Characters: Lynda Moss, Jack Harkness, Ruthie Lem, Elizabéta Filadaserva
Edited by: the divine and irreplaceable dr_whuh
Summary: Lynda Moss has an unexpected reunion in a tiny bar, with shots of bourbon and oceans of memories
Author's Notes: This is a coda of sorts to my slightly AU post-PotW story "Walk Out With Me to the Unknown Region" and, as such, will not likely make much sense to folks who haven't read that novel-length adventure with Jack and other revived denizens of Game Station. However, one or two people suggested they'd like to see Lynda and Jack meet again, and I've wanted to see Lynda, Ruthie and Elizabéta for a while (I'm always up for Jack, that goes without saying.) If you're one of those two or three who were interested, this little vignette might be for you.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play (and create the occasional original character) in their sandbox.
"We're paid up for ten days; you should have the S'roshex'hi research done by then, and we can book passage on the Heart's Delight back to Hidden." Ruthie Lem had the grimly satisfied look she always wore after a successful bargaining session. "Once we get back, we'll still have 2,000 credits from the job. Figure we can pay off Ellis, pay the rent on the flat, stock the pantry and ... and then I'll put in for another stint with Cleanup and Security while we wait for final payment on this job."
Lynda Moss played with her bourbon glass, mentally eliminating the Cleanup and Security part of the plan — Ruthie had done more than her share with Earth rescue and she didn't like the team being apart — but nodded her approval of the rest. "I think we ought to hire you out as an accountant. Stretching 10,000 credits through a 14-day trip for three, paying off debts and still keeping enough for groceries ... we might as well leave everything to you."
"I'm doing my own job," Elizabéta Filadaserva said. She didn't look up from the write-rewrites she had piled, a bit precariously, on their commandeered lounge table. Lynda and Ruthie looked at each other, not bothering to hide their grins.
"You're doing it well, too," Lynda said. "In fact, I'm pretty certain the Pearson Institute will pay a premium for the extras you've already included. But what I meant was that I thought Ruthie's done brilliantly with our S'roshex'hi advance. It was a way of saying how valuable I think her financial talents are."
"Ah," was Elizabéta placid response. "Another turn of phrase. Understood. And actually, I believe I have finished now, so technically I'm no longer working. Did the Pearsons say they'd increase our fee if the information was collated in the Interregnum fashion?"
Lynda drained her glass. "Yes, but I'm not up on Interregnum protocols — oh, you've already done it?"
Now it was Elizabéta's turn to smile. "Just completed. So that makes it, what? Two premiums on the Pearson job? That's another 1,500 credits, if I remember correctly. I believe I shall order a pot of tea. I should like to celebrate ... " She stopped and looked over the top of her glasses at Lynda. "And it was you who got this latest contract for us. I think we have all kept busy."
"Let's get the tea when we're unpacked, Elizabéta. Then we can celebrate in comfort," Lynda suggested.
Elizabéta tilted her head, in the way Lynda and Ruthie had long since become used to. "Yes. That makes sense."
Lynda sighed in relief. It had been a long flight out from Hidden, and not particularly comfortable; Ruthie had booked them on a tramp freighter in an effort to save the credits they'd charged for this, their first research job off-planet. They were waiting in the cramped asteroid port arrival lounge until their tiny hotel suite was ready, counting the minutes until they could sleep in real beds instead of zero-gee cocoons. Lynda was also looking forward to luxuriating in a real (albeit timed and short) water shower; the freighter's vibraclean facilities hadn't worked right, and she was sick of her own smell.
She knew that work would start at first bell tomorrow, and be steady for the rest of the time they were in port. She didn't care, as long as she could collapse tonight.
"Pardon, Fems, but are you with ML&F Research?" The neatly-dressed port representative towered over them, obviously a light-grav worlder. Lynda wondered how he put up with the low ceilings here.
"Yes," she said. "Can I help you?"
"Not at all. I'm just delivering your keys; your suite is ready. Do you need help with baggage?"
Ruthie snorted, but the man ignored her and kept his eyes on Lynda. She shook her head. "Thanks, but no, we can handle our own things. Just
tell us how to get to the suite."
The three of them were already in the lift when Lynda realized she had left something in the lounge. When they hit the sixth level she said, "I'm going to have to go back down. See you in five."
"What did you leave now?" Elizabéta was curious.
"You know they'll have towels in the suite," Ruthie said, poker-faced.
Lynda didn't rise to the bait. "I don't want to forget what I wrote on it. You two go on and get comfortable. Put the kettle on; I won't be long."
"Write-rewrites are much better for that sort of thing," Elizabéta pointed out. The lift doors closed on Ruthie's chortle. Lynda smiled to herself and punched the "down" button. It took a few moments, since the hotel's one passenger lift had to unload her companions on their floor before returning for her call, and when it arrived it wasn't empty.
"— id you see the way he was dressed? Completely disreputable," the portly gentleman — Humanish, possibly out of the Virginis system if his robes were any guide — sniffed to the other cab inhabitant as Lynda slipped in beside them.
"I don't think it was disreputable at all. I thought he was very ... charming," the younger man said.
"Oh, you would. Honestly, these types are on the lookout for naifs like you, Warren. You can't be too careful—" The conversation broke off, and both men looked briefly discomfited at having been heard before slipping into the deliberate vacancy of strangers on a lift. Lynda kept her own amused thoughts to herself.
The lounge was dark, but Lynda's eyes adjusted quickly, and she headed to the small table they'd just vacated. With any luck, the bartender wouldn't have cleared up yet ... and there it was, a tiny serviette with even smaller hieroglyphics scribbled over it, her own tiny and cramped handwriting. She didn't think anyone who saw the serviette would actually be able to decipher what she'd written, or care to, but she felt better knowing it was in her possession again. She picked it up, folded it neatly, then tucked it into her jacket pocket.
Something moved in the corner of her eye, a dark swirl. Almost instinctively she followed the motion, in time to see the last of someone as they left the lounge through a back exit. It was such a quick glance and she saw so little before the doorway was empty ....
Lynda might have ignored what she saw, but she couldn't ignore the pressure-drop in her head, the feel of something brushing against her consciousness. Not thoughts as such — she knew what that felt like — but awareness. She hissed softly, recognizing the signature of what had touched her.
She made her way almost blindly to the rear exit, ignoring the indignant whispers of people she pushed past to get there.
It felt odd, painful, to stretch those muscles in her mind again. She'd wondered occasionally whether they even existed now, or whether they'd disappeared when they left Game Station. Perhaps, she'd thought, it was some magic of the place that had let the two of them speak to each other silently. Certainly she'd run into no one on Hidden — or any of the other Station refugees, to be honest — who could hear her when she tried to reach out silently.
The back exit opened onto the kind of narrow access corridor obviously not made for general public use except in extreme emergencies. She looked to the left, where she saw a door about two meters down. It apparently opened back onto the concourse. She looked to the right in time to see a small side door slide shut, several meters down the hall. That way, then. She headed for the door, pulled it open onto a tubular stairwell that headed both up and down. She heard the whisper of another door sliding shut, but couldn't determine whether it was from above or below.
Frustrated, she closed her eyes and called again.
(I know you can hear me, Jack.)
If that was as "loud" as she hoped it was, there was no way he coul —
There. There was that touch again. She stood next to the circular stair, waiting for a further response, but got nothing. Why not? He had heard her, she was sure of it.
Lynda abruptly became aware that she was holding her breath. She blinked, breathed out, and put out her hand to the wall, steadying herself against a sudden rush of weariness. Using this sense after so many months of disuse was tiring as well as painful.
The touch, though ... something was different. It wasn't just her own weariness. It was Jack, she knew it down in her bones, and not as he had been when they met.
It felt — he felt — ragged, eroded.
Her reaction was the primal throat-tightening of animal-level fear, a surge of mortal terror in the face of something that was too old to be mortal. A split second later, fear turned to grief, and she blinked away tears. Nothing should feel that old, and especially not Jack, not her Jack. She leaned more heavily against the wall. Oh, Jack. What's happened? What could do that to you?
"Aaaoh god ...." The shock of his voice — behind her, when she'd been looking up the stairwell — sent her sliding down the wall.
"Whoah, hold on there." He grabbed her and helped her back to her feet. "Didn't mean to knock you that far off balance. There ... you OK?"
"I thought you'd gone up." It was all she could think to say, at least at that moment.
"No. Just made sure you thought so. Little trick I learned a long time ago." He grinned, that broad smile that was his calling card.
"You heard what I thought." She didn't take her eyes from his. They were still bright blue, still thickly lashed. Even the dark circles weren't all that different from the ones he'd sported during their desperate time on Game Station. But his smile hadn't reached his eyes, and the whole ... she reached out and touched his face. The whole was so much worse than the sum of its parts.
"I did. Just like old times." His smile didn't waver.
This close to him, the feeling in her head was a tearing and a weight at the same time. "No Jack, this — it really hurts." She grimaced. "This feels different. You're different."
His lovely eyes shuttered, the smile petrified into bleak grimace. Instinctively Lynda did what she had once done best.
(Don't mind me; I know it'll get better. I'm sorry.)
He looked grateful, but shook his head. The smile was completely gone now. (I'm sorry I'm hurting you.)
They fell into silent speech so easily, as if they'd never been apart. Even with the pain, it was something welcome. She reached for his hand and he gave it to her.
(Tell me what happened, Jack.)
(What do you mean, 'What happened?')
"Tell me what happened." She spoke aloud, and was insistent; holding on to his hand and refusing to be sidetracked. "What's wrong? Why do you feel different in my head?"
He stared at her. She refused to lower her gaze. After a moment, he blinked, then sighed. "I should have left sooner."
"When, in the bar? You did leave. You saw me, and you still left." He really had been trying to avoid her. She started to get angry. "How could you — " She stopped. He'd left, yes. But she'd seen him. And he'd always been able to catch her unawares. "You wanted me to see you leaving."
Jack looked away, as much of an admission as she was going to get, then around himself at the stairwell. "Oh, god. I hate places like this. Isn't there somewhere else we can talk?"
"Back at the bar," she said, immediately discarding any thought of taking him up to the little hotel room.
"Are you buying?"
She laughed a little. At least he wasn't running, and he would, she thought, answer her questions. "Only the cheapest. We're — I'm — on a budget."
"Fine by me."
"You know we're in a climate controlled environment, right? You don't need to wear a coat inside."
Lynda was reasonably sure that whatever Jack was drinking would taste horrible. It certainly smelled vile. He hadn't ordered it. He'd accepted water, but had shaken his head when she ordered herself another bourbon and had instead pulled a small flask from a pocket of the greatcoat he still refused to doff, snapped the top off, and quickly sucked down what appeared to be viscous brown fluid.
"That smells like curdled milk," she said.
"Actually, it doesn't. Real curdled milk smells better," he said, grimacing after the last swallow. "And it doesn't taste like curdled milk, either. It's called — never mind what it's called. It's an acquired taste."
"Why acquire it?"
She'd asked as a joke, and was startled when he said softly, "It's better than anything else I've tried for clouding the memory."
She blinked. "Why would you want to cloud your memory?"
Jack's reaction to her question told her he'd let something slip that he hadn't expected to. He pressed his lips together and shook his head.
(Can't tell you, sweetheart.)
(Won't tell me.)
(I can guess, though.)
Jack's sharp look contained the tiniest hint of fear. "Can you, now?"
"I have no idea. I mean that I could guess, and maybe figure it out. But it's not my business unless you want to tell me," she said mildly. She had no intention of spooking him. "For now, we'll call your drink medicinal. After all, anything that dire has to be medicinal."
The crooked smile might have been cynical, but he sounded genuinely amused. "We'll go with that, then."
She and Jack were the little lounge's only paying customers at this point, everyone else having apparently headed to their tiny hotel rooms or to the departure terminal. The two of them had eaten up 10 minutes with buying drinks, superficial chat and conversational dodges, Lynda thought. Someone had to take the plunge. "Is it all right if I ask what you're doing here?" She bit back all the corollary questions.
He blew a breath out from between pursed lips. "First, a question of my own. How long has it been since we last saw each other?"
Memory loss or — no, time machine, she reminded herself. He had his vortex manipulator on his wrist; he had called it a bargain-basement TARDIS, after all. In fact, that was the last thing Jack had revealed to her before he winked out of the Big Brother living room, leaving her on her own. The Doctor traveled in the TARDIS — wait, maybe Jack had found his Doctor, and his Rose. Had he arrived by TARDIS? Were his companions around here, too? "It's been two and a half standard years," she said cautiously.
Jack nodded. "I had it figured just about right. Not bad, seeing as how she glitches six times out of 10 these days." He stroked the broad leather-bound artifact girdling his wrist. "Good girl."
So it wasn't the TARDIS he was traveling in. Which meant he was alone. "So when did you come from?"
He looked away, and said nothing. Then he looked back at Lynda. "What's been going on in those two and a half standard years?"
Still dodging; but she could wait a little longer for his story, she told herself; at least until an anxious Ruthie messaged her, which would happen inevitably. "The first year was hard. Hidden's a tough planet to live on, at least if you're used to living on Earth."
Jack raised an eyebrow.
"Well, Earth was overcrowded and dirty and altogether horrid, but it had everything you needed, mostly at your fingertips in one vendomat or other. It's not like that on Hidden." She stopped for a moment, thinking of her first trip outside after planet-fall, soaked by the rain, and shivering in the wind that came down from the mountain heights above the port. It had been miserably cold and wet, but she had never missed the chance thereafter to go out in the rain. "It's beautiful, but ... well, we figured that one of the reasons the Facilitators ignored Hidden was that it was still almost empty, even after hundreds of years. The original colonists never bothered to do much terraforming, beyond atmosphere and water systems. It's cold and rocky, with a lot of little sheltered valleys between mountain ranges. The cities and towns grew up in those valleys; a lot of river ports near the coasts, and intensive agriculture in the southern valleys, because they're the only places where you can actually farm anything successfully. When we got there, there were only a million people on the planet."
"Sounds like a thoroughly uncomfortable experience."
"For us. Not for Hidden," Lynda said. She sipped at her drink. "They were actually glad to have us, as long as we were willing to work. Eventually about 100,000 refugees from Earth struck out from the intake centers around Port Tanaka and headed south to pioneer in a region about 1,500 klicks from there." She didn't tell him about the shocked and radiation-riddled thousands who still were cared for in the hospital complexes that grew out of the intake centers; too many of those precious few rescued from the burned out Earth and ferried over several months to Hidden had never been able to recover emotionally or physically from what they experienced.
"Did you go south, then? Did any of the others?" The hunger on his face surprised her. Did he really care that much about everyone he'd left behind?
"Well, Govinda and Davitch thought about it, but they didn't go. They did exactly what they said they would, and went back to Earth with the rescue teams."
"Good for them." Jack looked impressed. "That can't have been easy."
"Ruthie went with them for the first couple of trips. She taught them how to handle themselves in firefights," Lynda said, stung at any suggestion that her friends couldn't deal with anything the universe might throw at them. "They did fine. Remember what they did for you. And Hsieh helped, too."
"I know what they're capable of." He held up his hands as if to ward off her glare. "So how did they do?"
"They went out for weeks at a time, searching for survivors and bringing them in for care and transport." And, in those first awful months, hiding from Facilitator holdouts determined to go down in blazes of glory throughout the empire, she thought.
"Mother of god," Jack said; he'd easily caught her internal musing. "How long did those psychopaths hold out?"
"Long enough to cause a lot of misery," Lynda said, shortly; he had never been so easily able to hear her thoughts like that before, or at least he'd refrained from doing it. "Then the ones that the Empire didn't take down all killed themselves. Like they did on Game Station. You remember that, too, right?"
"Not easily forgotten," he said. "It doesn't surprise me."
"They weren't missed," Lynda said. It still sickened her to think about Facilitators.
"Are they still out there?"
"Who, the Facilitators?"
"No. Davitch and 'Vinda."
"Oh, no. They're back home," she said, still enjoying the little flare of contentment she got every time she called Hidden her home. "The government needed help coordinating the refugees, and people who could program planetary systems to keep Hidden off Facilitator radar before the Empire could hunt all of them down. Davitch is still working with the refugee administration, and 'Vinda helped where she could with the planet-wide grid system firewalls and such. Hsieh's still working with Earth cleanup and security, although I think he's on his final trip; the terra re-formers will have Earth for the next century or so, they say, and maybe it'll be livable after that.
"Ruthie worked with Hsieh on Earth a little longer than Davitch and 'Vinda, but she's not doing it now," she added.
"And that would be because she's ... what, working with you?"
"Super secret, eyes-only, don't tell anyone?" Again she experienced the Harkness eyebrow. "No, I didn't take it out of your head."
She felt the flush across her face, and ducked her head in embarrassment before she realized she didn't have to be embarrassed. She straightened her back and looked up. Still, it really was silly to be so reticent about the others, Lynda decided. They were his friends, too.
"She's one-third of ML&F Research. Moss, Lem and Filadaserva," she said. "We do academic research and general investigation services. And we make money at it."
"That's Elizabéta's last name," she explained.
"Elizabéta ... Ah. Handmaid," he murmured. "That makes sense. And you kept the show going. Good for you ... You know, I always kind of thought you'd keep tabs on folks."
She smiled. "You do that with friends. And you were right when you said we made a good team."
"So you're here on a work assignment, and the partners are elsewhere?"
"They're in our suite. I imagine I'll be getting a call from one of them shortly."
"What will you tell them?" He looked guarded again.
"That I decided to take a walk around before going to bed, and I'm sorry I forgot to let them know."
"Thanks." He looked, briefly, wistful, then said, "But ... Lynda, a historical detective agency? On a pioneer world?"
"Just because it's a pioneer world doesn't mean it isn't civilized," Lynda said tartly. "The university at Port Tanaka's ended up being the largest single repository of records anywhere on the Dalek-Facilitator war against the Empire. Well, the largest repository of accurate records, at any rate. It's also the home of the History Recovery Initiative. That's just got started, but it's incredibly important. And with what Elizabéta still remembers from when she was the Controller, she's become integral to the Initiative."
"Do tell." Jack was starting to look a little fuzzy around the edges, Lynda noticed. Or maybe he felt a little fuzzy in her head; either way, she suspected the contents of his little brown vial were doing what he wanted them to, because some of the tension that had been radiating off him had eased.
(It works for hours at a time, when I'm lucky.)
She looked at him, half-expecting to see bitterness in his eyes. All she saw was lazy relief. It made her slightly sick; the Captain she remembered had never seemed to be the kind of person who sought artificial forgetfulness, no matter how temporary.
(You haven't seen me for a long time.)
(Two and a half years isn't that long.)
(It hasn't been two and a half years for me.)
(Right, sorry. Time travel?)
She got no words in response, but an in-rushing non-verbal flood of sensation that she knew came directly from him.
With every passing second it hit her harder — he was beyond exhaustion, a weariness that wasn't the result of any one single travail, but the weight of brutally unending years. It fell in on her in an unforgiving oceanic wave, and she thought that she might drown. She gasped, and felt the throat-closing fear again. She wondered whether Jack felt that way about himself, or whether the weariness outweighed the fear, and if it had for more years than she wanted to comprehend.
(I'm sorry, sweetheart. I can't shut that off.)
She looked at him, saw the sallow skin stretched tight over his drawn face, smelled the residue of his memory clouding drug ... What's he seen, what's he done ... she shook her head slightly, then concentrated on bringing her panicked breathing under control. This was Jack, and she wasn't going to be afraid. She didn't blame him for the way his mind hit hers; she couldn't.
(It's OK, Jack. It just caught me by surprise at first. I'll be fine with it.)
His silent relief at her acceptance was nowhere near as overwhelming as the rush of his past, but it was commensurately sweeter.
(You're handling it better than I expected.) His smile was tentative.
Now it was her turn to raise an eyebrow, although she didn't do it with half his panache. "You thought I couldn't? After all that we went through on Game Station?"
He lifted his glass, apparently ready to be back on more familiar and comfortable ground. "I stand corrected."
"But is all that ... all that time you've been living, so long — I don't know how long, I can't understand it — is that why our communication is different?"
She continued silently. (Because it has changed, hasn't it, from the last time we were together. Everything's deeper. More.)
(I changed. Long, long years of change, long sad story, don't need to talk about it. But my guess is that it resonates with you, because of the link we had. Have.)
She caught the correction. (You're right. Have is the right word. I've never forgotten. I'd never want to.)
(Not even with this? All this ... more?) He laughed a little, but once again she felt his gratitude.
"We're partners," she said softly. "Always will be. The way you feel in my head isn't going to change that. You have no idea how many ways you saved me, Jack Harkness."
"I ..." He trailed off, looked thoughtful, then said, "You're welcome. Very few people I'd rather have saved. Or be saved by."
They sat for a minute in silence, then waited while the bartender cleared their glasses, and Jack ordered some bourbon for both of them. Once their drinks arrived, she spoke.
"So, it's your turn," she said. "You're here, you're ... a lot older than you were when we said goodbye. Why are you here, and why are you older?"
Jack nodded slowly, and looked a little as if he was about to jump off a cliff. "I'm here because I was in the vicinity of the Hidden system, and I couldn't help but be curious. About you, about the others. It was fairly easy to track you down, and, yeah, I wanted to see you." He hesitated. "But until you chased me out into the back corridor, I honestly wasn't sure I wanted you to see me."
The little asteroid port was quiet, Lynda realized. It was nothing like Game Station had been, all machinery thrum and metallic creaking; It was off-cycle right now and there was no need to have many of staff working the concourse shops. The silent bartender was the sole exception as far as she could see. All she could hear of the place, above the inoffensive piped-in lounge music, was the shush of recirculating air. She waited.
"I wanted to see you because you were ... a good memory for me. A good memory, an unexpected friend, in one of the worst times of my life."
It all came out in a breathless rush then, one that Lynda had no chance to interrupt. He kept going, a patently false smile on his face. "I've been in this sector of space for maybe six standard months. I've been in this time period about 50 standard years, most before the Daleks attacked Earth, but I did spend a decade or so in your current future.
"I've been away from Earth — Old, Old Earth, my original destination — longer ago than you can imagine; about ... oh, I think maybe 400 years. After I left Game Station and went back there, I was there for 2,100 years, give or take a century. Most of it buried underground."
Once again he stopped, looked at her. She trusted herself to nod, nothing more; he took it as permission to continue.
"I learned something after I got back to Earth the first time. I can't die. Don't know why, although it probably had something to do with Game Station." He looked at her, daring her to say anything, but she just stared, confused. What? The words made no sense.
He resumed. "I think I've died more than 300 times and come back 301, even when I really, really didn't want to. That doesn't count the time underground, because when you're buried alive, you die, revive and die again within about five or six minutes, so I think you'll agree keeping score is more than a waste of time."
He smiled at her, stopped speaking, picked up his bourbon glass and drained it of its contents before signaling to the bartender for another.
Lynda opened her mouth, then shut it with a quickness when she felt something horribly close to a hysterical giggle start to build up inside her. You can't laugh, it's the last thing you can do she thought, and looked down at the table before returning her eyes to Jack. He said nothing, aloud or silently, and she didn't know if he'd heard that. But how do I respond?
Partners, she'd said. And she'd meant it. No fear, she'd said, and she'd meant that, too. But what could she be to someone who was not only that old, older than humans had ever been, but couldn't die? What could her existence mean to something like that?
It wasn't that she thought he was lying. She had no doubt that he was telling her the truth, of course. She'd felt it.
She drew in a quick breath. Of course.
She'd felt it. And it had shaken her profoundly.
But she'd only experienced it for a second or two. Only a split second, and at a remove. Her friend had felt it for every single second, every single hour, and day, and year. And alone inside his head.
Tears started to her eyes, and she reached once more for Jack's hand. "Show me, Jack."
He stared at her, and drew his hand back. "Not a chance."
"But it has to be awful, to have it all to yourself. I mean, I know I can't really share it, not really, but wouldn't it help to share it with someone?"
"It wouldn't be fair to you, sweetheart."
"Jack, I could take it. At least for a few minutes —"
"No." It was flat, emotionless, and final. He pushed away from the table. "This was a mistake."
That was too much. Lynda, already embarrassed at having offered something she had somehow known would be rebuffed, didn't fight the chagrined anger it sparked in her. "You're lying. You're lying and you know it. Oh, it's just like before, and I'm so goddamned tired of hearing you lie every time I see you. You lie about everything."
He flinched, taken aback by her sudden rage.
"I know I'm not going to understand what you've been through. And — " She tried to control herself, with little success. "And maybe you're right. Maybe I couldn't take it. But I want to. Because you shouldn't have to hold that all in, all alone! It's not fair!" She wasn't certain who she was talking about when she said that, so she ploughed on. "You never give anyone a real answer, you ever tell anyone the full truth, you talk in hints and dodges and — and what does it get you? You're alone! People want to be your friend, and you won't let them in!"
He started to shake his head, but still said nothing in the face of her rage.
"And don't you tell me you haven't liked being here with me! You've liked talking, haven't you? You came here in the first place, didn't you? Don't you dare think of this as a mistake!"
She hadn't realized her voice was rising until the bartender walked over. "Everything alright, Fem? Can I get you anything?" He shot a narrow glance at Jack, clearly asking if he needed to rid her of anything.
The interruption short-circuited Lynda's tirade. She subsided, abashed, and looked at Jack. He cocked his head and looked from her to the bartender.
My call, she thought. I got into it, I get to get out of it. Serves me right for going off like a madwoman. "No, nothing," she said aloud. "The conversation gets animated when you run into old friends, that's all. Sorry we disturbed you."
"Not at all, Fem," the man said. He left them alone after one last restrained glower at Jack.
Jack sighed. "I'd forgotten how stubborn you could be."
"Sorry," she muttered. This was rapidly becoming an impossible conversation — no, she thought, it had begun impossibly and had just continued to become even more so. Her emotions had been whip-lashed, her mind filled with concepts and feelings that hadn't been on her agenda when she disembarked the freighter only, what ... two hours ago? What could possibly come next?
Before she could say anything more, Jack held up a hand. "Stop with the apologies. I deserved that." He stopped, considered. "Some of it, at least. It's my turn to say I'm sorry. Again." He sighed. "We seem to spend a lot of time doing that."
Lynda grimaced in agreement. "We did it a lot back on Game Station, too."
(I know you want to make it better, sweetheart.)
(It's so awful to be alone, Jack. I remember —)
She did remember what her own life had been; all the useless, lonely days she'd had on Earth before being abducted into the Big Brother set, the days looking for a reason to live when she was curious and the world wasn't, living at the sufferance of indifferent lovers and uninterested acquaintances ... she brought it out of her memories, felt it, shot it at him. (It can't begin to approach what you go through, but I understand a little.)
He smiled again, but looked even more weary. (I haven't been alone.)
With that, she saw something flash white behind her eyes, and she saw people's faces, changing and flowing into one another as Jack thought of them. Rose flashed through for a second, almost incandescent gold, and the Doctor's angular face, all blue eyes and crazy grin ... another man, sharp-featured and thin-lipped, with brown eyes and spiky hair ... a torrent of faces, then, too many of them to count, nearly all of them grim and wary despite the flood of affection in which they floated, some of them pale and motionless, some with blood on their faces and hands ... the torrent slowed a bit and she saw a quiet woman with almond eyes, followed by a man with a flat and compelling face ... a brown-haired woman with a gap-toothed grin... another man, almost a boy, with guileless eyes and a quirked smile — Lynda felt a wash of sorrow, then ... a woman and a little boy —
She pulled away from the raw agony with which he sent those last images.
"Friends, family ... lovers," she breathed, tears in her eyes. Why do you always make me cry? "Oh, Jack, are they —)
(Most of them. Almost every one because of me.)
He nodded. (Not deliberately. Not mostly.)
She tasted bitter almonds on her tongue and realized how sharply emotions now came across to her in silent speech. (How?)
(Just by letting them get close. Doing it even when I knew what would happen.) "And you're going to be angry all over again," he said aloud, "Because I'm not going to tell you about them, or who they were. But that's why I'm not going to let you that far into my head. It's a bad place."
There was nothing Lynda could say to that. She accepted defeat, and thought about ordering another drink before realizing she was already a sheet or two to the wind and abandoning the idea. Alright, then. "So ... what now? Where are you going?" She knew now that he wouldn't — couldn't — stay here much longer.
His laugh was a bark. "Back to Earth. Old Old Earth again. Because one of the friends who's still alive needs me. And because ..." He frowned. "Something's gone wrong back there. Something to do with me."
"What ... how do you know?" Lynda couldn't imagine that he'd gotten some sort of signal from the past, but Jack had a way of proving her imagination wrong.
"Something inside. I don't know. Time and I have a weird relationship these days."
When he said that, the tiny fear she'd kept at bay since he first spoke of his immortality crystallized. Her mouth went dry. (Jack, If Game Station did ... if you can't die because of Game Station, what about us?)
(You don't have to worry. You're still human.)
She blinked. (You're not.)
(I don't think so. Not completely, not anymore.)
Her mobile lit up and buzzed.
"That would be Ruthie, I imagine," he said, looking resigned.
She looked. "You're right. Hang on ... Hi, Ruthie. No, sorry, I just decided to have a walk around and got lost in my thoughts. I should have called you. What?"
She listened and looked at Jack and shrugged, something Ruthie wouldn't see. "No, I don't think I'll be very much longer. Go to bed. I'll be quiet when I come in — yes, I did stop for a drink. Talk to you later." She rang off a bit unceremoniously. Ah well, she'd apologize when she got back to the suite and the inevitable third degree.
She stood up. I am not going to draw this out. "I have to go, and you have to go, yeah?"
"Here's your hat, what's your hurry? I see I'm getting the bum's rush." Jack didn't argue, though. Lynda tried to ignore the little stab of hurt. She'd never expected to see him, and she'd gotten this much time with him. Focus on that, she thought, and on how much more it will hurt if the goodbyes stretch out longer than they have to.
She went to put the mobile back in her pocket, and encountered the serviette.
Her face must have done something odd. "What?"
"Oh. I just found something in my pocket. A cocktail napkin."
Jack looked blank.
"It's the reason I came back to the lounge, just before I realized you were here."
She fished it out, unfolded it and looked at what she'd written on it, smiling wryly. "Maybe it was an omen."
She ignored his expectant look and said, "I don't suppose you're going to vanish right here. There is the bartender to think about."
It was obvious she wasn't going to explain the serviette. He chuckled. "No, I don't suppose I will. You know, I landed right in the middle of someone's room - worse luck, just as they were coming in the door. Had to talk fast to avoid them calling security. I think the older guy still wanted to call security by the time I nodded and smiled and backed out into the hall. He knew someone untrustworthy when he saw them. His partner was a little more impressed with me."
Oh, don't keep talking, or I'll scream, she thought, not particularly caring if he could hear her. "How about the back corridor?"
His smile faded; he nodded, and the two of them walked past the bartender to the rear exit.
"Fem? Gentle? That's not the—" The door closed on the man's remonstrances.
They waited to be sure he wouldn't follow them out, then turned to each other.
"Do I get a hug?"
There was that tentative look in his eyes, the one that had always hidden behind all his other expressions, Lynda remembered. All anger forgotten, she moved into his embrace. (Of course.)
(I'm glad I let you find me.)
(Even with all my yelling?)
(Even with all the yelling.) He didn't move, and she was glad.
She tried to keep her mental tone light. (Well, at least now you know how we all are. Can I tell Ruthie and Elisabeta that you were here? Or the others, when we get back to Hidden?)
(Up to you.)
(What was on the serviette?)
"Oho," he said softly into her hair. "Payback?"
"A bit." She tilted her head to look at him. "Oh, Jack. I wish I could do more for you."
He tapped her nose, "Lynda Moss, just keep on taking care of your team. That's what you can do for me."
"Will do. But you've got to take care of yourself, too. If you can, I mean," Lynda said.
"I told you, I can't die," he retorted, and it was only slightly forced.
"I don't care. There's more to living than not dying," she said stubbornly.
They disengaged by mutual unspoken agreement. Just as he started to punch in coordinates on his wristband, she started to worry. "Jack, are you sure it's going to take you—"
But she spoke only to the suck of air and the twist of light as both rushed to fill the place where Jack had been.
"Just like last time. Damn him." She scrubbed a tear away, and, one last time, took the serviette from her pocket.
"You see, I have this nervous habit," she said softly to no one at all. "When I'm tired, or worried, or happy, or ... anytime, I guess. I still get nervous a lot.
"I feel better when I write things ... lists, names, that sort of thing. Sometimes I write down the names of people. My friends, the ones who lived, the ones who died. And I can't leave those names behind. I always take them with me. I'm a bit superstitious about it. That's why I came back to get it, you see ...."
Lynda looked at the last name of the catechism she'd carefully inscribed on the serviette, sighed, and tossed the whole thing into a nearby garbage servo.
She headed out to the concourse and the elevator, making her way back to the people who had stayed.