Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Wow. It has been an extremely, extremely long time since I've updated this story. I hadn't given up on it exactly, but real life and other writing interests have definitely pushed me in a different direction. However, thanks to some recent encouragement from Madj, JuliaGulia17, and PrincessCupcakes, I decided that I really should get on the ball and post more. I will continue to post updates to this story if folks out there still interested in reading. Reviews really go a long way in encouraging me. Hint, hint.
Chapter Eighteen: "No Escape, No Recompense"
Jake felt sick inside, a feeling that was becoming all too familiar in the last few months. He hated this. Not knowing how to make things better, only knowing he had to be on the alert, ready to take on whomever came along to threaten Heather.
No wonder she'd been so haunted. He didn't talk about it often—couldn't remember the last time he'd given voice to the thoughts—but he felt regret for the lives he'd taken. In battle. By necessity. Their faces had faded, and he'd never known their names. But Heather—she was so comparatively innocent—and from what information he'd gathered from Eric on the drive out to the farm, she knew the man she killed. How was he going to tell her that her nightmare was far from over? That the consequences of her actions were more far reaching than she'd ever imagined?
Now stepping out of the car onto the gravel driveway, seeing the waving forms of Stanley and Heather in the distance, Jake found himself tied up in knots.
"You ready for this?" Eric asked a few steps away.
"Hell no. But there's no way I'm letting anything happen to her. Wish you'd said something sooner."
"It wasn't my place."
Logically, Jake knew Eric was right. It was Heather's story to tell, her choice. But that gnawing feeling in his gut wouldn't ease up. He ached for her, knowing how affected she had been by New Bern, knowing that those wounds were about to be split wide open all over again.
"Let's do this," Jake finally voiced.
"So what was the big emergency?" Stanley asked as Jake and Eric approached Heather and him. "Heard I was painting today and decide to bail on me?"
"What can I say? Duty called." Jake shook his head slightly.
"At least you brought reinforcements," Stanley replied looking over at Eric. "Glad you could make it."
"Actually, we came to see Heather," Eric asserted.
Heather smiled broadly. "Lucky me," she replied, reaching out and squeezing Jake's hand lightly before letting go.
"Seriously?" Stanley asked with mock hurt. "What does she have that I don't have?"
"So…that big emergency…another bull on the loose?" Heather teased, ignoring Stanley. "Did Jimmy beat his sprinting time from yesterday?"
"I wish," Jake replied with a sigh. "No. Some fussy J&R guy paid Dale a visit. Tried to force him to go through the official channels for stocking the store. Let's just say Dale's bodyguards take their jobs seriously."
"Did anyone get hurt?" Heather asked, concern etching her features.
"Nah. Hurt pride is all," Jake replied. "But I think we're going to see more of this. Folks'll have to make a decision, and they're going to get squeezed both ways."
"J&R have given me the chance to get out from under what I owe the IRS," Stanley interjected. He looked around, spotting Mimi, who was out of earshot. "And any group that can stick it to the IRS, that works for me."
Heather shook her head. "I don't know, Stanley. I was talking with Mr. Steele from Appliance Mart a couple days ago when I was looking for a heating element. He explained this whole Buffalo credits thing to me, and the strong-arming tactics that are being used to implement them just don't seem right."
"Currency's a good way to solidify authority," Eric commented.
"But isn't that a good thing? I mean, if things are ever going to get back to normal, somebody or something's got to pull us together, right?" Stanley looked from Jake to Heather to Eric, none of whom said anything. But then that silence was broken by his exclamation, "Ah no, no! What's she doing? Get that away from the tractor!" With that, Stanley jogged away.
Jake, Eric and Heather turned, and in the distance they saw Mimi moving in the direction of the old cow-themed tractor, paintbrush in hand.
"Think he'll get there in time?" Heather asked.
"Not a chance," Jake replied with a half-smile.
"I'm glad everything worked out at Dale's."
Jake nodded, his expression turning far more serious. He and Eric exchanged a look.
"We had a visitor today."
"Sounds serious," Heather replied.
"Maggie Mullen," Eric supplied. "She was in New Bern and knew Nathan Travers."
The sound of the name immediately had Heather taking a step back. For a brief instant, she was back in that moment. The blinding lights, the fight, the wild swing with the iron pipe, the blood. So much blood. Blood on her hands. Literally. Figuratively.
Heather swallowed hard. "What's this about?"
Eric's solemnly explained, "Maggie thinks she saw Nathan Travers here in Jericho."
Jake pursed his lips, wanting to bite back the words he knew had to be spoken. "Heather, we think he may be here for you."
Breathe in. Breathe out. One, two, three. One, two, three. "I don't blame him," Heather replied matter-of-factly. "He wants justice for his father."
"Justice?" Eric demanded incredulously. "You and I both know that Bart Travers never offered justice to anyone, least of all you or me. He died because of his greed, his hunger for power, his—"
"He died because I killed him," Heather reminded him sharply.
"I don't regret that. I don't. I just—" she broke off and looked to Jake. "What must you think of me?"
But before Jake could answer her, Stanley approached the trio, a broad grin on his face. "Look! I'm a bleeder!" Stanley joked as he held up his hands, the red barn paint dripping from them. He moved closer to Heather, grabbing her hands, smearing the paint on them.
Despite the warmth of the sun, Heather felt immediately cold. Her blood whooshed in her ears, her mouth felt like it was filled with cotton, and images played before her eyes. The blood that bubbled from Bart Travers's mouth, his blood on her hands, the look of shock in his eyes.
Blood on her hands.
Always on her hands.
Forever on her hands.
No escape, no recompense.
"You killed me. I'm part of you forever."
Stanley nearly snorted. "Come on, Heath. You don't have to go all girly on me. It's just paint." He remained oblivious to her distress, but Jake saw the near full-fledged panic on her features. He'd seen glimpses of this from her before but never so intense.
"That's enough, Stanley," Jake interjected moving to Heather's side. He pulled his handkerchief from the back pocket of his jeans and began wiping the paint from Heather's hands, which felt limp in his own. "You okay?"
But Heather wasn't listening. She pulled away from Jake, turned, and began walking quickly away. To where, she couldn't say. Just away. She needed to breathe. God, she needed to breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. One, two, three. One, two, three.
Still her breaths were rasping. It wasn't enough. It was never enough.
"What's wrong with her?" Stanley asked realizing that what started as a joke had turned into something far more serious.
Jake muttered indecipherably and took off after her. "Heather!"
Heather could vaguely hear Jake's voice, but it wasn't until his hands squeezed her arms that she could fully acknowledge his presence. She turned to face him as a sea of opposing feelings and impulses ran through her. She was simultaneously numb but crushed under a load she wasn't sure she could bear. She wanted to cling to Jake but also wanted to retreat as far away as possible. She was guilty yet she would do it all over again if necessary.
Jake's hands ran to her face, smoothing away the hair that had fallen across her forehead. His dark eyes sought her blue ones. "Heather?" The soothing tones of his voice matched his soothing touches.
"I—" she faltered. "I can't talk about this, Jake. Not now. I—I need Eric."
"This is about New Bern, isn't it?"
"Not now. Please." She looked over Jake's shoulder at the tall figure approaching them. "Eric!"
Jake watched as Heather approached his brother and the two wordlessly began walking along the fencerow and away from him. Only after they were out of Jake's earshot did they began to speak. However, their actions fueled his imagination. Jake observed Eric examining Heather's hands, wiping off the paint with his handkerchief as though she were a child whose wounds were being tended to, and then pulling her in an embrace. Jake couldn't see Heather's face, as she faced the opposite direction, but the way Eric rested his chin on the top her head, the quick kiss he planted on her forehead, jolted Jake. It was all so intimate. The two broke apart and continued talking. Actually, it looked like Eric was doing most of the talking with Heather nodding her head intermittently.
"Since when are Eric and Heather so close?" Stanley asked appearing next to Jake. "Wonder if Mary knows."
"They're just friends." Jake's sullen tone made Stanley's eyebrows dart up.
"Right. I can tell you believe that." Jake said nothing, merely glared at his friend. "Something's up with the red paint. Heather's the type of girl who likes to get her hands dirty. Literally. And she could always take a joke."
"You were in New Bern. What was it like?"
Stanley's jovial expression turned more serious. "Bad." He paused. "Nah. That's not even the word. It sucked. So you know what it was like here. The shortages. The deaths. The fear. Imagine that magnified by ten."
Jake absorbed Stanley's words for a few seconds. "Did you see much of Heather?"
"Here and there. We'd sometimes have lunch together when one of us could convince her to slow down. She was working pretty much non-stop. Guess we were, too, until Constantino sent us back."
Jake exhaled. He hated this. Waiting around. And for what? He wanted to be doing, not waiting. He wanted to be the one to take away what bothered Heather. He wanted to be the one she trusted.
But this wasn't about what he wanted; it was about what Heather wanted, and for whatever reason, she didn't want him.
"For what it's worth, Heather and Eric didn't seem all that close in New Bern when I was there. Eric mostly kept to himself. Didn't speak much. With what he'd been through with April…the baby…he wasn't himself."
Jake nodded. April and Tracy's deaths had taken their toll on his brother. He'd left Jericho broken, but he returned far different. "Something happened after you left."
"I heard they played spy together."
"Tried to blow up the munitions factory. Were caught in the process."
"Jake, I saw Eric when you two got back from New Bern." Stanley grimaced remembering his friend's swollen face, the cuts, the bruises. "If they did that to him, what you suppose they did to Heather? How did she make it out in one piece?"
Jake shook his head. "Damned if I know the details." When he'd asked, she put him off. Yet she was so willing to talk to Eric. Logically, Jake knew that their bond was forged through shared experiences, but he wanted to the one to share those experiences with her, to help her through it.
She wouldn't even give him the chance.
"You have any luck?" Nathan Travers asked his sister as they met up in their family's cabin outside of New Bern.
"Better than luck. I hit the jackpot, Nate." Nora pushed an errant red curl away from her face. "I know where she's staying. Even saw her. Gardening, if you can imagine." She sneered at the thought. "What did you do all day?"
"Nearly got roped into helping move books at the library. Couldn't even get close to Town Hall to dig up information. This uniform, I'm not sure it's worth it. Maybe I should've gone in like a Jennings & Rall automaton like you."
"You seriously have no idea how good I am. And it's not just the get-up, either," Nora Travers ribbed her brother, her eyes practically gleaming with triumph. "I know exactly how we're going to trap her." Her gaze fell on the hunting trophies mounted on the wall. The deer, the Alaskan elk, the wild boar. And for a brief moment she imagined Heather Lisinski's head mounted on the wall next to theirs.
Kenchy Dhuwalia bolted a shot of Mary's home-distilled liquor and felt the familiar liquid burn its way down his throat. What a day. Forget that. What a year. He'd been enmeshed in the gleam of the Las Vegas lights twelve short months ago. And he'd traded it for what? Purgatory?
Not that he'd had a choice. Vegas had certainly lost its sheen. The worst of humanity, he'd heard one of Red Cross volunteers say. Kenchy couldn't exactly disagree.
He wanted to forget. He needed to forget. And perhaps with a little help from Mary's magic potion, as he privately called it, he'd be well on his way.
"A man shouldn't drink alone."
Her voice sounded more like a purr in Kenchy's ear as the leggy red-head sidled up to him at the bar. A lazy, alcohol induced smile etched its way onto his features. Things were looking up. At least for one night.
"Then by all means, you should join me, Wilma."