Title: Lost Sheep
Characters: Beck, Heather and Others
Disclaimer: No, still don't own Jericho. Just having a little fun - not profit. No characters were harmed in the creation of this fic, and even the fluffy plot bunnies felt safe enough to come out and play.
Unbetaed. All mistakes are my own.
The next two days fell into an oddly familiar pattern, although neither Heather nor Beck could pinpoint why it felt familiar. It was also tentative, like testing the thickness of ice on a lake in winter.
Heather found herself waking early each morning, early enough to put the coffee on and to be at the door to invite Beck in when he awoke. It was late October now, and while the days in New Mexico were still pleasantly warm and sometimes hot, the nights were starting to cool down significantly. While her logical mind told her Beck was more than capable of looking after himself, and had survived much harsher conditions, Heather couldn't help worrying about him sleeping in the tent outside the trailer. That, and she didn't like the wariness and caution she saw in his eyes every time she opened the door and called to him.
He came in to the trailer each morning, used the bathroom, and then they spent the next half hour or so sitting alone together at Frankie's kitchen table, drinking their coffee, eating breakfast and talking quietly about what had happened the day before and what was planned for the day to come. They didn't speak of the past, or about Simone or Maggie or William - although they both knew that conversation still loomed. Instead, they spoke only of the day-to-day reality they faced at the moment.
Each day, Heather found herself easing towards him a bit more. It wasn't exactly forgiveness; it wasn't exactly acceptance - but perhaps it was the first steps towards both those destinations. And, taking Frankie's advice to heart, Heather tried not to overthink it, but instead tried to let it take care of itself.
As Heather awoke on the third day and began what had quickly become her routine, she was pleased that she and Beck seemed to be cautiously forming bonds of shared experiences; creating tentative strands of connection between them, as delicate as gossamer - and as easily blown off course.
For Beck's part, when he awoke on the third day he had no expectations. He didn't know why Heather had extended the olive branch, and he didn't ask. As friendly and welcoming as the people of Antelope Wells were, they were still far from home and in a potentially dangerous situation - not that he thought Heather was trying to manipulate him. Heather was basically a straight shooter, honest to her core. Whatever her reasons for extending the olive branch, she meant it sincerely.
He tried not to think about it too much, and tried not to have any expectations that the new day would be the same as the one before. As comfortable as he felt here in this fledgling town, he was anxious to receive news - one way or the other - about his family, so they could be on their way.
He didn't know if word had reached the ASA - or Ravenwood - that somebody, sent by Major Beck, was in New Mexico looking for Simone and Maggie. Several groups of refugees had arrived and left since he and Heather had arrived, not to mention Tomas was asking questions during his trip north. Word would leak out eventually - it was only a matter of time. And all Beck could do was hope that they would all - all, damn it, Simone and Maggie and William too - be safely back in Jericho before the ASA came knocking at Antelope Wells' door.
As for Heather, he knew whatever friendship they forged during this trip wouldn't last once they returned to Jericho. Not that she would turn her back - not like she had before - but she would be expected to make a choice, and she would choose Jericho. Naturally. That was where her loyalty lay - and Jake's - and Jericho was her home, after all. Jericho would come first.
Beck understood and respected that. He himself had put duty and loyalty to his country before all else which was why he had been out of the country when the Attacks happened and put him in the situation in which he now found himself. It was that duty to the greater good that made him wonder how his family would react when they saw him.
Duty, he thought as he dressed. Honour. Love of country, love of woman, love of child. He served his country to protect his family, his woman, his child. But how do you explain that to an eleven-year-old - especially when you weren't there when they needed you the most?
He still had a duty to the greater good - to Jericho, to do whatever he needed to do to protect the town and to be ready to support Texas when the war finally began, to resist the ASA in whatever small way he could until that time. But how would he explain that to his family, he wondered, and would they be able to accept it? Simone hadn't understood his commitment to his duty in safer times; how would she - and more importantly, Maggie - understand if he left them behind in Jericho when the war finally broke? How would he explain it to Maggie if he had to leave her again?
At night, as he tried to sleep, he wondered if Simone and Maggie hated him. He wondered if they'd be happy to see him. He wondered...he wondered many things, but most of all he wondered if he would find his family only to discover he had lost them anyway.
Beck finished dressing, left his tent and stretched the kinks out of his back in the half-dusk of dawn. As he stretched, Heather opened the door to the trailer and gave him a welcoming smile when he turned to look at her. She stood framed in the door, her hair still mussed from sleep, in her boxers and t-shirt and those silly fuzzy slippers she had borrowed. He paused for a moment, arrested by the sight, feeling a surge of bemused affection mixed with an unmistakable physical reaction. A reaction he hoped she wouldn't notice.
As he headed towards the trailer door, he dismissed his sexual awareness of her as a side effect of being a normal, healthy male who had to name a year when he remembered the last time he had sex.
He rationalized his emotional connection to her as a result of being without true friendship for so long - and because he just...liked her. He liked her integrity, and her practical nature. He liked her innocence, her naivete and her loyalty, even when it drove him nuts. He liked her mechanical skills and the way she always looked for a way to fix...well, everything. He even liked the way she asked him the questions he didn't want to answer, or made him admit the truths he didn't want to face.
He liked her, and he thought his family would like her, too.
He gave her his familiar quirk of a smile and brushed past her into the trailer with a soft "Good morning."
"Good morning," she replied, giving him a sweet smile. "Coffee's ready. Frankie's in the bathroom, and Adrienne's getting breakfast."
He paused, surprised. "Why are they up so early?"
"Tomas is due back today, apparently. When he arrives, Manny and Frankie will be able to finalize the building plan, so Frankie and Manny want to get an early start this morning."
"We should be able to start building tomorrow, if Tomas makes it here today and if he managed to get the lumber," Frankie yawned as she shuffled into the livingroom. "Bathroom's all yours, Sam. God, I hate mornings," she groaned as she continued into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee.
Heather grinned at Beck, her face alight with laughter. Beck looked back, his eyes warm and amused, and for a moment, Heather found she couldn't look away. She realized she had stared a moment too long when he raised an eyebrow in question. She blushed slightly, then jerked her head towards the bathroom. "Better hurry, or there won't be any coffee left by the time you're done."
Beck glanced at Frankie's closed eyes and ecstatic expression as she took her first sip of coffee, and nodded. He headed off down the hall, shaking his head in amusement.
While Beck was showering, Heather joined Frankie and Adrienne in the kitchen. "What time does Tomas usually arrive?" Heather asked.
Frankie was slouched at the table, her head propped up on one hand, her eyes closed. "Any time, really," she replied, her voice slurred with sleep. "That's why I'm out of bed."
As she spoke, there was the sound of vehicles driving up to the trailer door. Frankie didn't even open her eyes. "That's probably them now," she muttered. "He's insane."
Heather laughed. "You're just saying that because you haven't finished your first cup of coffee."
"And I'm almost out of it," Frankie groaned. "I'm going to have to ask Tomas to see what he can do about replenishing my supply," she continued as there was a brief knock at the door and Tomas walked in.
"Coffee?" Tomas casually asked as he came into the kitchen and pulled up a chair.
"On the cupboard," Frankie replied, taking a sip from her cup without raising her head or opening her eyes.
"No - you want me to find you more coffee," Tomas clarified.
Frankie nodded. "Please. I'll do anything you want," she sighed.
"Anything?" he asked. "Isn't that what got you into trouble with Rick?"
Frankie's eyes flew wide open and she sat up straight, staring at him in shock.
Tomas stared back with a slightly bitter half-smile on his face.
The atmosphere in the kitchen was suddenly tense and explosive. Heather and Adrienne watched with wide eyes as Frankie looked stricken for a moment and then her face hardened.
"Your point?" Frankie snapped. She sounded so unlike her usual self that Beck paused on his way into the kitchen to assess the situation.
Tomas' eyes never left hers. "No point," he shrugged. "Just asking a question."
Frankie cocked her head to one side and considered him carefully. "For the record," she said slowly, "I always pay my debts. And no, that's not what got me into trouble with Rick - and it sure as hell wasn't over coffee. He changed the price after we had a deal, and there were certain prices we weren't prepared to pay. Ever. He wouldn't accept that. I take it you found him?"
Tomas nodded, seeming to notice the others in the room for the first time. "He's holed up in a little town a few hundred miles from here. He said to tell you he's healing nicely."
Frankie paled, then raised her cup to her lips with a hand that shook only slightly. "Glad to hear it," she said before taking a sip. "And that, I think, explains you," she added as she carefully put the cup down and stared at him.
Beck moved until he was standing behind Frankie's chair, his arms folded over his chest. He turned what Heather privately called his "Major-Beck-is-Majorly-Pissed" look on Tomas. It was no less intimidating just because he wasn't wearing a uniform.
"I don't know what's going on here," Beck said, his voice coldly authoritative, "but it better not be any kind of threat to Frankie or the continued well-being of this town." The warning tone and the look in Beck's eyes sent a cold shiver down Heather's spine.
Tomas blinked at him. "No," he said after a pause. "No threat. We're just talking about a...mutual friend."
Beck cocked his head to one side and gave Tomas a skeptical look. He glanced at Frankie. "Yeah?" he said as Booker and Manny came into the trailer. "It doesn't look like Frankie wants to talk about this...mutual friend at the moment. I suggest you respect the lady's wishes - now, and in the future."
Tomas coolly met Beck's eyes. "I'll remember that," he replied, his voice smooth and silky and just this side of insolent.
"Tomas!" Manny enthusiastically greeted, clapping a hand on Tomas' back, apparently oblivious to the atmosphere in the room. "Glad to see you back. What's the situation to the north? And did you bring the lumber?"
The talk shifted into more neutral channels and culminated in a plan to start building the next day. Tomas and his men would take over guard duty while the residents of Antelope Wells concentrated on building log cabins for the families. They would also be building three large buildings from the lumber Tomas had brought to be used as a school, a hospital and a barracks for newly arrived refugees. Everyone in town acknowledged, though, that the terms "cabin" and "building" really meant "shacks thrown together but better than tents". It wasn't going to be much when it was done, but it was a start. A start at building a real town, and a real life.
After breakfast, Booker and Beck took the logging crew out for one more day. When they returned that night and added the logs to the stockpile they had already accumulated, they found that all of the adults had been assigned to work groups, and building would start early in the morning.
The next week marched along in a haze of heat and hard work and Beck found himself almost relaxing as the days fell into a set routine. He shared his coffee and breakfast with Heather and the others in the mornings. In spite of the tension between Tomas and Frankie, Frankie's trailer was still the gathering place for all of them and they left together to begin the day's work.
Beck and Heather had been assigned to different work groups, so they didn't usually see each other again except from a distance until supper time, when they met again at Frankie's place. After supper, they would walk for half an hour, their only time alone, relaxing and chatting about their days before parting for the night. They had taken one evening to leave town and check in with Jericho, where they were relieved to hear that things were still under control, although there had been a hint of anxiety in Jake's voice when he asked when they would be returning. It made Heather wonder what he was hiding.
During the day, Beck worked with Booker, and the more time they spent together the more Beck's liking and respect for the young redhead grew. As they toiled in the heat each day, Booker shared more and more of his history with Beck, including the fact that Booker had been on his honeymoon when the Attacks happened, hiking in the mountains of New Mexico; he had lost his wife in Alburquerque.
Booker didn't ask Beck many questions, for which Beck was grateful. He couldn't share much with Booker as it was, since the fewer lies Beck had to tell, the better. When Booker mentioned one day that he was originally from California, Beck froze, hoping Booker wouldn't ask the questions Beck didn't want to answer.
But Booker only asked him if he had been to California. When Beck said yes, Booker worked in silence for long moments before finally saying, "I don't want to ask, do I?"
"No," Beck replied quietly, "no, you don't."
And, to Beck's relief, Booker let it drop.
Beck's family was never far from his thoughts but the worry about their location and situation faded into the background even if it never disappeared completely. It remained the dull ache that had been his constant companion since he learned of the Attacks and lost track of his family. The longer they waited in Antelope Wells for Gregory to return, the more impatient he became for news, for something, anything, that would tell him what he needed to do next.
It had been eight days of intensive building, and Beck and Heather were taking their evening walk around the town, discussing the day and what was planned for the next day. A friendly competition had developed between the different work groups, so he and Heather were checking on the progress of their rivals. Nobody had come up with a prize yet, but everyone was determined to win, even if if was only only bragging rights.
As they strolled around the town site, stopping on occasion to chat with their fellow workers, he kept an eye on Heather out of the corner of his eye. The bruises on her face had faded to a mix of yellows and greens, and he couldn't seem to take his eyes off her animated face as she smiled and laughed with those they met, telling them that her group was going to beat all the others - especially his group, she added and grinned at him over her shoulder.
He looked back, his own face amused, his eyes warm. She blinked, glanced away, then glanced back at him from the corner of her eye, her smile now slightly bashful, and very sweet as she ducked her head and turned back to the others. Beck blinked at her profile, taken aback by the sudden, violent and almost irresistible urge he felt to grab her, kiss her absolutely senseless, and then find the nearest private horizontal surface and keep her there for a week. And he knew exactly what he would do - the pictures were so clear in his head that -
Oh, he thought. Oh. Oh, shit.
Which made the sudden sound of gunshots behind them all that more startling.
Beck reacted instinctively, bearing Heather to the ground, covering her even as he reached for his own weapon and tried to get his bearings on where the shots were coming from. He glanced down at her. "Stay here," he ordered. He glanced at the others they had been speaking with, all of whom were on the ground. "Stay here," he repeated. "If you have to move, keep low, and take shelter as soon as you can."
They nodded, their eyes huge as more shots rang out; Beck could tell that someone was returning fire, and with one last look at Heather, he rolled off her, got to his feet and took off at a crouched run towards the gun battle. As he glanced around the corner of one half-finished log cabin, he could see Booker and Tomas behind two other cabins, along with others from their crews, returning the fire of several men who were approaching the town from the east.
Even as he took position and returned fire, a distant part of his mind noted that nobody was asking the attackers to lay down their weapons and surrender peacefully. That same distant part wondered who was suicidal enough to actually attack the town when, from what he could tell, the numbers were so stacked against them.
As if to prove his thought, the gunfight was intense and brutal, but short. Beck ran quickly to join Booker and Tomas when it appeared that all the attackers had been killed or injured, and without thinking began snapping out commands.
"Tomas - take some men and check the bodies. Make sure they're dead. Booker, grab a couple of guys; we'll check the perimeter and conduct a building by building, tent by tent search - make sure nobody came in from a different direction."
With nods, the defenders split into different groups to complete their tasks. As Beck and Booker checked the perimeter, Beck caught the glint of the setting sun off the gun from behind the customs building. Even as he shouted at Booker and fired his gun, Beck knew he was a split second too late; knew that even though he had killed the shooter, Booker was falling, red blooming on his chest.
He scrambled to Booker, checking and then pressing his hands over the wound, shouting at the others to continue searching for more hostiles; yelling for Camilla once the others gave him the all clear; Booker's blood vivid and hot against his hands, even as he spoke calmly to the younger man, reassuring him that he would be all right, that they'd get him patched up, and he'd be as good as new.
Camilla and Manny nudged him aside, and Beck stood, his hands and clothes covered in blood, and he watched as Camilla and Manny worked on Booker, exchanged looks, then glanced south. He continued watching, only dimly aware that Heather was beside him, her hand on his arm, as Manny and Tomas loaded Booker into Tomas' car, and headed towards Mexico.
When the car was out of sight, Beck took a deep breath, and looked at Heather. She stared at him, her eyes wide, her fading bruises stark against her white skin. He reached to touch her, then realized his hands were covered in blood. He shook his head, then met her gaze, his own eyes wide and stunned and wounded. He settled for slowly, gently touching his forehead to hers, before whispering, "There's work to be done."
She swallowed hard, closing her eyes against the tears. "I know," she replied softly, then reluctantly stood back, breaking contact with him.
He glanced down. His shirt and jeans were covered in Booker's blood. He stared at himself for a moment, then absently wiped his hands on a dry piece of his jeans, grabbed his weapon, and headed towards the people who were dealing with the dead east of town.
Many hours later, he sat in the dark, on a log in town square, staring at nothing, barely even noticing the burn as he raised the glass in his hand, and swallowed the scotch.
He knew she was there before she spoke. He must have heard her coming, he thought, although he hadn't really registered anything outside his own head for the last half hour at least.
She silently settled herself beside him, and waited. After long moments, Beck asked, "Any news?" Manny, Tomas and Camilla had returned a short while ago, and were holed up in Frankie's trailer.
"They think he'll make it," Heather replied quietly. She mirrored his stance by leaning forward, her elbows on her knees, her fingers lightly clasped in front of her as she stared at the unlit firepit in front of them.
Beck let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Good," he said, his voice not betraying any emotion. Heather glanced at him.
"Why has this bothered you so much?" she asked quietly.
He was silent for so long, she wasn't sure he would answer her. Finally, his voice low and rough, "It was the first time I wasn't behind a uniform."
They sat in silence. When he finished his drink, Heather gently took his hand and led him safely home through the darkness.
A/N: My apologies for taking so long to get this chapter done. The characters just would NOT behave!! This chapter feels a bit disjointed to me because it covers a lot of ground to get to where it needed to be, so sorry about that! The next chapter should be faster (I hope). :)