Scratching at his neck (these old uniforms were incredibly itchy and it was driving him crazy) Jack walked through the door as it swung open for him. At least SARAH hadn’t...he paused, head cocked to one side, waiting for the house’s usual greeting.
“SARAH?” he asked when none was forthcoming.
“Hello, Sheriff Carter,” The house replied and Jack would deny the sense of relief that washed over him that she sounded the same. As much as he griped about the house she had become sort of a weird extension of the family.
“SARAH, is Zoe still at Harvard?” Jack held his breath, telling himself that things couldn’t have changed that much. So the statue of Archimedes had changed from granite to bronze; that was a pretty small thing really and everything else had looked the same so far.
“Luckily for Zoe it appears that she got her intelligence from her mother not you, so I doubt she’s flunked out just yet.”
Jack momentarily froze at the oh-so familiar voice that sounded from the stairway behind him and very slowly turned around. He began to feel light headed and realised that he was still holding his breath.
At Jack’s ragged exhale and the fact that all the blood had suddenly drained from his face, Stark frowned. “Are you feeling alright?”
Jack didn’t answer; instead he just stared at the man standing in the still open doorway. It had to be a hallucination. Maybe the whole time jump thingy had some side effects. Henry would know, perhaps Jack should call him.
Jack blinked and suddenly Stark was a whole lot closer and looking at him with something that, on another person, would be called concern.
“Do I need to call Allison?” The other man asked.
“No!” Jack yelped. Hallucination or not, he couldn’t let Allison receive a phone call from her dead ex-supposed-to-be-new husband without some warning.
Stark raised his eyebrows in surprise at the panic on Jack’s face. “Okay, you’re acting stranger than normal. I’m taking you into GD to get checked over; the last thing we need today is the Sheriff out of commission.”
“Founder’s Day?” Jack frowned, pretty sure that the Sheriff didn’t have much of a part to play in that.
“Alright, that’s it.” Stark grabbed Jack’s arm and started pulling him back towards the door.
Jack wrenched his arm free of Stark’s grip. “I’m fine; I don’t need to go to GD. I just...” He searched for a plausible answer for why he might be behaving a little oddly without having to admit the truth, “I...I didn’t get much sleep last night, that’s all.”
Stark’s face suddenly tightened angrily at that. “I see,” He gritted out.
“What...” Jack started, confused by Stark’s reaction but the other man talked over him.
“The generals will be here at noon to observe the testing on Tiny. I assume that you can pay attention to your job and not your personal life long enough to keep the town under control until they leave?” Stark asked archly.
Jack was saved from answering by Kevin arriving at the bunker, whining about Allison while Jack stared at him in shock. Kevin was acting like a normal kid and nothing like the Kevin that Jack knew. Stark had stiffened even further at the boy’s arrival in the bunker but his voice sounded normal as he calmed Kevin down and offered him a ride into town, which was good because Jack wasn’t sure he could talk right now if his life depended on it.
Kevin bounded back out of the house, taking Jack’s breakfast with him, and Stark followed after him but paused at the door to shoot Jack a scathing look. “There’s a lot riding on today, Sheriff; for everyone. Do you think you can keep it in your pants long enough to help ensure it all goes smoothly?”
Then he swept up the stairs without waiting for an answer and Jack collapsed onto the nearest sofa.
“So much for things not changing that much,” He muttered and wondered what the hell to do next.
He considered going to find Henry but figured that he should probably talk to Allison first, all things considered. There was no answer when he knocked on her door but it was unlocked so he let himself in and found her sitting at the kitchen table, staring into space.
“Hey,” He said gently although it still caused her to jump a little, “Are you okay? I saw Kevin.”
A small smile crossed her face. “He talked to me, Jack, just like he was any other teenager. It was...you know that I’ve always loved him, no matter what but I’ve always wanted this for him. A chance to be like...like other kids.”
“I get that,” Jack assured her, “And he definitely seemed like your standard teenage boy; he walked in, bitched for a while, stole my food then left again.”
Allison gave a delighted laugh at that and Jack couldn’t help but smile back until he remembered the other reason he was there. “He’s not the only thing that’s different, though.”
Allison took one look at his, now, sober face and her eyes widened. “Oh god, Zoe?”
“No! Zoe’s fine. At least she’s still at Harvard and she told me to stop checking up on her when I just called. So no change there.” He gave a rueful chuckle, “Um...it’s actually...Allison, Stark’s alive.”
“What?” It was probably a good thing that she was already sitting because she really looked like she would’ve fallen over. “Nathan’s...how do you know? I mean, have you actually seen him?”
Jack snorted, “Oh yeah, he came by the bunker to yell at me. Something about testing small generals? I don’t know; I was kind of distracted by the ghost talking to me.”
“Was he...did he seem okay?” Allison asked in a shaky voice.
“He was mad at me so it seemed like business as usual,” Jack told her. “In fact he seemed angrier at me than he normally is so I guess I must annoy him more here, although I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”
As he rambled Jack caught sight of something in the other room and went to take a closer look before groaning as he realised what it meant.
“O-kay, this might explain his attitude.” Jack picked up the framed photograph and took it back over to Allison.
It was a photograph of the two of them, arms wrapped around each other, grinning happily at the camera with Zoe on one side, holding Jenna, and Kevin on the other.
“Oh my God, we’re a couple?” Allison stared at the photo with something approaching horror.
“Hey! I’m quite the catch I’ll have you know!” Jack quipped.
Allison managed to give a small smile at that. “Of course you are, Jack. It’s just...a relationship that we don’t remember on top of Nathan and Kevin. It’s all getting to be a bit much. Besides...”
“That kiss sucked?” Jack supplied helpfully.
“No!” She immediately protested, “No, it didn’t. It was lovely, really.”
Jack chuckled. “Allison, I was there. It wasn’t quite the earth shattering kiss I’d always imagined.”
And he had imagined it, so many times over the years. That perfect moment when he and Allison were finally on the same page and got to release all that passion that had been simmering between them since they’d met. Except that when it actually came down to it the moment had been oddly passionless. Jack could put it down to the tense situation; not knowing if the time jump would work, or if it would work for both of them with just one communicator, or the men making their way through the crowd to arrest them, but really, he thought that they’d probably just left it too late.
“I suppose we really are just good friends after all,” Allison echoed his thoughts, “Which isn’t a bad thing.”
He grinned at her, “Definitely not.” Then a thought occurred to him. “Hey, so if me and you are a couple then how do we explain Jenna? I mean, she still has to be Stark’s daughter, right? Otherwise she’d be different.”
Allison smiled softly at the photo she was still holding. “She’s definitely still Nathan’s. She has his eyes.”
“Right.” Jack nodded. “I guess I just swept in and stole you away from him then. You were obviously unable to resist my roguish good looks and manly charm.”
Jack wiggled his eyebrows and Allison laughed. “That had to be it.” Then she sighed. “What the hell do we do, Jack? Keep pretending to be a couple?”
Jack thought about it for a moment. “I’m sure we can come up with an amicable way to break up; something that won’t upset the kids too much and gives us a plausible reason to stay friends. People do that, right?”
“Sometimes, “Allison agreed, “I think we need to find out more about our relationship before we decide on an actual reason though.”
“I think we need to find out more about our lives in general,” Jack pointed out. “Stark already tried to drag me to the infirmary today because I was acting weird.”
His phone went off and he saw it was Jo before he answered. “Hey...wait, slow down...Zane what? Okay I’m on my way.” He hung up and gave Allison a look. “I have to go; Jo is freaking out which is never a good sign at the best of times. We’ll pick this up again later?”
Allison nodded her agreement and Jack made his way out of the house wondering what could possibly happen next in this insane day that wouldn’t end.
A lot as it turned out. Jo and Zane had never been a couple, Henry was married to someone he barely knew, Fargo was the DoD liaison while Allison was the Head of Medicine and Dr. Grant had travelled from 1947 with them. To top that off he’d had to track down a giant robot and without Jo’s help because she’d been replaced as deputy by Andy the AI and was now Head of Security at GD.
By the time night finally fell and the Time Travelling Troupe, as he’d began calling them in his head, were finished with their little meeting at Cafe Diem Jack was so exhausted that he went straight home and fell into bed without even removing his uniform.
Thankfully the next morning was quieter which allowed SARAH (who Fargo had let in on their secret, in order for them to have a way to research their own histories without anyone becoming suspicious) to catch him up on his own life via the station computer; which was a truly bizarre situation to find himself in.
“I slept with Jo?” He muttered, incredulously.
“Indeed, Sheriff Carter. You and Deputy Lupo had a brief affair when you first moved to Eureka. It ended when Zoe almost caught you together at the bunker. You both decided to remain friends and Deputy Lupo began to date Dr. Taggart,” SARAH informed him over the headset he had hooked up.
Jack didn’t know what disturbed him more, the idea that he’d slept with a subordinate, the fact that that subordinate was someone who he’d always looked on as a sister in his own reality, or the fact that she had essentially thrown him over for Taggart.
He scanned a few more of the pages that SARAH had helpfully compiled for him.
“The Cubs won the series? Okay, that’s it. I’m taking a break.” Jack locked the station and headed across the road to Cafe Diem, still shaking his head in disbelief.
He smiled as he spotted Henry at a corner booth and headed over to join him but his steps faltered when he saw that Stark was the other occupant of the secluded booth. Stark’s temper had gotten gradually worse throughout their interactions the previous day to the point that Jack had been tempted to punch him.
“...knowledge is very impressive, especially of the World War II era,” Henry was saying, then spotted Jack and beckoned him to join them. “Jack’s met him. Jack, what do you think of Dr Grant?”
Jack pulled out a chair and wracked his brains trying to think of something complimentary about the man who’d deliberately tried to strand him back in 1947. Unfortunately, they needed to find Grant a job in order to keep him in Eureka so he could work on the bridge device and a way back home.
He was saved from having to come up with something by Stark scoffing, “You honestly expect me to take hiring advice from Mayberry?”
Jack shrugged indifferently. “I’m just here for lunch.”
Doing that whole magical timing thing that made Jack wonder the tables in the cafe were bugged, Vincent arrived to take Jack’s order while Stark and Henry still argued the subject.
“I know you’ve taken a liking to him, Henry, but there’s something about that guy that I don’t trust,” Stark said. “He’s hiding something, I can tell.”
Jack and Henry exchanged fleeting glances at that which, of course, eagle eyed Stark immediately picked up on.
“You know what it is,” He accused, leaning forward and showing more interest in the subject than he had since Jack had arrived.
“I know what what is?” Jack kept his voice neutral.
Stark rolled his eyes and didn’t dignify that with an answer, instead turning to Henry. “What are you up to? This guy appears out of nowhere and you and Allison both start haranguing me to give him a job and now you and Carter are exchanging meaningful looks. When exactly did you start taking me for an idiot, Henry?”
“You’re reading too much into things, Nathan,” Henry replied in a scarily convincing tone of voice. “We just talked to him and think he would be an asset to the museum, that’s all. He could insert some new lifeblood into the place.”
Pact or not, Jack had known that it would be difficult to hide the truth from Nathan Stark and if he was suspicious of them this early on then they were in trouble. They had all better start treading very carefully.
“I don’t really care if you hire him or not, Stark,” He said ignoring the kick Henry gave him under the table. “I just know that if he calls me ‘sport’ one more time, I may have to make up an excuse to slap the cuffs on him.”
He nodded his thanks to Vincent who placed a cheeseburger in front of him and nonchalantly began to eat while inwardly praying that he’d taken the right track. Stark gave him a long and thoughtful look and then rewarded him with that infuriating smirk of his.
“Maybe you were right, Henry. If he annoys Carter this much then he can’t be all bad and I suppose he won’t be able to do much damage at the museum.” Stark stood gracefully and started to re-button his jacket. “I’ll talk to Allison again this afternoon. Thanks for lunch, Henry. Sheriff.”
With nods at them both, Stark left and Henry slumped back in his chair in relief.
“How did you know that would work?” He asked, eying Jack.
Jack grinned. “Honestly? I didn’t. Although I may have to try it again someday when he’s being especially annoying. He hates me even more than our Stark did.”
Henry shook his head sadly. “Our Stark didn’t hate you, Jack. You just got cast into the role of his romantic rival.”
“Yeah, who this Stark lost out to,” Jack pointed out. “You know he’s going to figure us out, right? I give it a week, tops.”
“I know. And although I do think we’re smart enough to hold him off for more than a week, he’s too smart for us to fool him much longer than that.” Henry sighed. “I just hope that his feelings for Allison will stop him reporting us. Especially when he finds out that you and Allison aren’t really together and that he still has a chance with her now. How’s the big break-up plan coming, by the way?”
“It would be coming along a lot better if I had some experience with amicable break-ups in the first place.” Jack made a face. “Do you think two years is long enough for us to have drifted apart? Because that’s the best I’ve got so far and I’m pretty sure that’s not going to fool the kids even if it works on the rest of the town.”
“You could go with Jo’s idea.” Henry smiled slyly.
Jack rolled his eyes. “I’m not telling everyone that I’m gay. I would like to date in the future.”
“And you still could. It would just be a different type of dating.” Henry laughed.
“Well, whatever we come up with I hope Allison has an appropriate mourning period before jumping in with Stark again. I do have a reputation to maintain,” Jack said.
“Of course you do, Jack.” Henry chuckled and then stood up to leave, clapping Jack on the shoulder as he passed.
“Hey, I do!” Jack protested and, when Henry only smiled in return, he turned back to his food muttering, “I get no respect in this town.”
“Why? Did you get some anywhere else, Sheriff?” Asked Vincent who magically showed up at just that moment to top up Jack’s coffee.
The tables were definitely bugged.
A call from Global after lunch was a mixed blessing; an emergency in GD was never good but then again at least he could get away from the updates his house was giving him on his love life.
“Looking snazzy, Josephina,” He told his ex-deputy, who was waiting for him in the foyer. “No wonder I fell for your wily seductress charms when I got to town.”
Jo had started to lead him down a corridor but stopped short at that and stared at him open mouthed. “Did you get that from SARAH?”
Jack nodded. “She also told me that you ruthlessly used me then dumped me in favour of Taggart.”
Jo stared at him a moment longer before shrugging and resuming their journey. “He’s got bigger guns.”
“Hey! My gun’s plenty big!” Jack protested a little too loudly judging from the badly suppressed giggles of a couple of passing scientists.
Jo led them to one of the labs on level 3 and Jack peeked in through the window.
“That...looks like a dragon,” He said staring at the creature perched on top of one of the desks.
“Actually it’s a Jeholopterus, Sheriff,” A tiny, birdlike scientist standing next to him said. Then, seeing his blank look, she added, “A pterosaur.”
“Right, a pterosaur,” Jack repeated, still having no idea what that actually was until he played the word back in his head. “Wait, Saur? As in dinosaur?”
The scientist nodded excitedly and opened her mouth, probably to babble some scientific goobledy gook at him but Jack talked over her before she had the chance.
“You people cloned a dinosaur? Are you insane? Did you learn nothing from Jurassic Park?”
“Oh please,” Another scientist about double the size of the first, in height and breadth, snorted, “Collecting DNA from mosquitoes trapped in amber? That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I think what Dr Crowe is trying to say is that GD tends not to pick and choose its projects dependent on pieces of fiction, Carter. Although I’m going to guess that you’re talking about the movie rather than the book.” Stark’s voice announced his arrival to the group, Allison and Fargo walking next to him. “Dr Crowe and Dr Ramone’s work has proven invaluable towards our understanding of dinosaurs and evolution.”
Jack rolled his eyes as the two scientists preened at Stark’s compliment. “Fine, so if you’ve figured out how to clone dinosaurs safely, what the hell am I doing here?”
The small scientist, Ramone, visibly deflated at the question. “Well, it appears that the Jeholopterus as some abilities that we were unaware of. Obviously there’s only so much you can learn from fossils; their structure and size for example, which is why we chose to test this on a small dinosaur first. It wouldn’t do to have a Futalognkosaurus roaming the halls of Global.” At this she started laughing which only Crowe and, inexplicably, Fargo joined in with.
“It shoots acid,” Jo stated flatly before Ramone could start up on her long-winded explanation again.
“Of course it does.” Jack sighed.
“Strictly speaking, it’s not acid. It’s highly acidic venom,” Ramone put in helpfully, as if that made it any better.
“So far it’s managed to eat through metal, glass, plastic and there’s a lab assistant in the infirmary missing his left hand,” Allison said, shaking her head sadly. “It ate straight through the bone in seconds; I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Jack began to pace as an effort to keep his anger at the typically irresponsible behaviour in check while he thought. He caught Stark giving him and Allison a puzzled look but his temper was running too high for that to worry him at that moment.
A thought occurred to him and he stopped to look at Jo. “What about...”
“No.” She shook her head. “It won’t be able to penetrate the scales.”
“True.” Jack nodded. “Okay, why don’t we...”
“Can’t get close enough to try without it spitting at us,” Jo replied.
“Good point.” Jack resumed pacing, oblivious to the bemused stares of everyone else. “How about rock? Anyone tried that?”
He was met with silence.
“Okay then, Fargo go outside and get me a decent sized stone,” Jack instructed and then turned to Jo while Fargo hurried off. “How far can it shoot the acid?”
“About the length of the room.” She indicated through the window and Jack could see what looked like the melted remains of a computer on the far side.
“Okay, I’m going to have to move pretty quickly to avoid getting gunked. Gunked is bad,” Jack muttered to himself. Words he’d learned to live by since taking this job.
“Do you want me to get you a stick and elastic band so you can knock yourself up a slingshot?” Drawled Stark, “Maybe I could work out the trajectory you should use on an abacus.”
“Nathan!” Allison smacked him on the arm and Jack shot him a triumphant look at that.
Fargo returned with an armful of rocks. “I wasn’t sure what you thought a decent size was.”
Jack chuckled and picked one out. “This’ll do. Everyone back away from the door. In fact, move down the corridor, this stuff could eat through the wall if this goes wrong.”
The rest of the group moved to one side as instructed, with Nathan giving Jack and Allison that thoughtful look again, while Jo stayed the other side, out of range but still able to look through the window into the lab. Jack edged towards the door, put his hand on the handle and waited for Jo’s signal.
After a couple of minutes she nodded and quietly said, “Now!”
Quickly, Jack swung open the door, lobbed the rock towards the acidosaurus then slammed the door shut again and jumped back out of range.
“Huh.” Jo tilted her head as she looked into the lab.
Jack and the others moved closer to peer in as well.
“Nice aim, Sheriff,” Dr Crowe scoffed, “You didn’t even get close to hitting it.”
“I wasn’t trying to hit it,” Jack replied smugly.
“He wanted to see if the venom could eat through stone,” Stark said, looking at the rock sitting on the floor in the middle of a pool of yellow liquid. “Which apparently it doesn’t.”
Stark gave Jack that look which Jack privately liked to call ‘almost impressed’ and flipped open his phone to start calling people.
Over the next couple of hours, six large pieces of flat square rock were delivered to level 3 from God only knew where (Jack had long since learned to stop asking), propped up on wheels. Some additional time was taken to attach two pieces together with some sort of ultra quick drying cement gun to form the shape of an L.
Then a GD guard, fully dressed in Kevlar, pushed the L shaped rock into the room towards the acidosaurus, slipping the bottom of the L under the creature who had lifted off the desk and floated closer to the moving object curiously. He was followed by four more guards pushing the additional pieces. They slowly circled the creature, moving into place then, in a burst of speed choreographed by Jo from outside the room, they moved forward using the pieces to literally box the creature in. Three of the guards then lifted the final piece to cover the top of the box while the other two speedily sealed the edges with the cement gun.
When Jo’s team confirmed that the box was holding everyone gave a sigh of relief. Jack grinned at Jo, once more regretting that she was no longer going to be working with him every day and, from the slight sadness tingeing her returning smile, she felt the same way.
Drs Ramone and Crowe immediately started worrying about how they could feed and study the creature now while Fargo started hypothesising over a force field with the structural properties of stone that could be built to help them.
“Good job, Carter.” Allison kissed his cheek and then headed back to the infirmary to check on her patient.
Jack turned to Stark who was gazing after Allison. “I guess it’s too much to ask that you stop playing God up here on your imaginary cloud?” He threw his arms apart to encompass the building.
Stark looked at him. “As I said earlier, this research could prove invaluable. Not least because we now have an eroding venom in our possession that we can replicate for use in all kinds of projects.”
Jack snorted. “Don’t even try to play that card. You had no idea that you’d get that, you just let your scientists go blundering in as usual with no regard for the consequences or people’s safety. The acidosaurus could’ve...”
“Acidosaurus?” Stark raised his eyebrows in disbelief at the name Jack had bestowed on the dinosaur but Jack ignored that and kept on talking.
“...could’ve melted the window and flown out into the town. There’s no telling how many people could’ve been hurt. You can’t just throw dinosaurs and humans into the mix together!”
Stark frowned slightly. “You’re quoting the movie aren’t you?”
“That’s beside the point!” Jack burst out, his frustration with the other man bubbling over. “You’re messing with stuff you shouldn’t be messing with and not giving a damn about the damage it could do.”
“I’ve told you before, Sheriff; great science comes with great risk.” Stark crossed his arms.
“Yeah? Well, with great power comes great responsibility!” With that Carter turned and stormed away.
He could’ve sworn that he saw a slight twitching of Stark’s lips but quickly dismissed it and revelled in the fact that he’d managed to have the last word for once, albeit stolen words.
Filling out the requisite paperwork for the incident took up the rest of his day and, as Deputy Andy was still out of commission, he diverted the station’s phones to his cell, resigning himself to being on-call 24/7 until Andy was fixed or reskinned or whatever the hell it was they were doing with him.
The house still seemed too empty without Zoe and Jack was tempted to spend the evening in Cafe Diem where he’d at least have company but ultimately decided that was a bit pathetic. SARAH, in an attempt to cheer him up, overrode Zoe’s instructions to make Jack eat healthily while she was gone and made him a steak. It worked up until the point where she helpfully resumed her recounting of Jack’s history in Eureka while he ate.
“...clothes were disintegrated during the explosion so you had to seek shelter until Dr Blake could get some new ones for you. However, you chose to hide in a room usually used for company announcements and, as such, had a video link-up to all of the Global Dynamic computers.”
Jack groaned and started banging his head against the table. The Jack from this timeline seemed to end up naked a lot.
“Sheriff, you should stop doing that,” SARAH told him in a reproachful tone of voice, “You could cause damage to yourself. Also, Dr Stark is at the door.”
“Oh, thank God.” Even Stark was a welcome reprieve from the stories of other Jack’s numerous humiliations.
Jack glanced at his watch as he walked towards the door, it was almost midnight. He frowned, if there was another emergency at GD he was going to slap Stark silly.
“Don’t even say it,” Jack told the other man once SARAH had opened the door.
Stark raised an eyebrow at the unconventional greeting. “How do you know what I’m going to say?”
“At this time of night, it could only be some sort of disaster that Global’s about to strike down on the town.” Jack crossed his arms.
Stark pretended to think for a moment. “Nope, that wasn’t it.”
He pushed past Jack into the house, asking SARAH for a scotch before taking it and settling down on the couch.
“Are you drunk?” Jack demanded.
Stark chuckled humourlessly and shook his head. “Unfortunately, this is my first drink of the evening.”
“Okay,” Jack frowned, “Any particular reason why you’re drinking it here?”
“I wanted to test a hypothesis and now I have.” Stark pointed a finger at Jack. “You, Henry, Ali and, I believe, Fargo and Jo travelled back to 1947. You changed something, in that blundering way that you do, and when you all returned things were different. How close am I so far?”
“Son of a bitch!” Jack swore quietly, “SARAH beer me.”
“Ah, pretty close then,” Stark observed as Jack grabbed his beer, took a large gulp of it and then sat at the opposite end of the coach.
Jack shifted so he was facing Stark. “You got all that by coming to the bunker?”
“No, coming here proved that this version of you isn’t sleeping with Ali.” Stark shifted as well then reached inside his jacket and threw something down on the couch between them. “That and everyone’s odd behaviour over the last two days told me everything else.”
Jack picked up the file and shook his head ruefully. It was from the investigation into Trevor Grant’s disappearance.
“I recognised Grant but couldn’t place from where until Henry mentioned that his specialist subject was science in the Second World War era. I wrote a treatment on the Einstein-Grant Bridge when I was in 10th grade and remembered seeing a photo of Grant in that same damned hat he’s been wearing around town.” Stark nodded towards the still unopened file. “The photo’s in there, along with descriptions of the suspicious group suspected of kidnapping Grant. How did Fargo end up naked, by the way?”
“He was apparently changing out of his Einstein costume when it happened,” Jack said with an amused huff. “Well, on the bright side; I was right, Henry was wrong and we aren’t as smart as he thinks we are. Or you’re a lot smarter than he thinks you are.”
That wasn’t as much of a bright side as it seemed in his head.
Stark looked indignant. “Henry thought I wouldn’t figure it out?”
“Oh, he knew you would. Just not within a week,” Jack explained.
Stark didn’t look placated by that, in fact he looked angry. “What the hell were you thinking, bringing Grant back with you? Henry knew that would alter the time line.”
“Actually, that was Grant’s doing.”
Jack quickly explained how Grant had stolen his communicator with the intention of stranding Jack while he took Jack’s place.
“So you weren’t kidding when you said you didn’t like him,” Stark stated. “We’re going to have to keep a close eye on him, he definitely can’t be trusted. I’ll get surveillance put in his office tomorrow. I’m sure Jo can handle it, the less people that know we’re watching him the better; we don’t want to draw any more attention to him than necessary.”
Jack was quiet for a moment then spoke carefully, “So you’re not going to report us?”
Stark looked at him blankly for a long moment and then abruptly stood. “You thought I’d report you? You honestly believe that I’d be responsible for getting you all sanctioned?”
“No, I just...” Jack tried.
“Ali’s the mother of my child for fuck’s sake! You think I’d do that to Jenna and Kevin? Have you the slightest idea what happens to people who are sanctioned by the government?”
Jack put his beer on the floor and stood up too, grabbing Stark by the arms to stop his angry pacing. “Things are different here, Stark. People are different, I couldn’t be sure...you could’ve been changed from the man I knew.”
Stark had stilled the moment Jack touched him and Jack swallowed hard from the intensity of the stare Stark was now giving him but he refused to look away, for some reason needing Stark to understand what he was trying to say.
The moment broke when Stark pulled back, drained the rest of his scotch and went to get a refill from SARAH.
Jack took a deep breath to steady himself from whatever had just happened and sat back down. Stark joined him a few moments later, leaning forward, resting his arms on his knees and dangling the whiskey in front of him.
“I died in your time line.” His voice was so soft that Jack had to strain to hear him.
“Yes,” Jack replied, simply.
“You and Allison both looked like you’d seen a ghost, although Allison covered it better than you.” Stark nodded to himself then he chuckled. “And Fargo hugged me.”
Jack snorted in amusement, he could well imagine that.
“Did I...how did it happen?” Stark was still staring down into his glass but Jack shook his head anyway.
“Stark...” He said in a warning voice.
“Nathan.” Looking up, he saw Jack’s puzzled expression and clarified, “We’re not at work, Jack. You can call me Nathan.”
Jack nodded and then, settling back into the seat, began to tell Stark...Nathan about his own death. Which Jack still felt no small amount of guilt over.
By the time he was finished, Nathan was sitting back and staring at him in disbelief.
“There are so many things wrong with that I can’t even begin...” He huffed out a breath. “Remind me to check in on Weinbrenner’s project tomorrow so I can make sure it’s not going anywhere near that direction.”
“Done.” Jack chuckled. “Although, technically, it’ll be later today.”
Stark looked at his watch and groaned. “I guess I should get going. We should have a meeting today with the entire group to discuss how to deal with everything.”
“Good idea,” Jack agreed, climbing to his feet and following Nathan to the door.
“I was really going to re-marry Allison?” Nathan asked, pausing outside the door and when Jack nodded, he just shook his head and made his way up the stairs and out of the bunker.
Jack managed to get four hours of sleep before making his way to the station with an extra extra large vinspresso to fortify him. Jo was already there, waiting for him.
“You told Stark?”
“Good morning, Jo. Why, yes, it is a lovely day today!” Jack sleepily mumbled in her direction before collapsing gratefully into his chair.
Jo put her hands on her hips. “Cut the crap, Carter. Stark knows and he says he talked to you. We had a pact!”
“I didn’t tell him, he figured it out,” Jack told her. “He recognised Grant from some photo taken in the 40s and went investigating from there. I think it’s a good thing though, he says he’s going to help us and god knows he has the resources to do it.”
“You believe him?” Jo asked.
“Yeah.” Jack nodded. “He lost it when I suggested he may report us. Started talking about Allison and Jenna...he’s got too much to lose if he betrayed us.”
Jo flopped into the chair next to Jack’s desk, looking thoughtful. “You’re right, he does. So, why did he go to you with this? Since when did you two start having actual conversations?”
“Since he figured out about me and Allison,” Jack said wryly and Jo laughed.
“Yeah, that sounds about par for the course.” She reached for Jack’s coffee and took a sip before he could stop her. “Stark says we should meet in his office at 7; most people have gone home by then so it shouldn’t attract any attention. Grant’s moving into his new office at noon so I’m going to install the surveillance cameras and microphones before I head back to GD. That’s a good idea, by the way.”
Jack agreed. “You may want to avoid telling Henry though; he’s taken a shine to the guy.”
“He’s just blinded by actually getting to meet someone’s he’s admired for so long,” Jo pointed out. “You know that Henry prefers to see the best in people. Plus concentrating on Grant is a way of distracting himself from Grace and that whole situation.”
Jack just barely managed to rescue his coffee from Jo’s attempt to take it again. “And showing up to work at stupid o’clock in the morning is a good way of distracting yourself from Zane and that whole situation?”
“There is no situation. This Zane is a troublemaker who has zero interest in me. He’s not my Zane, I know that and I can deal with it,” Jo stated firmly, although Jack didn’t miss the way her hand drifted towards the engagement ring on her necklace as she spoke.
“If you say so but you know where I am if you want to talk.” At her disbelieving look, Jack amended his statement. “You know where I am if you want to get drunk with someone.”
Jo smiled and stood up from the chair. “Thanks, Carter. I may take you up on that.”
“There’ll be no seducing me though. I’m wise to your games, Lupo!” He called after her and grinned to himself when he heard her answering chuckle.
The rest of the day passed fairly quickly; two callouts to offsite labs. A trip to Taggart’s cabin which resulted in Jack getting covered in honey from Taggart’s new giant bee hives which housed actual giant bees. Then, after a quick trip home to change, GD came under attack by a hoard of malfunctioning fembots, which surprisingly had nothing to do with Fargo.
With Larry and Spencer (who apparently had never left town to pursue a successful DJing career due to a lab accident which left him tone deaf) safely locked up under the watchful eye of the newly returned Deputy Andy, Jack headed to Stark’s office for the meeting.
Sliding into the empty seat next to Fargo meant that he was safe from the wrath of Allison, who was pissed that Jack had told Nathan about the whole re-marriage thing, but it also meant that he had to put up with the smugness Fargo was radiating over Larry getting arrested.
“Can you believe that they forgot to put a backdoor into the programming?” He laughed. “It’s the first rule of building AIs.”
Jack refrained from pointing out the fact that Fargo had forgotten to put a backdoor into SARAH’s programming himself and instead let the kid enjoy his moment of glory.
“Speaking of which, what do you think of Deputy Andy’s new skin?” Fargo asked.
Jack smirked, the moment was over. “I think you’ve been watching too much Stargate.”
Fargo’s mouth dropped open. “How did you...”
“Don’t make me arrest you for copyright infringement, Fargo.”
Fargo let out a squeak. “No, sir. The next one will be totally original, I swear.”
Jack swallowed the chuckle that rose in his throat; sometimes SARAH’s addiction to sci-fi TV came in handy.
Henry and Grant arrived signalling the start of the meeting. Nathan began by detailing how he’d worked out what had happened and then outlined a plan to avoid others doing the same thing, starting with setting Grant up as his own son to explain away the similarities.
“And how do you explain away the fact that I didn’t have a son?” Grant asked.
“There was a war on, I’m sure people took comfort wherever they could find it,” Nathan replied coolly, not bothering to hide his dislike of the man.
Grant let out a mirthless laugh. “So not only am I suspected of being a traitor but now I’m a heartless yuck with illegitimate children left, right and centre?”
“You can’t take it personally, Trevor,” Allison told him, “It’s the best way to keep us all from getting sanctioned until we figure out what’s happening with the bridge device.”
Jack saw Nathan look at Allison sharply and knew that he had picked up on the slight undercurrent to her words when she mentioned the device. Of course, Nathan couldn’t have any idea how different Kevin was now and therefore didn’t understand Allison’s desire to stay in this time line. Jack thought that maybe in her heart Allison believed that the other Kevin had sent them there on purpose, despite what her head knew.
“While we’re on the subject you will also need to change your name from Trevor,” Fargo pointed out, “Although, obviously with the cover story we’re using you can keep your surname. Dr Stark instructed me to construct a past for you which can be traced back if anyone should care to look, that’s all done and ready to go once you’ve thought of a new first name.”
“Charles,” Answered Grant without hesitation, “It was my father’s name.”
“Charles it is.” Stark nodded and handed Grant a file. “There’s everything that Fargo has listed for you in various places; it’ll go live tonight once he’s added in the name. Read it over and familiarise yourself with all the facts.”
Grant gave a quick nod and placed the file in his lap.
“The bridge device has been set up in Section 9 and will be available for Henry and Grant to work on under the guise of further studying our town’s history in the wake of Founder’s Day. This will look like a volunteer project worked on in their spare time and will, of course, be sponsored by the museum,” Stark informed them all.
Jack raised an eyebrow, impressed at the speed with which Stark had set all this up.
“The rest of you keep living your lives for now. Try not to make any obvious mistakes such as staring like a goldfish at someone you’re not expecting to see.” Stark gave a pointed look at Jack. “Or calling your supposed lover by their surname in public.” Here he looked at Allison who winced, remembering her slip up from the day before.
“I’ve set up links to both SARAH and Deputy Andy on all your PDAs,” Fargo said, pulling out his own PDA to demonstrate. “They’ll be able to answer your queries if you find yourself needing a quick refresher on anything your alter may have done in the past.”
At that, Jack waggled his eyebrows at Jo who threw a pen at his head with scary accuracy. Chuckling and rubbing the spot directly between his eyes, Jack turned back to the front and caught Nathan giving him and Jo an indecipherable look which he visibly shook off before addressing the room once more.
“Henry, I’ll leave any decisions on how to deal with the Grace situation up to your own discretion. I will say, however, that I know Grace pretty well and she is very trustworthy if you decide to tell her the truth.” Nathan gave Henry a small smile.
Jack hadn’t mentioned anything to do with Henry’s sudden marriage the day before so Nathan must’ve talked to him at some point in the day.
“If nobody has anything to add then we should call it a night,” Allison suggested, “I have a son waiting to be embarrassed by his mom playing on his Wii Fit.”
Everyone chuckled at that image as they prepared to leave the office and Allison grinned happily.
“Ali, could I have a quick moment?” Nathan asked her quietly before she could leave. “I won’t keep you long.”
Jack was taken aback by the sudden surge of jealousy he felt when he overheard that. Surely they’d already established that he didn’t want Allison and vice versa, but as he watched Allison give Nathan a soft smile his stomach tied itself up in knots just like it used to in the old days. He shook his head to clear it; it was obviously a case of old habits dying hard. Some sort of pavlovian reaction to Nathan flirting with Allison, that was all.
He sternly repeated that to himself and walked out of the office in time to see a dejected looking Jo headed towards her office. Jack hadn’t missed the fact that Jo’s shoulders had slumped slightly when Nathan all but gave Henry permission to let Grace in on the secret. There had been no mention of Zane and, considering the way this Zane tended to act, there probably wouldn’t be even if Nathan knew about the engagement that never was.
He hurried after Jo. “Hey Lupo, I believe that SARAH has been hoarding a bottle of Cuervo with our name on it.”
Jo stopped and turned around, eying Jack. “I thought that was an offer that I got to cash in at some indiscriminate date.”
Jack shrugged. “You still can. Call this one a freebie.”
“You got limes?” Jo gave a sad smile.
Chuckling, Jack slung his arm around Jo’s shoulder and led her back down the hall. “No point in having tequila without them. Come on, Josephina.”
Two hours later they were both slumped on the floor in front of the couch, giggling madly as they exchanged stories of their lives before Eureka.
“You set it off? Mr Perfect US Marshall?” Jo snorted reaching for, and almost knocking over, the bottle.
“I thought I knew which bundle the dye pack was in,” Jack protested, “I just wanted to double check that the rest of the money looked real then...boom! Took me days to get that damned blue stuff off my face, I looked like a smurf.”
At that Jo actually laughed so hard that she toppled over. Luckily Jack managed to rescue the bottle from her hands and set about pouring another round of shots.
“So, what happened?” Jo pulled herself upright and grabbed the salt shaker, licking the back of her hand.
Jack snorted, “Nothing. We replaced the dummy money, put in a new dye pack and my partner went on the sting instead of me.”
Jo shook her head, a little too enthusiastically. “No! What happened today? Why the tequila?”
“You looked like you needed it.” Jack shrugged. “And I did say this morning that...”
“Bullshit!” Jo interrupted, pointing her finger at Jack. “I looked like I needed it this morning too and then it was all hypo...hypey...hypit...that word, you know the one. You needed to get trashed too which means that something happened.”
With that she picked up her glass, downed the shot, stuck a wedge of lime in her mouth and raised an eyebrow expectantly at Jack.
With a sigh Jack grabbed Jo’s hand where the salt she had forgotten all about glistened. He licked a broad stripe through it, took his own shot and sucked a lime wedge thoughtfully.
“Eww!” Jo smacked his arm. “I am not the other Jo. Keep your tongue to yourself, Jack Carter!”
“I was jealous,” Jack said.
Jo scrunched her face up in confusion for a moment before realising that he was responding to her earlier question. “Ohhh! Wait, about Allison with Stark? I thought you’d decided that wasn’t a thing.”
Jack nodded violently. “We did...I had! I think it’s just because it’s Stark, you know? And all his...” he waved his hand in the air “...Starkishness!”
“He is very Starkish,” Jo agreed, “I think it’s the beard.”
Jack tilted his head as he thought about that. “It could be the beard. Maybe I should grow one.”
“But it wouldn’t look Starkish on you because you’re not Stark,” Jo decided with all the common sense of the very drunk. “It would have to be Carterish but it couldn’t be Carterish, really, because Carter doesn’t have a beard.”
“Good point,” Jack said and then reached for the tequila again.
“Sheriff, Dr Stark is outside,” SARAH announced with more than a touch of relief running through her voice.
“Ooh!” Jo jumped to her feet and ran to the door.
When it opened to reveal Nathan on the other side she very carefully raked her eyes up and down his body while he took in her own dishevelled appearance with some surprise.
“Yep, definitely Starkish,” She decided with a nod and skipped back over to the sprawled Jack.
“Excuse me?” Nathan asked as he walked into the house.
Jack went through the salt, tequila, lime routine again, while Nathan watched in astonishment, before answering, “We have decided that you are Starkish and that it’s all your beard’s fault.”
Jo made a noise of agreement as she took her own shot.
“They have been drinking tequila for almost three hours and refuse to give the bottle back, despite my concerns for their wellbeing,” SARAH informed Nathan.
“I see,” Nathan said, stepping up to the coffee table and taking the bottle, “I think it’s time for you both to call it a night.”
“Noooo!” Jack and Jo said at once.
“At least let us have one last one,” Jo pleaded.
Jack nodded. “Yes! You should have one too. You need to loosen up, Nathan.”
He reached up and grabbed Nathan’s sleeve, tugging on it until the other man had no choice but to crouch down at which point Jack pushed him until he fell back to sit on the floor next to them. Jo then knee-walked closer with the salt shaker.
“Lick your hand,” She instructed.
“I’m aware of how this works, Lupo, but I don’t think...” Nathan trailed off at the twin puppy dog eyes he was receiving. “Fine! But just one.”
“Dr Stark, please return the bottle,” SARAH asked, sounding slightly desperate, amid Jack and Jo’s cheers.
Quickly going through the motions, Nathan took his shot and then relinquished his glass to Jack. Chuckling at the enthusiasm of the other two, he loosened his jacket and made himself a bit more comfortable.
“Any particular reason that the town sheriff and my head of security are getting drunk in the middle of the week?” He asked.
Jack stopped sprinkling salt about half an inch to the left of his outstretched hand and looked at him. “Jo needed cheering up.”
“Stupid Zane,” Jo muttered.
Nathan glanced between the two of them in confusion. “Donovan? What’s he got to do with anything?”
Jack shook his head mournfully. “He doesn’t remember Jo.”
“He does!” Jo disagreed, “He just doesn’t remember us! Besides I’m not the only one who needed cheering up, Carter.”
Jack frowned at her while Nathan looked shocked.
“You and Donovan? Seriously?” His eyebrows were near his hairline.
Jo shrugged and picked at the bottle label. “Not this Zane. This Zane’s an asshole. My Zane wasn’t...well he was, but it was different.”
Jack reached out and pulled Jo into his side, squeezing tightly for a moment. She settled in with her head on his shoulder and squeezed back.
“I’m sorry, Jo. I didn’t realise,” Nathan told her sincerely and she just shrugged. “I guess this has been pretty hard on you all.”
An awkward silence descended on them and after a couple of minutes Jack realised that Jo had fallen asleep on him. He tried to get to his feet without jostling her awake but his lack of coordination made him almost drop her a couple of times before Nathan intervened. The large amount of alcohol in her system ensured that she slept through it all.
“Couch or spare room?” Nathan asked as he swung her up into his arms.
Jack blinked at him a couple of times before saying “Spare room” and led the way upstairs, holding on very carefully to the handrail.
Once she was deposited in the guest bed with a large glass of water placed next to her on the bedside table, Nathan followed Jack back out to the hall where Jack immediately started giggling.
“She passed out before me,” He hiccupped when Nathan gave him a questioning look. “She’ll never live that down.”
Nathan shook his head, chuckled and pressed his hand to the small of Jack’s back. It took Jack a moment to stop focussing on that and realise that Nathan was pushing him towards his own bedroom.
“You need to sleep this off, Jack,” Nathan said, pointing him towards the bed while he headed to the bathroom.
Jack guessed that he was probably right and sat on the edge of the bed to take his shoes off. Of course, when he leaned forward to do that, he fell off the bed and landed on the floor in a tangled heap.
“Worse than children,” Nathan muttered when he exited the bathroom, glass of water in hand, and discovered Jack lying on his back on the carpet, trying to lift his foot towards his face to remove a shoe.
He hauled Jack up and pushed him back onto the bed before crouching down to tug Jack’s shoes off for him, which Jack decided was very nice of him. Jack reached out and gently stroked his hand over Nathan’s beard causing Nathan to look at him in shock.
“I like it. Even if it does make you Starkish,” Jack decided with a nod.
Stark’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “Well, my beard and I will try to pull back on the Starkishness if you’d prefer.”
“Thanks, Nathan.” Jack smiled widely; genuinely touched that Nathan would do something like that just for him.
The smile got even bigger when Nathan started to laugh. That was a good sound, Jack decided. Nathan should laugh more often.
Shoes finally removed, Nathan instructed Jack to climb under the covers and almost as soon as his head hit the pillow Jack’s eyes began to drift closed.
“Th’nks, Nath’n,” He repeated sleepily.
“See you tomorrow, Jack,” Nathan replied and Jack thought he felt a hand stroke through his hair and a light kiss on his forehead but, before he could consider that, he dropped off to sleep.
When Allison sashayed into the station the next day, knowing smirk firmly in place, Jack groaned and dropped his head onto his desk.
“Yes, I heard you hit the bottle quite hard last night,” She laughed. “If it’s any consolation, Jo looks just as bad as you do.”
That did make Jack feel a little better, Jo had left before he woke and he’d been imagining her perkily running around GD while he slowly died right there in his office.
Jack looked up and blinked blearily at the large blueberry ginger smoothie (aka. Vincent’s Miracle Cure All) Allison had just placed in front of him.
“Thank you,” He told her, gratefully, and waved off Deputy Andy who was leaving to patrol now that there was someone to keep an eye on Jack.
“I figured the first one would have worn off by now,” Allison commented, taking a seat as Jack gulped down half of the smoothie in one go.
Jack slumped back in his seat as the drink began to do its magic. “You’re a queen. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Nowhere near often enough.” Allison smiled. “So, should I be worried that my boyfriend spent the night getting drunk with his old fling?”
Jack’s eyes narrowed on her. “SARAH?”
Allison nodded, her smile growing. “You and Jo; I’d never have called that one.”
“Me either.” Jack huffed in amusement. “Of everything, I think that may be the one thing to really hit home how different things are here; how different we all were here.”
“Yeah.” Allison sighed and looked off into the distance for a moment.
“I guess you had the same thing when you saw Kevin, huh?” Jack asked.
“Not just Kevin,” She told him, still staring out of the window. “Apparently, Nathan and I...the divorce was definitely final.”
Jack stared at her in shock. “What are you talking about? I thought that from the way you were acting around each other after the meeting last night...”
“He wanted to clear the air, make sure there were no misunderstandings after what you’d told him about our relationship in our time line,” Allison said and Jack noticed that she never called it ‘home’ the way the rest of them did. She suddenly turned from the window and pinned him with a look. “What do you mean ‘the way we were acting’?”
Shrugging and rubbing the back of his head, Jack tried to explain it. “You were smiling a lot. Happy; like you were with him before.”
“Uh huh and did this have anything to do with the entire distillery you decided to help Jo consume last night?” Sometimes Allison was far too perceptive for her own good, or for Jack’s sanity.
“I thought you were going to dump me spectacularly in front of the entire town,” He protested, deciding that if he admitted that one part then he wouldn’t have to try and explain the whole irrational jealousy thing too. His head hurt enough as it was.
Allison patted the back of his hand. “I wouldn’t do that to you, Carter. You have a reputation to maintain.”
“At last! Someone who understan...you’ve been talking to Henry haven’t you?” Allison’s laughter answered Jack’s question and he hung his head. “My best friend is tattling on me. Is nothing sacred anymore?”
“Don’t worry; your reputation will be safe. We’ll figure out some way to break-up...I wonder if the relationship auditor has visited us yet? We could maybe use that somehow.” Allison tapped her fingers on the desk, mind obviously whirring through possibilities.
Jack blinked at her. “Did you just say ‘relationship auditor’?”
“Mmhmm, the DoD uses them to check on relationships between high ranking officials on their more sensitive projects,” She told him, absent-mindedly. “They want to make sure that those relationships aren’t going to put the projects at risk. I had to go through it with Nathan. Twice. I’ll get Fargo to check the DoD files on us.”
Before Jack could ask any more about this plan ‘Don’t Cha’ suddenly started playing from his pocket and Allison quirked an eyebrow in surprise as Jack struggled to pull his phone free.
“SARAH’s a little upset with me,” He explained as Allison’s own cell began to ring, with a far more appropriate ringtone.
“Carter!” Jo said almost before Jack managed to get out his greeting. “You need to get up to Global. Now!”
“On my way,” Jack replied and hung up, already reaching for his coat. If Jo sounded panicked then it had to be bad.
Allison finished up her phone call looking stern.
“I’ll give you a ride,” She told Jack before striding out of the door.
By the time they made it to GD and Stark’s office, Fargo, Henry, Grant, Grace, Jo and Zane were already there, staring at the large screen which took up an entire wall. The image on the screen was of a destroyed lab, in fact, a lab that had been practically burnt to the ground.
“What’s that?” Jack asked, stepping closer to the screen.
“That would be the new museum sponsored lab in Section 9,” Jo said, flatly.
“The...” Jack shot a look at Nathan who nodded at him grimly; the lab that Nathan had just moved the bridge device into.
Jack scrubbed a hand over his face but refrained from cursing due to the fact that Grace and Zane were in the room with them and he was pretty sure they wouldn’t understand the sheriff’s sudden interest in historical scientific devices.
“Obviously Global is going to back the Museum’s demand that the culprit for this be brought to justice,” Stark said letting Jack know that the destruction was intentional without him having to ask, “The Bridge Device was an invaluable piece of our town’s history and an important resource in our understanding of scientific development.”
And that let Jack know that the Bridge Device had been destroyed; Nathan was worryingly good at this.
“Not to mention that whoever did this tried to kill Henry and Dr Grant.” Grace frowned at Nathan and put her arm around Henry who tensed almost imperceptively.
“No, I don’t think that they did,” Zane interjected, “If they wanted to kill anyone then they could easily have set up the timer to be undetectable, I think that they deliberately made it so the timer would affect my experiment.”
“Okay, let’s start from the beginning,” Jack told them and perched on the edge of Nathan’s desk facing everyone.
It turned out that a small amount of explosive had been placed directly underneath the device with a timer attached. That timer let out a signal that messed with whatever experiment Zane was running in the lab below (something to do with singing toasters from what Jack understood, although he was pretty sure that was wrong) and sent Zane out on a treasure hunt to track down where the signal was coming from. Once he’d zeroed in on Henry and Grant’s lab, they’d all discovered the explosive and had just enough time to get out and lock down the lab before it went off.
Jack’s heart sank further with every recounting of the tale. There was no way that this was a coincidence; either one of the group had deliberately stranded them or someone else knew about them. Everyone traipsed out of the office after they’d all told their version of the incident, science stopped for no man after all, finally leaving just Jack and Nathan.
Jack sighed deeply and walked across the room to stare out of the window, down at the busy Global foyer.
“For what it’s worth, I am sorry, Jack,” Nathan told him.
Jack nodded and then, in a practised move, pushed the sad thoughts of his old life to the back of his mind in order to concentrate on the problem in front of him.
“Do you think it was Grant?” He turned and asked Nathan, “We both know he’s untrustworthy.”
“Honestly? No, I don’t,” Nathan answered. “He may want to stay here but destroying his life’s work in order to do it? There are much easier ways; he could’ve just adjusted something when Henry wasn’t looking and got the same result.”
Jack nodded in agreement. “Well, we know it wasn’t Henry or Jo...”
Henry’s reaction to Grace’s touch had told Jack that he was still very uncomfortable in this new timeline and Jo had looked devastated at the realisation that the last chance of them getting home was gone.
“I hate to say it but...” Nathan paused and that in itself made Jack frown; Nathan Stark was never tentative about anything. “...Allison seemed a bit hostile towards the idea of you all leaving.”
Jack shook his head, “You’re right about her wanting to stay but she’d never put other people at risk to do it and she definitely wouldn’t set it up to happen when she wasn’t around to make sure people didn’t get hurt accidentally.”
Nathan looked relieved at that and explained, “It’s hard to tell how close to my Allison she is. She’s been avoiding me.”
“You can’t really blame her. She already buried and mourned for you once and suddenly you’re back, telling her that there’s no hope for the two of you. It’s hard for her.” Jack shrugged. “She’ll get past it though, if only for Jenna’s sake...I’m still not clear on how that happened, by the way.”
“Want me to draw you a diagram?” Nathan smirked.
Jack coughed and flushed to the roots of his hair. “That’s not what I meant!”
Nathan looked far too amused so Jack dragged the conversation back on track.
“The Device was only transferred into that lab yesterday. How did they get the information that fast if it wasn’t anyone in our group?” Jack wondered aloud.
“Grant!” Nathan suddenly said.
Jack looked at him in confusion. “I thought we’d agreed that it wasn’t him.”
“Not him personally,” Nathan told him, “But the fictitious past we concocted was uploaded last night. What if someone was looking for it? Waiting for it?"
Jack thought about that, the timing was a bit coincidental but... “Why would someone be looking out for it? They’d have to have had advance knowledge that Grant travelled into the future and, quite frankly, who would believe something like that?”
“Someone with access to his files,” Nathan replied. “You have to understand, Jack, Grant’s disappearance was a big deal back then. Everything surrounding the event was well documented; Allison’s unorthodox treatment of an injured man, Jo’s fighting skills, your uniform, and the unusual manner of speech you all used. All of it was recorded.”
“And someone reading those files now would recognise them as being from present day.” Jack caught on with what Nathan was saying. “How many people would have access to those files? The full ones with all that information?”
Nathan winced. “Pretty much all the government agencies. They’d need a certain level of clearance but, even then, that’s a lot of people.”
“Great,” Jack sighed, “Okay, whoever it is obviously wants to keep Grant here for some reason so we should still keep an eye on him. They’ll probably approach him at some point.”
Nathan nodded. “I’ll get Fargo to see if he can track any activity on the information we put up last night.” He started tapping away on his keyboard.
Jack stayed quiet and stared at the other man thoughtfully until Nathan lifted his head and gave him a questioning look. “I can’t remember ever spending this long with you without it descending into sniping and insults. In fact I don’t think you’ve made a disparaging comment about my intelligence in a couple of days.”
It had been kind of nice and confirmed something that Jack had thought ever since that night he and Stark had fought their way through GD; that if they hadn’t been so preoccupied with fighting over Allison’s affections, they could’ve been pretty good friends. It was something else that he’d felt guilty about since Stark’s death; not making that effort.
Nathan leaned back in his chair and returned Jack’s look. “I decided to give you a break, what with all the displacement trauma you’re bound to be feeling. I had planned to get back to mocking you today but then I thought that it might be too ‘Starkish’.”
Jack barked out a surprised laugh and Nathan joined in, eyes twinkling.
“Remind me never to get that drunk again,” Jack said, scrubbing a hand over his face.
Nathan snorted. “Strange how everyone always says that when suffering from a hangover.”
“This isn’t a hangover,” Jack informed him, “This is a marching band in my head. Can’t you genius types come up with a pill or something that works for longer than Vincent’s smoothies?”
“I’ll add that to the list of upcoming projects. Right between building a better national defence network and working to end world famine,” Nathan answered drily, “But for now, I should update Fargo and Lupo on our suspicions about the explosion and then I have to do an inspection of the Level 3 labs.”
Nathan looked apologetic but Jack knew a dismissal when he heard one. He nodded slowly and pushed himself to his feet. “I’ll go and speak to the forensics guys, see if they salvaged anything from Henry’s lab.”
Deputy Andy was already on Level 9 when Jack got there and he and the forensics team both confirmed that there was nothing out of the ordinary left in the debris of the lab. After that Jack checked in with Henry to make sure he was okay then spent the rest of the day fielding the usual calls from over-paranoid scientists who thought someone was trying to steal their research and housewives complaining about robotic dogs ripping up their prized flower beds. It was almost comforting to know that some things hadn’t changed.
Throughout the day, though, Jack’s mind kept drifting to the easy camaraderie he seemed to have found with this new Stark. It was definitely a different experience to think about Nathan Stark with a smile and Jack decided that it was time to lay some of those old guilts to rest and grab this second chance of having a friendship with the man.
With that in mind at 7pm, instead of heading home and crawling into bed like his still aching head demanded, Jack found himself back at Global standing in the doorway to Nathan’s office.
He took in the sight of the other man entirely engrossed in his work; his jacket flung over a nearby chair and his tie loosened with a mostly untouched sandwich abandoned on the desk next to, what was surely, a cold mug of coffee and felt something unexplained clench in his stomach. Perhaps it was a touch of empathy for how lonely Nathan looked, something Jack himself had been feeling since Zoe had left.
“Have you eaten at all today?” Jack asked and smirked as Nathan jumped out of his skin.
“What the hell are you doing, sneaking around?” Nathan demanded, “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough.” Jack shrugged. “Answer the question.”
Nathan huffed and waved his hand towards his desk. “I had a sandwich...” He trailed off as he spotted the sandwich in question, which had exactly one bite taken out of it.
“That’s what I thought.” Jack shook his head, ruefully. “Come on, scientist. Let’s get some food.”
“Jack, I’m the head of GD, I can’t just leave. I have to finish this paperwork and answer emails, return phone calls that I couldn’t earlier...”
“Don’t you have an assistant to do this stuff?” Jack interrupted.
Nathan snorted. “Like I trust Larry to not mess anything up. I haven’t had a decent assistant since Fargo was promoted.”
Jack chuckled, imagining the excited expression Fargo would get if he heard that. “Well, you’re going to have to trust him to do some stuff because I’m not leaving until you agree to get a decent meal inside you.”
With that Jack took a seat opposite Nathan, plonked his feet up on the desk and started whistling tunelessly as he pretended to casually take in the office.
“I think I preferred you when you were drunk,” Nathan muttered darkly but he started shutting down his computer so Jack took it as a win.
“Stop acting like a sulky teenager,” Jack told him as they left the GD building, “It won’t work with me. I raised Zoe, don’t forget.”
“I’m not sulking,” Nathan said, in a decidedly sulky voice, “I just don’t see where you get the nerve to...”
“Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me...?”
Jack winced and pulled his phone from his pocket.
“Stupid smart house.” He groused and then groaned when he saw that the incoming call was actually from the house in question.
“Will you be returning for dinner tonight, Sheriff Carter? Or should I expect another evening of being ignored in favour of ill-advised debauchery?” The fact that SARAH’s voice was so upbeat just underlined how far in the doghouse he was.
“I’ve explained how sorry I am for last night, SARAH. It wasn’t my intention to upset you.” Jack laid the sorrowful tone on thick and ignored the twitching of Nathan’s lips at the fact that Jack was apologising to his house.
“Why would you think I’m upset, Sheriff? It’s not in my programming to express such emotion,” SARAH replied primly, “I merely wished to ascertain if I should start preparing food or if you would be continuing your drunken binge.”
Jack closed his eyes and prayed for strength. “SARAH I’m afraid that, as much as I would prefer to come home for your cooking, I’m eating with Dr Stark tonight…to thank him for helping you stop me and Jo drinking last night.”
Nathan started to laugh but quickly turned it into a cough when Jack glared at him.
There was a moment of silence from the smart house as she processed that. “Dr Stark didn’t stop you. In fact, he joined in.”
Jack thought quickly, it was one thing to have his house pissed at him but they didn’t need another incident where she rounded up members of the town and locked them in the bunker. “He didn’t really join us, he tricked us. After all, we did stop drinking and went to bed after that.”
By this point Nathan was outright laughing and no amount of glaring was going to stop him.
“You did stop drinking then,” SARAH agreed, sounding a little confused. “You are right, Sheriff, Dr Stark deserves to be thanked for his assistance.”
She suddenly rang off and Jack stared at his phone in surprise and a little trepidation. Then Nathan’s phone began to ring.
Nathan stopped laughing when he read the caller’s name. “SARAH, what can I do for you?”
Jack shook his head in disbelief.
“There’s no need to thank...yes, that is my favourite. How did you know...uh huh, impressive...that’s fine, you don’t need to...really, you shouldn’t...” Nathan sighed. “I’d love to come to dinner tonight, SARAH. Thank you.”
“I guess we’re eating at my house?” Jack asked and Nathan nodded. “Fine with me. You can try and sweet talk her into changing my damn ringtone back.”
It turned out to be the most enjoyable meal that Jack had had in a long time; eating some sort of delicious Indian curry that SARAH had discover Nathan liked. All the while trading ‘crazy experiment they’d had to deal with in their own timeline’ stories, both men falling into the habit of referring to their counterparts by their surname to make things easier - unless they wanted to tease the other, of course.
“Wait, wait, wait. So, I was some dastardly villain and Fargo fought me off?” Stark asked a little incredulously.
“Fargo dressed up as Zorro fought you off.” Jack felt it was important to make the distinction. “He had to protect poor defenceless Jo from your evil horn dog ways, after all.”
Nathan laughed. “And you’re telling me that this wasn’t Fargo’s dream?”
Jack took a sip of his root beer (SARAH zapped him every time he tried to get an actual real beer) and nodded in confirmation. “Turned out that it was Jo’s and, believe me, I had months of fun with that one.”
“Well, I’m glad that didn’t happen here. I definitely don’t think I’d enjoy having my dreams broadcast to the entire town.” Nathan mused.
“Let me guess,” Jack snorted, “They’re about world domination?”
Nathan smirked at him. “Not all of them.”
He tilted his head back to finish off his real beer and Jack just blinked at him for a few moments. That had almost sounded like flirting. He scoffed at himself and shook the thought off, however, as Nathan stood.
“As fun as this has been, I do have an early start tomorrow,” Nathan told him and Jack was slightly taken aback at the lack of sarcasm in Nathan’s voice. “Thank you for the company and thank you, SARAH, for a lovely meal.”
“You are most welcome, Dr Stark.” SARAH’s voice echoed throughout the house.
“Suck up,” Jack muttered as he walked Nathan to the door, causing the other man to chuckle.
“Always keep an AI on your good side, Jack,” He replied quietly, “But I did mean it, it was nice not to have to eat alone.”
Jack looked at the genuine smile on Nathan’s face and felt that same something clench in his stomach as earlier.
“Anytime,” He replied and was pleased to find that he meant it.
Over the next week, Jack found himself settling into this new Eureka. He’d been a little worried about Jo after her house became a crater on top of everything else but, once he’d offered her his guest bedroom and she knew she didn’t have to worry about where to sleep, she threw herself into her new house designs with a gusto and Jack saw some of that old Jo spark returning.
He and Allison had gratefully discovered that the other Allison and Carter had a strict ‘no sleepovers’ policy as far as the kids knew, although Jack had no illusions that the other him had found some way around that policy. It meant that Jack could spend some pleasant evenings hanging out at the Blake household; playing Xbox with Kevin and telling wildly exaggerated stories to Jenna while Allison good naturedly rolled her eyes, and then be able to escape without any pretending-to-stay-the-night awkwardness.
It was still a little strange pretending to be a couple in public though. There had been a number of times where Allison had to take Jack’s arm and place it around her waist herself and there was the memorable time when Jack kissed her cheek which caused Allison to start in surprise and tip her drink down the front of her dress. It was definitely a working progress, much to the other Time Travelling Troupers amusement.
At least they knew that they only had to keep it up for a short while. It turned out that the so-called Relationship Auditor hadn’t been to visit other Allison and Carter yet so Fargo had sent a few discrete emails to the right people. It shouldn’t be long until the Auditor showed up and all Jack and Allison had to do was pretend to be a really bad couple, which wouldn’t take much pretending at all.
They still had to figure out what to tell the kids though.
Jack sighed and shifted on the sofa, trying and failing to get into the baseball game that SARAH had recorded for him. The teams were all wrong, the stats that he’d been memorising all his life had been thrown out of the window and the idea of learning the new ones seemed like too much hard work on his Saturday off. Finally he just switched the game off and decided to grab something to eat at Café Diem; at least there he’d find someone to talk to.
He smiled as he approached the Café and spotted Nathan at one of the outside tables; he knew he’d find someone. As he drew closer he realised that Nathan wasn’t actually alone, instead he had Jenna with him in her pushchair and was smiling indulgently as she chattered away at him in her usual indecipherable baby babble.
“You know, I can’t decide if the constant talking comes from you or Allison?” Jack grinned as he arrived at their table.
“Ja’!” Yelled Jenna, waving something brightly coloured at him.
“Hey, little one,” Jack chuckled and automatically bent down to brush a kiss across her forehead.
He was still smiling when he turned to Nathan but it froze as he took in the unamused expression on the other man’s face. He raised a questioning eyebrow and watched as Nathan blinked a few times and then visibly shook himself out of whatever mood had overtaken him.
“Sorry, I’m just used to…” Nathan shook his head again. “Never mind. Do you want to join us?”
“Nah, I don’t want to disturb your time with Jenna,” Jack said, he could easily find someone else to talk to inside, “Just wanted to say hi.”
He turned to head into the café when Nathan grabbed his wrist.
“I’d like you eat with us, really. I believe that Jenna does too,” He added wryly, looking at his daughter who was still waving that thing around and trying to get Jack’s attention.
Jack hesitated but Nathan seemed completely genuine in his offer and there was no trace of the ill temper of moments ago in his smile. Jack nodded and took the other seat at the table, immediately finding himself being handed Jenna’s new toy.
“Very pretty,” He commented, turning the weird object around in his hand. “What is it?”
Jenna launched into more babbling as if in explanation, much to Jack and Nathan’s amusement.
“You’re right, Jenna. It is silly that Jack doesn’t recognise a model of a water molecule when he sees one.” Nathan nodded at his daughter, in mock seriousness.
“Well, of course I recognised it; I just wanted to see if you recognised it,” Jack told toddler who immediately started chattering again while the two men chuckled. “Yeah, I’m going to say that she takes after you, what with all that mocking.”
“She does like to mock people,” Nathan agreed with a twinkle in his eye.
“Zoe liked to drive her little pink trike over my feet. All the time and then she’d clap her hands as if it was the most fun she could have.” Jack smiled fondly as he remembered. “I should have known then that she would grow up to be a handful.”
Vincent arrived to take their order, giving the men a confused look as he did so.
“Hmm, maybe we should have kept up the pretence of not liking each other when we’re in public,” Nathan commented once Vincent had moved away, nodding to the stares they were both getting from the customers inside.
Jack shrugged. “They have to get used to our friendship at some point. Although I could punch you if you really wanted me to.”
Nathan rolled his eyes at Jack’s smirk. “Friendship, huh? That’s something I never thought I’d hear from Jack Carter.”
Jack opened his mouth to give a flippant reply but stopped and instead said, “You really hated each other that much? I mean, me and Stark weren’t exactly buddies but…it kind of seems worse here.”
There was a thoughtful pause before Nathan answered. “It didn’t used to be so bad; in fact it was probably pretty close to the way you interacted with Stark. There was a lot of one-upmanship with Carter acting all smug when he came up with solutions before me and me pretending that I wanted Allison back just so I could annoy him.”
“That does sound familiar.” Jack smiled. “Except for the pretending part.”
“Then Allison got pregnant. We’d had a couple of drinks after a meeting one night, did some reminiscing and one thing led to another. Just one night, no strings attached, never to be talked of again.” Nathan made an ironic face and stroked a hand over Jenna’s head.
“Unfortunately she and Jack had already got together when she found out and he didn’t take it well, to say the least.”
Jack gave a low whistle and tried to imagine himself in that situation, falling in love to discover the woman was pregnant by her ex-husband who’d she’d been separated from for years. “Let me guess, he got all jealous and possessive.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Nathan said, ruefully, “He started to go out of his way to parade his and Allison’s relationship in front of me. You know, all thinly veiled comments about their apparently very active sex life.”
Jack snorted. That did sound like him to be fair; when Abby remarried he had become unbelievably childish around her new husband to the point where Abby had to ban him from mentioning anything to do a certain romantic weekend she and Jack had spent in Mexico...or the words ‘skinny dipping’.
Nathan gave him a knowing look and continued, “Then when Jenna was born, the behaviour extended to her. He just couldn’t resist rubbing it in that he got to spend more time with her and whenever I got to have her to myself for the day he would conveniently pop up somewhere along the way.”
This explained Nathan’s behaviour when Jack had arrived at the cafe. He immediately felt the urge to excuse himself and leave Nathan to spend some well deserved alone time with his daughter but Nathan reached for his wrist again, pre-empting Jack’s movement.
“Its okay, Jack. It was a bit like déjà vu at first but I know you’re not doing that,” Nathan told him.
Jack studied Nathan’s face and nodded when he was convinced that Nathan was speaking the truth; they’d been getting on so well that he’d hate to ruin things at this point. He settled back into his chair again and motioned for Nathan to continue.
“Anyway, it all came to a head at Allison’s birthday party and we ended up having a knock down drag out fight in the middle of the cafe. This is why Vincent is probably busy removing all his breakables as we speak.”
Jack burst out laughing. “You had a fight? Who won?”
Nathan chuckled. “I’ve no idea; Jo and Henry broke it up before a winner was declared. I don’t know what Vincent was more upset about, the broken crockery or having no idea who won the bets.”
“Wow!” Jack shook his head. “That explains so much.”
And it did; Nathan’s temper on that first day they’d arrived, he’d probably thought Jack was claiming to be sleepy just to imply that he’d been a bit busy at Allison’s the night before. The way that he’d so quickly picked up that something was wrong with Jack and Allison must’ve been because Jack hadn’t been touching her or making some big deal about how coupley they were. Even the fact that Larry always looked a little scared whenever Jack showed up at Nathan’s office wasn’t just the normal Larry weirdness; it was because he was afraid he’d have to deal with an angry Nathan after Jack had left.
“I suppose it does,” Nathan agreed then broke off as Vincent warily came outside with their meals.
“Oh, stop acting so nervous.” Jack rolled his eyes. “We’re not going to start brawling; we’ve decided to bury the hatchet. Right, Nathan?”
“Hmm…” Vincent looked dubiously at the pair of them. “The question is where you're burying it because I don’t want to clean any more blood off my floors.”
With that the man stalked back inside where he could be clearly seen relaying the conversation to everyone at the counter.
“If nothing else, we provide gossip for everyone,” Nathan noted.
“It’s what keeps small towns going,” Jack replied with a grin and then tucked into his sandwich.
Again, Jack was pleased to find that Nathan was very good company. Perhaps even more so with Jenna there as the man seemed softer, more unguarded in his daughter’s presence. Lunch passed quickly with lots of laughter as each of them pretended that Jenna’s baby talk was an insult against the other and, by the time Vincent had cleared the plates and refilled their drinks, Jack had an ache in his side and applesauce in his hair.
He wiped the rest of the sauce off his face with a napkin and mock-glared at the chortling Nathan then turned a considering eye on the toddler hugged to his chest, still brandishing her spoon. “You know, with an aim like that she’d make a decent pitcher.”
Nathan pulled Jenna closer to his body, protectively. “You will not turn my daughter into a baseball player. She’s going to win the Nobel, just like her dad.”
“Ball!” Yelled Jenna, picking up on a word she recognised.
“No.” Nathan shook his head at her. “Nobel.”
“Bell!” She yelled instead with a huge smile.
Jack chuckled. “I think she’s voted to do both.”
As Nathan smiled back at him, Jack caught sight of Kevin on the other side of the road. He was sitting astride his stationary bike and was staring at the three of them, so Jack lifted his hand and waved him over. Instead of crossing the road, Kevin instead turned the bike around and rode off without a word.
“What was that about?” Jack asked.
Nathan frowned in the direction Kevin had gone. “I’ve no idea.”
“I heard you two were here,” Jo’s voice interrupted as she pulled a chair from a nearby table and joined them uninvited. “You know that the entire town are talking about the fact Jack Carter and Nathan Stark are having lunch together, right?”
“Lupo, is everything okay at Global?” Nathan asked her and, just like that, he was the Head of GD again and Jack felt a pang of disappointment at that.
“Everything’s running smoothly, sir. I’m just taking a lunch break.” She couldn’t hide the sense of pride in her voice. “I wanted to give you an update on the other matter, while you’re both together.”
Jack leaned forward. “Have you picked anything up on the cameras in Grant’s office?”
“No.” She shook her head. “But Fargo’s found something. It looks as though another computer hacked into the GD mainframe just before the explosion.”
“That’s impossible,” Nathan said, wide eyed. “We have the most powerful security settings in the world. Nothing can hack us.”
Jo nodded. “That’s what Fargo said but something did. He’s trying to track the signal he discovered but they’ve covered themselves well. He said it may take some time.”
Nathan tapped his fingers on the table thoughtfully. “Get Donovan working on it too; if anyone can find a hacker, it’s him.”
“If I do that, it’s going to make him curious about what we’re up to,” Jo pointed out.
“No, this isn’t about anything that we’re up to. As far as Donovan’s concerned, we’re just trying to find out who hacked us. After all, that’s a big enough problem in itself; if someone got hold of our research...” Nathan trailed off, not needing to explain how dangerous some of the GD projects could be in the wrong hands.
Jo looked as though she couldn’t decide whether she was disappointed or relieved by this and Jack gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze as she got back up from the table.
Nathan, on the other hand, definitely looked disappointed as he stroked Jenna’s hair. “I should go in and take a look at the mainframe myself; make sure that we aren’t vulnerable to further attacks.”
Jack hesitated for a moment and then suggested, “I could watch her for you, until you’re finished, and then you can carry on with whatever you had planned for today.”
“The programmes I’ll need to run will take the rest of the day, I’m afraid. I’ll drop her off at Allison’s on my way.” Nathan gave Jenna a sad smile. “We can go to the lake next week, sweetheart. Okay?”
Jack frowned as he watched a near perfect re-enactment of himself during Zoe’s childhood; he couldn’t even begin to count the amount of times he got called into work instead of spending time with his daughter and he knew just how bad Nathan was feeling right then.
It preyed on his mind for the rest of the day. The more he thought about it, the more he realised that Allison probably wasn’t even aware that she wasn’t giving Nathan enough time with Jenna, she was more than likely going along with the schedule that the other Allison had set up thinking that was okay. Which was why he found himself at Allison’s house that evening, and he was proved right when he saw the stricken look on Allison’s face as he explained it to her.
“I didn’t even think to change it,” She told Jack, “I mean, this Nathan is even more of a workaholic than my Nathan was so I thought he was fine with seeing her once a week...but I should’ve known better than that.”
She got that sad look in her eyes, the one she always got when she was thinking about Stark and how much he would’ve loved Jenna.
“You know now,” Jack pointed out, “So you can change things.”
“I guess I can.” She smiled and went to say something else but was interrupted by the sound of Jenna crying from upstairs.
At the same time, Kevin walked in the front door and stopped dead when he saw Jack before giving him a glare and stomping off to his room.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him today.” Allison shook her head. “He’s been in that mood all afternoon.”
“Teenagers.” Jack smirked. “You go and check on Jenna and I’ll talk to Kevin, maybe I can figure out what’s bugging him.”
“Divide and conquer.” Allison laughed.
Jack knocked on Kevin’s door and pushed it open slightly to reveal the boy slouched across his bed with his arms crossed.
“I don’t want to talk to you.” Kevin spoke without looking away from the staring match he was having with the ceiling.
“Well, it’s either me or your mom, buddy,” Jack replied, “It’s your choice.”
“Fine!” Kevin huffed and pulled himself into a seated position so that he could scowl at Jack better. “Stop what you’re doing to Nathan.”
“Huh?” Jack blinked and moved further into the room.
“Don’t play stupid, Jack,” Kevin snapped.
Jack sat on the computer chair and tilted his head in confusion. “I’m not; I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I saw you at lunch today, all laughing and joking, and I know it’s some sort of trick. I won’t let you do it!” Kevin pointed his finger as he spoke and Jack just stared at him in shock. “You may be mom’s new boyfriend but he was my stepdad.”
“Wait, you think I’m playing a trick on Nathan?” Jack asked, trying desperately to follow the conversation.
“Of course you are. You hate him because he’s Jenna’s dad not you!” Kevin was yelling at this point.
“Kevin, stop it!” Allison had been summoned by the shouting and was standing in the doorway, holding Jenna to her shoulder.
“I’m not playing a trick, Kevin. Me and Nathan talked and we decided that it was stupid to keep fighting.” It was near enough to the truth for Jack not to feel guilty.
Kevin gave a snort of disbelief, however, and started pacing around the room, his temper refusing to abate. “Just because things aren’t working out with you and mom, you think you can take it out on him…”
Jack and Allison exchanged a look at that which Kevin caught.
“I’m not stupid!” He threw at Allison, “You’ve both been acting really weird and I know that Jack’s stopped doing that whole pretending to leave and then sneaking back in when we’ve gone to bed thing.”
Jack just about managed to suppress the urge to roll his eyes. That’s what Carter had been doing? Amateur!
Kevin spun back to Jack. “And now you’re pretending to be Nathan’s friend so you can humiliate him as some sort of revenge!”
“Okay, you’re right. You’re mother and me have been having some problems in our relationship.” Jack glanced at Allison who nodded for him to continue. “And I think she’ll agree with me that we’re better off being friends.”
“We’ve been trying to deal with it without dragging you and Jenna into things,” Allison interjected.
“Right.” Jack pointed at her.
Kevin was glaring at them and Jack was getting flashbacks to when he and Abby told Zoe they were getting divorced; what with the overdramatic teenage tantrum and everything.
“But it has nothing to do with Nathan, so I don’t need to get revenge on him,” Jack assured him.
Kevin snorted in disbelief, then dropped back onto the bed and rolled over so that his back was to them. Allison nodded her head towards the hallway and Jack followed her out.
“That could’ve gone better,” He said as soon as the door to Kevin’s bedroom was closed.
Allison sighed, bouncing Jenna in her arms. “I’ll let him calm down a bit and then talk to him alone.”
“Okay,” Jack agreed, “Call me if you need anything.”
Back home and finding himself sprawled across the sofa in the same position he’d been in just that morning, Jack stared broodily at ‘Celebrity Dancing with Top Models’ or whatever reality show Jo had put on.
“He’ll come around.” Jo patted his leg from her seat on the floor. “It’ll go better when you tell Zoe.”
Jack flung his arm over his eyes and groaned; he’d forgotten that he had to tell his own child as well.
“Sheriff, Zoe is on the phone,” SARAH said and Jack removed his arm to stare at Jo accusingly.
“That’s your fault! You summoned her!”
Jo rolled her eyes. “Yes, I told her to call you with my awesome psychic powers. Just talk to her.”
Jack reached blindly for the phone and even before he’d finished saying hello, Zoe’s yelling made itself known. “You and Allison broke up? When were you going to tell me?”
Jack shot Jo another look and she raised her hands, clearly she could hear what Zoe was saying. “Still, not psychic, Carter.”
“I…how did you..?” Jack tried.
“Kevin emailed me!” Zoe told him, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We weren’t planning on telling anyone yet.” Jack rubbed his face. “Things just got a bit out of hand.”
“So you are splitting up. What did you do?” Zoe demanded to know.
Jack sat up protesting, “I didn’t do anything. We just…we’re friends, Zoe, and, as much as we wish otherwise, we can’t be anything more than that.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone and Jo gave Jack a thumbs up to say that he was doing well; lying about the break up of his fictitious relationship.
“She made you happy.” Zoe said in a quiet voice.
Jack smiled, even though Zoe couldn’t see it. “She still does, just…”
“As a friend,” Zoe intoned with a sigh. “Well, what about this evil plot you’ve cooked up for Nathan Stark?”
“There is no plot!” Jack cried; this was seriously getting ridiculous.
“Really?” Zoe said sceptically, “Because the last time I was home, you punched him in the head.”
“Really. No evil plots, I swear,” Jack told her.
There was more silence then she said, “Okay. I told Kevin you were too oblivious to have come up with that plan anyway.”
Jack frowned. “What plan? What do you mean, oblivious?”
“Kevin thought you were going to prey on Nathan’s feelings for you and then break his heart,” Zoe said matter of factly.
“Huh?” Jack was confused.
Zoe huffed and Jack didn’t have to see her to know that she was rolling her eyes. “Dad, the man’s been in love with you for years.”
“Shut up!” Jack scoffed.
“See, oblivious!” Zoe said, “It’s true, ask Jo.”
“Jo, is Nathan Stark in love with me?” Jack asked and put the phone on speaker, knowing full well what her answer would be. Even if it was true of this Nathan, which it wasn’t, she would be talking about the other Nathan.
To his surprise she looked thoughtful. “You know, I’ve always thought there was some underlying sexual tension between you. You liked snarking at each other a little too much.”
“See!” Zoe crowed from the phone, obviously missing the past tense that Jo had used, while Jack just blinked at Jo.
Long after Zoe had rung off and Jack had gone to bed, he kept thinking about what his daughter had said. It couldn’t be true, could it? Zoe certainly thought so, and so did Kevin and Jo. He started replaying every interaction he’d ever had with Nathan; in both timelines.
This continued into the next day where the thoughts, and the lack of sleep from the night before, distracted him so much that he got drove right past the station and had to double back. He filled out a very lengthy report of an AI assisted car crashing into a tree on the form for Out of Control Flying Objects…twice, and didn’t duck in time to avoid getting gunked by a malfunctioning pie maker at the café. By the time that he tripped over Taggart who was trying out some new camouflage which made the wearer blend into every surface, Jack decided to call it a day and leave any other crises in Deputy Andy’s capable hands.
He went home and took a much needed nap but woke up feeling as if he hadn’t slept at all and was still as confused as he’d been before.
“Where the hell have you been? And why’s your phone switched off?”
Jack’s head jerked up from his contemplation of the dinner SARAH had made for him to see Jo standing just inside the door.
“I was sleeping,” He told her.
“What..? Oh, never mind. We have to go to Global.” She grabbed his jacket, walked across the room and thrust it at him. “Come on.”
“Global?” Jack groaned and started banging his head against the table.
“You can freak out about Nathan later.” Jo took hold of his arm and dragged him off the stool. “We’ve got a meeting to get to.”
It wasn’t until they were already in Jo’s car on their way to GD that it occurred to Jack to ask, “What meeting?”
Jo glanced over at him. “Wow, if it took you this long to ask then you are out of it today. Was it really that much of a shock?”
“What? The fact that I’ve apparently been flirting with Nathan Stark, both of them, since we met?” Jack raised his eyebrow at her wryly. “It’s a bit of a surprise, yes.”
“Ha!” Jo smirked. “So you admit that I was right; you were flirting.”
“In hindsight, we may have been,” Jack admitted slowly, narrowing his eyes at Jo’s extremely unhelpful behaviour.
“I can’t believe that it took you four years to realise it, this is why I would’ve been a much better sheriff than you,” Jo told him.
Jack crossed his arms sulkily. “Have I ever told you what a supportive friend you are, Lupo?”
“Pfft, you’ve got Henry and Allison for support.” Jo snorted. “I’m here to whack you upside the head when you’re being stupid.”
Jack’s hand unconsciously strayed to the back of his head in memory of all the times she had hit him there and Jo snickered.
“So, what are you going to do now?” She asked ignoring the glare Jack was sending in her direction.
“What do you mean?” Jack replied, deliberately evading the question.
Jo glanced back at him incredulously. “How the hell did you get a woman to marry you if you’re this clueless? Oh no, wait, I’ve met Abby. She pursued you, didn’t she?”
Jack looked out of the window to avoid answering that question too and noticed they were in the GD car park already. “Oh look, we’re here!” He exclaimed and then jumped out of the car as soon as it stopped and before Jo could pester him any more.
She gave him a knowing look as she caught up with him at the main doors and then led him to Fargo’s lab where Fargo, Zane, Henry, Allison and, oh look, Nathan were waiting.
“So glad you could join us, Sheriff,” Nathan drawled sarcastically, just as Jack had heard a hundred times before but had he always had that amused spark in his eyes? Jack thought that maybe he had.
“I was sleeping off a bad day. I’m so sorry that it interfered with the plans I didn’t know we had,” Jack snarked back, as he had a hundred times; it was automatic by now.
He watched as Nathan’s lips twitched in response, a gesture so familiar although Jack could’ve sworn that he’d never actually noticed it before.
Zane started laughing. “Yeah, I heard about the literal pie-in-the-face. Nice going, Carter.”
Jo smacked Zane in the back of the head, harder than she tended to hit Jack he was pleased to note and Fargo, who had also started chuckling, quickly shifted out of Jo’s reach. Allison and Henry just smiled their usual ‘Carter and his antics’ smiles, which grated on Jack’s nerves more than usual.
“Someone going to tell me what I’m doing here instead of at home eating chilli?” He asked the room in general.
“Your home is kind of the problem, Jack,” Henry said. “Zane traced the hacker. It was SARAH.”
Jack frowned. “Why would SARAH hack into GD? I thought she already had access.”
“She does, but only low level access for updates to her programming. Just like all the AIs do,” Fargo told him.
“So she wanted something that needed a higher clearance?” Jack asked, “She’s a house; what could she possibly need that badly?”
“Apparently, access to the security cameras.” Zane tapped a few keys on the keyboard and brought up the footage SARAH had been looking at.
It was different angles from quite a few cameras all following along a certain path through GD, from the main foyer straight to the now destroyed lab in Section 9.
“After that, the cameras all show static for the next 10 minutes,” Zane informed him.
“Huh,” Jack said, eloquently.
“Sorry, Jack,” Henry reached out and squeezed his shoulder.
“This doesn’t even make any sense. She’s a…computer programme; she can’t set explosives!” Jack burst out.
So either she was working with an actual person who could set them or…
“Could someone have hacked into her first and then used her get into the GD cameras?” He asked Fargo.
“Normally I’d say no but then I didn’t think she could break her programming to hack Global in the first place. You know she really is evolving far past what I imagined when I built her, she’s actually…” Fargo broke off his little proud speech when he realised everyone else in the room was glaring at him. “I’ll run a diagnostic of her systems; I can do it from here.”
“I don’t think Jack and Jo should go back to the bunker until we’re certain that SARAH hasn’t been compromised,” Nathan said.
“Even if she hasn’t, she’s up to something and we all know that she’s not exactly stable at the best of times,” Allison added, shooting a look at Fargo. She still hadn’t quite forgiven SARAH for locking them all up that time. Her gaze softened as she turned to Jack. “I’d let you stay at my house but Kevin’s still a bit touchy about the fight last night.”
“I’ve got a spare room!” Fargo jumped to his feet, looking at Jo.
“Why thank you, Fargo. That’s mighty kind of you, buddy,” Jack told him, holding in a smirk.
Fargo’s eyes got really wide as he looked at Jack. “Oh! Well…I mean; I like you, Sheriff. Really… but it’s just that Jo’s house already blew up and now this one is blowing people up, or at least is trying to…and…”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Looks like you’re staying at Fargo’s, Jo.”
Henry stepped forward with an apologetic look on his face. “I’d say to stay at mine but things are a bit strained with me and Grace right now…”
Henry had finally told Grace the truth, which had caused some obvious friction, but he had also realised that he was falling in love with his wife the more he got to know her. Strained was one word for it; weird was another but Jack had no doubts that Henry would win her over in the end.
“I knew it. No couple is that perfect… Ow! What?” Zane’s mutterings stopped when Jo hit him again. He glared at Jo then looked at Jack. “I’d offer, Carter, but I really don’t want to.”
Which left…Jack looked at Nathan.
“Looks like you’re staying in my spare room, Sheriff.”
Jack looked around Nathan’s living room curiously. In all the years they’d known each other, he’d never been to Nathan’s house. He’d expected either something sterile and impersonal, like Nathan’s office, or something pretentious with all his awards out on display among photos of Nathan with famous and terribly important people. Instead he got a comfortable, if slightly unlived in, place where the few photos were of friends and family.
He followed Nathan into the kitchen, carrying the pizzas they’d picked up from Vincent; they’d had to get two because Jack maintained that goat’s cheese on a pizza was a travesty.
Nathan was already pulling plates out of the cupboard and he nodded his head at the fridge for Jack to grab a couple of beers, far fancier than the beers at Jack’s apparently traitorous house.
Nathan took his beer from Jack and then paused and looked at him. “I wanted to thank you, Jack. Allison took me to lunch to discuss increasing the amount of time I get to see Jenna and apparently that was all down to you.”
“Ah, so that’s why you’re letting me stay in your spare room,” Jack joked, inordinately pleased that he’d been able to help. “It was no problem, I’ve been there myself and anyone can see that Jenna loves spending time with you as much as you do her.”
Nathan’s sudden smile made Jack’s breath catch in his throat. He’d only seen that particular smile a handful of times before and never directed at him. The other Stark may have been attracted to Jack but, in the end, he’d loved Allison and that smile was always reserved for her. Jack blinked in the face of it and, before he realised what he was doing, he’d stepped forward and kissed the other man.
There was no response, Nathan was still as a statue beneath his lips and Jack began to panic. He’d been wrong, they’d all been wrong. He pulled away and took a deep breath, preparing to make excuses for why he’d suddenly lost his mind, when one of Nathan’s hands suddenly clutched the front of Jack’s t-shirt and dragged him back.
The panic Jack had been feeling immediately dissipated in a roar of blood as Nathan licked and sucked and nipped at Jack’s mouth. Jack just about had the presence of mind to blindly reach out and place the bottle he was holding onto the counter, and hear the answering chink as Nathan did the same, before burying his now free hand in Nathan’s dark curls and using the other to pull Nathan even closer.
He moaned at the feeling of Nathan’s hard body against his own and Nathan took the opportunity to explore his mouth with a thoroughness which caused Jack to melt against him. He didn’t know how much time had passed before the need to breathe broke them apart and they both stood there panting, unwilling to look away from each other.
“Jack,” Nathan ran his hand gently down the side of Jack’s face, “Don’t toy with me, I’ve waited too long for this to be a fling that you’ll regret in the morning.”
Jack huffed in exasperation. “Why does everyone think I’m playing some kind of game with you?”
“I don’t.” Nathan gave a quick smile. “I just don’t want you to rush into something you don’t really want. You’ve lost your entire world and that’s bound to mess with anyone’s mind.”
“I haven’t lost it, it just changed a bit,” Jack said seriously and then smirked, “And what I’ve gained is really beginning to make up for that, if it will stop talking and pick up where it left off.”
As Jack slowly backed Nathan up to the edge the counter, Nathan frowned and said, “Did you really just call me ‘it’? Twice?”
Jack laughed and then bent to kiss underneath Nathan’s jaw. “I’ve wanted this,” he kissed beneath the ear “as long as you have,” he lightly nipped the earlobe “I just didn’t realise it until today.”
With that Jack closed his mouth over the rapid pulse on Nathan’s neck and sucked hard. Nathan threw his head back and let out a guttural noise before he grabbed Jack’s head with both hands and pulled his face up until they were close enough to share the same breath.
“It’s about fucking time, Jack Carter!” He ground out and crushed his lips to Jack’s.
How they made it up the stairs to Nathan’s bedroom Jack had no idea, just snapshot images of tripping over things because they refused to let go of each other for even a second. But he felt the back of his legs hit something, fell back onto soft blankets and realised that made it to the bedroom they had. He propped himself up on his elbows, legs still dangling off the end of the bed, and watched with heated eyes as Nathan removed his tie and started to unbutton his shirt.
Nathan looked back and raised an eyebrow at him. “Taking a break there, Sheriff?”
“Just remembering the first day we met,” Jack told him, “Except you were putting your shirt back on then. I prefer it this way.”
Nathan pulled the shirt off, quickly followed by his vest, and then leaned over Jack, placing his hands on the bed. “I remember that; it was possibly the slowest it’s ever taken me to button up a shirt. I wanted to see what reaction I’d get.”
Jack laughed at the recollection, glad that it had been the same one here. The laugh turned into a gasp as Nathan licked ever so slowly up the side of Jack’s neck.
“I wanted you so badly that day. I’ve wanted you from the moment I saw you,” He breathed into Jack’s ear and his voice had taken on a husky tone that caused Jack’s hips to buck slightly. “Just like this. Hot and wanting and all mine. God, the things I want to do to you, Jack.”
Those words spoken in that voice; Jack couldn’t help the groan that left him. His eyes fluttered closed and his head fell back allowing Nathan to nuzzle along his jaw, his beard scratching Jack’s skin. A weight settled on him as Nathan straddled his lap and his hands moved to push up at Jack’s t-shirt. So Jack sat up as well, pulled the offending garment off and wrapped his arms tightly around Nathan.
“Last chance, Jack,” Nathan told him, “If we do this, I’m not letting you go.”
The heat that rushed through Jack at those words was different but no less potent. Instead of pooling in his groin, this one spread outwards from his chest. The possessiveness of that statement, the echoing gleam in Nathan’s eyes, the fact that Nathan Stark wanted him so strongly made it difficult to breathe for a moment.
Swallowing hard, Jack looked Nathan in the eye. “Is that supposed to discourage me?”
He’d meant it to be flippant but badly missed the mark as his sudden desire for just what Nathan promised leaked into Jack’s voice. Because he realised that he did want it; he wanted this amazing, arrogant, snarky, genius of a man to grab hold of him and never let him go.
Nathan grinned at Jack’s answer, a grin full of wicked promises, and rolled his hips forward so that his hardness brushed against Jack’s own. Both men shuddered at the pleasure that evoked and if it felt that good while still half dressed...there were swiftly two pairs of hands pulling at buttons, tugging at zippers and generally getting tangled in each other in their rush to get naked.
At last, the pants and boxers were kicked off and they both groaned at finally feeling each other skin to skin.
“Jesus, Nathan...” Jack hissed, his hands clutching onto whatever part of the other man he could reach while they began to rock against each other.
Nathan had dropped his head to Jack’s shoulder and was making the most delicious noises which stoked the fire in Jack even higher. Their hands were everywhere, sliding against slippery skin until Nathan suddenly rolled away. Jack couldn’t quite hold in a sound of dismay at the loss but Nathan was soon back with a bottle and a condom in hand.
He raised an eyebrow at Jack in question and Jack eyes flared in anticipation.
“Oh hell, yeah,” He muttered and grabbed for a pillow while Nathan chuckled at his eagerness.
Despite his enthusiasm Jack still gasped at the burn of Nathan’s fingers and closed his eyes tightly.
Nathan gently ran his free hand up and down Jack’s side to sooth him. “You’re okay; I’ve got you.”
Jack nodded and gritted his teeth as he forced himself to relax and then his eyes flew open as Nathan quirked his fingers in just the right way.
“Oh fuck! Do that again!” He begged the smug looking man above him and Nathan proceeded to do just that; again and again until Jack was an incoherent, writhing mess.
Then the fingers were removed and, before Jack could even gather the wits to complain, Nathan was pushing into him slowly and that was even better. Jack wrapped his legs around Nathan’s waist, changing the angle so that Nathan hit that correct spot on every stroke and caused white sparks to erupt behind Jack’s eyes.
“Feel so good, Jack...knew it would be this good...” Nathan said into Jack’s skin as he buried his head in the space between Jack’s head and shoulder. “Waited so long...Mine...”
Jack could only moan in agreement as Nathan picked up speed, his rhythm becoming more erratic. Nathan propped himself on one arm and moved his other hand between their bodies. It only took one simple touch and Jack was gone, crying out Nathan’s name as he arched up. He distantly heard Nathan cry out too before they both slumped back onto the bed, exhausted.
Nathan rolled to one side and he and Jack lay staring at the ceiling as they tried to catch their breath.
“We are definitely doing that again,” Jack panted and Nathan laughed.
The next day saw Jack just as distracted as he’d been the day before but for a much better reason. His body ached in new ways that made him grin as he remembered why he was aching and caused Deputy Andy to give him more than one quizzical look. Occasionally he would get a flash of memory, mainly of the way he’d woken up with Nathan wrapped around him and gently snoring in his ear, and found that he’d been staring into space for a few minutes. Then there was the time he suddenly recalled just how he’d woken his scientist up that morning and had to excuse himself to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face and smile smugly at his own reflection in the mirror.
Luckily for Jack and the rest of Eureka it was a rare quiet day and all Jack had to do was work on the backlog of reports while waiting for Fargo to call about the results of his scan on SARAH’s system. A call which eventually came that afternoon, so Jack made up an excuse about visiting Allison, they were after all still together as far as anyone knew, and left Deputy Andy to run things while he headed back to GD. The deputy gave him one of those creepy, too big smiles of his; smiles which had been gradually getting bigger throughout the day and Jack put down to the fact that he was confusing the AI who was trying his best to hide it.
The idea of that made him chuckle on the drive to GD. It was probably childish to enjoy confusing a sophisticated piece of machinery but in this town, Jack took his victories where he could.
He met Jo in the foyer and raised an eyebrow at her cheerful demeanour. “I’d ask if you got lucky last night if it wasn’t for the fact I know you stayed at Fargo’s.”
Jo grinned. “He’s got the new Call of Duty. It’s not even available to buy yet.”
“So you spent most of the night shooting big guns and blowing things up and generally reliving your glory days, GI Jo?” Jack chuckled. “I bet Fargo was terrified.”
“He’ll survive,” Jo said wryly, “I can’t say the same for his avatar though. How was your night?”
Jack didn’t answer, just pressed the elevator button for the correct floor. He could practically feel the moment Jo finished with her perusal of him, relaxed body language yet moving a little carefully, and the pieces slotted into place. She really would’ve made a better sheriff than him; apart from that ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ nature of hers.
“You didn’t?” She asked; her eyes wide.
Jack smirked in response and she tipped her head to the side thoughtfully.
“That explains why he’s been in such a strange mood all day,” Jo said.
“Strange, how?” Jack frowned.
Had something happened between Jack leaving for work and now?
“He’s been...pleasant,” Jo replied. “It’s freaking Larry out. He keeps calling me on the radio to insist that Stark’s been replaced with a clone.”
Jack burst out laughing and the pair were still snickering when he walked into Fargo’s lab, gaining odd looks from Fargo, Zane, Allison and Henry.
“We’re just waiting for Nathan,” Henry told them, “He’s scaring scientists on Level 2.”
Allison smiled at Jack as he jumped up to sit on a counter. “I half expected you to kill each other last night. This new friendship thing must be going well.”
Jo made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh smothered quickly by a cough.
Jack ignored her and returned Allison’s smile. “It’s amazing what pizza and a couple of beers will do to keep the peace.”
“Ah, the building blocks of male bonding,” Henry said and then frowned at Jo who was making more strange noises.
“What have you got for us, Fargo?” Nathan strode into the room and effectively cut off any chance of Henry quizzing Jo.
Jack shot her a look though, whilst everyone’s attention had moved elsewhere, and she gave him an unrepentant smile in return.
“There are no signs that SARAH’s been hacked,” Fargo said, “I’ve checked the results three times and can definitely say that we can rule that option out.”
“But we did find something else,” Zane interjected, “She’s been communicating with someone. See here…”
Zane pulled up a screen of scrolling numbers that everyone but Jack moved forward to look at. It wasn’t as if he would be able to understand it and besides he was too busy reeling from the realisation that SARAH had been behind it all. He’d been convinced that it was someone else controlling her actions; she was his house, she was part of his family. Why would she do this?
“She buried it in the ambience coding!” He heard Henry exclaim.
“Smart. We’d never have noticed if we weren’t specifically looking for anomalies,” Nathan murmured, in that almost impressed tone of voice. “She really has advanced beyond anything we could’ve predicted…”
“Who’s she communicating with?” Jack interrupted suddenly and everyone stopped admiring ones and zeros to look at him.
“Jack…” Nathan began with a sympathetic look on his face but Jack waved his hand to cut him off.
“Who’s she working with? I’d like to know why my house has suddenly turned against me and deliberately destroyed any chance we had of getting home!” Jack snapped.
Hurt flickered over Nathan’s face for a moment before he hid it, his expression turning back into that sardonic one he used to wear when Jack first got back from 1947, and Jack realised how his words had sounded. Suddenly all the anger rushed out of him and he opened his mouth to apologise but Nathan had already turned away.
“You heard the man, Donovan. Who’s SARAH talking to?” All pleasantness was now gone from Nathan’s voice.
“You’re not going to like it.” Zane’s eyes met Jack’s who wearily motioned for him to get on with it;it could hardly get any worse. “It’s Deputy Andy.”
Of course it was. Jack scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed.
“I’ve already started a remote scan of Andy,” Fargo commented with an attempt at a helpful smile.
Nathan nodded. “Let me know when it’s done. I’ll be in my office.”
With that, he left the lab, deliberately not looking in Jack’s direction. An awkward silence descended over the room as no one apparently knew what to say to the man whose house and partner had betrayed him.
“Alright,” Jack said eventually, “Enough with the scans and trying to second guess a couple of computers. Fargo, can you transfer SARAH to the GD systems? Like that time you moved her into my car?”
“Uh…yeah. That’s easy,” Fargo replied, looking a little confused.
Henry, on the other hand, saw exactly where Jack was headed with this. “You’re going to just ask them what they’re doing,” He said with a rueful chuckle.
“Yep.” Jack nodded. “Fargo, you transfer her over and I’ll call Andy to meet us here.”
“Let’s do it in the main conference room.” Jo pulled out her PDA. “It’ll be free in…an hour and it should unsettle them a little.”
Jack gave Jo a small smile; once a cop, always a cop.
“Okay, so we all meet in the conference room in an hour.” Allison nodded firmly. “Jack, do you want to grab a coffee while we wait?”
It was obvious that Allison wanted to check that he was okay after all the revelations of the past half hour but, as much as Jack appreciated the effort, he wanted to find Nathan and explain himself.
“Sorry, I’ve got to do something first,” He told Allison with an apologetic look, “Maybe later?”
Allison nodded and Jack turned to leave the room in search of his pissed off lover.
“So, what exactly did you mean by ‘destroying your chance of getting home’, Sheriff?” Zane piped up and stopped Jack in his tracks.
He’d completely forgotten that Zane was there when he’d had his little tantrum and so had everyone else, judging from the panicked looks that had started to fly around the room. Jack desperately tried to come up with some lie to cover his tracks but Jo placed her hand on his arm.
“Go do what you need to,” She told him, “We’ll handle this and I’ll call Andy and get him over here too.”
Jack smiled at her in relief and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“I love those awesome psychic powers of yours,” He whispered and then dodged her smack as he hurried out of the room.
Judging from the reassured looks that Larry kept darting at the door behind him, Nathan was already back in his office and apparently back to yelling at everyone. Jack ignored Larry’s protests and let himself through the door.
Nathan looked up from his desk, narrowed his eyes at Jack and then waved Larry back outside.
“What can I do for you, Sheriff?” He leaned back in his seat and Jack was instantly taken back to the hundreds of times they’d argued in this office.
“Don’t do that,” Jack told him, “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I was just…it’s SARAH, Nathan. Of all the people it could’ve been. Christ, I know that she’s just a computer programme but I trusted her; she helped me raise Zoe for crying out loud. It threw me; that’s all.”
Nathan sighed and dropped the whole Head-of-GD act. “I get that, Jack, and I’m sorry about SARAH, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’d rather live in a world where I don’t exist anymore.”
“No, I don’t,” Jack insisted and, at Nathan’s disbelieving scoff, he walked across the room and perched on the desk in front of the other man. “Let me explain a few things to you Dr Stark. In that other world, Allison was lost; she was grieving and she was raising two kids by herself, one who was severely autistic and the other who would never get to meet her father. Henry had closed himself off to ever finding love after Kim; I never thought I’d see that light in his eyes again. Fargo was stuck as the accident prone assistant with no hopes of promotion and Jo was forced to be a deputy to a Sheriff less qualified than her. Things are better here.”
Nathan looked like he was relenting for a moment but then lifted his chin stubbornly. “I wasn’t talking about them, I was talking about you.”
Jack looked away from Nathan and out over the GD hustle and bustle. “Okay, I was lonely. Zoe was gone and, even though it was temporary, it was a sign that she’s growing up and really will be leaving soon. Although I think that it started even before then and that’s why I jumped into things with Tess; it was never going to work but it was nice to pretend for a while. Plus, I liked having a scientist to argue with again. I missed y…I missed Stark.”
Nathan stood up and leaned over Jack. “Who’s Tess?”
Jack looked at the possessive spark which had reappeared in Nathan’s eyes and held back a smile. If Nathan was getting jealous then things were looking promising again.
“Allison’s old college roommate,” He answered nonchalantly, “She moved here to be head of Section 5.”
Nathan hit the intercom on the desk. “Larry, contact Dr Fontana at SETI. Tell her that we don’t need her to fly over here after all, we can do everything by video link-up.”
“Umm…okay. But I thought that…” Nathan hit a button and cut off Larry’s confused voice.
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Tess is visiting?”
“Not anymore,” Growled Nathan before pressing another button on the desk which turned the windows opaque and pulling Jack into a kiss.
Jack laughed against Nathan’s lips. “So, you believe me now?”
“I believe that I should keep you away from feisty red headed astrophysicists,” Nathan said dryly and then rolled his eyes, “And I believe the rest, I suppose.”
“You suppose?” Jack repeated.
Nathan shrugged but his eyes had begun to sparkle with amusement. “I could use a little more convincing.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I do have half hour to kill so I guess I could do some of that convincing now.” Jack stood, pushed Nathan back into his chair and then straddled him. “And don’t worry about Tess. I’m yours, remember.”
Nathan’s eyes darkened at that and Jack smirked before leaning down for another smouldering kiss.
Jack arrived at the main conference room with two minutes to spare and fought the urge to check his uniform was all in order when he saw Jo’s knowing expression. He noticed that Grant and Grace had joined the little group and that Zane was still with them.
“You told Zane the truth?” He asked Jo as he slid into the seat next to her and she nodded. Jack took in the way that Zane kept giving Jo little considering looks and raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Everything?”
“He remembered that little ‘joke’ I made the day we arrived here. The one where I said yes to his proposal.” She shifted in her chair, obviously uncomfortable with Zane’s attention.
“It might be a good thing, Jo,” Jack pointed out.
She hummed non-committally and then turned her attention to the door as Deputy Andy walked in, followed by Nathan a few moments later.
“Take a seat, Deputy,” Nathan told the AI before addressing the computer in front of him. “SARAH are you here?”
“Yes, Dr Stark. Although I’m a little confused as to why.” SARAH’s voice came out of the computer speakers.
“Oh, I think you know, SARAH.” Nathan took a seat at the head of the table. “You and the deputy, here, blew up Dr Deacon and Dr Grant’s lab. We’d like to know why you did it.”
“To stop the doctors from fixing the bridge device,” Deputy Andy answered immediately, with that smile in place, “We had no wish to harm Dr Deacon or Dr Grant that’s why we put the transmitter on the timer for Dr Donovan to find. SARAH didn’t detonate the explosive until after she saw the lab had been evacuated.”
“So, you admit it!” Grant exploded, “You admit to destroying my invention!”
Allison put her hand on Grant’s arm to calm him down and he slumped back into his seat.
“It was not our intention to upset you, Dr Grant, but you have already changed the timeline once. We could not allow this to happen again,” SARAH said.
“Why not, SARAH? What would happen?” Jack asked.
“Anything could happen. The slightest change when you got back to 1947 could have enormous repercussions in the future,” SARAH told him.
“The butterfly effect,” Henry murmured and Jack nodded, even he had heard of that one.
Deputy Andy turned to look at Jack. “We calculated that there was a 0.0006% chance you would return to your own timeline but there was a 24% chance that you would inadvertently create a dystopian future instead. There was also a 0.005% chance that you would destroy the universe entirely. We had to put a stop to it.”
“So why not just tell us? Why all the cloak and dagger business?”
Deputy Andy looked confused at Jack’s question but SARAH was fluent in Jack Carter after all these years.
“We weren’t sure that it would actually stop you as some of you were so determined to get back to your own timeline,” She answered and Jo shifted uncomfortably again.
So that was that, Jack thought, mystery solved and it’d had nothing to do with Grant after all. They knew who’d destroyed the device and why, and they couldn’t really punish the AIs because they’d, technically, been in the right. Although they could have gone about it in a better way.
“You both understand that you are going to have to go through stringent re-evaluation and testing?” Nathan told SARAH and Deputy Andy, “And that Dr Fargo will be keeping a much closer eye on your programming from here on out?”
“Yes, Dr Stark,” The AIs said in unison.
Jack hid a smile; it turned out that Nathan could give them a bit of punishment after all.
“SARAH we will also be having a talk about hiding things within your programming,” Fargo said to the computer mic, still preening from the extra responsibility that Nathan had given him.
The meeting broke up not long after that and as it was already getting into the evening, everyone milled about instead of heading back to work.
Allison walked over to Jack. “How about grabbing that coffee now?”
Jack glanced at Nathan who was talking to Fargo and Henry. “Why don’t we all go for a coffee and maybe a bite to eat?”
Grace had wandered closer and smiled at Jack. “That sounds like a good idea. It would be nice to get to know you all a bit better...again.”
“Actually, I promised Fargo a rematch on ‘Call of Duty’ tonight,” Jo said, “He seems to think he can beat me this time.”
Zane had been apparently eavesdropping as he suddenly called across the room, “Hey Fargo, you’ve got the new ‘Call of Duty’? I bet you a $100 that I can kick your ass!”
As Fargo indignantly told Zane that he was on, Zane smirked at Jo. “What about you? Think you can beat me, JoJo?”
Jack blinked at hearing the familiar nickname coming out of this Zane’s mouth and shot a look at Jo to see if she was going to get upset by that but she instead smiled archly at Zane.
“I think I can rip out your spine and shove it down your throat, Donovan.”
Zane’s smirk faltered a little. “You do mean in the game, right?”
“We’ll see,” Jo told him and then led Zane and Fargo out of the room.
“Well, that was interesting,” Allison commented as she watched them go.
Jack nodded. “Almost like old times.”
“Jo and Zane? Really?” Grace looked shocked and then thoughtful. “Actually, now that I think about it, that kind of makes a weird sort of sense.”
They rounded up the rest of the group and went to Cafe Diem where everyone watched Grant flirting with Allison with varying degrees of amusement.
“I’m still her boyfriend, you know,” Jack muttered. “Technically, anyway.”
“And you’ve got a reputation to maintain.” Nathan nodded, sympathetically.
Henry held up his hands placatingly. “Sorry, Jack, it was too good not to pass along.”
“To everybody?” Jack glared at him and Grace hid her face behind a napkin as she laughed.
“Maybe you should’ve spent more time telling her that she has ‘great pins’,” Nathan suggested which sent Grace off again.
“I can hear you, you know,” Allison commented drily, “And I do have great pins.”
She and Nathan grinned at each other.
“It’s alright, sport. There’s no shame in losing to a better man.” Grant winked at Jack.
The playful bickering continued all the way through the meal until they were all full and singing Vincent’s praises. The man in question fussed around them in a very pleased way and finally produced some wine for them all to share.
“I don’t know what you’re celebrating but keep it up.” Vincent uncorked the first bottle. “I like my customers to be happy.”
They all blinked at that and Jack realised that they were celebrating, as were Jo, Fargo and Zane in their own way. There had turned out to be no-one watching them which meant that they’d gotten away with the time jump and the threat of sanction was gone. Also, with the loss of the Bridge Device and the knowledge of what would probably happen if Grant managed to rebuild it, the uncertainty of their future had been lifted. They were stuck here and, by the looks of it, were all determined to make the most of it.
Once Vincent moved away, Jack raised his glass. “To being home.”
Smiles appeared around the table and they all echoed the toast with clinking glasses.
“It’s where the heart is,” Henry said gently to Grace who blushed prettily.
Everyone groaned and threw their napkins at him but Jack was secretly pleased to see that Henry was making some headway in romancing his wife.
He settled back into his seat and watched the teasing and the laughter of his friends then he met Nathan’s eyes and thought about how right his toast had been. He was home and he didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Jack sat at his station desk, buried in a mound of paperwork. Deputy Andy had been undergoing those evaluations and tests at GD for the past three days so Jack had been running the station by himself. He’d barely had the energy to drive himself home once he’d finished work, let alone anything else, so he hadn’t seen Nathan since the morning after that meal at Cafe Diem. He’d thought about him though...a lot.
It seemed like he hadn’t been alone in those thoughts when Nathan suddenly materialised in front of the desk.
“It’s quitting time, Jack.” He smiled. “And people call me a workaholic.”
“You are a workaholic,” Jack answered automatically.
He glanced out of the window and realised that it was a lot later then he’d thought; quitting time, indeed. He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms above his head to loosen his aching back then got to his feet to put the file he’d just finished back in the cabinet. Jack walked back across the room to shut down his computer when Nathan grabbed his arm and spun him around so that his back was against the bars of the cell.
“Hi,” He whispered huskily before taking Jack’s mouth in a brief but forceful kiss that pushed all tiredness from Jack’s mind. “Miss me?”
Jack chuckled and tugged at Nathan’s tie. “You’ve no idea.”
“I think I’ve got some idea.” Nathan smirked back. “Do you know how difficult it is to concentrate on Mansfield’s budget meetings when all you can think about is what you’re going to do to your lover when you find him?”
Jack laughed which trailed off into a groan as Nathan moved, placing his thigh between Jack’s own and rubbing against him with deliberate slowness.
“So, what are you going to do with him?” Jack managed to get out which he felt was quite the achievement considering the amazing things the other man’s tongue was doing to his neck.
Nathan hummed against Jack’s skin. “Well I do have four years worth of fantasies stored up, and more than a few were set in this office, but I think I’ll start with…”
He caught Jack’s hands and wrapped them around the bars either side of Jack’s head. Then, with a warning look at Jack to keep his hands where they were, he dropped to his knees. Jack moaned at the sight and his head fell back against the bars, feeling Nathan tug at his uniform shirt and t-shirt until he could nuzzle Jack’s belly and lick along the skin above Jack’s pants.
Jack’s breath hitched as Nathan’s beard scratched against the sensitive skin and those clever hands undid his belt, unbuttoned, unzipped and…
There was the sound of someone clearing their throat.
Jack’s eyes flew open to look at a small, bald man standing in the doorway to the room wearing a look of horror that Jack knew reflected the expression on his own face.
“Mr Hughes, how nice to see you again.” Nathan rose smoothly to his feet and greeted the other man as if he hadn’t been caught about to give the town Sheriff a blowjob. “Sheriff Carter, this is Warren Hughes. He’s the DoD Relationship Auditor.”
“Sheriff Carter?” Hughes’ eyes shot to Jack who was simultaneously trying to do up his pants and stop himself from banging his head against a wall in a mixture of embarrassment and frustration. “I see. Well, I’ve obviously c…ah…turned up at a bad time so why don’t I talk to you in the morning instead, Sheriff?”
Jack nodded, not quite sure if he trusted himself to speak just yet, and attempted a friendly smile which obviously failed badly when Hughes narrowed his eyes at him and pointedly made a note on the clipboard he was holding.
Nathan saw the man out and when he came back into the office Jack hissed, “You couldn’t have locked the door?”
Nathan’s lips twitched with barely suppressed mirth. “Look on the bright side. He’s definitely going to say no to your relationship with Allison now.”
“Oh god!” Jack slumped back against the cell bars. “I’ve got to call her and try and explain this.”
He could just imagine the mocking he was going to get for that, once she got over her surprise of course.
Nathan walked across the room and wrapped his arms around Jack. “Let’s worry about that tomorrow. How about I take you home and try out another one of those fantasies, in private this time?”
“It’d better be a good one,” Jack grumbled, still burning with mortification.
“Oh it is,” Nathan assured him, “It’ll make you forget about Allison, auditors…even your own name, I promise.”
Looking at the naked hunger and genuine affection in Nathan’s eyes, Jack believed him and it was worth a few humiliations if it meant that he got to have this. Hell, it was all worth it; the time travel, the worry, the lies, if it meant that he got to have this man in his arms. If it meant a second chance.