Rating/Warnings: Contains bad language and some sexual innuendo. Because it's Jack. The US movie ratings board would doubtless give this an R for a couple of instances of the Dreaded F-Word, but I really wouldn't rate it higher than a PG, myself.
Fandoms: Star Trek: TOS/Torchwood
Summary: The 51st century and the 23rd cross paths in 1930, where they discover that tragedy is timeless.
Author's Note: Contains spoilers for TOS's "City on the Edge of Forever," if that's even something people care about forty-five years later. Any spoilers for Doctor Who or Torchwood are mild and vague, unless by some miracle you don't already know about the really big thing that's happened to Jack, as revealed in the first ep of TW or the end of DW season 3. Many thanks to vilakins for the beta!
A Stranger in the City
Jack paused outside the door and checked the sensor on his wrist device again. The time distortion here was faint, the barest trace of the temporal tsunami that had red-lined their detectors in Cardiff a few days ago, but this was definitely the place. Whoever or whatever had arrived on that first wave of spacetime displacement, at least one of them had ended up here.
He looked back up at the door. Nothing remarkable about it, just yet another door leading to yet another low-rent apartment in yet another New York City flophouse. Not a sight Jack found particularly inspiring, to be honest. He'd seized on this excuse to get the hell out of Wales for a while and see a little of the country of his distant ancestors, but Depression-era New York had turned out to be, well... depressing. Go figure.
Right. Time to get this over with. The question now was, should he knock politely on the door like a civilized person, or just go ahead and kick the thing in? He had no particular reason, aside from his employers' habitual xenophobia, to assume that whoever might be in there was hostile. Then again, after about the sixth time you had to chase after an alien fleeing down a fire escape, you got kinda tired of it.
Of course, there might well be a third way... He reached out and tried the doorknob. Unlocked. Well, as a good friend he hadn't seen in far too long had once told him, sometimes the best strategy is just to walk in like you own the place.
Then again, maybe not. Despite the swiftness with which he entered and the care he'd taken to be nearly noiseless in the corridor, the room's occupant was obviously ready for him. The instant he stepped through, an arm shot out with a speed that, if it weren't quite inhuman was at least close, chopping him solidly across the wrist and sending his gun flying. Another hand came down firmly on his shoulder, the thumb and forefinger pressing against his neck in a configuration that did not feel remotely accidental. Jack was pretty sure he could guess the result if they squeezed, even if it wasn't a trick that anybody he'd known had ever quite mastered.
Ignoring the twinge of pain the gesture caused in his wrist, he spread his arms out from his body, empty palms up, and looked into the face of his attacker with what he hoped was a charmingly placating smile. Well, no, he knew it was a charmingly placating smile. He just hoped it would be effective.
The man -- it did appear to be a man -- regarded him calmly, with eyes that simultaneously managed to be both detached and intense. Jack studied him carefully, fighting down a familiar, irritating surge of disappointment that it wasn't the face some part of him had been hoping to see.
If this guy wasn't human, which Jack's finely-honed alien-hunter's intuition suggested he probably wasn't, then he was either a shape-shifter or one of those species that outwardly matched human norms to a ridiculous number of decimal places. He was wearing reasonable period clothing, too -- including, oddly, a wool cap -- and the body beneath that clothing was lean, lanky, and evidently stronger than it looked. He was clearly someone who knew how to use it, too. Even under the circumstances, Jack approved. "Nice moves."
The man quirked an eyebrow at him. The slight pressure against Jack's neck remained absolutely steady.
"You know," Jack said, keeping his voice deliberately light, "while that's kind of sexy, that thing with the eyebrow, I'm thinking you might not want to call so much attention to that particular facial feature. Because what I'm seeing there is either evidence of non-human ancestry or a really anachronistic fashion choice. Either way, I'd guess it's not exactly something you're interested in advertising."
The second eyebrow shot up to join the first, but otherwise the man's face remained absolutely expressionless. "Fascinating," he said, his voice calm and even. "Am I correct in inferring that you are not a native of this locale?"
"If by 'locale,' you mean the 20th century, then yeah. Although maybe I qualify as a naturalized citizen by now." Jack grinned. "Captain Jack Harkness, at your service. Listen, not that I don't enjoy a backrub from a good-looking man, but do you think maybe you could take your fingers off the nerve bundle in my neck while we're talking?"
The man tilted his head slightly and spent a moment looking him over. Which ordinarily Jack would take as flattering, but he somehow got the impression that the brain behind those dark eyes was carefully calculating his threat level. The hand withdrew, leaving Jack vaguely wondering if he ought to feel insulted.
"I am Spock," the man said. Jack blinked. Somewhere in the back of his head, the name was ringing a bell, but he was damned if he could place it. "You are familiar with the Vulcan nerve pinch?"
Jack smiled and shrugged. "I'm familiar with human anatomy."
"You appear to be familiar with a great many things, Captain Harkness." He pronounced the title as if unsure whether Jack's claim to it were legitimate. Which was fair enough, seeing as how it technically wasn't. "May I inquire how you located me, and the nature of your intentions?" He had a strange way of speaking, this Spock, oddly formal and precise, but coming from him it seemed perfectly natural. What had he said his species was? Vulcan? That sounded vaguely familiar, too.
"We detected the temporal displacement when you arrived." Jack tapped the device on his wrist. "So I came to investigate. It's sort of my job. A bit out of my usual jurisdiction, admittedly, but when something that spectacular happens, even on the other side of the planet, you can't exactly ignore it, can you?" He noticed Spock staring intently at the wrist computer. He recognized the look in Spock's eyes easily enough; he'd seen it in plenty of techie types faced with a new piece of advanced alien technology. "Sorry, what century did you say you were from?"
"I did not," replied Spock. Jack gave him a wry, I-am-not-amused look. "The twenty-third," Spock answered at last, "according to the Earth calendar. And yourself?"
"Twenty-third, huh? I've only been there once, but it seemed like a fun time. Lots of optimism, lots of really short skirts. Me, I'm from the fifty-first, originally. Which means I probably shouldn't let you look at this." He moved the arm with the wrist computer firmly behind his back.
Spock looked as if he were about to say something, but it was Jack's turn to have his eye caught by an interesting piece of technology as he glanced casually around the shabby room and noticed... "Whoa! Is that what I think it is?" He scurried over to the table for a closer look.
Spock followed, deftly scooping up Jack's discarded firearm on the way and tucking into the pocket of his jeans. "That would be a less difficult question to answer," he said, "if you were to specify what you 'think it is'."
Jack studied the elegant muddle of electronics in admiring disbelief. It looked as if it had been drawing more power than it could handle and burnt out a few capacitors recently, but he was pretty sure it still ought to work. "Did you build a functioning mnemonic circuit out of, of..." Ye gods, was all of this based on vacuum tubes? He hadn't realized you could do that with a vacuum tube.
"Stone knives and bearskins?" suggested Spock.
Jack looked up at him, amused. "And here I was starting to think you didn't know how to take things non-literally." His smile faded away to a thoughtful expression as the memories that had been playing at the back of his mind started thrusting themselves to the front. The name "Spock," a literal-minded species called Vulcans, time travel, technical genius... He did know who this guy was! "Holy crap!" He smacked the side of his head with his palm. "You're that Spock! U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Kirk... Am I right?"
Up went the eyebrow again. "It is fortunate," said Spock, "that Vulcans do not possess the quality known to humans as 'ego.' I suspect that most entities would find the idea of being remembered twenty-eight centuries into their future to be extremely flattering. Even I will admit to finding the thought somewhat gratifying, if true."
"Well, if you'd said your name was Kirk, I would have remembered sooner." Jack smiled at what was clearly an affronted look passing for a swift microsecond across the Vulcan's face. "Wow, James T. Kirk... I used to be a Time Agent, and Kirk was legendary at the Agency. I've even heard that the whole thing was founded specifically to deal with Kirk's transgressions, back when it was the old Department of Temporal Investigations. Hey, let me ask you. Is the rumor about you and Kirk true? You know, that you were..." He made a gesture that, while specific to the 51st century, could be easily interpreted by any species with more-or-less human sexual anatomy.
The Vulcan's I-am-not-going-to-dignify-that-with-an-a
"Well, listen." Jack leaned in towards Spock conspiratorially. "Do you think I might have a chance? Because I've seen pictures, and..." He let out a brief, low whistle. "James Kirk was hot."
"To my knowledge, Captain Kirk's temperature is well within normal human range. However, if you are implying what I believe you to be implying..." He hesitated for a moment. "I am afraid the Captain's affections at the moment are otherwise engaged." Spock's voice was a little difficult to read, but Jack was pretty sure that he sounded troubled. And not the sexual-jealousy kind of troubled, either.
"You want to tell me what you're doing here?" Jack asked, rather gently. "It's possible I can help."
"We are looking," said Spock, "for a doctor."
Jack felt his heart give a stuttering thump. He swallowed and forced a smile. "Aren't we all," he said. Spock gave him a puzzled look. "This doctor," he continued, trying to keep his voice light. "He didn't happen to have two hearts and an amazing capacity for snark?"
"He did not have two hearts," said Spock. "Although his penchant for emotional excess might perhaps indicate otherwise. I am speaking of our ship's surgeon, Dr. Leonard McCoy." He studied Jack's expression. "You are unfamiliar with the name?"
Oh, well. Silly thought, anyway. New York City in 1930 hardly seemed like the most plausible place to find the Doctor he was looking for. "'Fraid so," he said, although it did sound vaguely familiar, probably from some story or other he'd heard about Kirk. "Never mind." He rubbed his hands together. "Why don't we start at the beginning?"
Spock cocked his head slightly, his long fingers playing absently across the face of the clunky twenty-third century scanner at the heart of his improvised circuit. Again, Jack imagined he could see the Vulcan's mind working, figuring the odds on whether Jack could be trusted. He readied himself to argue, started doing some calculations of his own about the exact kind and amount of charm and persuasion to apply, but whatever numbers Spock was crunching, they seemed to come out in his favor.
"Very well." Spock's fingers abandoned the circuit to splay gracefully against the tabletop. His words were businesslike and crisp. "We were investigating a series of anomalous waves of temporal displacement emanating from an uninhabited planet. Upon beaming down to the center of the displacement, we encountered an... entity, in appearance a simple stone ring, but in fact an ancient artifact of a complexity beyond my capacity to analyze. It described itself as 'The Guardian of Forever' and claimed to offer access to any era of history."
Well now, that was interesting. Jack had heard stories -- myths, really -- of ancient, ruined planets, the lost remnants of incredibly powerful vanished civilizations. Some tales even attributed them to the Time Lords. Jack had never quite believed that, but he sort of wished now that he'd thought to ask about it while he'd had the chance. In any event, if they had ever really existed, by Jack's time the knowledge had been lost -- probably on purpose. It could be that Spock's ship really had found such a place. Then again, it might just as easily have been an ordinary, albeit powerful, rift with an extra-sophisticated control mechanism attached. Either way... "You know, you really want to be careful with that kind of stuff. You go messing around with time travel without knowing what you're doing, the effects can get really ugly. I once knew a guy who married his own grandmother by mistake. You can imagine what an awkward wedding reception that was."
Had he heard somewhere that Vulcans weren't supposed to have emotions? This one was surprisingly easy to read once you'd known him for ten or fifteen minutes. Jack did what the look on his face was clearly asking for and shut up.
"We were aware of the potential dangers," Spock said, his voice slow and, Jack thought, tired. "At least, those of us who were in our right minds at the time. Unfortunately, Dr. McCoy had recently suffered an overdose of a drug called cordrazine, a powerful medication which at high doses can cause aggression and paranoia. In this irrational state, he beamed down from the ship and vanished through the portal before we could apprehend him. Immediately afterward, we lost contact with our ship. It, together with history as we had known it, had ceased to exist. McCoy had evidently performed some action which changed the course of history. Only we on the planet appeared to be immune to the effect."
Jack knew this feeling too well, this cold oh, fuck feeling that sat like a ball of ice in the pit of your stomach. It seemed to happen to him surprisingly often since he'd started working for Torchwood. But if he lived to be a thousand -- and, let's face it, he almost certainly would -- he was never, never going to learn to like it any better. "That," he said, "is not good."
Spock quirked an eyebrow. "It never ceases to surprise me," he said, "how a species with such a capacity for exaggeration as humanity can also possess such a significant talent for understatement."
"It's a gift," said Jack, but it sounded considerably weaker than he'd intended it to.
"The situation, as you say, is not good. However..." He looked thoughtful. "Were one to proceed from a certain set of axioms as regards the nature of time, one could logically conclude that your presence here proves that the difficulty will be resolved. Your memories of Kirk and the Enterprise indicate that your timeline is the same as ours, therefore our present must be restored in order to give rise to your future."
Jack shook his head. "Nice piece of thinking, but I'm afraid time travel doesn't work that way. When your friend wiped out your history, he probably took mine with it. No, we're both in the same boat now. Orphans from a dead future." As soon as he'd said it, he really wished he'd come up with a different phrase. He was starting to depress himself.
"I see," said Spock.
"Sorry. To be honest, this sort of thing isn't supposed to be possible, but it's hardly the first time that it's happened anyway." Jack pulled a rickety chair out from under the circuit-strewn table and sat down heavily, stretching his legs in front of him. It was a position that he found sometimes helped him think. "OK, the way I see it, there are two possibilities here. Either this Guardian gadget of yours is as scary powerful as I'm starting to think it is---"
"That would concur with my findings," Spock said.
"In which case, it's just pulled off the neat trick of changing history without consequences. Or else we're about to be descended on by the biggest army of Reapers the universe has ever seen."
Spock gave him a questioning look.
"Reapers. Don't ask. Really, don't ask, because I'm not sure I could explain. Suffice to say that they help protect the timelines from paradoxes, mainly by eating the paradoxes. Which in this case is you and your friends. And me. Hell, I wouldn't put it past them to chow down on the entire city... Which, come to think of it, might well cause an even bigger paradox. Which would be--"
"A bad thing?" asked Spock dryly.
"Well, I might survive it, but I'm really not eager to find out."
"There is a third alternative," said Spock, steepling his fingers together. "We locate the focal point in time where Doctor McCoy effected the precipitating change and prevent him from doing so. That--" he touched the circuit gently "--was the purpose of this device. I was able to ascertain the relevant event, although not the precise time. Nevertheless, the odds of success may be in our favor."
"You don't sound very happy about that, somehow." Yeah, there was a catch here. Jack could smell a catch.
"I am a Vulcan. It is not in my nature to sound happy. However..." He sighed. "That response would be especially inappropriate in this circumstance."
"This focal point..." Jack had the feeling he knew how that sentence probably ought to end, but he really didn't want to have to say it.
Spock apparently had no such compunction. "Is the life, or more accurately, the death of a human being."
Jack rubbed a hand across his face. Suddenly, he felt really tired of doing this job. "Show me," he said. He reached across the table and tapped the face of Spock's scanner device. "That's what you've been doing here, right? Calling up historical records?"
"Images," Spock corrected, "from the Guardian. Recorded both before and during our transit to this time, showing the outcome of two distinct timelines."
"Handy. So show me."
Spock regarded him for a moment, then with an almost imperceptible nod, he began flipping switches. As soon as he had finished he drew his hand away, as if expecting the circuit to spark, or perhaps explode, but it only hummed quietly into life.
An image began to form on the screen. "This was the first result I was able to obtain. It appears to originate from our universe, before the alteration."
Jack leaned closer. The image showed part of a newspaper, an article announcing the death of New York social worker Edith Keeler in some kind of automotive accident. The details of the event were vague and the date missing, although the year 1930 was clearly visible. What text Jack could make out seemed to be heaping even more praise on the deceased than you'd normally expect in an obituary, calling her "dedicated" and "compassionate" and referring with bemused affection to her eccentric beliefs that one day humanity would do such remarkable things as develop atomic power and put a man on the moon. Jack had the sudden sinking feeling that he knew where Captain Kirk's affections had engaged themselves.
"How do you know that's from your -- our -- timeline?" asked Jack.
"Because the most logical and parsimonious assumption would be that there are only two alternative possibilities at this juncture. And this alternative--" Spock pressed a button. "--is clearly not our reality."
Another newspaper article had appeared on the screen. Edith Keeler, head of a nation-wide peace movement, in talks with President Roosevelt. Ongoing peace negotiations with Germany. The dates on those, and the brief video footage of triumphant armies with swastikas on their arms pretty much said it all. Wow, did that not look like a future he wanted to have to live through.
"Well," he said as the last images faded and Spock quickly shut down the circuit again. "That sucks."
"If I understand the idiom correctly," said Spock, "I cannot help but agree."
Jack closed his eyes for a moment, but he could still see the image of the woman from the newspaper far too clearly. She had a beautiful smile.
Abruptly, he stood. "I was wrong. I can't help you."
Spock seemed slightly taken aback. "I thought perhaps you--"
"There's no more thinking needed!" He gestured toward Spock's device with an angry sweep of his arm. "You're right. The evidence is right there. The woman has to die." It came out harsher than he quite intended, but how the hell could words like that be anything but harsh, no matter how you said them?
"I see." Spock's voice was so inhumanly neutral now that Jack found it hard not to read an accusation in it.
"Well, what do you want me to say? The world is like that sometimes. Sometimes you have to let shitty things happen to people to keep even shittier things from happening to even more people." Memories flashed through his mind, familiar and unwelcome: helping to build a device that could have wiped out life on Earth, standing in front of a Dalek and waiting for a death he'd foolishly expected to be both meaningful and permanent. "If she's the person that newspaper makes her out to be, she'd probably throw herself under a car willingly if she knew what was at stake."
"Very possibly. However, I believe that it would be unwise to tell her." Spock's voice was quiet now, almost gentle. "And unkind."
Jack ran a hand through his hair, as if by doing so he could smooth the memories back into place.
"I do not dispute your reasoning," Spock said. "Unwelcome as that conclusion is, it scarcely comes as a surprise. I did, however, have some hope that you might be of assistance in locating Doctor McCoy. The ethical issue is, after all, irrelevant if we are unable to intervene at the crucial moment."
"Ah." Jack found himself unable to meet the Vulcan's eyes. "I... really don't think I can help you. I'm sorry. In fact, I'm starting to think I really shouldn't be here at all."
He half expected Spock to try to stop him as he swept out the door, but Spock only gazed after him with an expression that might have meant anything at all.
Jack got halfway down the corridor, stopped, turned around, and poked his head back through the door. "Um, sorry... Could I have my gun back?"
Spock quirked an eyebrow and handed it to him.
"Say hi to the twenty-third century for me," Jack said, stepping back out into the corridor again. "Maybe I'll see you around."
The next evening found Jack crouched in the window of an empty building across from the 21st Street Mission, nibbling unenthusiastically at the limp remnants of the sad little sandwich he'd bought to keep him company on his stakeout.
He hadn't been completely honest with Spock. This was something he'd had a lot of experience at -- they could probably carve "not completely honest" on his tombstone, in the unlikely event that he ever had one -- but he had a sneaking suspicion the Vulcan had seen right through him. He also had a sneaking suspicion that the Vulcan had just plain seen him once or twice, but if so, he'd been pretty good at not reacting.
Spock was perfectly right, of course. Given that what was left of his vortex manipulator had been able to home in on decaying temporal resonances to locate Spock, there was no reason not to at least try using it to find their prodigal doctor. But back at the Time Agency they'd had an unofficial policy: when it looked like an agent might be suffering a conflict of interest, or developing emotional complications that could adversely affect his mission, they'd send in a second agent as covert backup. That's what Jack figured his job description was now. He'd hide out and wait, and if the time came and Spock and Kirk weren't on the ball or couldn't go through with it, he'd... Well he'd do whatever had to be done.
It kind of undermined the whole covert concept, though, if you hung out and worked together with the person you were meant to be watching. Plus, there was that whole point about not showing the 23rd-century guy the 51st-century technology, although to be honest he found it a bit hard to get too worked up about that, given some of the anachronisms he'd perpetrated in his time. Or times.
He was beginning to rethink this whole idea a bit now, though. After all, Spock's room had had chairs. Jack wondered if he and Kirk might have better sandwiches, too.
He wiped a greasy hand absently against his trouser leg and refocused on the Mission door. Every reading he'd taken had led him back here, to Edith Keeler's soup kitchen and visionary lecture hall. Which probably just meant he was picking up Spock and Kirk, who seemed to spend half their time here, or maybe even the putative Focal Point herself. He was beginning to think Spock's doctor hadn't even arrived in this time period yet. Well, never mind. Keeping an eye on Keeler ought to do just as well.
Speaking of whom... Just as he'd reached the point where he was starting to regret the sandwich and was seriously contemplating the need for a bathroom break, here she came. And that man with her could only be Kirk. Yeah, no question about that. Here was a man who had that certain something -- a twinkle in the eye, a certain way of carrying himself -- that said, "I am a dashing space hero!" Jack had known enough of them in his time to recognize the look. Hell, he like to think he could still recognize it in the mirror, on his best days.
And, damn, but they made a handsome couple. He let his mind drift a bit as he stood up and slipped out the door, half his consciousness planning the best way to follow them without being seen and the other half indulging itself in a vague sexual fantasy.
He'd always been extremely good at that particular type of multitasking, but the thought distracted him just enough that when Kirk broke away from Edith to run across the street yelling Spock's name, it took him an instant longer than it should have to react and duck back out of sight. And it took another ridiculously long moment for it to properly register that this, suddenly and unexpectedly, was the turning point of history.
It unfolded before him with a simultaneous air of utter randomness and utter inevitability that rendered it all strangely surreal. There went Kirk, dashing towards the Mission, Spock moving towards him. Out of the Mission came another man -- no guesses as to who that might be -- looking surprised and pleased to see them. And there stood Edith, forgotten, quietly puzzled, not looking around her as she stepped forward...
Jack's hand moved automatically to the butt of his gun as the vehicle barreled towards her. What he would have done, with the gun or without it, if things had gone wrong, he didn't know. Maybe the difference between a bullet and a car accident would have meant nothing to history, compared to the difference between life and death. Maybe not.
But he'd never have to find out. The presumptive doctor lunged forward, and Kirk held him back. His hands clutched desperately at the man's clothing, grief obvious in the lines of his body, even from across the street, even from behind.
There was a sickening screech, and a sickening thump.
Jack knew far too much about death by automobile. He knew the kind that was nothing more than a loud impact and a sudden blackness, and he knew the kind where you spent an eternity lying there, broken, bleeding your life out in a white-hot haze of pain. At least this one had been quick. That didn't make it any easier to look at, though. It was funny. He'd died so often now that he'd more or less got used to it, but somehow the older he got, the harder it was watching it happen to people who didn't deserve it.
He realized that his hand was still on the gun and snatched his fingers away. A strange feeling, a sort of angry shame, was building up somewhere in his chest.
He didn't belong here. Torchwood might believe that everything unusual, everything alien was theirs to poke and play with, to use or destroy. But this... This was someone else's mission, someone else's pain, and he was an intruder here.
Hunching his shoulders, he stepped from the doorway, moving through the growing crowd of onlookers, moving down the street. Away.
Spock, his hand resting gently on the shoulder of the still-shaking Kirk, looked up as he passed and inclined his head in a barely perceptible nod. Jack wondered if he had any idea how expressive his eyes were.
He nodded back. Mission accomplished. Universe saved.
Some days he fucking hated this job.
337 Years Later
Jack had no difficulty locating the man. When you'd lived as long as he had, dealt with the kind of things he had, tracking down a famous starship captain was a trivial exercise. Making sure he'd shown up at the right time was a little trickier, but not very much.
He found Kirk in a too-clean, too-shiny, generic-looking bar on a too-clean, too-shiny, generic-looking space station. It seemed to Jack to be about as far as it was possible to get from the dirty, poverty-stricken streets of 1930 New York, but he could tell from the slump of Kirk's shoulders as he stared down at his glass, and from the complete absence of that cocky Space Hero twinkle in his eye that he was still seeing those streets in his mind.
Not surprising; it had been much more recent for him than for Jack, and much more personal. But even Jack could still remember it far too clearly. It was one of the many, many unpleasant things he sometimes saw when he closed his eyes.
Jack often wondered whether eventually his brain would get too full of memories and start losing them, whether that might not be such a bad thing. Hadn't happened yet, though. And having a good memory and a more-or-less linear existence meant that he was a lot better than, say, conveniently forgetful Time Lords with peripatetic lifestyles at following through on things. And at closure. Closure had become very important in his life.
He sat down at the bar.
Kirk obviously didn't recognize him. Jack felt a little spark of pride at that. Even that long ago, he was still pretty good at the sneaky stuff. Not too shabby a feat, when you were a guy his size, with his eye-catching good looks.
Equally obviously, Kirk didn't welcome the company. But that was okay. Getting someone to talk over a drink was a skill he'd honed long before he'd got the immortality gig. And his experience had always been that leaders -- the poor saps who had to keep their chins up for the sake of morale even while everything they cared about was going straight to hell -- those people always needed the sympathetic ear of an understanding stranger, whether they admitted it to themselves or not.
They didn't talk about Edith Keeler, or New York City, or the million creative, brain-twisting ways that time travel has of fucking with your heart, not directly. But they talked. And at the end of it the twinkle was back in Kirk's eyes, even if the sadness in them hadn't entirely gone.
Jack slipped quietly out of the bar while Kirk was visiting the head. A big part of the whole "closure" thing, after all, was knowing when you were done. Long goodbyes, he'd discovered, generally didn't help.
He wasn't too surprised to see Spock outside the barroom door. The Vulcan seemed to be attempting to give the impression of casual loitering. He wasn't very good at it. Jack would have found it cute, if it weren't for the palpable air of worry he was subtly giving off.
He raised an eyebrow at Jack's sudden appearance. "Your persistence is to be admired," he said. "I had not expected your surveillance would extend over so great a section of the spacetime continuum."
Jack laughed a little, running a hand through his ever-so-slightly graying hair. " My friend, you have no idea."
"I had also received the impression," Spock continued, "that you considered yourself unable or unwilling to interfere. If that policy has altered--?"
Jack shook his head. "I'm not here to deliver any cryptic warnings from the future or anything, don't worry. It's over. Well, as over as these things ever get. Nah, I just came here... for a drink. Figured I'd find somebody in there who could use one."
Spock's eyes flickered to the bar door, as if expecting his captain to emerge at any moment.
"He's okay," said Jack. "More than he was when he stepped in there, anyway. He's had some reasonably good whiskey and a healthy conversation with an understanding -- not to mention dashingly attractive -- stranger. Guy like him, that's probably most of what he needs."
"Thank you," said Spock quietly, and Jack was struck again by the surprising expressiveness of his eyes. Surprisingly beautiful, too.
"It was the least I could do," he said. "And I do mean that." He smiled. "Listen, I know Vulcans don't drink much and aren't supposed to need little things like company. But if you wanted to go and get a bowl of Plomeek soup somewhere..."
Spock almost smiled, Jack would swear to it. "I am afraid I must decline." His eyes wandered again to the door. His voice dropped, almost as if he were talking to himself. Not that Vulcans were supposed to do that, either. "When he is done benefiting from the company of strangers, he will doubtless require the presence of a friend."
Jack nodded. "Some other time, then."
Spock looked back at him. "Past experience would suggest that possibility is more likely than might otherwise be expected." He raised his hand, fingers split in a gesture Jack had learned in recent decades. "Li--"
"Let's not say that," Jack interrupted hastily. "How about a good old-fashioned human 'goodbye'?" He held out his hand. Spock looked at it dubiously for a moment, then clasped it. His grip was firm, and dry, and pleasant. Jack only held it for a moment.
The bar door began to slide open, and Spock's attention was suddenly nowhere on Jack any longer. Well, Jack recognized a good time to disappear when he saw one.
It was too bad, though. While even he knew better than to try to compete with that kind of loyalty, he really did like the idea of a soup date. Ah, well. He could always come back in a week or a decade and ask again. After all, if there was one thing in the universe Jack Harkness had, it was time.