“Enjoying your applesauce, gramps?”
Jack had closed his eyes for only a second, a brief moment of hoping that if he kept them closed he’d wake up home in bed, or that he’d dozed off at his desk and Jo would wake up him to save the world again. The voice ruined all of that, so he settled for grunting irritably. He still hadn’t gotten used to how weird (old!) it sounded.
“Or maybe you’ve dozed off? When I was a kid we’d visit my great-grandfather and he’d ‘rest his eyes’ in front of the television. Want me to come over there and tuck you in?”
Jack gritted his teeth as he opened his eyes again.
“Nathan, if I could, I would get up and beat you in the head with this cane.” He paused, then smiled. “And I’m sure I can still move faster than you, old man.”
At the rude noise Nathan made, Jack laughed, even though it made him feel tired and remember that his feet were sore. And his hands. And his back. And everything, really. He’d been perfectly fine with being forty-two when he woke up this morning. He probably would have been even happier about it if he’d hadn’t become seventy-two by the afternoon.
“Any idea when they’re going to let us out of here?” Jack asked, stretching out his arms to marvel again at the wrinkles across the backs of his hands, the loose muscles of his arms.
Nathan shook his head (hair now fully silver and a little finer than before, to Jack’s great amusement, even as he had to admit that it was a good color for him) and gestured with one hand, a less dramatic gesture now that he was reminding Jack of his great-uncle Steven.
“Allison and Henry both swear this will wear off by tomorrow morning with no side effects-“
“That’s a nice change,” Jack added, even though he was glad this didn’t mean that he’d have to spend the rest of Zoe’s teenage years eating food through a straw.
“The two kids who infected us are already nearly back to normal,” Nathan continued, ignoring Jack’s interruption out of habit, most likely. “The aging serum they cooked up was designed to be temporary, but because it was tailored to them, not us, it’s harder to predict exactly when we will be…” here he glanced at Jack with a smirk, “young again.”
“Oh don’t start with me,” Jack objected. “I don’t make the rules about being 17 to get into an R-rated movie. And I also didn’t donate the equipment to the high school where these two idiots decided to do a little gene therapy.”
“Jack, it wasn’t gene therapy. They simply used a mixture that induced cell-aging at a increased rate, causing physical and chemical changes to their-“
Jack flapped a hand at him.
“Yes, yes, I know, it’s been explained to me three times, and I get it, I’m not an idiot, thanks very much. I took biology in high school just like the rest of the country. I was making a joke, Stark.”
“Sorry,” Nathan said with a dusty sigh. From his chair a few feet away, Jack stared. “What?”
“Clearly, there are side effects: you just apologized. To me. That’s it, I’m calling Allison. And maybe the State Department.”
“Ha, ha,” Nathan said, even as he smiled a little. “For the record, I took biology in fourth grade.”
“Of course you did,” Jack said with a roll of his eyes. Nathan ignored him again.
“It is unfortunate,” Nathan said, “that we are stuck in Global Dynamics quarantine,”
“Again,” Jack offered.
“For a while…”
“With nothing to do.”
Nathan shook his head with that same small smile, then leaned back. His eyes slowly drifted shut.
“Dammit, Stark, if you fall asleep on me, I’m never asking you to go to a movie again.”
Eyes still closed, Nathan responded, “which really makes this whole adventure your fault, you realize.”
“No way,” Jack answered. “I’m the innocent victim here! All I wanted was some popcorn, maybe some Twizzlers, and some perfectly harmless mocking of a terrible movie.”
Nathan’s eyes snapped open. “Back to the Future is not a terrible movie.”
Jack shook his head, using one finger for particular emphasis. Oh my God, he thought, I’m turning into my father.
“No, it is a terrible movie, but so terrible that it’s great! The fact that they can travel back in time using a car and change the future is just…”
“…you know Fargo tried to make the same machine using a Volkswagon bug, right?”
Jack laughed, not caring anymore that it hurt.
“Henry told me. Hell, Henry gave him the car. What happened?”
“He blew up half of the second wing and transported the lab’s rat specimens half an hour into the past.”
“Except for the part where it created a weird kind of loop, so that eventually we were overrun with rats from the past and rats from the present and we made Fargo dismantle the machine before he even made it,” Nathan said, even as he started to laugh.
“That… makes my head hurt to even think about it,” Jack said.
“Henry had to make a diagram before half the staff got it,” Nathan admitted. “Still, I doubt with the way Christopher Lloyd wired the flux capacitor it would have actually done more than set the engine on fire.”
“See, I knew you’d be a fun person to mock a movie with,” Jack said. “Shame that this stuff is transferred through contact, and if we hadn’t asked for extra butter on the popcorn...”
“Well, at least they quarantined the butter pump,” Nathan said, then said incredulously, “I think that was the weirdest thing I’ve ever said in my life.”
“Hey, you’re lucky you don’t have to do paperwork about it,” Jack said. “Only in Eureka is there a form about genetic and other chemical mutations due to food products. And that doesn’t include organic material, like that time with the chicken breasts that made everyone dumb? Whole other form.”
“Your life is so fascinating, Carter.”
There was a long moment of silence broken only by a cough or two from Nathan.
“Do you think we could get Henry to get us a DVD player in here?” Jack asked. “I never did get to eat my popcorn.”
“Probably,” Nathan said, reaching for the intercom button. “Unless of course you’d rather take a nap first. I’d hate to tire you out.”
“You’re so considerate. Just wait until this wears off and then you better sleep with both eyes open. That’s all I’m saying…”
“But think of all the paperwork you’d have to fill out,” Nathan said with a grin as he thumbed the ON button to request (not that Stark every made requests) that a DVD player, a projection screen, an extra-large tub of popcorn, and a copy of Back to the Future to be sent to quarantine immediately.