DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Just playing "what if…?"

DEDICATION: bourbon, merryann, bmfejk. I "blame" them. All their fault for saying I should write fanfic for "Jericho."

SUMMARY: What went through Jake's mind during the thirty seconds the A.S.A. pilots gave him to comply with their orders or risk being shot down.

CATEGORY: in-ep for "Patriots and Tyrants."

SPOILERS: whole series to date, esp. season 2 finale

FEEDBACK: Oh, sure. It's always great.

A GRIEF OBSERVED

Heather looked up from a field report sent in by one of Beck's units. A man, clearly military, stood in front of her desk in the Watch Office. She glanced over at his upper arm. His sleeve was bare, a dark patch indicating where he'd worn the Allied States patch until recently. She felt herself relax marginally.

"Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Major Beck. I was told he was here."

Heather nodded, still trying to assess the man in front of her. "I'll get him for-"

"If you'll just tell me where he is, ma'am." His tone left no room for refusal.

Heather's apprehension reasserted itself. The truth about Cheyenne's deception had fractured that government, but it still had plenty of adherents and it was easy enough for someone to take off an insignia, wasn't it? She was still trying to think of how to respond when she heard Beck's door open. His voice, strong and sure, carried across the room. "Captain Waller?"

The man looked away from Heather. His shoulders slumped slightly and his face lost its rigid set. Then he straightened again and saluted. "Major!"

"At ease," Beck said gently. He advanced toward the captain and took his hand, his eyes searching the younger man's face. "I thought you were with the 4th Pacific."

Waller nodded. "I was."

Beck didn't reply, simply raised his eyebrows. It had the usual effect: it loosened Waller's tongue. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"

Beck gave Heather a quick look. "You can speak in front of Miss Lisinski. She's – She's a valued member of my staff here."

Waller gave her a look and then nodded slowly. He gestured to one of the chairs in front of her desk, and Beck murmured that he should sit down. Realizing that the man was close to dropping, Heather offered to get him something.

"Just water, ma'am."

She smiled at him. "It's Heather." She looked at Beck and a look passed between them. "I'll be right back."

When she came back, water in hand, it was clear Waller was having a hard time telling his story. "It was – I couldn't…." He took the bottle from Heather, twisting the cap open and taking a long, greedy drink. When he spoke again, he couldn't meet their eyes. "When the news started getting out…."

"About the bombs," Beck prompted.

Waller nodded. "About what – what they'd done. Cheyenne." He took another sip of water. "Our commanders got – they got new orders. Stop the spread of the – the rumors. At any cost." He swallowed heavily.

Heather shot Beck an agonized look. He took a deep breath, as if realizing how close he'd come to getting those same orders.

Waller shook his head, his next words laced with disgust and loathing. "Anyone – Anyone – caught talking about what was being said in Texas was… shot. On sight."

"Oh, my God," Heather breathed.

"It didn't – didn't take long before people learned to keep quiet." He shook his head again. "And then one day – last week, I guess – this one guy, Sergeant Stevens, he – he was having nightmares. About… about what… he went to talk to the chaplain." Waller finally looked up. "They shot Stevens. And the chaplain." He shrugged helplessly. "I snuck past a patrol the next morning and just kept going."

"You did the right thing, Captain," Beck assured him. He and Heather exchanged another look. "I'm curious though. How did you know to come here?"

Waller snorted softly. "Everyone knows about Jericho, Major. Not everyone agrees how they feel about what you did, but, believe me, everyone knows."

Beck seemed to take that in stride.

Waller went on. "Right now, Cheyenne has to get its population under control, has to shore up things with their military. They don't have time to come after you." He heaved a deep sigh. "But they will."

"I'm sure they will," Beck replied, his voice low and sad.

Silence thickened in the room. Waller finished off his water before saying anything more. "Major?"

"Yes?"

"I'm the first, but I won't be the last."

"What do you mean, Captain?"

Waller stood and saluted again, a soldier once more. "Captain Nathan Waller, reporting for duty. Sir!"

Beck nodded in comprehension. "Thank you, Captain." He turned and barked out a command toward a corporal just walking into the otherwise empty room. "Corporal Briggs! Issue this man all required equipment and find him housing."

Briggs, his eyes wide, nodded. "Yes, Sir."

Beck gave the young corporal the ghost of a smile. "Thank you, Briggs." He moved his head in Briggs' direction and addressed Waller. "Corporal Briggs will get you settled in." He put a hand on his new officer's shoulder. "There's a fight coming, Waller. A fight Cheyenne is going to regret."

For the first time, Waller smiled. He moved off to follow Briggs and then stopped, something occurring to him. He looked back at Beck. "Major? I'm sorry for your loss."

"Excuse me?"

For a moment, Waller looked confused and then he flushed in embarrassment. "I – I assumed you knew."

"About what?"

Waller took another deep breath. "I was stationed with Karlow a few months after the bombs. He'd been tasked to the Search and Rescue unit sent in to Santa Fe."

Beck's face paled. "My wife?"

"He saw her, Sir."

"Dead?"

Waller nodded.

Beck's face was set as stone. His dark eyes glittered with pain, with tears no one – almost no one - would ever see. He gave a curt nod. "Do you know where Karlow is now?"

"Dead. About two weeks ago."

There was nothing left to say. Waller saluted again and then followed Briggs from the room. Absently, after his men had gone, Beck returned the salute. Wordlessly, he turned and went back to his office, his movements harsh and jerky.

For a few long moments, Heather sat, stunned, grieving for a woman she'd never met, for the young captain who'd come to them and for a man she realized she'd come to care about perhaps more than she had a right to. She straightened the papers on her desk and shut the file folder, slipping it into a drawer.

She didn't bother to knock on his door, but went in. He looked up and shook his head, but didn't ask her to leave. She crossed the small room and sat on his desk, close to him. He was staring at his wife's picture.

He breathed slowly, in through the nose, out through the mouth, keeping a tight rein on his whirling emotions. "I knew," he choked out at last.

"But you kept hoping anyway," Heather reminded him.

He nodded mechanically. "I – I don't even remember the sound of her voice, how she laughed. I have to look at this – this picture to remember her face."

"It happens," Heather absolved him.

"No, you don't understand. It feels like – like she was part of another lifetime."

Heather's eyes overflowed with sympathetic tears. "We all feel like that, I think."

"Would you go back?" He almost made the question into an accusation.

Her brows knit down in consternation. "To before the bombs?"

He nodded.

"I – I don't know." It amazed her to realize she really wasn't sure.

"I wouldn't." He looked up at her. "The day you told me you couldn't tell the difference between me and Phil Constantino?"

She nodded.

"I realized I was a man I never wanted to be, a man I don't want any part of." His locked with hers. "A man I never want to be again."

Heather shook her head slowly. "But she isn't part of that."

Beck inclined his head slightly to agree with her. "No. But she's not a part of the man I've become either." He took a deep breath. "You are."

Heather bit her lip.

"And I wouldn't change that."

She looked away, uncertain, almost shocked, yet somehow… pleased. She stammered as she spoke. "You – you need… time."

He covered her hand with his and she turned back to him. "You're right." He smiled. "As usual."

She managed a weak smile in return.

"I just hope you'll be… here."

In the hush of the deserted office, Heather nodded. "I will be." She paused, lacing her fingers between his. "I promise." For a long moment, they stayed as they were and then she unwound her hand from his. She walked toward the door slowly, stopping with her hand on the knob. She looked back at him. "What was her name?"

Beck looked at her, a man who had long since grieved for all that had died with the old world, but finding fresh pain – and joy – on this night. His eyes softened, lit with the emotions within. He spoke softly, "Elena. Her name was Elena."

END