Title: Lost Sheep
Characters: Beck, Heather and Others
Disclaimer: No, still don't own Jericho although we're apparently getting some news this week about a continuation of the story (somehow). Anyway, just having a little fun - not profit. No characters or fluffy plot bunnies were harmed in the creation of this fic. Non-fluffy plot bunnies, on the other hand, are on their own. ;)
Unbetaed. All mistakes are my own.
What struck Heather the most as she and Beck explored Antelope Wells with Manny and Frankie was the age of the people they encountered. They were so...young.
Frankie nodded when Heather brought it up at supper that night, exchanging glances with Manny and Camilla as the five of them sat at the table in Frankie's trailer.
"We have a lot of young people - a lot of very young people," Frankie agreed, "and that brings its own set of problems - and not just because of their age. Over half of our population is under the age of twenty, and half of those are under the age of fifteen - and most of them are alone."
"How did they all get here?" Heather asked.
"A few came with family of some kind - their parents, aunts or uncles, siblings, cousins. Most, though..." Frankie paused and pressed her lips together before continuing. "Most weren't travelling with their companions willingly," she said carefully. "Their families died or abandoned them, and they were left on their own - vulnerable to anyone who promised them food and protection.
"We've learned to recognize the signs; to ask the hard questions of the groups when they come in. We rescue who we can - when we can."
"But we can't save all of them," Camilla sighed.
Beck's eyes showed his sympathy and horror, and respect. "But Maggie was here with Simone? Willingly?" he confirmed, and at Frankie's nod, he asked, "Was William here as well?"
Frankie nodded as Heather asked, puzzled, "William?"
"Simone's...well, husband, I guess you could say," Frankie replied casually.
Heather started, spilling her glass of water over the table. Frankie chuckled as Heather blushed and stammered an apology, and Frankie got up to get a rag to mop up the mess. Heather studiously averted her eyes from Beck's face, her mind whirling, even as the anger and confusion rose up inside. She'd be demanding an explanation from Beck as soon as she could get him alone.
"Anyway," Frankie continued as she came back from the kitchen after disposing of the wet rag and the dirty dishes, "for various reasons, we have a lot of very young people here, most of whom have lost their families, their friends and have already gone through more hell than they ever could have deserved. But they're making a home here." She smiled warmly at Manny and Camilla. "We're making a home here."
"It helps that we're so isolated," Camilla added. "Quite honestly, not many people know we're here. Our refugees, of course, but for the most part, we've managed to stay below the radar. We're connected to the power grid in Mexico, but we're off the phone grid. Tomas keeps us supplied and informed, though - he's how we heard about Major Beck's defection."
Beck quirked his lips in his smile. "When did you hear about it?"
"Just over two months ago," Camilla replied. "Tomas came bearing a garbled story of a nuclear bomb being transported to Texas by a couple of wild mavericks and how some crazy Major Beck had defied the entire ASA and Texan armies to protect some hick town in Kansas."
Frankie grinned at him. "Simone said that had to be her ex-husband - because nobody else would be that crazy. Or stubborn. Or self-sacrificing."
Heather stared at Beck. Ex-husband?
Beck didn't show any reaction by sheer force of will. In spite of all that had happened before his last deployment, before the Attacks, it mattered to him what Simone thought of him, and it...pleased him that she immediately thought it was him; that she believed that he had that strength of character; that she believed he had that desire to serve a higher purpose. He might have accepted her decision and signed the divorce papers, but he still loved her very much and he always would - he just wasn't in love with her anymore, he realized - and when that had happened was anybody's guess.
Nothing like the end of the world for soul searching and brutal honesty, he thought wryly.
"Anyway," Frankie continued bringing Beck's attention back to the present, "once Simone and Maggie decided that this crazy Major Beck was their crazy Major Beck, we realized that they needed to be careful - being related to the ASA's public enemy number one is not necessarily a healthy thing to be."
Beck turned his attention to Manny. "Is that when you decided they had to leave?"
Manny shook his head. "No. That was after Ravenwood showed up."
Heather and Beck froze and exchanged glances. Beck knew J&R had received the intel about his family, but he had hoped they had received it through different channels, not through Ravenwood. "Ravenwood?" Beck asked, his voice tight. "When did they show up?"
"About two months ago. They asked for all our records - we hadn't expected that, for some reason," Manny replied thoughtfully.
"Were they looking for Simone and Maggie?"
Frankie shrugged. "They didn't seem to be. They didn't ask for them by name, if that's what you mean. They took our records; asked for all our names; assured us that Jennings and Rall would arrive soon to render aid and then they...left."
"Why didn't they grab Simone and Maggie then?" Heather asked.
"Because they weren't here." Frankie gave a half-smile. "They decided to take a short trip to Mexico that day." She gave them a full grin at the look on their faces. "Short-range radios are very useful - and we'd heard about - or experienced - Ravenwood before."
"Anyway," Manny continued, "once Ravenwood left and we realized we hadn't gone through the records, it was decided that Simone and Maggie needed to leave as soon as possible. And they did - along with William and a group of refugees who were ready to move on. But where they are, I honestly don't know. I'm sorry, Sam."
Beck nodded, absorbing the information and fighting down the worry.
"But we are happy to see you," Manny said, breaking into Beck's reverie. "You're a soldier - a real one - and you belong on this side of the border. You can help Booker with defense, as well as training. And as for Heather - " Manny frowned slightly as he looked at her, obviously trying to determine where she would be the most useful.
"Heather's a mechanic. She can fix just about anything," Beck said, an unconscious trace of pride in his voice.
"You're a mechanic?" Frankie exclaimed delightedly.
"Actually, I'm an elementary school teacher," Heather replied, "but I've been a full-time mechanic for the last three months. In between was..." she glanced at Beck, "complicated."
Frankie nodded, glancing between the two. "And you, Sam? Any hidden skills?"
Beck shook his head. "Just a soldier trying to do his job," he replied, his own eyes flickering to Heather and away again.
It took some doing, but Beck managed to avoid being alone with Heather for the rest of the evening and the next morning, and he thanked his lucky stars that Frankie had two empty bedrooms. He knew Heather had been shocked by the revelation about William, and he honestly didn't know what he was going to tell her when she finally had the opportunity to ask him about it. He didn't even understand his reasons himself.
The next day, Beck met Booker, a tall, lean redhead a few years younger than Heather, with bright blue eyes that were far too old for his youthful face.
Booker might have been young, but he was incredibly bright and Beck was impressed by the thinking, planning and training Booker had already completed. There were rotating shifts to man the roadblock, scheduled training sessions and Booker took full advantage of Antelope Wells' location.
"There's only one road into town from the north, and the terrain is rough enough that an attack across country is remote. With the Mexican guards at the border, we’re well protected from the south as well - unless Mexico decided to attack."
"You've done a good job," Beck complimented.
"I go across often," Booker explained, jerking his head to the south. "I talk to the soldiers and the CO, get advice and ideas. Well," he added, "if they speak English. My Spanish is getting better," he hastily added, "but it's still really bad."
Beck quirked his lips. "It'll come," he said. "You're doing really well; I'm not sure what I can do for you, especially since I won't be here for long."
"Whatever you can suggest and do while you're here, sir, will be greatly appreciated. Trust me," and for a moment Booker's face was as old as his eyes, "we need all the help we can get."
Beck struggled to control his reaction to the stark look on Booker's face. He silently cursed this new world, almost shaking with rage, thinking the kid in front of him should be somewhere planning how to get laid, not planning defenses for a town that was just barely clinging to existence. Thinking he should know where his own kid was, where his own wife was - Beck forced his emotions to calm as he nodded and clapped a hand on Booker's shoulder. "Let's see what we can do," he said, his voice calm and confident and without any hint of the turmoil he felt inside.
While Beck was speaking with Booker, Heather was walking with Manny and several guards on the way to a ranch located about a mile and a half from the town if they went cross-country.
"The ranch is where Antelope Wells got its name," Manny explained as they walked. "It's where we keep our animals. There are, oh, ten to fifteen people there at any one time, caring for and protecting the place. If you can get some of the tractors going again, or tell us what's needed - and maybe give some pointers to our crew about maintenance..." Manny trailed off.
Heather smiled at him. "I'll see what I can do," she said, "although we don't know how long we'll be here."
Manny nodded. "Whatever you can do," he assured her, his broad, open face sincere. "We need whatever help we can get."
When Beck and Heather returned to Frankie's trailer, it was to find that another group of refugees had arrived while they had been busy elsewhere. It was a small group, about a dozen people, who had walked the last twenty miles or so when the last of their vehicles ran out of gas and had to be abandoned. They were dirty and starving, and most of them had the long distance stare of people who were still living in a nightmare but didn't have the energy to care anymore. Even now, over a year after the Attacks, after the ASA declared New Mexico their territory, after Jennings and Rall had moved in with their distribution and record-keeping machinery, there was still too much chaos, too much violence, too much death. The refugees sitting dispiritedly on the hard dirt of the town square proved that all too clearly.
Beck and Heather watched as Frankie and the rest swung into action, before they were pulled into helping as well. By the time everything was said and done, the new refugees had been fed, had showered in either Manny's or Frankie's trailers, been given clean clothes and were now in tents, getting ready for sleep.
"Where did all the tents and clothes come from?" Heather asked casually when they were finally alone in Frankie's trailer, getting ready for sleep themselves.
"Tomas' predessor, Rick, found most of them," Frankie replied. "Tomas continues to get what he can for us - although not quite in the same way." Heather frowned at her; there was an odd tone in her voice as she spoke. Frankie met her eyes and gave her a small half-smile, completely unlike her usual smile.
"Rick did a lot of good things," Frankie said, "but I'm not sorry he's gone. He..." she hesitated. "Let's just say that he drove a hard bargain."
Heather frowned at her and glanced at Beck, who was looking at Frankie with dawning realization and sympathy.
"Ah," he said.
Frankie glanced at him and then away, her shrug painfully nonchalant. "Yes."
Heather's frown deepened and Frankie sighed and sat down at the table facing Beck and Heather.
"Are you saying," Heather started hesitantly, "that you...you..."
"Traded sex for food and supplies?" Frankie asked bluntly, and gave a small, bitter laugh, avoiding their eyes. "Yes. I did. You're lucky, Heather," Frankie said softly, staring at her hands which she placed flat on the table, "you have practical skills that make you valuable in this brave new world. I had never even planted a flower! I was a middle-management paper-pusher and I didn't even have the tools to open a can when the power failed. Bare bones, high tech - that was me. And not a single survival skill to my name. Tell me," she asked, her tone rueful, "what do you do when your only asset is the ass you're sitting on?"
Frankie sighed, then straightened her spine and looked them straight in the eyes. "I'm not proud of what I had to do, but I'm still here. I survived - and I've thrived. Yes, I traded sex for transportation and food, and then I traded sex for supplies for this town. I've built a new home and created a new place for myself. I did what I had to do, and I would do it again - although now I do have more practical survival skills. "
Heather reached out and hesitantly touched the back of Frankie's hand. "You don't have to justify yourself to us," she said softly, her eyes shining with sympathy.
"We've all done things we regret," Beck added, his voice gentle, "and Heather's right. You don't need to justify yourself to us. Not for that. Not for surviving."
Frankie nodded and stood up from the table. "We've all survived a lot to get to this place. We've made a home. And we're going to stay here. Anyway," she added, her tone suddenly brisk, "we're going to have a long day tomorrow - Tomas will be arriving early. I'm going to go to bed." She gave them a crooked smile. "I'll see you in the morning," she said and left them alone.