Author's Notes: A special thanks goes out to Skyrose, my esteemed beta reader.
Warnings: mild profanity
Disclaimer: Obviously I don't own the Jericho characters, but if I did, you can look at this story to see just what I would do with them. ;)
Part One: A Tradition Begins
October 31, 2006
Four weeks after the bombs
Bailey's Tavern was bustling with activity as some of the crowd that had earlier been at Jericho's annual Halloween party on Main Street filtered in, eager to escape reminders of a world that was far more terrifying than ghosts, goblins, and witches. Heather Lisinski had found herself gravitating to this place, as well. Though she was not spending the evening with anyone in particular, she didn't think she could bear the quiet of her small house.
She wanted a sugar rush, to see funny costumes, and she longed for the days when Halloween worries involved parents investigating candy and enduring squabbling siblings. Since she was not apt to gorge herself on sugar or see as many people dressed up this year, she figured she'd indulge in the next best thing: darts. Going to the pub across the street from campus to throw darts and play pool had been her standby in college when her dorm room seemed too tight or her workload too heavy. It would be one small comfort she could allow herself.
This was not what Halloween was supposed to be, but she would make do.
What a crazy few days it had been! They'd tried to go on with business as usual after the EMP, adjusting their lives to accommodate the lack of what few conveniences they had left to them. Yet the arrival of Jonah Prowse and the subsequent jailbreak of Mitchell Cafferty had set many on edge, as if with the upcoming winter and limited supplies they didn't have enough concerns, road gangs aside.
Emily, in particular, had been upset by her father's arrival. Heather had spent the bulk of the afternoon listening as Emily detailed her father's sins, relived her brother's death, and reiterated that Jake Green was bad news. Emily had been so hurt by her past, but as Heather listened, she wondered if her friend's perspective on what happened was skewed. How could the decision Emily's brother made to rob a store and his subsequent death be Jake's fault? Wasn't her brother a grown man who made a choice?
Heather sighed. Maybe she was the one with the skewed perspective. Was it possible she had romanticized Jake Green so much in her mind that she couldn't see him for what he really was? Yet when she considered his repeated acts of bravery and selflessness, how could this be the same man Emily described as a coward?
What it came down to was Heather didn't want to think the worst of Jake. Not only that, but with evidence pointing to the contrary, she couldn't think the worst of him either.
Not that her opinion mattered. She doubted that Jake ever slowed down enough to notice her anyway, let alone care one way or the other what she thought of him. Besides, she had far more important concerns than getting a boyfriend. There was that small matter of surviving the winter and beyond.
But since she couldn't solve that dilemma at the moment, either, Heather focused on something she could do. Dart in hand, she threw, smiling in satisfaction as the dart made contact with the bulls eye. The big problems could wait. For now, she'd enjoy the little things in life.
Jake Green hadn't intended to go to Bailey's that night, but the thought of returning to his parents' house seemed less and less appealing. Once he went home, he knew his father would ask about the exchange with Jonah that didn't work out as planned. Jake would have to tell him that Jonah's men organized a jail break. Now, not only did they not have the food that had been promised the town, they also didn't have their prisoner. And Johnston Green, being Johnston Green, would attempt to pull himself from his sick bed to handle the matter. Jake had spent so many years being a screw up in his father's eyes; he didn't want this to be yet another reason for his father to distrust his judgment.
In retrospect, it had been surprisingly easy to get Jonah to agree to the deal. Mitch Cafferty would be returned to him in exchange for the food Jonah's men stole and a promise to keep his business away from Jericho. Why he expected that in a post-apocalyptic world Murphy's Law would be null and void was beyond him. Jake knew better.
Gray Anderson pushed his agenda hard. According to Gray, negotiating with men like Jonah Prowse was an invitation for more trouble, a sign of weakness.
While Jake didn't have any illusions about Jonah's virtues, one thing Jake could say for him was that Jonah never lied to him. Even when Jake would rather have heard lies, Jonah talked straight. His father would've called it honor among thieves; Jake called it mutual respect.
And now Jake was a liar in Jonah's eyes, too.
So, yes, going home was less than appealing.
When Jake walked in to Bailey's, he did not purposely seek Heather, but almost immediately, his eyes focused on her, finding her among the crowd. She was pretty in a wholesome, natural way. Perky. Positive. Smart. Fresh. Quick on her feet and with her hands. Jake found that they worked well together, and being near her was comfortable. Heather Lisinski was one of the few people in Jericho who didn't look at him like she was waiting for him to screw up.
Without consciously deciding, he gravitated to her. "Mind if I join you?"
Heather nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard Jake Green's voice. Her back had been turned away from the entrance of Bailey's, and she'd not noticed him come in. She spun around with a dart in hand, sharp end outward.
"Easy there," he said wryly lifting his hands in a feigned surrender. A lopsided smile formed on his lips despite the events of the day, the typical chaos that passed for usual nowadays.
"Sorry," Heather replied looking at the dart secured between her fingers before lowering it hastily. "Guess I'm a little jumpy."
Jake lifted his eyebrows knowingly, turned to the partition that served the dual purpose of housing the arrows and separating the gaming area from the dining area of the establishment, and retrieved three feather-flanked arrows for himself. "Nothing like Gray Anderson running down the middle of Main Street during a Halloween party, nearly opening fire."
Heather shook her head and spoke in a voice that Jake could only assume was her best teacher voice. "You jumped out in front of him. You know, he could've decided to make you his new target."
Jake was nonchalant. "Could've. But he didn't."
Heather bit her bottom lip and turned from him, aimed at the target, and launched her dart, watching as it hit just south of the bulls eye. "It's safe to assume that this conversation isn't new to you. Your poor mom! You've must've given her a run for her money."
Heather stepped aside and Jake threw a dart, making contact just above the center of the target. As the dart struck the board, it hit with such force that it made a loud thump, loud enough that both could hear it over the gentle roar of conversations taking place around the establishment.
"Not bad," Heather commented.
"Are you up for a game?"
"What are the stakes?"
Jake grinned. He would've taken Heather for the type who would play just for the hell of it. The fact that she had a competitive streak in her gave him a strange sense of satisfaction and piqued his curiosity. "Loser buys drinks."
Heather's eyes narrowed. "You're on. So are we starting at 501 or 301?"
Sometime later, Jake and Heather approached the bar, Heather with a swagger and Jake with a grimace. Sliding onto a barstool, Jake said to Mary, "Set Heather up with whatever she wants." She flashed a triumphant smile at him. "And I'll have what she's having."
"What do you have left?" Heather asked the curly haired bartender.
Mary looked from Heather to Jake, not entirely surprised to see the two of them together. She remembered seeing them on the night of the grill-it-before-it-spoils barbecue a few weeks back. "I've got some homebrew I've been perfecting. Up for being a guinea pig?"
Heather looked to Jake. "Are you?"
Jake deferred to Heather. "I'm sure I've had worse."
Mary frowned, though her eyes twinkled good-naturedly. "Hey! I'm standing right here!"
"We'll take two of whatever you call it," Heather interjected. Directing her thumb in Jake's direction, she added, "And it's on his tab."
"Coming right up," Mary said, glancing at Jake. "And I'll be sure to give myself a nice, fat tip."
Jake eyed Heather who still looked inordinately pleased with herself. "You cheated."
Her mouth gaped open. "Did not!" Heather retorted with mock indignation. "It not my fault you're easily distracted!"
"Except that you provided the distraction as I was throwing my darts."
"If you can't stand the heat…."
Jake propped his elbows on the bar remembering how she'd brushed past him. "So I wouldn't have figured you as a Bailey's type of girl."
Her eyebrows rose, and there was a hint of a challenge in her voice as she spoke. "And how exactly did you have me pegged?"
Jake opened his mouth to answer, thought better of it, and said with a smile instead, "I think I'm gonna shut up while I'm ahead."
Heather shrugged. "I come here. Sometimes. I mean, I don't close the place every night. Makes the parents of my students feel funny if they see their child's teacher throwing back shots." Mary placed glasses in front of each of them and poured a clear liquid from a glass jar. "'Does Ms. Lisinski have the moral fortitude to teach my little Sally?'That's the least of their worries now. "
"You know," he began conspiratorially, "if they see you here with me, they're gonna talk, too."
"Well, then, it's a good thing I gave them something to talk about when I kicked your ass in darts." Heather picked up the shot glass, downed the liquid in one gulp, and felt her throat catch on fire. "Holy cow," she sputtered. "I'm getting my mouth washed out with soap!"
Jake downed his shot and set the glass back on the counter with an exaggerated motion. He seemed none the worse for the wear from the alcohol. "Bet I could drink you under the table."
Heather laughed nervously. "Let's not go there. I know my limits."
Jake motioned for another shot, and Mary filled his glass.
Heather turned on her stool to face him. Jake couldn't help but notice the view of her legs that her--what he could only describe as a teacher dress--gave him. She remained completely unaware of his peering as he forced his eyes upward.
"So. Halloween. Good ol' October 31," Heather began. "How would you be spending a typical Halloween?"
Heather's question took him by surprise, but what surprised Jake more was the fact that he didn't have a quick and ready answer for her. He'd been wandering so long from one place to the next. The last few weeks were the only time he'd felt like he was part of something of importance, of purpose. "Don't know. Don't know where I'd be or what I'd be doing. What about you?"
Heather was perplexed. She knew Jake was pretty tight-lipped when it came to talking about himself, but she had assumed Halloween would be a safe topic. Instead, he had turned the conversation back over to her. Hesitating momentarily, Heather finally responded. "Well, there's the usual internal struggle I have each year over whether to pass out candy, thereby contributing to the obesity epidemic plaguing our nation's youth, or whether to pass out toothbrushes." He looked at her with a baffled expression. "I'm kidding! I like to dress up, pass out candy. The good stuff. Not that yucky stuff that's gooey and melted by the next week."
"Good to know. Have any stashes left?"
"Wouldn't you like to know!" she laughed. "This Halloween is a lot different from last year's."
"Strange to say, but no. End of the world as we know it, notwithstanding. Last year, I went to a Halloween party and met a very dull investment banker that Emily thought would be a perfect match for me."
She groaned. "I commented on his costume. I thought the pocket protector he wore was a really nice touch. Turns out it wasn't a costume."
"Yeah. Guess that's what I get for stereotyping investment bankers as being the pin-striped suit types."
A comfortable silence fell between them before Heather broached the topic she knew had to be weighing on him. She thought that perhaps he would dodge her, but she couldn't let it pass. It was too important. "You're going to see Emily's dad tomorrow, aren't you?"
Jake didn't hesitate. "Have to. Can't let him get away with sending his men in to spring Mitch. Can't let him keep the food he stole."
"I--I've heard stories about Jonah Prowse. Don't suppose it would do any good to warn you to be careful. This town needs you." An involuntary shudder ran through her. "And I don't want to see you get hurt." The tiniest smile formed at the corner of her lips as she leaned forward and investigated the cut on his cheek, the result of a run in with Mitch Cafferty the day before. "Well, worse."
Jake's teeth grazed his bottom lip as he studied her. She was completely guileless, a quality that alternately attracted and scared the hell out of him. It had been a long time since someone cared about his well-being, since someone thought what he did mattered in a good way. "I'm not going to get myself killed."
The fact that Jake didn't promise to not get hurt didn't escape Heather's attention, but she would take what she could get. "You better not, Mister. Or else."
"Or else what?" he chuckled.
Or else I'll have one less person who inspires me.
Or else your parents' hearts will break, and mine might, too.
"Or else I'll have to find someone else whose ass I can kick in darts."
to be continued in Part 2