Fic 3: Collision Course
Authors: X_tremeroswellian and Did_It_Once
Rated: PG-13 for violence, adult language and content
Spoilers: Up through and including “Reconstruction.” The rest is pretty AU.
Word Count: 7638
Heather let out a breath as she exited Major Beck's office, a little shaken by the brief although interesting meeting. She headed for the corridor, stopping her tracks when she caught sight of Jake walking into the room.
Jake turned his badge over in his hand once more, studying it for what had to be the hundredth time. Finally dropping his hand, he looked up to see Heather almost in front of him. "Hi."
"Hi," she responded, her gaze flickering to the badge as well. A faint smile touched her lips. "You accepted."
He nodded. "Yeah."
"Jericho's very lucky then."
He shrugged. "Sure."
"We are," Heather said quietly, hesitantly touching his arm for a moment. "Well...I should...."
"Yeah..." He stepped to the side. "See you."
She swallowed hard and moved past him slowly and out the door just in time to see a couple of soldiers hauling in a struggling man off the street. She backed up against the wall as they brought him in, uttering curses.
Jake watched as the soldiers stopped in front of him with the man. "Who's this?"
"You'll all pay for what you've done!" he screamed, still struggling.
His gaze darkened. "New Bern. Take him back to the pit he crawled out of."
"Yes, Sir, Sheriff Green," the soldier on the right said with a nod before turning and heading back out the way they came.
Jake shook his head. "Sheriff Green..." he muttered. "That's just something else..."
"You!" the man spat hatefully as he caught sight of Heather. He made a valiant effort to get away from the soldiers. "You did this to us!"
She swallowed hard and remained silent.
"He's gonna come for you," he growled.
Turning once more, he strode over to the man and slammed his fist into his gut. "You have no right to talk here."
Heather flinched a little and moved past Jake, slipping back into the main office and out of sight, her face pale.
Gazing between the soldiers, Jake clenched his fists. "Get him out of here now. If he talks again, shoot him."
The soldiers exchanged a look and quickly escorted the man back out of Town Hall.
After they left, he went into the main office and over to Heather. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said without hesitation.
She looked up at him solemnly. "How many people from New Bern have come here since that day?"
"How many, Jake?"
"Over a dozen."
She swallowed hard.
"I don't know how they keep coming back. We have a tight border patrol."
"I hate to say it, but is there any chance there's been infiltration on the patrol?" she asked grimly.
He sighed, expression also grim. "It's a possibility."
Heather was silent for a moment. "If it's someone from New Bern I may know them."
"You're not going out there."
"I could go *with* you."
"Jake, if we can figure out if patrol's been infiltrated we could stop anymore people from New Bern from coming here and risking anymore lives."
"Heather, I don't want you down there."
"Trust me when I say I've been in a lot more dangerous situations."
"That's my point," he said, running a hand through his hair. "You don't need to be in any more dangerous situations."
She looked away. "I wanna help, Jake."
"I know you do," his voice became soft. "But you can't go down there."
Heather didn't say what she was thinking: two people from New Bern knew now that she was alive. Word would get back to Constantino, and quickly. It was only a matter of time. "All right," she said quietly.
"You can help out from here, okay?"
"Sure." She tucked her hair behind her ears, hesitating. "There’s something I need to ask."
He folded his arms. "Ask away."
Heather looked away for a moment. "Do you have a spare gun?"
He frowned. "Why?"
"Because I want one. Just in case." Her voice was almost inaudible.
"Stop by my house later...I'll see what I can find."
"Okay." Heather turned to go.
Jake cleared his throat. "Ah...nothing. Nevermind. I'll see you tonight."
She gazed at him for a moment, then nodded and headed out the door.
After she left, Jake turned and walked back to the office that had been appointed for his own use. When he stepped inside, he shut the door and let his mind wander. There was something off. The Heather he knew, even though it was only for a short while, would never want a gun. Ever.
* * *
Heather only made it a few steps onto the street before she caught sight of a tall, familiar figure heading toward Town Hall. She bit her lip uncertainly as he stopped in his tracks, the pretty brunette at his side stopping as well. They both looked stunned. She gave them a hesitant smile, trying to brace herself for whatever reaction they would have to her presence.
"Oh my God. Heather?" Stanley's jaw dropped. "Is it really you?"
She nodded slightly and started to reply, when much to her surprise he strode the short distance between them and picked her up in a tight bear-hug. A short chuckle escaped her as she hugged him back.
"I can't believe it!" He spun her around.
Heather shut her eyes, relieved. "Good to see you again too."
"How are you?" He put her down gently, a wide grin on his face.
"I'm good," she said with a warm smile. It was nearly impossible not to smile at Stanley Richmond. He was one of those people who tried to cheer up everyone around him, even in the most difficult, frightening times. And he'd been one of her first friends when she'd moved to Jericho a few years ago. "How are you?" She glanced past him to Mimi, offering her a smile as well.
"I'm good," he motioned for Mimi to come closer and put an arm around her. "We're getting married."
Heather's smile widened. "Congratulations!"
Mimi grinned at her. "Thanks."
"When did you get home?"
"Day before yesterday, but it was kinda late."
"Well, thank God you're okay. We heard a horrible rumor that--" Mimi cut herself off. "Well, we're glad it wasn't true."
Stanley nodded. "Extremely glad."
Heather smiled faintly in response. "You guys going to see Jake?"
"His mom actually."
"Oh." She looked surprised.
"Yeah...with everything that's happened lately..." Stanley sighed. "We just think that bothering Jake right now isn't
such a good idea. Ya know?"
Heather glanced down at the ground for a moment. "I don't know. I think some happy news might be what he needs," she said quietly.
"I think the really happy news was finding out you're still alive," Mimi said with raised eyebrows. *
Stanley's expression became serious. "How is he?"
She bit her lip. "Pretty grief-stricken."
Heather nodded a little and looked down once more.
"Oh," he looked down. "Maybe we'll stop by to see him."
"I think he'd like that," she said softly. "It was good to see you guys. And congratulations again."
"Thanks," he said just as quietly. "Take care of yourself okay?"
"Sure. See ya around." She smiled faintly and moved past them.
As she left, Stanley turned to Mimi. "So much for keeping today happy."
"She's alive," Mimi pointed out.
"Looks like that's all she is," he murmured.
* * *
Later that night, Jake sat on his couch, fingering his pistol absently, his mind wandering back to the day of the skirmish. There was a flash. His father was dead. Another flash. The first sounds of gunfire that didn't cease. Men crying out as bombs exploded next to them. The sounds of death all around him. Then the military coming, dropping the bombs. He jerked at that image, breathing hard as more continued to flash before his eyes.
A quick, loud knock on the door startled him out of his dark reverie.
Shaking himself off, he walked slowly over to the door, reaching a still-shaking hand out and opening the door. "I suppose you're here for the gun?"
Heather didn't quite meet his eyes as she nodded and threw a quick glance behind her.
He stepped to the side. "Come in."
Wrapping her arms around herself, she stepped into the house, then hesitated a little, glancing around warily. "Uh, is..."
"No, he's with Mary at the bar."
She drew in a breath and relaxed a little. "Okay."
He took a breath. "Are you sure this is what you want to do?"
"Yes," she said, nodding quickly though the expression on her face didn't match her answer.
He studied her face for a moment. "Come sit down."
Swallowing nervously, Heather moved across the room and sat down on the sofa, hands folded in her lap.
"You don't want to do this."
She considered that for a moment, her eyes distant. "No," she admitted. "But this isn't the same Jericho it used to be, either."
"Then stay here," he said quietly.
Where did she even start? She finally looked up at him. "You know why, Jake."
He shook his head. "Eric is not a good reason."
"He's your brother."
"He's an ass."
"He never comes around here, Heather. Don't risk your life because you're afraid he's going to come back."
She let out a slow breath, weariness settling on her features. "Your family's been through enough. I'm not gonna be one more problem. But I do wanna be able to protect myself and that's why I'm here."
Sighing, Jake stood up without another word and left the room.
Heather shut her eyes as he left her sitting on the sofa. She rested her head in her hands for a moment, taking a few deep breaths and trying to unwind the anxiety that was knotting her stomach and mind.
He returned moments later with another gun and handed it to her. "Safety's the button on the side. Keep it on at all times until you need it. Slide the button and you'll hear a click. Then point and shoot," his voice was flat as he explained.
She swallowed hard, feeling the cold metal in her hands and nodded a little. "Okay," she said in a barely audible voice.
"Try not to shoot yourself," he turned once more and left.
She shut her eyes tightly for a moment, then slowly rose to her feet and headed for the door.
In the other room, Jake resumed fingering his pistol, wondering if it'd be better to end it. At least the worry would go away.
* * *
Pounding on the door just after Midnight awoke Jake from a restless sleep.
He stumbled off the couch and over to the door, opening it a crack. "Yeah?"
"Jake, something's happened," Jimmy said with wide eyes.
That drove the sleep from him. "What happened?"
"A group--from New Bern, we think--got past security. Everyone on the team was either killed or seriously injured. We don't know where they went after that," Bill said urgently.
"Dammit," he murmured, grabbing his gun from the end table near the door. "And they're in Jericho now?"
"We think so," Jimmy said.
Checking the clip on the gun, he slid it back in and took the safety off. "Are the injured at the med center?"
He nodded quickly, stepping back onto the porch.
"Then lets go."
* * *
"Get me some more light, damn it," Kenchy snapped as he worked on trying to stop the bleeding on Lewis Cook's stomach.
"Oh God," the other man groaned.
Jake and the deputies appeared moments later. "Lewis. Lewis, I need you to look at me."
His feverish gaze turned to Jake.
"Did you see the men that attacked you?"
"New Bern," he whispered painfully.
"Which way did they go?"
He took a shallow breath and shook his head. "Said something about...a traitor..."
"Heather," he murmured, turning and sprinting out of the center.
* * *
A shuffling sound nearby awakened Heather from the light sleep she'd managed to fall into on the sofa. Her heart pounded heavily in her chest as she opened her eyes, holding her breath. Immediately her gaze fell upon the gun on her coffee table. She reached out soundlessly and clutched the weapon close to her before sliding off the sofa, removing the safety.
Jake grit his teeth in silent frustration as he realized that Heather had the chain lock firmly in place not allowing him access into her apartment. Instead of knocking and waking her up, he settled for pacing outside the door.
She moved toward the door, biting down hard on her tongue as she slowly, quietly slid the chain lock off the door, lifting the gun and aiming it straight ahead as she pulled it open, her face deathly pale.
He grabbed the muzzle of the gun quickly, pulling it out of her grasp. "Are you alone in there?" He asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Heather's eyes widened in realization that she'd nearly shot Jake Green. It took a few seconds for his words to sink in. "What? Yes..."
"Thank God. Get inside," he nudged her back into the apartment, quickly locking her door once more.
"Jake, what's going on?" she whispered, fear creeping into her once more.
"There's been a breach of border security," he murmured.
"New Bern." The words were almost inaudible.
"They're coming here."
"They might already be here." His tone was grim.
Heather forced herself to take a deep breath as she reached out and took the gun back from him.
"It's not safe for you to stay here by yourself anymore."
She knew he was right, but she knew something else he probably hadn't thought of as well. "It's not safe for me to be in this town at all."
"You're not leaving."
"I'm a danger to everyone in Jericho right now," she told him anxiously.
He shook his head. "You're staying at my place. Don't argue. Take ten minutes. Pack your essentials."
Heather swallowed hard and looked at the floor. His tone of voice was one of all business. She had the feeling if she didn't agree, he would drag her back to the Green's house against her will. Running a hand through her hair, she turned and headed toward her bedroom.
When she disappeared he walked over to the window and glanced out it, gun ready to shoot any unfamiliar person that got close.
She was ready in less than five minutes, a couple changes of clothes stuffed into a duffel bag, along with a book, a couple of pictures and a few other small things. Her expression gave away nothing of her state of mind as she reappeared in the living room.
"Yes." She avoided his eyes.
"Stay behind me. If anyone comes, you duck."
He turned to her. "What?"
She hesitated to ask him the question really on her mind. "You know me being there is going to put your mother in danger."
"She already knows what's going on. She wants you to be there."
Heather bit her lip. "Okay."
A ghost of a smile flickered across is face. "Now come on. We gotta go."
She followed him close behind him, her heart beating quickly in her chest as he led her out of the apartment building and down toward the Green's truck.
When they got to the truck, both got in quickly and in minutes left Heather's apartment behind.
Her body was rigid with tension as she sat in the passenger side of his truck, still and silent as she stared straight ahead out the windshield.
"We'll find these guys," Jake promised.
She nodded slightly, again not voicing her thought. Even if they did find this group, there would be another soon after. And another after that. And sooner or later one of them was bound to succeed.
* * *
By the time they arrived at the Green house less than ten minutes later, Heather was shivering despite the relative warmth of the late night.
Gail appeared moments after they arrived and began to fuss over her. "Let me take your bag up to Jake's room. It's all ready for you."
"Mrs. Green-" she began in an apologetic tone.
"Don't you even think about apologizing," she said, voice stern but loving.
She simply nodded and watched as Gail took her bag up the stairs. Then she turned to look at Jake uncertainly.
He took a breath. "I want you to stay here until we catch these guys."
Heather nodded slightly once more and looked around the living room.
"You should probably get some more sleep."
"I don't really think I'm gonna be able to get back to sleep after everything."
"Figured you'd say that," he said quietly. "My mom will find something for you to keep your mind off of all this."
She swallowed hard, already knowing the answer to the question she was about to ask but dreading hearing it just the same. "Where are you going?"
"To find these bastards."
Heather looked at the floor. "Be careful," she whispered.
She lifted her gaze to look at him again, her heart beating quickly in her chest. She hoped he could see in her eyes what she didn't have the courage to say.
Wordlessly he stepped forward and wrapped his arms tightly around her. "I'll be back."
Heather nodded against him, shutting her eyes as she hugged him back.
After a few minutes he pulled away. "See you."
"See you," she echoed almost inaudibly as he headed to the door. She glanced at Jimmy and Bill who stood on the porch, guns in their hands.
Jake looked between the two of them. "Don't leave this door for anything."
"You got it, Jake," Jimmy agreed with a nod.
With that Jake was off to meet up with Eric and Stanley to hunt down the men that dare enter his town.
* * *
At the bar, Jake paced back and forth in front of Stanley and Eric. "These guys are probably laying low right now. Waiting for things to cool down before they strike--"
Eric's jaw was tense as he watched his brother. "You think I don't know why you're so freaked about this?"
He stopped. "What?"
"You're not upset about the men who lost their lives protecting us," he accused, shaking his head. "You're only worried about *her.*"
Jake stepped toe to toe with his brother. "That's not true," he growled.
"Did I miss something?" Stanley asked warily, looking between them and taking a long drink of the coffee Mary had made for them. "Her who?"
"Heather Lisinski," Eric responded, staring at Jake.
"Shut the hell up. You don't know what the hell you're talking about," Jake warned.
"Wait, you think these guys are after Heather?" Stanley looked at him, alarmed.
Jake glanced at him. "I know they are."
"Yeah, so they can fill her in on the next part of the plan," Eric muttered.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Stanley shook his head, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
"Eric's so screwed up in the head that he thinks Heather's a spy," Jake glared at his brother once more.
"What? That's insane."
"Is it?" he asked darkly, flickering his gaze between his brother and Stanley. "Think about it. First, her brilliant plan to blow up the factory in New Bern doesn't work. We both get caught but somehow she just miraculously gets away and comes back perfectly fine? It doesn't make sense."
"She almost died, Eric," Jake was shaking with rage.
"So she says."
Stanley glared at him. "Are you kidding me? I've known Heather for a long time and no way in hell is she some spy from New Bern."
"If it was anyone else, you'd be considering the possibility too."
Jake had heard enough of his brother's rantings. Hand clenching into a fist, he slammed it hard into his jaw.
Eric stumbled backwards into the bar, raising a hand to his jaw and glaring fiercely at Jake.
"That's enough," Stanley got between them, holding Jake back and shooting Eric a warning look. "Heather is not a spy for New Bern or anyone else. This is her home, just like it is ours."
Jake pushed Stanley off of him. "Come on Stanley. There isn't any room for bastards in this party. We're leaving. Now."
He shook his head in Eric, disgusted, then headed out the door of Bailey's behind Jake. "I don't get him at all," he grumbled. "After everything that happened when we were in New Bern..."
Jake paused. "What happened there?"
Stanley glanced around, keeping his eyes open for suspicious activity. "It wasn't good, Jake," he said earnestly. "Most of those people didn't want us there. They hated us. Blamed us for not warning them about Ravenwood. The shifts were long, the food and water scarce...the working conditions were poor. Eric was pretty messed up over April and the baby." He kept pace alongside Jake with ease.
"God..." he shook his head. "That's awful."
"Heather was the only woman in the factory," he stated.
Jake paled. "But you and Eric looked after her?"
"Best we could, yeah. And the other guys from Jericho, too. But they weren't any nicer to her than they were to any of us and she was there a hell of a lot longer."
He ran a hand down his face. "I can't believe Eric. She's been through hell and he accuses her of that."
"Not only that but she was the only person he even talked to, Jake. Heather held it together for him. Hell, for all of us. A little piece of normality in the craziness of that damn town."
He shook his head. "He's lucky I don't go back there and do more than clock him in the face."
"Let's just find these bastards," Stanley murmured.
Jake's hand went to his pistol. "Let’s."
* * *
Hours later, Heather sat curled up on the sofa, feet beneath her as she held onto a long-since cooled cup of hot tea, Gail beside her. The other woman had finally fallen asleep there not an hour before, despite Heather trying to convince her she could go to bed. The sound of the front door opening made her jerk her head over to look and the cool liquid splashed down her shirt.
"It's Jake," he said, walking into the front room.
She shut her eyes for a moment, letting out a breath at the sound of his familiar voice. She put a finger to her lips, set the remaining tea on the coffee table and rose to her feet.
He looked at his sleeping mother. "How long has she been asleep?" he whispered.
"Not very long," she whispered back. "Maybe an hour."
He nodded. "Good. She needs it."
"Did you find them?" Her voice was anxious.
He shook his head. "Stanley was getting worried about Mimi and Bonnie. We're starting up again in the morning."
Heather bit her lip and nodded a little, gaze flickering to where Jimmy and Bill still stood on guard outside the front door.
"You should really try to sleep," he said softly. "Nothing's going to happen to you."
Deep down she knew he was right. And she knew that as long as Jake was there, she wouldn't be safer anywhere else anyway. "You're staying?"
He nodded. "I'll be right here."
She glanced to where Gail lay sleeping on the sofa and then glanced up the stairs.
He watched her. "You want to stay down here?"
"I don't know," she murmured in indecision.
Giving her time to make a decision, he walked over to his mom and put a hand on her shoulder. "Mom I'm home. Go to bed," he whispered. "I'll hold down the fort here."
Gail opened her eyes sleepily, a yawn escaping her. "Okay honey." She kissed his cheek and stood up, shuffling toward the stairs.
She waved briefly before disappearing up the stairs and into her bedroom, shutting the door behind her and leaving Heather and Jake alone together in the living room.
Jake turned back to her. "Upstairs or here?"
She chewed her lower lip for a moment longer. "Where will you sleep?"
"I'll be down here."
Heather swallowed hard, nodding a little. "I guess I'll go...upstairs."
The least she could do was leave him in peace. "Night," she said softly, moving toward the staircase.
"Night," he said softly watching her go.
Heather hesitantly stepped into his dark bedroom and shut the door softly. Her gaze fell upon his bed and she hesitated for a long moment before moving across the floor and pulling the blankets back. She swallowed hard and slid under the covers, pulling the blankets up to her chin. It smelled like him: warm and masculine. Safe. She closed her eyes and fell asleep within moments.
* * *
She was awakened only a few hours later by the sound of angry voices from downstairs. Warily she rubbed a hand over her face and tiptoed to the door, slipping into the hallway and pausing at the top of the stairs when she caught sight of Major Beck having a heated confrontation with Jake.
"My men are now running border security. Your job is to police the people of Jericho, not go for vigilante justice," Beck said.
"You can't expect me to sit back while something like this is going on," Jake spat back.
"I will handle it, Jake," he said with a note of finality in his voice. "And you're going to have your hands full when President Tomarchino gets here in a few days."
Heather inhaled sharply. "The president's coming to Jericho?" she asked without thinking.
Jake didn't turn to look at her. "Yeah, he is. But your men don't know the woods around here like my men. And frankly, I don't give a damn about the president coming if my town's not safe."
"We will find the men from New Bern," Beck told him firmly. "And that is final." He turned and headed for the door.
"We're not going to stop looking because some cocky ass military leader," he said darkly.
"Keep that in mind when more of your men end up dead because of your reckless stupidity," Beck responded before stepping outside onto the porch and shutting the door behind him.
Jake ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head. "Sorry you had to hear that."
Her expression was stricken as she slowly descended the stairs.
He turned slowly. "You think you can keep my mom distracted for a few hours?"
"Jake," she whispered.
"Please, help me out here," his voice held a twinge of desperation.
Heather shut her eyes, dread knotting her stomach once more. "Are Jimmy and Bill still outside?"
"Yeah, they are."
"Okay," she murmured reluctantly.
"Be careful, Jake." Her voice was pained and she opened her eyes to look at him. "Come back in one piece."
"I will," he said quietly, picking up his rifle.
Heather watched him go, her face pale. She hoped he would keep that promise.
* * *
Jake moved silently through the woods, Stanley somewhere close beside him. They'd spotted a figure in the woods and kept track of him for some time in hopes that he would lead them to where the group of shooters were hiding.
Stanley nodded slightly, indicating he'd seen something else up ahead.
Crouching lower, Jake held his rifle a little higher and moved forward.
"I know you're here," the voice called from somewhere in the distance.
He motioned for Stanley to stop and take cover.
He nodded silently, ducking behind an oak with his gun still at the ready.
"Good thing you got her out of her apartment when you did. It's not there anymore." The man's voice was smug.
He clenched his jaw, urging himself to keep his temper under control.
"But it won't stop Constantino for long. He wants her head on a platter."
He put the rifle up, searching for the man.
"And it doesn't matter if you kill me and the rest of us, he'll keep sending men until he gets what he wants. You can't protect her forever."
Stanley glanced over at Jake, his own jaw tense.
Jake shook his head slightly.
He drew in a breath and remained still for the time being.
He took a few steps forward, shifting his focus.
A shot rang out, bullet slamming into the tree next to Stanley who quickly hit the ground and rolled.
Jake sunk down, cocking his rifle and letting off a shot.
"We'll take them all away from you one by one," the man shouted. "Until this town is gone!"
"The hell you will," he growled, shooting again.
Another shot rang out and Stanley looked just in time to see Jake stumble and fall face-first to the ground. "Jake!" He rose up, took aim and fired a shot in the direction the bullet had come from.
He groaned, pressing his hand to his shoulder. "Take him out, Stanley."
Nodding quickly, he fired another shot, taking the man out. "You all right? Stay down, Jake!"
He sat up against the tree, holding his rifle with his uninjured arm, propping it up on his knee and letting off another shot, wincing as the kickback jarred his shoulder.
Stanley turned and fired at the other man, as well.
Jake heard a thud in front of them and closed his eyes. "I think you got him."
The woods around them were now silent. "You all right?" He moved to his friend's side and squatted down beside him.
"Hit my shoulder."
He leaned in and examined the wound best he could. "Come on. Let's get you to the med center."
Jake grunted in pain as Stanley helped him up. "I'm in trouble..."
"Should I carry you?" he asked uncertainly.
"I'm okay," he handed the rifle over then pressed his hand to his shoulder. "Lets just go."
"But I thought you said you were in trouble," Stanley said in confusion as he strapped the gun over his own shoulder.
* * *
Gail watched Heather pace the length of the kitchen floor. "Honey, why don't you sit down?"
She shook her head a little.
Gail sighed softly and rose to her feet when someone knocked loudly on the front door. She glanced outside to see Emily standing there, looking pale and frightened. Worried, she unlocked the door and opened it, nodding at Jimmy and Bill. "Emily?"
Emily's pale, worried face stared back at Gail.
"What's wrong, Sweetheart?"
She shook her head a little. "What about it?"
Tears came to her eyes. "It's gone."
"What?" Gail stared at her in shock.
"Gone. Burned to the ground."
She opened her mouth to respond, but couldn't find the words. She pressed a hand to her mouth.
"She's really gone now," Emily whispered, looking down.
"What? No, Sweetheart," Gail said, alarmed as she quickly put an arm around Emily. "She's here, Emily."
Her head shot up. "She is?"
She guided Emily into the house and nodded toward where Heather was still pacing the kitchen floor.
Emily rushed forward, hugging Heather. "Oh Heather."
She was caught off guard by her friend's sudden appearance. "Emily?"
She stepped back, wiping her eyes. "I thought you were dead."
Heather's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"Your apartment is gone."
"Burned to the ground," she said quietly.
Her face paled. "Jake," she whispered.
Emily frowned. "Jake? Where is he?"
She swallowed hard and moved past her friend and toward the door. "Mrs. Green--"
"You don't know he went there," Gail shook her head, features twisted with worry.
"We don't know he didn't," she whispered.
"Here, let’s all go over there together, okay?"
At that moment the door opened and Stanley appeared. "Okay before anyone freaks out, he's gonna be just fine." He held his hands up.
Gail put her hands on her hips. "Stanley."
"He got shot. Shoulder wound. He's all right, I swear. He's at the med center with Kenchy."
Heather's face paled.
"Shot," Gail went for the keys. "Come on. We're going."
Heather swallowed hard and followed her out the door, Emily and Stanley right behind her.
Jake hissed as Kenchy dragged the thread through his skin for yet another stitch. Gripping the rail with his free hand, he closed his eyes. "Can't you be just a little more gentle?"
"We're still low on painkillers I'm afraid," Kenchy responded, continuing to work.
He swallowed hard as the pain in his shoulder threatened to overwhelm him. "Great."
"Jake?" Emily's voice was alarmed as she moved into the room, her eyes wide.
He kept his eyes shut. "Hey."
She quickly walked over to his side and took his hand. "Stanley told us what happened."
He gave her hand a squeeze. "I'm okay, Em."
Emily studied him, glancing at Kenchy as the other man finished stitching Jake up. "He's gonna be okay?"
"He's gonna be sore, but he'll be fine," Kenchy confirmed, removing his gloves and tossing them into the garbage.
Jake let out a long breath. "Thank God that's done."
"Make sure he spends the rest of the day resting and keeping that shoulder elevated as much as possible," Kenchy said to her before heading out the door.
"What were you thinking, going after a bunch of guys from New Bern with just the two of you?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Well...Eric wasn't going to help..."
"I would've helped," she pointed out.
Emily folded her arms across her chest. "You know better than anyone that I know how to take care of myself, Jake."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but I wasn't about to let you get shot."
"No, you just let yourself get shot," she retorted, shaking her head.
"It wasn't on purpose.” He sat up fast, but his body decided that was a bad idea and a wave of nausea came over him. Closing his eyes again, he sat back.
Emily looked at him with worried eyes. She rested a hand on his uninjured shoulder. "All right, we'll talk about this later when you don't look like you're going to throw up all over the place. Your mom and Stanley and Heather are outside." She paused, hesitating.
Jake swallowed back the nausea the best he could. "God, Stanley brought an army with him."
"Your mom's pretty freaked and Heather..."
"Go get her," he said quietly.
Emily nodded, brushed a kiss against his forehead and left the room.
Jake bit his lip, bracing himself for when Heather walked in.
Her face was pale as she stepped hesitantly into the room, not saying a word.
"Are you really okay?" Her voice wavered.
"I'm still a little dizzy," he admitted. "But other than that, I'll be just fine."
Heather swallowed hard, nodding silently.
"Come here," he said quietly.
She moved to his bedside, not meeting his eyes.
He put his good hand on her shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
Tears prickled at her eyes. "Me too."
"None of this is your fault. You hear me?"
Heather didn't respond, simply dropped her gaze to the blanket covering him. "They gonna let you go today?"
She drew in a breath and let out slowly.
He sighed. "Yeah, they're letting me go today."
"I should go so your mom can come in," she murmured.
"It's not your fault," he said again, this time inaudibly.
Heather turned and headed for the door, then paused. "Jake?"
He gazed at her. "Yeah?"
"The guys in the woods...was one of them the shooter from a few days ago?"
"I couldn't tell," he said.
"Okay," she whispered, heading out of the room.
Out in the hallway, Gail Green nearly had Stanley backed against one of the walls. "You weren't supposed to go along with him!"
"Mrs. Green, those guys are after Heather," he whispered.
"I know that," her gaze darkened. "But you two shouldn't have been out there by yourselves. You were supposed to wait until morning. Even if Jake came back for you, you could have convinced him to wait. You're his best friend for God's sake, Stanley!"
Stanley flinched and looked down at the floor, looking appropriately contrite.
"I've already lost one family member to a gun," her voice dropped and her eyes began to water. "Please use common sense from now on."
He shut his eyes. "God. I'm so sorry. I will. I promise."
She put a hand on his shoulder. "I know," she sniffed back her tears. "You're a good boy...you are."
Stanley put his arms around her in a hug.
She hugged him back. "Why don't you go get everyone some coffee?"
"Sure thing, Mrs. Green." He let her go and headed down the hallway as Heather stepped into the hallway.
Gail turned. "How is he?"
"He says he's okay."
She shook her head. "That boy..."
Heather swallowed hard, nodding slightly. "I know."
She walked over to Heather and gave her a gentle hug. "Don't you go blaming yourself for any of this, you understand?"
She swallowed hard and nodded slightly, hugging Gail back.
"I'll go check on him, you and Emily can stay here and chat."
"Okay," she murmured, watching Gail head into Jake's room before turning to look at Emily.
Emily gazed back at her. "Think we should go help Stanley?"
"You should," she said softly.
She hesitated. "You going to stay here?"
Heather shook her head a little. "I'm going to Town Hall."
"To do what?"
"To talk to Major Beck."
She bit her lip. "You shouldn't go alone."
"I'll be fine. Just...don't tell Jake or Mrs. Green, okay?"
"Okay...just...be careful, okay?"
"I will," she said softly, moving past her and down the corridor toward the exit.
Emily watched her go, hoping she was doing the right thing.
* * *
"...recovered the bodies from the woods, Sir," one of the soldier's was saying as Heather paused in the door of Major Beck's office. "Two unknown males from New Bern."
Major Beck shook his head. "Take them back to New Bern, Constantino will identify them."
"Neither of them were the man from a few days ago?" Heather looked at the man.
The soldier turned to face her. "No, Ma'am."
"Soldier, you're dismissed."
He saluted Beck and moved past Heather and into the hallway.
Beck stood from his desk. "How may I help you, Miss Lisinski?"
Heather hesitated. "The guys from New Bern. They were after me."
"Yes. They burned down my apartment building."
"We heard about the fire..." He rubbed his chin. "Why are these men after you?"
"Because Constantino wants me dead."
"Any particular reason?"
"Because he knows I know all of the things he did when he was in power in New Bern. I'm a threat to him."
He nodded slowly. "We'll keep a guard with you at all times until the rest of these men are caught."
"I was hoping maybe you could post a couple of guards at the Greens' house." She bit her lip.
He frowned. "Why?"
"Because it's only a matter of time before word gets back to Constantino that the Greens have been helping me. And I wanna make sure nothing else happens to them." She looked away.
"We'll make sure the best we can."
"Thank you." She turned to go.
"Try to keep a low profile," he advised.
Heather nodded and left the room, heading out toward the corridor only to run into Gray Anderson.
"Ah Miss Lisinski," he looked down on her. "I've heard that you were alive."
She regarded him warily. "Gray."
"And, ah, how are you then?"
"Fine," she answered, moving around him.
"Heard there were men from New Bern infiltrating our defenses."
"You heard right." Her voice was quiet, grim.
"Would that have anything to do with you reappearing?" He raised an eyebrow.
She flinched. "Constantino's not happy I survived."
He nodded. "Not too surprising."
"Jake got hurt. I'm heading to the med center."
"Send him my best."
"Sure." She headed out of the building, her expression blank as she walked back to the med center, running into Stanley as he made a beeline out the door. "Stanley?" Her heart lurched with fear.
"There you are!" He let out a relieved breath. "Thank God."
"Is he all right?"
"He's fine. Emily told me you left."
"I just went to Town Hall to talk to Major Beck," she explained.
"Yeah, she said. But I came looking for you anyway."
"I'm sorry for all this, Stanley," Heather said softly, ducking her head as she walked with him back into the hospital.
He shook his head. "You don't have anything to be sorry for."
"I don't know," she murmured. "I'm starting to think I shouldn't have come back here."
He looked around and ducked his head. "To be honest...it's good that you did."
Heather shook her head and looked up at him.
"Jake would probably be a lot worse off," he admitted.
"Except he probably wouldn't have been shot."
Stanley gave her a look.
She tried to smile at him. "Sorry. Right now all I can see is all the bad stuff that's going on," she confessed.
"Can we focus on the bright side for just a minute?"
"Can you remind me what that is?" Her voice was small and she looked up at him.
He put an arm around her. "It's where we look at happy things. Like the fact that you're alive...and Jake's happier with you around."
She closed her eyes and rested her head against his shoulder. "Thanks," she whispered.
"No problem," he said quietly.
Heather slowly pulled away from him, offering him a real smile this time and taking his arm when he offered it. "Mimi is one lucky girl," she said sincerely as he walked her down the corridor toward Jake's room.
He grinned. "Yeah."
She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek when they stopped.
A touch of color came to his cheeks. He was about to say something when the raised voice of Gail drifted out into the hallway.
"...and I will not lose someone else I love to that damn town!"
"We were being careful!"
"Clearly you weren't careful enough!"
"Shoulder shot, mom."
"Shot being the key word here, Jake."
"Mom, I'm fine."
Heather bit her lip and leaned back against the wall next to Stanley, looking at the tile floor as the voices grew quiet once more.
He made a face. "Yikes."
"Think we should go in there?"
"I don't know." She hesitated.
"Yeah..." He looked down as well. "Man, poor Jake."
"She's freaked out," she whispered. "She lost her husband, her daughter-in-law, her grandchild...and now her oldest son's been shot."
Stanley closed his eyes. "Can't blame her for being angry."
"It's not your fault, Stanley." Heather rested a hand on his arm.
"Shouldn't have encouraged him and gone with him."
Her eyes were sad. "You did it to protect me."
"Of course," he looked over at her. "I don't regret that."
Heather leaned her head against his arm and watched as Gail and Jake emerged from the room, both looking much calmer than they'd sounded moments before.
Jake's arm was now in a sling to limit movement from his shoulder and he looked somewhat like a kid who had been caught in the cookie jar.
"Well, we're gonna head home so Jake can get some rest." Gail's voice was firm as she glanced at her eldest, then at Stanley and Heather. "Emily's gonna be here for awhile. She's covering a volunteer shift."
"You gonna come with us?" Jake asked, looking at Heather.
"Of course she is," Gail answered, not giving Heather a chance to say no. She put an arm around Heather's shoulders.
"Right," Jake said quietly.
Heather glanced at Jake briefly as they all walked down the hall together toward the exit. She took note of the fact that Stanley kept very close to her side as they walked into the parking lot of the med center, his eyes wary as he looked around.
"I'll just stay down stairs," Jake murmured to his mom, shooting sideways glances at Heather.
"No, you should sleep in a real bed, Jake." Heather shook her head a little.
"I don't need to," he protested.
"Yes you do," she said softly, looking at him pleadingly.
He sighed in defeat. "Fine."
Gail suppressed a smile at how easily her son gave into the pretty brunette, making a mental note of that. She had a feeling it would come in handy later.
"Should I follow you guys back?" Stanley asked hesitantly as they paused at the Greens' truck.
"Go home to Mimi and Bonnie, Stanley."
"All right. I'll swing by later," he said, nodding at Jake and then dropping his gaze to Heather. "It's gonna be fine," he said quietly.
"Thanks," she murmured, watching him head to his own vehicle.
"Ready to head back?" Jake asked, motioning to the truck.
"I'm driving," Gail informed him, moving around to the driver's side and climbing up behind the wheel.
"Figured as much," he mumbled.
"How's your shoulder?" Heather asked softly.
He gave her a one-sided shrug. "It hurts."
"Right," she whispered, watching as he climbed into the truck beside his mother. She hesitated a moment, then reluctantly squeezed in the seat beside him, swallowing hard.
"I'm fine," he said quietly.
Heather nodded wordlessly as Gail started the truck. He wasn't fine, and neither was she. She wasn't sure any of them would ever be fine again.