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Title: ._ ._.. ._ _ ._ _._ _ ... ._.. _ _ _ ..._ . (Always Love)
Characters: Beck, Heather, OCs
Rating: PG -- 13
Chapters: 11/?
Disclaimer: Sooo don't own Jericho...
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.

Forty five minutes and a quick trip to the drugstore later, I unlocked the door to my apartment. Carlos walked toward the freezer as I switched on the light.

“These should be cold enough in an hour or two,” he said.

I dropped my purse onto the coffee table and plopped down on the sofa. I pulled off my heels and deposited them under the table as he placed the packs into the freezer.

I was tired and the part of me was thinking that shutting my eyes and drifting off to sleep here on the sofa was an excellent idea.

Carlos sat down on the sofa next to me. He raised my arm to examine it.

“It looks like you’re still going to have some real nasty bruises for a few days,” he said, then gave my hand a squeeze. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to stop it.”

The image of Edward, the look in his eyes, as Stanton was dragging me away, flashed through my mind. I pushed it away.

“It’s all right,” I said, sliding into his embrace. “You’re here now.”

He pulled me into his lap as he wrapped his arms around me. His lips brushed against my temple. His hand reached up and caressed the side of my neck. I winced as he brushed over a particularly tender spot. He pushed my hair to one side.

“Looks like more than just your arm got bruised.” I could hear the anger and frustration in his voice.

I placed a hand on his chest, gazing up at him.

“It’s okay,” I said.

He leaned in and gave me a soft kiss. When he pulled back again, my heart was pumping faster than it had been when I walked in the door. The room was dimly lit, but I could still see the gold flecks within his diminishing irises. His fingers slid against my scalp as they wove their way through my hair.

I opened my mouth to him, tasting him, exploring. And never breaking eye contact. His hand cupped my jaw, the pads of his fingers leaving a tingling trail across my skin. My eyes finally shut, lost in the sensation.

Carlos shifted beneath me, rolling us down onto the length of the couch. He moaned as my tongue drew a delicate line along his jaw, and pressed me back into the cushions. My toes traced small patterns against the back of his calves.

He shifted, sliding his body between my legs. His erection rubbed against me, just there, as his hands ran lightly over my shoulders, gliding over my collarbones.

I arched in pleasure and breathed a name.

And suddenly we both froze.


I sat up and didn’t look at him. I didn’t even know what to say. Saying sorry sounded insulting.

He tilted his head, willing me to look him in the eyes. After a moment, I turned to him.

“I don’t know what to say,” I whispered.

“Is there something going on between you and Colonel Beck?” he asked.

“No,” I said after a moment.

He stared at me for several seconds before turning away. He leaned forward, propping his elbows against his thighs and clasping his hands together.

“But that doesn’t mean you don’t wish there was a possibility of something between you.”

“He’s a married man, Carlos.”

He looked back at me.

“But that doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings for him.”

“I don’t --,” I protested.

He gave me a stern look.

I stopped, thinking for a moment. Had I been playing with him all along? No, that wasn’t true. I really did feel something for him. Love, affection, friendship. I could have a real relationship with him.

If you didn’t know Edward, a voice in my head whispered.

No, I could still love Carlos anyway, another protested.

Emotions roiled and reeled within me. I had left my feelings for Edward unresolved for far too long and they were coming back to haunt me.

I took a deep breath before returning Carlos’ gaze.

He was still expecting an answer.

“Yes,” I let out in a sigh, “I have feelings for Edward Beck, but he is committed to his marriage and I won’t do anything to jeopardize that.”

“He told you he was committed to his marriage?”

“Yes,” I replied. I was about to ask him if there was something he was not telling me, but he turned away again and I dismissed it as my imagination overreacting. It was an easy thing to assume, given the situation.

Carlos’ continued silence began to weigh on me as we sat there, awkwardly, on the sofa.

I hated being in this situation. I hated myself for putting Carlos into this. And I hated the feeling that I had no control over it either. We’re we went from here would be based off of Carlos’ decision. The realization that I had unfinished business with Edward put a twist in the relationship I had with Carlos that I didn’t want to deal with at the moment.

There’s a rarity, said a sarcastic voice in my head.

Carlos stood and I scrambled off the couch. He scooped up his jacket from the back of the chair.

“I best get going,” he said.

“Carlos,” I began.

He turned back to me and placed a hand on my cheek.

“I want you to know I care for you, Heather. Probably more that I have for anyone in sometime. But you have some things that you need to straighten out. You’re tired and you’ve been through a lot tonight. We can talk about it when you’re ready.”

I stepped toward him and touched my forehead to his, closing my eyes. The lump in my throat was huge and I was fighting hard not to cry. Because even though I felt as if I had no control over the situation, crying now would be manipulative, I thought. It would likely make him stay and even though that would make me feel better, it was unfair to him.

“Can I call you later?” I asked.

He sighed, his hand clasping lightly against my cheek. I looked at him now. His eyes were closed. I studied the olive color of his eyelids, sensing a great debate unfolding behind them.

“Even though I’d like that very much, no. I really want you to think about what you want, Heather. I have a feeling talking to me is only going to distract you.”

“So the next time I talk to you, you want me to tell you my decision between the two of you?”

His hand slipped from my cheek and fell to clasp my hand. His eyes opened a fraction to look down at it as he rubbed his thumb over the back.

“Yes,” he replied.

Guilt and loathing crushed my chest that much deeper. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the tears at bay for just a little longer.

He released my hand and walked to the door. When he opened it, he paused on the threshold.

“I love you, Heather Lisinski,” he said, looking back at me. “But I’m not going to be your second best. I don’t think I could be with you like that,” he paused, looking away as if he was losing his nerve. When he looked up again, his eyes had lost much of their warmth.

“I just couldn’t,” he said.

I had no answer to that. He lingered a few moments longer, then nodded and shut the door behind him.

I walked over to it and pressed my hands against its smooth surface, willing it to give me some of its solidity. I stood like that for several minutes, trying to work my way through the shock. My body finally gave up and I turned away, letting my back slide along its ungiving plane till I was slumped on the floor. I pulled my legs to my chest and let the large racking sobs that I had been holding within finally overtake me.

It had been a very long weekend. I had been alone before but it had been a long time since I had felt this lonely. After moping most of the day, I finally had enough and decided to go for a walk. Clouds brewed in the west with the promises of an evening storm.

Sweat trickled down my neck.

Perhaps this wasn’t such a wise idea after all, I thought. I know I didn’t want to go back to the apartment, stuck within its confines as I contemplated where my life was going.

The softest of breezes came up. It did little to cool the perspiration that flowed down my neck and back, making my blouse cling to me.

My journey took me to San Pedro Park. I could hear the intermittent voices float toward me from the direction of the pool. The storage pods that held the pool’s enclosing fence during the off season still sat stacked in rows nearby.

There was a soft constant undercurrent of voices as I drew closer. Throngs of families milled about the area. Parents kept watchful eyes on their children as they splashed about in the cool water. The warm, lazy afternoon tempered their actions. A mother or father rising out of their chairs warranted serious consequences indeed.

The children, on the other hand, ran and bounced around like heated molecules in a confined space. And even though the summer was new and school books had been tossed aside without a second glance, the children seem to know that these long days of pleasure were finite. Therefore, they seemed determined to eke out as much fun from the day as was humanly possible. Somewhere in their minds, they knew the days and weeks would pass, one month rolling into the next. So enough, they knew, they would be back behind those school desks, their worlds confined to times tables, the life cycles of frogs, and rhymes of Columbus sailing the ocean blue. So they celebrated their freedom while they could as hard as they could.

I walked a path around the pool, giving it a wide berth. It held a sense of togetherness and belonging that felt alien to me right now. Normally a child’s laughter would bring a smile to my face, but now all it did was haunt me.

After a few minutes, I came upon the duck ponds and spied a secluded spot that gave full view to the tranquil scene before me. I sat down in the recess of two thick oak roots, the sturdy trunk at my back. A duck waddled up, curious. He stared at me for a minute, perhaps hoping that I had hidden bread crumbs somewhere on my person. He tilted his head to the side, reminding me absurdly of one of Edward’s concerned looks. I giggled softly, which the duck dismissed in an unflappable manner. He reached over and tugged at the strap of my sandal, still believing that I was holding out on him. Again, his head tilted to the side, staring. It was almost starting to become unnerving. Finally, he gave me a dismissive quack and waddled off to a nearby section of the pond. Every once in a while, he would look over in my direction, probably to see if I was still there and if there was still no possibility of a spare bread crumb.

I sighed.

The mallard was just another example of having something demanded of me that I was unable to give. At least the duck, the problem was simple. And it made me wish that my problem with Edward and Carlos could be just as simple.

The logical side of me believed that an argument against being with Carlos was both ridiculous and dangerous. He was a good man; he would take good care of me. But there were times that he almost seemed too perfect. Don’t get me wrong, we had arguments. But there had been less than a handful of occasions where there was just that slight change in his manner, where he had thrown in the towel and did what I wanted just to see me happy. It was if he didn’t know how or want to understand me, he just compromised. And that unnerved me, made me feel guilty that I had browbeaten him into agreeing to my side.

Edward, when we argued, for all that he drove me crazy, would see things from my point of view, even if he didn’t agree with them. Nope, when he didn’t agree with them, he would just get this completely calm look and dig in. He wouldn’t give up until the argument was well and thoroughly explored. I was the only one he did that with. With others, there was always that look of acquiescence when he compromised on a non-peace keeping issue. But he never gave me that look. And that made me want to scream.

Then he turn around and do something in the way of apology, while still not backing down from his decision, that would make me what to clear off his desk and kiss him until he passed out from lack of oxygen.

It usually started with “You know how lucky I am to have you. . .”

It reminded me of a saying about Irish diplomacy my mother once told me and made me think if there was any possibility that Edward had any Irish ancestry in him.

I sat there in that niche for a long time, watching the sunlight play and sparkle off the water. I tried matching up the positives and negatives of each man till I was absolutely flustered. I could be quite happy in either relationship and I realized comparing the two of them was quite simply like comparing apples to oranges. I looked up and noticed the sunbeams had grown considerably longer and I was still no closer to making a decision than when I sat down. I gave one of the roots a frustrated slap.

I heard the mallard swimming back over, quacking away. I watched him hop out of the pond with slightly more grace than a six year old struggling to climb out of a pool and only slightly less adorable.

Probably because he really doesn’t have a tongue to stick between his teeth when he concentrating, I thought.

“So,” I asked him as he waddled up to me, “who would you choose, Carlos or Edward?”

A shadow fell across me and I looked up in surprise. A silhouette stood just to the right of the blinding sunlight. I tried shielding my eyes, but it did little to resolve the figure.

“I’m guessing he’s going to be biased toward anyone who will give him bread crumbs?” A familiar feminine voice questioned.

She stepped before me, blocking the light, but I would have recognized that voice anywhere. I was already jumping to my feet and embracing her in a hug.

“Emily! What in the world are you doing here?”

“Tracking down an old friend,” she said.

I rolled my eyes at her obvious statement and said, “You know what I meant.”

She gave a lighthearted laugh and said, “You know Jake, too much mischief in him for Beck to go off and play cloak and dagger and him get left behind. We would have come to the ball last night to see you, but I was asleep on my feet. Sorry.”

“But you’re here now,” I said. I could barely conceal my delight at seeing her. She was a friend and that was just what I needed right now.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“Well, I figured that if you weren’t at your apartment, you were probably thinking that you were moping and went out for a walk. I’d figure you’d want to go some place tranquil, without too many people around, so this place made perfect sense. You looked frustrated when I walked up. What’s up?”

I sighed and plunked myself back down. She sat down on a root next to me, pursing her lips like she did when she was worried.

“Man trouble,” I replied.

“Ah, the worst kind of frustration,” she said, studying her toes through her sandals for a moment before looking up at me.

“You want to talk about it?” she asked.

There had been a time where I would have been rather reluctant to talk to her about men and relationships, especially when I realized that Jake was still interested in her. Then came the day that the town practically tore itself apart looking for Jonah. I had watched Jake get out of his car as Gray made his speech, even called out to him, but he didn’t hear me. There was something in the way that he looked at Gray as he spoke, something that made me realize that the reason why Jake was there was because of Emily. And that’s when I realized he was still in love with her.

At first it hurt, knowing that he was still had feelings for her, deep-seated feelings. And I watched her too and knew she still had feelings for him, just as deep. But then I realized that it had been good for me to see it when I did. I had been infatuated with Jake, but it really hadn’t gone anywhere. Maybe I was too safe, that what he wanted in his life was not the girl next door, but the girl who was willing to take that leap of faith with him when he took a chance. I don’t know if I’d always have that kind of faith, but Emily did. She never stopped. Oh, she’d probably argue with you over how her past was exactly where she left it, in her past. But Jake Green was always going to be in her presence, no matter what. I had sensed the skeletons in her closet when I introduced her to Roger, but she dismissed it, saying I was letting my imagination get the better of me. Looking back, I think it was the other way around.

By the time we made it Blackjack Fairgrounds, I pretty much made peace with the fact that Jake and I weren’t going to be together. So when I found Ted there, I saw an opportunity for change and decided to seize it. Staying in Jericho, watching Jake pine after Emily while she decided on who she was going to be with would have been too much like scrubbing steel wool over my healing emotions. I went with Ted to New Bern thinking that it was a good thing. I seemed to have forgotten that sometimes God thinks one can grow just as much with adversity as opportunity. Of course, I didn’t realize that until it was far too late.

When I first arrived, everything seemed okay, albeit with more rationing and less of everything. But after a few days, I started catching glimpses of the hopelessness and despair that lay just beneath the surface.

The mark that the Ravenwood mercenaries left was still visible. People that I had known growing up walked past me as if I was a ghost, their thousand yard stares seeing nothing
but the empty road ahead of them. People would whisper about Jericho under their breaths when I came into their presence, soft enough not to hear what they were saying but their tones held both reverence and contempt.

And I could see that the people were dividing into haves and have nots and that the haves were people in some way or another affiliated with Phil Constantino.

I hadn’t really known Phil Constantino growing up. I was just starting grade school as he was finishing high school. All I had known about him then was that he had been one of the stars of the high school basketball team, having helped them go all the way to state finals. And I didn’t even know that until sometime afterward. I would always come home to Mom’s daily ritual of watching “Family Feud”. If Dad got home early from work and wanted to catch a bit of the news, he would catch all kinds of grief if he switched it from Richard Dawson schmoozing with the contestants to the news anchor before Gene Wood signed off with “This has been a Mark Goodson production…”

I had just entered junior high and Mom had just been diagnosed when Phil Constantino had been appointed Sheriff. I had only one real memory of him even then, when he had come to the house one night to tell Mom that Dad was in jail after a bar fight. He was both quiet and congenial when I answered the door, giving me a soft smile and asking me quietly if Mom was home. When Mom walked up, she sent me out into the kitchen to tend to dinner while she spoke with him. Their voices had been quiet and formal and within a minute or two, Constantino was gone. One thing I had known for sure by then is that he seemed nothing like his cousin and I debated on whether or not they were actually blood related.

But when I came back to New Bern, I knew. There was something in his manner that I’m not afraid to say scared the hell out of me. It was that edge to his persona that the attacks and then Ravenwood had given him, a sort of demented sense of determination within that quiet manner of his. The determination that was bent on keeping the order in his jurisdiction, no matter how twisted the judgment got in keeping that order.

And when I saw that same look again in Edward’s eye, I was bound and determined to fight it. Not gloss it over. Not look the other way and pretend it wasn’t happening. Not again. I knew what might happen to me and this time I was willing to face the consequences head on.

But when I was in New Bern, I hadn’t been ready. Looking back now, I can see how my innocence and naïveté was being stripped away, layer by layer, day by day.

I think Ted did his best at the time to keep me shielded from what was really going on in the town, trying to keep me elbow deep in work. There’s nothing like a generator that’s being less than cooperative to eat away several hours of a day. More so when you only have half the parts to actually put it together. Then there were the scavenger hunts to try and find the other half. We would cannibalize anything we could get our hands on, letting not even a spare wire go to waste.

But I could only avert my eyes to what was going on for so long.

It came to a head one day when we went to the town dump. It wasn’t dramatic or shocking. The realization of what was happening just sort of crept up on me as if I had been an unsuspecting bird that had unknowingly just be set in the sights of the hunter.

Ted and I were waved past the checkpoint by a man with a rifle slung over his arm and a scraggly dog with hungry eyes that sat at his side. I looked over the landscape before us. There was something about heaps of trash that were unchanging. Crows cawed and argued in big, lazy circles over the hilltop high mounds. For a moment, it seemed as if nothing had changed. The land was the same, muted and unchurned. Then a truck peaked out between the mounds, patrolling the perimeter. Three men stood next to it, arguing, fighting over some bit of machinery that they wouldn’t have given a second glance before the attacks.

I thought it odd that one of the men was wearing a deputy’s jacket. No, not that he was wearing one, but the fact that it looked brand new, not a single smudge of dirt or grease or whatever on its dark brown exterior.

He pulled a pistol and shoved it under the chin of the man holding the broken part. The man immediately lifted his hands skyward. There was the slightest sway to his arms as he spoke quietly to his assailant.

The man in the jacket didn’t want to listen to what the other was saying and cocked the pistol where he held to the other man’s throat. I could see the man’s slender frame jerk once, then again as the assailant emphasized his points with the thrust of the pistol. And even from fifty yards away, I could see the man’s eyes go wide with fear. He gingerly held the piece in his hand out to the armed man, who swiped it away without hesitation. He shoved the now emptied handed man down to the ground and stepped over him to climb into the truck. The man on the ground did not move.

“Don’t look at him, Heather. Don’t look at him,” Ted said out of the corner of his mouth. His words were as raspy in their desperation as the caws of the crows circling overhead.

I saw the man then, driving by in the truck, his arm lazily slung over the steering wheel and the part now tossed up on the dash. We looked at one another as our trucks passed. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ted’s hands grip nervously at the wheel. But the man, named Marshall, I would later find out, just stared at me, with a challenge in his eye and a lopsided smile. Daring me to say something, anything, to question him.

It was in that moment that I realized that life was different here in New Bern. In Jericho, the community had strived to pull together, to make ends meet. New Bern, on the other hand, had slowly come apart at the seams. Instead of neighbor helping neighbor, the people here coveted and horded. If Jericho had shown the better side of humanity after a disaster, New Bern was showing how stress of going so long without enough could slowly deform the human spirit into something much more akin to beast than man.

I did my best to avoid Marshall and as many of Constantino’s other men as I could. It wasn’t always that hard to do. Ted’s mobile was strewn with parts. I’d roll out of bed before dawn, working on what was there before leaving for my shift at the factory and working on them well into the night after my shift was done. It wasn’t until Eric, Stanley and the others came that Constantino decided it was best to have all the parts in one place. By then it wouldn’t have taken someone more than a few minutes to recognize his paranoia.

One day, Ted and Lily had come in about midday and gathered me up, insisting that I had not seen the outside of the little confines of my workshop for days.

“You need to see the sun once in a while, Heather,” Lily said as she half walked, half dragged me out of the factory.

They took me to Francine’s bar, where Francine waited at the counter with a bowl of watery broth and a couple of crackers. I sat with my face over the bowl for a few minutes, letting the heat and moisture warm my skin.

“I was beginning to forget what you looked like, dear,” Francine said to me. “So don’t blame Lily and Ted for this. I asked them to go get you because I know how lost in your work you can get. I wanted to make sure you were ok. And I’m having my doubts.”

“I’m fine,” I said.

Francine scoffed at that.

I was saved from a lecture by Marshall and a couple of his cohorts walking through the front door. My stomach turned sour.

I’d rather have the lecture, I thought.

“Hey, Francine,” he called out. I could see Francine’s hands stiffen a fraction. Then she stood all of her five feet to face him.

“Hey, Marshall, what brings you in from out of the cold?” she asked.

“Well, considering how cold it is out there, I figured I’ll pop in and keep the cold away with a little shot of fire.”

Francine walked to the other end and pulled out some shot glasses. They thunked softly as she placed them on the counter. She then made her way back into the pantry, disappearing for a minute.

We all had been studiously avoiding looking in their direction until then. I worked at my rapidly cooling broth. Ted picked at a hole in the linoleum with his boot while Lily cleaned glasses that were already sparkling clean.

Marshall sensed our nervousness and greeted it with a broad smile.

He’s enjoying this, I thought. My dislike for him only grew in that moment.

He ambled down the counter to me, his hand stuffed into his jacket, rummaging. I felt Ted stiffen next to me and Lily paused in her incessant cleaning as he pulled his hand out.
He paused, his gaze glancing from Ted to Lily and back again. His sudden bark of laughter even made me jump.

“Well, aren’t you all a bunch of long tailed cats in a room full of rockers. You’d almost make a guy think he was unwelcome.”

Lily was the first to force herself to relax.

“Of course, you’re welcome here, Marshall. Hate for you to think otherwise.”

He gave her an oily smile.

“See now, that’s what I thought. Besides, I came over her to ask Miss Lisinski what this was.”

He tossed the part from the dump in front of me. I stared at it for several moments, wondering what was up. There was a buzz of alarm in the back of my head as I turned to regard him. Not a little part of me wondered if he wasn’t going to take his gun and shove it to my throat too if my answer didn’t please him.

He gave an exasperated sigh.

“Are you going to tell me what it is, girl, or not?”

I looked back at the piece. It was the rotor shaft out of a gear box and from the size of it, something small, like a motorcycle. It seemed like it was in okay condition. I picked it up and studied it. It still had all of the tines on its gears. I turned it over in my hands. One end seemed lighter than the other.

I placed it back down on the counter and looked at it. The shaft was perfectly straight from one end to the center where it would likely meet up with a countershaft. The other side, however, tilted downward ever so slightly. I rolled the piece over, looking closely at where the shaft met the gear. A small crease in the metal ran a quarter of the way around its diameter. The crease rendered the part completely useless.

“So,” Marshall asked, “What is it?”

His impatient tone wasn’t missed by any of us.

For a split second, I debated on lying to him, but then I realized that it would only make the situation between him and I worse. How much worse, I didn’t want to find out.

“It’s junk,” I said, handing it back to him.

“Well, of course it is, that’s why we found it in a junkyard,” Marshall said, rolling his eyes. One of his companions snickered at the jibe. Probably thinks I can’t put two and two together when it comes to mechanics, I thought with a mental sigh. Why was it that Neanderthal type men could just be so absolutely dense at times?

“No, I mean it’s junk. It’s a rotor shaft for something, but it’s out of alignment and that’s not something anyone can fix. Anyone who has any decent knowledge of mechanics could tell you that after a basic inspection.”

"Well, I guess Thorton really did have a piece of junk after all,” he said, letting out a low whistle. He rolled the piece off the counter and slid it back into his pocket.

I was perplexed.

“Like I said, it’s not worth anything,” I repeated.

He gave me that same lopsided smirk I had seen that day at the dump. The buzz at the back of my head ran at a high pitch scream as I stared at him.

“Yeah, but Thorton don’t know that.”

He sat down on the bat stool next to me. He then casually pulled his pistol out of his holster and set it down on the counter.

Everything and everyone went completely still. I stared at the pistol, watching the light gleam off its black metal surface. I looked at Marshall and that lazy smirk, thinking it must be something akin to the look a wolf would give just before it devoured its prey.

Fear slowly turned in my stomach. He could easily kill not only me, but Ted and Lily as well and call it all sport.

That smirk of his just got bigger.

I had never seen evil before, but I was hard pressed at the moment to find another word to describe the man sitting before me.

As that realization sunk into me, he said quietly, “Well, it seems that we have an understanding here.”

“Yeah,” I whispered, then cleared my throat. I sat up straight on the bar stool and said, “Yeah, I think we do.”

I didn’t want him to think that he had broken my spirit in just that one act. It was true that he terrified me, but that didn’t mean that I was going to let a surge of hopelessness wash over me every time I had an encounter with him.

He stood up just as Francine walked out. He reached over and grabbed a shot glass as she set the Scotch on the counter.

“Much obliged,” Marshall said as he twisted off the top. Amber liquid sloshed into the glass. He threw it back without further ceremony, tipping his hat to Frances as he plunked down the now empty shot. He sauntered out of the bar without so much as a backward glance, his cohorts trailing behind him.

I heard Lily and Ted let out audible breaths.

“Are you all right, Heather?” Ted asked. I heard the tremor in his voice.

“Yeah,” I replied. I looked up at Francine. There was a look of consternation on her face. She walked over to me, pushing the broth closer.

“Eat up,” she said, then paused, “Or drink up. You need your strength.”

She placed the spoon into the broth and lightly placed her hand on mine.

“I have seen worse than him in my life, con gái, but be careful with him. He is more dangerous even than he realizes.”

She turned to Ted.

“And you, young man, aren’t much better off.” She gave his skin a pinch.

“Come with me to the pantry, I’m going to make sure you two have a few days worth of food before you leave here.”

Ted gave her a sheepish smile, climbing off the stool. I could see Francine give me a glance out of the corner of my eye as I looked down at the broth. Heard, rather than saw, her loop her arm through Lily’s.

“Help me, too, con gái. You know my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”

I heard Francine’s shuffling step lead the others back to the pantry.

The steam had long since dissipated from the bowl. I reached out to grasp the spoon, looking at my fingers grasp the metal, surprised at how steady they were.

No one’s going to rescue me, I thought. Anyone that I called for help, even Jake – especially Jake, would be in danger. Francine was right. Marshall was dangerous, more than he realized. He was dangerous not just because of who he was, but dangerous because of who and what he threatened. Chances were, at some point, he was going to go up against the wrong person, the one that wouldn’t back down when threatened. I didn’t want to be in New Bern when that happened.

I’d find a way out. I just needed time. I just needed to get some turbines built and then make as casual an exit as possible.

Unfortunately when Russell came to a few weeks later and asked if I wanted to go back to Jericho, Marshall was standing nearby. He caught my eye as Russell spoke to me, giving me that lopsided smirk of his. He glanced pointedly over to Francine and Lily before glancing back at me. An alarm went off in the back of my head.

“No,” I heard myself say, “It’s okay. There’s still a lot here to do. I just can’t take the time away right now.”

“Are you sure?” he asked. Russell’s back was turned to Marshall. Russell couldn’t see him or that spiteful smirk of his.

“There will probably be people that will want to see you. Heather?”

Russell squinted at me. I tore my attention away from Marshall and looked at Russell.

“I’m sure Jake Green will want to see you,” Russell said. His voice was soft and if I hadn’t been standing in front of him, I wouldn’t have heard the words.

Jake. Part of me almost had the hope to believe that he would rescue me. But I quashed the feeling as soon as it welled up within me.

“If he asks,” I said, looking away, then forcing my eyes back to Russell. “If he asks, tell him I’m fine, that I’d have come if there wasn’t so much to do.”

It wasn’t a lie. But chances were that I could have been spared for a few days just the same.

A look passed through Russell’s eyes. Perhaps he didn’t think it was all that safe for me to stay in New Bern any longer than necessary either, but I could tell he was guessing I wasn’t ready to face my demons in Jericho either.

My “demons” in Jericho were nothing like my demons in New Bern, I wanted to tell him.

He sighed and nodded, giving my arm a pat, before turning away and climbing into the bed of a truck. Marshall slid into the passenger seat, propping his rifle next to him. Fortunately for me, he did not look back.

con gái = daughter

Ok, I would like to apologize for being such a stranger for the last few months. I'm trying to work on that. I also apologize if the font here is smaller than usual. My cat hit the keyboard getting up into my lap and did something -- still trying to figure out what. I also wanted to say I went off on this tangent because I felt like I needed to address Heather's time in New Bern (and hopefully try to plug up a plot hole I kind of introduced earlier in the story). I'm hoping to have things back on track in another 2500 to 5000 words.

BTW, in case anyone is curious. This will lead you to my main photobucket page, where I have several subpages broken by subject of my photograph. This is what I do when I'm not writing. http://s149.photobucket.com/albums/s59/sacredinanna/ I'm hoping to be getting enough money back from my taxes to finally get the DSRL camera I've been wanting for the last couple of years.
Current Mood: surprisedsurprised
Current Music: "Luisa's Bones" by Crooked Fingers
15 December 2008 @ 06:36 pm
Title: First Snow
Characters: Beck, Heather
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Sooo don't own Jericho...
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.

Part of Rubberbisquit's Christmas challenge. Sorry -- it's on the long side. Hopefully I'll be able to update another chapter in Always Love once the holidays are over. This story is set as a bit of a jumping off point from the intro in Always Love.

He hated seeing her like this. So quiet and so pale. The ventilator swished the air in and out of her lungs, drowning out the consistent soft beeps of her monitors.

The doctor had debriefed him on her status. She had improved remarkably in the past 48 hours and was slowly being weaned off the drugs that had induced her coma.

That debriefing had been a few hours ago. It would still take several hours more for her to regain consciousness.

He leaned over the bed railing and gently ran his hand through her hair, hoping for a reaction. He let out a soft sigh of disappointment, but was not surprised when she did not stir.

Angel ran into the room.

“Angel,” he said. There was no mistaking the warning tone of his voice.

Angel’s behavior, however, surprised him. She had been quiet, almost subdued since Heather had been shot. The few days that they had been down here in Tulsa, she had spent most of the time silently thumbing through her rosary. He would scoop her sleeping form up out of the bedside chair and take her back to their temporary quarters at Camp Greenwood long after visiting hours were over. And more than one morning, he had found her up at dawn, greeting the new day in the ways that Lisa and Luna had taught her. He could hear her whispers float to him in the cold, dimly lit air.

“Please help her. Guide her back to us.”

He was brought back to the present by Angel yanking the cord on the window blinds. They clanked upward.

“Look, Popi, it’s snowing,” she said. “First snow of the season, the nurses said.”

She walked over to the bed and set the bar down, taking Heather’s hand in hers.

“You’ve got to see this, Heather. It’s beautiful.”

Heather did not move. Angel rubbed the back of the sedated woman’s hand, her previous exuberance quickly fading.

“Why don’t you pull a chair up next to the window and tell her what you see,” Edward said. Angel looked up at him and he could see that she was close to tears. She nodded slightly, sliding one of the chairs over to the window and sitting down. She leaned back and propped her feet against the sill.

“It’s beautiful, Heather,” she said again after taking a breath and letting it out in a long sigh. “It’s coming down slowly. Like a dance. First it sways to one side, then the other. Now it’s twirling. I think the snow is happy, happy to be here. I think it wants you to wake up so that you can see it, wants you to come out and join in its dance. It’s swirling again now. Some of it is making small circles along the ledge of the window.”

Edward listened to his daughter’s voice, letting the long hours of the day finally rest on him. He settled himself next to the bed, clasping Heather’s hand in his own. He slumped back in the chair and closed his eyes.

He heard Angel rock forward in her chair and he peaked an eye open to look over at her. She sat with arms crossed over the sill now, her forehead pressed to the glass, looking downward.

“You should see how it’s swirling across the grass. It’s tilting to the left, now back, now forward. It reminds me of the fancy shawl dancers at pow wow time. Popi will have to take us to one so I can show you what I’m talking about. But not until spring of course.”

She fell silent again, watching the snow float and flit down to the earth. Edward closed his eyes again.

I just shut my eyes for a moment, he thought. Just for a moment. Let Angel enjoy the snow for a little longer, then we’ll call it a night.

He walked among a copse of trees, looking at the landscape around him. The snow had stopped and everything was blanketed in a thick layer of white. The half moon lit the snow in a dim light, making the land look like it was covered in millions of diamonds.

He came to a clearing, with a trail that branched out in to several before him. Each wove and meandered through the forest. There was no indication that one was better than any of the others.

He started down the one nearest to him. As he walked, shadows flickered at the corner of his eye. His head shot around when one shadow ran past him, but when he turned there was nothing there. He turned to continue, but as he stepped forward, his left leg gave out from under him and he slammed into the frozen ground with a startled cry.

What in the hell is going on? He thought. Edward pulled his pant leg up as far as it would go. A long wide scar ran from mid-shin upward through his knee, disappearing under the cotton along his thigh. His hip ached in protest, but he ignored it for the most part. His knee was almost unrecognizable. Where bone and sinew should have rippled and rose under the skin there was nothing but ugly scar tissue.

As he sat there, another shadow crossed over him. This time, it felt as if his chest was being crushed. His body screamed in agony, each breath bringing a new pain to the fore. He slumped back to the ground. Above him, the stars seemed to be winking out, one by one.

The thought that he would die if he stayed on this path came to him clear and crystalline then. He had to get back to the clearing. If it took every last bit of his strength, he would get back.

A fallen branch lay nearby. He reached out and grasped it, testing its weight. He bit his lip, feeling the metallic taste of blood in his mouth as pain ran along his nerves like wild fire. He forced himself upward and limped back down the path.

He was surprised when no more shadows fell across him as he retreated.

Not only that, but the fact his leg seemed to heal with each step. When he first stood, it was twisted, unusable. Dead weight. But as he walked, a tingling sensation played down the nerves, growing warmer as he walked. By the time he saw the clearing glimmering in the dim moonlight, he tossed aside the branch, no longer needing it for support.

When he reached the clearing, he turned and regarded the passages before him. And stumbled back in surprise as the one he was on folded in on itself, snow and trees taking place of the hard packed dirt. In a few moments, it was as if it had never existed.

He took in a deep ragged breath as he looked out over what was remaining. To say he was hesitant to choose another was putting it mildly.

Above one, the stars seemed to sparkle so brightly, if distantly. The path was well lit and straight. He took a step forward and stopped, catching his breath.

No shadows crept out of the trees to attack him. No pain wracked his body. The stars still shone in their distant glory.

Again, he started out on his journey. This time as he walked, nothing crossed his path. Nothing and no one to attack him and yet nothing and no one to greet him either. He looked up at the stars, twinkling merrily, just out of his reach. He walked a bit farther, looking at them.

Suddenly he stopped, staring at them.

I am I crazy or are they getting farther away as I walk?

He shook his head, immediately discarded the thought as madness and continued on his journey.

He stopped abruptly again.

They are getting farther away.

Suddenly, he felt utterly and completely alone. This time the pain did not crush into his chest, but seemed to build up a little at a time. Each step forward that he took, it was as if someone had laid a brick on his chest and with the next step, another and the next, another.
He fell to his knees. His hands reached out to the stars for help, but they stretched away from his grasp. He slumped to the ground once more.

Wrong path, he thought. Wrong path again.

With a struggling breath, he stood again and trudged back to the clearing.
He did not look back as he stood once again in the clearing, hearing instead the path close in on itself.

This is some sort of test, he thought.

Really, you think? A sarcastic reassuring voice sounding very much like Jake Green filtered through his thoughts. He brushed it aside.

There had to be a right path. But which one?

No answer was forthcoming. The only way to find the right one was through trial and error. It was a test, but he wasn’t even sure what the test was about. What was this test trying to tell him? What was it trying to teach him?

He looked at the trails again. He remembered Lisa talking about how a path in dream or vision could also mean one’s life journey.

Was that what this was? That his life was at a crossroads and he was deciding how to live his life from this point forward?

That seemed right, but at the same time, it seemed to be only part of the answer.

He stepped up to the next one with the determination to figure out what was missing.

The moonlight blazed on the path before him. He looked up at it. The light had been on each path he taken, but he had not really taken that into account until now. Its face blazed in the cold night.

“Angel,” he whispered.

The moon smiled down at him.

“I am always with you, Popi,” the moon said to him in his daughter’s voice. “You’ll never lose me. Never. I will always be with you.”

His heart swelled in her reassurance and he looked down at the ground, hiding the tears that threatened to break. Dream or not, he didn’t think it would be right for his daughter to see him in the emotionally rough state that he was in right now. She deserved someone who at least appeared to be solid enough to lean on and he wasn’t about to let her down.

He walked along and everything seemed to be all right, but still something felt missing. He couldn’t quite place it. Part of him knew that he could be quite happy traveling this path, but something at the back of his mind said that there could be more, something was still missing.

He turned again on his heel and walked back to the clearing, the path collapsing and snow rising in its place as soon as he stepped off of it.

“What am I missing, Angel?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you that, Popi. This is your test, not ours. I’m sorry.”

The moonlight dimmed slightly as if to reflect the sadness of the girl’s voice, then suddenly brightened again.

“But I might be able to give you a hint. I think you need to be right in front of it and then you’ll know.”

“Thank you, honey,” he said. That didn’t really seem to help.

A memory of Lisa flashed though his mind, giggling at him from across a dinner table from one of their first dates.

“Wow, that pride is going to keep you from seeing what’s right in front of you some day,” she said, then cleared her throat, calming. “I hope I don’t see it. I doubt it will be funny at all.”

There were a handful of passages left now. Slowly, he stepped up to the head of one. It was inviting, giving him a feeling that it would not be so different from the last path he took. He stood there, looking the path over. Whatever it was that he was looking for, it wasn’t there. He stepped back and the path closed in on itself.

“Wait!” he shouted. A bolt of frustration rocked through him. “I didn’t choose! You can’t take it away if I didn’t choose it!”

But you did, a voice reverberated deep within his head. Now that path is closed to you. Make a decision. Make it quick. Time is running out.

He stood back from the remaining trails, studying each. Above one of them, light glimmered.

He hadn’t noticed it before. He walked to one side, then taking a step or two closer to it. It wound its way halfway around a hill before switching back and scaling its height. The constellation of the Twins shone high in the sky above. Beneath the hill and the constellation was a nebula and from this came the glow.

The nebula seemed to quiver as he watched it, waxing brighter, then dimming, spinning slowly before him. Iridescent light danced across its expanse, making the sound of metal across a whetting stone as it arced through the stellar dust. At its center, the soft white light glowed steadily, softening out at the edges to a grass green, dimming as it spread to a green as dark as the pine needles on the trees of the forest. A quiet, but solid pulse emanated from it.

This is what I’ve been looking for. This is it.

He took a step onto the hard packed earth and stopped. Part of him was more than a little frightened. If he chose this, there was the possibility that no other options would be left open to him and that scared him.

You don’t understand, said the voice in his head. This doesn’t close off where you life can go, it gives you more opportunities. But you need to make the choice. It must be of your own free will. It is a step into the unknown and that is what you fear most, because it is unpredictable, a place where you will have little or no control over until it becomes known. And that scares the hell out of you.

Edward stood there, rocking on his heels, watching the nebula. It had to be one of the most beautiful and exquisite things he had ever seen. A calm came over him as he watched it. And a joy he hadn’t felt in a long time. Not since –

Suddenly he was moving down the path. He broke into a run, tearing up the trail, fear now making his legs move in long wild strides.

“Wait,” he shouted, “I’m coming. Don’t go!”

He slipped on the hillside, sliding away from its crest. Puffs of dust and grit flew up from his fingers and heels as he fought and clawed at the dirt to keep from sliding back. He looked up at the nebula. It was flickering, fading away. He scrambled upward, stepping off the trail and grasping at the tuffs of long grass that poked up through the snow that stubbornly refused to die despite the hostile conditions. His bare feet burned with cold as they stomped over the snow. He didn’t care. He had to get to the crest before the nebula disappeared. If he didn’t, the freezing tendrils that were slowly working into his soul would burn it in so cold a fire that he wouldn’t be sure he’d have the strength to warm it again.

“Please,” he prayed, “Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t leave me.”

He reached the crest of the hill, and with one bounding leap, reached out to the nebula as it curved down into his embrace. The green-white light coalesced and enveloped him. He felt the pulse of it grow stronger as he felt himself dissolve into its light. Tentatively, he sent out a single thought, a question.

Is this what you really want? Is it me that you want?

The question echoed back to him.

He set himself to a moment of peace before answering, then sent out a pulse of love and joy that at first was gentle and soothing building into a happiness that bubbled up within him and laughter ran through the light.

Joy returned to him double fold, and happiness, and love, and shot through it was a passion that tumbled violently about his senses, awaking a feeling in him that he had long reined in and setting it free.

Suddenly, he was on the crest of the hill, Heather in his arms, crushing her lips to his. Her legs were wrapped around his waist and she raked her nails through his tightly cropped hair. He ran his tongue along her bottom lip and pulled back abruptly when he tasted salt there.

“No, don’t stop,” Heather said, cupping his face in her hands. “Don’t stop.”

She leaned in and gave him a searing kiss. It took everything he had to keep from losing himself in the moment. He placed a hand on her cheek, pressing her from him, but not before she landed a handful of quick pecks on his lips, cheeks, and nose. He gave in for another minute after that, tasting her mouth and burying his hands into her hair, until she gave out a breath that was part sigh and part sob.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” he whispered to her, placing his thumbs at her temples as he cradled her head back.

She dropped a kiss on the inside of his arm, looking up at him.

“It’s nothing,” she said. She slid down from his embrace, but made no further move away from him.

“It looks like something from where I’m standing,” he replied. He pressed his thumb against her cheek, rubbing away a trail of tears. She giggled softly and he looked at her in confusion, which only made her pull him to her in a deep embrace. She ran her hand across his forehead and down his cheek before brushing a finger across his lips.

“I’m happy,” she said. There was more than that. He knew, could sense that it wasn’t only happiness and joy that she felt, but relief as well.

“Happy that I found you,” he said.

She still stared at him, almost as if to prove to herself that he was actually there before her. Another tear slid down her cheek as he closed his eyes and leaned into her touch.

“Yes,” she whispered. Her voice broke as she spoke. “And I was so afraid you wouldn’t.”

He suddenly realized that this dream had been yet another journey back to her. He had lost his way, not her. She always knew what path she had been on, that had had not changed since Wellington. And if he dared to hope, likely not since New Mexico. She was not the one who had needed to put their pride aside. It had been him. He was the one who needed to learn to rely on others, to learn what it was like to be human. To not try to be Superman all the time.
If there was one thing Wellington taught him, it was that he was most definitely not Superman.
And while he knew that just having Angel back in his life had made him happier than he thought he would be able to be again, it was Heather who made him realize that there could be more. And he wanted more.

“Yeah, I found you,” he said, running his fingers over her face, trying to memorize each curve and line. “Finally. And now that I know how to find you, I’m never going to lose you again.”

He brushed the pad of his thumb along her lower lip and she closed her eyes, delighting in his touch. He closed the distance between them, kissing her passionately. A smile filtered into his kiss when he realized that she was kissing with enough force to push him back a step. Finally, he pulled back, brushing her hair back from her face.

“I love you,” he said.

Her smile was as brilliant as the stars above them.

“I know,” she replied.

Edward felt himself slowly waking. The material beneath his cheek was soft. He felt fingers brush through his hair and he let out a muffled sigh. He wiggled the fingers of his right hand, the entire arm feeling like dead weight. It was definitely still asleep. Again, the fingertips brushed across him, this time traveling down to run over his shoulder blades before traveling back up to his hair. He pressed down into the softness, curling into the touch. When the hand traveled across his shoulders a second time, his sleepy mind conjured up the thought of pressing Heather back into the bed and making love to her slowly and methodically.

He sat up, knocking the hand away.

Heather looked at him through half lidded eyes. She slowly pulled her arm back to her side, fighting to stay conscious.

“Heather,” he said. His voice was still hoarse from sleep, but it was loud enough to wake Angel from where she was curled up next to the window. Her face lit up like the sun when she realized Heather was awake. She was immediately on her feet and at the woman’s side; clasping Heather’s other hand in her smaller one.

“I’m so glad you’re awake,” Angel said. The vigil of the last few days finally came to head for the young girl and she burst into tears.

“Why don’t you go get the nurse, honey. Let them know she’s awake.”

Angel nodded and stumbled out of the room. Edward reached down and clasped his hand in hers and she held onto it tightly, not breaking her gaze from his.

A nurse came in a few minutes later and started to remove the tape that held her tube in place.

“Ok, Heather, I’m going to need you to inhale and then let out a big exhale on the count of three. Ok? One, two, three.”

Heather forced out the tube in one long sputtering cough. Edward poured a glass of water from the pitcher that sat on her side table and sat her up to take a sip. She wrapped her fingers around his as they held the cup. Her fingers felt soft and cool against his skin. After she had taken a few sips, her grasp loosened.

He placed the cup back onto the table and began to move off the bed. She grasped weakly at his shirt.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she rasped. He chuckled softly.

“Nowhere,” he replied.

Her face crumpled slightly and she looked down at where her hand clasped his shirt before looking up at him again, leaning her head back against the hollow of his neck.

“You found me,” she whispered. The dream came rushing back to him and he let out a shuddering sigh as all the emotions that he felt reached up from his unconscious to overwhelm him. He ran the pad of his thumb along her lower lip.

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” he asked.

“Did you mean what you said?” she asked. “You’re not going to lose me again?”

Edward’s breath caught. Had he meant it?

He watched his fingers quiver ever so slightly as his mind and body gave a resounding yes. He bent down and gave her a soft kiss.

He pulled back and looked at her. There was such hope in her eyes. He never wanted to let her go.

“Never,” he said, closing the distance to kiss her again.

Angel walked back into the room at that precise moment with a large ball of snow in her hand

She looked at them for a moment longer before walking into the bathroom. He could hear her rummaging in the room, then she walked back out with a small towel in her hand. She placed it on Heather’s tray and slid over the bed, plunking the snow down on top. She quickly worked the one ball into three consecutively smaller ones, stacking them up as she went. She placed small pebbles in for its eyes, nose and mouth, then the three buttons down its front.
Edward tilted his head at her, wondering if she was going to respond to what she just saw. She stood back to look at her handiwork, before finally turning to face her father. After seeing his reaction, she shrugged.

“What? If you ask me, it was about time you found her,” Angel replied.

Also wanted to impart a little Christmas recipe too. All you need is a 14 oz (396g) bag of shredded coconut & one and a half bags of milk chocolate chips (11.25oz/326g). Divide coconut in half and spread one batch onto a tin foil covered cookie sheet. Heat the oven to 350F & cook for 12-15 minutes, turning the flakes once during baking. In the meantime, melt the chips over low heat in a double boiler on the stovetop. Set the first batch of coconut to the side & brown other half. The longer you cook the coconut, the browner and crispier it will be. Once the chips have melted, mix everything together in a large bowl. With a spoon, scoop and place onto parchment or wax paper (I usually reuse the cookie sheet for this) & place into fridge until hardened -- usually an hour. Excellent and simple holiday treat. Hope everyone's month has been going well. :)
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: Right Here (Departed) by Brandy
08 November 2008 @ 03:16 am
Title: The Long Path
Characters: Beck, Heather, Mrs. Beck
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Sooo don't own Jericho...
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.

This is my side story on Beck's change of perspective that Lily mentioned.

Edward turned fitfully in his sleep. He was beyond tired, but his muscles still flexed as he lay unconscious, ready to roll him out of bed at a mere whistling of the wind. The waning moon was high in the sky by the time his fatigue pushed him further into sleep and his tense muscles slowly relaxed.

He dreamt he lay on a grassy hillside, looking up into the afternoon sky.

He knew he must be dreaming, because the sun was nowhere to be seen.
A hand curled around his and he looked over to his side. Lisa lay next to him, hair fanned and arm flung out in abandon. She stretched and curled into him, pillowing her head against his chest.

He wrapped his arms around her and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

“I’ve missed you,” he said.

The pad of her thumb caressed his cheek as she looked up at him.

“I’ve missed you too.”

“I was beginning to think I had forgotten what you looked like.” he said, brushing a hand through her hair. “I’ve looked at your picture everyday just to remember the color of your hair when the light shines on it.” Sunlight shone through the strands of her hair that slipped through his fingers.

“Or the curve of your lips,” he said, brushing his fingers over them. He bent down and gave her a kiss filled with longing.

“Forgive me?” he asked.

She smiled and closed the distance between them, pressing her lips to his in a gentle kiss.

“What is there to forgive, love?” she replied. After a moment, she sat up, then rolled to her feet. She turned back to him, extending her hand.

“Come. Walk with me.”

He placed his hand in hers and rolled to his feet when she tugged at his arm.

“Do you remember this place?” she asked at they strolled past a pond. Ducks glided quietly over its surface, giving Edward and Lisa a curious glance before paddling away to feast on tadpoles that darted among the lily pads.

“Washington Park Arboretum – it was our first date.”

“Do you remember what I said to you then?” she asked.

“That our time together was limited, so we should enjoy every moment while we could.”

“Yes,” she replied.

“For a long time, I had always thought you meant those first days we spent together in Seattle. When I look back now, I realize those words have a completely different meaning.”

Lisa pulled a chain from its hiding place beneath her blouse. At its end dangled a single band of gold. His wedding band.

“That’s why I asked you to leave this with me.”

Hurt tore at him as he watched the circle of gold twist and sway in the light. Lisa sensed this as she clasped it in her hand.

“I know it was the hardest thing for you to do, but I want you to know that it was even harder for me to ask you to leave it behind.”

A single tear rolled down her cheek. He reached over and brushed it away. She leaned into his touch, regarding him, taking in his features.

He tilted his head. There was something she wasn’t telling him.

She turned away.

“I know we’ve had our differences about the upbringing I got from my grandmother.”

Edward stiffened. He knew exactly where this was going.

He didn’t believe in shamanism. Lisa did. And they had several heated arguments over it.

He respected her religion and the rituals that came with it, to the point that he was willing to have taught them to Angel so that she would know about her Acoma heritage. But to him, that’s all they were – rituals. He didn’t believe when Luna and Lisa conducted these rituals that they “walked among the stars” or “traveled the other plains of Earth”, which he euphemistically took as speaking with the dead. He had no doubts that they actually perceived these visions, but that it was all conjured from their minds. The mind was an amazing thing, he argued with Lisa, capable of great flights of fancy if one believed in them hard enough.

“Is that what you think I’m having when I do this? A flight of fancy?” she asked.

Edward regretted his choice of wording.

“I believe that you see something because it’s what you want to see, it’s what you want to believe in, so therefore it must be true. The answers you seek come from you, not elsewhere.”

Lisa sighed and said, “I know there’s no way I can convince you now, but one day, one day something will happen, and you will believe.”

“Lisa, what are you trying to tell me?” he asked. There was fear in his voice, unmasked and dark. He almost didn’t want her to answer him.

She turned back to him. She smiled a bright smile and his fear abated a little. She closed the distance between them, placing her hand against his chest. Her touch warmed him and the fear slowly drained away.

“I will always be here,” she said. He pressed against her fingertips as they drew out a circular pattern over his heart. “Always. Even when you and I are traveling different paths.”

“Where are you?” he asked, the fear suddenly returning.

“I am always here, Edward,” she said, her fingers continuing to trace their circle.

She paused. In the distance, he could hear the plaintive cry of a jay. The breeze was cool and damp on his skin, like the air felt when there was a break in the storm.

Her fingers pressed into his chest and she said, “That doesn’t mean others can’t be here as well.” The pattern on his chest weaved a bit.

“Others?” he asked.

She seemed enormously interested in the movement of her fingers. He set his mouth to a thin line. She was avoiding the subject again. She did it on rare occasions where she was afraid she was pushing him too far. It bothered him, made him feel like she didn’t trust him. It always hurt him when she did it.

Lisa took a deep breath before speaking.

“Don’t turn her away, Edward. You need her and I know she’ll take care of you.”

There was only one person that he knew Lisa could mean when she said that.

Heather. She was talking about Heather.

Guilt welled up from his belly and gnawed at his insides.

“But it’s you I want, not her,” he protested, grabbing her hand. She was slipping away. He was letting her slip away.

Lisa sighed, lacing her fingers through his.

“Don’t lie to yourself, Edward, especially not just to believe you’re making me feel better. I know,” she said. “I know how much you want to be with her, how much you care for her. This – “

She motioned and the scenery changed as she drew her arm across the expanse before them. Where there was green grass, trees teeming with life and a serene afternoon had become the twisted metal and broken concrete of burning buildings, the desolate landscape of any one of a number of bombed cities.

A plaintive voice wailed in the distance and he coughed on the acrid smoke that filled his lungs and obscured the sun in the sky.

“This changed you. I knew it would.”

She was not looking at him now, instead studying the alien landscape before them.

“I saw it coming,” she whispered.

“You,” he began, looking at her in shock, “You saw this coming?”

When she looked back at him, her eyes were filled with tears.

“Not in this detail,” she said. His fingers flexed instinctively around her hand as he heard her voice breaking.

“What I saw was more of a great storm coming, devouring everything in its path and blotting the sun and the sky. No matter what I did, the vision never changed. There would always be death, destruction, heartache. That this storm would come and separate you and I.”

“Why? Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

She stared at him. He didn’t think he’d seen her so angry – or hurt – by his words.
“What good would’ve done? It would have just been me having another flight of fancy,” she said. The bitterness in her voice was unmistakable.

He held their entwined hands up to his chest. It was only now that he realized how deeply his words had wounded her. It had been a leap of faith that she asked him to take with her. And he had dashed her hopes in an instant, with less than a handful of words. Regret weighed down on him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Another tear fell down her cheek and again he reached out and brushed it away. He had been so afraid of losing her, and yet he felt as if he had lost her long ago. He wanted to go back, wanted to say yes, take that leap with her. Trust in her. If he had, he never would have lost her.

“But do you believe now?” she asked, reading his thoughts. “Are you willing to try now?”

“Yes,” he replied.

Her lips brushed against his knuckles and she looked up at him.

“That’s all I ever wanted. You are never going to lose me, Edward. Never. You know that.”

She was silent for a moment before she continued.

“But you know that there is room in your heart for more than just me. I’ve watched her. She’s a good woman, Edward. She knows what is right and wrong. I know you think that she is so much like me, but when I watch her I think she is so like you. Eager to please, wanting to do what’s right. This changed you,” she said, gesturing to the landscape again, “and that means you need her now more than ever. If I couldn’t be with you to take care of you, I wanted someone to be with you who could. You have no idea how glad I am that she’s watching over you now.” Lisa let her hand fall away. She walked past him, down the bombed street they stood on and the world shifted again. Grass grew up from the sidewalks and trees and bushes replaced the buildings and from one step to the next they were back on that path in the park. But it wasn’t the same.

Some of the trees branched out in jagged and skewed angles, looking like the ghosts of the shattered buildings they had replaced. It was hard to determine if the base of a tree was just that or the twisted hulk of a destroyed support beam. The jay called out again, this time closer, its loneliness piercing the air.

A breeze came up and the fall leaves swirled out of the trees, wafting down around her like so much gold confetti. She looked back at him over her shoulder.

“She is the right person for you now, not me.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, walking toward her. He cupped her cheeks in his hands and rested his forehead against hers. Her hands cradled his head as she savored the contact. He wished she would stop this talk of moving on. He knew how he felt about Heather and the attraction that had grown within him over these past several months for her. But he didn’t want to talk about this. Because it hurt. It hurt to think he was letting his wife go. He held onto her, wanting all the love he felt for her to flow through him, through his hands, into her. Wanted to deny, that if only given a little more time and Heather’s consent, his love for her would be just as deep. Not the same as what he held for his wife. Lisa was right, he had changed. But his love for Heather could be just as deep.

Frustrated, he squeezed his eyes shut and shoved the thoughts aside. He didn’t want to think about this.

No, no, no! He shouted at the errant thoughts that pressed on him.

He felt Lisa’s presence before him, reaching out and calming the turmoil within. He opened his eyes and stared at her. The look she gave him was a combination of empathy and gentle admonishment.

“You’re lying to yourself again, Edward. You know what I’m saying is true. There were times I held back with you, didn’t say what should have been said because I was too afraid of hurting you. I watch her, though, and realize that I was wrong. She makes you stronger, Edward. You need her. Especially now that. . . ,” her words trailed off, but he knew what she was going to say.

“Now that we can’t be together,” he whispered. She nodded her head and cupped his cheek in her palm.

His chest emptied and collapsed at the loss and longing he felt in that moment.

He wept as buried himself into her embrace. Hard and loud in this quiet place, in this sanctuary where only he and she existed. She held him, her hands running long caresses down the length of his spine. He knew without looking that she was crying too. He let the emotions fill him; overtake him, recognizing each one in their turn. And as he did, he felt calmer, more at peace with himself than he had felt in some years.

After a time, the pain subsided. It was then that Lisa spoke again.

“We will meet again someday. For me, it will be a very short time.” She held his face in between her hands, turning him to look at her.

“For you, it will be longer.”

Lisa’s gaze turned toward the end of the path. She motioned to him to follow her. “Don’t close yourself off, Edward,” she said as they glided down the path. “She would be good to you, good for you. If I can’t be here to watch over you, then it is very fortunate that she can. She loves you, Edward. Move heaven and earth for you, because she believes in you. Don’t let her slip away. Promise me, you won’t let her slip away.”

They stood before an unusual plant. It was beautiful, Edward thought, as its fragrance intoxicated him. At its tip was a single bud colored in the palest shades of dawn. Lisa gave his hand one last squeeze and then let go. He tried holding onto her grasp for as long as he could, but her fingers merely slipped through his. She gestured to him to pluck the bud.

He reached down, grasping it between his fingers and gasped as an unseen thorn dug into his flesh. Something his father once said to him came to the forefront of his mind as his blood flowed over the snapped stem.

“You will never know sweetness, son, if you do not know bitterness also.”

The bud bloomed in his hand. At its center, Heather lay asleep. He gazed at her and felt his heart grow full with all the emotions and desire he held for her, but had denied himself to feel.

She opened her eyes and looked up. He could lose himself in those eyes. Didn’t think she ever knew how many times he came close to putting that restraint aside and indulging himself in the desire.

Then all he knew was that she was in his arms and he didn’t want to let go.
The scent of the honeysuckle lotion she always wore filled the air and he clung to her all the harder. Her contented sigh vibrated against his chest as she held him close.

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered to him.

“I know,” he replied. “I’m going to take care of that.”

Lisa cleared her throat and the two fell back from one another, embarrassed. Lisa smiled, amusement glittering in her eyes. She held the chain with the band up for the Heather to see.

“I believe you will keep this safe with the utmost care,” Lisa said as she took younger woman’s palm. The chain glinted in the light as the links coiled into Heather’s upturned hand.

Heather looked at it for several moments, rolling it about in her hand. The light glittered and flashed off the ring, holding her mesmerized. Finally, her face solemn, she looked up at Lisa.

“I will do my best,” said Heather.

A bright laugh filled the air and the older woman enveloped her into a hug.

“I know you will,” Lisa said, her cheeks wet with tears. She pulled back and patted Heather’s arm. “I know you will; I’m counting on it.”

Edward regarded the two women, a little lost on what might happen next. But not afraid. Curious. Fascinated. But not afraid.

“So you believe now, Edward?” Lisa asked.

He stood there for a moment. Once he was awake, this reality fading quickly, there was still the possibility that he would dismiss this as only a dream, wishful thinking on his part. Yet, for the first time since the attacks, guilt was not this leaden weight that he carried within his chest. Fear did not wait for him in the shadows of his mind. It was going to be all right, no matter what happened, it would be all right.

Edward gave a shout of laughter.

“I don’t know if I believe, but I have the faith and the trust in you.” His gaze traveled from Lisa to Heather and then regarded the two women as they stood together before continuing.

“Both of you, to take that leap.”

Lisa clasped his cheek for a moment, then pulled her hand away. He grabbed it quickly as it fell; dropping a kiss on her knuckles, then let it go.

Lisa turned down a side path. Mists curled around her as she walked. Within a few moments, she was gone.

Edward stared at the side path that his wife had taken for a few moments. The ache of missing her was still there, but it had changed from the knife hot pain that it was to the ache of an old wound that he knew would never completely heal.

He looked down at Heather. She had placed the chain around her neck. She looked back up at him, giving him a timid smile.

He extended his hand to her. She looked at it and he could tell that she was afraid.

“It will be ok,” he said to her. She took a deep breath, chasing the butterflies away, he thought, before clasping his hand in hers. It was warm and soft and when she looked at him again, her eyes were full of promise.

“So where do we go from here?” he asked. Heather looked around them. The path that they stood on was broad, meandering in a few twists over the hills before straightening out along the ridgeline.

“This way, I think,” she said, pointing down the path. She turned to him, hesitant.

“One step at a time?” she asked.

“One step at a time,” he replied.

Edward woke in the morning, the dream rapidly receding from his consciousness. He sat on the edge his bunk, trying to recall it, but could not. For the first time in months, however, he felt at peace. Not exhausted with all that he had done and had to do. The deep sadness of not knowing where Lisa and Angel were did not tear at his first waking moment; instead a dull ache took its place. And his guilt toward Heather seemed so much smaller now. She had been a good friend, good to him and good for him. He hoped that it wasn’t too late to save what he had with her. Because for some reason he knew that Lisa would understand. It would all work out. It was going to be all right. He didn’t know why he knew that, he just did.

I wanted to try something new (actually the technique is really old) with the repetition in the story. I've been a little worried that it might come off as overly sentimental in some spots, so I apologize if it struck you that way also when you read the story.

Two songs inspired me on this one. The old 70's song "Band of Gold", for obvious reasons. Also, "After the Fire" by the Who. An excellent song, it always seems to remind me of the after affects of a tragedy. However, I think Roger Daltrey sings it a lot better than Pete Townsend, but that's just my opinion.

I wanted to try to answer a couple of issues with this story. First, why he doesn't wear his wedding ring in the series. Second, the actor, Esai Morales, stating that Mrs. Beck was the love of Beck's life. I wanted to have a somewhat plausible reason for him to move on. That even though Mrs. Beck was the love of his life, that he might be lucky twice in his lifetime, with two different yet equally intense loves. I'm still hoping for success. :)
Current Mood: awake
Current Music: "After the Fire" by the Who
Title: ._ ._.. ._ _ ._ _._ _ ... ._.. _ _ _ ..._ . (Always Love)
Characters: Beck, Heather, OCs
Rating: PG -- 13
Chapters: 10/?
Disclaimer: Sooo don't own Jericho...
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.

I had ended up dismissing my cold feet with Carlos as just a combination of nerves and homesickness. I hadn't even spoken to Lily in a couple of weeks. The last I heard from her, she had been evacuated to Oklahoma City and refused to go any farther south.

"I'm going back," she told me.

"That's crazy," I replied. "A.S. troops are all over Northern Kansas. You wouldn't be able to get past Garden City."

"I'm sorry, Heather, but this place isn't home for me. Despite the hellhole that New Bern became, it's home for me. And I'll take on the entire A.S. army to get back home if I have to."

I sighed, frustrated that I couldn't make her see what she was doing was not only dangerous, it was deadly. She bristled over the phone to my reluctance.

"Look, Heather, I know you've been in San Antonio for a while. May be it feels like home to you now. But that's never going to happen for me."

"San Antonio is not my home. Jericho is. You know that."

"Yeah, well, if that's the case, then you'll understand why I'm going back."

"The going, I understand. The timing, I don't."

"The tide is turning, Heather. And I want to be in my home to celebrate reunification when it happens."

I still had my fears, but Lily was determined.

"Fine. If you want to go, I'm not going to be the one to stop you. Just be careful, please. Do that for me, Lily."

"I will. Take care, Heather. And take care of Beck if you run across him."

"Is he ok? Is he hurt? Is there something you're not telling me, Lily?"

"He's still the Colonel we know and you love," she replied.

I blushed at that, but said nothing. Lily was silent for several moments.

"Look, I've got to go." She paused and then said, "For what it's worth, Heather, I have a feeling he misses you, too. He knows you've been a good friend. And I think he was more balanced when you were around."

"Is he being reckless?"

"No, he was withdrawn, cold after you left. Much colder and withdrawn than when you were with him. Then something happened –“

“What? What happened?”

“I don’t know, Heather. Just one day, he was cold and withdrawn, the next, he was still withdrawn, but kind of at peace, you know? It was just, I don’t know, weird. It kind of creeps me out.”

“What do you mean? Is he ok? What are you not telling me, Lily?”

“I don’t know, Heather. Maybe it’s nothing. But it’s almost as if he’s got some answer that he hasn’t tipped off to the rest of us. And I think, in the end, it's going to make him do something stupid.”

There was a pause and then the sound of paper shuffling in the background.

“Look, chị tôi, I wasn't lying. I need to go."

I wanted to tell her not to go, bit the tip of my tongue for a moment fighting not to say it.

"Take care then, chị. Love you."

“Love you too.”

"Lily?" I said suddenly, not sure if she was still there.

"Yeah, Heather," she replied.

"Thank you."

"Yeah,” she replied. I heard something being zippered.

“Take care of yourself, Heather." Then the phone disconnected.

I stood before the mirror, nervously running my hands down my dress, looking for any wrinkles.

It was a chiffon cocktail dress of sea green. There were single strips of white chiffon running diagonally across the bodice with hand applied rhinestones, giving it a rippled, see through effect. I twisted one way and then the other in the mirror, making sure once again it wasn’t too revealing.

I had my doubts about the dress when I tried it on in the second hand shop I had found it in, but the saleswoman insisted it looked stunning on me. Part of me suspected that she said that because of the $250 price tag on the dress, which still had me in sticker shock a few days later.

I twisted once again and sighed. It was beautiful, and it was a near perfect fit. I hoped I would have the opportunity to have more than one wearing out of it.

I studied my upswept hair and let out another sigh as a curl fell onto my shoulder. It had taken 45 minutes and a fistful of bobby pins to get my hair into its loose chignon.

To heck with it, I thought. If by the end of the night, my hair is down and all of the bobby pins are in my purse, so be it. I’m done messing with it.

I glanced at the clock on the nightstand once more before scooping up my clutch and wrap.

There was a soft knock on the front door. I gave myself one last once over and walked out of the bedroom

“Right on time,” I said as I opened the door.

Carlos stood there, looking crisp and debonair in a charcoal grey suit. A single white rose was clasped in his hand.

He wasn’t saying anything.

I brushed my hand against the back of my neck, checking my chignon and avoiding his gaze.

“You look amazing,” he said.

I looked at him. It was impossible not to see the desire in his look. Chances are if he had the evening his way, we’d be saying to hell with the ball & not leave my room until morning.

His gaze was unwavering. I started to blush.

Ok, maybe leave the room in the morning. More likely leave the room a few mornings later.

A swirl of pleasure floated down my body and curled low in my belly. The idea of making love with him was a thought that I had entertained more and more as the days past.

Then the thought of kissing Edward would float back into my mind, to the point where my body did not know if it was Carlos or Edward that I truly wanted. My nerves sang out in painful frustration.

I quickly stepped out into the hall and shut the door behind me.

There are people relying on us, I thought. You can worry about your hormones.

He handed the rose to me. I buried my nose into the blossom to smell its heady fragrance and clear my mind.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you,” I said.

Carlos reached out and brushed an errant curl from my shoulder. He offered me the crook of his arm and I placed my hand lightly into it. I could feel the heat radiating off his body as my wrist pressed against his suit. He gave my hand a small caress.

“You’re welcome,” he replied.

The ball was well underway by the time Kase arrived with his entourage.

About time, I thought. Another half hour and I would have called the evening a bust. And there was more than one lustful thought that had floated through my mind during the course of the evening about dragging Carlos back to my apartment.

Carlos tipped his head toward a blond-headed man whose gaze had lingered on me for a few seconds when Kase’s group walked in.

I hid a sour look from Carlos. The man he wanted me to distract, John Stanton, gave me an uneasy feeling. When I returned the man’s gaze from across the room, he gave me a slow lopsided smile that made me fight the urge to turn on my heel and walk in the opposite direction. His gaze reduced me to the feeling of a pretty slab of meat on a hook. It didn’t help either when Laura ‘ewwed’ when I told her he’d be my assignment at the Ball.

“He likes to think he’s a lady’s man,” she said with a frown when I asked her what was wrong.

“He thinks?” I asked, cornering her by the water cooler, wanting to know what I had just gotten myself into. “Laura, what do women think of him?”

She gave me a concerned look.

“Just be careful of the guy, Heather. John Stanton is man who thinks that since he’s part of Kase’s group, that whatever he wants, he’ll get. Period.”

“So don’t leave the party with him,” I said.

“Heather, who knows, you might actually like him,” she said, walking away from the water cooler.

“But you don’t think I will.”

“If I were you, Heather, I wouldn’t let Carlos or Will out of your eyesight while you’re dealing with this guy.”

I sighed as Stanton gave me another raking look from head to toe.

This will call for a nice long hot shower when I’m done, I thought, fighting down the buzzing in the back of mind that was screaming ‘Creep alert! Creep alert!’

I headed toward him, trying to find solace in the fact that I was wearing my three inch heels. It followed quickly by the thought that they would likely be meeting up with at least one of his insteps before the evening was through.

“Well, hello there, darlin’,” the tall blond said, tipping his hat up when I presented myself in front of him. “What’s a country girl like you doing in a place like this?”

It wasn’t the exact response I expected and I was unsure how to answer it.

“I’m sorry?” I replied. Confusion seeped through the smile I gave him.

He let out a low chuckle.

“I figured a pretty girl like you must be from the country because you’re the only woman I’ve seen so far that doesn’t seem to be dressed like some cheap whore.”

From the look on his face, I knew he thought he’d given me a whopper of a compliment.

Oh, it was a whopper all right. I couldn’t recall receiving a compliment quite as backhanded as the one he just delivered. Maybe I should just stomp on his instep now and get this done and over with.

I surreptitiously glanced over at Carlos. He and Ambassador Travis were making their way toward Mr. Kase. Maggie was in tow behind them.

Dolores already had four of his group off to one side, chatting up a storm. A couple of them had a deer in headlights look about them, wondering what had just happened. One attempted to extract himself from the situation, but Dolores easily corralled him back in when he tried to make a break for it.

Will had a companion on each arm. Guessing from their looks, Will had them distracted to the point that Kase could have fallen off the face of the earth and neither of them would have noticed.

I glanced at Carlos once more. He was poised for his final move on Kase. Once that happened, he would need about five minutes to ten minutes to let Travis discuss and rectify the shipping and distribution of the tainted food.

Stanton asked me a question.

“I’m sorry?” I said, having missed his question.

He gave me that lopsided smile again and mumbled something that sounded distinctly like ‘Not as half as much as you will be in the morning.’

I moved my right foot so that it was tilted back on the heel.

“I said why don’t we leave this hole and go some place where we can get to know one another a little better.” He stared blatantly at my body as he stated the last part.

This guy wouldn’t know about subtlety if it hit him over the head with the force of a steel I beam. I gave him a forced grin.

“Oh, but the night is still young. I’d like to have some fun before we leave,” I told him, trying to avoid folding my arms defensively in front of me. I settled for curling one arm up, letting the hand rest against my shoulder while other wrapped itself across my waist.

“I’m all the fun you’ll want or need, darlin’,” he said. He reached out and clasped my elbow.

I evaded him, spinning, taking a couple of steps back, before turning to him again.

If I can just keep him in here. If I can just keep him in public, it will be okay, I thought. But my thoughts did little to calm the panic that was starting to turn my stomach.

“Oh, but I’m having so much fun here. I feel like I could just dance the night away,” I said, gesturing with a tilt of my head to the dance floor. “Don’t you?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Carlos and Travis talking with Kase. A commotion to one side of them forced me to turn my head.

Maggie was draped over a man of slight build. He tried to extricate himself from her and she stumbled, practically toppling them both. She was gesturing wildly at him, obviously apologizing profusely. They wobbled back and forth, righting for a second or two, then collapsed to the floor. The people around them, recognizing the walking disaster before them, gave them a wide berth. Kase’s aide moved to pull himself up. Maggie came up to her hands and knees, grabbing at the table leg for support. As the man stood, she reached for a chair leg that stood behind him and yanked it forward, forcing his legs out from under him. He fell back into the chair, which tipped backward. His head hit the floor with a loud thud, rendering him unconscious.

Maggie blew an errant curl off her face with a huff and in one fluid motion, righted both man and chair. She patted his face, trying to rouse him.

The little twitch at the back of my head buzzed while I watched her. If I didn’t know about her ability to be accident prone, I’d almost say that she treated Kase’s aide as some sort of opponent that needed to be quickly and quietly dispatched without it looking like she was doing just that.

I felt my blond companion walk up to stand next to me. He let out a snicker as he watched the uproar unfolding between Maggie and the aide.

“Serves that pompous little shit right. I oughta buy that girl a beer for knocking Tallis down a few notches. Later, though. I think you and I have some unfinished business to take of, right, darlin’?”

I moved to turn toward him, attempting to elude him one more time. He grabbed my elbow, grasping it tightly. There was nowhere for me to escape.

“So what do you say, darlin’?” he asked. He was already moving us towards an exit. I stopped abruptly, pulling my elbow toward me. I saw stars as he nearly wrench my arm out of its socket.

“Let go. You’re hurting me,” I gasped. He wrapped his fingers around my arm, pulling me to him. I winced in pain. He clamped his hand over my neck, steering us toward the exit once more.

“Oh, I think I’ll be the judge of where and when you’ll be going anywhere, darlin’.”

“You know, if this is Texan hospitality, I have to say I’m under impressed,” said a voice from behind us.

“Beat it, G.I. Joe,” the blond said as he glanced over his shoulder. He gave my arm a twist to move me forward.

I resisted. When I heard that voice, my spine turned to steel, smothering my panic. The Neanderthal in front of me might still succeed in dragging me out of here, but not while I was conscious.

And as I heard the shift in stance from behind me, I figured that Stanton would have to get past Edward Beck as well. And that was going to be a lot, lot harder.

“Aww!” I gasped out as the man yanked me forward a few more steps.

“Let go of her.”

Edward’s voice was absolutely calm. My fear started to scrabble up from my belly again, not so much for the adversary at my arm, but of Edward. The last time I heard him be that calm was when Jake was surrendering to him after Goetz’s death. It wasn’t diplomacy that was reaching out to Stanton right now, nor patience. It was rage.

The hand at my neck squeezed once more and I clamped my eyes shut, trying to ward off the pain. I felt the anger radiating off of Edward.

Stanton had no idea what type of danger he was in.

“Please, Edward, don’t --” I began, twisting to face him. Stanton dug his fingers into my flesh and I saw stars. The blond wrapped an arm around my waist, lifting me off my feet. I jerked forward and all I could see was a pair of shiny black shoes, with another pair behind swimming into my view as my vision cleared.

“Maybe you should listen to the girl,” my assailant said, then repeating his name sarcastically, “Edward.”

“Are you deaf, boy?” Another voice asked, “Let her go.” I had guessed that they came from the man standing to the left of Beck. The set of feet receded into the distance as Stanton drug me into the lobby.

“Apparently so,” said the voice, answering his own question.

I felt the Stanton’s head jerk backward once, then again as the sound of a fist connected against flesh. I slipped out of his arms, sliding forward. I was grabbed by a pair of hands and helped upright. A moment later, I was set gently down onto a couch.

I looked up. Edward and Stanton were circling one another. Stanton took a swing. Edward pivoted to one side, slamming his fist into his assailant’s stomach. The blond staggered back and then lunged at Edward once more, only to be met by Edward’s fist to his face. Stanton fell to his knees.

Edward’s companion shifted from my side. It was Clark, Edward’s second in command. He walked over, picking up Stanton’s discarded cowboy hat and placed it unceremoniously on the fallen man’s head. Clark pulled the man to his feet.

“Well, Tex,” Clark said, “I really do think that the next time a woman tells you to let her go, you should take her up on her advice.”

He escorted Stanton to the door.

“Are you all right?”

Edward had walked over and was now kneeling before me.

“I’m not sure,” I said.

He pressed his fingers along my upper arm. I grimaced a little as they traveled over the angry bruises that were already starting to form.

His touch was warm and comforting at first. But when his fingertips brushed against my collarbone, looking for any defects, I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from shuddering.

Even after being separated after for so long, one touch from him practically undoes me.

His fingertips slid along my shoulder. I kept my eyes locked on them, how they danced over my skin. I was too afraid to look at him, too afraid that the emotions he would see would be as bare as the skin beneath his fingers.

He stood up, finished with examination.

“Nothing appears to be broken.”

“That’s good,” I said, venturing a glance at him.

His gaze burned through me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his fingers flex, unconsciously moving to touch me again. My breath caught. I looked away. I bit at the inside of my cheek again. Hard.

My heart slammed painfully inside my chest. Between one breath and the next, my body betrayed me. Time compacted into itself and my emotions were back at that cave entrance. I dug my fingers into the soft fabric of the couch.

One touch. Undone in one touch.

“I got some ice,” Clark said, walking over to us with a bag in his hand.

I stood up abruptly and wobbled from the blood rush. Edward’s arm wrapped around my waist.

Clark’s gaze shifted from me to Edward and back again.

“Thank you, John,” Edward replied, taking the bag from Clark. He slid it against the inside of my arm, which had the majority of the bruising.

“I should,” I began, stopped, and took a breath. My nerves sang along every inch of my body.

“I should get back to my companions,” I said, fighting the battle of attraction my body was having with Edward.

“All right,” Edward said. “We’ll walk you back.”

He still had his arm around my waist, likely to keep me steady. But I was fighting down both thoughts and feelings that believed his touch was more than just helpful. It may have been the way he pressed me against his body, the sandalwood and spice of his cologne reawakening a desire in me that had not been touched upon in many months. Or perhaps it was the way his fingers pressed against the curve of my hip, the way they flexed protectively when there was even a hint of unsteadiness in my step and then lingered there afterward. Nor could I miss how his hand cupped my elbow, the pad of his thumb brushing over my skin a half dozen times as we walked between the lobby and my table.

Carlos and Travis were sitting down. Carlos had his head tilted toward the Ambassador, listening to what Travis was saying and toying with his glass. He laughed. As he did, he looked up, his mood sobering instantly. I could see his eyes go from me to the ice bag tucked into my arm down to see Edward’s arms about me, then up to Edward, stopping there for a fraction of a second before returning to me. I stiffened as he gazed at me. Edward’s grip tightened for a moment, but when I did not relax, his hands began to fall away. Carlos was already on his feet, moving toward me.

“Heather, what happened?” he asked, stopping before me. I stepped toward him, sliding out of Edward’s grasp.

“It’s nothing,” I said, trying to assure him. “Stanton just tried to get friendlier with me than I was willing to be with him.”

Carlos pulled the bag away from my arm, gingerly pulling my elbow toward him. The bruises were bright cherry red blotches, perfectly matching the span of a large hand. I looked at him as he looked at my arm. I could see the skin stretch back across his temple as the rocks worked in his jaw.

“Where is he?” Carlos whispered, not letting go of my elbow.

“Major Clark escorted Mr. Stanton to the door after I persuaded him to cease from detaining Miss Lisinski against her wishes,” Edward replied.

Carlos looked up. His eyes were dark.

“Thank you,” he said, his gaze not wavering from mine.

My pulse thrummed as his hand traveled down my arm to clasp my hand. He led me over to a chair and sat me down.

Though what attracted me to Edward Beck and Carlos Mazzello was different, my hormones reacted to both of them exactly the same. Like so many taunt strings waiting to be plucked.

And had I not been in public, I’d be inclined to give free reign to those hormones and they were not picky about the choice being either Carlos or Edward.

“Hell, why not both?” A Lily-like voice blurted out in my head.

Enough, I thought, clamping down on any and all rampant thoughts. Right now what Carlos needs is reassurance so he doesn’t go out, hunt down Stanton and beat him within an inch of his life.

I clasped his hand in my mine, ignoring the fact that Dolores just walked up to the table. I could see her perplexed look out of the corner of my eye, turning to a look of mild surprise when she saw Carlos’ hand clasped in mine.

So much for the office romance staying quiet now.

“I’m fine,” I said to him, “Really.”

He looked down at my hand, giving it the smallest caress with his thumb.

“Okay,” he said.

There was an awkward silence.

Not wanting to be the continued center of attention, I turned to Dolores and started to ask who won the bet between Will and herself.

I was saved even from that by the arrival of Maggie. Her heel caught against the carpet and she grabbed the back of a chair, fighting to keep her balance.

My empathy for her embarrassment was outweighed by my relief that the attention that was so acutely focused on me a moment before had now switched to her. Despite my misgivings about her, I don’t think she realized just how grateful I was to see her.

Maggie blushed when she realized all the eyes at the table were trained on her.

“Did I miss something?” she asked.

“No, not at all, dear,” Dolores replied. “The Ambassador here was just about to tell us how things went.

I shot Dolores a grateful look.

Maggie surveyed the scene before her, then looked around the room.

“Where’s Will?” she asked when she turned back to us.

Travis looked around.

“I have a feeling Will’s companions are probably giving him a run for his money in the charm department. I doubt we’ll see him for some time, if at all, this evening.”

Maggie took a seat. Travis introduced Edward and Clark to the others, motioning them to join us at the table. Carlos slid into the seat behind me.

“All in all, it went rather well,” said Travis, recounting the evening once all were seated. I felt Edward’s eyes on me as he and Clark each took a seat at the table.

Carlos’ breath caressed my shoulder as he leaned forward in his chair.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” he whispered as Travis began to make introductions and discuss their encounter with Kase.

I wasn’t. But it had nothing to do with me almost getting dragged off by some psychopath and everything to do with the proximity of the two men I found myself deeply attracted to.

I nodded mutely, focusing on the water glass before me instead of the man before or behind me.

“Mr. Kase wasn’t being inclined to see the situation from our point of view,” said Travis.

“He wasn’t much inclined toward anything but scowling at us and answering in monosyllabic words,” Carlos muttered.

I stifled a giggle, half nervous, half amused, when the Ambassador shot us a look.

“When it was obvious that he wasn’t going to budge on the matter, I hailed down a server that had a tray of hors d’oeuvres. What Kase didn’t know was that Carlos met up with said server early in the evening.”

Which explained why he disappeared for twenty minutes shortly after we arrived.

“Carlos apparently whipped up a few nasty concoctions to help Mr. Kase take some edge off of his perspective and help see things our way.”

“Carlos,” Dolores began. I could hear the hesitation in her voice, the wanting to know dueling with the not wanting to know.

“Carlos, what did you put in the hors d’oeurves?” she asked.

“Nothing horrible,” he said, “Just some canned meat, mayo, vinegar . . . “

He looked up at the ceiling as he spoke, as if he were being asked to repeat the contents of some lengthy recipe. I refrained from rolling my eyes, but couldn’t suppress a grin.

“Oh, yeah, and some Alpo,” he finished.

“Eww!” Maggie said, making a face.

I looked down at the table. In the middle sat the platter of questionable appetizers. Travis reached out, grabbing one off the tray and popping it into his mouth.

“Actually they’re not bad, really. The vinegar just makes them taste a little off. I always did believe my dogs ate better than I did,” he replied.

Maggie, I noticed, was squirming in her seat and trying hard not to turn about thirty shades of green.

“Anyway,” Carlos continued, “When we got the desired reaction out of Mr. Kase, I asked him if he liked them. He, of course, said no. I told him, ‘Well, that’s a shame. I mean, considering how we got this specifically from the canned products that you’ve been distributing to the evacuees. I would think you, of all people, would enjoy the product, considering how you produce it.’”

“You actually said that to him?” I asked. It was a pretty gutsy move to pull on Kase.

“Yup, he turned all shades of green,” Carlos replied. He looked over at Maggie and said, “Kind of like you are right now. Are you okay, Maggie?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes,” she said, though it was obvious she wasn’t. “Um, if you don’t need me for the rest of the evening, I’m going to call it a night.”

Carlos looked over at Travis, who gave him a single nod.

“Sure, Maggie, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

Maggie stood up and within an instant all the men at the table were standing with her.

“Uh, thank you, all of you, it was a nice -- . Um, yeah, have a good --,” Maggie stammered. At this point, her complexion was close to ashen.

“Well, bye,” she finally said, making a hasty exit for the door and not looking back.

“I think she’s lead a sheltered life,” Dolores replied, nodding her head to the rapidly retreating figure.

“I suspect so,” Travis said.

We were all silent for a minute. I guess some of us were trying hard not to laugh about the whole thing because it would not have been the polite thing to do.

“So,” said Edward, breaking the silence. I jumped a little, my nerves still being on edge.

“What was the outcome of your ruse?”

“Mr. Kase promised he’d look into it very thoroughly. Said he’d have his inspectors get in contact with us on Monday morning to pinpoint the specific locations of the tainted product,” Travis replied.

“As if he doesn’t know already,” Dolores said with a roll of her eyes. “What makes you so sure he’s not going to welsh on the deal?”

“Oh, just the promise of signing him up for his own hor d’oeuvre of the month club,” Carlos said.

The way Carlos said it convinced me and likely convinced Kase as well that he would be in this special club until the day he died if he did renege on the deal. It made Carlos look both attractive and scary.

“Remind me never to cross you,” I whispered to him.

He looked at me with that special look.

“You? Never.”

I gave him a radiant smile. I turned back still wearing it and looked at Edward.

My smile immediately faltered. The look on his face could be best described as disappointment. He looked away, but not before I saw another emotion flicker there and disappear.

It was the same look Jake had when he saw Emily talking to Roger.

Edward was – envious? No. Jealous? Yes, that was it.

To say I was shocked by that revelation was understating it. Of course, I had fallen for Edward, but I kept my emotions hidden as well as I could. It wasn’t fair to play on whatever he may have felt for me while there was the possibility that Lisa and Angel may still be alive.

But that didn’t mean I could turn my attentions to someone else. Someone who didn’t have the attachments and commitments Edward did. Couldn’t I?

Well, couldn’t I?

I stared at Edward, who seemed to be steadfastly ignoring me.

Anger flashed up bright and hot within me.

Damn him! Where does he think he gets off thinking that just because he can’t have me because he already has a wife and child that nobody else can have me either? I am not your rainy day girl, Edward Beck. You cannot run to me when everything is bad outside and then shove me aside when it all clears up. I’m not going to be anyone’s second best.

Still seething, I turned back to Carlos. Almost immediately, my anger seemed to cool a notch or two. I hadn’t noticed that before now. The way he had a calming effect on me. Just being around him calmed my emotions, allowing me to deal with them one by one instead of a jumbled mess. I needed that tranquility right now. I needed to get away from Edward. I needed to straighten things out in my mind.

“Would you care to dance?” I asked Carlos.

He looked at me in surprise.

“Are you sure you’re up to it?”

I gave him a soft smile.

“Just be gentle with me, okay?”

“It will be my pleasure,” he whispered in my ear as he moved to stand up. The timbre of his voice was rough and seductive. I bit the inside of my cheek to suppress a shiver and pointedly ignored Edward as I stood up.

“If you’ll excuse us,” Carlos said to the others as he clasped my hand, “Miss Lisinski and I are going out to test the boards on the dance floor.”

I saw Ambassador Travis roll his eyes out of the corner of my eye.

“They’re a cute couple, aren’t they?” Dolores said in a not so quite whisper to Travis as we walked toward the dance floor.

Travis gave a non-committal harrumph as an answer.

Carlos led us over to the D.J.’s stand. I must have looked a little confused, because he just smiled and gave me a quick peck on the temple.

“Give me just a second, I’ll be right back.”

He walked over to the D.J. They had some sort of discussion that I could not hear due to one of the speakers being between me and them. The D.J. gave him a questioning look. Apparently, Carlos clarified, because then the man nodded his head furiously and began rummaging through CDs. He gave a nod of the head when he found what he was looking for and handed it to Carlos. Carlos scanned the CD for a moment and pointed something out to the DJ. The man gave him a thumbs up, looked at me, and said something else to Carlos. Carlos nodded his head and walked back to me.

“What?” I said as Carlos clasped my hand.

“What?” he repeated. He smiled innocently at me.

“What did he say when he looked over at me?”

I arched an eyebrow at him and he knew that I was not going to let it go.

“He said that you were a very beautiful woman and that I was very lucky to have you. I agreed with him.”

He turned, pulling me into his arms, waiting for the music to begin. I stared at where my hand rested on his shoulder, blushing furiously.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“I’m guessing no one has ever really told you that. Well then, it will just have to be my duty to tell you that all the time.”

I leaned my forehead against his chest. The orange and cedar of the cologne he always wore wafted around me. A gentle touch cupped the bottom of my shoulder blade and enveloped my waiting hand. Calmness unwound slowly with in me, centering me, grounding me, as he held me in his arms.

“I’m lucky to have you, too,” I replied, looking back up at him as the music began.

He just grinned as he pushed me back a step, glided to the side, then forward, then another glide over to the beginning again.

I listened to the music he picked for the waltz. It wasn’t a song I heard before, the man singing it sounded like a bit of a crooner. Someone you’d find in the easy listening section of a music store. Not my normal fair for music.

The song, however, was both beautiful and sad.

“Can’t believe it’s over, I watched the whole thing fall
And I never saw the writing that was on the wall
If I only knew that days were slipping past
That the good things would never last, that you were crying”

I looked out into the crowd. Our table came into my view and I could see that Edward was watching us dance.

It was as if we were back in his office all over again with me admitting I stole the page out of the binder.

He looked that hurt and betrayed.

I turned my head away. Emotions swirled around in me. I faltered on a step. Looking up at Carlos with an apologetic smile, I tried to push the thoughts and feelings that Edward was invoking in me aside.

It wasn’t working very well. Why did he think I betrayed him? Again? The mere thought of him accusing me of that, if only in a glance, wounded me to my core. Part of me wanted to walk straight over to him and give a solid piece of my mind on why I deserved to have a life and why he was being such a jerk. Another part of me just wanted to go home, curl up on the bed, and cry. Yet another part wanted me to thumb my nose at him, who did he think he was, my parent, telling me who I could see or not and expressing how disappointed he was in my choice of mates?

Didn’t I have a chance to be just as happy with Carlos as Edward had been with his family?

I peaked over Carlos’ shoulder again as the song played. That hurt look was still staring back at us, at me.

Do you think it’s too late for us, Edward? How can it be too late for something that never was? You made sure of that. Angel and Lisa will make sure of that. Don’t push me like this, Edward, don’t make me choose or I’ll make sure of it now.

“Heather, are you all right?” Carlos asked. His breath caressed the shell of my ear and I shivered in his arms.

I looked up at him, giving him a wide smile and said, “Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking is all.”

“About what?”



We danced down a turn of the floor before I had the nerve to continue. It was time to discuss this. I had been avoiding my feelings for Edward. I was going to get this out straightened, one way or another, I thought. I had to get him alone without Carlos wondering what was going on, however. Carlos didn’t deserve to be dragged into this mess.

“I was thinking I could catch up on what’s going on with the Colonel when we get back to the table,” I said.

Carlos looked up.

“I think that’s going to be a little difficult,” he said.


“He’s gone.”


I stopped in mid-step, turning my head back toward the table. Beck was gone, as was the Ambassador. Dolores saw us looking over at the table and gave a little wave. I gave her a small smile.

“How are you doing?” Carlos asked, placing a finger under my chin so that I would look up at him.

The look in his eyes was so tender that I immediately felt guilty having my thoughts distracted by Edward. I should be paying attention to him, not a married man. If I couldn’t fix this tonight, I would at the next opportunity.

If there was a next opportunity.

The events of the evening weighed down on me. I stared at Carlos. He was waiting for an answer.

“I’m a little tired,” I admitted.

He cupped my cheek in my hand.

“Ready to call it a night?”

I nodded my head. Carlos walked me back to the table where we said our goodbyes to Dolores and Major Clark.

“The ambassador asked me to tell you that there will be a meeting with him, Colonel Beck and myself in his office at 0830 Monday morning and that he expects you to join us,” Clark said to Carlos.

“So you and the Colonel will be here for a few days?” I asked. Perhaps there would be another opportunity.

“Probably a week or so, depending on our orders, ma’am.

“We’ll be sure to show you some true Texan hospitality then, Major,” Dolores said to Clark.

Clark smiled and said to her, “We’ll definitely appreciate the R & R, ma’am.”

Carlos placed his hand against my elbow.

“Well, then, we’ll be off,” he said, shaking Clark’s hand as the man stood to bid us farewell.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” Carlos said to him, then turning to his coworker, “Have a good weekend, Dolores.”

I nodded good bye and we turned away. I scanned the ballroom for Edward, my hopes of resolving this tonight rapidly diminishing when he was nowhere to be seen. I gave a mental sigh before stopping and turning back to the table. Clark was in the middle of sitting down when he caught my movement, standing straight again as I faced him.

“Tell Colonel Beck and the Ambassador good night, please,” I said.

“I will. Good night, Miss Lisinski,” he replied with a nod of his head.


chị: sister
chị tôi: my sister

I figured that even though Lily is American born and raised, she, and to some extent Heather, have been influenced by Francine, who was born and spent part of her life in Vietnam. I'm not sure if what I used was the diminutive (I'm a lot more familiar with Japanese and Spanish than Vietnamese) or if there is a diminutive, so if anyone is available to correct me, I would appreciate it.

Hmm, my apologies for making Stanton a bit of a straw man. Though no apologies for Maggie beating Kase's aide though -- revenge for memories of a bad date.

As for Maggie, I'm still trying to round out her character a bit. I hope I was a little more successful this time around.

I have another side story with Beck coming up in the works. I'll post it to give everyone something to read as I continue on this one.

As for the music, I had been thinking of Beck and Heather sharing a dance, but in the end, I thought this actually worked out better. There is one song out there though that does make me think of Carlos and Heather as a couple, "Paralyzer" by Finger Eleven. I can so see Heather and Carlos having some sort of intimate moment when I hear that song. Maybe because I think that a song like that is very appropriate for Karl Urban. (shrugs)
Current Music: "Lost" by Michael Buble
Title: ._ ._.. ._ _ ._ _._ _ ... ._.. _ _ _ ..._ . (Always Love)
Characters: Beck, Heather, OCs
Rating: PG -- 13
Chapters: 9/?
Disclaimer: Sooo don't own Jericho...
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own. Rating change for a brief, but intense couple of moments between two of the characters.
There are some author notes following the chapter.

Over the next week, Carlos and I hammered out details on how we were going to distract Mr. Kase's entourage. Among the people he had recruited was Dolores from accounting, saying that she was the sweet outgoing grandmother type.

"Which means she can talk bark off a tree," he said when I asked him to clarify.

"She'll be able to keep at least three or four people occupied just by herself. I've got a bet going on with Will that she'll be able to keep more people occupied than him."

"Hmm. Does Dolores know about this?"

"She's the one who proposed it."

I raised my eyebrows in surprise before letting out a giggle. I suppose I thought of Dolores too much as the doting grandmother to imagine she had a competitive streak. She needed to have one to compete against Will, the Ambassador's aide.

It hadn't taken me more than a week of working in the offices to debate on whose charm was more disarming, Carlos's or Will's. Their attitudes differed though. Carlos seemed quite content to focus all of that charm on me whereas Will seemed more at home charming a crowd.

"And then there's Maggie," Carlos said.

I stopped in the middle of jotting notes. I probably misheard him.

I must have misheard him.

"I'm sorry?" I replied. He frowned at my confusion.

"Maggie," he repeated.

"Are you sure? She is kind of, um, accident proned. I'm not sure being among so many people at the Ball would improve her situation."

"She's a little clumsy, Heather, not a child with special needs that needs constant attention."

"That's not what I meant. I just think that it's better to expound one's strengths, not exploit their weaknesses."

"And actually I was thinking that I could use something of Maggie's that is normally a weakness and make it a strength. Look, Heather, Kase's personal aide is on him like glue. I'm counting on Maggie to be her own one-woman hurricane to get him away from Kase long enough for Travis and me to make our move. She's an integral part of the plan."

I looked down at my notes, avoiding his eye contact. Despite the funny twitch I got when I thought about her, I still didn't think it was right and told him so.

"I'm sorry, Carlos, but I don't know how much Maggie would appreciate being the foil of your schemes."

He sighed.

"If all goes as planned, I was going to give her the day off with pay and send her to that new spa on the Boardwalk she's been raving about."

Part of me still felt guilty about how they were planning to set Maggie up. I don't know how I'd react if I were in her shoes. But I suppose I'd feel more than a little hurt by it all. I hoped that what Carlos had in mind to make up for it would be enough.

At the end of the day, I left Carlos in his office to gather my sweater and purse, promising to meet him outside in twenty minutes time.

I checked my email to see if there were any pressing matters that needed to be addressed. Sitting in my inbox was a message from Luna.

My body flushed in a cold wave. I hesistated for several moments before opening it.

Were Lisa and Angel still alive? The altruistic side of me eagerly hoped that they were ok and I could at least give Edward his family back. But there was a black thought that no matter how hard I tried to suppress, wiggled and wormed its way around my heart.

Even though I was falling for Carlos, and I admitted that to myself now, I was still attrached to Edward. And that part didn't want his family to be found. Because finding them would mean losing any chance we might have of being together.

And it was in the moment of realizing this that I didn't like myself at all. And with that self-loathing, I was able to tackle the dark thought and shove it out of my mind. So with angst and guilt, I opened the email.

Miss Lisinski, I would like to express my deepest appreciation on your inquiry into the well being of my granddaughter and great granddaughter. Unfortunately, I have neither seen nor heard from them since the attacks. I am relieved to know that Edward is alive and well. Please tell me if he still carries that old photo of his beloved dog in his wallet? I'm eager to hear of any news of him. I'll be waiting patiently for your reply. Have a blessed day.

By the time I read the last sentence, there was no doubt in my mind that something was amiss. It was obvious that they were testing me. Perhaps her years of having the tribal council watching her made her suspicious of everyone? But if she was suspicious of someone in the council, chances are she would have never acknowledged my email.

So there had to be someone else. Jennings and Rall seemed to be the most likely candidate. J & R may have known about the money withdrawals, but I doubted that they had the information that the BIA did. The tribal council begrudgingly worked with the federal government as it was. I couldn't see them welcoming J & R or the ASA with open arms.

But if J & R had one opportunity closed to them, didn't mean that they would attempt to create another? So that could explain why Luna was testing me, to see if I was from J & R or if I was someone in which she could place her trust.

I sat back in my chair, trying to think of the few details Edward had told me about Lisa and Angel.

Edward didn't talk about them that much. Not because he was forgetting about them. It was quite the contrary. As each day of separation passed, their presence in his life became stronger.

He didn't talk about them for fear that the hope that they were alive and well that he harbored so deeply within himself would be for nothing. I figured that out late one evening when we spoke in his office.

He had asked me about my relationship with my father. I had been a bit thrown by his question because I never really talked about my father to anyone. In time, the people of Jericho and New Bern realized it was a subject to be avoided with me.

But Edward was an outsider. He didn't know about the unseen elephants that roamed in Jericho and New Bern. Earlier in the day, he had learned that the hard way.

"That's why I picked you as my liaison, Heather," he said after he made a comment to Skylar that her parents might be proud of how she'd gotten on after the attacks, but probably wouldn't be too crazy about her being with Dale Turner.

Skylar looked at me as if to say 'Is this guy for real?', then looked back at him. Edward had the same stoic look on his face. She just scoffed as she shook her head and then turned on her heel and left the office. She linked her arm into Dale's and they left without so much as a backward glance.

"She's right," I said. "You don't understand. She's gotten on as well as she has because of Dale. The same could be said for Jericho. Nobody actually says so, most just look the other way. Probably because they don't want to admit to the changes that happened after the attacks might be permanent. I'm sure if her parents came back, they definitely wouldn't want to admit to it."

He looked at me for a moment and then down at his desk. He sighed.

"You know, you need to let me know when I'm making a mistake like that. That's one of the reasons why I picked you as my liaison, Heather."

"What am I suppose to do, kick you?" I joked.

"If that's what it takes," he said in all seriousness.

I stared at him.

"How about I just clear my throat instead and apologize for interrupting? It would give you the perfect opportunity to change the subject."

A soft chuckle filled the room. I looked at him with curiosity.

He raised his head, looking me in the eyes. Humor glinted in his eyes and I felt a smile tug at my lips in response.

"I don't know, Heather," he teased, "You may be coughing a lot."

Laughter bubbled up from my chest.

"Well, then," I said, trying hard to keep my giggling at bay, "I guess people will just have to think I've got a cold I can't shake."

"Oh, so I'm a cold now?"

My laughter came out in force then.

"Major Beck, I don't think anyone who knew you would use the word cold to describe you."

He chuckled again. The lightness in my heart seemed to grow and expand at the sound.

"No, I suppose they wouldn't."

It had turned into one of my fondest memories. Hearing him laugh, seeing him smile, and being able to join in. It was a rare treat.

Later that evening, when the day's work had been done, I went in and debriefed him on the needs and supplies of New Bern. Once that was done, it felt only natural for us to drift into other subjects.

Until he asked about my father.

When I didn't respond, he said, " I'm guessing this is where you clear your throat."

I gave him a weak smile at his attempt at humor.

He signed and said, "Nope, it looks like I'm going to get kicked instead."

The silence in the room stretched out and we both fidgeted. I took a deep breath before I spoke, trying to dispel my anxiety.

"No, it's not that," I said. "It's just very difficult for me to talk about my father."

He tilted his head to the side, giving me an obvious look of concern. I avoided his gaze, focusing on how my thumbnail ran along the edge of the desk instead.

"Sometimes, I think if I don't talk about him, people will only remember him at his best times, when I was a very little girl. Before Mom got ill. Everyone thought he was very likable then -- a good man -- people in New Bern would say.

"After Mom was diagnosed, the light in his eyes left, you know?" I said, glancing briefly at Edward. He sat there just staring at me with that concerned look. I hastily looked back down at my thumbnail trailing random patterns on the desk.

"Francine would call us in the wee hours of the morning to come pick up Dad because he had passed out drunk in her bar. Then there were the days or sometimes weeks that would go by that we didn't know were he was. He'd just go off to parts unknown without as much as a word to us."

I paused. A lump had formed quietly in my throat as I spoke. I swallowed several times.

"You don't need to tell me any more, Heather," he whispered.

"Oh, but I do," I replied, looking up at him. I surprised myself when I suddenly sniffled.

"You don't know the reason why I don't talk about my dad," I said after another moment. "He was a good man, but he got lost. And it's not that there weren't people who didn't want to help him, but for the most part, the people in New Bern, they just gave up on him. They just saw him as this pathetic shell of a man and passed him over. They were only willing to give him that one chance and if he messed it up, well, it wasn't their problem."

"So, I don't talk about my dad, hoping that his faults will fade from people's minds and that they'll only remember a man who was deeply in love with his wife and doted on his daughter."

I looked away. I knew what was coming next. Some sort of pity, may be even sympathy, but more than likely him telling me that my deepest fear, my deepest hope, was all just silly. Perhaps not looking at him would make me feel less vulnerable and the pain would be less. Talking about it felt as if I had taken the bandages off of a wound that had never really stopped bleeding.

"And if they can remember that, then maybe the bad memories will fade away for me, too. And I'll be able to look back and just remember him as happy."

When I looked up at Edward, his head was bent. He seemed lost in studying the grain of the desk, not saying a word about my admission. I was surprised at what he told me next.

"You know the picture I carry in my helmet?"

I nodded. Even though he did not look up, he seemed to sense my assent.

"I took it just before I left for Afghanistan. That picture's more than four years old by now. It was our last full day together. When I woke up, you could feel the mugginess in the air, knew that there was going to be a storm that day. To me, it was a sign to have fun with my family while I still could.

"So I got up, went into the backyard and picked some wildflowers. Then I went into the kitchen and made pancakes for Angel. I put a little cinnamon and brown sugar in them. She really likes it when I do that.

"Lisa walked out to the kitchen as I was cooking and gave me a kiss. When she was getting some juice out of the fridge, I snuck up and surprised her with the wildflowers I picked.

She turned to me, giving me this big kiss and said, "You're an incurable romantic, you know that?"

"I said to her that if that was the reward for being incurable, I never wanted to find a cure.

"She laughed. She has this rich, beautiful laugh, you know? The kind of laugh that you can't help but join in because it lightens up the whole room.

"She dropped a kiss on my shoulder and walked to the freezer. She pulled out some blueberries and ran the bag under some water to thaw them for the pancakes. Every few minutes, she would look over at me and grin.

"When Angel came in, she realized what we were making and her whole face just lit up."

The look in his eyes was distant. He was no longer in that office with me, but back in his home, reliving that day moment by moment with his wife and child.

"Afterward, she told me it was the best breakfast she ever had. Which was pretty funny because her lips were stained blue with all the blueberries she had eaten.

"A little while later, we walked down to the park. Lisa and I sat on the bench and watched Angel tear around the playground. Well, that was until Angel dragged me to my feet and I went out and played with her for a bit.

"She kept yelling out, 'Higher, Daddy! Higher!' when she was on the swings. She was a bit of a daredevil. I think she got that more from her mother than me. I always got nervous when she swung more than a couple of feet high.

"I called it a day when the storm clouds started to block out the sun. Angel would have stayed there through the rain and the lightning, but I told her that she wouldn't be able to go her best friend's sleep over in a few nights if she caught a cold. That pretty much settled things for her right there.

"When we got home, I helped her build a fort under the dining table while Lisa made lunch. Later on, we sat on the porch and watched the storm. Angel would point to different clouds, telling us wha they looked like. Though when she got too close to the edge of the porch, Lisa would say, 'Uh, no, I'm not cleaning up your muddy little footprints, cute as they are. You can mosey right back over here." Angel would scoot back a bit and then walk back to the edge. Finally, Lisa got up, walked over and started to get into a tickle war with her."

He stopped, again lost in the moment.

"It was the most beautiful thing to watch. I could see the affection that they had for one another just radiating off them. So I jumped up and grabbed the camera. I took a shot of them as they looked up at me as I came out the front door.

"Angel jumped into my arms right after that and said, 'I think this has been the best day ever, Daddy.'"

He paused.

"I agreed with her."

He was silent for some time after that.

"And I sit here and think that if I can keep that day in my mind, I can go back home. That it will all be okay."

And that's when I understood why he never spoke of them. He kept the thought of that day alive to combat the growing doubts that they survived. His fear was the same as mine. Afraid that if he gave his hope a voice, he's be told it was all foolish.

Just like me. He was just like me. Sitting there, feeling exposed, hoping that the one person that might be able to empathize with him won't tell him he's crazy.

I pulled my hands off the desk and down into my lap because I so wanted to place my hands in his. Something told me that he wouldn't take too kindly to that.

"Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to see them again before the summer ends," I said.

A small smile formed on his lips and after a moment, he looked up at me.

"Yeah, I hope so, too."

The next few weeks, we fell into an easy rapport. He seemed to pick up on the elephants in the room a lot quicker after our talk. I guess it was a certain look in the eye of the people that he was talking to or maybe it was the way they spoke or a gesture. I don't think I cleared my throat on more than a few occasions.

He would tell me bits and pieces about his life with Lisa and Angel during that time. It still wasn't much. Usually only a detail or two as we traveled to and from City Hall to oversee different projects or to talk to a person of interest. Most we stuck to safe subjects, the weather, sciences, books, music. At first he struck me as being an R & B type guy, so I was quite surprised when he told me Beethoven's Third Symphony was one of his favorite pieces of music.

He told me how Angel loved fruit, especially berries. To the point that Lisa or he would have to hide them if they brought them home and wanted them to last for anything longer than a few hours. That blue was Angel's favorite color and Lisa's was yellow. He teased Lisa about how she always planted her seeds in the garden four to a hole. And she would just look at him and shake her head, telling him he only planted one see to a hole because he didn't know any better and that she was doing it the right way. Lisa loved orchids, but was just as happy with a bouquet of field flowers. Angel liked to climb the big oak that grew out in the backyard and if they didn't know where she was, the oak was the first place they looked.

I sat there, looking at the computer screen as I racked my brains over what would be the most unique detail that Edward told me about them. Something that only a few people would know or confirm. I remember a bedtime lullaby he had mentioned that he and Lisa use to sing to Angel when she was little and still afraid of the dark.

I hit the reply button and typed that Edward was doing well when I last heard from him, but it had been a few months since our last contact.

He may have a dog, I wrote, but I've never seen a picture of one in his wallet, nor has he ever mentioned one. He did say, however, that he and Lisa use to sing a lullaby to Angel called "Sweet Dreams". And that said lullaby sounds suspiciously like "Happy Trails" to most people. Is that true or was he just pulling my leg? Please let me know. Have a good day. Sincerely yours, Heather Lisinski

I hit the send button. In hindsight, I realized that she may view my response as being short in more ways than one. So be it. I wasn't much in the mood for game playing at this point. If she couldn't or wouldn't give me the answers I needed this way, I'd find another. Even if that meant going out to Laguna Pueblo and talking to her face to face.

"Waiting long?" I asked Carlos when I met up with him on the plaza outside.

"No, not at all."

Once we had walked a couple of blocks away, he slipped his hand into mine and gave it a squeeze.

"I'm sorry if our diversion plans upset you."

I sighed.

"In the end, I don't think it's going to matter how I feel. It's how Maggie's going to feel."

"Well, I think she's more of a trooper than you give her credit for. Yeah, she's disorganized, and forgetful, and she gives me more work to do instead of less. But there are times when she gives me a look and I just get the feeling that it's all clicking for her. That she actually gets it."

That twitch in the back of my head regarding her snapped and sparked over his comments. Hawkins knew that there was a leak in the Ambassador's office and assumed it was Carlos. Couldn't it just as easily be someone who has access to the same documents as Carlos and that he trusts?

An ugly sense of deja vu crawled into my thoughts.

This was different, I argued with myself. I was saving people when I took that page from Edward's office. Hawkins, Jake, the people of Jericho and Edward.

Especially Edward.

This was different. People were getting killed over this, Hawkins had said. And I believed him. It wasn't a lie or an exaggeration that this leak needed to be fixedm and as soon as possible.

"Are you okay?" Carlos asked, dismissing my thoughts with a nudge of his shoulder.

"Hmm? Yeah, I'm fine," I lied. "Just getting distracted by my walking buddy."

We walked down to the corner and turned toward the park.

"You know," he said, "You don't have to change the subject to get me to kiss you."

He leaned over and gave me a peck on the tip of my nose.

I flushed. I had underestimated his power of observation.

"I'm not changing the subject," I protested weakly.

He raised a brow at me.

Underestimated it greatly, I admonished myself.

"Ok, maybe I am. But it's not Maggie that I'm thinking of right now. It's a problem from home."

He stopped abruptly and turned me to face him. There was no missing the look of concern he had.

"What's wrong?"

I knew by the tone in his voice that we would not be traveling a step further in any direction until I gave him some sort of explanation. But there was something else in his voice that seemed to calm some of the fear I was having, centering me and allowing me to focus on the here and now. I hadn't realized until now that effect that he had on me and I don't think he'd ever know how grateful I was for that ability of his.

"One of my friends from Jericho gave me a confidence about another friend of mine and wants me to act upon it. But I'm beginning to believe what I was told is part of some bigger misunderstanding. But I'm afraid that if I don't act on this information, I might be making things an even bigger mess than they already are."

He relaxed his stance a bit.

"Do you want me to help you fix the problem?"

I don't know if it was something in the way that he said that, or the way that he looked at me.

He'd go out and slay dragons for me if I asked him, I thought. Hawkins is wrong about him. The mole has to be someone else. Hawkins is wrong about Carlos.

On impulse, I reached up, clasping his cheeks between the palms of my hands and gave him a smoldering kiss.

His fingertips pressed into my hips as my eyes drifted shut. I could feel the cresent shape of his nails digging into my skin.

My mind recalled the smell of spice and musk that dampened out the smell of citrus and cedar and I deepened the kiss. Wild thoughts raced through my mind, seeing myself taste the skin above a man's breastbone then sliding down to the hollow of his hip to see if it tasted the same. I grasped a fistful of hair between my fingers.

And suddenly, I was back outside a cave, in the dead of night, holding onto a man that giving me measure for measure in desperation and exultation.

Carlos cupped my bottom, pulling me against him. His erection pressed against my belly as he moaned into my mouth.

It hit me like a slap of cold water. I gasped and broke off the kiss, stumbling out of his embrace.

His eyes were completely dark. The scent of his cologne filled the air. As he looked at the fear on my face, confusion slowly formed over his features, replacing the desire that was there only moments before.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm not ready for this."

"It's all right," he said. His voice was clipped and he shoved his clenched hands into his pockets.

Guilt ate at me. I didn't understand why this was happening to me. I had kissed Carlos with some intensity on other occasions before this, but now, when my body wanted to take the next step, my mind ellicited images of another man. A man who I could have a future with was looking infinitesimally small. I looked up at Carlos, at the confused and hurt look on his face, and wouldn't be surprised if he accused me of leading him on.

Was I? To say that my emotions and thoughts were a jumbled mess at this point was understating it. I had to get this straightened out in my head and in my heart.

Carlos was still staring at me.

I have to get it straightened out for him. He's been so good. He'll give you the moon and the stars, what will Edward give you?

I don't know, came back the weak reply, but I want the chance to find out.

Oh this is nonsense. Get it together, girl. Get it together.

But the more I pressed my feelings into what I wanted them to do, the more they seemed to fly apart. To the point that I was ready to cry out in frustration.

Carlos, seeing my distress, reached out and clasped my hand in his.

"Heather, it's ok. I'm not going anywhere and I don't want to rush you into anything. When you're ready, I'll be here."

Again his voice calmed the roiling emotions within me and I took a deep breath. The calmness moved outward from my chest, into my arms and down my legs. The frustration that threatened to break loose only a few minutes before ebbed away.

"Thank you," I said, walking over to him. I reached out, carressing his cheek with the back of my hand. He grabbed my hand in his, pressing my fingertips to his lips. A small shiver an down my spine at the gentle contact.

"I don't know about you, but I'm starving," he said. "Do you want to grab some pizza?"

"Sure," I said, tucking my hand into elbow. I gave him a soft smile.

He dropped a kiss onto my temple and lead me down to the Boardwalk.

I'm posting this chapter in the dead of night (for me) because I woke up this morning to discover that the hard drive I had been saving my story to decided to self destruct, or at least its motor is really giving it the college try anyway. Thank God I had printed up a hard copy a couple of weeks ago to get rid of some of the smaller errors such as missing words (I can be pretty bad about that, in case you haven't noticed :)) and some story editing. However, transcribing and editing into Wordpad is not fun. I figure I can rewrite the two or three pages that I saved and didn't have a hard copy of. If we can't get the data off the disk, I'll probably kiss my photos good bye :/ I'm trying to stay hopefully, because many of the photos I had been complimented on & was aiming to sell.

To reference the elephants in the room scene, this is one point in season 2 where I've had real issues with the time line. In Patriots & Tyrants, Russell makes a reference to Beck being in New Bern for a few months, but I think the writers seemed to forget about that in the middle of the season. The scene where Heather thanks Beck for sending the medicine and he reveals that he's married seems wrong in the timeline, not so much the thanks, but the fact that she has been acting as his liaison for at least 5, 6 weeks, maybe more at this point, and now all of a sudden she finds out he's married. Not the status of the marriage, which I could understand taking that long or even longer, just that he's married. I'm sorry, that just seems unrealistic to me. I'd see her getting information like that at 2 or 3 weeks at the outside and that's from Beck, I would think shorter than that if she worked with anyone in his staff, not 5 or 6 or whatever. As in she hasn't even glanced at his helmet in six weeks? (shakes head in confusion) So, I tried to make the scene that I wrote to try to be in context with the timeline, but I'm not overly crazy with the timeline.
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
01 October 2008 @ 08:03 pm
A/N: This is a side story to Always Love. I had written the first page of it when I had a discussion with Kelly, but it ended up being an attempt to address Kelly's questions. Which was just because Beck thanked Heather at the end of the series doesn't mean he might not still have trust issues with her or isn't still hurt by what she did get herself thrown into jail originally after the series ended. I also firmly believe (due to personal experience) that when you have at least one or two hardheaded people too close to a situation & can't see eye to eye, it's best to have a third party point out the flaws in their logic, because usually the third party usually gets a better reception. It's also my first real attempt to get inside Beck's head. And, as always, unbetaed, so all mistakes are my own.

Beck went out to survey the damage after the bombing stopped. Heather had been gone for four days.

Not long enough for him not to feel the press of her lips on his every time he closed his eyes.

It was wrong, he kept telling himself that. He was a married man. What had he been thinking?

When he closed his eyes, though, his body pushed all of that aside. It only remembered the press of her lips, the feel of her hands as they cradled his head, and the beat of her heart hammering against his chest.

It was wrong. What was he going to tell Lisa when he found her again?

Even now, his body was still leading him in the wrong direction.

He stood in the remains of Heather Lisinski’s house. It was burnt to the point that only the cinderblocks of the chimney gave any clue that this pile ash and debris was once a home.

A scrap flickered in the breeze, catching his eye. He knelt down, pulling the half singed and grainy picture from the soot.

Heather’s profile shone brightly as she cupped a sunflower branch. He was turned away. It was a picture he didn’t realize had been taken until sometime later. They had been out on the Green Ranch.

It had been a couple of weeks after his resignation from the ASA.

Officially, they were there for a meeting with the Rangers. Unofficially, it had been a reunion of sorts with Jake Green and Robert Hawkins, newly returned from Texas. There had been a lengthy discussion about tactics and defense of Jericho. In that meeting, he came to understand why both Jake and Heather were so insistent that “the Rangers were there before him and would be there after he left.” There were few groups that he had encountered that were as resilient, cohesive, or organized as the Rangers had become since the attacks.

Jake and Beck stood off in a corner afterward. Beck apologized for his actions toward Jake.

“I wanted answers, and it was getting to the point that I didn’t particularly care how I got them. It was a lapse in my judgment. I’m sorry.”

Jake had his arms folded in front of him defensively, looking down at the ground. Beck knew that he needed Jake and the Rangers on his side in the months to come. He held out his hand to Jake.

“Truce?” Beck asked.

Jake hesitated, staring at Beck’s extended hand. After a moment, he clasped Beck’s hand in his own.

“I’m just glad we’re both on the same side, that you were able to see the ASA for who they are,” Jake said. “Just promise me if you want to get answers again, that you’ll trust me and not chuck me into some pig sty?”

Beck looked down at the ground.

“I’ve learned a lot since then. I don’t think it will happen again.”

“No?” Jake asked, curiosity and cautiousness in his voice.

“Chances are if you end up in a pig sty, I’ll be occupying the stall right next to you.”

“I’m guessing Heather helped you see things differently?”

Heather. What she had done still hurt. While he had been cordial enough to her that first day when he resigned, there were days since then were the tension between them was palpable. His staff would sense it as they walked into the room, quickly giving their reports and not tarring a second after they were dismissed.

There had been a time or two after he had barked at her that she had come back into the office with swollen eyes. When he asked, she snapped at him that it was allergy problems.

At the end of winter. When not even the first buds had begun to bloom. If she didn’t want to tell him, fine. He had missed talking to her, discussing things with her.

But who was to say she wouldn’t turn around and use it against him anyway? She had used him and his trust. Who was to say she wouldn’t do it again?

“Well, Heather Lisinski can quite persuasive when she wants to be,” he said. His words were clipped.

Jake saw Beck’s uneasiness and attempted some levity.

“Yeah, once Heather has her mind set to something; it’s pretty hard to dissuade her.”

Beck looked Jake in the eye. Talking about it brought all the hurt and distrust to the surface.

“So how hard was it to persuade her to take that page out of my office?”

Jake took a step back, surprised, but did not break eye contact. Disbelief filtered into his features. He folded his arms before him, raising his hand to his lips like he usually did when he contemplated on an answer.

“You really don’t think that was an easy decision for her to make, do you, Major?”

“It certainly seemed like it from where I was standing.”

“It was nothing like that.”

“Look, Jake, I know you want to defend her considering how you two are friends, but it doesn’t make what she did right.”

Beck surprised himself at how much animosity came out when he said the word ‘friends’. With all the hurt and betrayal he had been feeling toward Heather, it was only natural for those feelings to overflow towards people who were close to her. He hated not being in that position anymore. Why couldn’t she have trusted him? Why couldn’t she have told him the truth from the beginning? As he paused, waiting for Jake’s response, a feeling in him came to the forefront, one that he had suppressed for some time now.

He was envious. Envious of the relationship between Jake and Heather, wishing that he could have just as close a friendship with his liaison as she appeared to have with Jake Green.

Beck could tell by the narrowing of Jake’s eyes that Jake had interpreted his words not as envy, but as an implication that there was more going on between Heather and Jake then they were saying.

Jake moved to speak and stopped. He tried once more without success. Finally, he shook his head, breaking eye contact with Beck and studying the ground for a moment. He braced his hands against his hips when he did speak.

“Wow. Just – wow,” he said.

Beck’s anger flared to the surface.

“That’s all you have to say?” he asked.

“You’ve had Heather as your liaison, for what, a few months now?”

“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with this.”

Jake turned away from him, again shaking his head. He looked back at Beck with sheer disbelief.

“If you’ve been working with her that closely for that amount of time and still don’t realize how loyal she is to you, Beck, then you’re blind. Not the ASA. You. And if you can honestly say that you can’t see that,” Jake nodded his head once, “Well, then, you’re truly blind as a bat.”

Doubt reared its ugly head in Beck’s mind.

“When I asked her to take the page out of your office, she asked me if you were in on this.”

Did she have so little faith in him? Did she really think he was capable of such – cowardice? Beck thought.

“When I told her no, she was so hurt and angry that there might be implications of you being involved, I really did think she was going to deck me. Hawkins and I talked to her for hours, Major, practically the entire morning, convincing her what she was going to do was the right thing. She didn’t agree with us until I asked her to trust me. It was a leap of faith on her part.”

And yet she couldn’t take one with me, he thought.

Jake seemed to hear his words.

“She took that leap for a lot of people, but I think it was mostly for you.”

“Why do you say that?” Beck asked, curious.

“When we gave her the slip of paper with the coordinates on it, she asked me if things would end badly for you if the ASA knew that you suspected a cover up. Hawkins told her probably, that you were a smart guy, capable of putting events together. The ASA would probably make it look like an accident of some sort.

‘But if he doesn’t know everything, he might still have a chance?’ she asked us. Possibly, is what Hawkins told her. You know, until he said that to her, I still didn’t know if she’d go through with it. She was saying stuff like ‘Maybe the survey didn’t go that far, maybe they just did Jericho and that’s it.’”

“She was looking for another way to solve the problem.”

“Yeah. Hawkins told her she was grasping at straws. She told him ‘I’m about to betray a friend. What do you want me to do? Be happy about it?’”

“But she went through with it.”

“Yeah. I knew she probably wouldn’t back out after I asked her to trust me, but when Hawkins told her what would happen to you, her doubts seemed to leave.”

Beck looked over at Heather. After a moment, she seemed to sense his eyes on her and turned to him. Her look was at first questioning, then turning to concern the longer he looked at her. Emily, who had been speaking to her, had fallen silent and turned to follow Heather’s gaze.

He couldn’t say exactly what it was when she looked at him to realize Jake was right. He had been blind. By removing him from the loop, she had given him plausible deniability. She was sacrificing herself in order to save him. Watching over him, keeping him safe. He almost shuddered at the thought of what could have happened to her, what she was willing to do to keep him in a position to correct Cheyenne’s mistakes.

He began to wonder what he was really angry about, that she hadn’t told him the truth from the beginning or that she had stung his pride instead? Because he was proud, proud at being good at his job, in producing the right answer, of having control of the situation.

But it had been a situation that he couldn’t control, because he didn’t know all the variables in the equation, which ultimately lead him to fail at what had been assigned to him.

He stared at her. He was her sole focus now. She had squared back her shoulders ever so slightly, almost as if she were saying to him that she would carry any burden he asked her to carry, for as long as he needed. Just one look, one word from him, and she would be wherever he needed her.

Even after he had meted out his punishment to her on daily basis, going from one cold command to the next. And she had taken it with more grace than he would have. Perhaps she thought it was penance for what she had done.

He had been blind. It was time to end this. Time to build a bridge over these cold waters that had come between them. Time to admit to himself and to her how much he worked on putting this distance between them., that he had been just as guilty of it as her. More so, as he looked back, seeing all the olive branches she had extended in hindsight, all that he had slapped away in his indignation. Perhaps it was not too late; perhaps if he made the first step, she would be there to take his hand.

He could see her moving to walk over to him. Beck gave her the smallest of smiles as he shook his head. She hesitated, the look of concern still there.

‘It’s ok,’ he mouthed to her.

‘You’re sure?’ her lips replied.

He nodded his head once.

She stared at him for another moment, then nodded her head and turned back to Emily.

“Thank you, Jake,” he said, turning back to the man standing next to him. “Hopefully the next time you point something out that I’m missing, I won’t be so resistant to admitting to it.”

Jake gave a light hearted scoff that came more from a sense of disbelief than derision and said, “I’ll do my best.”

Beck shook his head. He was beginning to notice many things in hindsight, one being that Jake would be a solid and reliable ally. He would not misplace his judgment in Jake Green twice, he decided.

Their conversation drifted onto other topics and they stood there talking for an hour more.

Heather came to stand beside him as they were finishing up.

“We better be heading back if you want to check the border reports for this afternoon,” she said to him.

“I best get going myself,” Jake said to him.

He clasped Emily’s hand as she walked up and turned to Heather, “We’ll see you later.”

Heather gave a quick nod of farewell.

Beck looked at his watch. It was 15:35. They could make it back into town with a few minutes to spare if they left now.

Still looking out for me, Beck thought. It reminded him of something Lisa had once said to him. That he needed someone to keep him on the right path because when he was so busy doing what was right by the letter of the law, he would forget its spirit. Or at least that’s how he interpreted it.

He sometimes wondered if Lisa had sent him this way. Sent him towards someone who would watch over him when she could not.

“Major?” Heather asked when he had not replied. “Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine,” he replied. She began to move away from him. He reached out, clasped her by the elbow and quickly released it when she turned back to him.

“Uh, you know, um,” he started, not quite sure where to begin making amends with her. “I, uh, never thanked you for being my liaison. In all this time. Thank you. What you’ve done,” he avoided looking at her, thoughts of her rejecting him crawling about in his mind, “It’s meant a lot. It means a lot.”

She was silent. Seconds spun out like long filaments before him as he built up the courage to look at her.

She was staring at him, her face devoid of emotion. His confidence slowly ebbed away.

Then he saw her bite the inside of her cheek and she turned away.

“It’s no problem,” she replied. Her voice shook slightly. She kept her face hidden from him a moment longer before turning to him and giving him a smile that brightened up the dim room considerably.

“It’s no problem at all.”

As they walked out to the Humvee, they came across Lt. Hamilton taking pictures of some wild flowers with his cell phone.

“What are you up to, Lieutenant?” Heather asked.

“Just taking some pictures of these sunflowers. I’ve never seen anything like them.”

Heather giggled and some of the weight that had been on his shoulders for these past weeks floated away with her laughter.

“That’s because they’re not quite sunflowers, same family, different genus. They’re called black-eyed susans. Haven’t you seen one before?”

“No, ma’am. I’m a city kid, born and bred. The only flowers we usually saw were the ones growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk. Never saw these before.”

Heather walked up to some wild sunflowers growing nearby, Beck trailed behind her and Hamilton behind him. Her face was in profile, a wide grin lighting up her face.

“Now these – these are true sunflowers,” she said, plucking off a stem. She climbed into the vehicle, explaining the differences to Hamilton. Beck only half listened to her impromptu lecture, lost instead in the animation of her voice and the smile on her face. She had accepted his first tentative step back towards friendship with heart felt welcome. He’d make sure that as the days past, he would do all that he could to make their friendship even stronger than it had been before.

Without thinking, Beck shoved the picture behind his body armor and into his breast pocket. He looked over the scene once more.

There were other areas to be assessed and the daylight was growing short. He left the rubble of Heather Lisinski’s house without backward glance.
Current Music: "It's beginning to get to me" by Snow Patrol
Title: ._ ._.. ._ _ ._ _._ _ ... ._.. _ _ _ ..._ . (Always Love)
Characters: Beck, Heather, OCs
Rating: PG
Chapters: 8/?
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.
There are some author notes following the chapter.

When I got back to the office, I had an email from Robert Hawkins. He asked if I come across anything useful in my encounters with Carlos. I shook my head as I gave an exasperated sigh. I hit the reply button and typed that there was nothing new to report. Which is not to say that I hadn’t learned several new things about Carlos, such as the fact that he was in the top 20% of his class when he graduated from William & Mary. I doubted Hawkins would care that this achievement came after Carlos had almost flunked out after a couple of semesters of wild nights that had little to do with his studies. His father had told him after that year that he had a wonderful opportunity to receive a diverse education and it would be a shame to waste it. Carlos spent the next four years working hard on his education. His mother had whispered in his ear she was so proud of him when he stood before her in his cap and gown. I didn’t tell Hawkins any of this because I figured it was information that he already knew or would deem irrelevant.

And I didn’t tell Hawkins about the evening when Carlos just held me after we found out about the conditions at Wellington Detention Center. It was shortly after I made my deal with Hawkins. We had been hearing rumors for a week about the place for a week. How people were starving to death, living under deplorable conditions. People were dying from everything from food poisoning and freezing to tuberculosis and dysentery

Then we received the reports that had been smuggled out. Ten thousand had died so far and more were dying each day. Detention Center was a euphemism, concentration camp was more like it, I thought.

And then there were the pictures. People standing in a great yard, vacant looks in their eyes and clothes hanging off their bodies. A little boy looking up from where he was laying on a cot, an action figure clasped in his small hand. The one that got to me most was the one of a man, about my age, I guessed. It was hard to tell because he was so emaciated and dirty. In his arms, he held a little girl who seemed to be sleeping, but there was something in the way he held her, I realized that she was not sleeping. He looked like he had been holding her like that for sometime, not ready to let her go. Not ready to admit that she died, that he couldn’t protect her from death.

By the time we left for the day, I was shaking with anger and shock. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Carlos’ hand tremble slightly. I turned and he looked down at me. I saw the same emotions being reflected in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around me, his hands rubbing soft circles over my back. We held onto one another, with only an occasional sigh or murmur breaking the silence. The twilight was only a wedge of color in the west when we finally broke apart. Then he looked up and found Arcturus and Spica and pointed them out. A soft smile crossed my lips. He brushed them with the pad of his thumb and gave me a small smile in return before shuffling us off to dinner.

I didn’t tell Hawkins about the cologne Carlos wore or how it lingered in the air for a few moments after he left the room. Nor did I tell him about how Carlos kissed, how he could make my knees turn to jelly in a second. Because as far as I was concerned, none of that was Hawkins’ business.

I sent the update off and scrolled through other emails in my inbox. About two-thirds of the way down, I came across an email from Melissa Bonville. It had said she had done some research on Lisa. The attachments she sent were several megabytes in size. I wondered what she considered a lot of research.

Apparently, Lisa’s grandmother, Luna, had been a “person of interest” with the BIA and the FBI since she was a community leader since the 1960’s. Between then and now, she had been a vocal supporter of tribal autonomy and had once stated that she thought Russell Means was “a nice young man”. Her line of thought was a mixture of the democratic process combined with Acoma tradition for choosing tribal leaders, with power being evenly distributed across the tribe instead of the well known nepotism had been running rampant from 1960’s to the 1980’s. She had even offered up her own job as shaman to election when she had been challenged, but the challenge was quick squashed by the locals, who had a deep respect for her and her position. Nonetheless, since Luna did not agree with the tribal government that had been in power during those years, she was suspected of insurrectionist and terrorist activities.

I read that sentence again, blinking my eyes. A woman who at this point would be in her early eighties, who had never been out of the same pueblo she was born in, let alone the reservation, and had spent her entire life healing people of ailments, was a terrorist? Despite the fact that the terrorist behind the attacks had been an American and had worked for Jennings and Rall according to Hawkins, I saw nothing to compare John Smith to Lisa’s grandmother

I wondered if Beck knew. I had my doubts that the government would have let him advance in his career as far as he had if they considered Lisa’s grandmother any type of real threat.

So why continue to watch an old woman and her family if they had done nothing after forty years of surveillance? Old habits dying hard was my only guess. I’m sure after that amount of time, there would have been more than one person that would have convinced themselves that the old woman was up to something, even if in truth, she wasn’t.

I opened the attachments and started sifting through the information. The more information I looked through, the less I wanted to know how Melissa Bonville obtained it. It made me think that the public’s concept of privacy was illusionary at best.

Lisa had been adopted by her grandmother at the age of 9, after her mother passed away in a car accident. The courts ruled her father unfit due to his alcoholism. He had been behind the wheel the night of the accident, driving drunk. They had driven off the road and the car had rolled several times, ejecting her mother as it flipped.

As I read through the information before me, I realized that even though her mother had been taken from her suddenly and mine after a long illness, we were both motherless from an early age and with absentee fathers. I wondered what else in Lisa’s life paralleled mine.

The mouse clicked as I opened up a few other files. There were several indications that the grandmother intend for Lisa to follow in her footsteps. Lisa had been on several retreats with her grandmother by the time she was eighteen.

By then, she had extensive knowledge of the history of the Acoma tribe, herbology, cold reading, and psychology. This was from a summary of a psychological evaluation done on Lisa at a court ordered request of her father’s.

Her father had accused the grandmother of brainwashing, of “poisoning Lisa’s mind” against him.

When asked how she felt about her father, Lisa had replied, “I don’t hate him. I did at one point, but not anymore. Now, I just feel sorry for him.”

The psychologist had asked her if she wanted her father in her life.

“He stopped being my father a long time ago. I have no interest in having him in my life, at this point or at any time in the future.”

Harsh as her words sounded, I understood her decision. Even though I had chosen a path of reconciliation with my father, I still understood her decision.

The difference between us was one simple “what if” that had crept into my mind when Lily asked me if I wanted to have contact with my father again. She had said that he was ready to “mend fences” with me.

It had been hard, very hard, for the both of us. We did our best to make it work and that helped us through the rough spots. I’d be lying though if I said there weren’t days I wish I had said no. Then I would think about why I said yes. It had been that one little “what if”. What if I had looked back at some point in the future and regretted my decision? I disliked having to deal with “what ifs”. They introduced unpredictable variables, so I did my best to avoid them. That didn’t mean I couldn’t understand an 18 year old girl looking at a damaged relationship with her parent and deciding it was beyond repair. Perhaps when she thought about it, there were no “what ifs” to plague her mind.

When Lisa was 21, she was accepted on full scholarship to the University of Syracuse. Apparently, the grandmother only acquiesced to Lisa’s leaving if the girl would return to New Mexico after she graduated. Lisa agreed.

It was during her university period that she met Edward. Actually, they had both met on vacation in Seattle. When they discovered that she was in Syracuse and he was 80 miles to the north in Fort Drum, they decided to take a chance and pursue a relationship.

They were married six months after she graduated. And speculating on Jenna’s birthday, Lisa was already a couple of months pregnant. After the brief honeymoon, Edward had received orders to go to Korea, to be stationed along the DMZ for two years.

I couldn’t imagine what kind of stress that added to their relationship. But from the information that I had before me, it seems like they worked hard at the relationship and made it only stronger as time went on.

The next file was an mpeg of a video Lisa had made for Edward. I clicked it open and jumped a bit when microphone feedback filled the quiet office. The pointer hovered over the volume control as I slid its bar toward low a fraction.

The video was jumpy at first as Lisa tried to adjust the camera onto a level surface. She sat back and the video blurred, then came back into focus. She slid Angel onto her lap.

“Can you say hi to Daddy?” she whispered to the baby, propping Angel’s back against her stomach.

Angel’s attention was entirely focused on the plastic hammer in her hands. And attempting to stick its entirety into her mouth. Just because she was not succeeding very well didn’t mean she was unwilling to explore her options.

She deigned to follow her mother’s hand as it pointed to the camera after another minute.

“Can you say hi to Daddy?” Lisa repeated.

Angel smiled around the hammer in her mouth. She cooed once, then again. Deciding then that her duty was done, she turned her attention back to the attempts of stuffing the toy into her mouth.

Lisa brushed her hand a few times over the baby’s fine hair and pressed a kiss against her forehead before speaking again.

I wondered what it would be like to sit there with my child and my husband so far away from us both. A feeling of hope and longing mingled together inside me. But as the feeling lingered, I became more unsure on how much of the feeling was empathy for Lisa and how much was me simply missing Edward.

“I wanted to let you know that the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. The anemia’s all gone. I told you it would probably go away after the baby was born. I’m just so glad none of this affected her.”

She raised an eyebrow at the camera.

“Besides, you worry too much about me and not enough about yourself. It sounds like you’ve been working some very long days. I know how important your work is to you, but burning the candle at both ends is going to come back to get you, love. I know you’re gunning to get your captain’s commission in six months, but the world is not going to end if you get it in a year instead. I just wish we were there with you. I know you, Edward. You’re always so busy taking care of others, you neglect yourself. You need someone to keep you on the right path.”

“Because when you’re not, you always get caught up on doing what is right by this,” she said as pointed at her head.

“And you forget about what is right by this,” she continued, tapping a finger over her heart.

Perhaps she could have kept Edward from going as far as he did after Goetz died.

I searched through the remaining files Melissa Bonville had sent. There was nothing on Lisa and Angel after the attacks except for a few sketchy reports. Lisa, for reasons unknown, had informed her grandmother that she would not be taking over her duties when Luna passed away. Shortly afterwards, Luna took in two young apprentices, Corazon, twelve, and Angeni, ten. The report was almost 18 months old – dated only a few weeks after the attacks.

That was odd.

The report was a definite lead on where Lisa, and presumably Jenna, was after the attacks, but the only people who seemed to know that was the BIA, specifically Melissa Bonville. And she didn’t share the information when Jennings and Rall came knocking.


Perhaps the best way to find that out was to go to the source herself. Luna had an email address that had been provided to her by the tribal council. I guess they wanted it to look like they saw Luna as an equal when in actuality the council had been looking over her shoulder the entire time.

It surprised me a little as I typed the email that she wouldn’t view computers and technology the same way most of the elderly saw them, as a source of frustration and fear, not as a tool.

I kept the email simple. I told her who I was, who I was looking for and why. Now all I had to do was wait for a reply. If I got a reply. I tried to not think about the possibilities of why she might not respond and concentrated on what I would ask when I did.

The sound of a woman tripping over the threshold made me look up with a start. Dozens of papers spilled out across the floor. I quickly jumped up to assist the woman scrambling to stuff the papers back into their manila files.

“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry,” the woman said. “I swear I was born with two left feet!”

“Are you okay?” I asked as I stooped down, gathering and stacking papers for her.

“I’m fine,” she said, then looked down at the stacks of papers and let out a small sob.

“Mr. Mazzello is going to kill me,” she sniffled. She looked up at me with curious blue eyes.

I hesitated as I handed a stack to her, a small prickling twitched in the back of my mind as she regarded me.

She quickly glanced back down again, straightening papers into the correct files.

A corner of a photo peeked out from an unlabeled file, waves of chestnut colored hair adorning its length. It looked familiar somehow, but I couldn’t quite place it. Without thinking, I reached out to pick it up, but the woman, Maggie, I was presuming at this point, snatched it away, smiling apologetically.

“I’m so sorry,” she said again, placing stacks of files onto my desk. The pen holder next to the computer wobbled precariously for a moment or two.

“I came down here to tell you something and I’ve completely forgotten. I even wrote it on a post-it note to remind me and I don’t know where it is in this mess.”

She shuffled through the stacks looking for the post-it note.

“It’s all right, Maggie. It is Maggie, yeah?” I asked. I began to walk around the desk, seeing if the post-it had slipped back there. I had only made it half way when Maggie set down a stack of papers rather roughly on the desk, upending the pen holder.

“Oh, Lord!” she said. Frustration radiated from her.

I reversed my path around the desk, stooping down again to gather up fallen pens and placing them back into the holder that now sat timidly among the stacks of paper.

As I shuffled papers, something yellow caught my eye. Underneath the lip of the desk, a post-it note held a tenuous grip on the veneer.

I peeled the paper off. On it was written ‘Heather – 4:15 – Ambassador’.

I held the note out to her and asked, “Was this the note you were looking for?”

She grabbed at the paper with a handful of pens. She smiled sheepishly as she swept them into the holder.

“Uh, thanks,” she said as she clasped the note and studying it for a minute.

“Ah. Right. This note is to remind me to tell you that Mr. Mazzello would like to see you upstairs in his office at 4:15 to discuss the status of the refugees with the Ambassador.”

I glanced up at the clock. It was 4:11. I had to get up five flights in four minutes.

Oh, yea.

Much as I disliked being late, that prickling flared up again. It said it would be unwise to leave Maggie in my office while I went to the meeting. I needed to get her out of there, if only to keep my office in one piece.
“Well, I guess we better get moving,” I said to her, crisscrossing the stacks before me into one pile.

Her head snapped up from the task of sorting through the forms and documents before her. For one split second, I saw a look in her eyes before she feigned surprise. I knew that look. It was the same look my mother gave me when I was little when I was being too “helpful”. Which meant as far as Maggie was concerned, I wasn’t be helpful at all.

Well, that settles it. She’s not leaving this room alone.

Five minutes and another precarious roll of the pen holder later, she and I walked into the elevator for the short trip upstairs.

Maggie gave me an overly sweet thank you for my help when we reached her desk. But she still had a white knuckled grip on the papers as she plopped them down.

I was distracted from my concerns about Maggie by the sound of Ambassador Travis’ voice coming from Carlos’ office. The door was ajar and I walked up to it, waiting for an appropriate moment to announce my presence. Carlos sat behind his desk and the Ambassador restlessly paced the floor before it. And by the sound of his voice, Ambassador Travis seemed highly annoyed about the subject they were discussing.

“I don’t care how much of Texas, or for that matter, how much of the U.S., this guy owns, he’s poisoning people and he’s holed up there in his mansion looking down on the rest of us as if we’re all the little people and he’s above the law.”

I rapped my knuckles against the doorjamb. Both men turned to regard me. I felt my cheeks flush.

“Sorry I’m late. I got caught up some paperwork that took longer than expected to finish up. Have I missed much?”

Carlos raised an eyebrow at me behind the Ambassador’s back. He knew I wasn’t telling the full story. Recognition flashed over his face and he looked down at the papers before him in attempt to hide his annoyance. Whether he was irritated at Maggie or me, I wasn’t really sure.

I regarded Ambassador Travis and guessed he was choosing to ignore the covert communication between Carlos and me rather than being ignorant of it. I shut the door behind me and took the seat that Travis offered.

“Thank you for joining us, Miss Lisinski,” Travis said.

He paused, then said, “You know, I don’t think I’ve thanked you for all the hard work you’ve been putting in,” he replied as he sat down next to me. “Once this nightmare is over, if you want to come to work for my offices on a permanent basis, just let me know.”

Travis pulled a file off of Carlos’ desk and handed it to me.

“Mr. Mazzello and I were just discussing Mark Kase. He’s one of our main food suppliers for the refugees. Unfortunately, the food he’s been distributing has been of substandard quality. Several people have gotten sick and there’ve been a few incidents of people dying from food poisoning.”

I thumbed through the folder. Travis wasn’t exaggerating when he said Kase owned most of Texas. Food distribution was only part of the man’s business portfolio.

He had several homes, spread from Maine to Texas and from Florida to Hawaii. In addition to that was his fleet of vintage and limited edition cars as well as two luxury yachts named after his wife and son. His yearly income nearly took my breath away. I hadn’t seen a figure with that many zeros behind it in, well, ever. Rumor had it that he even owned his own private island somewhere near Tahiti.

I scanned through the financial statements of the companies he owned. As far as monetary losses suffered from the attacks and war were, the companies were absorbing them like they were some sort of small financial downturn while other conglomerates their size were close to bankruptcy.

“Do you think he’s playing both sides?” I asked.

Travis gave me a lopsided grin, apparently happy that I picked up on that point so quickly.

“Probably, but with the number of accountants he has, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to prove it in our lifetimes,” he answered.

I skimmed through the reports again.

“Does this man even eat the food processed by his own companies?”

“I have my doubts,” Travis said. “He has the money to purchase whatever he wants. I’m sure where he gets his meals from is the least of his problems.”

Travis stood up and paced the room in casual manner.

“And I’ve been trying for months to get into a meeting with him, but he’s deliberately avoiding me. I found out that he’ll be attending the San Antonio Ball in two weeks and I’m hoping to catch up with him then.”

He’ll have his entourage surrounding him,” Carlos said. “He might still be able to slip in and out of the Ball before we could even get to him.”

“But he’s only going to have so many people with him,” I said. “The Ambassador might still get the opportunity if Mr. Kase’s friends are distracted.”

Travis smiled and said, “Well, then, I’ll leave that to you.”

I blinked, then opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again when I didn’t know what to say.

How in the world did I just get roped into that?

That smile on Travis’ face just got bigger.

“I’m sure Mr. Mazzello will be happy to help you if there are any problems,” he said.

I looked over at Carlos. He seemed to have that same ‘what did I just sign up for?’ look on his face.

After a moment, he quickly replied, “Yes, definitely.”

Then he chuckled, flipping through some papers on the desk in front of him.

“I think I have the perfect ruse for you to get Kase’s attention too, Ambassador,” Carlos replied.

“Well, then, I’ll leave you two to go over the details,” Travis said as he gathered up the file lying on the desk before me. After another minute, he was gone and we were left to ourselves.

“I’m sorry I was late,” I began.

Carlos shook his head.

“You don’t need to apologize to me, Heather. I have several good guesses on why you got held up. I’m sorry. Next time, I’ll just come down myself to let you know if there’s a meeting with the Ambassador.”

“I’m glad,” I said. I almost added ‘Because I really don’t want Maggie in my office again.’ But that little prickling feeling at the back of mind advised that voicing those words would be extremely unwise.

“Really?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I whispered as I leaned across the desk, wanting my next words to only be heard by him.

“Because seeing you makes my day that much brighter.”

Carlos gave me one of those lazy grins that made me melt.

“Well, I aim to please,” he replied.

AN: I had a hard time determining if I should call the tribe that Lisa was from as Acoma or Keres. Acoma, if I understand correctly, is what outsiders call the tribe, not what the tribe calls itself. Finding the correct name proved rather illusive, so I settled on calling the tribe Acoma. If you should see a typo referring to the "Keres" tribe, Keres is the name of the language that the Acoma, along with other pueblo tribes, speak. I'd like to be accurate if possible when it comes to real names, places, etc., but I'm finding much beyond some dry linguistic tomes.

Also, I chose the names Lisa and Jenna based off of the incomplete (?) "Consequences" by Jest'lyn Tal. I figured that since she was the first to name Beck's wife and daughter, those were the names to go with. Though I have always, always thought that Beck's daughter would have Beck and perhaps his wife wrapped around her finger, that she would be "daddy's little angel", hence the nickname I gave Jenna. I guess my question would be is do we want to give a pair of names for these two to set as fanon or no? Please feel free to tell me if I barking mad or not. :)

Also, I just wanted to say sorry for the delay. I had every intention of posting this Tuesday or Wednesday, but I've been on some medication for the last week or so that gave me some rather unpleasant side effects. Thankfully, I'm over the worst of it. My posts are likely to slow down a bit at this point, however, while I finish up the second part of the story.
Current Location: In the hot desert sun
Current Music: "Take me to the Riot" by Stars
Title: ._ ._.. ._ _ ._ _._ _ ... ._.. _ _ _ ..._ . (Always Love)
Characters: Beck, Heather, OCs
Rating: PG
Chapters: 7/?
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.

I know Beck is absent for a couple of chapters or so here, but don't fear Beck fans, he will return. :) And again, thank you for your comments, they really do mean a lot to me.

I found Robert Hawkins waiting in my office after lunch that day.

“Robert, what are you doing here?”

“I’m fine, so are Darcy and the kids. And Lily, and Gray, and Jake, and Emily, and Beck.”

I flushed.

“I’m sorry, Robert. I’m just a little surprised to see you.”

“You said you needed a favor. Or were you mistaken?”

I didn’t think I particularly cared for the way he was asking if I still needed a favor. I could hear the other boot swooshing through the air, just waiting to drop.

“No, I still need the favor.”

“Good, because I need you to do something for me, too. I figure I do this for you, you do my favor for me and we’ll call it even.”

My stomach sank.

“Is this favor of yours going to get me thrown in jail again?” I asked, remembering my last “favor” for him.

“No, you won’t get thrown back in jail.”

I knew there was something he wasn’t telling me, but I didn’t press the subject figuring he would walk away from the whole thing and calling my favor off.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Travis thinks there’s a mole in the department. I need you to get close to enough to the guy I suspect it is and let me know if he’s passing on information to the ASA.”

My shoulders slumped as I walked around my desk. I slapped my purse down onto my back desk with a thunk. I did not like the prospect of being Ambassador Travis and Hawkins’ guinea pig at all.

“Who is it?”

“Carlos Mazzello.”

I rounded on him.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“I wish I was, Heather.”

“Carlos Mazzello is a good man.”

I couldn’t believe this was happening, all over again.

“You said the same thing about Beck just before you stole that page from his office.”

“And if I recall correctly, I was right.”

I bit out the words.

“Yeah, but how sure were you about that when you were sitting in jail?”

Robert Hawkins was currently going down for the least favorite person I knew right about now.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Just do what you were doing last night.”

I gave him a hard look.

“You were watching me?”

“Strictly business, Heather. And if I’m right, stopping him will save thousands of lives, both soldiers and civilians. Will you do it?”

What I really wanted to do was shove Hawkins out the door and curl up into a big ball in my chair.

“I’ll do it.”

I stared at the screen. Even looking at Lisa Beck’s credit cards purchases yielded very little information. The only odd thing that stood out was a purchase of a child’s sleeping bag on September 9th. It could be a simple an explanation as Angel being invited to a sleep over by one of her classmates. The other odd purchase was for a winter coat, again for Angel, two weeks before the attacks. The weather in Santa Fe at the end of August was still quite temperate. She wouldn’t really need a coat until mid to late October. So why purchase one in August? Early Christmas shopping? I had my doubts.

“You’re too busy looking at him.”

“What?” I asked, looking up at Robert.

“I didn’t say anything.”

I pulled out my slim file on Lisa and Jenna.

Too busy looking at him.

I looked at the wedding announcement. Read the article again. Edward Beck wed Elisabeth Danser Ortiz at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on March 30, 1996.

Elisabeth Danser Ortiz.


“It can’t be that simple,” I breathed out.

Could it?

I set the database to do an in depth search and typed in her name.

I studied the completed search. My shoulders slumped a bit when I realized it wasn’t as detailed as I had hoped. But it was a start.

I was right. They hadn’t been in Santa Fe when the attacks happened. There had been sporadic activity on a checking account in Lisa’s maiden name for four months after the attacks. The account had been abruptly cleaned out at that point. All of the activity had been at bank branches on the southern and eastern limits of Albuquerque. One early transaction was as far away as Grants, New Mexico.

What had she been doing out there? What was out there for that matter? Most of the land west of Albuquerque was sparsely populated. The only land out there was the Indian reservation.

I switched over to the federal database and did a query on her social security. She was a member of the Acoma tribe. Since the federal government recognized the tribe as a sovereign state within its borders, her records were sealed and inaccessible to any non-tribal members.

Well, I had my work cut out for me. Now at least I had an idea of where they were, but there were several settlements within the reservation. Trying to whittle it down to the right one when their whereabouts were sealed was going to be an adventure unto itself.

“Find what you needed?”

I chuckled mirthlessly.

“I can tell you that the haystack I’m looking in got smaller, but it’s still a needle I’m looking for.”

Hawkins peered at the data over my shoulder. He grabbed a pen and began jotting a name and email address onto my notepad. He tore the sheet off and handed it to me.

“Melissa Bonville?” I looked up at him, wondering how this woman was going to help me.

“She use to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the southwest. If you need information on a tribe, she’ll get it for you.”

“Right,” I said. I took a breath and switched subjects.

“About Carlos. . .”

“You backing out on me?” he injected. There was a warning tone in his voice.

“No,” I said angrily. “But you’ve got to promise me one thing.

“That sounds like a condition. I don’t think I like where this is going.”

I clenched my fists in frustration, then forced them open again, trying to calm myself before I continued on.

“You’ve got to trust me. I’ll let you know if I find out anything about him. But I can’t do this if I’m being watched. It will just make me paranoid and jumpy. And then Carlos won’t tell me anything because he’ll think I’ve lost my mind.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I wasn’t planning on it. Last night was just confirming a hunch.”

“A hunch,” I said.

“When you’ve has been spying for as long as I have, you start to pick up on nuances, quirks, in people pretty quickly. Like how you tend to bite the inside of your cheek when you think you’re getting too emotional or upset.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. He grinned like the Cheshire cat.

“Didn’t think anyone noticed that, huh? Just like Carlos Mazzello thinks that no one notices that when you’re in the room, he knows where you are at all times.”

“What? Like he has a sixth sense? Or that he’s a stalker?”

“It’s a guy thing, a guy that’s infatuated with a girl,” he said, “So I guess a sixth sense thing for him. I noticed it pretty much right after I introduced you to him.”

The greater part of me was flattered. The lesser part of me was struggling not to be creeped out by his automatic awareness of me. It made me feel a bit more like a piece of meat and less like a person. It made me think a male’s animal side wasn’t as far off as I wanted to believe.

Hawkins sensed my qualms.

“You know, Heather, if you think that sense is just about physical aspects, you still have something to learn about men.”

I looked away, embarrassed. When I turned back, he was writing on my notepad again. The crisp sound of paper tearing echoed against the walls as he handed the slip to me.

“This is my number and email if you need to reach me. I’ll be in touch,” he said. I looked at his handwriting. It was small and neat. When I looked up again, he was gone.

Over the next several weeks, I learned a lot about Carlos Mazzello. He was born in San Diego and that his parents had still been living there at the time of the attacks. He would talk about them in passing when we went for our evening walks, which were becoming a nightly thing. He had a married older sister in Springfield, Illinois. She and her family survived the attacks and chose to stay where they were.

“Springfield is their home, she told me,” he explained to me one night when I asked about her.

He heard from her more often now that Texas had sided with the U.S. He worried about them having enough to get by, but was relieved that they had little worry of the war coming to them any time soon.

Today, we were outside, having eaten lunch in Travis Park. At this point, it was more like playing hooky, considering how we should have returned to the office at least 30 minutes ago. Instead, we lay in the shade of an oak tree, shoes kicked off, enjoying the unusually pleasant May afternoon.

I flung my arm over my eyes. My body and mind were relaxed and I was slowly drifting off.

I heard the bend and sweep of the grass as Carlos rolled over to look at me. I could feel his eyes on me, but I was feeling far too comfortable to change my position. He inched closer.

A smile tugged at my lips. I felt the warmth of his chest against my arm. I rolled over, pressing my forehead against the solid mass. He pillowed my head against his shoulder. His lips ghosted against the top of my head and I snuggled closer. I let out an almost inaudible sign as he began to rub random patterns over my back.

He was still regarding me, I could tell. I suppose I had picked up a bit of that sixth sense when it came to him too.

“What?” I asked into his chest.

“Tell me about Jericho,” he said.

My drowsiness left me then. A sudden uncontrollable panic made me stiffen in his arms. The random circles he was drawing out over my shoulders ceased. I reined in my fear as I looked up at him a moment later, feigning confusion.

“Why?” I asked, trying to make seem like a boring subject considering I had been in “the big city” for so long. Fortunately, he fell for the ruse. That didn’t mean he would let go of the subject.

“It was your home. I want to know where you come from.”

I sat up, wrapping my arms around my knees. A lock of hair brushed against my cheek and I tucked it behind my ear.

“Hmmm,” I said, not really sure where to begin. “Well, this time of year you can still smell the tilled soil on the breeze. The wildflowers would be in full bloom along the roadside. There are warm, muggy mornings that turn into stormy, windy afternoons.”

I paused, remembering one particular storm.

“One May it hailed so much, it looked like an ice storm came through.”

I didn’t tell him that the storm was the beginning of Stanley’s troubles. He had lost his entire crop in that storm. Or how he had scrambled to plant new crop. The other farmers and even the Greens had spent long hours out on the Richmond farm helping. Even after all that, the harvest was nothing near what it should have been.

I shook my head, pushing the memory away.

“Sometimes I’d set out on the porch and watch the sunset and then do a little stargazing. It’s still nice in the evenings this time of year. The crickets would be coming out about now.”

I blushed a bit at the next part.

“When it wasn’t stormy, I’d practice dancing out on the back porch after school.”

“Dancing? What kind?”

“Mostly jazz,” I said, then mumbled, “And a little belly dancing.”

I was waiting for him to toss out some line about how he would like to see some of my “moves”.

“I need to take you latin dancing some time. I bet you could dance a mean cha-cha if I showed you the steps.”

I didn’t expect that.

“And here I was thinking that you were going to make a crack about seeing my moves. I didn’t know you danced too.”

He chuckled and said, “Heather, I hate to tell you this, but I’m a guy. Of course I’m going to want to see your moves, but you might as well being having fun yourself while you’re doing it, don’t you think? As for dancing, yeah, I dance a little. It was my dad’s idea actually. He thought it would give me more opportunities to meet girls.”

I grinned and asked, “Was he right?”

“Oh, definitely,” he replied. “Helped teach me a thing or two about women that I would have been too embarrassed asking my parents about.”

“Like what?”

“That in many ways women are more transparent than men usually give them credit for. A lot of times a long, caressing hug is just that and not a sign of foreplay or that tears are just releasing stress and not an aim to manipulate the people around them.”

“You make women sound a bit devious.”

“To a teenaged boy with raging hormones and no previous experience, they sort of were. That’s what I thought until I met Helen.”

“Your first girlfriend?”

“No, but I guess you could call her my first case of puppy love. She was my dance instructor. She taught me a bit about dancing and a lot about women. How women have a tendency to talk a lot about their problems because it relieves the stress and helps them to find a resolution on their own and not an opportunity on giving them pointers on how they need to change their lives.

“Sound piece of advice, what else did she tell you?”

“Don’t talk down to intelligent women, because it just ticks them off. Treat a woman with the same respect you expect to be treated with. Don’t be inflexible – the “my way or the highway” attitude kills relationships because it doesn’t allow for compromise. And if a woman says she’s insatiable when it comes to you, get a headboard for your bed because you’re going to need it for leverage.”

I burst out laughing at the last part.

“What?” he asked, looking a little perplexed.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I think what she told you was common sense. I guess I’m just a little shocked that a woman would be so bold in stating her bedroom preferences.”

He shrugged.

“Helen wasn’t known for mincing words. And you might think what she said was common sense, but you might be surprised at the number of guys that are clueless about how to treat women.”

I rolled onto my stomach, my face inches from his.

“But you know how to treat a woman right, huh?” I asked, giving my head a flirtatious tilt to the side. His lips were so close.

He regarded me with a soft smile that I had come to realize he reserved only for me.

“I’d like to think so,” he whispered. I looked down at his lips, only an inch away now and so very inviting.

“I think I’ll have to judge that for myself,” I replied. I brushed my lips against his. He tasted of cinnamon. He nipped lightly at my bottom lip and I felt a thrum rush down my body, turning into a swirl low in my belly.

I think he knew I turned to mush when he did that. I think that’s why he did it.

I darted my tongue along his top lip. He let out a soft groan, almost inaudible. I took that small advantage and slipped into his mouth, tentatively brushing the tip of my tongue along his.

Suddenly I found myself draped over his chest, my lips crushed to his. His hand tangled in my hair, his fingertips caressing the back of my neck. The swirl in my belly vibrated out along my body, down to my fingertips and toes, curling in pleasure, before racing back again. I gasped and I felt him smile through the kiss.

A muffled tune floated up from his pocket. After a moment, it sang out again, this time louder and more persistent

Carlos broke the kiss with a reluctant sigh, digging out his cell phone.

“Mazzello,” he said into the phone. I moved away so he could sit up. He smiled as he leaned forward, giving the tip of my nose a playful tweak. It was obvious to both of us that he was only half listening to the speaker on the other end.

His smile quickly transformed into a frown, then a grimace. The voice on the other end of the phone was tinny and frantic.

Lucky whoever he’s talking to is on the phone and not here, I thought as his reaction darkened.

“No, Maggie, I did not leave the report in my office. I left it with Hodgkins to be signed off. I told you that before I left for lunch. I even left you a note.”

He paused. His fingertips rubbed at his temple, as if he was trying to ward off a developing headache.

“Yes. A note. On your desk.”

There was another brief pause. The voice on the other end took an apologetic tone.

“Yes, that yellow post-it note right by your phone. That’s it.”

He placed his head in his hand. The voice on the other end rapidly accelerated. Carlos did his best to respond.

“Yeah. Ok. Yeah. Right. Right. Yeah, I’ll see you in a few.”

He clicked off his cell in disgust.

“So much for playing hooky,” I said, venturing a smile.

He looked up at me apologetically.

“I’m sorry. I guess we’ll have to give it a go another day.”

“I’m guessing that was your secretary?” I asked.


“Sounds like she’d be lost without you.”

He scoffed.

“What?” I asked, frowning.

“Don’t get me wrong. Maggie is a very nice lady. I just don’t think she’s cut out for secretarial work.”

“How so?”

“She forgets stuff. A lot. She tries to compensate by putting post-it notes everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. She even has notes for her notes. The problem is she still forgets. Which means most of the time I’m doing he job as well as mine.”

“Can’t you dismiss her?”

“Nope. Apparently, right after she got hired, she produced all of this ADA documentation to HR. Which is kind of odd that she remembered it since she can’t seem to remember where the break room is half the time.”

He got to his feet and offered me a hand up, dusting off a few errant leaves clinging to the back of my blouse as I stood.

Probably because he’s reluctant to break contact with me, I thought.

I was feeling rather reluctant about it myself. I kept my arm linked in his as we walked through the park.

We slowly drifted apart and by the time we reached the federal building, I had to quicken my pace a bit to keep up with him.

He held the door open for me, whispering as I passed through,“See you later. Don’t work too late.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

“Thank you,” I said. People would think I was only stating my gratitude for him holding the door for me. His eyes were sparkling when I glanced up at him. He knew what I meant.
Title: ._ ._.. ._ _ ._ _._ _ ... ._.. _ _ _ ..._ . (Always Love)
Characters: Beck, Heather, OCs
Rating: PG
Chapters: 6/
Unbetaed, all mistakes are my own.

I happened to be wandering through kelsrealm's galleries and stumbled upon the one she had for Karl Urban. As I looked through the pictures, I wondered what would it be like for Heather to be distracted from pining for Edward by a handsome, near-at-hand suitor? So I created the character Carlos based off of pictures of Karl Urban, but I have to admit I got a few of his mannerisms from watching Josh Duhamel in "Las Vegas". He's another actor, as the saying goes, that's not hard to look at. Hope you like the chapter.

I had been in San Antonio for two months and had yet to have the opportunity to take Hawkins up on the favor. After a heartfelt farewell to Jenna in Ponca City, Hawkins delivered me to Ambassador Travis’ headquarters in San Antonio. I was immediately put to work getting evacuees from “The Big Push” (as the ASA advance was now being called) resettled both temporarily or permanently into the state (or the Republic, as the some of the natives were still insistent on saying even though Texas had sided with the U.S. Even Travis viewed his title as a formality, though still he worked hard on the diplomatic matters that existed between the U.S. and Texas.)

The stream of evacuees coming in was almost endless. Far from turning away the evacuees, the Texans embraced them with a “more the merrier” attitude. In turn, the evacuees eased an ongoing labor shortage as well as adding to the Texan economy.

I flipped through the application for housing on my desk as a family of four from Holyoke, Colorado waited across from me. The parents looked haggard, as if they neither had much sleep or food in several weeks. The mother patted the fitfully sleeping baby in her arms, swaying slowly and whispering sweet words when the little one started.

Their little boy, as I glanced at the paperwork, was five years of age. October 1st. My heart twinged a little. His birth date was the same as Edward’s. I looked up at the boy.

He was quietly investigating every nook and cranny the office held.

“Jason,” his father said, gesturing for the boy to come stand by him. He obediently moved to his father’s side, peering at me over the desktop. I gave him a soft smile and he ducked his head down, suddenly bashful. I turned back to the computer screen, trying to suppress an even bigger smile and failing miserably.

The database displayed an apartment complex in Beacon Hill that still accepted housing vouchers for six and twelve month periods and were family oriented. The accommodations would be on the small side, but the area was quiet, fairly safe and the complex had several vacancies.

“There’s a place in Beacon Hill that we could get you into. It’s a quiet area of town and from what I understand, short of an occasional burglary, it’s a safe area.”

The man glanced as his wife and let out a gruff laugh.

“That seems fine, Miss Linsinski, especially since we have nothing to steal. All we have is each other and so far we’ve done just fine with that.”

His wife gave him a reassuring smile before saying to me, “I’m sure whatever you provide will be fine. We’re just grateful for the assistance.”

I pulled a motel voucher from a drawer file. I pulled off a relief kit from the stack that sat behind me. I placed the items before them and set down a little xeroxed map of the local area.

“There’s a shuttle downstairs that leaves every half hour to take people to local motels that are participating in the relief effort.” I circled the Federal Building, which was currently serving as headquarters for Ambassador Travis, along with other national related offices.

“The motels are here,” I said, circling a couple of city blocks that lay a couple of miles away. “The motel voucher is good for two weeks, though I’m hoping to have you into the apartment complex by the end of this week.”

I scribbled my name and number on the back of a business card and glanced down at the application once more.

“If there’s anything I can do for you, Mr. and Mrs. Barton, please don’t hesitate to call.”

Mr. Barton stood up and offered his hand, giving mine a firm shake as I clasped it.

“Thank you, Miss Lisinski, for everything.”

“Glad to be of help.”

I walked them to the door and was met by Carlos Mazzello. He was an analyst that at one point worked for J&R. Ambassador Travis had met him at the Constitutional Convention in Cheyenne. By the time they met, Carlos had grown quite disillusioned with the Cheyenne government and was ready to move his loyalties elsewhere.

“Tomarchio is a lot more hungry for power than democracy,” he had once told me. He had become a friend during my time here. Actually, Hawkins practically handed me over to him upon my arrival in San Antonio, saying Mazzello was an acquaintance of Jake’s and Edward’s and that he himself thought that the man was fairly reliable.

There were hints from him as time went on that he would be interested in being more than just friends, but I kept him at arm’s length. Even after three months of separation, my feelings for Edward were still strong.

Though there were times that I had second thoughts, that arguments ran through my mind. Carlos was tall, taller than Edward by at least a few inches. He had brown eyes that were almost black, a charming smile, and a backside that would make any woman crane back in her chair as he walked away for a second look. He was intelligent and wide read and we had lively discussions on a variety of topics.

“He even likes Jane Austen,” Laura, one of the legal assistants, said to me, and then added with a sigh, “He’s got to be gay.”

It had taken extreme skill on my part not to choke on my coffee considering how he had complimented me not five minutes before. Reaching for me, cupping my elbow lightly, and feeling the warmth of his breath against the shell of my ear. Not the usual actions a gay man took around a woman, I thought.

The Bartons rounded the corner at the end of the hall and I turned to Carlos, giving him a warm smile.

He inclined his head to the retreating family.

“So how goes it with the huddled masses?” he asked.

My smile faltered slightly. He said in light hearted jest, but it struck me as insulting. Instead of empathizing with the evacuees’ plight, he made them sound like only slightly better than rabble.

“I’m getting on well enough,” I replied.

“Some of us were thinking of heading down for dinner at the Greek café around the corner. I was wondering if you wanted to tag along.”

I was thinking of declining but my stomach answered with a large growl. Carlos tried not to smile and failed miserably.

“I’ll take that as a yes then?”

“Sure,” I replied, quietly admonishing my rebellious stomach. “Let me just tidy up here and I can meet you downstairs in about ten minutes?”

He gave me one of his charming smiles and said, “That would be great.”

“Don’t take too long, though,” he said over shoulder as he walked down the hall.

I walked back to my desk, filing the Bartons’ application into my ‘In Process’ tray and saving and closing applications on the computer. I grabbed the few files lying out on my desk, intending to stuff them back into their cabinets. A picture of Jenna -- Angel, peaked out from the small file I had on Edward’s family. It was an article on the county fair and had a big, adorable picture of her licking a popsicle to her heart’s content. A disembodied hand touched at the back of her shoulder, but I knew it was Lisa standing there next to her, just out of the frame. I sighed, disappointed at myself that I hadn’t been able to find anything more on them than a handful of articles and pictures before the attacks.

The phone rang, giving me a little start. Likely Carlos calling to ask what was taking me so long.

“I swear, I’ll only be another minute, Carlos,” I answered.


It was Edward’s voice.

I sat down in my chair as my legs suddenly forgot how to stand.

“Uh, um, sorry, I thought you were someone else, a co-worker.”

Oh, God, I’m rambling. And why did I have the need to tell him that Carlos was just an acquaintance?

“Uh, how are you? Are you doing ok? Where are you?” I asked in rapid fire, then mentally cringed when I realized what my last question was. Great, Heather, why don’t just ask him to broadcast his coordinates to the ASA forces? I could hear my voice echo on his end of the line.

“I’m fine, hanging in there ok --,” he started

“Uh, sorry about that last part,” I blurted. His voice paused as my voice echoed again on his end. His chuckle echoed across to me. Suddenly I was quite glad that this was only a phone conversation as I felt my cheeks flash with heat.

“Yeah, I hope you don’t mind if I don’t fill you in on my whereabouts,” he replied.

“But you are doing ok?” I repeated. Helplessness ate at me. Who knew how many miles lay between me and him and that I could do nothing to keep him safe.

“As well as can be. I was calling to see if you had settled in ok. I spoke to Lily Nyugen a few days ago. She’ll be headed your way pretty soon. She said to tell you “He thinks God will still save him.” I’m hoping that makes sense to you,” he said. By the sound of his voice, I imagined the confused smile on his face.

My cheeks flushed again, this time with embarrassment. Lily and I would definitely have a thing or two to discuss when we met up again.

“So,” he said, taking my silence as an opportunity to continue, “I’m guessing from your mistake, you’ve met up with Carlos Mazzello.”

“Uh, yeah, he kind of took me under his wing when I got here. I don’t think my transition here would have gone nearly as well if he hadn’t been here. All the ladies here think he’s quite the charmer.”


His voice held a trace of disapproval.

“Well, Mazzello always knew how to keep a girl from being homesick,” he replied.

What was that suppose to mean? That I was so lonely I’d be tempted to throw myself at any guy that would give me the attention?

“I know where my home is. And it’s not San Antonio,” I said, starting to get a little defensive. “I’ll be going back to Jericho just as soon this is over.”

“I’m sorry, Heather,” he replied after a moment, “I didn’t mean to imply anything on your part.”

My anger softened a little.

“It’s all right.”

“No, my comment was uncharitable. I’m sorry.”

“Really, Edward. It’s all right.”

There was another pause.

“I spoke to Hawkins. He told me what you were up to.”

Great. Wonderful. Well, then, it wasn’t just Lily who was going on my list to have words with the next time I saw them. If I didn’t just decided to toss aside words and blow him a raspberry instead.

“You don’t have to be doing this, Heather.”

“Yeah, I do. It’s been a year and a half since you’ve heard from them. You have a right to know where your family is.”

“But it’s not your responsibility to find them.”

“Maybe not, but I do see as an obligation. To you,” I replied, biting my lip. I felt like I was treading on dangerous ground.

“You don’t owe me anything, Heather.”

“So you say. Unfortunately, that’s not the way I see it, Edward. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the least I can do.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

I could hear Lily in my head sarcastically saying ‘Thank you would be nice.’ I pushed the thought away.

“You don’t have to say anything. Besides, I really don’t have too much to tell you about them right now.”

“Thomas Valente said that they had leads on my family’s whereabouts.”

“I think he was lying to you, Edward. I haven’t been able to find anything on them. And I’ve looked, really looked. They have no clue where your family is.”

God, I would have given anything not to have to tell him that.

There was silence for a few moments.

“But you’ll tell me if you find anything.”

“Yes, of course.”

There was a knock on my doorjamb. I glanced up. Carlos stood there, a look of concern forming over his features when he saw my face.

I didn’t know if his timing could have been much worse.

“Uh, look, I have to go. But I will get a hold of you just as soon as I find something. I promise.”

“Ok,” said Edward. “Heather?”


“Take care of yourself and -- ,” he paused.

“Thank you,” he said.

I bit down on the inside of my cheek, keeping my emotions in check. They were too personal for me to want to share them with anyone right now. Especially not Carlos Mazzello. His eyes hadn’t left me since he appeared in my doorway.

“Yeah,” I replied.

I heard the line disconnect, but it took a few moments for me to accept that he was no longer there. Then the phone slid from my ear almost of its own accord and I reluctantly placed it back on its cradle.

“Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. I attempted to give him a reassuring smile. The look on his face told me I wasn’t making a very good job of it.

“You know what?” he said, pushing off the doorframe and walking to stand an arm’s length from me. “Let’s go for a walk along the Riverfront instead. We can always get a bite to eat later.”

I blushed at the thought, thinking it was a romantic gesture. Not something I really wanted to juggle along with everything else I was currently feeling.

“Uh, I don’t know, Carlos,” I replied, focusing my attention on gathering up my purse and sweater so that I could avoid looking at him.

He caught onto my thoughts.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” he replied, holding up his hands in placation as I moved to leave.

“I just meant that it would be a nice place to go at this time of day. It’s quiet, peaceful. It’s a good place to go when you’ve got a lot on your mind and you need to sort things out. That’s all I meant by it.”

I paused, mulling it over. After a moment, I looked up at him. He took that as permission to continue.

“I’d only be there to keep you company. You wouldn’t have to talk if you didn’t feel like it, but I’ll be there if you need someone to listen. Or an arm to lean on.”

It sounded like a wonderful idea really. But I hated imposing on people. I’m sure he had enough problems of his own; I didn’t need to be dumping mine into his lap too.

“I don’t know,” I repeated, “I’m sure you’ve got lots of other things you could be doing. I’d be imposing on you. I don’t want to do that. It would be rude.”

“Heather,” he said, giving me a soft smile. “I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I wasn’t there for them when they were having a rough time. You’re not imposing. I want to be with you because I want to be sure you’re going to be ok.”

He regarded me with true concern, without the hint of ulterior motive. My resolve to be alone weakened. I gave him a small smile.

“All right then,” I said, draping my purse strap over my shoulder and folding my sweater over my arm. “Lead the way.”

He held out his arm to me and I tucked my hand into its crook. And off we went.

Carlos had been right. The Riverfront was relatively quiet in the twilight hours. Most of the businesses were closed for the day and the restaurants opened for dinner were still hours away from hitting their night time peak. Besides ourselves, I could count only a few dozen people roaming along the riverside.

The late April evening was warm and humid. I let go of Carlos’ arm and walked up a nearby bridge to enjoy the view.

The river mirrored the twilight colors of the sky. Deep saffron changed to marigold to brick red. Behind it a nighttime sky of indigo chased the sunset down to the horizon. A bird trilled off in the distance and was answered.

As the minutes slid by, I could feel my spirit lighten. I ran my hands over the bridge’s stone surface, its roughness scraping at my fingertips. I closed my eyes, listening to the water lapping. The evening breeze rustled through the trees and brushed its warm fingers over my face. In the distance, I heard a mother calling her children in for the evening.

I let out a long breath and slowly opened my eyes. My emotions were no longer the threatening maelstrom I had felt in the office. Each had separated out as I stood there at the river’s edge, calming, lessening, waiting for me to deal with each in its turn.

I let out another long breath.

“I told you this place was peaceful.”

I opened my eyes, turning to regard Carlos.

He was leaning over the rails, feigning interest in a duck floating along in the slow moving current.

“Thank you for bringing me here.”

He looked back up at me and gave me a soft smile.

“Not a problem. You look like you need to get out. You’ve been working pretty hard ever since you got here. I was beginning to wonder if you ever took a moment to relax.”

“I have a lot of responsibilities. A lot of people are depending on me. If that means that I don’t get out too often, then I think it’s worth it.”

“Heather, you have a responsibility to yourself. If you let that go, you’re not helping these people nearly as much as you think you are.”

I looked down at the water, rolling along. It wasn’t exactly something I wanted to hear. I had wanted to hide in my work and not deal with my own problems. But hearing from Edward brought them all to the surface again.

“You’re right,” I replied.

“Come on,” he replied, tugging at my sleeve. “I think I’d like to see what the real Heather Lisinski is like after a little R & R.”

I let out a chuckle and followed him down the other side of the bridge. We walked past Aztec on the River and Carlos began regaling me in its history.

“The owners originally built it to be this Meso-American fantasy that moviegoers could immerse themselves in. Give them an opportunity to forget about the daily grind and give them a little piece of adventure they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to experience.”

He pointed out the ITC museum, promising to take me there the next time he could sneak me out of the office.

“Sneak me out?”

“Yeah, all the women in Legal think I’m a hopeless cause, married to my job, that sort of stuff. I’d be breaking their hearts if they discovered I had a life outside of work.”

I let out a peal of laughter.

Carlos grinned. After a few moments, I’d calmed down enough to speak.

“Those women in Legal don’t know you at all, do they?”

He chuckled.

“No, I don’t suppose they do.”

He had a sparkle in his eyes when he spoke.

“What?” I asked, suddenly nervous.

“Huh? Oh, nothing.”

I gave him a skeptical look. He relented.

“It’s just nice to hear you laugh. You’ve got a great laugh.”

I blushed and looked away. I could feel a part of myself preening over his compliment. Several seconds past before I turned back to him.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“Hey are you hungry?” he asked. “There’s a little shop on the street over that way that has great phô noodles. My treat.”

I hesitated, getting a little nervous. I wondered when this had become a date.

Carlos seemed to read my thoughts.

“No worries, Heather. We’re just out here to relax and have fun. You need it.”

“Doctor’s orders?” I teased.

“Doctor’s orders,” he replied with mock gravitas. “And I promise, no funny stuff, rest and relaxation is very serious business.”

He wiggled his eyebrows and I giggled.

“All right then,” I said, looping my hand over his arm, “lead on, Dr. Mazzello.”

Dinner started off relatively quiet, both of us occupied in eating our dinners. After a few minutes of amiable silence, he asked me what I thought of the noodles.

“Not bad,” I replied, “but I think Francine probably spoiled me.”

“Phô noodles were a specialty of hers?”

“Yes, and a special occasion dish, too. I guess everything else sort of pales in comparison.”

“I’m sorry.”


“I shouldn’t have brought it up. It’s obvious you still miss her.”

On impulse, I reached out and gave his hand a quick squeeze.

“It’s ok. Yeah, I still miss her, but it’s easier if I talk about her. I tried keeping things in when my mom passed away and it just made my life a mess. And it was Francine who helped me realize that.”

“She was truly a second mother to you then?”

“Yeah. Kind of like a second father in some ways too.”


“Showed me how to throw a proper punch if I ever needed to defend myself.”


“Only had to defend myself once, though.”

“Some date get too fresh with you?” he asked, laughter in his voice.

“No,” I said, smiling, “Nothing like that.”

I sobered then, “No, it was when I realized that Phil Constantino and his men weren’t making wind turbines in the factory in New Bern. I was trying to sneak out of the factory when I rounded a corner and ran into Ned Perkins. I tried to bluff my reason for being there, but he wasn’t going for it. He grabbed his cuffs and said that I’d better not cause any trouble. I realized I had run out of options. If he had taken me back to Constantino, well, I probably wouldn’t be here now.”

“So you decked him?”

“Yeah, he dropped like a rock. I ran away so quick, I didn’t know that I was getting shot at until Russell told me after I got back from Nebraska. I was lucky, real lucky.”

“Well, they say fortune favors the bold.”

“Maybe, but I still think it was the wrong thing to do. Violence is not the answer when a better solution is available. I mean what if it hadn’t worked? I would have only made the situation worse.”

“Stuck between a rock and a hard place and you’re still beating yourself up for not finding the diplomatic solution.”

“Wouldn’t you?”


I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

“Heather, you’re human. You took the only option you felt you had available to you at the time. Everyone can look back on their mistakes and say ‘I could have done that better.’ And when life gives us a similar situation, we usually do. Don’t beat yourself up over what’s past, just make today better.”

I looked down at the remnants of phô floating in the now cool broth.

“Thanks for dinner. I better call it a night.”

“Let me walk you back up to Houston Street at least,” he said as I stood up.

Even though the night was still early, I still had to call Jenna before she went to bed. It was a promise I made to her before I left Ponca City. And then there were reports from Lily and Gray to go over as well. But I had enjoyed his company and for the first time in months, I felt like I wasn’t rushing through my work as life passed by.

“Sure,” I said, “I’d like that.”

As we walked, I looked up at the stars. There weren’t as many to see here because of the light pollution, but I could still make out the Big Dipper’s handle and then arced across, my gaze falling upon Arcturus, then Spica. I found it comforting to gaze up at them, knowing that they were constant and unchanging. Had been for a few billion years and likely for a few billion more. Considering my lifespan, their relative permanency was good enough for me.

“What are you looking at?” Carlos asked.

“Arcturus,” I replied, pointing to the shining orange star high in the east. “Depending on what history you follow, it protects of Ursa Major and Minor from the wrath of Hera, High Queen of Olympus, or it’s Hokule’a, Star of Joy, which helped the ancient Polynesians locate Hawaii. It’s technical a red giant even though it looks orange. It’s about 37 light years away from us.”

“Where did you learn that?”

“My mom. She’s the one who encouraged me in science. I think she would have liked for me to be an astronomer or a doctor or a scientist of some sort.”

“But you’re not.”

“No, I realized half way through college that I was the happiest when I was showing people what I’d learn, teaching them. After that,” I shrugged.

“Everything just fell into place,” Carlos finished.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“So what else is up there?”

Over the next few minutes, I pointed out constellations and rattled off myths. He found the story of Gemini (only Castor and Pollux were still visible in the west and quickly setting as I pointed them out) to be the most intriguing.

“So fraternal loyalty till the end, huh?”

“Well, depends on who’s viewpoint you’re seeing it from, Zeus, Castor’s, and Pollux’s or Poseidon’s, Idas’, Lynceus’.”

“Actually, both. Just because Poseidon could fulfill his sons’ wish, doesn’t mean they were any less devoted to one another. Zeus putting Castor and Pollux into the skies, well, that’s less devotion and more status symbol, don’t you think?”

I giggled.

“I hadn’t ever quite thought about it that way, Carlos, but you’re right. I suppose Zeus liked to be flashy because he was High King of Olympus and just knew he could be.”

It wasn’t until then that I had noticed my hand had slipped down into his as we strolled slowly back up the Riverwalk. It felt nice, natural. There was no sweaty palms, just a soft, cool touch. I leaned against him as I looked up, letting him guide our path.

We took a stairway up to the street. Disco music floated out of Polly Ester’s.

“So if you are tired of the same old sto-o-o-o-r-r-y-y-y, turn some pa-a-a-ges. I’ll be here when you are re-a-a-d-d-y-y. To roll with the changes. Keep on ro-o-o-o-l-l-i-n-n-g-g.”

I did a twirl on the landing.

“My mom use to sing me this song. I love this song!”

“Do you mind if I have this dance then?” Carlos asked, offering me his hand. I slipped my hand into his and felt the warmth of his other hand slip over my back, coming to rest just beneath my shoulder blade.

He smelt of orange and cedar and his shoulder was solid beneath my fingertips. His fingertips brushed ever so lightly against my back. He guided me back, then forward, then back again, twirling me around as he pulled me forward. He gathered me into his arms again as I turned to face him.

And the entire time I was smiling like a mad fool. I loved ever second of it. Took everything in my power not to squeal with delight. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes and let him guide our bodies to the rhythm of the music. I hadn’t had this much fun in, in. Well, actually, I couldn’t remember any time in the recent past where I had had this much fun.

He guided me around the little landing and I didn’t have a care in the world. All the worries of the day slid off my shoulders. I didn’t fret about Gray or Lily or Jenna. And it wasn’t until some hours later that I realized Edward Beck had been absent from my thoughts for several hours.

It wasn’t until I snuggled down into bed that night, drifting off, thinking of Carlos twirling me around that tiny landing, humming the song softly to myself. My brain was just on the threshold of sleep and I couldn’t seem to remember the sound of Edward’s voice.

I heard Carlos saying to me instead, “If you’re too busy focused one thing or one person, what you are looking for is going to slip past because you were too busy looking at one thing and not focusing on the bigger picture.”

You’re right. You’re right was my last coherent thought before everything became a dreamy mess.

I dreamt that I danced through the stars that night with Edward, but he turned, pivoting away without me. A woman stood off in the distance, I couldn’t see her face. But I didn’t have to. I clasped my hands over my arms, trying to fight off the loneliness, feeling abandoned.

There was the softest touch at my elbow, then I swept up into Carlos’ arms, spinning across space. The loneliness was gone, replaced by a feeling of comfort. Part of me felt as if I were betraying Edward.

“It’s ok,” Carlos whispered, cupping my face in his hand. I leaned into the touch, closing my eyes.

“Edward’s a big boy; he can take care of himself,” he said.

I shot him a skeptical look and he shrugged and said, “Ok, sometimes.”

I smiled and clasped his hand in mine, running my fingers over his knuckles and the back of his hand.

“Besides, if you’re always looking at Edward – “

I started. That was not Carlos’ voice. It was Lisa’s. She ignored my shock as she continued.

“How do you expect to find me?”

I woke up to the clock radio crooning “Save the Last Dance for Me”. I knocked it off the nightstand with my pillow.
Current Music: "Roll with the Changes" Reo Speedwagon
27 August 2008 @ 12:02 pm
One of the shows I have gotten into recently is Eureka on the SciFi channel. So, I go looking for fanfiction for it & find Jack & Nathan slash & say to myself, "Ok, possible -- the whole opposites attract scenario -- but the way the characters are written and acted in the show, highly improbable. The latest story I came across topped that -- Jack/Nathan/Fargo slash. What the? o.O Seriously, I don't get it. The way I see it, slash is ok, if the pairing is possible & the story is well written, but not when the characters can't even stand being in the room with one another & it's obvious that they are in love with the same woman (Allison), with lots of UST going on between Allison and Jack and Allison and Nathan. And I really don't understand why authors just throw the male actors together because they are both very attractive. Give me a plausible reason why they should be together other than the fact that they are eye candy the author wants to be stuck between.