When Jonah stepped out of Emily’s house, Jake was waiting for him, car idling at the curb. Jonah pulled the door shut, took extra care making sure it had locked behind him to give himself time to consider whether getting into it with Jake right now was a good idea. It made him feel old, because there was a day when he never would have backed down from a challenge. Not that he was being given much of a choice, because when he hesitated, Jake leaned over and pushed the passenger side door open in invitation.
Resigned to his fate Jonah walked across the lawn to the sidewalk, putting a little extra swagger in his stride despite the constant ache in his forearm, then bent and peered into the car. “What is this, don’t let the door hit you on your way out of town?”
“Just thought you could use a lift,” Jake said.
“Making sure I leave?”
“If you’d rather walk . . . .” Jake slipped the car into drive.
“I could use the ride,” Jonah said, suddenly tired. He slid carefully into the passenger seat, then reached across himself to pull the door shut with his good arm. “I need to stop at my place on the way out.”
“My truck, tools, other supplies. I’m leaving, Jake, but I’m not quite ready to commit suicide yet.”
“You don’t think going back to your place is suicide?”
Jake actually looked worried, but Jonah just glared at him.
“What about Mitchell?” Jake insisted.
“Mitch Cafferty’s an idiot. But he’s an idiot with a grudge, so be careful.” Jonah figured Jake probably didn’t need the warning, but it wouldn’t hurt.
“I’m not the one he tried to kill and frame for murder,” Jake said, then off Jonah’s look, “I’ll be careful. You, too.”
Jonah nodded, traitorous heart skipping a beat at the very real concern in Jake’s voice.
The rest of the drive out to Jonah’s place was made in silence. Jake went quiet (he’d always had a tendency to think too much), and Jonah didn’t have anything to say. Nothing that would make a difference anyway.
Jake pulled up to Jonah’s place slowly, but there were no other vehicles in sight and no one came out to greet them with loaded guns. “Where is everyone?” Jake asked as he stopped the car and shifted into park.
“Probably off running loose like a pack of wild dogs,” Jonah said. “Mitchell’s just a pup with delusions of grandeur. There’s no way he could hold this group together; he doesn’t have the brains to control them.”
Jake glanced down at Jonah’s arm, then back up.
“I didn’t say he wasn’t rabid,” Jonah said. “Even idiots get lucky once.”
Despite his cavalier comments, Jonah stayed alert while they pulled the truck around and then went through his tool boxes. Jake watched as Jonah ran his hands over the air tools and hoses, then started sorting through the hand tools.
“What exactly are you looking for?”
“Anything that might prove useful in a post-apocalyptic world,” Jonah said as he emptied a small toolbox and began separating the tools into piles. Seeing what he was doing, Jake started on the large toolbox, leaving the impacts, taking the socket set, and then moving through each of the other drawers in turn. When they were done, they’d transferred the tools to three small toolboxes which Jake set in the bed of Jonah’s truck.
Jonah got out a crowbar and pulled away a section of paneling. Behind it was a stash of food and water along with a sleeping bag and several weapons. Jake bit his lip when he saw the guns, then helped Jonah load everything into the truck and cover it all with a tarp.
“You know, this wouldn’t all be necessary if you’d stuck to the damned deal,” Jake said, knuckles white where he gripped the tailgate.
“You mean Mitchell wouldn’t have gotten tired of being second dog and used the excuse of not being allowed to kill my daughter to attempt a coup?” Jonah countered.
Jake sighed. “I mean, without this last thing, this final straw, Gray might not be so set on having you leave town.”
“As I recall, he was set on killing me, but very graciously agreed to allow me to leave town even though he now knows I’m innocent of the crime he single-handedly convicted me of,” Jonah bit out.
“Innocent of killing Gracie, maybe, but Jesus, Jonah! He had enough to hold over your head without you giving him one more thing. I mean, this town needed you! Why the hell can’t you think of anyone but yourself, even now?”
“Hey!” Jonah said, coming around the truck and getting in Jake’s face. “You know damned well that I care about Emily.”
Jake took a deep breath, nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
Despite his better judgment, Jonah added, “And I care about you.”
Jake glanced at Jonah from under his lashes. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”
Jonah couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and squeezing Jake’s shoulder, then dragging him in for a one armed hug. “I know, kid.”
Jake resisted at first, then let himself be pulled against Jonah. He brought one arm up and softly pounded Jonah in the back with his closed fist as he pressed his forehead to Jonah’s shoulder. “Damn you, Jonah.”
“Ditto, kid.” Jonah pressed a kiss to the side of Jake’s head. “Listen, this isn’t forever, I’ll be back.”
Jake jerked his head up. “Jonah . . . .”
“One day the good people of Jericho are going to need me more than they hate me.”
Jake shook his head, but didn’t deny it. Jonah still had connections, after all.
For one moment Jake had once again been the young man, boy really, who had come to Jonah all those years ago, looking for someone to offer praise and tell him he wasn’t a screw up, and the next he was the grown man who still managed to stir Jonah’s blood and make him crazy at the same time.
Jonah was too old for this shit. Too much time had passed and they were both different people -- older, wiser, a little more worn around the edges -- and still . . . .
“Tell me something,” Jonah said, knowing as he did that it could blow up spectacularly, “you ever wonder why we’re like fire and gasoline, you and me?”
“Because you’re a lying, conniving, untrustworthy bastard?” was Jake’s immediate reply.
Jonah shrugged. “No, not because of that.”
He pulled back, slid his hand along Jake’s shoulder to the back of his neck, tipped his head back. Jake fell silent, looked back at him like a deer caught in the headlights as Jonah lowered his face to Jake’s, pressed their lips together. Jake stood frozen for two seconds, then he moaned and parted his lips as his arm tightened around Jonah’s back.
Jonah slipped his tongue between Jake’s lips, found Jake’s and tangled with it. He wished they had more time to explore this thing that had been bubbling under the surface since the day Jake Green had shown up at his garage, wished he wasn’t leaving Jericho, wished he’d done this a long time ago . . . wished a lot of things he could never have.
Jonah broke the kiss and stepped away from Jake, though it was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but it was the only way he knew he wouldn’t be tempted to kiss him again.
“Think about it,” he said, rubbing his thumb over Jake’s wet, swollen lips before he walked around the truck and opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll be seeing you, Jake,” he said with more calm than he actually felt.
Jonah got in the truck, started it, and drove away, leaving Jake standing there. All he could see in the rearview mirror was the outline of Jake’s body in the small pool of illumination the headlights of Jake’s car spilled, but in his mind he could still clearly see the dazed look in Jake’s eyes, the way he licked his lips when Jonah pulled away from him.
Jonah might be down -- injured, without a place to call home, or a crew -- but he wasn’t out. He’d promised Jake that he’d be back, and he meant to keep that promise. And maybe next time he saw Jake he’d make some of those wishes come true.