Chapter 1: Baby
Beck and Heather's relationship told through snapshots in time...
Warning: This fic has been scientifically proven to be so sweet it causes tooth decay in rats. Please - read at your own risk! :)
Written for the love_bingo challenge.
This was intended to be a series of unconnected one-shots. It...didn't turn out that way...*cough* However, while these are all connected, follow a timeline and form a "complete" story, I didn't make sure every beat/detail of the story was covered. There are gaps, and some of the parts...hmmmm...don't really "resolve" anything. That was deliberate and was done as an experiment. Hopefully it worked...
"Would you like to hold her?"
Beck looked at Mary, startled. He glanced at Eric, and to his surprise, Eric gave him a small smile and nodded.
Beck tenderly took the baby, Johanna, from her mother and cradled her carefully in the crook of his arm. The baby stared solemnly up at him, and he smiled at her, his usually stern expression softening as he gently stroked her cheek and allowed her to grasp his finger.
For a moment, Beck forgot he was in a room surrounded by the Green family and their friends; forgot about the devastated country outside the room; the pending second civil war, and the day-to-day struggle to survive and ensure his activities against the ASA escaped detection.
He forgot about his own lost family: a beautiful woman; a lovely child. He forgot about his guilt at his growing feelings for another beautiful woman who had stayed by his side when no one else would. Who'd believed in him and forced him to face the truth - whether he wanted to or not. Who'd never stopped believing he was a good man, trying to do the right thing.
For a moment, the only reality was the hope embodied in the tiny bundle he held in his arms.
He smiled again at the power in Johanna's grip, and settled her a bit more snugly in his arms.
"You're a natural," Mary said softly.
Beck didn't raise his eyes from the baby's face as he said, "I've had a lot of practice. My daughter's been missing since the Attacks. Along with her mother."
Everyone except Heather drew in a startled breath.
"I'm sorry," Mary said. "How old?"
"She'd just turned ten." Beck kept his eyes trained on Johanna's face and tried not to see another newborn baby's face superimposed on hers. She yawned widely but she didn't release her death grip on his finger. "I'm still looking for them. Hoping -" he sighed. He glanced up and met Heather's sympathetic eyes.
He quickly glanced back at Johanna, whose eyes were fluttering closed.
"This little one is ready for a nap," he said affectionately.
Mary received her baby back in her arms, and she and Eric looked at their baby with besotted eyes.
Beck looked at them with happiness mixed with a bit of envy and sadness. Almost against his will, his gaze darted to Heather. Their eyes met, and he felt a small burst of heat when he saw the look in her eyes mirrored his own. He felt a stab of longing, a desire for a future and a family of his own that he wasn't free to pursue. He glanced away quickly, hoping no one else had noticed the naked emotion visible on his face.
He couldn't - wouldn't - think of Heather in the context of a baby - of love. He wasn't free to give her the future she deserved; to make any promises to her.
He turned away.
Chapter 2: Baby
Beck didn't know when he started to look at Heather - to really look at her. He'd always thought she was quietly pretty, but she became beautiful without his conscious knowledge.
He watched her. Watched her give him her daily report, watched her working on that broken-down truck she called Charlotte, watched her dealing with his troops and the townspeople. He watched her sometimes when she didn't know he was there. Once he walked into Bailey's and saw her, surrounded by her friends. Emily was perfectly made up - of course - and Mimi was passionately making a point - of course - but Heather was laughing and all he could think was that no one should look that sexy drinking a beer.
He watched her just being herself and he found himself distracted...fascinated...
He tried to be circumspect about his feelings. Partly because he was all business, all the time; partly because he'd need to leave Jericho soon with no guarantee he'd be back - but mainly it was because he had a missing wife and child he was desperately trying to find, and who had first claim on his loyalty. He could make no promises to Heather, and she deserved so much more than what little he could offer her.
But he was only human.
Heather gave him friendship. Support. Saved his ass on more than one occasion - and handed it to him just as often. They fought about the big things - they fought about the small things. And while he always listened to her, sometimes he wondered what she'd do if he were to channel that fire and passion in a different, more pleasurable direction. He wondered what she'd do if he were to kiss her in the middle of one of their more intense arguments. Would she slap him? Run screaming for help? Quickly and efficiently break his arms?
But he never kissed her, never touched her, never crossed a line he couldn't re-cross, although some days his fingers itched to smooth over her brow, touch her lips, stroke her hair, and discover for themselves if her skin was as soft and smooth as it looked.
Each day he worked harder, and greedily took the friendship she offered.
And each night he dreamt of her skin.
Heather didn't know when she started to look at Beck - to really look at him. She'd always thought he was quietly attractive, but he became handsome without her conscious knowledge.
She watched him. Watched him receive reports, watched him give orders, watched him gear up for missions. She watched him sometimes when he didn't know she was there. On the shooting range, once, when he and Hawkins and Jake decided to have a little friendly competition. Hawkins won - of course - and Jake cheated - of course - and Beck hit his target in a tight circle on the chest, and even Hawkins was impressed. All Heather could think was that no man should look so sexy shooting a gun.
She watched him just being himself and she found herself distracted...fascinated...
Sometimes she looked at him, and her fingers itched to brush across the gray hair at his temples, stroke across the shadow of whiskers on his cheeks, trace the strong line of his jaw, to discover for themselves how his skin would feel against her own.
Sometimes she caught him looking at her, his eyes even darker than normal, burning her - and his eyes told her everything she wanted - or needed to know. But she was always conscious of his wife and daughter, out there somewhere waiting for him - and she'd turn away.
It was the only thing she could do.
Chapter 3: Seeing Other People
Heather didn't want to be in love - not like this.
But she couldn't help herself.
She tried. She accepted dates - even made a few herself. Some even went for more than one or two awkward evenings at Bailey's. Some eventually turned into friendships - but nothing romantic. Not even close. She couldn't help wishing for a different face across the table from her in Bailey's, wishing for a different voice telling her about his day, wanting to see warmth in a different pair of eyes. She couldn't help wanting to see a smile - a real smile - on a different face, and know she was the person who put it there.
She knew he wasn't doing it deliberately - she was almost sure, anyway. Because she'd start to think he was just a good friend, just a man she worked with, like so many others - and then she'd catch him...looking at her...
And yes, she felt twelve when she thought about it that way - but there was no other way to describe it.
He'd look at her, and she'd see...yearning, and vulnerability - that look of someone who can see what they want but it's just out of reach. A dream, a desire, and they're unable to attain it.
She'd see that look on his face and she would be struck dumb - feeling like an idiot, but knowing the attraction she felt was far from one-sided - that this pull she felt towards him was mutual.
No matter how many dates she went on, the feelings for him would always interfere - and so, she finally stopped seeing other people.
She only ever really saw him anyway.
Beck didn't want to stand in Heather's way. She was young. Beautiful. Loving. She deserved to find someone who could love her wholeheartedly, someone who didn't have the uncertainty of a missing family or the risk of being executed for treason hanging over their heads. Besides, he still loved his wife even though he hadn't been able to find anything out about her in almost a year. With everything that had happened since the Attacks, it felt like it had been ten years since he'd last seen Rosa.
He tried not to think of his daughter, his Madeleine, at all.
When Beck would hear that Heather had a date, he would think of Rosa, and look the other way. But he found he'd work even later than normal, and then he'd have to fight the temptation to go to Bailey's or Heather's house to check on her. To see if she was home alone.
Instead, he'd return to his tent on base. There he'd sit and brood, wondering if this man would be the one who could give her everything he could not. If this would finally be the man she'd look at like a child at a carnival, with wonder in her eyes...the way she looked at him.
And he'd feel angry at himself and guilty for feeling this way - but he couldn't help himself.
Chapter 4: Heavenly Love
Beck found her in the middle of the field, standing still, looking around her, breathing deeply. Beck walked up to her, his eyes scanning the terrain, looking for strategic points for defense, looking for areas of weakness. The flat, empty Kansas prairie was deceiving; it wasn't completely flat, and distances were difficult to judge. Any advantage would lie with the one who wasn't a stranger to the area.
"What do you see when you look at this?"
Beck blinked, startled, and met Heather's gaze. He looked away, scanning the horizon, and for a moment he could see two armies engaged in a bloody battle, with no high point, no camouflage, no strategic objective other than control of the roads in the area; with no way to win except to grind the other side into a bloody pulp beneath their feet. His nostrils flared at the imagined stench of blood and sweat and fear. His ears ached at the ghostly cacophony of gunfire and artillery rounds, at the screams of troops from both sides. He could feel the adrenaline, taste its metallic flavour on his tongue. He could see the carnage, the stillness of the battlefield, the dead and the dying.
He blinked the visions away.
"I see," he said carefully, "a very difficult place to defend."
Heather stared at him, then laughed. "No - I meant - " she stopped and cocked her head as she observed him.
"Where're you from, Beck?"
Beck frowned at her. "From?" he repeated stupidly.
"Yeah. You had to have grown up somewhere, right? You weren't born wearing a uniform, were you?" Her teasing smile took the sting away from her words.
Beck flushed a little. "Almost," he replied. "I was born in New York but my father was career army, like his father before him. I grew up all over - here, overseas. Why?"
"I was born and raised in New Bern. A geeky tomboy never quite fitting in that small Kansas town. I couldn't wait to get out and see the world. I ended up going to college in Denver. I moved to the mountains. I didn't get too far physically, but it was as different from New Bern as you could get. And I could never get comfortable.
"When I came to Jericho to teach, I felt...like I was expanding - like I could finally breathe. When I drove here, and could see the sky and the horizon again, this vast expanse of land and - and - and freedom. I felt comfortable in my own skin again, seeing the sky and the horizon - I felt like I had come home. It felt like heaven.
"You see a place difficult to defend; I see my home.
"We'll fight, Beck. We'll do whatever you need us to do to help you win the war that's coming. To hold this place against all enemies in your absence - to give you and your allies a safe place when you need it. You'll be leaving soon -"
She broke off and glanced away, blinking rapidly at the brilliant blue sky. She swallowed hard and continued. "This is our home, and we love it. We'll do whatever it takes."
Beck gave a short chuckle. "You've proven that already - several times over."
Heather chuckled and glanced away. "We'll do whatever it takes," she repeated softly.
Their eyes met, and he was taken aback at the bleak determination in her eyes. He looked at her with increasing respect, and a sudden desire to see the Kansas landscape the way she saw it. To feel connected to something other than bloodshed and battle plans and maneuvering to keep his growing base of allies hidden from the ASA until the time was right to strike. With the ASA incursion into the East, he was rapidly running out of time - and options.
He looked at Heather and saw a woman determined, a person standing her ground, a person prepared to sacrifice everything for a cause she believed in and to protect the home and people she loved.
"You'll help us, won't you?" she asked. "Before you - before you have to go?"
"Yes," he said without hesitation. "Of course I'll help you. But we don't have much time."
"I know," she said.
"The only advantage we have is the advantage of surprise. It's going to be hard work, especially to have you ready before I leave, and to do anything without someone noticing."
"If anyone can do it, it's you," Heather said, quietly confident.
Beck blinked at her, surprised. Then he a quirked a half-smile at her. "I'm not sure I deserve such faith, but...thank you."
"It's true," she replied, and for a moment she looked at him the way she'd looked at the landscape a few minutes before. Like she was filled with an almost transcendent love of and connection to him. He felt dizzy, as - in a split second - he could see their potential future: making love with the afternoon sun shining across their bed; girls with their mother's eyes and boys with their mother's smile. Passionate arguments, and healing laughter; peaceful, lazy Sunday afternoons, breakfasts and morning routines. Heather with gray in her hair and lines on her face, growing ever more beautiful in his eyes.
He blinked, and it was only Heather again with her faith in him shining in her eyes, blinding him.
He felt something give inside him, some resistance to her, his will power fracturing under the spell she wove around him without even realizing it. He felt himself falling a little more in love with her and wondered what she'd say if she knew.
He opened his mouth, then closed it again. No promises, he reminded himself.
Chapter 5: Love Will Find a Way
Beck frowned as Heather drove them out to the Richmond farm in the ridiculously rundown truck she called Charlotte.
"So, Stanley's having trouble with trespassers?" he asked, trying to understand the extent of the problem he'd been asked to address and wondering if he should have insisted on coming out here with a half-dozen troops.
"Maybe," Heather hedged, and Beck's frown deepened.
"You clearly said trespassers," he said slowly.
"I said Stanley suspected trespassers - but you know Stanley - and with the wedding this evening, well, he might just be panicking over nothing." She shrugged, but she didn't, he noticed, look him in the eye, and she seemed be biting back a smile.
"What are you up to?" he asked, torn between suspicion and amusement.
Beck's answering grunt was non-committal as Heather pulled into the farm yard. He watched as Mimi came carefully down the stairs, her stomach gently rounded with the baby she was carrying. Emily came out onto the porch and leaned against a pillar.
"Did you have any trouble Major-napping him?" Mimi called cheerfully as Beck and Heather got out of the truck.
"No trouble at all," Heather replied, equally cheerful, laughter clear in her voice. "I spun him a tale of trespassers and he stepped into Charlotte like a lamb to the slaughter."
"Truer words were never spoken when you're talking about Charlotte," Emily said as she came down the stairs to join them.
"All right - why am I here?" Beck demanded, putting on his best stern face, his arms crossed against his chest.
"We need help getting the farm ready for the wedding this evening," Mimi said.
"And Mimi decided - at the last minute, I might add -" Emily said with a pointed look at the unapologetic bride, "that she wanted a wedding arch."
"Lushly decorated with fall foliage," Heather reminded her, "and since Stanley's been banished for the duration -"
"Bad luck, you know," Mimi put in.
"And since Jake and Eric are busy keeping Stanley away from the farm," Emily continued, "when we realized we needed some help getting everything ready -"
"I thought of you," Heather finished with a triumphant grin.
Beck struggled to maintain his stern expression as he stared at the three women in front of him. He wondered if he'd be able to hold his own with them for the few hours it would take to help build and decorate the arch. Who was he kidding, he thought ruefully as a smile tugged at his lips, ruining his best Majorly-Pissed-Off-Major expression - just one of them could run circles around him with one arm tied behind her back. He didn't have a hope. He mock-sighed at the grins on their faces as he dropped his arms and started towards the house.
"Why didn't you just ask me?" he demanded.
"Well, where's the fun in that?" Heather replied and danced away, her face lit up with mischievous laughter.
Five hours later, Beck stood in the crowd and watched Stanley and Mimi become husband and wife, under the wedding arch he and Heather had built, and which the four of them had decorated. The wedding arch stood at the foot of the hill where Stanley's family was buried, so those who had gone before could bear silent witness to the couple's happiness, and to their commitment to each other and the future.
Beck watched the ceremony and marvelled at the people around him, and of the two standing under the arch in particular. He marvelled at the strength and resilience of the human spirit, and its capacity to persevere, to believe that, even against incredible odds, even in the face of unbelievable tragedy, love would find a way to triumph. He marvelled at Stanley and Mimi's strength as individuals and at the strength of their love and devotion for each other, at their resilience that kept them on the farm that had seen so much bloodshed.
Beck looked at the crowd and at Stanley and Mimi's friends standing up with them. Emily and Jake were the maid of honor and best man, with Eric and Mary as attendants. The six of them had found each other, had made commitments, just as had so many others in the crowd and back in Jericho. Countless others finding their partners, making commitments, and forging a future, even in the uncertain and dangerous world they faced, believing that, no matter how ephemeral it may be, loving and being loved was worth whatever price they had to pay.
If he was honest with himself, he more than marvelled at it - he envied it. He envied those who could make their choices with certainty and without guilt.
His gaze slid towards Heather, standing beside him with baby Johanna in her arms. Heather wore a brilliant blue dress that brought out her eyes with her hair framing her face in gentle waves. Beck's fingers itched to discover if her hair was as silky soft as it looked. Gail Green stood on the other side of Heather, wiping a surreptitious tear from her eye even as she grinned widely when Stanley dramatically dipped the bride for the traditional wedding kiss.
This was, Beck knew, a day out of time, and he felt honored to have been included. His eyes met Heather's and he smiled warmly at her as he decided that, for this one night, he wouldn't worry about tomorrow.
Chapter 6: Warm and Fuzzy
She'd had a little too much to drink, she admitted, but how often did they have a wedding to celebrate? They'd even danced. Thankfully, Beck was amused rather than angry and was taking her home right now, although even he was having trouble driving Charlotte. Her amusement at his expense probably didn't help.
She was happy, her mind fuzzy, and she wasn't thinking of the next day, or the danger of their activities being discovered by the ASA, or that Beck would soon leave Jericho, or the fact they could find his missing wife and child at any moment and then her heart would break even as she truly wanted him to be happy. She didn't think of any of these things or the thousands of other worries that weighed on her shoulders. Instead, she was enveloped in a warm, golden glow and all she wanted was to continue the light-hearted day and evening she'd spent with the man beside her.
"Let's get you inside," Beck said, amused, as he pulled up to her house.
"You, too," she said, then giggled a little as her mind took a sudden dive into the gutter.
"I'll get you safely settled," Beck told her with a slightly puzzled smile.
"Good. Settle with me?" she invited wistfully without fully realizing what she was suggesting.
"Probably not a good idea right now," Beck replied carefully.
"You have a long walk back to camp. It's cold outside."
"Probably do me good," he muttered ruefully.
The first thing Heather was aware of was the pounding in her head. The second thing was the fuzzy socks someone had placed on her teeth. The fuzzy, dirty socks, she amended sourly. She opened her eyes a narrow slit, saw that it was still dark outside and gratefully closed her eyes again. She began to gratefully slide back towards sleep. Then she realized she could hear someone moving around her kitchen...and heading towards her bedroom.
She heard the door open quietly. She groaned and buried her face under her blankets as sharp, blinding light spilled in from the hallway.
She thought she heard a familiar soft chuckle, but she was too miserable to care. The soft clink of a glass on her bedside table beside her head made her frown slightly, but not enough to make her open her eyes. Gentle fingers brushed lightly through her hair, before he walked away. She thankfully fell back to sleep as the door eased closed.
The second time she awoke, she felt better, although the socks on her teeth had, if anything, gotten dirtier and fuzzier. She sat up slowly, and noticed the glass of water and aspirin sitting on her bedside dresser. She frowned, and then she flushed, as she remembered Beck driving her home - and tucking her carefully into bed as he struggled to keep his laughter to a minimum.
She was warm with embarrassment, but she took the aspirin and drank the water with mortified gratitude.
When she finally shuffled out to the kitchen, she felt slightly more human - after a long, hot shower and about a ton of toothpaste later, she conceded ruefully.
She paused at the handwritten note on her fridge, written in Beck's hard scrawl.
Coffee's ready, just turn it on. Orange juice is in the fridge; more aspirin in the bathroom. I'll check on you when I get off duty. Thanks for a memorable day and evening.
Heather blushed again, but she couldn't help the grin that spread across her face, or the affection that warmed her from the inside out. The level of care he'd shown her had been missing from her life for far too long. She grinned as she turned on the coffee pot and poured herself a glass of juice. She wondered if he'd stay for supper if she asked him.
Chapter 7: Dalliance
In the three weeks after Stanley and Mimi's wedding, Beck and Heather's relationship took on a pattern.
Beck's officers knew he'd be at Heather's house for supper each evening and back at camp at exactly 20:00 hours. They knew he'd spent the last three Saturday afternoons at the garage she'd set up, helping her work on whichever vehicle she had in the shop that day. Usually Charlotte. The last three Sundays had been spent at the Greens, where Gail welcomed everyone, including the Richmonds, the Hawkins, and Heather, and whatever guests they chose to bring for Sunday dinner.
Every now and then, the Major and Heather would make an appearance at Bailey's. Sometimes they met up with Heather's friends who were gradually becoming the Major's friends as well. Sometimes they met up with the Major's colleagues - usually one of the Majors who'd joined Beck's coalition and who had come to Jericho for one reason or another; occasionally one or more of Beck's officers. Usually, though, they went to Bailey's on their own to share a supper that one or the other of them hadn't cooked.
Major Beck, to the secret delight of his officers and not a few of his enlisted men, was building a life for himself.
It was still platonic - but everyone knew it was only the Major's and Heather's over-developed, strong senses of honor that kept it that way. their deeply held belief that marriage vows were not to be broken lightly, even if one spouse had been missing for a year. No one thought for a moment, though, that this was a casual dalliance for the Major, or even a rebound relationship. Besides the fact he wasn't the kind of man to easily break his wedding vows, he also wasn't the kind of man to have casual flings with pretty women, not even on the rebound. Even more than that: there was no mistaking the connection between the Major and Heather - it was almost alive - something almost tangible that those watching wished they could reach out and touch.
Everyone watching them was happy about the relationship. If nothing else, it meant the Major smiled once in awhile. His officers sometimes felt like approving maiden aunts, and gossiped among themselves in much the same way. They were all happy for the Major; he'd been sad for too long, grieving for his missing family. Not that his growing closeness to Heather prevented him from continuing to regularly check with his contacts for any news of his wife and daughter. His growing closeness to Heather and the happiness she brought him didn't diminish his love for his missing family or his need to find out what had happened to them. As the days passed, though, the possibility that his family would be found alive grew ever slimmer, especially since there'd been - as far as anyone could tell - no attempts by Rosa to contact him.
He'd been grieving for a year; he would grieve even more as the years passed. But his officers believed that, given enough time, the Major and Heather could make a good life together.
Three weeks and one day after the Richmond wedding, Major Beck was ordered to head east.
They were at war.
Chapter 8: Saying Good-bye
The orders Beck had been expecting and dreading had finally come in. They were leaving Kansas behind and were heading towards Columbus - part of the ASA offensive to take the east.
Despite the fact he had no intention of fighting for the ASA, he had to obey orders. He and his coalition had decided the best time to make their move was when they crossed the Mississippi in order to seize their earliest opportunity to swell Columbus' ranks. Their only other option was to make their play here, in the heart of ASA territory, surrounded on all sides with no secure supply routes - and nobody in the east knowing they were here. In the end, Beck admitted grimly, he'd failed. His coalition simply didn't have the strength to attack from within the west.
But now the time of waiting was over, and he was relieved.
Except it meant leaving Kansas. It meant leaving Jericho virtually undefended.
It meant leaving Heather.
He knew that shouldn't be a factor for him. In spite of his feelings for her; in spite of their close friendship; in spite of the fact that they'd never said a word about it, they'd both understood he had nothing to offer her. That there was nothing he could offer her.
And now he had to leave her - leave her, for all intents and purposes, alone and unprotected. Would he lose her, too? Would she disappear, like the others? But he couldn't take her with him - and he had no right to ask her to follow him into danger or to ask her to wait for him. He was still, as far as he (officially) knew, a married man. He was going to war by betraying the country he currently served. The price if he failed was death. There were too many reasons why he couldn't promise her anything; why he couldn't ask her for anything.
So he stood in his office, and he told her the news.
He told her good-bye.
He didn't tell her he loved her - but he was afraid his eyes told her for him.
Heather heard his words, and listened to the things he didn't say.
She knew all the reasons why he said good-bye so coolly, why he almost, but not quite, touched her. Why he leaned closer and then moved away.
They were both good people, trying to do the right thing, with the ghost of a woman hovering between them and the ghost of a child hovering over them.
Heather paced her house, struggling with her conscience, struggling with his. Struggling with the possibility there was no future for them -
Or for him.
She stopped in her tracks and blinked at the thought. Then she headed out the door.
Absolutely no one at base camp was surprised to see her.
When the lieutenant opened the door and ushered her in to Beck's tent, the only one who looked surprised was Beck. The captains quickly glanced between the two of them, and then took their leave. The last one gave Heather a smile as he walked past, and she heard the snick of the lock before he pulled the door closed.
She was dimly aware that the word would be spread; that they would be given all the privacy they needed tonight. She knew she'd probably be embarrassed about it tomorrow, but tonight, she simply didn't care.
Heather stood, her hands twisting together, and she stared at him, her eyes wide and pleading, afraid he'd tell her to go. He stared back, impassive, his surprise gone or hidden, his arms crossed tight against his chest. Then he dropped his arms to his sides and his expression changed, softened, and she let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. He walked towards her.
He reached out one hand and gently ran his fingertips over her brow, down her cheek and across her lips. She sighed at the light scrape of his callouses against her skin. He brushed his thumb lightly against her lips, and she tentatively pressed a kiss against it. She was rewarded with his sharp intake of breath and suddenly burning eyes.
He blinked, glanced around, then he walked to his desk and turned down the lamp so the room was in semi-darkness. When he returned to her, he gently laced slightly shaking hands into her hair as he lowered his mouth to hers.
It was much later, as they lay entangled on his cot, that Heather realized neither one of them had spoken a word.
They made love again in the depth of the night, Heather swimming up through layers of sleep to discover skillful hands coaxing her awake, coaxing her to levels of arousal she hadn't known she could reach.
At 04:30, Beck's phone buzzed. Heather groaned softly as he rolled from the cot and walked, naked, to the desk to answer it. She watched him speak briefly, then turn to look at her as he hung up the phone and walked back to her, unself-consciously confident in his nudity.
He crouched beside the cot, meeting her wide, sad blue eyes.
"I'll take you home," he said softly, regretfully. "We leave at 06:00."
She nodded, unable to speak around the lump in her throat.
She sat up, tousled and tired, with a pleasant ache in muscles she hadn't used for far too long, and an unpleasant ache in her heart she knew wouldn't ease until she saw him again.
Beck walked her to her door and they hesitated in the pre-dawn light.
"I don't know when or if I'll be able to get in touch with you," he said finally. "But I'll call and write whenever I can."
Heather nodded, blinking back tears. She appreciated the offer even though she knew it would be almost impossible for him to do either.
"I can't -" he stopped, then squared his shoulders. "No promises," he said quietly.
Heather nodded again. "No promises," she agreed softly, her voice choked with tears.
He abruptly pulled her against him, kissing her hard, passionately, thoroughly. She clung to him, kissing him back, branding his taste, his skin, his texture, his essence into her memory.
When the kiss ended, they fiercely held on to each other, before taking deep breaths and resolutely pulling away.
He gave her a half-smile, then he turned, and bounded down her front steps, back to the humvee.
He didn't look back.
She didn't go into her house until he'd turned the corner and disappeared from sight.
Chapter 9: The Love of My Life
Warning: Non-explicit depiction of violence and implied torture.
Days turned into weeks, and rumors began to filter back to Jericho about events in the east. Beck and his allies had defected within days of crossing the Mississippi. As time went on, the ASA propaganda machine began to specifically target Beck as the ringleader of the defectors, a traitor, and the face of the enemy. It wasn't long before Major Edward Beck was the ASA's Public Enemy Number One.
While the ASA-controlled media never admitted to losing battles, the rumors filtering through the black market trading network told a different story. Those rumors told them Beck's coalition was giving strength to Columbus' war effort, although at the moment, that simply meant that Columbus was holding its ground against the ASA advance.
Heather, Hawkins and Jake knew that if Beck continued to be this effective, then it was only a matter of time before the ASA decided to find ways to strike at Beck personally - to distract and demoralize him. Perhaps through his wife and daughter, if they could be found.
Or perhaps through Heather, if they found out about her.
The lead interrogator - Reyes? Hayes? - pulled up a chair and sat too close to her.
"I understand," he purred close to her ear, his voice insiduous and oily, "that you and Major Beck became quite...close." He made the word sound dirty somehow, Heather thought through a haze of pain.
Reyes? Hayes? reached out and lifted her chin. She blinked, seeing two of him through her swollen eyes. Perhaps there were two, she thought dazedly, trying not to hear the part of her mind gibbering in panic and pain and begging her to tell him anything he wanted to know.
"I can't really see it myself," he continued, his voice too soothing, too reasonable, for what was happening. "His wife is...stunning. Really, no comparison. But, I suppose, any port in a storm."
Heather focused on only one word. "Is?" she whispered through her bruised and cut lips.
"Oh, yes. Alive and well - doing much better than you, in fact. But then, she's far stronger than you, you know. A survivor in all senses of the word."
"You're a liar," she said. Her voice was thick and slurred as she tried to form words with a mouth that couldn't move normally. "You don't have her."
The lead interrogator's face hardened, his eyes flat and deadly. "You and Beck were lovers. Tell me everything you know about him."
"I don't know anything," she said. "He's the love of my life, yes, but we were never lovers."
The blow took her by surprise, even though it shouldn't have. It resplit her lip, the coppery taste of blood filling her mouth. The shock and the fresh pain made her head spin and tears spring to her eyes.
"Now who's the liar?" he sneered. "Tell me everything you know."
"I don't know what you want from me," she sobbed. It wasn't difficult to let her tears flow. She was battered and bruised, her face swollen from the blows they'd given her during and since her "arrest". Now she was bound to this chair, her arms tied so tightly behind her, her shoulders were screaming in agony while her hands were numb, her fingers thick and clumsy.
Even as she sobbed she was again looking around the room, assessing the cameras, recognizing the two-way mirror. They'd send footage of this to him, she thought with a stab of despair, even as she tried to remember everything Hawkins had told her about plastic wrist ties, and interrogation techniques. Tried to remember all the things they'd talked about and all the training they'd done in preparation for just this event. They were never supposed to be able to take her in the first place; now she had to stay alive long enough for Jake and Hawkins to find her, or for her to seize an opportunity to escape. She was thankful they hadn't found the thin blades hidden in the seams of her jeans or the thin wires hidden in the seams of her shirt. If they'd leave her alone - and if her fingers would work - she might be able to cut her way through the plastic bands around her wrists. She doubted she'd have a chance of escape, but when their interrogation methods turned to sexual assault - as she was positive they would - she wanted to be able to defend herself for as long as she could.
Heather took grim satisfaction from the fact that her assailants were also bruised and battered. Beck would be horrified - and yet reluctantly proud of her. Hawkins - she could hear Hawkins whispering in her ear even now to stay calm, stay focused, to ride the pain and to do all she could to position herself to strike
She started as she realized her interrogator had asked her a question. She blinked at him.
"What?" she muttered.
"Tell me about his friends. Tell me about his enemies."
Heather stared at him through eyes that were almost swollen shut. "I'm his only friend," she said. "Jake Green is his worst enemy."
Reyes? Hayes? leaned back, and smiled with unpleasant satisfaction. "Tell me more," he purred.
As she began to speak, she almost felt sorry for the bastard.
Chapter 10: Indecent Proposal
Hawkins walked out of the cabin to meet Jake as he pulled into the yard. Hawkins became even more alert when Jake pulled back the tarp in the back of the truck and revealed the bound, gagged and blindfolded man underneath.
"Please tell me you didn't drive straight here," Hawkins sighed, winking at Jake.
"Better believe it," Jake replied with a wink of his own. "Got a place we can keep him while we talk?"
Hawkins simply nodded. He helped Jake walk the prisoner to a corner of the property where there was the abandoned cellar of a long-vanished old house.
"How deep is that?" Jake asked, feigning concern.
"Twenty - thirty feet," Hawkins lied, nonchalant.
"Probably won't kill him then?"
"No. Might break a few bones, though."
"That I can live with," Jake said and shoved his prisoner into the hole that was no more than six feet deep. The man grunted in surprise before relaxing in relief.
"Here," Hawkins said, and they covered the opening with boards and brush.
They didn't speak another word until they reached the cabin. Hawkins then sent Allison and Sam into town and sent Darcy to guard the prisoner. Jake told Darcy to make sure she shot to wound the prisoner; they needed him alive.
"Now," Hawkins said, "what's going on?"
Jake looked up as the five men walked into the sheriff's office like they owned it. He assessed them quickly. They weren't regular military - a chill went down his spine as he recognized Ravenwood men.
The obvious leader glanced around and then headed to the front desk. Asking for him, Jake assumed sourly.
Jimmy was on duty at the front desk, and Jake watched as Jimmy left the Ravenwood men to Bill's watchful eyes - and the eye of every other Ranger in the sheriff's office. He saw the subtle signals as the Rangers casually rearranged themselves to surround the newcomers and to effectively cut off the men's retreat, if it became necessary.
Jake made a show of listening to Jimmy then he walked out of his office, deliberately ignoring Heather's empty desk.
They'd discovered her missing the night before, when she'd failed to show up at the Green house for supper. Her house had shown signs of struggle - and from what they could tell, Heather had made them work to take her. The two men sporting bruised faces were, Jake suspected, further proof that she hadn't gone down without a fight.
He only hoped she was still alive.
"Jake Green?" the leader said, faint surprise in his voice as he took in Jake's scruffy face, jeans, t-shirt and hoodie.
"Yeah," Jake replied.
"Sheriff Jake Green?"
"Yeah," Jake said again and lifted his shirt to show the badge on his belt. "New uniform. Trying to break it in."
The man smiled faintly.
"Is there some place we can talk?"
"I'm afraid you have the advantage of me," Jake said. "You are -?"
"Gil Hayes. Ravenwood."
"All right, Mr. Hayes. What's this about?"
Hayes glanced around and Jake knew the moment Hayes realized he and his men were boxed in.
"I could ask you the same question," Hayes said coolly, his eyes angry, flat and deadly.
"One of my employees disappeared last night," Jake said calmly. "Her home showed signs of struggle. We're a little on edge."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Maybe nothing. But it's been a tough year - and we've dealt with Ravenwood before. We don't take chances anymore. Now - what do you need from me?"
Hayes smiled a thin, humorless smile. "It so happens, I believe I can help you with your mystery. Heather Lisinski?"
Jake felt the blood drain from his face. In spite of the evidence, he'd hoped -
"Yes?" he asked, admirably calm. He thought his father would have been proud. Surprised - but proud.
"She's under arrest for treason. She and Major Beck were - apparently - quite...close."
Jake's skin crawled as Hayes made it sound like something dirty.
"So?" Jake demanded.
"So, I'd hoped to use her against Major Beck, perhaps convince him to surrender to the ASA to save her life. Apparently, however, the rumors of the depth of their relationship have been grossly exaggerated. I've found no one who can tell me if Major Beck considered her anything except a distant friend at best - or a useful piece of ass at worst."
"Hmmmm," Jake grunted, fighting the urge to smash his fist into the man's leering face. "Why do you think she's a traitor then?"
"Don't be naive, Sheriff. Regardless of their personal feelings, she was his civilian liaison. She must have known what he was doing - and she most likely helped him to accomplish it. We'll put her on trial and if nothing else, her fate will shake Beck's self-confidence. But that's not why I'm here. Ms Lisinski is in my custody and that's where she'll stay until I've delivered her to Cheyenne. My focus is still on demoralizing Edward Beck. If I can't get to him through love, perhaps I can get to him through hate."
"I'm not sure I follow."
"I've heard about what Beck did to do you during that unfortunate Goetz situation. I've also heard you have no particular loyalty to him."
"Somebody has a big mouth," Jake murmured.
Hayes smiled a thin, unpleasant smile. "You can't really blame her. She was a bit...stressed at the time."
Jake swallowed hard, and was thankful his Rangers were now so well trained that they were still waiting for his signal as opposed to simply opening fire on the bastards standing in front of him.
"So, I have a proposal for you," Hayes continued. "Tell me everything you know about Beck - his allies, his tactics, his weaknesses - how he got his information; how he managed to convince a dozen other garrisons to join him."
Jake waited, then raised an eyebrow in question. Hayes simply stared at him, that mocking smile still on his lips.
"And what do I get out of it?" Jake finally asked.
"The gratitude of a nation," Hayes purred. "And we'll let you keep your lovely little town intact." He glanced around contemptuously at the Rangers who surrounded him and his men. "And we'll forget that you even thought to threaten us. In other words, we won't report this...inhospitable behavior to J&R."
Jake smiled at Hayes. "Well, I appreciate the offer, especially your willingness to overlook our inhospitable behavior. But don't be so hasty to make those kinds of promises. You ain't seen nothin' yet!"
He gave the Rangers the signal, and Hayes and his men were disarmed before they could make a move. Hayes was bound, gagged and blindfolded, and tossed into Jake's truck while the rest of his men were locked up in the jail.
Hawkins stared steadily at Jake.
"So you've brought him here - why?"
"To find out where Heather is," Jake replied.
"If he hasn't killed her already."
"She's not dead. He needed her alive to get to Beck. And they want to be able to put her on public trial - which will serve two purposes: a warning to the rest of the people in the ASA, and drive Beck crazy with the thought that they're going to execute her for his treason. Come on, Hawkins. You've trained her for this. More than that. She'll be waiting for us."
Hawkins smiled grimly. "She won't be waiting for us, Jake. But she will need our help." He stood, his eyes dark and distant. "Let's go have a talk with Mr. Hayes; we have a proposal of our own."
In the end, Hayes talked. They always talked by the time Hawkins was done with them.
"I'm glad you're on my side," Jake said as they drove into Jericho to get the Rangers to help them bring Heather back.
Hawkins only smiled.
Chapter 11: Birthdays and Anniversaries
Heather slowly healed. As these things went, she told Emily, she'd got off lightly. They hadn't permanently scarred her physically; they'd never progressed to sexual assault, and if she sometimes still woke shaking and sweating from nightmares, well, that was only to be expected.
Just a few more to add to the list, really, she thought ruefully.
As the five-month anniversary of Beck's departure got closer with still no word from him directly, she wondered what was truly happening in the east.
In the meantime, they were busy fighting a war of their own. So far no one in Cheyenne had connected Hayes' death with anyone in Jericho. An accident, a burned body, and the rest of his men smuggled across the border into Mexico - or so Hawkins told her and she chose to believe him - they'd at least managed to avoid any direct retaliation against Jericho.
But they were busy. They continued to replenish their arms and, with other towns who were determined to resist the ASA, they carefully planned, with steadily increasing frequency, guerrilla attacks against ASA convoys. They'd been sharing the truth, and more and more towns were starting to follow Jericho's lead. The coalition Beck had begun with his military colleagues was now beginning to spread to the civilians they'd once protected.
Jake and Hawkins and their allies were careful to ensure the locations of the guerrilla attacks were seldom in the same location twice, or used the same tactics each time. J&R and Ravenwood weren't stupid, though. They could almost feel the net of suspicion tightening around them - with Jericho directly in the centre.
In a half-hearted attempt to remember what "normal" was, Heather kept reminding herself that her birthday was also coming up. She doubted she'd celebrate it in any way although she couldn't help but hope that, through some coincidence of timing, she might hear from Beck - a note, a phone call; a rumor that was more personal than the propaganda that painted him as some larger-than-life enemy of the state, or the rumors that saw him more as a symbol than as a man.
She healed, she worked, she worried, and she hoped for the best. From a far more practical and pragmatic point of view, she helped Mimi doctor reports to J&R so they got a few extra supplies. She helped build generators and air filtration devices as the salt mine workers expanded the mine so Jericho's people would have a place to hide. She helped Hawkins plan, build and stock other, less obvious, places of refuge. She helped doctor documents so the troops Beck had left behind without the ASA's knowledge appeared to have been citizens for years, if not decades.
She'd made a promise to Beck, months ago, that they would hold Jericho as a safe haven within the ASA. That they would defend Jericho in his absence, and hold it as a place of refuge for him and his troops.
She'd promised him they would not go down without a fight, and she was going to do whatever she had to do to keep her promise.
The five-month anniversary came and went, and time marched towards her birthday - and six months since he'd left.
On the morning of her birthday, Dale came to her door, carrying a dirty and worn package. He handed it to her with a slight smile. He told her they'd picked it up weeks ago, with strict orders to deliver it on this day. Heather frowned, puzzled, then her face lit up as realization dawned.
She thanked Dale with a radiant smile, took the package into her livingroom and sat with it on her lap, unable to stop grinning.
She slowly opened the present, savoring the moment, and found a white t-shirt and a note, written in Beck's hard scrawl
It's your birthday and I literally have nothing to give you but the shirt off my back. I hope you're safe and happy. Please know you're never far from my thoughts.
Heather thought her grin was going to split her face in two, as she hugged the shirt to her.
She slept in it every night. Somehow, it made the nightmares easier to bear.
Chapter 12: I Just Called to Say I Love You
Heather was hard at work, bent over Charlotte's engine, when there was a knock at the entrance to her garage. She glanced up, startled, to see a fresh-faced young man standing in door. It was one of the soldiers, a corporal, Beck had left behind over six months ago. The young man was carrying a cell phone.
For a moment, Heather's stomach dropped to her knees - but she forced herself to relax when she realized the corporal looked nervous, but not worried.
"Ms Lisinski? The Major would like to speak to you when you're available."
Heather gaped at him. "The Major?" she repeated blankly, her mind racing, wondering if it was Major Velazquez, who'd inspected Jericho last week with a suspicious frown and cynical eyes.
"Yes, ma'am." The young man glanced around, then came closer and lowered his voice. "Major Beck, ma'am."
Heather's jaw dropped even more and she took a step towards the corporal before she stopped herself. She didn't want to scare the man by tackling him to the ground to wrest the phone away from him. Her eyes were riveted on the phone as she reached for a rag to clean her shaking hands. Her blood roared in her ears and she took a deep breath before saying, with a shaky smile, "Is he on hold?"
"No, ma'am. I'm to call him when you're ready."
"I'm ready now," she said and now her stomach was full of butterflies. They hadn't spoken since he'd left, although Dale had delivered a letter to her last week. It had been written a month after he'd gone east and it showed signs of rough handling and hard travel. She wondered how many more were out there, trying to find their way to her. She realized that having her birthday gift get to her on time was a minor miracle.
Heather took the phone from the corporal, and closed her eyes when she heard Beck say her name in that special, low tone he seemed to reserve only for her and which she hadn't heard for so long. She was vaguely aware of the corporal fading away.
They spoke about nothing - he asked her what she was doing - she asked him how he was. She knew better than to ask where he was or what he was doing - he wouldn't be able to tell her anyway. She told him she'd received his present and one of his letters. He told her he'd tried to write to her each week. She told him it had been too dangerous to write to him, even in the black market, there were those who believed him to be a traitor and would have denounced anyone trying to send a message to him. He told her he hadn't expected her to get word to him.
She didn't tell him about Hayes.
He didn't tell her any specifics about what he'd been doing.
Neither one said they loved the other. Their voices said it for them.
All too quickly, Heather sensed time was running out.
"Is everything all right?" she finally asked cautiously.
"Yes," he said softly, "everything's fine."
"You sound -"
"Everything's fine," he repeated.
Heather sighed, and knew that whatever was going on, he wasn't at liberty to say. "I wish you were here," she said softly.
"Me, too. I'm sorry - I have to go. I just...I just wanted to hear your voice. And..."
"And?" she prompted afer a long moment of silence.
"And...to tell you that I'm thinking of you."
Heather swallowed the sudden rush of tears. She knew why he'd called, why he sounded the way he did. Her stomach once more knotted in fear.
But all she said was, "I - I'm thinking of you, too. Please be careful."
They couldn't make themselves say the word good-bye; instead they promised to see each other soon and disconnected the call.
Two days later, rumors began about the last-ditch offensive Columbus was launching against the ASA - the offensive everyone knew would end the war.
One way or the other.
Chapter 13: Keeping the Spark Alive
Days passed at a crawl. Turned into weeks that seemed endless.
All communications abruptly ended. The TVs lost their signals; cell phones stopped working. The ASA soldiers still in the area abruptly departed, and Heather wondered if they, too, had left women and men like her behind: desperately in love and not knowing when or if their lovers would return.
Dale's crew continued to bring back rumors, each one more frightening and devastating than the last. Rumors of deadly bombardments, entire cities blown off the map, conventional warfare of an unprecedented level with rumors of a nuclear strike or two. No one knew for sure - only that there were no more supplies, no more power, no more information. It was eerily similar to the immediate aftermath of the September Attacks - only this time they were better prepared.
It was probably inevitable that everyone in Jericho, and the towns and cities who had allied with them, looked to Jake and Hawkins for answers. It was definitely inevitable that they would go and find them.
Heather wanted to know what had happened in the east and in Cheyenne, but more than anything else she hoped they'd be back with news about Beck - and that the news would be good. She refused to give up the spark of hope in her heart, not until she had no choice but accept that he was dead.
So she tried to keep her focus narrow now: day-to-day survival, Jericho's security, and the sense of comfort wearing Beck's t-shirt at night gave her. To think about the magnitude of what might have happened again made her mind quiver, like an over-stretched rubber band. It was why sending these men to search for answers was so important.
The truth would be devastating, but it would still be better than the uncertainty they were living with now.
Heather stood with the Greens, and the Hawkins, and Mimi as they watched Jake and Hawkins, Eric and Stanley load up a humvee to head east. No one was happy with their decision to head into the heart of the storm to get the answers Jericho and the entire area desperately needed. No one was surprised, either. Heather didn't ask for details, but she assumed no one had seriously tried to convince them that they shouldn't go. The need for information was stronger than than the need to keep them here.
Jericho had the Rangers now, and the troops Beck had left behind and Heather had helped to hide from the eyes of the ASA, as well as the many hidey-holes they'd built in case of attack. They also had a stockpile of supplies and ammunition, with many people actively looking for more. Dale's connections to the black market were strong and reached into almost all corners of the west, with secondary networks into the east.
Jericho would be safe - or as safe as could be expected - until this small expedition Jake was leading could return.
Heather stood apart as the families said good-bye, and she turned to hide her tears as Stanley gently kissed his baby boy good-bye before kissing Mimi.
And then they were gone.
Chapter 14: Cherish
Heather was startled by the knock on her door. It was after dark, and if anyone was at her door at this hour, it meant there was an emergency of some kind.
She threw on her thick terry cloth robe as she hurried to the door, the floor cold against her bare feet. She flung open the door and gaped when she recognized the man standing on her doorstep.
They stared at each other in silence, but Heather's face showed it all - her shock, her amazement, her relief, and sheer joy. She stepped back to let him in, tears in her eyes, her knees weak.
Beck came into her tiny foyer, closing the door behind him. He was swaying with exhaustion, his face drawn and worn, his dark eyes sunken. There were new lines in his face, more gray hair at his temples. He'd lost more weight than could possibly be healthy for him, his uniform hanging loose on his frame. His cheeks were sunken, the bones of his face so sharp they almost seemed they were about to cut through his skin.
Heather thought he'd never looked more beautiful.
She stared at him greedily, taking in every new line on his face, every new gray hair at his temples. She noted the new, white scar over his left eyebrow and she wondered how many close calls he'd had, how many new scars he carried - how many scars he carried that weren't visible, much like the scars she carried. She wondered about all the things he'd seen and all the things he'd done.
The one thing she saw hadn't changed was the stark vulnerability in his eyes, mixed with the child-like wonder that had always been there when he looked at her. No one had ever looked at her that way before, and she thought if he could still look at her that way after...everything, then there was hope for the future after all.
These thoughts spun through her mind as she stepped forward and took him into her arms. She held him tight, her ear pressed against his chest, listening to his heart beat, his arms closed securely around her. He was almost painfully thin, his bones sharp against her hands, and he was shaking in her arms from more than just emotion. He smelled of dust and sweat, like a man who'd been too long on his feet and too long on the road.
She pulled back far enough to kiss him, and their kisses tasted of happiness and mingled tears. A distant part of Heather's mind knew she'd cherish the memory of this moment forever, cherish the memory of the day he came back to her.
She pulled away and with a smile, she led him to the bedroom where she helped him undress. She bit her lip when she saw how much weight he'd lost, and she paused when she saw the still-healing wounds on his lower left side and thigh. She touched the puckered scars gently and blinked the tears from her eyes as she tenderly settled him into bed. She kissed him again, then she also quickly undressed and crawled in beside him.
They curled into each other, and as he drifted off to sleep, Heather realized -
They hadn't said a single word.
Chapter 15: Candlelit Dinner
"You know, this used to be considered romantic."
Emily frowned at Heather's comment, then she looked around the dining room at the candles set out on the table and started to laugh. "Yeah, it did. Now it's more out of necessity than romance."
"Well, the power supply's usually pretty stable - if the population would stop increasing, that would help."
"Hey, we're the place to be now. If someone had told me three years ago that Jericho would be the centre of the country -" Emily shook her head.
"Jericho is the country," Heather said, "especially now the President's arrived on our doorstep two days ago. And if she stays, then that's only the beginning. I'm not sure our power supply can keep up - and when it comes to food -"
Emily walked over to her and put her hands on her shoulders. "You worry too much. Now, try to relax, and think of the fact that - tonight - these candles are for romantic purposes, and you're going to have your first official date with Beck."
"I know. A date - now I'm really worried. I mean, what if we have nothing to talk about?"
Emily laughed. "Heather, I love you like a sister - I really do. But you're an idiot sometimes. You'll have something to talk about - and if you don't - well..." she walked to the door. "Then just kiss the man and let nature do the talking for you."
Emily winked at her, and left the house, laughing at her blush.
Beck was looking forward to tonight. All he'd been able to do yesterday was eat and sleep, and hold her and kiss her. She'd carefully explored his scarred and emaciated body this morning in the shower but that hadn't been about sex. In fact, they hadn't made love at all since his return.
No, this morning in the shower had been about comfort and caring, warmth and healing. The promise that he was home now, and as safe as she could make him. Her hands had soothed his soul even more than they had soothed his body.
She'd washed him, then she'd fed him - again - and then she'd taken him to see the President, and kissed him good-bye.
Now she was feeding him again, the candles she used to conserve power casting a soft, shimmering light over everything. He found himself thinking about the food on the table, the water they'd used this morning, the resources they'd need for him and his men, the President's security detail and the refugees who would soon follow. Could Jericho sustain itself now that they had brought the east - what was left of it - to their doorstep?
"Beck?" Heather said softly, her eyes luminous in the candlelight.
He blinked and then smiled wryly, shamefaced. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not being very good company."
"You're still exhausted - and underfed," Heather said, "and you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. And you're worrying." She got up and came around the table. With a smile and shining eyes, she held out her hand. He put his hand in hers and she pulled him to his feet.
"Tomorrow, all your worries will still be there, and I'll help you all you can. For tonight, though - just for tonight - nothing exists outside this house. Okay?"
He smiled at her and nodded.
"Now, Emily gave me some good advice earlier - and I think I'm going to follow it," she said - and kissed him.
Chapter 16: Making Love
Heather sometimes wondered what it was about her that drove Beck so crazy with passion. She - as she'd once told Jake, long ago - wasn't dangerous. She was flannel pajamas, crossword puzzles and the occasional lite beer.
And yet Beck made love to her like she was the most exciting woman on the planet, often leaving her stunned and breathless and overwhelmed by it all. His intensity frightened her sometimes, even as it called to her like some drug she desperately needed.
She wondered sometimes when he'd realize she was nothing special - just plain little Heather Lisinski - tomboy, geek - ordinary. But it had been six months since he'd returned to Jericho. Six months since he'd walked into her house looking worn to the bone, swaying with exhaustion, and the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen. Six months in which they'd started buliding a life together.
Sometimes they made love like they'd been starving, sex was food and somebody was going to take it away from them at any moment. Which, she thought ruefully, wasn't that far off from the truth. Between the rebuilding efforts, the President taking up residence in Jericho with Beck as one of her closest advisors, and the UN presence, they both had a lot of demands on their time, with either one of them yanked out of Jericho at any moment. It made each night they spent together all that more precious. Perhaps that was part of what fueled their passion for each other.
Other times, they made love like they were suspended in time, slowly, sensuously, for what seemed like hours on end. Those were the days when the demands of the outside world were parked securely outside the door; when they would deliberately carve out time to be together. They'd either leave strict orders not to be disturbed, or they'd take a lunch, get into Charlotte and go someplace outside of town, where they could spend the day hiking, talking, eating and loving.
They still never used the word "love" to each other. Hanging over everything they did was the knowledge that they still didn't know what had happened to Beck's wife, Rosa, or his daughter Madeleine. Heather also hadn't told him about Hayes, and she never intended to. She did tell him she'd been told by a member of Ravenwood there was a possibility Rosa was still alive, although she hadn't believed it at the time. Thankfully, Beck hadn't questioned her for long, although he'd given her his look that said he knew there was more to the story but he was willing to wait for her to tell him in her own good time.
Regardless of whether Hayes was telling the truth, there was still the possibility that they were alive out there, even though it had been over two years since the Attacks and Beck had never found a trace of them.
They occasionally talked about his missing family, but they never talked about what they would do if Beck found Rosa and Madeleine alive. Heather didn't ask, and Beck never offered.
And that, she thought, was probably why they sometimes made love almost desperately, as if this time would be the last time.
Because it might be true.
Chapter 17: Grief
Heather knew Beck loved her; knew he was with her because, whether he could outwardly admit it or not, he truly believed his wife and daughter were dead. He still kept searching, still kept looking for leads and information, but she knew that in his heart, he'd accepted the fact that they were most likely dead, and that was why he'd moved on with her.
If sometimes he hoped, it was only natural, Heather thought. It had been just over two years since the Attacks, and Beck had no idea what happened to them. He therefore had no closure. Not real closure.
Sometimes, though, Beck seemed to go very far away even though he was still right there. In those times Heather knew he was thinking of the family he'd lost, grieving for the life he'd had, and the life he could still be living, if things had been different.
Sometimes, Heather had to admit, she was jealous of a dead woman. Sometimes, having three in a relationship - even if one was a ghost - was a difficult load to bear. And she wondered what that said about her, that she could be so insecure as to feel jealous of a former relationship that was irrevocably in the past, that she could be jealous of a woman who probably died a horrible death.
When Beck was lost in his memories and his grief, she'd hear Hayes' voice again calling her "any port in a storm". She knew Hayes had been manipulating her, searching for any weaknesses he could exploit to get the information he wanted. But his words still haunted her, mainly because sometimes Beck's grief was deep and visceral; his longing and regret and - yes - guilt an almost tangible thing that surrounded them. The depth of his pain broke her heart, and it was something she couldn't fight or fix. She sometimes wasn't sure her love would be enough to help him heal.
Even though he never said it out loud, Beck loved her. And yet - and yet. There was, and always would be, a part of him that couldn't belong to her. A part of him, in fact, that shouldn't belong to her. It didn't diminish his love for her, and he did everything he could to show her how much she meant to him.
Her doubts were rare, and only came when his grief would overwhelm him, and he was somewhere else in his heart and mind for days, when it would start to feel that he would rather stay with his memories than live with her. Then she would start to wonder...did he really love her, or had he simply settled for what was, essentially, second best?
Those were the days when she was brutally honest with herself, and knew beyond a doubt that if Rosa were to walk into Jericho tomorrow, Beck would have no hesitation as to which woman he would choose. Beck may have accepted in his heart that Rosa and Madeleine were dead; Heather found she couldn't bring herself to do the same.
Chapter 18: Unbreak My Heart
Beck knew Heather sometimes doubted the depth of his feelings for her. He knew that sometimes his need to remember his lost family lasted a little too long, and when it did, Heather's faith would waver slightly.
Those were the times he wished he was a more romantic man. More articulate, more...something. Because he didn't know how to tell her what he felt. He didn't know how to tell her what her love and quiet belief in him meant to him.
Although he never said the words - how could he, when he still couldn't make her any promises? - he tried to show her at every opportunity how much she meant to him.
She didn't doubt him often - only when she thought his memories of his life Before were overwhelming him.
And sometimes they did. Sometimes the memory of a beautiful brown-eyed woman, and a sweet little girl would hit him like a sledgehammer in the stomach, and he would have to ride the wave of pain until it subsided. Sometimes the rage at not knowing what happened to them was difficult to control or bear.
He knew those times made Heather wonder, made her worry, sometimes hurt her - he could see it all in her eyes.
He didn't know how to tell her or show her the depth of what he felt for her. The words of pleasure he breathed against her heated skin as they made love were a pale expression of the passion he felt for her. His good-bye kiss in the morning didn't come close to expressing how important it was to him to know she was waiting for him, or that she was coming home to him. The soothing talks at the end of day didn't come close to showing how much he respected her intelligence and depended on her to keep him grounded and to sometimes give him much needed perspective.
He didn't know how to tell her that her fierceness, her stubbornness, her geekiness, her good soul, her faith and hope that they could survive and solve any problem was what helped him through. Long before they'd ever made love, it had been her quiet belief in him, her certainty that he was a good man, trying to do the right thing that had bolstered his will to go on; given him the strength to face his doubts about the ASA and trust his instincts that something wasn't right.
He didn't know how to tell her that knowing she loved him had given him his heart back. Maybe it was more scarred than before, and maybe there was a part of it that would always love a woman and a child who were gone - but he didn't love Heather less - he loved her differently.
She'd soothed him, healed him, loved him when she'd had no reason to ever trust him again. She'd brought him out of the worst of his grief and back to the land of the living just by being herself.
He just wished, sometimes, that he knew how to tell her.
Chapter 19: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned
don't you dare
The day was crisp and cold, the smell of snow sharp in the air. Beck stood tense, strung tight, waiting nervously as the humvees pulled up in front of the sheriff's office. The blood roared in his ears, his body shaking with each beat of his heart. He breathed in short gasps, almost panting, and he couldn't seem to get enough air into his lungs. His mind tilted and whirled, quivering like a rubber band about to snap; he couldn't focus his thoughts on any one thing and he had a vague feeling there was something -
do you hear me
He sharply caught his breath as the back door of the humvee opened, and a woman emerged. She looked around carefully before meeting his eyes.
listen to me
The woman who came out of the humvee, her eyes cold, angry and watchful was definitely his wife.
They stared at each other. Neither moved for a suspended, surreal moment. Then he whispered her name and she nodded, saying his name.
Like a stranger, Beck thought. He walked towards her, his eyes disbelieving, wondering - and afraid. The woman in front of him was the wife he'd been searching for in looks only. Her eyes showed no sign of the woman he remembered so well.
I'll never forgive you
The world seemed to contract and expand at the same time, to layer upon and fold in on itself. He saw the woman in front of him but he also saw the woman she used to be. Hidden somewhere beneath those dead eyes lurked the woman he'd married: the woman who'd borne his child; who'd made love with him; who'd cried whenever he was deployed; who'd spent hours explaining her work to him; who'd yelled at him when he deserved it; who'd laughed with him - cried with him - created a life with him.
"Rosa," he said again, choked with emotion, tears standing in his eyes. He glanced around at the watching crowd. His gaze fell on Heather, her broken heart in her eyes. She wavered in the prism of his tears.
He turned back to Rosa.
"I'll take you home," Beck said. "Where we can talk in private."
Rosa nodded, carefully expressionless, unreadable.
"Madeleine?" Beck asked, looking towards the humvee.
Beck closed his eyes against the stark harshness of the word.
"We'll talk at home," he said.
"Your home," Rosa said coldly and clearly enough for everyone to hear.
Beck frowned, hesitated. His mind seemed to stutter before he replied, "Yes. My home."
don't you dare leave me
Beck was hyper-conscious of the way Rosa carefully watched him as he bustled about the kitchen. He was nervous, uncertain. Everything felt even more surreal - so surreal the house felt somehow unfamiliar and he couldn't quite remember how they'd gotten here.
"Where have you been?"
Beck paused at Rosa's coldly asked question. He turned to her with two cups of coffee in his hands, and he brought them over to the table. He sat down carefully before he answered.
"I've been all over," he said. "I've been here in Jericho for almost two years - with a six month trip to the front lines in the east during the War."
"Did you ever look for us?"
"What?" Beck sputtered. "How can you -? Yes! Yes, I looked for you! I never stopped looking for you! Where have you been?"
"Mexico, for awhile. Texas for most of it. Madeleine never made it out of Santa Fe."
Beck closed his eyes and grimaced in pain.
"You didn't wait for me, did you," Rosa stated flatly.
"I thought you were dead."
"Not even two years, Edward. Nice."
"Everything was - everything was different," Beck said. "It may as well have been twenty years."
I'm not giving up on you
"I love her," Beck said helplessly. "Very much."
"I don't know who you are now."
"You've chosen her? This new woman? The one you say you love?"
"Yes," Beck said quietly. "She doesn't realize it, though. I've never made her any promises. I've never even told her I love her."
"What about me?" Rosa asked again.
For a moment, he looked at her, and memories came flooding back. The way she'd looked the day they met. The way she'd looked on their wedding day. Madeleine's birth; the moments - the moments that make a life. He felt all the old love surging up, almost overwhelming him, bringing him to his knees.
This cold-eyed, angry woman bore little resemblance to the warm, open-hearted woman of his memories. The woman he'd known had been burned away as surely as the cities had been burned away by the bombs.
He loved the Rosa who used to be. He loved the Heather who existed now.
And who was he? The Edward Beck he'd been had also been burned away in the heat of twenty-three dying cities, chipped away by the cold of grief and uncertainty, eroded by the decisions he'd made, the actions he'd ordered - or taken - or condoned by looking the other way.
He didn't deserve either of them.
I will make your life a living hell see if I don't
"Are you afraid I'm going to make your life hell, Edward?" Rosa asked, calmly curious; curiously calm. "Hell hath no fury -" etc., etc., etc."
"I wouldn't blame you," he replied. "I should have waited for you."
"I'll admit, nobody likes feeling they're easily replaced."
"There was nothing "easy" about it!"
"Doesn't look that way from where I'm sitting. In fact, you pretty much look like an uncaring bastard. Not even two years, Edward. Didn't our marriage mean anything to you?"
"I loved you," he said softly. "I love you still."
"And yet you're with another woman. You tell me you've already chosen her over me. You have no intention of even trying to reconcile with me. And then you tell me you love me." She scoffed. "Actions, Edward. Actions are what matter."
Her anger and skepticism burned him.
Beck stared down at the coffee mug in his hands, riddled with guilt. He couldn't refute anything she'd said; couldn't justify his actions. He'd found happiness, while she -
His mind stuttered. His frown deepened as he stared into his cup.
you will not leave me I won't allow it
"What?" Rosa demanded sharply.
"We...we haven't had coffee for months," he murmured. The cup seemed to stretch and twist. He blinked and looked away - to find he was now in a livingroom he remembered well, in the house he and Rosa had shared at his last posting. He was lying on the couch, blinking and frowning at the ceiling.
He turned his head to see Rosa standing in the kitchen doorway with a steaming cup in her hand. His nose twitched at the smell of fresh-brewed coffee.
Rosa grinned and glided into the livingroom as he sat up. She handed him the cup.
"Must have been a doozy of a dream," she teased lightly. "You kept talking about somebody named Heather - should I be jealous?"
It was a moment of truth; Beck could feel - could almost see - two paths stretching before him, two women, two lives. He could make a choice - and it could be as if the last two years had never happened.
"Edward?" Rosa prompted, frowning now. "Should I be jealous?"
"Yes," he said. His voice seemed to come from a great distance. The cup slipped in slow motion from his hand and he watched it shatter on the floor. There was something -
Beck looked up. Rosa was standing in the middle of a Kansas corn field. The sun was bright, its heat beating down on his back as he walked to her.
"Am I dreaming?" he asked softly.
She smiled at him, and now she looked like the Rosa of his memories.
"Then what -?" he stopped, his eyes wide. "Am I dead?"
Don't you dare die on me! Do you hear me?
He hesitated. "Are you dead?"
Rosa smiled gently at him. "What do you believe?"
"I believe you're dead."
Beck's eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't with you - I'm sorry I couldn't find you. I'm sorry I gave up on you. But - but I'm not sorry I fell in love with Heather. I - I'm just not. I can't - you don't know -"
"You loved me. You love me still." Rosa walked up to him and gently cupped his face. "It's okay for you to love somebody else. To be happy."
"Did you really think I'd begrudge you love? Begrudge you happiness?"
"I wouldn't blame you if you did."
Rosa dropped her hands to his shoulders. "Then you never really understood how much I loved you, Edward. If fate hadn't separated us, we'd be together now; we'd be together for life." She smiled sadly at him. "We were together for life."
"You were so angry earlier."
She shook her head. "You thought I'd be angry."
"So am I just thinking you would be happy for me? Is any of this real?"
Rosa reached up and kissed him gently, her lips soft and warm and so dearly familiar.
"Do you remember?" she asked.
crisp cold air first coffee in months he'd forgotten how good it tasted meeting Heather for the first Christmas Presidential Address in Jericho wanted to just be part of the crowd holding Heather close to keep her warm instead have to stand on stupid dais behind the President sharp crack of shots screams get President DOWN DOWN DOWN more shots Heather Heather Heather must protect the President shock of impact Heather blackness then
Don't you dare die on me! I love you!
Beck slowly opened his eyes. The ceililng was white. Machines were beeping regularly. He blinked, and slowly rolled his head to the right and saw Heather watching him. She was pale and drawn, dark shadows under her fatigue-bright eyes. She smiled tremulously at him and squeezed his hand. She leaned over and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. He could taste her relief mingled with her tears.
He tried to speak, but his mouth was too dry. Heather gave him some ice chips as she babbled tearfully to him, telling him he was going to be all right.
"I love you," he croaked once he could speak.
She stopped in mid-word and her eyes, if anything, got bigger.
"I love you."
Chapter 20: The One
At the door, Heather hesitated. She knew he'd be there - she was positive. And she loved him, perhaps too much. It scared her sometimes, the depth and intensity of her feelings for him. She still remembered the terror and horror when he'd been shot. While that day would never be funny to her, even she could acknowledge that her alternating pleading and threatening while she was trying to staunch the bleeding was mildly amusing.
He'd told her he loved her the moment he woke up. He asked her to marry him the first morning he got out of bed. He asked Eric to declare Rosa legally dead that afternoon. Heather hadn't asked him any questions. There'd been a look in his eyes when he was talking to Eric that had broken her heart.
After that, they'd focused on his recovery. Eric had finalized the required paperwork quickly and Beck had insisted he wanted to get married as soon as possible once that was done. She'd complied, even though there was still a part of her that didn't truly believe Rosa was dead, a part of her that was certain that someday, Rosa would return and Beck would be forced to make his inevitable choice. But she refused to listen to that part of her. For whatever reason, he now truly believed Rosa was dead - although he was still looking for Madeleine - and he told her he loved her every day.
And now, now she was going to marry him - she'd made all the arrangements and everything. She'd even been excited about this day, looking forward to officially joining her life with his; looking forward to her wedding day.
And now -
Heather started and stared at Emily. Heather's wide eyes and pale skin told the tale.
"There are still so many uncertainties," she blurted out. "What if Rosa isn't really dead? What if he gets hurts again in the line of duty? What if there's another Attack or another war?"
"Is that any reason not to try?" Emily asked. "Is that any reason to walk away?" Emily cocked her head to one side and considered Heather with a fond smile. "You're no coward, Heather, and all of those reasons aren't really reasons - not for you. What are you really scared of?"
"What if it doesn't work out?" Heather whispered, her bouquet clutched tightly in her fists, her hands shaking.
"What if it does?"
Heather blinked in surprise at Emily, and she could suddenly see the future clearly - as clearly as if it was already happening. She could see them arguing and loving and laughing and just...living. She could imagine the children, solemn little boys with their father's eyes and her hair. Little girls who would follow their father with their hearts in their eyes - much like their mother.
And always, always, this deep love and desire and need for each other.
She slowly, tremulously smiled at Emily who shook her head and laughed at her.
"Come on," Emily said, "he's waiting."
Heather nodded. "I'm ready."
Chapter 21: Dancing Together
The wedding party was in full swing. The band Mary had found for them had the entire place rocking. Heather and Beck had taken the floor for the traditional first dance, but while he was much recovered, he was still stiff and sore from the gunshot wounds. Their first dance had been slow, and they'd danced even slower to accommodate his restricted mobility. He whispered in her ear as they danced that he wanted to save his stamina for the wedding night and then laughed at her blush.
It was a beautiful spring night. The weather had blessed them so they were able to stay in the town square as Heather had planned. And the place was packed. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to help them celebrate. The President had attended the ceremony and even though it was now close to midnight, she was still there, dancing with guests and insisting she wasn't there as the President; she was there as Beck and Heather's friend.
Eric and Mary had left Johanna, along with Stanley and Mimi's son, at home with a neighbour's daughter as the babysitter. Jake and Emily tolerated a lot of good-natured ribbing from everyone as to when they would be making it official. They'd escape to the dance floor when it got to be too much, but even with the teasing, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Heather felt honored that Gail Green had cried at her wedding. Gail had hugged her after the ceremony and told her she hoped Heather and Beck would consider her an honorary mother-in-law. She joked that this way, they could both complain about their mother-in-law without hurting the other's feelings. Beck had taken Gail's hand, raised it to his lips and told her he'd be honored to have her as his mother-in-law - honorary, or not. He'd danced part of the second dance with Gail before handing her off to her oldest son, who then handed her off to her second son to finish the dance. She hadn't stopped grinning all night, and in fact, she'd been one of the busiest people on the dance floor.
Hawkins and Darcy were also there, along with Allison and Sam. Hawkins was never truly relaxed, but it was the closest he'd come since the Attacks. He'd congratulated Beck and Heather with a genuine smile and a hearty handshake for Beck, and a warm hug for Heather. When he took Heather for a dance, he told her he was proud of her, that she'd been one of the best students he'd ever had. She'd laughed, then confessed that she'd still never told Beck about Ravenwood and what Hayes had done to her while Beck was on the front lines, and she thanked him for the training he'd given her and for coming to her rescue. Hawkins told her she would have saved herself; he and Jake had simply speeded up the process. She kissed his cheek and thanked him for the lie.
Beck and Heather left the party around 1:00 a.m. Beck needed to rest - or so he claimed as he guided his new bride away from the town square and towards Charlotte, washed and polished and made up with string and tin cans.
When they got home, she discovered that Beck's definition of "rest" was slightly different from hers. They were soon involved in an entirely different type of dance, and it was hours before they slept.
Heather thought it had been the best wedding ever.
Chapter 22: Grandparents
Beck walked into the house, exhausted, sore and yet looking forward to the evening ahead. He hadn't seen Heather since the morning when they'd parted at their front door with a kiss and an "I love you." Since then, he'd been locked in the New White House for half the day, helping the President deal with an escalating situation in New York City. The other half of the day had been spent in physical training; he was still regaining his stamina and strength.
Heather usually met him at the training ground, but she'd had been out all day on a survey of the surrounding farms, assessing their needs for the upcoming growing season. Now he was sore and sweaty, and he couldn't wait to snuggle with her on the couch and hear about her day.
He sniffed the air appreciatively.
"Supper smells wonderful," he said as he limped into the kitchen.
Heather smiled at him. "Thanks." She raised her face for his kiss. He'd intended to give her a quick peck, but one kiss led to another which led to another until Heather remembered there was still food on the stove.
"Go shower," she said. "Supper will be ready when you're done."
"I'd prefer it if you'd shower with me."
"Hmmm..." Heather considered, then sadly shook her head. "The food will burn."
"So will I," Beck said huskily, and savored her blush.
"Oh - go shower," she groaned.
They were in the livingroom, cuddled on the couch, pleasantly full, relaxed and sleepy
"I think we need to find a new house," Heather said suddenly.
Beck frowned. "Why? I thought you loved this place."
"I do - but I've been thinking that we may want to find a place with more space - a bigger yard - maybe a front porch..."
Beck frowned at her. "A front porch...?"
"So we can watch the grandchildren play on the front lawn."
Beck's frown deepened. "But in order to be grandparents, we need to - oh."
Heather laughed as realization dawned. Beck's face lit up, and he suddenly looked like a child himself.
"Really?" he breathed.
Heather nodded, and Beck whooped before kissing her wildly.
"Of course," he said thoughtfully, hours later,"we'll have to get through parenthood without losing our minds."
She grinned at him. "Not sure why that should a problem."
"You forget where we're living. We'll be fighting off the kids of the Green boys and Stanley Richmond. Maybe we should convince the President to move. What do you think?"
Heather smacked him lightly on his bare shoulder, then soothed the spot she'd hit by kissing it better. "You forget there will probably be a Hawkins or two in there too. Allison's been getting pretty serious lately with one of Dale's friends."
Beck closed his eyes and groaned. "We definitely need to convince the President to move the capitol." He opened his eyes and sat up beside her. He grinned as he leaned over her. "Our poor baby won't stand a chance of finding a normal person to date if we stay in Jericho."
She laughed then caught her breath as he pressed a reverential kiss to her stomach. "Hello, baby," he whispered against her skin.
She smiled sweetly at him as he began to make love to her again.
Chapter 23: Wild Card Picture (little girl listening to a woman's pregnant stomach)
Heather stretched, rubbing the ache in her lower back. This new baby was taking all her energy, leaving her lethargic and aching at the end of the day. She was still working, but she was beginning to think she might need to stop earlier than planned. She smiled tiredly as her daughter, Rae, came running into the livingroom, holding the rag doll Gail had given her when she was born.
Heather gasped slightly as the baby suddenly decided it wanted to start running too. Rae stopped and stared at Heather, her brown eyes huge as she watched her mother.
Heather smiled. "Come here, honey," she said. "You can feel the baby moving." Rae came over and touched her hand to Heather's belly. They both laughed as the baby kicked against Rae's hand. After a moment, Rae pressed her ear against Heather's belly, something she'd been doing ever since Heather and Beck explained to her there was a baby growing in Mommy's tummy. Rae was definitely her daddy's girl; after she'd seen Beck kiss Heather's stomach, then speak and listen to it, Rae had been following suit.
Heather rubbed Rae's back as she listened to the baby. This was a moment of peace, of tranquility and Heather treasured these moments.
Life was still hard, but things were finally starting to get better. There would be a Presidential election next year, the first one since the Attacks. The President had agreed to run for re-election, but it had taken a lot of convincing from her advisors, including Beck. The east had finally regained full power this year, and they'd had a surplus of food for the first time since the War ended. On the down side - at least in Beck's opinion - they'd also restored telecommunications this year, and TV was back in force. Cell phone service was still unpredictable, but all forecasts showed it would be fully restored by next summer.
Heather gently stroked Rae's hair and wondered what, exactly, she'd done right to have deserved a beautiful daughter, a baby on the way, and - she glanced up as Beck walked in - and a man who loved her deeply, passionately and unconditionally. Rae's face lit up when she saw her father and she ran towards him yelling "daddy" all the way. Heather grinned as Beck swung Rae up into his arms and kissed her, then carried her with him as he walked to Heather to give her a much different kiss.
As Heather hugged her family, she reflected that she'd gone from being all alone, to having a family she loved more than life itself. Who knew, she thought as she fondly watched Beck and Rae go into the kitchen, that she would end up here. Who would have thought, six years ago when the bombs first went off, that the country would survive, or that the survivors would even thrive in their own way.
She rubbed her back as she followed her family into the kitchen, only to be shooed out again by Beck in order to rest. As she settled awkwardly back onto the couch, she grinned. If she played her cards right, she thought, she wouldn't have to cook again until after the baby was born.
Chapter 24: Cupid
"I never would have predicted this," Beck sighed, shaking his head as he leaned against the kitchen door, his arms crossed.
Heather turned to look at him, eyebrows raised in question.
"Playing Cupid," Beck clarified. "Particularly for my daughter and Jake Green's son!"
Heather's lips twitched as she fought a grin. "Too much "like father, like son"?"
"More like Rae isn't supposed to date until she's thirty. At least."
Heather laughed loudly at that. She walked over to Beck, and slid her arms around his neck.
"I was only twenty-six when we met," she reminded him softly.
He slid his arms comfortably around her waist and pulled her closer to him. "And a more beautiful twenty-six year old I have yet to meet." He gave her a quick kiss. "But what's your point?" He kissed her again before she could answer, a slower, deeper kiss that made her knees weak and heat rise in her body.
Beck began to nibble on her neck, and she moaned, letting her head fall back to allow him better access. He returned to her mouth and their kisses became more heated.
"What were we talking about?' Heather sighed as Beck returned his attention her neck.
"Don't know," Beck murmured between nibbling kisses. "Don't care."
"Oh, God you two! Get a room!"
Beck and Heather blinked owlishly at their three daughters, all with identical expressions of distaste on their faces.
"Are they done?" asked their youngest child, their only son, Jonas, peeking out from behind Rae's back.
"Yes," Heather sighed regretfully, "we're done."
"Barely started," Beck muttered for her ears alone. She choked back a laugh.
"Rae," she said, "Grandma Gail needs your help mucking out the stables today. Would you mind heading out to the ranch and giving JJ a hand?"
Rae made a face. "Yuck!"
"Hey - you're the one who rides those horses all the time," Beck reminded her.
"I was talking about JJ," Rae replied with great dignity.
"Regardless," Heather said firmly, "You and JJ are the ones who ride those horses all the time. And you can't expect him to do all the work all the time."
Rae frowned suspiciously at them. "Did he put you up to this? Is this to get even with me for the last time?"
"No," Beck replied, trying not to laugh at the memory of a muck-covered JJ Green and a furious Rae berating him for leaving her alone to muck out the stalls while he was off with Kate Turner. "Grandma Gail simply implied she'd be out there helping him herself."
Rae rolled her eyes in fond exasperation. "Well, we can't have that," she muttered.
"Nope," Heather agreed. "She's offered to make her special cake," she wheedled.
"Fine, fine, fine" Rae sighed, "of course I'll muck out the stalls. But what she's gonna do when I go to school, I'll never know."
Beck's lips twitched. "She has other grandchildren," he said drily looking significantly at his other children who all quickly averted their gazes from his.
"I'll go right now," Rae sighed, then ran upstairs, muttering darkly about parents and stubborn grandmothers and how Johnston Jacob Green III had better pull his own weight this time or she'd be cleaning the stables with him.
"But you're already cleaning the stables with him," Melissa, their second daughter, said as she and Leila followed Rae up the stairs.
"Shut up," Rae snapped.
"She's got a point," Leila said.
Rae's snarl was cut off by the slam of her bedroom door.
Beck and Heather stared up the stairs, shaking their heads.
"Girls," Jonas sighed with all the weight and wisdom of his ten years before also heading up the stairs to his bedroom.
Beck and Heather managed to hold on to their laughter until the door had closed behind him, then they sputtered with laughter as they moved into the livingroom and sat on the couch.
Beck held her close as their laughter subsided. "Well, we've thrown them together yet again," Beck sighed.
"This is the last time, Beck," Heather assured him. "We've given them every opportunity to notice each other as something more than cousins. She leaves for Denver in less than a month, so if JJ's going to notice her, it'll have to be soon." She gave him a fond kiss. "Thanks for going along with me on this one last time. Although," she added thoughtfully, "I'm not sure how romantic it can possibly be while they're shovelling manure."
Beck shook with silent laughter. "Well, I may be playing Cupid but that doesn't mean I have to make it easy for them."
Chapter 25: Parents
Even though there were still three days before the wedding, the entire extended family had converged on the Beck home for a backyard barbecue, good cheer and a no-holds-barred touch football game. That one Beck blamed on the Green branch of the family. He only wished he still felt up to playing it as passionately as his children and grandchildren.
He groaned as he sat on the porch swing, settling beside Heather. He put his arm around her, and she snuggled against him with a comfort built from over thirty years of living and loving together. They watched their children and grandchildren playing on the front lawn.
Beck sighed contentedly, then chuckled. "Remember how I told you we'd have to make it through parenthood without losing our minds?"
Heather nodded. "I remember it well. Why?"
Beck nodded towards the gaggle of people on the lawn. "Considering we now share a grandchild with Jake Green, I may have spoke too soon. Maybe we'll go crazy with the grandchildren."
Heather laughed up at him and kissed him. "We've made it this far. Or at least I have."
He gave her a mock affronted look, then began to tickle her. Her laughs and shrieks caused everyone on the lawn to pause and watch them playfully wrestle and then kiss.
"Get a room you two!" Rae yelled as Beck moved in for a a second kiss. Everyone laughed and Beck shook his head ruefully at Heather and settled back into the porch swing.
Beck sighed contentedly as he watched the game. Gail had passed away six years before but the family she'd raised or gathered around her were all here. Jake and Emily were refereeing the game, while Eric and Stanley were coaching. Mimi and Mary were in charge of the smallest members of the clan, while all of those who were old enough to play - or toddle, Beck thought as he watched his two-year-old grandson follow his father as fast as his little legs could carry him - were playing en masse on the lawn. Hawkins and Darcy were part of the spectators cheering on their children and grandchidren. It was their grandson who would be marrying Melissa in three days.
Heather grinned suddenly. "If you think sharing a grandchild with Jake is a challenge, how about sharing a grandchild with Hawkins?"
Beck laughed. "At least it will only be my grandchild - it will be Hawkins' great-grandchild!"
Heather slanted him a look. "I dare you to point that out to Darcy," she said sweetly.
Beck mock-shuddered. "No way. She'd kick my ass."
Beck contentedly went back to watching the game and pondering how far they'd come. Rae had married a man she met when she went to school in Denver; Melissa was getting married in three days; Jonas was going to school in the east but he intended to come back to Jericho when he was done. He wanted to work in politics and Jericho was still the capitol of the United States, and it was starting to look like it always would be. As for Leila - to everyone's surprise, she'd started dating Johnston Jacob Green III shortly after his divorce from Kate Turner became final four years before. Their son was the two-year-old toddler following in his father's footsteps. And his grandfather's, Beck thought ruefully. Johnston Jacob Green IV - another Johnston Green.
Beck was seventy now. His hair was fully gray although it was still thick and trimmed close to his scalp. He moved much slower in the mornings and his old wounds acted up when the weather was changing. Beck looked at Heather and smiled. Heather, on the other hand, looked as young and vibrant now as the day he'd met her. Yes, she had more gray in her hair; maybe an extra wrinkle or two. But sometimes when he looked at her, he could see, almost superimposed on each other, all the Heathers he'd known through the years. He could see the Heather he'd first met; the Heather who had stood up to him and called him a coward and then sat with him as he awaited his fate. He could see the Heather who'd vowed to keep Jericho safe, who'd made desperate love with him the night before he left for the front lines. He could see the Heather who'd waited for him to return, who'd waited for him to be ready to admit his first wife was gone, to be ready to admit he loved her.
She glanced at him and gave him a puzzled smile. "What?" she asked.
"Have I told you today that I love you?" he asked.
"Yes - but you can always tell me again."
"I love you," he said softly. "I'll love you forever."
"Yeah?" Heather teased. "You promise?"