Jack isn’t afraid to open his front door.
No, really he’s not, it’s just--Eureka was weird enough in his original timeline. There could be anything waiting on the other side of that hermetic seal. One minute Jack is crouched in a crowded dance hall in 1947, having wrangled his modified PDA away from Dr. Old Spice. The next, he’s transported to a Eureka that looks almost, but not quite, like his own.
So no, Jack isn’t afraid to open his front door. Really. And anyway, that decision’s been taken out of his hands because the door is swinging open on its own.
“Sarah? You there?”
“Yes, Sheriff Carter,” the dulcet tones of S.A.R.A.H. greet him. It shouldn’t be, but it’s comforting that his house still talks in Fargo’s off-putting falsetto.
“Sarah, is Zoe still at Harvard?”
“And where else would she be?”
And that’s Nathan Stark.
Nathan Stark is in Jack’s kitchen. He is standing barefoot in Jack’s kitchen and he’s wearing plaid pajama pants. Jack is going to need a minute, because that right there is a living and breathing nondematerial-whatevered Nathan Stark, casually as you please slicing up a pineapple and wearing a faded gray tee. It’s obscenely tight through the shoulders and emblazoned with FLETC and the cracking remnants of the US Marshals emblem. Jack lost that shirt five--no, make that six--moves ago in a box of school and concert t-shirts, not long after he completed his training in Glynco.
“I, uh, that is--”
“S.A.R.A.H.,” Nathan smirks, and Jack can actually hear the acronym in Stark’s precise enunciation, “how about some coffee for the sheriff, here. You know he’s not at his best before his first cup.”
“Right away, Dr. Stark,” S.A.R.A.H. purrs, coffee maker whirring to life.
Jack’s momentarily distracted by the intoxicating scent of his favorite French Roast. He doesn’t realize Nathan’s abandoned the pineapple until big, warm hands are sliding up his chest to tug the scratchy cotton of his tie.
“I know I mock your vast array of nearly-identical uniforms, but I’ve gotta admit, this is a good look for you,” Nathan says, green eyes shamelessly roving Jack’s form. “And here I thought you were already sick of Founder’s D--” He frowns at the chirping of his PDA, pulling it out of his pants pocket. “Stark,” he says, sharply, releasing his grip on Jack’s tie.
Saved by the bell, Jack thinks. He can’t tear his gaze from Stark’s face, familiar lines of frustration crinkling between his brows. Maybe Jack should be using the distraction to flee, but his feet seem unwilling to cooperate with the simple command to ‘run, sheriff, run’ so he’s staying right where he is.
“Looks like you’re on your own for breakfast. I’m going to have to head in earlier than anticipated,” Nathan says, bussing a quick, stubbly kiss against Jack’s right cheek. “I’ve gotta hop in the shower and drive in, but I’ll see you at Café Diem around 12:30, like we planned.”
When Nathan continues looking at him expectantly, Jack snaps back to attention. “Uh, right, yeah. Lunch. Café Diem. Lunch sounds good. Great, even.”
“S.A.R.A.H., maybe an extra shot of espresso in that coffee,” Nathan shakes his head, smoothing a hand down Jack’s arm. “Tell Jo she’s welcome to join us if you see her before I do,” he adds, releasing Jack before climbing the stairs.
Jack waits for the sound of the shower running before hissing, “Sarah, I need to ask you some questions and you have to promise not to mention any of them to Stark.”
“Of course, Sheriff. I would never break the sacred bonds of sisterhood.”
Jack decides to ignore...whatever that implied, and circles the island to pour himself some coffee. “How long has he been living here?”
“Dr. Stark does not live here, Sheriff Carter.”
“Oh, thank God,” Jack leans back against the counter, taking his first blessed sip of the day. He can fake casual dating for a bit and then--
“The movers won’t be here until Thursday,” S.A.R.A.H. adds, helpfully.
Jack nearly aspirates his coffee, pounding against his chest as he coughs. “How long,” he coughs one more time, eyes watering, “have we been dating?”
“Sheriff, have you suffered a head injury?” The lights overhead dim briefly with concern. “Would you like me to call for medical assistance?’
“I’m fine, just answer the question,” Jack scowls up at the ceiling.
“Dr. Stark first came home with you in a romantic capacity one year and five months ago, the same day he resumed his duties as Head of GD after his rematerialization. To my knowledge, your first date was several weeks prior to that occasion, during Dr. Stark’s mandatory leave.”
“Right...right, so, Stark’s alive. And moving in. It’s serious.” Jack has a white knuckled grip on his mug handle.
“Sheriff, are you sure you’re--”
“Just fine, Sarah.” Jack pours out the rest of his coffee, putting the mug in the dishwasher. “If Stark asks, I had to run over to the station. And...I’ll see him at lunch.”
“Of course, Sheriff Carter. Be careful on the road.”
When Jack gets to the station, Jo’s slumped in her desk chair, eyes red rimmed and expression grim.
“Jo...you okay, there?” he moves towards her, approaching like he would a spooked horse. Jo’s much more terrifying than a horse, what with the Ranger training and the--frankly excessive--gun collection, but the methodology seems sound.
“It was...Zane was...yeah, no, I’m not okay,” Jo looks up, brows furrowed. “Apparently we hated each other here. So being laughed at when I agreed to his marriage proposal was not a great way to start my day.”
“That...doesn’t sound ideal, no,” Jack agrees, leaning against her desk.
“What about you? Zoe okay?”
“Yeah, I called her in the car on the way over. She was on her way to class and too busy to talk to me,” Jack rolls his eyes, trying and completely failing to hide his relief.
“Well, at least someone’s life is normal,” Jo scrubs a hand across her face. She looks bone weary and a little weepy, obviously wishing the day was already over. Jack can sympathize.
“Yeahhh, not so much,” Jack says. He's thinking of the way Nathan Stark had casually wandered through Jack’s house wearing Jack's clothes.
“What is it?” Jo sits upright, right hand twitching for a sidearm she’s not carrying.
It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. Say it fast. “So, Nathan Stark is alive here.” The more times he says it, the less bizarre it’ll get. Maybe.
“Wow,” Jo’s brows rise. “You ran into him on your way home, or…?”
“Yeah, no, he was in my kitchen.” Jack turns and snags a stool, sitting heavily. He absently smooths his tie and adds, “Slicing pineapple.”
“In this reality Nathan Stark never dematerialized and that resulted in him...living in S.A.R.A.H. instead of you?” Jo ventures.
“Not so much,” Jack repeats, fingers drumming against the scarred oak of Jo’s desktop.
“So...you’re roommates?” Jo asks.
Jack gives her the most baleful stare he can muster after forty straight hours of consciousness and only three sips of coffee. “We’ve been dating for a year and a half.”
“That’s...huh.” She leans back in her chair, head tilted towards the pressed tin ceiling.
“‘Huh’? I tell you Nathan Stark and I are doing the horizontal chacha and all you’ve got for me is ‘huh’?” And his voice hasn’t gone that high that fast since puberty. Maybe the ‘sacred bonds of sisterhood’ comment wasn’t so far off.
“Well, first off: you mentioned pineapple and dating, not sexy times,” Jo says, looking down from the ceiling with a sly smile. “Second: I can see it. It’s not that shocking.”
“You can--he hated me!”
"He didn’t hate you. You had an antagonistic relationship exacerbated by a misguided need to squabble over a woman like stray dogs over scraps.” And Jack will admit he’d done a few things in his pursuit of Allison that were mostly to irritate Stark, but that was a particularly unflattering way of describing it. “Modify the dynamic a bit and the arguing could easily transition from bickering to bantering.”
“And the difference between bickering and bantering?” Jack asks, morbidly curious.
“The sexual tension, obviously,” Jo laughs at the face Jack pulls. “Hey, you’re the one dating him, not me.”
“He’s moving in on Thursday,” Jack says.
“Oh. Oh, so it’s serious?” Jo’s expression sobers. “Is that...look, I know we don’t really do the, uh, ‘feelings talk’ thing, but you know you can tell me anything. This is a judgement free zone,” she makes an awkward circular gesture, like she and Jack are physically sitting in the ‘zone.’ “If you’re uncomfortable in any way with this situation, we’ll...we’ll come up with something. I’m good with extractions.”
“You mean because he’s a guy?” Jack blinks. “Thanks, but not so much a problem,” Jack admits. “I mean, I haven’t done the serious relationship thing since college, but that’s more because I met Abby than, well. It’s more the fact that I don’t really know Stark that well. I call him ‘Stark’ in my head. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal if we’re moving in together.”
“Is anything about this situation normal?” Jo asks.
Jo’s PDA chirps. “Go for Lupo.” Jack tries and fails to eavesdrop, watching Jo’s expression brighten and darken in swift succession. “We’ll meet at Henry’s in fifteen minutes.” She hangs up and turns to Jack. “That was Fargo. We’ve gotta go.”
“Jeep’s out front.”
Fargo’s eyes are watery behind his glasses. “I shouldn’t be so broken up about it, it’s just that it was the house I grew up in, you know? And I know, I know the odds of alternate realities being identical to our own. It’s miraculous that anything is recognizable.”
“Not that that’s going to make things any easier,” Jo slumps against the driver’s side window. They’re all crammed inside the car Grant was driving in 1947, securely hidden in Henry’s garage. “Zane and I never dated here,” she offers in explanation when Fargo turns to look at her.
“That sucks,” Fargo says, reaching out for her hand.
“I don’t know how I feel about holding your hand now that I’ve seen you naked,” Jo says, but laces their fingers together all the same.
“Well, you’re single and I’m married,” Henry says, raising his left hand to showcase the plain golden band. “And I barely even know her.”
“She seems really nice, though,” Jack says, patting Henry on the knee.
Henry rolls his eyes, but nods. “How about you?”
“Me? Oh, nothing important enough to--”
“He’s shacking up with Nathan Stark,” Jo cuts in, still holding Fargo’s hand.
“Really, Jo? That’s how we’re breaking that particular news?” Jack scowls at her.
“Nathan’s alive?” Henry turns to Jack.
“Dr. Stark’s gay?” Fargo asks.
“Fargo,” Jack snaps. “Sensitivity.”
“Sorry,” Fargo winces. “Uh...kudos on bagging a Nobel prize winning hottie?”
Jo releases her grip on Fargo’s hand and uses it to whack him on the back of the head. “We need to pin down all the main differences between realities. We’re in a town of the world’s smartest scientists. They’re going to notice if we suddenly don’t know things we’re supposed to know.”
“We’re going to get through this,” Henry says, voice firm. “But we can’t tell anyone. The consequences if anyone were to discover we were from an alternate timeline--”
“I’m guessing dire?” Jack asks.
“You guess right,” Fargo says. “They wouldn’t stop at redacting us.”
“What, they’d disappear us?” Jack turns to Henry.
“I always told you to read the fine print on your contract,” Henry sighs.
“And someday I swear I will,” Jack says. “But first, I’ve got to meet my boyfriend for lunch.” He pauses. “Huh.”
“Not as weird as you were expecting?” Jo asks with a smug smile.
Jack drives to the station, flipping down the visor so he’s not blinded by the sun. He takes a moment to admire the ‘Keep Eureka Weird’ sticker stuck to the Jeep’s roof. He parks and crosses Main Street to Café Diem, dodging between Founder’s Day booths. He nearly knocks over a man in pristine Navy whites as he attempts to back out of the door with a double stroller.
“Sorry, Jack!” the man says, flashing a sheepish smile. Jack doesn’t recognize him, a tall black man with kind brown eyes and blindingly white teeth, but that doesn’t mean much. Everyone in town knows the sheriff; it doesn’t go both ways.
“Not a problem,” Jack returns the man’s smile, looking down into the stroller. “Well, aren’t you a couple of cuties,” he says to the giggling babies inside.
“Terrors more like,” the man rolls his eyes, rolling his stroller back a few feet to clear a path to the cafe door. “They’ve hardly slept in days. Which means I have barely slept in days.”
“Ah, yes. I remember that age. Well, vaguely. Lack of sleep does weird things to long term memory. That’s not a scientific assessment, but I think it holds true,” Jack nods. He tenses when a large hand lands on his shoulder.
“Dr. Blake, always a pleasure,” Nathan says, fingers smoothing the fabric of Jack’s olive shirt.
“Likewise. And for the hundredth time, outside of GD you can call me David,” the man replies. “I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to go over Kevin’s homework last week. Poor kid’s got a sleep-deprived anthropologist at home--what do I know about non-Euclidian geometry?”
“It takes a village,” Nathan says, hand wandering down Jack’s side to rest just above the waistband of his pants. “And if you weren’t at home with these gorgeous ladies I’d be down my Head of Medical Research, so it’s the least I could do.”
And Jack’s a problem solver, he investigates for a living--or he did before it was his job to stop the disaster of the week--so he’s putting this together. Blake, Kevin, Head of Medical Research. David is Allison’s husband? It’s...it’s actually really great he’s alive in this dimension or timeline or universe...wherever the hell he is. It’d probably be helpful if he knew anything about the guy, since they seem friendly.
“Well, I need to get these little monsters home for their nap,” David says when one of the twins starts fussing. “Otherwise It’s going to be a very long Founder’s Day.”
“Is there any other kind?” Jack asks.
David laughs and shakes his head. He gives them a little wave before rolling into the crowd.
“Hey, handsome,” Nathan says, nose brushing the shell of Jack’s ear. He removes his hand from Jack’s hip and pulls open the cafe door.
“Hey, uh, um...you,” Jack stammers, letting Nathan steer him inside. “This place is a madhouse.”
And it really is. Most of the tables and booths are filled to bursting with costumed townspeople practically vibrating with excitement. He recognizes Pilar and a couple of Zoe’s other school friends in nurses’ uniforms at the counter, chatting and absently sucking down some delicious-looking ice cream sodas. Vincent spots Jack and Nathan the second he emerges from the kitchen with a shake in each hand.
“Sheriff, Dr. Stark, I made sure your table would be free. Would you like the usual, or some of my special Founder’s Day fare? I have some particularly delicious--”
“The usual would be great, Vincent,” Nathan cuts in, flashing his best ‘you know you enjoy indulging me’ smile. Jack can’t believe he missed that look. “We’ll be sure to sample the special stuff tonight.”
“Of course,” Vincent says, looking only slightly put out. He deposits the shakes on a table full of Einstein lookalikes and pulls a notebook from his pocket. “Two sodas, one double cheeseburger with bacon and a side of fries, and the protein-packed Einstein salad with a side of sweet potato casserole coming up.”
Apparently Jack and Nathan’s table is the weird corner booth that everyone avoids. It’s barely big enough for two and butts up against the fireplace, so it’s just a hair too warm for most of the fall and winter. When he settles in, Jack notices the booth puts his back to the rear wall and gives him a clear view of the full floor and all the exits. It’s actually ideal, and he wonders why he never thought to sit there before.
“You and your spot,” Nathan rolls his eyes, but his tone is fond and his smile looks genuine. Much less creepy than the ‘indulge me’ smile he used on Vincent. “Sorry I had to bail on breakfast this morning. Fargo got into it with Parrish in the nonlethal weapons lab and they inadvertently released a few dozen gerbils into the air ducts.”
“Of course they did,” Jack laughs. It’s good to know some things are universal. “Was gerbil retrieval successful?”
“Taggart’s the best at what he does,” Nathan nods, “as he’s so fond of telling me.”
Vincent drops off their sodas, informing them that the kitchen’s a little backed up with all the holiday orders. It’ll be another ten minutes for their food. Now Jack has to think up something to fill the time. Before he can panic, Nathan starts filling him in on his day and maybe this won’t be so bad.
Nathan regales him with tales of his incompetent minions, apparently not needing much input from Jack aside from the occasional nod and ‘no kidding’ to indicate he’s listening. By the time Vincent drops off their meals, Jack is doubled over in laughter at Nathan’s impression of Parrish and Fargo caught in the entrance to an air duct.
“I’m surprised there was anyone doing normal work today,” Jack says, taking a bite of his burger. “Well, for a relative value of ‘normal.’”
“Discovery waits for no man,” Nathan replies, scooping up a forkful of orangey casserole. Jack grimaces. Blech. Sweet potatoes. “Some day you’re going to stop making that face every time we eat here.”
“Never gonna happen,” Jack shakes his head.
“I live in hope,” Nathan says. He wraps his lips around the forkful and makes a, frankly pornographic, noise of pleasure.
Is it hot in here? It’s maybe a little hot in here, what with the extra lunch rush for Founder’s Day and their location next to the fireplace, Jack’s sure. Just because the fireplace isn’t lit doesn’t mean anything. He clears his throat and ducks his head, unsuccessfully fighting off a blush. A foot nudges Jack’s under the table. When he looks up, Nathan’s watching him with a sly smile.
“And what had you running to the station so fast you couldn’t come up to say goodbye?” Nathan asked.
“You mean this morning? Jo. She, uh, needed to talk.”
“Jo.” Nathan’s fork pauses midway between his mouth and his plate. “Jo Lupo. Talk?”
“Well,” Jack says, stalling with an overlarge bite of his burger. He takes his time chewing then says, “She wanted some relationship advice.”
Nathan raises surprised brows, but he looks oddly flattered. “Well, look at that. We’re that couple, now.”
“The one people try to emulate. Come on, revel a little,” Nathan nudges Jack’s foot again. He leaves it resting with the toe of his shoe pressing against Jack’s instep. “It took me months to get you to say yes to a date and then I was, for all intents and purposes, dead. Then I had to come back from the dead. Do you know how tiring it is coming back from the dead?” Nathan laughs. “I really didn’t have the energy to pursue you. It was lucky you kissed me first thing when I rematerialized.”
“Real lucky,” Jack agrees, unable to look away from Nathan’s broad grin. It’s probably his imagination, but his foot feels warmer where their shoes are pushed together.
“I’m still sorry about passing out on you, you know.”
“Now, don’t go making excuses,” Jack quips on automatic.
“Come on, rising from the dead is exhausting. Just ask Spock,” Nathan says.
“Okay, yeah, Kenny probably wins. They’re never going to get tired of killing that little guy, are they?”
“Poor parka-wearing bastard,” Jack shakes his head.
They spend the rest of their meal arguing over which season of South Park is the best. Jack’s had worse first dates.
The calendar on his PDA--and seriously, when did his PDA get all these fancy features, like a camera?--informs him that he has a meeting with the Head of GD Security in ten minutes. After pressing a moderately awkward kiss to Nathan’s temple, he hurries out to the Jeep and drives to GD. When he hands over his security pass, he notices the picture’s different. Looks like Nathan found Jack sneezing less amusing in this reality and granted him a reshoot.
Jack settles into one of the torture devices masquerading as chairs in the GD Security waiting room. He’s been here a handful of times, but the position’s seen more occupants than Hogwarts has seen DADA professors, so he hasn’t spent much time in this wing. He thinks he’d remember the waiting room being this foreboding, though; it’s all angular titanium furniture and harsh overhead lighting. Jack tilts his head back to rest against the cool concrete of the wall and closes his eyes. At least he has time to think while he’s waiting for...whoever’s Head of Security now.
Which is maybe a bad thing, because the first image that pops up behind his eyelids is Nathan at lunch today. He’s flushed and laughing and has a piece of spinach caught between his teeth. There are hints of gray showing up in his stubble and at his temples and it’s unfair that the man has barely a wrinkle. Or pores. Jack’s pretty sure that there should be visible pores somewhere. People in real life shouldn’t look photoshopped.
It’s not like Jack was blind in the other reality. He could readily acknowledge that Nathan was attractive in the same way he would Jo or Zane. Hell, even Henry, and wouldn't that be weird. When you’re constantly surrounded by smart geniuses you start to tune out the occasional lustful impulse. Jack would never get anything done if he hadn’t figured that out real quick.
A voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like Zoe says, You were too busy chasing after Allison after you imprinted on her like a sad, little duckling. Which...huh. That has the suspicious ring of truth to it.
He’s snapped out of his revery by someone literally snapping in front of his face. When he opens his eyes, Jo’s watching him with raised eyebrows.
“Nap time in my office, Sheriff Carter?” she asks.
“I was not--wait, your office?” Jack asks.
Jo offers Jack a hand, yanking him to his feet before leading him into the inner office.
“You are looking at the Head of GD Security,” she says, sitting behind the desk with a small smile.
“Jo, that’s fantastic,” Jack says, settling into the opposite chair. It’s slightly more chair-like than its compatriots in the waiting area, but still intensely uncomfortable. And now the furniture change makes sense--Jo picked that trick up from Jack. His smile grows and he adds, “Although it means I need a new deputy.”
“Actually--” Jo begins before Jack’s PDA starts trilling.
“Hey, boss!” a familiar voice chirps in Jack’s ear and he pinches the bridge of his nose.
“I spoke too soon, Jo,” Jack says, wondering what he did in this life to deserve an artificially intelligent sidekick.
“I’m sorry, sir, did I catch you at a bad time?” Deputy Andy asks, and Jack can picture his confused frown. It makes him look like a lost puppy and Jack always feels like a jackass for wanting to laugh.
“No, Andy, I was just catching up with Jo. What’s up, buddy?” And yeah, Jo’s definitely laughing at him, now.
“Miss Lupo was my next call! We’ve got a bit of a situation down here on Main Street. The Founder’s Day Parade is slightly more chaotic than we anticipated. I would certainly appreciate some backup, sir.”
“You got it, Andy. We’ll be there in ten.” Jack hangs up. “You ready for your first act as Head of GD Security?”
“Apparently I’ve had this job almost as long as you’ve had yours,” Jo says, brows furrowing. “Maybe we aren’t friends, then?”
“Jo, I would wear you down and trick you into being my friend in every reality, get over yourself,” Jack raps his knuckles against the metal surface of Jo’s desk. “Come on partner, let’s go wrangle some tipsy scientists out of the way of the world’s most terrifying parade floats.”
“This entire town is insane,” Jack yells, hanging on for dear life to a life-sized replica of Pierre Fargo’s original cryogenic stasis pod. The hovery-antigravity thingamajigs that are supposed to make the floats, well, float have malfunctioned. The townspeople are following Jack’s example and using the caveman method of disaster prevention: hit it and hang on until it stops whatever it’s doing.
“Pretty sure you already knew that, Carter,” Jo yells back. She’s appropriated one of the Martha drones, directing energy pulses to wing the floats traveling dangerously high. If they suddenly fall it’s safer if the crowd can see where they’ll land.
“Yeah, well, sometimes it bears repeating,” Jack says as a whining noise fills the air. There’s a brief moment of deafening silence followed by the floats and their passengers crashing to the ground. “Ow.”
“That worked a little more quickly than I anticipated,” Fargo says, standing in the middle of Main Street with a small, circular devise in his hands.
“Maybe a heads-up next time, Fargo?” Jack winces as he scrambles to his feet. He should be better at the falling thing by now, but his shins are definitely bruised and his palms are scraped all to hell.
“It’s a prototype EMP generator, I wasn’t even sure it would work!”
“Can I get someone from medical over here? Possible leg fracture,” Jo calls towards the group of medical staff on the sidewalk dressed in pristine white nurses’ uniforms and doctors’ coats. They start disbursing through the crowd, old hands at the Eureka version of triage.
“Hey, I came as soon as I heard,” Nathan says, emerging from the crowd, slightly out of breath and ruddy-cheeked like he’d run all the way from GD. Maybe he did. “You’re okay.” Nathan wraps Jack in a tight embrace, one hand tightly squeezing the nape of Jack’s neck.
And yeah, they’ve definitely been together for a while here, because that’s a move that’s always guaranteed to turn Jack into a compliant puddle of goo. He doesn’t exactly advertise it.
“Hey, I’m fine,” Jack insists, slumping against the reassuring warmth of Nathan’s chest. “‘M fine,” he mumbles into the skin of Nathan’s throat, the exhaustion of the last few days hitting him like a ton of bricks. Or a parade float.
“You’re not fine,” Nathan frowns, pulling away just enough to raise one of Jack’s hands. “You need to have these cleaned and bandaged.”
“Not that bad,” Jack shakes his head. “Can do it at home. Zoe set me up with that bigass first aid kit for a reason.”
Nathan’s eyes narrow briefly, but he gives a sharp nod. “Jo!”
Jo turns from her argument with one of the Einstein-costume guys on the engineering team that designed the floats. “Yeah?”
“I’m taking Jack to get treated. You and Andy have this?”
“Get outta here. And put him to bed, he looks asleep on his feet,” Jo snorts, turning back to Einstein-wannabe.
“Okay, let’s get you home,” Nathan murmurs.
Jack wakes up the next morning with hazy memories of stinging antiseptic wash and antibiotic ointment being slathered across his palms. He sits up with a groan, frowning down at his bandaged hands.
“Now would be a good time to tell me who the hell you are,” Nathan says.
Jack flails, flinching when his palm slams against the mattress. Nathan’s standing in the bedroom doorway, dressed in one of his ubiquitous suits, gaze steely. He has one of those nonlethal gun taser-type thingies Parrish is always bragging about clasped in his hand and it’s pointed straight at Jack.
“I’m Jack Carter,” Jack says, slowly raising his hands in the universal gesture of ‘please, don’t shoot,’ praying Parrish is right and that thing isn’t actually fatal.
“No, you’re really not,” Nathan replies, weight shifting as he flicks the safety off of his weapon. “Because Jack Carter and I just came to an agreement on who gets which side of the bed, complete with signed contract. It was one of the sticking points about me moving in. There’s not a chance he’d forget that.”
“That’s what you’re going on, here?” Jack has been almost-killed for a lot of dumb reasons, but this is particularly stupid. “Wait, you got me to sign a contract? How did--no, not important. I swear to you, I’m Jack Carter. I’m just, uh, I’m not the Jack Carter you know.”
Nathan replaces the safety, but otherwise remains motionless. “Explain.”
“I--it’s going to sound really stupid if I explain it,” Jack sighs.
Nathan raises unamused brows. “Try anyway.”
"The morning of Founder’s Day, this Einstein bridge device thingy that Kevin Blake was messing with on Main Street activated and sent me back in time to Camp Eureka in 1947. I managed to get back, but, uh, not everything was exactly the same. In my timeline, you never rematerialized. Which you did here! Which is great.” Jack is seriously so dead, he sounds completely nuts. “Really great. Obviously.”
“You actually expect me to believe you traveled to 1947 through an Einstein-Rosen Bridge and managed to find you way back on your own?” Nathan asks. “Because that’s far more likely than you being, say, Beverly Barlow?”
“I have not been brainjacked and I am not Beverly,” Jack wrinkles his nose in distaste. “And I didn’t say I did it on my own, I was just hoping you’d believe me so I wouldn’t have to out anyone else.”
“I need them to verify your story or I’m shooting you now,” Nathan cuts him off.
“Fargo, Jo, and Henry. Henry’d be able to explain the more technical details. He’s the one who got Dr. Grant to help us fix the device.”
“Dr. Trevor Grant?” Nathan asks.
“Yeah, I hate that guy. He tried to steal my PDA so he would take my place when the bridge activated and I had to wrestle him for it. That asshole almost got me stuck in 1947.”
“Right. I’m calling Henry.” Nathan pulls his PDA out of his pocket. “Henry, would you like to explain to me why someone impersonating Carter tells me you just had a time traveling adventure to Camp Eureka?”
Jack watches as Henry speaks, too faint for Jack to hear. Nathan’s face pales and his grip on the taser loosens until he lets his arm drop. “I want all of you here as soon as possible.” Nathan hangs up and stares at Jack like someone just told him his best friend died.
Which--well. Not too far from the truth.
“None of us wanted to lie to you,” Jo squirms a little in her chair, looking as guilty as Jack feels.
“Nathan, I’m so sorry,” Henry says, voice soft.
They’re all seated around Jack’s dining room table, Nathan at one end and Jack at the other. Nathan’s been listening silently for the last half hour as they recounted the events of the last few days.
“I know what I should do,” Nathan says, voice flat and eyes fixed on his hands. They’re splayed across the glass tabletop, trembling slightly. “I know exactly what I am supposed to do, now.”
“We understand, Dr. Stark,” Fargo says, looking sick to his stomach.
“No, Fargo,” Nathan looks over at Doug. He lets out a sharp, humorless laugh and shakes his head. “You really, really don’t.” He reaches into the interior pocket of his suit jacket and pulls out a small black box. “I don’t...this was for you.” Nathan finally meets Jack’s eyes, sliding the box down the table. “Well, not--I was going to ask after the movers finished up. I was going to make your mom’s scalloped potatoes.”
Jack opens the box and--yeah, that’s a ring. It’s a wide, silvery band, matte and really unmistakably ring-shaped. He looks up to see Nathan’s green eyes fixed on the box.
“You said,” Nathan clears his throat, “you said I never rematerialized there?”
“No,” Henry shakes his head. “It was something I was working on, but without much success.”
Jack thinks back to those long nights in Henry’s garage. It wasn’t a side project he usually advertised, but four beers in Henry would start expounding on the difficulty of--something sciency having to do with getting Stark back. Jack would nod sympathetically and crack open another bottle, eventually pouring Henry into bed once the engineer had talked himself out. It’s what best friends are for.
“So we never dated, then,” Nathan says, and Jack can’t help it he has to meet his eyes.
“No, you, uh...you and Allison.”
Nathan frowns before his eyes widen in surprise. “Allison Blake?”
“In our timeline David was killed in a car crash before Kevin was born,” Henry explains. And Jack never knew that. Nathan must’ve told Henry, because Henry and Allison have never been close, but Henry was one of Nathan’s teachers at some point in the distant past. “You were married and divorced, but reconciled prior to, well.”
“Oh,” Nathan says, still looking perplexed by the thought of him and his Head of Medical Research. Jack always thought they made sense as a couple, gorgeous and brilliant, but this Stark’s only ever known happily-married-with-kids Allison. Nathan actually seems pretty friendly with David, here, goes over to help Kevin with his homework.
“I hate to be insensitive,” Jo says, breaking the stilted silence, “but I’d really like to know if I need to start my life on the lam or not.”
“Right,” Fargo kicks Jo under the table, “because interrupting this conversation will put Dr. Stark in a sympathetic mood.”
“Did you seriously just kick me, Fargo?” Jo straightens in her chair.
“Coffee,” Jack says, a propos of nothing, standing with the ring box still clasped in his hand. He looks down at the box, then up at Nathan, who’s watching him with a carefully blank expression. “Nathan, how about you help me with the coffee and we’ll, uh, let these guys talk that out for a minute.”
Nathan nods and follows Jack into the kitchen. The coffee maker starts burbling away on it’s own--thanks, Sarah--and Jack slumps against the counter.
“Look,” Jack says, voice low, letting the familiar strains of Fargo and Jo arguing and the coffee maker dripping soothe his jangled nerves. “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. I really can’t,” he carefully closes the ring box.
“No,” Nathan takes the proffered box, “but then, I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, either. Are you, I mean...Abby.”
“Oh, oh, no, we’re divorced there, too,” Jack shakes his head.
“But you’re not--”
“Bisexual there, too,” Jack says, helpfully, turning around to grab a couple of mugs from the cabinet.
“But we never--”
“You weren’t exactly an option,” Jack shakes his head, turning back to Nathan. “I don’t...I never really got the impression you liked me all that much.”
“Impossible,” Nathan says. It’s sharp and immediate, like the very idea that Jack and Nathan weren’t friendly defies all logic. Like the building blocks of the universe would cease to function if Nathan and Jack aren’t Nathan and Jack.
“If you say so,” Jack says, eyes dropping to the box held white knuckled in Nathan’s right hand.
“So,” Jack turns and grabs the coffee pot, starts pouring into five mismatched mugs.
“So. The entire town knows I’m moving in here,” Nathan says.
“Right,” Jack nods.
“I already sold my house to Jo.”
“Yeah. So I’ll move my things into the guest bedroom. I’m not...I would never, I could never force myself on you just because you look like my--”
“You--you mean you’re not going to send us--”
“Do you honestly think I could?”
Jack finishes pouring the last mug and replaces the coffee pot. He takes a deep breath before he turns to Nathan. Nathan Stark, a Nobel prize winning hottie, who’s standing in Jack’s kitchen staring at a ring box and looking like the world’s already ended. Nathan Stark, who loves Jack Carter--if not this precise Jack Carter--enough to risk losing his job to cover for him. Nathan Stark, who’s willing to move into Jack’s house without any expectations or hope.
“The bed in the guest room is terrible,” Jack says.
Nathan’s green eyes flick up to meet Jack’s.
“Really, you can ask Jo. And the couch is, like, a futuristic torture device of awfulness. You’d probably destroy your back trying to sleep on that thing.”
The corner of Nathan’s mouth curls into a hesitant smile. “Is that so?”
“Are you guys in there dosing the coffee or something?” Fargo shouts through the partition.
“Shut up, Fargo,” Jo hisses.
Jack snorts. “So,” he says.
“So,” Nathan replies.
“You think you might want to grab dinner with me, sometime?” Jack asks. “Coffee, if dinner’s moving too fast?”
“We’re already having coffee,” Nathan says, arm brushing against Jack’s as he plucks an ‘engineers do it with precision’ mug off the counter.
“Is that a yes to dinner?”
“You seem pretty confident for someone I met yesterday.”
“Well,” Jack smiles helplessly at the smirk on Nathan’s face, “I have it on good authority that you like me.”