Title: Lost Sheep
Characters: Beck, Heather and Others
Rating: M - for Mature Concepts
Disclaimer: No, still don't own Jericho. Just having a little fun - not profit. No characters were harmed in the creation of this fic, although this is incredibly non-fluffy, so all the fluffy bunnies ran away screaming.
Unbetaed. All mistakes are my own.
A/N: This is a real heartbreaker of a chapter (well, to me, anyway). It's very dark - just so you know. There's nothing light and fluffy in this chapter, I'm sorry to say. :(
Two days after the confrontation with Vic and his men, the left side of Heather's face had blossomed with colourful bruises. It made Beck furious every time he looked at her and he cursed himself for not having the three men summarily shot. Instead he comforted himself with the thought that they had been taken a good hundred miles away and left in the middle of nowhere with only enough ammunition to keep themselves fed - if they were good shots.
It wasn't much comfort, but it was better than nothing.
Heather seemed to have recovered nicely from the experience, except for the bruises. Beck glanced over at her sitting in the passenger seat of the car they had driven from Kansas. They were headed out of town to find a spot where the cell phone would pick up a signal. They had been gone for ten days and they needed to know the status of things back in Jericho, and to let those left behind know that they were okay.
Although neither of them openly acknowledged it, it was also the opportunity they needed in order to speak in complete privacy. They had called a truce, and over the last two days, their relationship had eased somewhat - almost edging towards the friendly, supportive relationship they had had before Bonnie's death. But Heather couldn't keep the unspoken questions from festering below the surface, and she found herself getting angry every time she thought about the fact that Beck hadn't shared that he and Simone were separated - or divorced - and there was another man in the picture. And that was only one small piece of the things she didn't understand about him.
Although he had shared his reasoning for his actions after Bonnie's death, she still didn't know what to think or what to do. She didn't hate his guts, she never had, but she didn't know if she could let her anger at his actions go, or if she could forgive him for what he had done.
As for Beck, he knew Heather was still angry with him, and as much as he didn't want to have the pending conversation, he hoped it would clear the air and allow them to start again. To rebuild the mutual respect they had once held for each other. Or at least allow them to be more than civil strangers. He...missed her, and over the last two nights, as he tried to fall asleep in the tent outside of Frankie's trailer, he finally acknowledged that he dreaded their return to Jericho, when he would lose her - her friendship - again.
They drove mostly in silence, both feeling the conversation looming ahead of them. And, Heather thought wryly, it may be better to have it when neither of them were driving, just in case they got too angry to pay attention to what they were doing.
They finally had a strong signal on the cell phone about 40 miles out of town, and Beck pulled over so Heather could call Hawkins, who happened to be in the sheriff's office with Clark and Jake. While they were careful in what they said and Heather used the code name Bo, they managed to exchange the necessary information in the least amount of time.
When Heather shut the phone after speaking to the three men, she sighed sadly and frowned. She hadn't realized how much she had missed other familiar voices until she had spoken to them. With another sigh, she turned to give Beck a status report.
Although the citizens of the town knew he and Heather were gone, Beck's absence was still a secret from anybody outside of Jericho, Beck was not a conceited man, and he knew the men under his command were competent and more than capable of fending off an attack from almost any quarter, but he was still relieved to learn that those outside of Jericho - especially Constantino - hadn't yet learned of his absence and used that fact to attack. Beck's absence couldn't be a secret forever, but the longer it could be hidden, the better it would be.
Beck sat down on the ground, his back braced against the body of the car. With a sigh, Heather gently tossed the phone into the passenger seat and then settled herself beside him, fighting back a sharp wave of homesickness. They stared out over the landscape for a few moments in silence, and Heather couldn't help but be struck by its rugged beauty, so different from Kansas. She admired the view for a few moments, before she turned her honest blue eyes towards Beck.
"You promised to answer any question I asked," she stated.
He gave a quirk of his lips. "Unless I told you it was none of your business," he agreed. "What do you want to know?"
Heather hesitated. She wanted to confront him about Simone, but she didn't want him to know how angry she was that he had neglected to tell her that he was divorced, and that his ex-wife was with another man. She didn't want to think about why she was so angry about the point, either. Instead, she picked the other, equally important question she needed to ask.
"You were so loyal to the ASA," she said slowly, carefully choosing her words. "You followed all their orders - you let Goetz take over when you were ordered to do so. Goetz!" She almost spat the name. "How could you follow them so blindly? So loyally? Without question?" She didn't seem to be aware that she was raising her voice as her anger built.
"Blindly. Loyally. Without question," Beck mused softly. "I could ask you the same thing about Jake."
"He saved us - time and again," Heather snapped, her eyes blazing. "He protected us. Sacrificed for us. Put his life on the line for us. He's earned my loyalty and trust. What did the ASA, or Jennings and Rall - or Ravenwood - do to earn yours?"
Beck stared at her silently, his face stoic, his expression unreadable. He searched her face for any sign that she realized how naive her questions sounded, how sheltered she, and everyone in Jericho, had truly been from the aftermath of the Attacks - any sign that she realized how lucky they had been to live in the middle of nowhere, Kansas while the majority of the country was convulsed in agony.
All Beck could see in her face was her honest confusion, her honest...contempt for the choices he had made. And her honest desire to know and to understand.
He wavered for a long moment between a desire to protect her naivete and innocence, and his desire to make her understand what it had been like in the world outside Jericho and New Bern. But there were memories he didn't want to resurrect, acts he didn't want to acknowledge. If he told her -
She met his gaze steadily, her eyes wide and blue and begging him to tell her something that would help her understand. She wasn't a child, Beck thought grimly, and she deserved to know the truth about him and about the world after the Attacks.
With a blink, he looked away from her, staring at a point in the distance. For the first time in months, he allowed himself to consciously remember, and then he began to speak.
"I was in a godforsaken village in a remote area of Iraq when we got the news," he said, his voice calm and distant, almost dreamy, like he was talking about things that happened to somebody else. "It took a week to get back to Baghdad. Insurgents dogged us every step of the way - we lost a lot of troops. Then we were under siege in Baghdad; not a moment's respite while we waited to evacuate. It was controlled chaos, exacerbated by the lack of communication with the States. There was no commander-in-chief; no Joint Chiefs of Staff; no Pentagon. All gone in a moment. And we had tens of thousands of troops to get the hell back. We all had families. Friends. People we loved. We were far away from home and we couldn't help them. Help anyone.
"We were finally airlifted and brought to a base camp in Montana. It was...uncontrolled chaos. There were mass desertions, and then, later, there were mass enlistments - people adrift, who had lost - or thought they had lost - everyone and everything, and had nowhere left to go. They saw our uniforms and thought they found sanctuary. They didn't know we were on the verge of starvation, just like they were. They didn't know that we had no clear path through the crisis either. And we - the commanding officers - did our best to keep it from them. We wanted them to feel...safe. Or as safe as they could possibly feel after what had happened.
"Some of the soldiers who went AWOL came back when they discovered their families and homes were gone. The lucky ones found their families and brought them back to the base camps in Montana, and then returned to duty to serve what was left of their country. To try and help those who couldn't help themselves. To bring order and peace, and hopefully healing, to a desperately wounded nation.
"We were initially placed on a circuit through the western cities that were destroyed by the Attacks. We were mostly passing through, assessing damages, looking for survivors. Anything - anybody - we could save. What we found were the dead and the dying.
"And then came California.
"California was the worst. What the bombs didn't destroy, the radiation did. All we could do was bury the dead and...and treat the dying mercifully. We had nothing to ease their pain, no place to send them, no hope to give them. The base camps didn't have any more room for victims of radiation poisoning, and no way to get them there quickly anyway. And we had all run out of morphine - with no supply yet found. And so we...we...used the only option left to us to help those who had no hope of recovery, whose only future was a horribly painful death.
"We put them out of their misery as painlessly as possible.
"There was nothing else we could do. We lived in Hazmat suits and decontamination tents. Each day we went out, hoping to find somebody we could save, only to be the ones...
"We were glad when we moved on. So damned glad.
"Our next assignment was into the areas not so directly affected by the bombs - where we only found different problems. New Bern and Jericho weren't the first towns involved in armed conflict that we saw. The only advantage to these towns was that, while we buried the dead, we could actually help the living.
"Then we heard the majority of western states were supporting a President in Cheyenne, and we were ordered to head that way and find out what was happening. We didn't have a lot of hope for anything solid, but if nothing else, we needed to go back to Montana and get some rest.
"When the ASA came into existence, they were...a blessing. Hell, almost a miracle. Jennings and Rall - even Ravenwood - they were order in chaos. There was a commander-in-chief; coordinated operations. Clear direction from the top on how to achieve stability and peace. Stable supply chain. Hope for a return to the way things used to be. Calm reason in a world filled with devastated cities and mass graves and the dying, a world where monstrous acts were committed in the name of mercy, and peace and survival. I've seen - and I've been - the monster performing some of those acts.
"And nothing I've told you, nothing I've done, is even close to the worst I've seen done by others. I could tell you things..."
He trailed off, swallowing hard.
"There were - and are - beautiful things, too," he continued softly. "To be fair, to be honest there are many people like Manny and Frankie, Jake and Hawkins. Like you. I didn't only find monsters; I found...heroes. Truly beautiful human beings, those who found the best in themselves because of the Attacks. I found those - like you, like Jake, like the others - who run into the flames, who risk their lives for others. Who hold on to their humanity at all cost, who hold on to the best of human nature. Good hearts. Good souls."
Beck tiredly rubbed his face, wincing a little as he touched the still-tender wound on his brow.
"That's why I followed them blindly. Loyally. Without question. They were my hope that the world was going to get better."
He lapsed into silence.
After a moment, he realized that Heather was silently crying beside him. He didn't know what it said about him that he couldn't bring himself to comfort her even though his heart clenched at the soft sniffling sound she made. He didn't think he wanted to know what it said about him.
With a sigh, he slowly stood, his whole body aching. He turned to face her for the first time since he started speaking and waited for her to look at him - waited to see if she would look at him.
With a huge sniff, and a wipe of her nose on her sleeve, she finally looked up at him. She stared at him for a long moment, her blue eyes swimming with tears and horror and sadness, the bruise from Vic's fist livid on her pale skin. He swallowed, feeling like he had put that bruise on her face himself - or maybe an even worse bruise on her soul.
"We need to be getting back," he finally said, his voice low and husky. He was pleased that at least he sounded kind, even if he felt like all the kindness had been beaten out of him. He held out a hand to help her up.
She stared at his hand for a moment, almost like she didn't recognize what it. His face tightened at the rejection, but just as he started to drop his hand, she reached up and grasped it, and let him pull her to her feet. He steadied her as she rose, and for a suspended moment, they simply stood and stared into each other's eyes.
With another sniff, Heather threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight, surprising him, and knocking him back a step. His arms automatically went around her as he regained his balance.
"Wha - ?" he grunted.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered in his ear. As abruptly as she had hugged him, she gave him one last quick squeeze and released him just as abruptly, almost jumping away from him.
He blinked at her, bemused and uncertain how to react.
She gave him a small, watery smile. "You're right. We need to get back," she said and got into the car.
After a stunned moment, he shook his head, then walked around and got behind the wheel. They drove back in silence to Antelope Wells and back to the needs of other people and the comforting distraction of hard work.