Characters: Beck, Heather and Others
Disclaimer: No, no, even if I ask Santa nicely, I probably still won't own Jericho, just like I don't own it now. (Bummer). Just having a little fun - not profit - and all characters will be returned safe and sound.
A/N: This plot bunny is dragging me around by its furry little tale...er...tail. Unfortunately, the resulting story isn't very fluffy or cute (so far). This story has no connection to anything that has gone before, and it is the first one I'm posting that isn't even fully plotted out yet. I have the beginning and the middle, but the end? Not so much. LOL Is it wrong to be intrigued by a story you're writing yourself, and wondering what's going to happen next?? Hmmmm...but I digress...
Beck hadn't realized how much he depended on Heather until she stopped being there.
She had waited with him while his commanders determined his fate, but she quickly made it clear to him that - while she was glad he wouldn't be returned to Cheyenne and summarily executed for treason - her support and loyalty to him was over.
Beck didn't blame her. He had, after all, imprisoned and abused her friend - and the man she loved. He knew she hadn't taken the paper from his office because Hawkins convinced her - she had done it for Jake. He didn't like to think about how that fact made him feel. It didn't matter anymore, anyway.
Beck took a thoughtful sip of his scotch. It had been three months since the fateful day he had tossed his lot in with Jericho. Three months of trying to repair the damage caused to the relationship between Beck and the town. People didn't blame his men - they blamed him. He understood. It was part of his job, part of his rank, part of being the face of authority. He didn't really mind not being welcome in Bailey's - but losing Heather's friendship and support - that hurt more than he cared to admit.
He rubbed his nose and remembered how Jake had promptly given Beck a black eye and a bloody nose when Jake had returned from Texas only a week after Beck's defection. Beck let Jake give him the beating, right there on Main Street, defending himself only enough to ensure no grievous bodily harm occurred.
"I owe you that," Beck said, after Jake paused, panting and glaring at him. Beck winced as he touched the blood coming from his nose. He glanced around at the crowd. Leave it to Jake, he thought ruefully, to pick the most public and dramatic moment.
Beck's eyes briefly met Heather's, and then he turned back to Jake, who was coming at him again. This time, he blocked the punch and with a few sharp moves, he had Jake face down in the street, his knee in the small of Jake's back. Beck leaned down and whispered in Jake's ear, "I owed you a few punches - but no more. You can kill me later, but right now we have to work together. You need me. You need my men."
Jake groaned under Beck's weight and then Beck abruptly released him, standing up. Jake leapt to his feet and turned to face Beck, his eyes wild. For one suspended moment, Beck knew that it was either him or Jake - Jake would try to kill him, and then his men would try to kill Jake - and Jericho would go up in flames.
Both men turned sharply to look at Heather, her eyes wide and beseeching as she stared at Jake.
"Don't," she begged.
Beck knew she wasn't pleading for his safety, but for Jake's. Her feelings were written all over her face whenever she looked at the town's prodigal son. Jake hesitated, but he was unable to resist the appeal in Heather's eyes. He turned back to Beck.
"Fine," Jake spat, "we do need you. For now." He strode forward, getting in Beck's face. "But you are not welcome here. And there will come a point when we don't need you. And then - "
Jake glared at him and Beck stared coldly back.
"Do you understand me?" Jake demanded.
Beck cocked his head and stared Jake down. "Of course," he replied, his voice crisp and carrying to the onlookers. "But until then - we are fighting a war now, Jake, not keeping a single town safe. When it comes to the bigger conflict, you and this town will follow my orders. Do you understand me?"
Jake glared at him, the anger burning in his eyes. "The second we don't need you anymore, Beck, you'll get the hell of out Jericho and never come back. Or I'll take you out of Jericho and make sure you never come back."
Jake turned his back and stormed off. Beck watched impassively as Jake walked past Heather, patting her shoulder before going into Emily's arms. Heather's sad eyes met Beck's and then she turned and followed Jake and Emily into Bailey's.
The crowd slowly dispersed, leaving Beck standing alone in the street. He took a deep breath, snatched his cap from the ground and continued to the sheriff's office.
And now, three months later - Beck took another sip of his scotch and contemplated his options. The pariah of Jericho, he thought with bitter humor. He hadn't spoken to Heather alone in all that time - hell, he hadn't had a real conversation with anyone other than his commanders in the last three months.
He glanced up as Commander Clark entered his office.
"Major," Clark said, "you wanted to see me?"
Beck nodded. "Have a seat." Beck opened his desk drawer and pulled out another glass. "Drink?" Beck offered and poured a shot.
"Major?" Clark asked cautiously.
"Commander - " Beck hesitated, then handed the glass of scotch to Clark with the quirk of his lips that passed for a smile. "John," Beck said.
Clark stared at him and grabbed the proffered glass. "What's going on?" he asked.
"I received some intel today. From our source in J&R. There's been a report that my family was spotted in a remote area of New Mexico. Our source has kindly tried to do what they could to hide the information, but it's only a matter of time before somebody realizes that my family is alive. Or they were, six months ago."
"At least there's hope," Beck conceded. He leaned forward. "I'll leave in two days. I'll travel under the radar - alone. No uniform. No ID. Nothing to tie me back to Jericho."
"You're not supposed to leave Kansas," Clark protested.
"Officially, I won't be leaving Kansas. Which means very few people can know. Only those of the men who need to know, and definitely nobody in Jericho. At least, not unless it's necessary. If Cheyenne discovers it, and threatens to attack, for example. Then tell them I'm gone but don't tell them where."
"You'll be gone for weeks - possibly months. We can't keep your absence secret for that long."
"Keep the information away from Cheyenne and Texas and Constantino for as long as possible. As for the residents of Jericho, you have to keep it secret long enough for me to get well on my way. I don't need Jake Green trying to kill me the second I leave the town limits." He gave the quirk of his lips again. "Tell everybody I'm sick with food poisoning. Tell them I may not make it, and our medic is looking after me. That'll buy a few days, possibly a few weeks if you play it right, and should make most people extremely happy. Ultimately, the people of Jericho won't care if I'm gone. They'll only be concerned that I'll come back."
"Sir," Clark hesitated.
"Yes?" Beck asked, when Clark didn't continue.
"Are you - you are coming back, aren't you, Major?"
Beck stared at him. Expressionless. Stoic. Opaque. "If I can," he replied calmly, and Clark felt a shiver go down his spine.
"We need you, sir," Clark said. "We have a truce, but it's because of you that Jericho is kept safe."
"Cheyenne agreed to make Jericho a safe zone - and Texas agreed to defend her - regardless of my presence. If I were to die here, the truce would hold. If I die in New Mexico, or anyplace other than a small radius around Jericho - that's the danger. I will do my best to get there - and back - as quickly as possible. I have a last known location. I plan to be back in a matter of weeks, not months."
"Major - "
"You'll have command. I'll take a civilian vehicle - I want you to work with Heather to requisition one. But don't let her know why. No one must know, at least not until I'm away."
"Why the secrecy, sir? Even from the men?" Clark asked.
"I'm not well-loved in town, Commander. Between the Rangers, the ASA, Constantino, the residents of New Bern and hell, probably your Aunt Fannie, my chances of getting out of Jericho alone and in one piece is almost non-existent. Making it back is another problem altogether."
Clark nodded solemnly. He couldn't argue with that assessment.
"What's the plan?" Clark asked.
"Civilian clothing. Civilian transportation. Civilian weapons and ammo, if possible, but that at least I can explain, if questioned." He met Clark's eyes for a moment. Both men knew that if someone was close enough to notice the make of his gun or his ammo, Beck likely wouldn't be alive to question.
"I'll try to contact you whenever I can. But it's unlikely. If anybody else already has this intel, I don't want them knowing I'm on my way. Simone and Maggie will be in enough danger as it is. I'll make my way back through Texas. Get word to you from there, if possible. If they're alive, and it's not safe for us - me - to return to Jericho, I can at least find them asylum and protection in Texas. For awhile."
"But you want to bring them here?"
"Yes. Jericho isn't safe, either, but at least I would know where they were. And we could protect them so they couldn't be used against me. Of course, if I'm going to be shot on sight, it may be better to stay in Texas. Possibly head to Mexico. Retire by the sea, perhaps."
"You can't be serious, sir," Clark protested. "We need you here."
Beck quirked his lips. "You'll be a good commanding officer for these men, John. You'll be good at protecting this town. I once told Jake that sometimes, to stabilize an area, you have to remove elements from the equation. Maybe I'm an element that must be removed to keep everything balanced, to keep everyone safe."
Clark shook his head, "That's not true," he said and then raised his glass. "Good luck to you, sir,"
Beck raised his glass in return and nodded at him. "And to you. I'm not sure which one of us will need it more." They each took a sip of their drinks.
"For the record, sir," Clark said slowly, "my Aunt Fannie was always rather taken with you."