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: Where do we go from here? Jake and Hawkins make it back to Jericho, but they're about to find out that once you've made history, you can't just back away.

PAIRING: Jake/Emily, but not necessarily just a JEm fic.

CATEGORY: post ep for "Patriots and Tyrants."

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

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

NOTE: I'm going with the idea that very few people knew how Jake and Hawkins got the nuke back.

Tomorrow is Earned

Jake crept in the back door of his parents' house – it would always be his parents' house, no matter what happened – and glanced around. His eyes narrowed as he took in clean dishes in the rack near the sink and the faint smell of coffee in the air. He stopped, standing stone-still, letting his senses tell him what they could. The room was comfortably warm and, when he listened, he could hear the gentle tick of the heater and the soft hum of the refrigerator. Needless in the mid-morning sun, there was a light on in the next room; he could see it spilling onto the floor. What the hell was going on?

He started as he heard the front door open and voices. Emily? Calling out something. To whom? He waited. The door closed and he heard a car pull away from the curb. He moved, stealthy, untrusting toward the kitchen doorway. His breath hissed out.

"Em? Emily?

She whirled around, her eyes wide in fear and surprise. Then her face broke into a big smile and she all but flew toward him. "Oh, my God. Jake! "

Uncomprehending, his eyes hooded with anxiety, his body tense with it, he nonetheless met her embrace and returned her kisses. As she pulled away, she looked up at him, still smiling, one hand rising to caress his stubbled face. She shook her head gently. "How did you get back?"

Jake blew out a quick breath and shook his head. "You don't want to know." He looked around. "What's going on here? Eric's call… the connection wasn't good. He said something about Beck?"

Emily nodded, taking his hand and leading him to the couch. They sat and she fit herself into the curve of his arm. "Beck quit."

Jake looked down at her, fresh surprise – this time a decent kind – on his features. "He resigned his commission?"

Emily nodded. "Beck, his unit commanders, their men. All of them."

"Why?" He paused. "Not that it isn't great news."

"He had Hawkins' laptop. He examined it, let them examine it. He told his men to prepare for a battle."

Jake breathed out. "Oh, Jesus."

"Yeah." She tilted her head to look up at him, considering him for a long moment. "It'll come, won't it?"

Jake bit the inside of his lip and then nodded slowly. "Texas has sided with Columbus. They're preparing to show the world the evidence." He sucked in a deep breath. "But it won't matter. Cheyenne isn't going to back down."

"What do you think will happen?"

He smiled wryly and gave another gentle head shake. His stroked her hair automatically. "You're the teacher."

Sadly, she nodded. They sat, the clock ticking softly in the room, their breathing the only other sound. Jake felt himself slide toward sleep. He could hardly believe it – after what he'd seen, done, been through, what he knew was coming, the thought that he could sit on his mother's couch, his arm around Em, her head on his shoulder and slip toward oblivion was almost strange. Still, he let himself go, barely able to remember the last time he felt at ease, knowing that God alone knew when he might feel this way again.

Emily listened to his breathing as it evened out, his head nodding toward hers. She nestled deeper into his arms. They could take an hour. They deserved an hour. Then she'd wake him up, get everyone to meet at Bailey's, let them hear whatever else Jake knew, whatever was coming next. An hour. Just one.

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Eric stood up from the table in the corner when his brother and Emily walked in. A grateful smile crossed Eric's face even as he shook his head in disbelief that his brother, his big brother, had just helped change the course of history. Eric slapped him on the back. "Finally put flight school to good use, huh?"

Jake smiled slowly and nodded. "I guess you could say that." He followed Eric back to the table, where the others had gathered. He sat next to Bill, a deputy he'd never much liked, across from his oldest friend and from others that he never would have known if the world had gone on as it was. Mary put a beer down in front of him before pulling up a chair next to Eric.

"How's Mr. Hawkins?" Jimmy asked.

Jake lifted one shoulder in an abbreviated shrug. "He's gonna make it."

"Is he still in Texas?" Jimmy again.

Jake took a sip of beer and shook his head. "He insisted on coming back here." He paused. "He was worried about Darcy and the kids."

There was a long moment of silence. Stanley cleared his throat at last. "Um… Jake? What happened in Texas?"

"We gave them the last bomb."

This was greeted with gasps. Mimi put into words the question everyone else was thinking. "We – um – heard Cheyenne had it."

Before Jake could answer, the door to Bailey's opened again. Jake smiled as Heather walked in, but the smile died quickly as he saw Beck behind her. Jake tried not to react, but he flinched nonetheless, as the man who had tortured him moved into the room. He felt Emily reach for his hand under the table and he clung to her fingers.

Beck stopped and looked at the faces arrayed around it. The word their expressions called to mind was distrustful. He couldn't blame them. He brought his gaze to rest on Jake and proffered a hand. Time dragged in the tavern as Jake glared up at Beck. On what seemed like a collectively held breath, Jake stood up and grasped Beck's hand. Beck gave a curt nod before Jake sunk back down into his chair.

"I'm sorry, Jake," the military man said. "I know that doesn't mean much. I know I owe you – and everyone in Jericho – more than an apology. I hope your friends here have told you that my men and I are trying to make amends."

Jake nodded, his jaw clenched. He swallowed past the tightness in his throat and looked back up at Beck. "Pull up a chair."

Beck hesitated. "Are you sure about that?"

Another nod. "There's a war coming. The only way we survive it is to work together."

Beck sat down. "What do you need?"

Jake looked at everyone once again before answering. "We need to know you and your men understand what's at stake. That you know what this government is and what it's capable of."

Beck nodded slowly. "I've seen the evidence. My commanders have, too. And the rest of my men."

"Are they with us?" Jake asked.

Beck hesitated. "The ones that aren't have been told they are free to return to Camp Liberty. Under armed escort."

Eric asked the question hanging in the air. "How many of them are leaving?"

"As of now?" Beck's dark eyes deepened. "Three."

Bill looked at the major. "Do you think that's a good idea?"

"Not necessarily," Beck replied. "But it's the right thing to do."

Everyone was silent for a moment, until Stanley spoke. "Major Beck is right. If he keeps those men here, he's no better than the government in Cheyenne."

One side of Beck's mouth twitched in acknowledgement. "Thank you."

"So… what's the plan?" This from Heather.

"I think Jake was just going to tell us that," Mimi replied, her voice dry as usual.

Jake told the abbreviated version of events, ending with the confirmation that Texas had sided with Columbus. "They'll present the evidence against Cheyenne next week."

"What do you think will happen?" Mary sounded justifiably worried.

Jake snorted. "I think the rest of the world will condemn what Tomarchio and his buddies at J and R did." He took a long sip of beer. "Then I think they'll sit back and watch what happens next."

"You really think there will be a war?" Jimmy was pale as he asked.

Jake flicked up one eyebrow. "I don't see how there won't be. Columbus is the legitimate government; and Texas has the firepower, the men and the will to take on Cheyenne. But Cheyenne isn't going to back down."

"What will we do?" came from Mary.

Jake's expression was unreadable as he thought over his answer. Finally, he said, "We fight."

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Walking home an hour later, Emily slid her arm through Jake's. She didn't look at him, but kept her eyes straight ahead. It took her a while to work up the nerve to ask the one thing she'd wondered the most. "How close was it? Out there?" She paused, and then continued in a voice shrunken by fear. "For you?"

His jawline tightened, his teeth clenching and the little facial muscles fluttering. If only he could whitewash it for her, but that had never worked between Em and him. "Close," he answered, his voice soft in the twilight. "Really close."

She nodded, her eyes filling with tears of worry. "It's not going to be the last time, is it?"

He stopped, put his hands on her arms and turned her, gently, to face him. He found that, for a moment, he couldn't say anything, because what he wanted to say most was, "We can make it the last time. We can walk away from here, walk away from what's coming; we can go hide out somewhere sane, start over." But his father's long ago words filled his head as if it were an echo chamber: sometimes doing what you feel like doing and doing what you should do are two separate things. And if he did what he felt like doing, he would be the boy who left Jericho almost six years ago. Doing what he should was what the man he'd become would do.

She shook her head sadly. "Never mind."

He gave her the gentlest of smiles. "I wish it could be, Em. I do. And… six years ago…?"

"No," she told him. "No. I know. That's not who you are any more, Jake." She put a hand against his cheek. "I loved you then, but I don't know if I liked either one of us a whole lot."

He nodded. "And now?"

"Now," she held back her tears. "Now I think you are one of the most amazing men I know."

He turned faintly pink, but she pretended not to notice. His tone became joking, but sadness and fear lurked below it. "Em, if I… if I join this thing, I might not come back."

"When."

He cocked his head to one side in confusion.

"When you join this thing." She was crying softly again. "I don't want to lose you, but if I asked you to stay out of it… you'd lose something in yourself, something it took a long time to find, something no one should ever lose."

He kissed her softly. "I never could fool you," he whispered when they came up for air.

Despite her tears, she smiled. "No, you never could."

He slid an arm around her waist. "Let's go home."

END