listening."
It had to be a mix of both supernatural instincts and lightning-fast reflexes that made him dodge the bun-sized blob of raisin-sprinkled dough that ended up flying past his head.
The stranded preacher carefully lifted the lid of the sauce pot. The steaming hot liquid smelled delicious. Hard to believe Mary made most of it, with Joseph only offering advice whenever he thought she was about to drop the ball. Considering this was her first official lesson, she had been doing surprisingly well so far.
"Think it's safe to try some?" Joseph wondered, pulling a small spoon from one of the drawers to sample.
"Be my guest. It's your funeral," the Deputy joked, secretly praying it wouldn't end up being one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. She couldn't stop herself from holding her breath nervously when he lifted the spoon to his mouth.
"Hmmm...something is missing." Joseph thought loudly, licking his lips contemplatively, a frown creasing his brow. "I think we might need some bay leaf. Wait here, I'll get some from storage."
"Wait, what about the buns? Are they ready? Should I put them in yet? The dough should've rested long enough by now...and I'm really starting to feel peckish."
"Let me just finish seasoning this and then I'll put our buns in the oven." He offered her a smirk, too quick for her to really have a chance to think about how oddly ambiguous it sounded, before heading out of the kitchen to get some bay leaf.
"Don't touch anything!" He called from the hallway, already halfway to the storage rooms.
"Hmm." Mary glanced around, not knowing what to do with herself as she drummed her fingernails on the counter, antsy and clueless as to what she should do until he returned. The buns had to wait until he said they were ready. But the sauce...
"He only said to not touch it...right?" The Deputy pondered loudly, looking around the kitchen. "I'm sure we must have some bay leaf up here...guess he was just too lazy to go through all the cupboards to check if there's any. Pffft. Typical. Never ask a man to do a woman's job."
"Let's see what we have here...", Mary sing-songed as she opened kitchen cabinet after kitchen cabinet, without any luck. Until...
In her hands, the Deputy triumphantly held her prize like a golden trophy: a half-empty bottle of red wine from a secret late night sip a few weeks prior. It wasn't exactly bay leaf, really, but who was gonna be so nit-picky at this point, right?
How's this for some seasoning, Mary thought impishly, gleefully emptying the remaining red wine into the steaming pot full of sauce. Absolutely no touching involved.
One disaster and a crisply toasted fire blanket later, Joseph finally came to the conclusion that he should have come to since sharing the bunker with a Deputy whose zodiac sign seemed to be 'arsonist': that she had definitely spent too much time around that good-for-nothing Boshaw.
"Lord, help us."
"Come on. We're still alive...and that was just...a test run anyway. Right?"
Once they'd gotten past his inevitable judgemental headshake, followed by a fast-forward repetition of him getting ingredients, chopping them up with Mary's help in record time and cooking the pasta sauce himself (this time without incident and wine), they managed to finish stacking the lasagna sheets over the sauce (yay for team work), pushing the pan in the oven after long last. The buns would have to wait.
A weary silence filled the kitchen as they cleaned up the mess that the kitchen had become while waiting for their baking meal.
"Sorry about the blanket," Mary offered meekly when Joseph kept quiet.
"I'm docking your pay for it."
"Joke's on you, I'm not even getting paid."
"All the better, or else your fire insurance fee would be hell to pay."
"Always so negative! The fire didn't even singe your eyebrows. Just a bit of your nose and chest hair. Quit being so dramatic. Judge not lest ye be judged, and all that."
When it was finally done, the oven managed to grab their attention with a loud ping, indicating that their food was ready.
With a long-suffering sigh, he pulled out his chair.
"You know, if this whole 'doomsday cult leader' thing should stop working for you at some point, you could always open a restaurant." Mary leaned back in her seat with a satisfied sigh, rubbing her now pleasantly full belly which happily housed two generous servings of veggie lasagna. "How about something like "Cult Daddy's Grill" or "Joseph's Church of Pizza"...or some other classy name, I'm open to suggestions." She shrugged. "The lasagna was really a lot better than expected." She thought it over for a minute. "Or living in a bunker twenty feet below a flaming inferno really made me appreciate home cooked food more than expected."
Joseph merely snorted before picking up his napkin and wiping his mouth before tossing it back beside his now empty plate, mirroring her and leaning back in his seat, hands folded casually on the table.
"My first cooking lesson and we're both still alive! This calls for celebration." She grimaced, raising her glass of iced tea.
"Here's to not setting the kitchen on fire again," Joseph suggested dryly before raising his glass of water in a mock toast and taking a sip.
"Hey now, that wasn't intentional! You can't prove anything," Mary protested, crossing her arms. "How was I supposed to know turning up the heat and adding a little bit of red wine would set the whole damn thing on fire! And for the record, it wasn't the whole kitchen, only a pot of tomato sauce that ended up burning. There's a difference!"
"The difference being a burned meal instead of possibly lethal burns...or smoke poisoning. Also, you almost burned my buns." He emptied his glass, setting it back down on the table. "You mostly ignored my instructions, or else none of that would've happened. I never said anything about turning up the heat or pouring wine into the food behind my back."
"Bah, you're no fun. Live a little! I actually liked cooking that meal...apart from the fire, I guess. Besides, I really thought the sauce could use some red wine. Or maybe I did. Don't really remember." She tapped her chin thoughtfully, pretending to try really hard to recall the moment she had made that foolish decision. "And how was I supposed to know the buns would take a while longer before they finally tanned, those things were as white as my dead grandma's pasty bingo wings before I turned up the heat."
"I'll still think twice before I let you near that stove again. It's safer that way. I swear you're as trustworthy as a nosy toddler when you're unsupervised for even two seconds in the kitchen. I'm glad the worst thing that happened was only having to start all over again on the lasagna filling. I'd rather do the cooking myself than extinguish another kitchen fire every other day. "
She shot him a sly glance. "Does that mean you get to wear the apron of shame?"
"What, why? You had me wear it!"
"That's because you're clumsy and we might run out of burn ointment within a month if you keep this up."
"Nonsense, there's plenty of burn ointment. More than enough. I should know, I did most of the damn inventory."
"Are you sure about that? This was only your first lesson, and judging by the speed at which you're running through our medical supplies..." The preacher tilted his head, looking her over with an amused twinkle in his eyes.
"Ugh! You're doing the dishes."
Three days into Joseph's cooking lessons (why yes, he had in fact let her near the stove again - after some pestering and a promise to never fiddle with the heat again unless he told her so), and it wasn't so much awkward as it was just odd. And not just because Joseph had taken to leaving his hair down more often now. Was it because she had called him "Mr. Manbun of the Year" the other day? Was he upset because of that? Who knew...he was often an enigma to her, and this particular detail wasn't an exception.
It was just strange because it took a lot of severity off his face. He still had that unmistakable aura of authority, but somehow seemed...less stern. Or maybe it was just her imagination? Either way, man bun or not, he was still "Mr. I-don't-believe-in-shirts-but-hey-look-at-all-my-tattoos". And she mysteriously found herself not minding as much as she used to just a month ago…
It was just plain weird getting cooking lessons from a fanatical, tattoo-covered cult leader though. The absurdity of the situation would've broken her out into fits of giggles had it been only three months earlier. But now? Now it only left her scratching her head at how the hell she ended up here - in a bunker of steel and concrete, twenty feet below ground, cooking with a half-naked crazy preacher while wearing that ridiculous barbecue apron.
Where did it all go so wrong?
Or right, depending on how one looked at it - while her current predicament was certainly far from ideal (hellooo, locked up in a bunker after a mild case of very unpleasant apocalypse with the tiniest dash of catastrophe), it certainly could've been worse, much worse. Joseph was being civil and patient with her. She was free to move around the bunker, had a full belly, and was free to spend her time however she liked. All in all, it could've been much less pleasant. Life was...shockingly bearable.
Except...the cooking part. Now THAT gave her wet palms. Mary hadn't really "cooked" in a long time, not since Sarah, mostly eating fast food while on duty with her colleagues; after "the Incident", as she called Joseph's botched arrest in her mind, she usually ended up eating whatever canned scraps she managed to find in the abandoned homes of Hope County - or whatever Casey managed to create in his kitchen with what meager ingredients he had at his disposal. Compared to her own very humble cooking skills, the "rustic cuisine" of the Spread Eagle probably made it a five-star establishment - Casey's skills notwithstanding.
Mary had spent her later teen years and young adult life on her own, in and out of trouble, therapy, juvenile detention, and boot camp. And later years in a police academy and college. She never really learned to cook more than what she needed to fend for herself.
She had told Joseph that after her father passed away, she was the one mostly taking care of her sister and mother, and that included cooking. But it was simple, cheap meals because they lived in poverty. And they preferably fit into a toaster...which limited the number of possible "cooking accidents" considerably.
Now though, Joseph's cooking lessons slowly seemed to help lessen her anxiety and strengthen her confidence in her kitchen skills...despite certain recent disasters that she may or may not be guilty of. Who'd have thought that putting out a minor kitchen fire together could do wonders for bonding?! Yay for not burning to a crisp...or suffocating on toxic fumes.
"Jacob tried to take care of us as far as feeding and washing, but he was never any good at it. So, I stepped up," Joseph said. "Jacob was better at protecting us, stealing food and supplies when we needed it. I cooked and cleaned mostly. Even made John's formula and changed his diapers. You get creative with what little you have."
"Ain't that the damn truth," Mary said, but his words were endearing to her. He had been like her, going so long taking care of others over himself.
Joseph's eyes became distant, a slight frown as he stared at her boiling potatoes. Mary frowned as well and knew he was thinking about his late brothers. She recognized the aura he put off. It was the same one that clouded her when she thought of Sarah and her father. Mary swallowed hard, dipping a wooden spoon into the boiling pot to stir the potatoes.
"I'm sorry," she said.
He sighed. "You didn't bring it up. I did."
She shook her head. "Not what I meant. I mean…sorry for what I did." It took all she had, but she turned and forced herself to look him in the eye. "Whether you believe me or not…I really did try to stop them in other ways. I'm sorry, Joseph. I wish there had been a different way."
His smile was genuine, soft, blue eyes lingering over her figure. He slowly ran his fingers through her hair before tucking a strand behind her ear. Her heart pitter-pattered, and she actually expected him to accept her apology when she really didn't deserve it. But what he ended up saying confused the hell out of her and felt like static electricity on the back of her neck.
"Don't worry. You'll make it up to me in due time."
He slipped by her, opening the refrigerator to take out the defrosted fish fillets they pulled from the walk-in freezer. Mary was still addled when he brought them over to her, wondering exactly what he could've meant.
Me converting, maybe? Who the hell knows with him...
Seeing the fish fillets, trout it looked like, made her smile, and she pushed past his strange words by diving into memories of her and her trusty fishing rod spending a few rare, quiet moments sitting by one of the many ponds and rivers of Hope County.
"Oh fish! I can cook fish. Caught so many from winning records that I kinda had to learn. Mary May cursed me for awhile what with all the fish she had to serve in the bar."
Joseph gave her a curious look, his eyes flicking to the aquarium in the den. "You…really like fish, don't you?"
"I do. They're interesting creatures. And beautiful to look at, the way they swim so elegantly in the water..."
Joseph's face crinkled, as though he was trying to figure out if she was serious or not. It made her laugh at his sceptical reaction. It wasn't the first time someone scratched their head over her unusual love for fish.
"Most people like cats and dogs."
Mary tapped the spoon on the edge of the saucepan and set it down. She took the plate with fillets from the preacher's hand. "I like cats and dogs too. I like most animals, actually - well, maybe except for turkeys and wolverines." She raised her eyebrows and threw him a meaningful look. "I had a badass dog before the bombs fell. God, I miss Boomer. He was smarter than most people," she laughed, remembering her loyal four-legged friend, "-and smelled better than a good portion of Ede-" she stuttered and stumbled over her careless babbling, quickly catching herself. "-nevermind," the Deputy coughed awkwardly.
Joseph still looked like he was trying to understand her. Mary sighed, figuring she should explain. "I got into angling when I was really young. My dad loved it, and we went snorkeling and boating all the time in Florida. He was even taking me to scuba lessons before…well, before he died."
Mary dazed off, thinking of all the promises her father made, all the adventures they had planned to share together. All gone. She had almost forgotten some of them. Now the world was gone and she couldn't even go and experience them as an adult.
Joseph's hand enclosed hers as her fingers lingered on one of the stove's burner knobs. He squeezed her fingers just enough to turn the burner down to a slower heat for her. She broke from her reverie and looked up at him. He weakly smiled, understanding.
"If you've cooked fish then you know that it's like most other meats. Cook it slow."
He had only said something to bring her back to the present and in a gentle way. She appreciated the gesture and gave him a grateful look before returning to her cooking. Joseph leaned on the counter nearby, watching.
Mary cleared her throat. "So uh, you like animals?"
"I respect and appreciate all of God's creations. Although, fish are not quite up as far on my list of favorites as yours."
The Deputy chuckled at his lowkey quip. She looked over at the aquarium. Her oblivious pet fishies just swam around happily, not a care in the world. She called at them. "Don't listen to him Bob, he's just joking!" She then gave Joseph a deadpanned look and whispered in a mock-serious tone, "Honey, not in front of the children. You'll hurt their feelings."
The faint smirk Joseph gave her held a darker implication than expected. There was that weird feeling snaking up her spine again, watching as he lazily scratched his scruffy jaw. It startled her enough that she accidentally touched the boiling pot of potatoes and burned her finger. She hissed, wagging her hand and tore her gaze from him. Mary put the finger to her mouth and sucked on the reddening flesh to ease the pain.
"Here, give me your hand," Joseph demanded before he took her hand from her mouth and held it under the faucet that he'd opened with his other hand.
The Deputy was too taken by surprise to react and pull her hand away, so she let him hold it under the gushing, pleasantly cool water. The burn in her finger lessened immediately, but another burn, totally unrelated to her clumsiness, made itself known. She blushed, feeling him hold her fingers carefully, not too hard but not letting her slip away either. He silently watched the cold water run over her reddened skin for a moment before his eyes sought hers out.
"This is why I made you wear an apron the other day," he said with a sigh. "You need to be more careful. Hurting yourself down here is a bad idea." His eyes lingered on hers, making her squirm on the inside.
She quickly thought of something to push away the awkwardness of him holding her fingers. "So...dog or cat person? You have any pets growing up? We had German Shepherds for obvious reasons."
Joseph was quiet for a moment and Mary wasn't sure if it was because he was thinking or if he was too busy staring at her. She tried to ignore it as she took a gander at the cooking fish fillets.
"Dogs. I admire their loyalty. We did not have any pets growing up, although my brothers and I did often play with the neighbors' dogs."
Mary wasn't surprised by his answer. Joseph turned the faucet off and dried her hand for her, taking a look at the small burn. She fidgeted under his care, heart knocking around her ribcage in a confusing and exhilarating way. She wanted to grab the organ and shake it until it had sense.
Speaking of sense, it made no sense. Joseph's behavior was confusing the hell out of her. Hell, even her own behavior was confusing the hell out of her. She couldn't decide what was her imagination and what wasn't. Joseph was hard enough to read as it was without her misinterpreting his intentions. And here Mary thought she was a pro at reading people.
Joseph isn't people...he's...Joseph. And unreadable like the Sphinx to boot. Ugh.
Crazy cult leader with a knack for mind games, no wonder the Deputy had a huge question mark atop her head with all that's been going on lately. Was this his latest method of trying to convert her? And if not...then what was it? She slowly was getting paranoid for sure.
Maybe it was the isolation in the bunker messing with her head. Although it was going on three months (she was so not ready to spend her first Christmas alone with a doomsday cult leader underground, she did not sign up for this, thankyouverymuch) since they started this strange living arrangement, it felt like years already.
Can't believe I spent Halloween and Thanksgiving cleaning, feeding fish, and reading fashion magazines while Joseph was locked away talking to the voices in his head. Nick and Kim promised one hell of a feast for Turkey Day and so much for my Hurkoween invitation to Hurk and Sharky's haunted house bash...bet it would've been a blast. Sigh.
But the way Joseph's hand stroked hers told her she was missing something, or refusing to open her eyes to what was in front of her. The preacher let her hand go, blue eyes studying her, his face concealing any emotion she could read.
"It'll be fine," he said. "Hard to believe the woman who destroyed most of Hope County like a wrecking ball is as clumsy as you."
Mary blushed under his gaze, still cursing him for having such beautiful, entrancing eyes. Same kind of blue as his brothers, but infinitely more riveting, like he could see to the bottom of your soul with a single glance. Sometimes, his perceptiveness combined with his captivating eyes unsettled her. It made her feel vulnerable and unable to hide any secrets, no matter how small or personal.
She decided to play along. "Who needs grace when you can accidentally trip over a rake when you're about to throw a grenade and said grenade lands near your ally's truck and blows it up instead, which catches the building on fire and subsequently blows the gas tank inside where no one can have the outpost after that...because I did that...seriously. Couldn't accomplish that again if I tried. Wish I had it on instant replay so I could recreate it if needed. You never know."
There was his trademark headshake once again. "...unbelievable."
"I know. I'm so talented, I surprise even myself. It's kind of my secret superpower. Was even tempted to write it into my CV for ten solid seconds. Kinda decided against it though, didn't want to brag", the Deputy joked with a half-grin. "It was a Fellatio Attack, or whatever they call that move in chess."
Joseph squeezed his eyes shut as if he was suddenly struck by a spontaneous migraine and sighed. "I think you mean the Fegatello Attack."
Dammit! Knew there was a reason the more common name is 'Fried Liver Attack'...easier to remember. And much less likely to embarrass yourself. Good job, you moron.
She smiled sheepishly and shrugged nonchalantly as if she just hadn't put her foot in her mouth All. The. Way. In. "Well, excuse me Mr. Chess Expert! I was running around with rednecks the past few months before the world blew up."
"Do you play chess, Mary?"
The Deputy nodded. "It's been awhile, but yes. I can play."
The way Joseph smiled made her feel funny again, intuition begging her to open her eyes, subconscious denial retaliating with a bitch slap that had her head nearly spinning. What the hell is going on?
Her heart may have been confused, excited, scared even, with whatever was going on, but her brain knew to take caution. Sheriff Whitehorse once told her that he believed Joseph Seed was Satan personified. She never really thought about it past the fact the Seeds uncannily took after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The Devil was a master at temptation, manipulation, and persuasion. Funny enough, so was Joseph Seed.
No matter how caring or friendly or peaceful he was, Joseph always had an angle, a plan, all to control or orchestrate to his advantage. That's what all of this was, since he smugly proclaimed he had been right all along as the world burned above. It was his own game of chess, and they were the pieces. If this bunker was the board, then she was unguarded. A lonely Rook left exposed to the King. Capture was imminent.
"We should play a round together sometime."
A/N: Phew, this chapter was a doozy! It wasn't planned to be this long, but well, we hoped you guys liked it anyway! So much gratitude and love to my bestie and beta reader, Ravenlaughter, who co-wrote this chapter (maybe most of it at this rate LMAO) I always appreciate your help and love our crazy talks and fun.
Well clueless Mary knows something is amiss! And I guess the important question to ask now is...What does Joseph have planned next? ;) Thank you so much for all of the kudos and comments and hits, we so appreciate all of you! Til next time everyone! (I promise it won't take as long next chapter) Have a good week! :D