Jay had thought, or maybe hoped, that when he said if I go first to Kay, it wouldn't be an actuality, even though in their line of work it wasn't age that did them in, it was the job. Killed in Action.
So he thinks, when the reality of watching his own funeral sinks in, he probably should have known better that dying first would be a possibility. He's a bit too in his own world though, caught between bitterness—you coulda said SOMETHING on my behalf, Kay—and pure Freak Out. Because while he wants to believe this isn't real, he's dreamed of being dead before and it hasn't been like this. He wants to wake up, go down to Psych, and say hey, just letting you know, I had one of Those Dreams.
He should've woken up by now.
His funeral is kind of a drag. It's all white noise. Some agents speak that he doesn't think he actually knows the names of. Kay doesn't speak. He just stands in the the back of the crowd and when Oh talks, she looks at him with sympathy.
Jay doesn't wake up as much as he finds himself standing in Times Squares with the sun glaring off a car mirror and Kay slamming shut the door to the Ford Taurus like nothing is wrong and Jay wonders if, maybe, he should be worried.
There's no classy way that Jay could've brought it up. Kay just looks at him—confusion, irritation, and a whole lot more that Jay finds he can't interpret.
“I'm just saying.”
And Jay drops it.
Jay falls to his knees and loses his lunch into the water.
He really, really needs to talk to someone, but he doesn't even know where to start.
There are voices coming towards him, and thankfully he's gone again before he has to look the young him in the eyes and say hi to Kay again. He hopes, this time, he's really seen the last of 1969.
“Um,” is all Jeffrey Price manages at first, and then, “I'm trying to run a business, you know.” He stands, frozen in place, at his register.
“I don't care.”
“Hey, rude? That's not necessary. I haven't done anything.”
Jay pinches the bridge of his nose and breathes deep. He has a cooler head when he drops his hand. “Are there any side-effects to time travel that aren't in your logbook that you failed to mention?”
“No? I mean, I don't know, I've never used it.”
“You're telling me you had the equipment for years and you never once used it? You really expect me to believe that?”
“It's the truth! My father said it was dangerous, don't use it. It was like, the one time he seemed to care about my safety, so I listened to him.”
“Your customers, then. Any regulars? What about them?”
“Um, I think they're all dead? I hadn't seen anyone looking for it for a few years, not until Boris, and, well, MIB is in possession of it now.” He leans forward, eyes wide with concern. “Why, is something wrong?”
Jay doesn't want to say the words aloud, though he does try. Instead, he feels ill, like the ground's pulling out and over his head. He wishes it wasn't becoming a familiar feeling. He shakes his head, ignoring Jeffrey's continued questioning about his health, and bolts out of the shop.
He gets beyond several store fronts before he's in what feels like the same street, but it's night and there are police cars blaring by and some loud force of nature bumps into him, running, and keeps going. Jay feels the world continue to tilt because it's him. Way after the beach and way before MIB. NYPD rookie, outrunning police cars because he was always faster on foot.
Jay doesn't know what to do anymore. He thought this would stop.
He returns, finding himself standing in his apartment, wondering how the hell he even got here, what day it is, and praying it's at least 2012.
“I guess 'when' is more accurate,” Jay rasps.
Kay stares at him. “What?”
He swallows and drops his gaze to the knot of his hands, knowing how crazy he's going to sound. “I... Something's wrong, Kay. I keep... I keep ending up in different points of time, and then showing back up here usually in different places.” Not always. There was that first time, after the funeral, that Kay hadn't noticed anything unusual happen, like Jay hadn't flounced off into the future.
Kay doesn't voice any doubts though, and Jay's grateful.
“When did this start?”
“A few days ago, I guess?”
“And you're only mentioning it now?”
“It's been a bit difficult for me to articulate!” Jay snaps, looking back up at his partner.
“Does anyone else know?”
“I talked to the Price kid only a bit to see if he knew about any other side effects; other than that, no.” He shifts uncomfortably. “Kay I... I was at my own funeral. That's when it started.”
Cold awareness slides across Kay's expression, and Jay hates it. “That's why you...”
Jay shrugs a shoulder. “Call me a little bitter, alright. You didn't... you didn't even...”
Kay's so fast to shove down the flash of anger that Jay almost misses it. It makes Jay angry, too, because what the hell. What the hell. This isn't fair to him.
Whatever Kay is about to say, he stops, collects himself, and then speaks, low, “What was the date?”
Insistent, Kay says, “The date, slick. Of the funeral!”
“I don't...” Jay winces. “I didn't pay attention. It didn't seem important at the time, I still thought I might be dreaming.”
“You need to get back there, to that point.”
“I can't—Kay, I can't control when and where I end up!”
Kay's already walking away. He looks over his shoulder. “Then we need to find someone that can help with that!”
Find out when he's gonna die, find out why, avert dying. Easy.
He just doesn't really think that bothering Jeffrey again is going to help with that.
“I told you, I was already here,” Jay's saying as they enter the store.
“And maybe you didn't ask the right questions.”
“Yeah, okay, it's like I don't know how to do my job!”
Kay ignores him.
Jeffrey's setting up a wall of TVs. He's mumbling about being able to help in a minute, and then does a double-take, his expression clouding over. The TV almost falls on him, and he catches it just barely. “This is harassment!” Readjusts the balance of the TV. “Unless you wanna say we're friends. I could probably get a lot more business if I said I was friends with Men in Black.”
“Dude. No,” Jay snaps.
“Well, okay, but can we... stop with these visits?” He backs away from his work, brushing his hands together. “I'm not like... smuggling illegal merchandise in these TVs, you know. It's all old tech! Really old. People like old things. Mostly the ETs. Okay? Okay!”
“What do you know about time traveling without equipment?” Kay asks without preamble.
Jeffrey pivots towards them, stunned frozen and eyes wide like a deer. “That's literally impossible.”
“It's literally not,” Jay mocks. He jabs both thumbs at himself. “Hello, here I am, living test dummy, make it stop.”
“I—what! Wow! Man, that's so cool!” He walks quick steps across the shop to the front door, locks it, and switches the sign to CLOSE. “Tell me everything!”
“How about I don't. Kay, why're we here?”
“Price, you're the closest thing we have to an expert, what with your father dead.”
“Ooookay, look, I told your partner already, but I've never actually time traveled myself, so I can't... really help you all that much.”
“Our options really are this limited,” Kay explains.
Jeffrey waves his hands, frantic, through the air. “Anyone else. Anyone else is clearly better.” He paces the length of his shop. “Can't you just do some weird MIB Force Mind Focus or something?”
“What?” Jay exclaims. “What are you even talking about?”
“Okay. Fine. Not Star Wars but. You guys must get like—mental training or something, right?” He lolls his head back and groans. “Ohhh, let me guess, that's classified.”
Jay lets out a loud, frustrated sound. “I really don't think my mind is why I'm traveling.”
“Says you,” Jeffrey snaps, defensive. “I'm trying to help on absolutely zero input from you.”
“Please,” Kay grinds out, looking at both of them.
Jay tosses up an arm. “You can't be mad at me!”
“Look. I've got some meditation guides for dummies out back... we can try that? Just because you're physically traveling doesn't mean your mind isn't weighing in.” He puffs up, like he's feigning confidence. “I thought, you know, they'd help relax me from all the constant threat of invasion and the like.” He trails off only a for a moment while they continue to stare evenly at him. “And some... incense? From Vlempi.” He signals behind him, directing towards the door labeled STAFF ONLY. There's a string of blue LEDs wrapped around the sign.
“Kay,” Jay pleads.
“I don't know about you, slick, but I'm ready to try anything.”
“You're not the one—”
He's gone. Stumbles and catches himself, like he's about to topple over the edge of the Empire State Building again.
There are children yelling and laughing, mockery in their tone, rushing around the playground.
“Outsider Olivia!” a child crows.
“Gonna get beamed up to space!” another shouts.
There's a shock of blond hair amid the sea of nasty children and Jay's done a good job at not getting involved when he travels, but he hates children, and he especially hates mean ones, so he storms over and scatters the crowd to the wind.
“Go on, go be bratty elsewhere!” he snaps, waving his arms.
The anklebiters kick him, but they disperse, leaving a small girl no more than eleven. She's clutching small fists to her side, looking fitfully angry and trying not to cry. “I don't need help!” she says, acting strong.
He stares down at her. “Naw, I didn't think you did,” he says. “Olivia, was it?” God, where were her parents? He was going to get himself killed talking to her like this.
She juts her chin at him. “Yeah.”
“So what if I was!” she says, loudly and defiant, crossing her arms like they could hold her together.
“That'd be cool, you know. There's nothing wrong with liking the weird stuff.”
“Aliens aren't weird!”
Ah, hell. Could this really be... “No, they're not. I bet they'd like to hear that sometime.”
“So I'll tell them!”
“You do that, kid.”
Kay reaches out and hands him a Dixie cup of water that Jay moans and accepts greedily.
“Managed to localize myself, I guess?” Jays asks after he crushes the cup in his hand. “This is still the shop?”
“Yup!” Jeffrey says excitedly. He nods to Kay. “See, the incense isn't bogus! It's very grounding for... well, they say 'spirits' but he's not a spirit just... lost.”
There is a strange scent in the air, Jay realizes. He focuses past them and sees the dance and twist of smoke from a succulent standing five feet off the ground, hundreds of tear-shaped leaves of burgundy and verdant. The smoke holds his focus for longer than he's comfortable with, and when he shakes his head to clear it, there's a throbbing dizziness following the motion.
“I think I just met Oh as a child.”
That startles a laugh from Kay, and Jay glances up to catch it. “How'd that go?”
“Girl was always going to lead MIB, that's for sure. I'm glad you two aren't dating, I'd never be able to win at anything ever again.”
Kay's amusement slips and Jay wishes he hadn't said anything.
Jeffrey looks between them, biting at his lip. “I'll uh, try to look into what I can. See if anyone is still out there that used the gear previously. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Jay croaks, “thanks man.”
“We're pulled from active duty.”
“Both of us?”
“It's safer that way.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He's gotten better at localizing himself, but if he disappears on Kay mid-situation, it's too risky. “Sorry, man.”
“I'm not worried about that.”
Which means he's worried about Jay.
Great. He'd really like to stop feeling like an ass.
Suddenly, his funeral is looking worlds better than this.
“She was my friend, Jay!”
“Yeah, some friend! She went rogue, Elle! She nearly killed every one of our clients. She betrayed us—hell, she betrayed you! What the hell did you expect me to do? Let her kill all of them?”
“No. No, god no. That doesn't make it okay! She had rights! They all have rights!”
“You don't think I know that? I care about them up there more than I care about the people in this city, Elle. But they lose their rights the moment they turn on the populace. Come on, girl. I'm trying here.”
“You could've arrested her.”
“Arrested—there was no time!”
In his hiding spot, Jay puts his hands over his face and tries not to scream. He thinks about sweet-smelling smoke and tries, tries so damn hard, to get out of here, to get back to 2012, he doesn't want to be here, he doesn't want to remember—
He can't breathe.
Music rings in through his ears, the grating voices of the worms and their bagpipes playing an iteration of You're My Best Friend.
He swallows down bile.
It's his funeral.
He dabs the back of his hand at his mouth and comes away with a dribble of blood. He's never jumped from past to future like this, always stopping back “home” first.
Slowly, shakily, he picks himself off the floor. He knows where he can safely move because he's done it before, knows how to avoid his other time-traveling self, and he retraces his steps with only a small shift so that he can get what he came here for.
Jay kind of hoped the second time at his funeral would be different.
Nothing's changed though. The same litany. He sighs and keeps hidden. The date wobbles across his screen in blue waves, and that's a punch to his gut that he wasn't expecting. July 23, 2012. That's only a month and a half away. He suddenly wishes he could take the knowing back, like it'd be better for him. You're not supposed to know when you die, right? What if knowing makes it happen? What if the date was different the first time he was at the funeral, and he's changed it by being here again, by seeing it?
He ducks away before people fan out and slams into the JK office, obfuscating the glass and sinking into a chair, breathing heavily as the situation really starts to catch up to him, and he forces himself to listen to Jeffrey's Meditation for Dummy's recommendations, whatever he can to ground himself into this time. Puts the smoke completely out of his mind.
Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, Kay's dragging himself through the threshold. He just stares at Jay, frowning, but he doesn't seem surprised.
“Hi,” Jay says, “glad you're not freaking out.”
“Jay,” Kay murmurs, and he does sound freaked out. He shuts the door.
“I didn't know where else to go,” Jay says. “I couldn't risk someone arresting, or I don't know, shooting me.”
Kay walks, slow, across the room. “When did you come from?” he asks, careful.
Jay thinks about it. “Ummm. 1998, maybe.”
“The past, okay.” But he frowns. “So you're not keeping track yet.”
“I start keeping track?”
Kay sits at his desk and waves a hand for Jay to come around. The encryption locks he goes through are more than Jay thinks he's ever seen. Eventually, Kay pulls up a spreadsheet and signals the screen. “Memorize this.”
“What is it?”
“Every one of your jumps that you knew the date for.”
Jay blanches. “This... this is...” He skims them first, and then starts to file them away in his mind, more because Kay told him to, not because the logic of it had sunk in yet. “Do you think I started keeping track on my own, or because I saw this?” He's still tripping over the date of his death.
“Never time traveled, kid, it's all been you.”
“Right. Probably for the best, huh?”
They're just dates, not places, not people. He has milestone dates that he knows off the top of his head. When he joined the NYPD, when he joined MIB, when he neuralyzed Elle, when he deneuralyzed Kay, Zed's death. Some bad invasions, some bad partners. He slides this list in between those like puzzle pieces, nodding to himself, understanding.
“This is what killed you, Jay,” Kay whispers.
“This... side effect. It's what kills you.”
Jay thinks about the blood on the back of his hand, dried now.
“There's... there's no way to stop it?”
“We didn't find one.”
“Gotta hand it to the kid, he really tried to find something. He was going to be here today.” Kay frowns. “Not sure why he didn't come. Guilt, maybe,” he finishes, understanding.
Jeffrey digging up some miracle was probably a long shot, sure, but Jay's... Jay's used to winning on miracles. He's used to having nothing left but coming through regardless. But he's dead. He's actually dead. This isn't a dream, this is his real funeral.
“What about you, man?” It bubbles loudly out of him. “How come you didn't even speak?!”
Kay snarls and he's angry in a way that Jay has never seen before. “How could I?” he demands and Jay reels. “Ask him why don't you! But I don't expect you to understand.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Kay?” Jay yells. “You haven't made any sense since this started! I just want some goddamn support but you've been shutting me out! And now you tell me this is going to kill me! You're better than this, Kay!”
“Am I really, kid?” Kay asks, pained. “You're only dying because you went to save me,” he says. “You save me, only to die as a result—what's the point?”
Jay thrusts a finger towards him. “No. No! You don't get to do that! This isn't your fault, Kay! And even if I had known this is what was going to happen to me, I still would have done it, anyway! And not because of some invasion—I went back for you!”
He's glad he managed to get his full argument out before he's toppling into his desk chair in the same office, different time, and maybe he is getting better at this whole “aiming” through space and time thing. He's still fired up despite the disorientation, and rockets forward, leaning into the desk towards a startled Kay. “I am not, nor am I ever, going to put up with you having a nonsensical guilty conscience when my decision is always to save your life!”
Kay's confusion is palatable. He opens his mouth to speak, and Jay cuts him off. “I'm stopping this line of thought before it even starts. I didn't go back to save you for the job! I'd do it again, I'd do it a hundred times, consequences be damned!”
Kay leans forward in his chair in mirror image and then all of his attention is laser-focused to Jay. “'Consequences'?” he repeats.
Jay winces. “I found out the when and why. Let's just say I need to stop time traveling, pronto. Not that I wanted to keep doing it before, but now it's top priority.”
A beat, and then Kay is looking at him with betrayal. “You're not going to tell me, are you.”
“I wasn't planning on it, no.”
“It does nothing to help you,” he bites out, standing out of his chair. “I almost don't want to know, either! But short of neuralyzing myself, it's not gonna happen, so we move on. Apparently I started keeping a list of when I was traveling to though, and... Future You had it, so I got that memorized, and we'll see if any of it diverts I guess.”
He thinks about Future Kay. Kay, a month and a half from now. Kay, after Jay's died. Kay, broken a second time because some version of Jay was involved.
Jay thought that none of this was fair for him, but maybe it's just as bad, if not worse, for Kay.
The silence hurts more than the traveling has.
Finally, Kay manages, “You've been gone for days.”
“We waited in the shop for hours, but you didn't return. I was starting to think...”
“I,” Jay croaks, “I bounced around some, I guess. So it took longer to center myself.” And he was scared, and angry, and too damn emotional between Elle and Future Kay.
“I need to type up the list of my jumps. So that you have it for me, when I go there.”
Kay slides his keyboard towards Jay, stands, and leaves the office.
Jay watches him go.
“What year is it?” he whispers.
“2016,” she murmurs, relaxing.
He flinches. He's only ever been to his funeral in the future. Beyond it is... staggering, even if his list had tracked some of them.
“We just keep running into each other, huh,” he tries to sound lighthearted, but he can hear his own strain.
“I've seen you around in the past, a few times.”
“I don't mean to. I don't like interfering with my friends' lives. I don't like interfering with time.”
She smiles, quick. “That makes you a good agent. Think of what all the other people with this ailment were doing before they died.”
“Well none of them knew that this would kill them.”
“That's true, but... I suppose I just like to think the best of my agents.”
He ducks his head. Yeah, he can give her that.
“If none of them knew then none of them were looking for a fix,” he says. “I need to find Obadiah Price. He's the only one. He knows it's dangerous because he told his son not to use it. If I find him, maybe he has an idea or something that I can start to change.”
“Alright. You'd be better asking someone that is not me. I'd prefer not to bring you into MIB.”
“Yeah, that's... fair. And I don't know how long I have in here anyway...” He licks his lips. “How's... Kay?”
She just smiles sadly.
When Jay gets back he wonders if Kay was even still alive.
He goes to talk to his Oh. “Look, I need a time where Obadiah Price was on Earth. Before he went to Lunar Max. Ideally not around any MIB agents.”
“That might be difficult, but I'll see what I can do.”
He nods and goes to find Kay. It takes him longer than he expected, eventually tracking his partner down to the locker room. He has this funny feeling Kay is avoiding him. He leans against Bee's locker, arms crossed.
“I don't want you... if we can't change this, I don't want you to become someone else. It's... really important to me that you... maintain. That you don't self-destruct.”
He expects Kay to laugh at him. To tell him that wouldn't happen. He wants Kay to tell him that. But Kay just shakes his head and looks down at his hands. And then there's something cold, and awful, in his gaze when he looks back at Jay. “Maybe it would be better for both of us that I just accept now that you're going to die.”
“Wow. Really? I mean... I knew you weren't an optimist, but that's even pretty harsh for you.”
“What do you expect me to do?”
“I don't know! Fight? Say something? Don't...? You're already...” Jay's shoulders slump. “I don't want to see that you that I saw in the future.”
“And what was that?”
Jay swallows. “Someone else.” Someone that Jay couldn't recognize anymore. “Kay, I just want...”
Kay closes his locker. His hand presses into the metal and Jay thinks it's shaking. “I want you... to leave me alone.”
Angrily, Jay tenses up. He bites down on his retort and storms out of the room, ending right back in Oh's office, slumping down while she works.
She looks at him funny. “What are you doing here, Agent Jay?”
“Well, my partner wants nothing to do with me, as I'm dying, you know, unlike a normal partner would. So, I'm here. Because apparently I have no friends, and I don't want to go back to see Jeffrey, and I just...” He sighs. “I guess I'm just done. Not to say that I'm giving up, but...”
“Your partner will come around.”
“You know... I don't think he will.” Emotion twists through his expression. “Oh... you gotta look after him if I go. Please. I don't think he's going to take it well.”
“Of course he's not going to take it well,” she snaps. “Did you take him dying well?”
“No, but that was different.”
“How is that any different?”
“Because I—look it's just different, okay?”
She smiles. And it's... strange. It has something in it that Jay can't place.
“Maybe to get your partner to come around, you should talk about that.”
“I'm really pretty sure it's not going to help anything.”
She laughs. “Well, if this is you're slated to die, what do you have to lose?”
The woman in scrubs stares down at him in fear. “No, I'm sorry. My name is Dr. Weaver. Are you alright? ...No, I suppose you wouldn't be. How did you get here?”
He closes his eyes and turns his head and god, he knows where he is. He's in the morgue. There must have been a body here before him. A dead body.
He's going to be sick.
“It's complicated,” he manages, reaching a trembling hand slowly into his suit jacket. “I'm sorry, do you have water?”
She watches him like she expects him to seize again, but she turns away. He sits up, slides on his glasses, sets the neuralyzer, and when she turns back to him with a cup, he presses the button. The cup slides from her hand like his neuralyzer almost does.
His vision swims. His arm is heavy with someone else's blood. “Remember that time I wasn't an asshole?” he begs. There's no recognition in her eyes, of course. He doesn't know if she's even met them yet. He gasps as pain blossoms under his ribs. “This... side effect. It's what kills you.” Clarity starts to reenter Laurel's eyes and he neuralyzes her again for good measure. “It's been a long day, you thought you saw someone.”
He phases back to 2012, laying on his apartment floor, blood splaying beneath him. He doesn't move for a long, long while.
He slides in opposite of Kay and glares. Maybe he should have kept the bloodied suit. Maybe it'd help press his point.
A server doesn't even make it ten feet near the booth before Jay turns his glare on him. “Don't bother us,” he snaps, and the server scuttles away.
“Nice one,” Jay chastises, “I'm actually pretty impressed—this is a good hiding spot. Except the Chief thinks we should talk this out, which means she's on my side, not yours. Also, jeez, don't eat that. Is that supposed to be a burger? That's not edible, Kay.”
Kay eats a fry and levels a hard look on him.
Jay leans back. There aren't many agents in, thankfully, but he still opts to try and keep his voice down. “Other than the fact that she's the boss, she's kind of right, given the fact that...” He trails off.
“Now's really not the time.”
Jay bristles. “We don't have a lot of time!” Which is too close to telling Kay his death day. “So please, come on, it's not like I can go to the future and talk to you, because future you doesn't want to—refuses, and tells me to ask you. Said I wouldn't understand. But whatever, what does he know!”
“Jay. I'm not doing this.”
He remembers the terror he felt in the morgue clearly, like it was a knife that was causing the pain between his ribs. July 23, 2012 stokes a fire in his mind, billowing anxiety and smoke. He's a mess of emotions, but dammit he's not going to cry.
“Kay,” his voice cracks, “please don't leave me alone in this.”
And he sees it, a blink through darkness like a firefly—the first of emotion that Kay slips since he started shutting himself in, and Jay knows it. Knows it because it's the same emotion cloying at his insides.
It's better to have love and lost than love at all.
His breathing catches.
Oh. He understands.
He can't do this to Kay.
Kay keeps losing people that he loves. Elizabeth, Lauranna, likely others, and now Jay. It'll probably just make things all the more worse.
He smiles weakly. “I am going to find Obadiah Price. You are going to help me, you're going to help Oh, we're going to fix this, and then we're going to talk. For real.”
Whatever. It isn't like the neuralyzer is what's killing him.
“You're not going to remember that we talked, but I still want to tell you, I guess. They're gonna take care of you. I promise. It may not seem like a lot right now, but it'll come back around. Give it, ohhh, twenty-five years. Maybe more than that. I guess it took me—us—awhile to really understand yeah?”
He looks down at the bowed head of his younger self. Kid's clutching their father's watch and probably doesn't even understand why he can't stop, but it's in there, somewhere. He may not remember what happened, how fresh it is, or even truly ever knew the loss, but it's there. Muscle memory of heartache.
“I'm just saying, I guess, that it's going to be okay.”
The door opens and Jay freezes, terrified that it's going to be Kay, that he has to put the man through more pain, but he sags with relief when it's Oh, walking in with a tray of milk and half a sandwich.
She startles at him, frowns, and then looks thoughtful. Jay knows she doesn't remember him from his first trip to 1969, when this whole traveling started, but maybe she remembers him from before. Future Oh had said that she'd seen him a few times.
“You can't be in here,” she says slowly.
“I know. Sorry. I'll be out of your hair before you know it. I just had to...” He fishes for a lie. “Check on him. Didn't seem like it was a good idea to leave him alone.”
“No one knows he's here,” she answers, the alarm growing in her voice.
Damn. He tosses up his hands as though in surrender. “You caught me. Can't help snooping around. I'll scoot.” He stands up and starts to shuffle for the door.
The boy looks up. There eyes meet for a heartbeat. The same eyes. They switch to Oh. “Can he stay?” he asks her. “He's nice.”
Oh stares at him in open shock and Jay's gotta wonder if the kid's spoken at all since Kay brought him here. “...Alright,” she says at last, setting the plate down besides James. Her gaze stays locked to Jay, like she's scrutinizing him all the way to his bones, and he realizes that his Oh must know every single secret he's ever kept, including his and Kay's mutual, unrequited feelings.
What a godsend that woman is.
He smiles winningly at her. “I promise I won't be a problem.”
She steps around him to the door, always calculating, even now.
He catches her before she's gone completely, “Please don't tell Kay I was here, Oh.” He knows it makes her put another strike against him, but he doesn't care. He needs this from her. “It'll only hurt him,” he adds, quiet.
She nods, once. “I'll be back in a bit.”
Jay wonders what James tells her about where he went. Tell the truth or lie. She might believe the truth.
He wonders how it happens. He wonders if he just, eventually, shrivels up like a raisin, all his energy spread across time. Years ago he'd say he wanted to go out loud. Loud and recognized. Loud and seen.
He eases the shirt back on, slower.
Just let it be quick, he thinks. Quick, and painless to those around him.
Jay oozes into the chair by his bed like all his strings are cut.
Zed, stirring, looks at him, confused. “You're supposed to be out on a case.”
Who the heck is Zed going to tell, Jay thinks. “He probably is. I'm from the future.”
Zed laughs. “You'd better not be, tiger. Time traveling's illegal.”
“Some things came up. All the equipment's gone for it now, so I guess you could say I'm the last known time traveler.” He pauses, then makes a sick face. “That's a sad way for things to go.”
“I'm dying,” Jay says.
“Well, you've come to the right room!”
And Jay laughs, unable to help himself. It hurts. “I've missed you Zed. It's only been a few months, but man, I'm feeling it.”
“You taking care of everyone for me?”
“Best I'm able. Sorta all falling apart right now. Kay's battening down the hatches for me to die; Oh's trying to hold strong for both of them. Not so sure how hot that's working.”
“The death of a partner is rough on anyone.”
“I know. Wish I could say I didn't, but, as I said, some things came up.”
Zed sighs. “It's worse, even on him.”
Jay slumps down in his chair until he's more out of it than in. His arms flop over the wooden sides and he stares up at the ceiling and lets out a loud breath. “Jeez does everyone know about our feelings, or is it just a Chief of Operations thing?”
Zed chuckles, coughs, then doesn't breathe, and Jay thinks he killed him. But then he speaks, “You both aren't exactly subtle.”
“How are we not subtle?!” Jay demands, hands flailing. “I'm plenty subtle! He's the king of subtle—I only just realized, Zed!” He straightens and leans in. He hasn't had a real chance to talk with anyone about this, and here he is talking to someone who's literally going to take it to his grave. “How did I only just realize? I could have... we could have...”
“Love's complicated, especially in this line of work. Gotta say though, you two have been problematic for years. Honestly thought you sealed the deal ages ago and it was better not to say anything. Guess I should have.” He sighs. “Have you said anything, now?”
“No,” Jay answers miserably. “I've only got a week left. I can't... I can't do that to him. He can't go through that again.” He knows Zed will understand what he means by that. “I never see him. I've traveled through time and I never see him, except once, in the future, and it was awful. At most I keep seeing Oh.” He squints at Zed. “Right? You haven't seen me before this?”
“Nope, first and only time, kid.”
“Good. At least that's another past I haven't interfered with.” He scrubs his hands over his forehead and along to the back of his neck. “You wouldn't happen to have some super secret information on Obadiah Price, would you, Zed?” he whispers. “I really need to see him.”
“He's up on Lunar Max?”
“I know. But I can't get there.”
“Because it's... I have to do it in the past. He's dead. Boris killed him. I can't time travel to the freaking moon.”
“I'll ask again: why not?”
Jay stands, fast and erratic. “Because it doesn't—it doesn't work like that, Zed!”
“Kid, you're time traveling without gear, right? That's not normal. We don't know how that works. So do it like you do everything. Adapt.”
Jay shakes his head and can't seem to stop. His lungs are constricting. The timeline is suffocating him. He's going to jump soon. “I can barely even control myself right now. I've only gotten to where I wanted to go once, and that was by mistake, I... I can only get home when I'm aiming... some kind of... smoke trail that I can follow...”
“Agent Jay,” Zed barks, and Jay goes rigid, a trained response to that tone of voice. “You're one of my best agents. Together you and Kay defy expectations on a daily basis. So prove everything wrong that we know about the world.”
Jay looks at him, and he can't help but smile, tears in his eyes. “I really do miss you. I never did get to tell you the first time, but thank you for everything.”
The reality of where he is slams into him. His head jerks down the hall lined with cells, eyes wide. He could find Boris the Animal. He could just kill him now, erase everything from happening. Get it over with.
“I know that look,” the person in the cell nearest to him croaks and laughs and drags himself from the shadows. “That obsessed 'I can change things' look.”
Jay fixates back on the cell. “Obadiah Price.”
“Never had anyone visit me here before. That's MIB for you, I guess.”
“You've... had people visit you before?”
“A few times. Early. When they realize that they can't seem to stop.”
Jay's nerves ramp up instantly. “And what about you? You must have stopped. You're here. You should have been dead long by now.”
“I don't remember owing MIB any favors, given that they locked me up here in the first place.”
“That's because time travel is not okay!” He gestures to himself. “I mean really, what about this is okay?! It ain't healthy! I'm going to die in like... six days!”
Obadiah laughs. “Oh, knowing when you're going to die, what a curse, isn't it?” He takes a step back into the depths of his cell, pacing about. “What can you do for me? Can you get me out of here, Agent?”
Jay hesitates. If Obadiah gets out of the cell, it'll probably crack open another temporal fracture. He'll go to Jeffrey, gank the time jump gear, and do who knows what to the timeline, especially if he can sidestep the aftereffect.
“No,” he says, careful, “but I can tell you when you do get out of here.”
He isn't lying. Bending the truth, sure, but Obadiah doesn't need the details.
It's enough to get the graying man's attention. He turns, waiting.
Jay straightens. Even if this doesn't work, so what. He's not harming anything by telling him. “May 2012 Boris the Animal breaks out and unlocks your cell.”
“Boris the Animal...” Obadiah repeats, eyes staring at nothing as he thinks. “He must want revenge on Agent Kay for getting him locked up here. He needs me...”
And maybe before Jay said anything, Obadiah wouldn't have thought about it. He doesn't know how Boris and Obadiah met, if they knew about each other beforehand, if Boris knew about time travel beforehand. There's a churning in his gut from wondering if he's the reason Boris escaped and went after Kay.
But it's too late now. What's done is done.
Obadiah nods, a mad grin on his face. “In order to stop, you need to cross your own timeline, during whatever it is you were trying to change. The proximity to your other time-traveling self will cancel out the effects, and you'll return to whatever point you last departed from.”
The beach. He has to go back to the beach.
He really didn't want to go back there a third time.
He sighs. “Okay.” Backs up. Thinks of smoke. Of the strange plant from Vlempi. He thinks of the people he cares about in his timeline, not the past, not the future. “Have fun with your sentence,” he mumbles, and he blinks out.
“Saw your dad,” Jay says in greeting. He dumps a six-pack of Mountain Dew on the glass countertop. Regardless of the bribe, Jeffrey's been more pleased to see him after learning about the traveling-without-gear thing.
“...How did that go?”
“Ultimately I'm probably the one that screwed myself over, but I guess I know how to fix this.”
“And you need my help?” he asks, wide eyed and hopeful.
“Well. Not really. But I rather do the jump from here than MIB.”
Jeffrey's face falls, but he nods. “At least I can see you off. I'll make sure to have water ready and umm... I guess I have some crackers.”
The thought of food makes his stomach swim. “Just water's fine.”
“I'll lock up the shop. You go out back. I've been maintaining the smoke, but I don't know if it's been helping.”
“It... has, actually. It's sorta been acting like a compass?”
“Good! I'm glad!”
Jeez, at least someone is cheerful about Jay's hell trips. He walks through the staff door and is greeted by an overwhelming amount of smoke, the wisps beckoning him into a trance-like state and he has to hold steady, bracing his hands on a desk, and wait. He could just go, but just once, he wants to make sure there's someone here. It's important to him, if he can make this the last time.
Maybe he should have said goodbye, just in case. Maybe he should have seen Kay. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
The date throbs in his mind.
No, all this time traveling, and he's... finally out of time.
Jeffrey bustles into the room. “Okay. I'll make sure there's water in the room if you come back in a few days or something. Or if you jump back somewhere else, let me know you made it back? And if you fixed it or not?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, of course.” His limbs feel heavy. The smoke is thicker than it was the last time he was in this room. Maybe that's why he's been able to sense it across time. It clots his senses, takes him apart bit by bit. He doesn't smell the sweetness anymore, just wet sand and salt in waves and the breeze and the exhaust from the launched rocket.
Jeffrey rushes out to catch him “Hey, careful—” but his body falls through his arms and he's gone.
Boris kills his father.
Kay kills Boris.
He feels the pained whisper of where there is death, there is always death.
There's three of him on this beach, all separated around a fracturing man. Maybe there was always three of him on this beach, out of sight from the others, watching, magnetized to Kay.
And for the first time since he started traveling like this, he sees green, familiar ripples like the waves on the beach, and it feels like all at once the universe is collapsing around him, white hot and agonizing, but he feels like him. And time will pass and another him is going to be here, after all the others have separated, but eventually, even their journey will end.
Jay knows through the very core of his being, when he collapses in a heap on the staff room floor of Jeffrey's shop, that he's back to normal. He laughs through the pain and after he's guzzled down water and swatted at the plant, he throws his arms around Jeffrey, and keeps laughing.
Jay thinks, maybe, he felt just a micro-fraction of that storm when he had made his final jump.
Kay doesn't answer, paying him zero mind.
Jay says, “July 24, 2012.” He stops before Kay's seat, rocking heel-to-toe. If at all possible, his grin widens. “I was supposed to die yesterday.”
Kay's head snaps up, and Jay leans down and kisses him.
“—Jay,” Kay breaks in, far too quickly.
Jay groans, “You can't possibly tell me—”
“Glass,” Kay interrupts, and Jay freezes and pulls away, squinting outside of their office to the main floor and quite a few curious onlookers. “Well.” His gaze shifts to Oh's office and he snorts at her very open amusement. “Chief's happy.”
Kay drops his head in a hand.
“Uh. Sorry?” Jay hazards.
Kay mumbles something Jay doesn't catch, then stands and pulls Jay back towards him, swallowing up Jay's what about everyone protest in another kiss, but hell if Kay's not going to care, Jay sure isn't.
“Discretion's already gone,” Kay rasps against Jay's lips, one hand cradling the back of his head, the other caressing a hip.
Jay shudders. He slides his lips away and rests his head in the crook of Kay's neck, steadying himself. He's alive. “Didn't exactly, you know, pause to think. I just,” he swallows, “needed to see you.”
Kay huffs a laugh, and Jay catches all the underlying emotions that Kay's been holding away from him.
“I get it,” Jay says, “I get why you've been... closing off. And I hate it but I get it. But look, we might die tomorrow, we might die years from now, and I won't—I can't go on hiding anymore feeling the way I do and knowing you feel the same. We're too old for that noise, Kay.”
“Yeah, noise! You know, that sound normal people make when—”
Kay coils to him and turns his head into Jay's.
“Hell, Kay, if you close off on me again, I don't think I can survive it.” Because he didn't realize how badly he needed this. He'd been doing fine with the way they were, knowing that it was all they'd ever be—if he had to—if Kay wanted to go back—Jay's not sure he could.
“I can't,” Kay says, strained, “I can't promise that.”
“I saw a lot of people and a lot of things, but seeing you in the future, without me... Kay, it gutted me. I thought: anything but this. If I could change just one more thing, let it be this.”
Jay's grip tightens. “So I'll do everything in my power to prevent it.” He pulls away enough to meet Kay's eyes. “I can promise. You just gotta let me. Please. Just let me in.”
Their office goes dim from the glass darkening on its own, startling them both apart, and Oh's voice trickles in over a link on their computers: “Doing you a favor before this gets out of hand.”
“Glad she's looking out for us,” Jay says. “Wouldn't want to break any rookie hearts.”
“Sure you would.”
“Yeaaah, you got that right.” He puts his hands on his own hips. “Come on, Kay, talk to me.”
Kay frowns at him. “What makes you think you're not already 'in'?”
Jay blinks and considers that. “I mean, well. You got more barriers going on than the planet does, Kay. Kind of the most impenetrable thing in the solar system.”
“I—really! Which, okay, charming, I'm not gonna lie, but also five hundred kinds of frustrating—Kay I've known you for fourteen years and had zero idea you felt anything close to the same and, hell, Zed thought we were together! Like that's, that's a lot of barriers and crossed wires!”
“Zed thought—? How did you—?”
“I talked to him, oh, I don't know, a few days ago. I told you, I saw a lotta people. Just not you.”
“Why not, I wonder?”
Jay steps towards him. “Jeffrey thought my mind had some control over where I was going. I still think it's bogus, but I do think maybe I had control over where I wasn't going.”
“And you were avoiding me,” Kay accuses.
“Hey, you're not one to talk about avoiding people.” He puts his hands on Kay's shoulders, thumbs and forefingers fanning over fabric. “Why the hell,” he whispers closely, “would I want to do anything that might influence the person I fell in love with?”
Kay's eyes widen, just a fraction, but Jay sees the world of emotion in there, and maybe Kay's right, maybe Jay's already been let in, he just never realized. They exist completely in each other's space—they have to if they want to stay alive. When did it shift into something different, something all-encompassing, for both of them?
“Well,” Kay manages, “when you put it as eloquently as that.”
Jay smirks. “We're still off active duty, you know. I think I've got some right to get a little extra time off. Adjustment period, you know. Time traveling constantly for a month and a half puts a person out of commission for awhile.”
Actually, it puts a lot of trauma and strain on the body, and Jay really should see the medics now that he's finally permanently in 2012. There's the mottle of bruises that spread out, and he's not exactly sure his internal organs are working at 100%. But as far as he's concerned, barring dying, it can wait.
“Mm? And what do you suggest?”
“Making up for lost time. I've got a lot of holes in my timeline. 1969-1997. 1997-2002. Coupla months in 2012. Missed opportunities, you know.”
“You're maybe biting off more than you can handle, slick—I don't think Oh will let us off the hook that long.”
“Hey, I saved her from bullies and probably encouraged her to one day join MIB. She owes me.”
“Try telling her that. I dare you.”
Jay draws in a hiss and cringes. “Ooo. Ahh. That's. I don't know, Kay, what's in it for me?”
Kay weaves his fingers through Jay's tie and raises a brow. “I could think of a few things.”
“Playing the hard game, eh?”
“Yes,” Kay says pointedly.
Jay swallows. “You'd better come and save me if she hands me my ass.”
Something serious changes in Kay's expression. “Always.”
The word rings through Jay's ears. “Okay,” he agrees, and he thinks he's agreeing to thousands of other things, and those are okay, too.
His breathing stutters. “If you don't hear from me in five minutes, send help.”
“Just add some—what was it... ' MIB Force Mind Focus' to your argument,” Kay states, crossing his arms, smiling.
Jay casts away the memory of time travel dates and solidifies this image in its place. He grins in return, heading for the door. “Oh yeah, that'll be what does it, I'll make sure to send Jeffrey a fruit basket if it does.” Jay's laughing still as he enters the hall, only pausing when his senses pick up the faintest trace of sweet-smelling smoke. He whirls and yells over his shoulder, “Kay, get someone to confiscate that godawful Vlempi plant of his!”