Title: Stuck on You (Part One)
Word Count: ~13,000
Disclaimer: Nope, still don’t own them. Nope, not making any money either. Nope, not at all disappointing [/sarcasm].
Warnings/Notes: Set before Season 3, though I used some character spoilers from the eureka unscripted blog when I started writing it back in June- it sort of ran away and took much longer to finish than expected, and I didn’t want to go back and change it to match the new season, so consider it AU from the end of Season 2. There’s a similar incident in my fic, “The Bet”, which had requests for expansion.
Summary: Fargo’s newest invention yields some unexpected results.
Nathan double-checked his watch, impatiently tapping his toe as he waited in the too cold lab. He pulled out his phone, intent on calling Fargo and telling his assistant that due to tardiness, not only was Nathan leaving, but all of the funding for Fargo’s project would be pulled, when Fargo scrambled in, Carter a few steps behind him.
“Fargo,” Nathan greeted him, eyeing Carter warily. “I was about to leave, but I think I see the cause of your tardiness.”
“Yeah, let’s get this over with so I can return Fargo to Dr. Karthik,” Carter groaned.
Nathan raised an eyebrow curiously. “I may have accidentally done some damage to his VR construct,” Fargo admitted, as he tugged on heavy rubber gloves that covered his arms up to his elbows. “He’s making me stay there till I fix it.”
“And the only way he’d let Fargo out for this demonstration was with a police escort,” Carter griped, gesturing impatiently. “If we could hurry this along, I’ve got a lot of other things that need my attention today.”
“Cat up a tree again, Sheriff?” Nathan snarked, entering data into his palm pilot as Fargo set up the demonstration.
“Meeting with the director,” Carter said, folding his arms smugly. “I hear you’re one of the scientists needing my clearance on your recommended safety protocols for your latest experiment. Thorne and I are going through the requests this afternoon. I’ll be sure to double check yours.”
Nathan ground his teeth, biting back the sarcastic comment that was just itching to get out. The director giving Carter the power to deny projects movement forward unless the demonstrated sufficient safety protocols was a particularly annoying thorn in his side, pun intended. “Uh, Sheriff, do you mind not provoking him when I need funding?” Fargo asked, carefully removing a gallon can from the cold storage unit.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry, Fargo,” Carter grinned, and Nathan stifled a groan. “Stark won’t take it out on you. I can see his brain spinning dozens of ways to make my life miserable.”
“I still have access to S.A.R.A.H.,” Nathan observed, his voice a low growl. “Cold showers for a month?”
“I’d survive, but you risk the wrath of Zoë,” Carter replied. He gave Nathan a long look, something softening in his expression as he looked at him. “When’s the last time you slept, Stark?”
“What?” Nathan asked, not following the sudden 180 in the conversation.
“You look like hell,” Carter observed, shrugging. “And you were wearing that yesterday. So you haven’t been home in at least two days.”
“What’s it to you?” Nathan asked gruffly, the careful scrutiny of blue eyes itching his skin uncomfortably.
“I could order you home,” Carter reminded him, sighing. “Allison mentioned she was worried about you.”
“Glad you’re so cozy with my ex-wife, Sheriff,” Nathan sniped, deliberately turning back to his palm pilot.
“She just mentioned it when she saw Fargo and I on her way down here,” Carter snapped back. “Not that it would be any of your concern if I was flirting with her.”
“You know what, Carter,” Nathan started, stepping forward to bring himself into Carter’s personal space.
“Uh, guys,” Fargo stammered, awkwardly balancing the open can as the two men stepped too close to him.
“What Fargo?” Carter demanded, turning too quickly. Fargo lost control of the can, and both Nathan and Carter tried to reach it to upright it, a moment too late. A thick, viscous liquid sloshed out, coating Nathan’s right hand and Carter’s left, the substance hardening instantly. “What the hell is this?” Carter demanded, trying to tug his hand away. Nathan’s hand moved with his, a thin layer of something shiny and hard encasing their hands.
“That would be Fargo’s new super adhesive,” Nathan groaned, spitefully tugging his hand back with the unexpected result of pulling Carter off balance and bringing the other man uncomfortably closer to him. “Tell me you have the antidote,” he growled at Fargo, who blanched.
“Um, Dr. Stark, I was trying to tell you about that, the antidote, which you may remember is supposed to be Larry’s development for this project, has proven ineffective,” Fargo was speaking very quickly, but Nathan could tell that Carter had caught the gist of the explanation when his eyes widened in horror as he looked down at their joined hands.
“Fine, let’s get Henry to laser cut them apart, at least,” Carter suggested, and Nathan took a moment to examine the hands.
“Laser won’t work,” Nathan muttered, looking carefully at their hands. “This was designed to resist the usual cutting tools and a large number of unusual ones.”
“Great,” Carter replied, tugging the hands so he could look at them himself. “Fargo, is there anything that can get this stuff off, without removing our skin?”
“Uh, there will be?” Fargo tried, looking panicked.
“Call Henry,” Nathan barked at Fargo, glaring. “And get Larry down here as well, tell him I said ten minutes ago!”
“I don’t suppose a knife…” the sheriff started to say, but his expression sunk as he looked at the lacquer layer. “Diamonds can cut anything?”
Nathan snorted, a little amused by the simplistic observation. “If I remotely thought it would work, I’d have 50 carats here already.”
Almost an hour later, Henry had all of the notes on the substance, banished Larry and Fargo, and was sitting with his head in his hands. “Look, I’m sorry, but this is the only thing I can think of to try to dissolve the adhesive,” Henry told Nathan, his voice taking on a definite edge as he lost his patience. “And there’s no way to speed it up. It will take 48 hours to synthesize it properly.”
“Couldn’t we just solve this with a hacksaw?” Nathan whined, flicking his eyes in Carter’s direction.
“Excuse me?” Carter narrowed his eyes, jerking their conjoined hands pointedly. “Did you just give him permission to cut my hand off? Cut your own damn hand off!”
“I need my hands,” Nathan retorted, glaring. “Scientist, remember?”
“Law enforcement,” Carter replied through clenched teeth. “I need my hands just as much as you do.”
“No one is cutting off any hands,” Henry replied grimly. “Not to mention, then one of you would still be stuck to a decaying hand, and have no mobility in your own hand for the next 48 hours anyway.”
“I think Nathan’s point is that he’d rather be dead than spend the next 48 hours in the same space as me,” Carter observed, his voice flat.
“Stop trying to sound like such a martyr,” Nathan replied, purposefully raising his hands to his head, knowing his height advantage strained Carter’s arm. “You don’t want to be around me either.”
“No, because you’ll spend the next two days accusing me of trying to steal Allison, and even if I tell you otherwise, you’ll snipe at me for being stupid or whatever else I’ve done lately to offend your great intellect,” Carter grumbled, and Nathan saw Henry give Carter a sympathetic look.
“Look, it wouldn’t be a picnic for anyone, but the two of you may have to take a really radical approach here,” Henry said, and Nathan’s confusion increased, wondering why Henry was giving Carter such a comforting look or being so patient.
“Put us both in a coma?” Carter suggested dryly. Nathan actually considered it for a moment, and then scowled at his own immature reaction.
“Try getting along,” Henry replied gently. “I think if you tried, you’d find you have a lot in common.” Nathan forced himself not to jerk away from Carter at this. He didn’t want Carter getting any closer or friendlier than he already was. He’d been attracted to the man since the Sheriff had walked into his life, full of wide-eyed wonder at things all of Nathan’s colleagues took for granted. He’d had to spend a lot of time in cold showers after seeing the other man naked in decontamination, grateful his dreams weren’t being shared. And now, attached for 48 hours…
“Nathan?” Henry asked, and Nathan flushed a little, realizing his mind had wandered visibly.
“He hasn’t slept in days,” Carter covered for him, and Nathan blinked in surprise. He couldn’t imagine why Carter had made the excuse for him.
“Just trying to think of a way to handle this,” he added, his shoulders slumping. “I guess you need to get started on the super solvent, Henry,” Nathan admitted.
“And the two of you need to leave GD,” a new voice interjected, making both men try to turn, pulling on each other, and ending up tangled in the process. Carter carefully navigated them around so they could see Thorne and Allison in the doorway. “You’re both relieved of your responsibilities until you’re detached,” Thorne continued, narrowing her eyes at the pair. “Your GD clearance is revoked until then, Dr. Stark, and I’ll need your badge and gun for the time being, Sheriff.”
“Excuse me?” Carter demanded, angrily, at the same moment as Nathan growled, “I will not be shut out of my lab.”
“You’re both a liability like this,” Thorne replied, holding her hand out to Carter. “You’re a danger to safety. You can barely navigate the simple action of turning around.”
Carter turned to Allison, looking for her to step up, but she simply folded her arms. “I’m sorry, Carter, I agree with Ms. Thorne,” Allison said, her tone placating. “I don’t think you need to collect their badges, though,” Allison continued, seeing the dark looks the men were giving her. “They’ll head home now, right?”
“Fine,” Carter agreed angrily. “We’ll be at the bunker.”
“Why do you assume we’re going to your house?” Nathan asked, lifting his free hand to his now aching temple. “My house may not talk, but it would be easier to navigate.”
“Because I have a teenage daughter expecting me to come home,” Carter reminded him. It would have been the perfect time for Carter to snipe at Nathan for his mental lapse, so Nathan was surprised by the patience in the other man’s voice.
“All right,” Nathan agreed. He used the joined hands to help get them moving, surprised that Thorne let them pass, her face disapproving. He had a feeling Carter was lucky to still have his badge and gun right now.
He guided Carter to side halls, desperate to avoid attention. They made it to the Jeep before they realized they had a problem. “I could drive with one hand but…” Carter motioned to the fact that Nathan was situated to drive, but only his left hand was free.
“I can manage,” he said, giving the Jeep a wary look. “But we’re taking the Beamer. Your car stays here.”
“I’m apparently off duty, won’t need it for a couple days anyway,” Carter said sullenly. “Just keep it near the speed limit.”
“What are you talking about?” Nathan asked, feigning innocence.
“You hold the record for most speeding tickets in Eureka,” Carter replied. “Are you capable of driving under 90?”
“I just choose not to,” Nathan replied cheerfully, opening the driver’s side door. “You’ll have to crawl through,” he added, smirking at the discomfort on the other man’s face. His smirk melted as Jack tried to move too quickly, pulling Nathan off balance, legs tangling, and the pair crashed to the ground, Nathan landing awkwardly on top of Carter. He tried to remember how to breathe as he stared down at the other man, who was wide eyed with surprise.
“Ah, Stark, you’re going to have to get up,” Carter said breathlessly, and Nathan scrambled off the other man, suddenly flushing as he realized where he was. “This is harder than it looks,” Carter said, sitting up. He sighed, looking over at Nathan. “Okay, slowly this time,” he suggested, and Nathan nodded mutely.
Carter helped Nathan to his feet, then slowly and carefully climbed into the car, and Nathan carefully slid in, making sure their hands didn’t tug on each other. “This is going to be fun,” he muttered, awkwardly turning the key in the ignition and putting the car in gear.
“At least you don’t drive stick shift,” Carter observed, shrugging. “I sort of expected the Beamer to be a stick.”
“I prefer automatic,” Nathan replied, giving Carter a brief warning grin before he took off, flooring it in order to scare the other man. “Easier acceleration.”
“Whoa,” Carter grabbed at his seatbelt, quickly buckling himself in. “Uh, withdrawing objections to your fast driving, when you have two hands,” he said pointedly.
“Fine,” Nathan agreed, easing his foot back a bit. “See, I’m trying to get along,” he added archly, enjoying the snort of amusement this produced from Carter.
“Oh yeah, this’ll be fun,” Carter agreed, sitting back and closing his eyes. “If I can’t see the speedometer, I shouldn’t feel the crushing terror, right?”
“Works for me,” Nathan agreed, speeding up just a little more. He ignored the man next to him until he pulled the BMW into a spot next to Zoë’s smart car outside the bunker.
“Come on, Carter,” Nathan said, after they’d sat in silence for a few moments. “Let’s go face Zoë.”
“Just to warn you, she may not take this well,” Carter said, sliding over into the driver’s seat as Nathan slid out.
“Noted,” Nathan replied, halting Carter with a gentle tug so that he could retrieve his personal laptop and ever present overnight bag from the backseat. They walked down to the bunker, the door swinging open as they approached.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Stark, Sheriff,” S.A.R.A.H. greeted the pair cheerfully.
“Hi, S.A.R.A.H.,” Carter replied wearily.
“It appears the two of you have been bonded together,” S.A.R.A.H. noted, sounding surprised. “May I ask why you decided to use adhesives on yourselves?”
“It was an accident,” Carter explained, starting to lift his hand to the back of his neck, before sighing as he remembered Nathan was attached. “Where’s Zoë?”
“Upstairs working on her homework,” S.A.R.A.H. informed him.
“Hey, Zoë, can you come down here?” Carter called upstairs. “And S.A.R.A.H., beer me. You want anything?” he asked Nathan.
“Coffee for me,” Nathan replied, rolling his eyes when he caught the look Carter gave him. “I’ll sleep later,” he said, shaking their wrists pointedly. “You have to sleep at the same time.”
“True,” Carter agreed, as they headed into the kitchen, Nathan awkwardly taking the mug Carter offered him in his left hand, holding it tightly. There was a brief thudding of feet as Zoë bounded down into the living room, looking slightly annoyed.
“Yeah, what’s up, Dad?” she asked, blinking as she spotted Nathan. “Uh, why is Dr. Stark here?” She lit up suddenly, and Nathan blinked as Carter jerked forward quickly.
“Uh, GD accident,” Carter said quickly, holding up their joined hands. “I’m kind of stuck with him for a couple of days.”
Zoë stared for a moment, her eyes wide, then Nathan saw her lips start twitching. “Excuse me,” she managed to squeak, running quickly back up the stairs, peals of laughter echoing through the house before the door to her room closed.
“She took that well,” Nathan observed, his own lips twitching a little.
“Oh yeah,” Carter agreed, snorting. He shook his head, hiding a grin. “It is kind of funny,” he added, chuckling.
“If we survive it,” Nathan replied dryly. Seeing the look Carter gave him, he nodded rolling his eyes. “I don’t think it’s as funny as Zoë thinks though,” he refused to concede completely, and Carter shrugged.
“It rarely is,” the sheriff replied, gesturing toward the counter. Nathan followed the other man as he carefully undid his gun belt with one hand and slid it onto the counter. The door upstairs opened, and Nathan could hear Zoë moving around upstairs before coming back downstairs. She had a green tackle box covered in floral decals in one hand, a black t-shirt in the other.
“Why do you have my t-shirt?” Carter asked speculatively as Zoë opened up the tackle box to reveal rows of bobbins, needles, thread, and a few of Eureka’s higher tech hand held sewing devices.
“Well, I don’t think you want to stay in those clothes for the next few days,” Zoë observed, pulling a seam ripper out of the sewing kit. “Hold still,” she told her dad, and Nathan watched as Zoë carefully, occasionally giggling, as she carefully tore the threads joining the material of Carter’s uniform along the arm and side he had linked to Nathan.
Once the seam separated, Carter managed to unbutton the uniform shirt with agile fingers and easily remove it. “You going to need it while you’re joined?” Zoë asked, carefully folding the shirt.
“No, I’m off duty for the duration,” Carter gripped. “What are you up to, Zoë?”
“You’ll be stir crazy inside of two hours,” Zoë said, sighing. “I’ll sew that back up later. This is your least favorite t-shirt, right?” she asked, showing Carter the t-shirt, which looked well worn.
“It needs replaced,” Carter agreed. Nathan watched as Zoë quickly ripped out the same seam on the clean t-shirt then pulled a small automatic tool out of the kit. She put the two seams together, clicking the device every few centimeters until she’d run the length of the seam again.
“See?” she held it up tugging the sides apart, and Nathan could now see the machine had added tiny snaps along the seam. “I can do another one if you need me to, but now you won’t have to run around topless.”
“Thanks, Zoë,” Carter said, looking impressed. “That’s really good thinking.”
“Dr. Stark, you want to give me one of your shirts?” Zoë asked, and Nathan started across the room, pulling Carter with him. Zoë started laughing as her dad tried to catch his balance and follow the scientist. “You’re better than watching the three stooges,” she told them gleefully.
“And for only the price of two,” Carter quipped, taking the joke in stride. Nathan pulled a dark green polo shirt out and tossed it over to Zoë.
“You sure?” she asked, looking at it speculatively. “It’s an awfully nice color for you. And a nice shirt too.”
“Not my favorite,” he told her, shrugging. “Besides, I’ll probably donate it to the project for the next victim of Fargo’s clumsiness.”
“To be fair, we were in his space,” Carter reminded him, and Nathan narrowed his eyes, thinking Carter was blaming him. “It was an accident,” Carter added pointedly.
“Which is the only reason I haven’t killed Fargo yet,” Nathan observed coolly. Carter stepped back, tugging on Nathan’s arm a little, but the sheriff stopped as soon as he felt Nathan’s arm move.
“See, this is what will make this hell,” Carter burst out, scrubbing his hair roughly with his free hand. “You say things that make me want to start arguing, and I can’t back away to cool down. Hell, I can’t even cross my damn arms!”
“Dad, calm down,” Zoë said quietly, motioning them both over to sit down at the table. “What is that stuff anyway?”
“It’s a super adhesive,” Nathan told her, reaching out and touching the sealed skin carefully. “It’s intended to help with space shuttle repair and integrity repairs down at MacMurdo Air Force Base at the South Pole.”
“Looks like it’ll work,” Zoë observed cheerfully.
“There’s the silver lining,” Nathan agreed, his finger sliding to the edge of the polymer and Jack’s arm, feeling the cool hard substance give way to soft warm skin. He couldn’t resist the urge to run his thumb along the edge, a tiny lip of glass like material against the other’s man skin, giving him an excuse to touch Carter.
“Got a theory?” Carter sounded strained, and Nathan looked up to see the sheriff looking very wary of the touch.
“It was never intended for exposure to human skin,” he admitted. “I guess I’m just worried about getting use of my hand back.”
Carter looked irritated for a moment, then Nathan saw him suddenly understand what Nathan wasn’t saying. “Hey, it’ll be fine. Henry will get our hands separated, and if it does any damage, we’ll figure that out too, right?”
“Wow, Dad, understanding,” Zoë praised him, making Nathan chuckle. He stopped, startled by her suddenly reaching over to examine the cuff on his very nice shirt. “Uh, Dr. Stark, I’ve got some bad news,” she started, wincing as she examined the cuff.
“You’re going to have to cut it,” Nathan observed, shrugging. “I lose half a dozen a month to GD experiments anyway,” he told her, holding his arm up as she cut the shirt off in several quick snips.
“All right, can I trust the two of you with the seam ripper for your undershirts?” Zoë asked jokingly, handing the sharp tool to her dad.
“Thanks, Zoë,” Carter said, poking the shiny lacquer with the tool. Nathan saw her lips twitching, and sighed.
“There she goes again,” he observed, and Carter waved his daughter off, as she ran upstairs again, laughing. Nathan started trying to undo his shirt’s buttons, surprised when he found he didn’t have the same easy dexterity that Carter had demonstrated on his own clothes.
“Here,” Carter reached over, settling his hand on one side of Nathan’s chest, holding the shirt still so Nathan could more easily manage the buttons. Nathan was surprised by the gesture, Carter helping but not taking over either.
“Thanks,” he said, unable to contain his surprise.
“See, I’m trying to get along,” Carter said, grinning as he echoed Nathan’s earlier words. “Not that I don’t trust you with a sharp object, but will you be able to use the seam ripper with your left hand?”
“Slowly and carefully,” Nathan replied, even though he wasn’t entirely confident. But Carter was handing him the tool, so he worked painstakingly carefully, oddly determined that he would not hurt Jack.
When the last stitch was undone, Carter slid the shirt off, and Nathan tried his hardest not to stare at the smooth planes and lines, which were surprisingly more defined than he remembered. “Here,” Carter startled Nathan out of his thoughts, holding out a hand for the seam ripper.
Nathan’s undershirt fit much more closely than Carter’s, so he wasn’t surprised when the little tool slipped, making a neat little slice that barely broke the skin along his side. “Oh god,” Carter’s hand was suddenly on his abdomen, his thumb running just under the cut to check the damage. “I’m sorry, Stark, I didn’t…”
“It’s fine,” Nathan reassured him, twisting a little to look. “Not even bleeding really.”
“Yeah,” Carter agreed, his hand still warm and firm on Nathan’s skin. Nathan’s libido suddenly kicked into overdrive, Jack’s crouch leaving him suggestively positioned and his hand flexing slightly, almost possessively against Nathan’s side. Nathan was glad Carter was still concernedly examining the cut, because his pants were suddenly too tight.
“Just finish the seam,” Nathan snapped, more irritated than he meant to sound.
“Sorry,” Carter scrambled, quickly finishing the threads off, and Nathan tugged his shirt off impatiently.
“Shower?” Nathan suggested, frustration seeping into his voice.
“Okay.” Nathan frowned, suddenly puzzled. Had he just heard Carter’s voice squeak? Why was the other man flushed red suddenly? He finally dismissed it as wishful thinking as Carter quickly and efficiently picked up their snap side shirts and guided Nathan toward the bathroom.
“You can go first,” Carter told him, his eyes firmly screwed upwards. Nathan wanted to laugh, but he knew he would have his eyes just as firmly planted on the ceiling when it was the sheriff’s turn. He showered quickly, grumbling under his breath about sonic showers. Carter handed him towels and clothing as he requested it, but both men remained silent otherwise.
Once it was Carter’s turn, Nathan swore he wasn’t going to look, but his eyes slid from the ceiling down to tan skin, obscured by the frosted shower glass. He let his head fall into his free hand, stifling a groan. 48 hours was going to be hell, he decided. Because only two hours in, he was almost to the point of jumping the other man.
Zoë’s giggling hadn’t stopped when he and Stark made their way back downstairs, Jack observed, noticing that it actually seemed worse. She was on her cell phone, and she began laughing when she saw them. “Dad, can I go meet Pilar for shopping and dinner?” she asked, managing to stifle her laughs.
“Homework done?” Jack asked, and Zoë nodded. “Okay, go.”
“Café Diem at 7 if you want to join us,” Zoë added, looking sympathetically at the joined pair. The sympathy didn’t convey well, though, as her lips were twitching.
“Thanks,” Jack replied, waving her off. Once the door closed behind her, Jack awkwardly looked over at Stark, not certain what to say or do. He followed Stark, collapsing on the couch next to the other man. Stark had pulled out his laptop, so Jack turned on the baseball game S.A.R.A.H. had tivo’ed a few days earlier.
“Deputy Lupo is at the door,” S.A.R.A.H. announced half an hour later.
“Let her in, S.A.R.A.H.,” Jack replied absently. He didn’t try rising, as he could see Stark was absorbed in whatever he was typing.
Jo burst in, a small tornado of angry energy. “She tried to take your badge and gun?” she demanded, arms crossed tightly.
“She didn’t succeed,” Jack said placatingly, noticing that Stark had quirked an eyebrow at this.
“You know she wouldn’t have given them back if she had gotten them,” Jo said fiercely. The typing next to him halted. “She wants the pair of us gone yesterday. I’m surprised you aren’t locked up in containment inside GD somewhere. No offence, Dr. Stark, I know you like the woman, but as long as you’re stuck to Carter, you’ll have to live with hearing this.”
Jack glanced over at a bewildered Stark. “First, I don’t like her and am certainly not offended. Second, she wants you gone?” The latter was directed at Jack, and the indignant tone surprised him.
“Apparently I’m not making much of a difference around here,” Jack replied bitterly, glancing at Jo. “I had to agree to safety and protocol meetings in order to keep her from firing Jo.”
“Hell, we should be working together, apparently,” Stark muttered, turning his laptop toward the other two. “I’m locked out of my work.”
“What the hell is she up to?” Jo wondered aloud, stopping suddenly. She gave Jack a grin, which had him groaning.
“I’m off duty till we’re detached,” Jack reminded her pointedly.
“Yes, but now we have someone on the inside, and I’d be willing to bet good money he’s already working on figuring out the big secret of what Thorne moved into section 5,” Jo pointed out, turning the grin on Stark.
Stark gave Jack a quick, worried look. “Has she always been this scary?” he asked.
“Thorne took her specialty weapons away,” Jack explained, and smiled when Stark nodded knowingly.
“Ah,” Stark replied. “And how exactly do the two of you know that she’s got a top secret project in section 5?”
Jo looked flustered, and Jack tried to hide his grin. “What am I missing?” he asked.
“You’re missing the totally awkward conversation where Jo tried to use feminine wiles on Fargo,” Jack replied cheerfully. “He hasn’t known up from down around her since then. How do you think Dr. Karthik’s machine got broken?”
“Explains so much,” Stark mused, giving Jo a grin. “But unfortunately, Fargo has been locked out of Section 5 since Thorne arrived.”
Jack tried not to laugh, but Jo clearly saw his shoulders shaking as she glared at him. “Oh, you’re dead,” she informed him, and Jack lost it. “I’ve been flirting with Fargo.”
“I didn’t know he was locked out,” Jack replied, trying to school his features. He made the mistake of looking over at Stark, who was biting his lip and carefully projecting a blank face. “Besides we got some info out of it,” he pointed out between laughs.
“You’re lucky you’re glued to Stark,” Jo remarked darkly. She inspected the pair, and nodded. “Then again, I’ll just look at it as penance. Have a good night, Carter.”
“Thanks, Jo,” Jack replied dryly. He waited till the door shut behind her, and turned on Stark. “You are working on finding out what she’s hiding, right?”
“Yes,” Stark confirmed, looking at the computer. “Hacking in would take hours one handed. Do you want to join Zoë at Café Diem?”
“Well, the other option is trying to prepare dinner like this,” Jack pointed out, and Stark grimaced, shaking his head. “Didn’t think so,” Jack continued, standing slowly.
Café Diem was mostly empty when they arrived, stumbling awkwardly when they forgot to maneuver carefully through the narrow door. Zoë and Pilar sat at the counter. They looked up, and instantly dissolved into giggles when they spotted the pair. “All right,” Jack said shooing them toward a table. “Get it out of your systems now.”
“Sheriff, Dr. Stark,” Vince greeted them cheerfully, his smile fading as he noticed their conjoined hands. “Ah, is that Fargo’s super adhesive?” he asked, flinching when Jack nodded. “Oh god, drinks on me, what do you need?” Vince said quickly, patting Jack on the shoulder sympathetically.
“Scotch,” Stark ordered.
“Just a beer, Vince,” Jack replied, following Stark to the table Zoë and Pilar had commandeered.
“Why does everyone do that?” Stark grumbled, sliding into the booth and tugging Jack with him.
“Do what?” Jack asked, not sure if he was supposed to have heard the complaint.
“Act like you’re suffering so much,” Stark clarified.
Pilar gave Stark a look, evaluating carefully and then said, “No offence, Dr. Stark, but you scare people, whereas the sheriff pretty much likes everyone, even you.” Jack wanted to groan, hit his head on the table, do something, but he knew Stark might be able to read his actions for what they were. He remained impassively frozen instead.
“Right,” Stark started to snort, then stopped, spotting Jack. “Carter?”
“I just told them not to mock you behind your back,” Jack explained lamely. “You’re not as bad as they think.”
“See?” Zoë said pointedly to Stark. “He likes you, even though you obviously hate him.”
“Thanks, Zoë,” Jack said sarcastically, uncomfortable with the blunt point his daughter had put on the matter. He knew his crush on the other man was hopeless, never going to be more than combative flirting, but he didn’t like hearing it. Henry at least humored him, telling him about love and hate and thin lines and Nathan’s dating oddities.
“Carter, I don’t hate you,” Stark objected, accepting the Scotch from Vince. Vince shot Stark a disbelieving look, which made Jack wince, suddenly too aware of their joined hands and his inability to effect a getaway.
“I don’t,” he protested, and Jack looked down at the table, feeling his face heat up suddenly.
“Maybe this isn’t a discussion to have when we’re stuck with each other for another 43 hours,” Jack mumbled. He took a long drink of his beer, finally raising his head after a moment of silence.
Stark was staring at him, green eyes narrowed in thought. “I don’t like the fact that my ex-wife wants to be with you,” Stark said. “But…” he trailed off, giving the two teenagers a wary look. “Look, Henry is right. If we didn’t have Allison in the middle of things, we might be… well, friends.”
“But you don’t listen, Stark,” Jack burst out, unable to help himself. “She shot you down, and I turned her down. How is she in between us?” Allison’s offer, very clearly a rebound reaction to Stark’s proposal, hadn’t been very convincing, and Jack had decided to wait, to see if she came back to ask him again after she’d had some time to heal. She hadn’t.
“I’m sorry?” Stark asked, blinking at Jack. “She asked you out and you said no?”
“How do you not know that?” Pilar asked.
“It was all over town for days!” Zoë added, aghast. “Do you ever come out of your lab?”
“Apparently not,” Stark murmured, nudging Jack with his shoulder. Jack looked up, surprised. “I don’t hate you.”
“Okay,” Jack replied quietly. He wasn’t sure why Nathan was so insistent, but for now, he decided to accept it. “So, dinner?” he asked, awkwardly trying to shift the conversation in a different direction.
Zoë and Pilar left first, owing to a desire to talk about boys, something that neither adult had any interest in overhearing. “I need to stop in at my house,” Stark told Jack as they left, and Jack nodding, simply following the other man. Stark pocketed his keys, and Jack frowned. “Might as well walk,” Stark observed. “It’s a nice night, and my house is less than five blocks from here.”
“Fine by me,” Jack agreed easily, falling into step next to the scientist. It felt a little too comfortable, almost like walking down the street holding hands voluntarily, rather than because of a GD accident. He sighed, trying to force his mind back up to reality and away from his fantasies.
“I don’t hate you,” Stark said, sounding almost sullen.
“Are we still on that?” Jack asked, baffled.
“You don’t believe me, so yes,” Stark replied, going to shove his hands in his pockets, and Jack’s hand bumped his thigh. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I just can’t believe everyone thinks I hate you. Even you think so.”
“Well, isn’t this town all about make a theory and then gather evidence to prove it?” Jack challenged the scientist. “If the theory is you hating me, then there’s plenty to prove it.”
Stark appeared to be thinking this over silently as they walked, so Jack left him to it. He unlocked the gate, letting Jack into the dark yard. Jack looked around, surprised. The yard was a little shaggy, matching the weeping willow trees and wildflower beds along the front porch. Nothing about the very spontaneous looking yard seemed to fit Stark’s personality. “This is beautiful,” he said softly, pausing to look up at the starlit sky through the willow branches.
“Really?” Stark sounded surprised, looking around. “Allison was always complaining about how wild it looked.”
“I like it,” Jack said shrugging. He caught Stark gazing at him, and shuffled a little uncomfortably. “What?”
“Nothing,” Stark replied gruffly, moving suddenly, tugging on Jack’s arm. “Come on,” he said belatedly.
Jack followed him into the house, taking a long look around. He’d never been inside the scientist’s lair and had constructed a mental image of cold, clinical rooms. Instead there were warm red hardwood floors, and the furniture was all overstuffed leather. Jack stepped closer to the large stone fireplace, looking at the photos on the mantel. He touched one of Nathan and a slightly older man who looked remarkably similar to Stark. “Brother?” Jack guessed, and Stark nodded.
“Ben, my older brother,” Stark explained, stepping closer, and looking through the photos. “Ahh, here,” he said, picking up a frame and handing it to Jack. “It’s the most recent photo he’s sent me.”
The photo showed Ben, his arm around a tall Indian woman, and two daughters, clearly adopted, as the older was fair skinned with long red hair, and the younger was black, with long black braids. “My parents weren’t the most tolerant people, they disowned Ben when he married Jenny.”
“Jenny?” Jack asked, sensing something more.
“Jahnavi,” Stark clarified, grinning. “She had Ben start calling her Jenny to drive her parents crazy. Her mother refused to speak to Ben in anything other than Hindi for the first year they were dating.”
“What did your parents think about Allison?” Jack asked, suddenly aware that Stark’s parents couldn’t have approved of her either.
“They died before I met her,” Stark replied, handing Jack a third framed picture. “That’s them.”
The older man in the photo looked a lot like Nathan, but Jack recognized the too staid look on his face. “I remember that look,” he said, setting the photo back in its place. “My dad uses it all the time.”
“You see much of him?” Stark asked, and Jack looked up, surprised to see the other man looked genuinely curious.
“I visit when I’m in LA,” Jack said, shrugging. “Gives Zoë some time alone with her mom, gives me some time to not argue with Abby and argue with him instead.”
“Zoë doesn’t visit,” Stark observed, not quite making it a question.
“Alzheimer’s,” Jack said softly. “There’s no reason for her to. Especially since he usually thinks he needs to argue with me about military instead of college. That’s what he remembers about me, how I disappointed him by not enlisting like him.”
“I’m sorry,” Stark reached over, squeezing Jack’s shoulder comfortingly. Jack looked up, surprised by the genuine compassion in the other man’s voice. His gaze locked on Nathan’s, the scientist’s hand resting on his shoulder, thumb slowly stroking along his collarbone. “I probably shouldn’t have pried,” he added, and Jack shook his head.
“I wouldn’t have told you if I minded,” Jack dismissed it easily. “Since you want me to think you don’t hate me, I guess I can try to indulge it.”
“Thanks, Carter,” Stark said dryly, and Jack made a quick decision.
“Jack,” he said, giving the other man a pointed look.
“Okay, Jack,” Stark said, pulling his hand back. “You’ll call me Nathan then?”
“Yeah, if you want,” Jack agreed, shoving his free hand in his pocket to prevent it from reaching up to try and capture the warmth on his shoulder than Nathan’s hand had created.
“I want,” Nathan agreed, and Jack smiled, relatively certain they both were feeling awkward about the sudden offer of friendship. “I need to grab some work from the office,” Nathan hooked a thumb in the general direction, and Jack followed him. The office walls were floor to ceiling overstuffed bookshelves. If he hadn’t been attached to Nathan, he would have browsed through them.
Nathan shuffled through a couple of files, and then picked up a small data store and a few disks. “Work?” Jack guessed, and Nathan nodded.
“I’m paranoid, I have a full backup of my GD work here on the external hard drive,” Nathan told him tucking the drive into a shoulder bag, along with a physical file and the CDs.
“How big is the hard drive?” Jack asked skeptically. It didn’t look as nice as the one he’d bought Zoë, but he figured it was a Eureka device.
“50 terabytes,” Nathan replied absently, then looked up, grinning at Jack. “Terabytes are 1000 gigabytes, by the way.”
“I know,” Jack replied with a scowl. “I just got Zoë a 1 terabyte hard drive.”
“Have her leave it home tomorrow, and I’ll make some upgrades,” Nathan volunteered, opening a drawer and adding several chips and computer boards to the bag.
“Thanks,” Jack said, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice. “There’s a way to endear yourself, getting to me through my daughter.”
“Whatever it takes,” Nathan replied, winking at Jack. Jack felt his face heat, his mind suddenly dropping into a very wrong place in response to the casual almost flirting. “Ready to go,” Nathan said, raising an eyebrow when he looked at Jack. “You okay?”
“Fine,” Jack replied quickly, turning away from the intense gaze. “We should head back before Zoë and Pilar burn down the bunker.”
“I think they’re probably too busy plotting my death,” Nathan observed. “Your daughter doesn’t like me much.”
“For all her attitude about my bad parenting, she’s protective of me,” Jack explained as Nathan locked his front door. “She’s just as bad about Abby. Nearly gave her new girlfriend a heart attack with the questions and threats.”
“Girlfriend?” Nathan sounded too carefully neutral at this, and Jack scowled at him.
“You have a problem with my ex-wife’s dating choices?” he demanded, and Nathan shook his head, chuckling darkly.
“God, no,” Nathan replied, grinning. “That’d be a little hypocritical. I just was surprised.”
“Hypocritical?” Jack repeated, his heart picking up the pace a little, hopeful.
“Am I really going to have to spell this one out for you, Sheriff?” Nathan asked, giving him a pained look. The pair nodded to Dr. Kansaki as she passed by them on her bike, waving absentmindedly to them and muttering about vector tension models.
“Ah, no, I got it,” Jack muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets. One hand made it, the other, attached, ended up sliding down his hip. “Sorry, I keep forgetting. Anyway, I was going to say that’d be one of the reasons I didn’t take my dad’s advice about the marines.” He knew it was skirting saying anything, but Nathan would catch on.
“Oh?” Nathan paused, taking a moment to look at Jack before continuing toward the car. “Now I’m really surprised.”
“Guess we can call it even,” Jack replied, carefully controlling himself. Nathan’s scrutiny, his perpetual closeness, everything about the situation was wearing down his usual self-control. “You’ve been surprising me all day.”
“Likewise, Sheriff,” Nathan replied cheerfully as they walked back toward the car. Jack was relieved that Nathan managed to keep the car around the speed limit as they drove back to the bunker, obviously deferring to the fact that Jack was in the car.
“Hey, guess what we rented?” Zoë greeted them, holding up a DVD case as they walked into the room. Pilar was already crying from laughing, and Jack sighed, accepting the case.
“Stuck on You,” Jack read, rolling his eyes. “Very nice, thank you.”
Using parental authority and Nathan’s vote to overrule the girls, they watched a bad horror movie S.A.R.A.H. tivo’ed for Zoë a few weeks earlier. Fortunately it seemed that jumpiness overruled giggling in teenage girls, so Jack was able to relax for a while. Pilar was still giggling occasionally when she left, and Zoë was grinning when she went to bed.
“I think I figured out what to get you for your birthday,” Nathan groaned as Zoë’s bedroom door closed. “A vacation without giggling teenagers.”
“You’ve only dealt with it for a few hours,” Jack replied, elbowing Nathan with the joined arms. “I deal with it all the time.”
“Thus the vacation will be another way for me to convince you that I don’t hate you,” Nathan observed, but his voice lacked any conviction. He yawned, and Jack suddenly remembered that Nathan hadn’t slept in a couple of days.
“You need to go to bed,” Jack observed, and Nathan nodded sleepily, though Jack suspected he didn’t know what he was agreeing with. “Come on,” Jack said, turning off The Daily Show.
“You don’t have to…” Nathan protested, and Jack sighed.
“I’m tired too,” he admitted, using their joined hands to nudge Nathan toward the stairs. “And now I’m thinking logistics. Are you a front sleeper or back sleeper?”
Nathan looked at him blankly for a moment before catching up to his meaning. “Oh, right, I sleep on my stomach or sometimes my side.”
“I sleep on my back,” Jack said, shrugging. “We’ll figure something out.”
“Honestly, I’m tired enough I could sleep anywhere, standing up,” Nathan replied. “I can sleep on my back.” They quickly got ready for bed, stripped down, and slid into bed, S.A.R.A.H. obligingly shutting out the lights.
“Hey Car-… Jack?” Nathan’s voice, low in the darkness, sent a quick shiver along Jack’s spine.
“If this turns into some sort of slumber party, chattering in that dark thing,” Jack tried to sound threatening, but judging by the huff of laughter from Nathan, he didn’t quite succeed.
“If you want, we can stay at my house tomorrow night. Escape Zoë and the giggling.”
“Okay,” Jack replied uncertainly, staring at the ceiling, not wanting to look at the other man.
“Have a real shower,” Nathan added, a little hopefully.
“This is about you hating the sonic shower,” Jack guessed, feeling the tension ease and grinning over at Nathan.
“Oh yeah,” Nathan agreed, making Jack laugh a little. “Good night, Jack.”
“Night,” Jack replied softly. His mind wasn’t ready to shut down, the scent of Nathan and his bare arm pressed against Jack’s giving rise to fantasies Jack knew he needed to clamp down on. Unable to help himself, he looked over, seeing Nathan’s face, softer in sleep, turned slightly toward him. He stifled a groan. They still had the better part of two days to get through, and he already wanted to jump the other man.
Ramblings & Writings
- Eureka Fic: Stuck on You (Part One)