DISCLAIMER: not mine. Just playin' 'what if?'

DEDICATION: bourbon, merryann, bmfejk (my fellow CJ/Jericho addicts) and those who have feedbacked Jericho fics especially

SPOILERS: whole series to date

SUMMARY: a short fic dealing with a homecoming

NOTES: I'm working on getting some of these fics off my hard drive and posted. I've got so many Jericho fics started that it's either silly or embarassing. I don't think I've ever attempted such a wide range of fics as with Jericho (Buffy post-The Gift series not included) so hopefully they will all be in character and enjoyable.

FEEDBACK; of course! (Please?)

Home from the Hill

(Gray Anderson had just finished locking his filing cabinet when there was a knock at his office door. He sighed tiredly. Though there was great fulfillment in knowing his role as Jericho's mayor was a pivotal one in the town's ability to resist Cheyenne, it was also deeply burdensome. He had aged years in the six months since the war began and privately, he often wondered if, when the war finally came to Jericho, he would make it through whatever end was to be had. He called out in a voice that, at the end of another trying day, was querulous with exhaustion and anxiety, wondering, bitterly, why some people couldn't seem to manage anything without him. Gray looked down for a moment, realizing he needed to gather up the files on his desk to take home and read tonight. What he saw when he looked up made him sink down into his chair.

"Gray." The voice was not as Mayor Anderson remembered. It was older, rougher. No longer the "hearty-well-met" timbre of a successful man in the prime of his life, but now that of a man who has seen too much and endured far beyond his own breaking point.

"Geez," Gray replied, shaking his head as if perhaps he was seeing things. At this point, it wouldn't have surprised him much. But even as he blinked rapidly, he saw the figure wasn't moving, wasn't even wavering, hardly, in fact, seemed to breathe. This was a man who had learned stillness – probably as a survival tactic. "I don't believe it." He let a slight smile quirk up his lips before it disappeared into a look of concern. "We thought – I mean… Geez!"

The man laughed softly, but there was no emotion in the sound. It was an automatic response, a Pavlovian leftover from before the bombs. He glanced around the office before saying anything. "Mayor, huh?" was his comment at last. "Stopped in at the mine. Thought Harry might be joking at first."

Gray shook his head. "No joke."

"Can't be easy."

Gray shrugged. "What's easy these days?"

The man nodded.

Gray floundered for just a moment, still too shocked to think his best. "Is Amanda at the house?"

For the first time, the man reacted with something approaching emotion. His jaw tightened and his shoulders drew up. "She… uh… she didn't… didn't…."

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Gray felt the familiar mixture of grief and anger at the news.

The man nodded, his eyes gaping pits of a grief so fresh that the woman Gray asked about might have been lost only yesterday, but, at the same time, so accustomed that Gray knew she'd been gone far longer.

"Looks like Jericho did okay."

"Better than a lot of places," Gray conceded. "But we had our share of trouble."

"And you're the mayor."

Gray shook his head, deprecating his own contributions. "Between Major Beck and Jake Green, I mostly worry about the paperwork."

"Jake Green?"

Gray gave a rueful smile. "He came back. A few hours before the bombs actually. Ended up staying. No choice, really."

"I've heard that a time or two." The man paused. "But… why Jake? I mean… where's Johnston."

Gray cast his eyes down for a moment, the familiar weight of Johnston Green's death resting on him more than he ever would have thought possible. "There was a fight. Battle. Whatever. With New Bern."

"New Bern?"

Gray nodded. "We lost Johnston. And others. Then and… before and after."


Anderson smiled. "She's fine."

The man smiled with relief and let out a breath. "She wasn't at home. I wasn't… sure. I was afraid to ask."

Gray inclined his head in understanding. "I'll take you to her. She's gonna be… beside herself."

As the two men walked along Main Street, the returnee took in the changes. "I never thought I'd see this place again," he said quietly after a moment. "Sometimes… Sometimes I told myself it didn't survive."

Gray raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

"I know that sounds crazy, but it – it made it easier." He gave a rueful laugh. "At least that's what I told myself." The men stopped. "What are we doing here?"

"Come on in; I'll show you," Gray replied.

From the cash register, Dale looked up. His expression turned briefly sour at the sight of Gray, old hurts still festering, but that expression changed almost instantly when he saw the man with the mayor. His jaw dropped a bit and he paled. "I – uh…." He couldn't find anything else to say, so he turned and called out toward the back. "Skylar! Sky! Come out here!"

Her voice came back. "Dale, I'm in the middle of doing last month's accounts."

"Leave 'em," Dale insisted.

The scrape of a chair pushed back reached their ears and then she followed. Her gaze was directed toward Dale, her eyes flashing with irritation at the interruption. "What is so important that…?" She finally followed the direction of Dale's gaze and stopped in her tracks. She reached out a hand to the nearest shelf to steady herself, knocking a few cans to the ground; the clatter went unheeded. When she managed to speak again, her voice was small, childlike in its hope, quavering in its fear that this was a mirage that would vanish. "Daddy?"

Jim Stevens didn't wait for an explanation – there would be time enough later. He went to his only child and swept her into his embrace, crying as hard as she was. He murmured her name over and over until she finally pulled back and looked up into his face. "It's… It's you. You're real?"

He smiled. "I'm real, honey."

"And you're home?"

He nodded. "I'm home. Finally."

"You came back to me."

He brushed damp strands of hair from her face and nodded.

She finally looked over his shoulder, eyes searching for the other familiar figure that should be there. But somehow, she knew; she'd known deep down for a long time and she'd managed to accept that loss. Her father was home – and that was more than a lot of people had. She gave him another fierce, grateful, forgiving hug and told him, "I have so much to tell you. Everything here has changed."

He cupped her face in his hands and saw, for the first time, that the child he'd left was gone. In her place was a woman with strength and determination, a young woman he was ready to get to know.