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STORYINFO title: eureka fandom: date: 2008-01-14 summary: wordcount: 2,840 "Dr. Stark is at the door," SARAH informed him.

Jack Carter sighed, froze the show playing onscreen, and got halfway off the couch—then rethought and collapsed back. "Let him in, will ya?"

"Of course, Sheriff." The door unlatched with a pneumatic hiss. "Welcome, Dr. Stark, and happy holidays."

Jack didn't turn around to watch Stark come in.

"I'm off duty, Stark," he called out. "Means I don't have to see your face for another two days."

"No such thing as off duty in Eureka," Stark said with grating cheer. "Anyway, I'd hate to deprive you of a chance to display your deficiencies."

"Seriously," Jack said, putting his beer on the table in front of him, "what are you doing here?" He twisted in place, turning and tilting his head so that he caught a glimpse of Stark, looking even more annoying than usual from the odd angle. Stark was as dandily dressed as ever, in a dark jacket, still-crisp white shirt, and blue-and-red tie; he looked like a model for one of those expensive designers who thought that having their models stand around with pissed-off expressions would sell clothes.

Stark sighed. "I brought GD's final report on the various security breaches surrounding Beverly. We need your comments. The brass wants it as fast as possible, and it's too sensitive for email, so …"

"Yeah, whatever, leave it on the counter." Jack turned back to the TV, but didn't unpause it.

"Also, I wanted to say … thanks."

That sounded pained enough that Jack turned, so fast that he hurt something in his neck, and then he was stuck rubbing it and trying not to wince too much while Stark stared past him, as if he were trying to read his lines from some invisible screen.

Stark took a breath. "I know—that is, I understand – with what happened with Henry and Beverly. Kevin could have—I appreciate that your loyalty is to Eureka. You've had opportunities to—"

"Wow," Jack said. "You are just bad at this, aren't you?"

"What?" Stark snapped. "At trying to recognize the efforts of an inferior mind to do the right thing?"

That was more like it. "At, you know, communication."

"Ah yes, this from Mr. Articulate 2007."

"That's Sheriff Articulate," Jack said, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out. "And you're welcome."

Stark just stood there, as if he was trying to figure out what happened next.

"Why aren't you out celebrating the holidays, anyway? Or back in the lab," Jack added, on second thought.

Stark shrugged. "GD's closed for twenty-four hours after the holiday party. On balance, it improves productivity—you wouldn't believe some of the things that hungover scientists manage to screw up. And Allison and Kevin are with her mother."

"You don't have anywhere to go?"

"Says the man drinking alone."

Jack snorted. He had no complaints about his situation. Zoe was reconnecting with her mother, and as long as she came back to him after the holiday was over, he didn't really need presents or eggnog. But the fact that Stark was here, now, when everybody else in town was probably snuggled up with family or dreaming of exciting new toys -

"You know, if you wanted, you could … watch sports with me."

****

Carter looked just about as surprised to have made the offer as Nathan was to receive it.

He glanced over at the image frozen on the TV, confirming his initial impression. "Cheerleading is a sport?"

"It's on ESPN," Carter said, not really defensively.

"ESPN 2, Sheriff," SARAH corrected.

"ESPN 2? They're so desperate for material they show debate tournaments!"

"Which you know because …? Look, cheerleading is a sport," Carter said decisively. "There's teamwork, there's precision, there's athleticism … "

"… Short skirts …"

"I'm not seeing how that's a bad thing."

"Point." Nathan looked again at the screen, the big couch, the box of hot wings from Café Diem on the table.

"So, you in?" Carter asked.

"Well, Allison says we have to learn to work together better or she's going to kill me."

"She said the same thing to me!"

"Ah, promises," Nathan said wistfully.

Carter snorted. "In or out. My beer's getting warm."

Nathan sighed. "I suppose so."

Carter pointed his beer at Nathan. "More beer in the fridge. Get it."

"Excessive alcohol consumption is unhealthy," SARAH chimed in.

"SARAH," Nathan said, "excessive alcohol consumption is the only thing that could avert a tragic ending to this futile exercise in male bonding."

Carter rolled his eyes. "Yeah, like you could take me."

"Carter, I could mix up seven deadly weapons just from your refrigerator."

"My refrigerator? A teenager lives here—anybody could do that."

"Sheriff," SARAH said, sounding hurt.

"Whatever." Nathan crossed into the kitchen area. The refrigerator swiveled and opened for him. He took out a bottle of Carlsberg, then reconsidered and removed the entire six-pack.

*****

"She's my wife, Carter," Nathan said, staring at his bottle. He'd peeled the label off a few teams ago, but he wasn't quite ready to be finished with it. Unlike the first three, or four – it was a little fuzzy—which had gone down quickly.

Carter paused before answering. When he spoke, he sounded almost apologetic. "She's not sure she wants to be."

"I'm working on that," Nathan said, looking at the green glass as if he could see the molecules moving, sliding downwards as they fulfilled their liquid destiny. "I just—I don't need you in the way."

"If I was unwelcome, I'd get out of the way."

Nathan scowled at his bottle, running his thumb over the raised lines that formed the name of the beer on the bottle's shoulder. Inefficient, he thought. It wasted energy and symmetry.

Onscreen, girls in skirts that did nothing to hide their spandex panties twirled and stretched. Arabesques, Lady Liberties, Scorpions, back tucks, double fulls. Burly guys tumbled as well, then held the girls up, stabilizing them as they pulled their feet over their heads. It was mesmerizing, all the primary colors and glitter, all the taut smiles somewhere between fake and sincere in their love of the performance.

There was nothing wrong with doing what you needed to do to win, after all.

"Why do you have this crap, anyway?" He waved the beer at Carter. "I would have figured you for a Bud guy."

Carter didn't answer. When Nathan looked over, he was staring at the bottle, his lips scrunched up a little, almost as if he were sad.

"Oh my God," Nathan realized. "You bought this beer for Allison! You hoped she'd come over and you'd, what, have a classy dinner? You know," he leaned towards Carter, smiling smugly, "she prefers Negro Modelo or microbrews. Or wine."

Carter put out a hand to shove him back, harder than necessary. Nathan tipped the other direction, but managed not to spill the last few gulps of his beer. Carter was a lot less intimidating in his casual clothes, Nathan concluded. Not that Nathan was ever intimidated, but right now Carter looked more like a high school basketball coach than a representative of law and order, stupidly short haircut notwithstanding.

"Here's what I don't get," he confided. "Most guys can't deal with a woman who's smarter than them, more powerful than them, makes more money than them—I mean, you must be used to the 'smarter' part, but, really? Allison?"

Carter was staring at him now, one hand bracing his head, his elbow up against the back of the couch. His other hand gripped the neck of his beer, and his expression was as unfriendly as Nathan had ever seen it. Carter took a deliberate swallow, and asked, "And you think you're smarter than Allison?"

Nathan shook his head, exaggerating enough to make his vision wobble. "On the technical side, I can see the physics more easily than she can, but no, in general we're pretty close. Anyway, I'm not most guys." He closed his eyes and finished the beer, considering whether he wanted to make the effort to get the next one, just out of reach on the coffee table in front of them.

"Yeah, thank God for that," Carter muttered, but Nathan ignored him. "Why does it have to matter, who's smarter? Isn't it good that she's smarter?" Carter's voice was his usual near-whine when matters mental were discussed.

Nathan figured that was a rhetorical question. "You have demonstrated some basic horse sense," he conceded. "You can recognize when you're out of your depth. It's an important skill."

Carter made a noise, almost amused, but hid it behind another long pull of his own beer. He leaned forward, pulling his gray athletic T-shirt taut over his back and shoulders, and snagged two more beers, one for each of them. Nathan accepted the cold smack of the bottle against his palm, but didn't drink immediately.

"She's got good taste," he admitted. "I know you'd protect her and Kevin. If you needed to. If something happened to me."

"Okay!" Carter said brightly. "I'm cuttin' you off after this one."

"I'm not being maudlin!" he objected. "You know what Eureka's like."

"Okay, one, I don't know that word, but I'm guessing you are being it, and two, nothing is—"

Nathan looked over. Carter's face had gone still; he looked years older, the lines in his face suddenly worried instead of signalling smiles yet to come. When even Jack Carter couldn't look on the sunny side, you knew it had to be raining worldwide. Maybe Carter didn't understand the math that said they should be dead ten times over, but he knew. Horse sense, like Nathan had said.

"It's okay," Nathan said, wanting to reassure, just this once, patting Carter's sweats with a hand that seemed too slow and heavy to be his own. "We'd do the same for you. For Zoe. The whole town. And me, too." Insisting on this last part seemed very important. He couldn't trust Carter to understand if it weren't spelled out.

Carter looked away, then down at his beer, then down at Nathan's hand, which was still resting on his thigh. Carter's body was warm even through the thick fabric; he could feel the heavy muscle, half-tensed, underneath.

"Is it just me, or is this … weird?" Carter asked quietly.

Nathan twisted his shoulders in something approximating a shrug, but didn't move his hand. "I guess that's up to you. I could go." It was like he'd said: being alone was a temporary thing, in Eureka. If the town didn't disappear in a vortex in the space-time continuum, he'd have good companionship soon enough—and if it did disappear, he'd have other problems. That made him think about zero-point generators, and he frowned, feeling some revelation just out of reach, behind green glass.

"SARAH," Carter called out, "is Dr. Stark drugged?"

"Breathanalysis suggests moderate alcohol intoxication, but there are no signs of other consciousness-altering substances."

"Thank you, SARAH, you can turn off your monitoring now."

"Sheriff—"

"Now, SARAH, and don't bother us unless something big explodes."

"Yes, Sheriff," she said unhappily. Nathan knew that he couldn't really sense a difference when she wasn't watching, but he still imagined a change in the quality of the electric hum around them.

"Okay," Carter said, more softly, and moved Nathan's hand back to his own leg.

"I should go," he said, pushing himself up, but Carter grabbed his arm before he could get more than a few inches off the too-soft sofa, and he came wobbling back down.

"I've got a better idea," Carter said, and slid his hand down, moving over Nathan's chest, tugging his legs up onto the couch. Nathan's free arm dropped down, over the side, his beer dangling close to the floor. He blinked up at Carter, who was on his knees on the couch, their bodies close enough that Nathan could feel their shared heat.

"Should have known you'd be a two-beer queer," Carter said, self-satisfied.

Nathan raised his eyebrows—at least, he thought he did; he couldn't exactly feel them. "I'll have you know I'm working on at least two to the third power beers," he corrected Carter.

"Wow, you are such a geek it isn't even funny … no wait, it is," Carter said, then put his hand on Nathan's half-hard dick.

****

In all seriousness, Jack never would have seen this coming. Sure, Stark was a not-so-secret frat boy, but he wouldn't have thought Stark would make himself so deliberately vulnerable. Jack guessed that beer could lower the highest of IQs.

He didn't mind being alone for the holidays, but he wasn't going to turn down an easy alternative—emphasis on the easy. And yeah, Allison did have good taste, even if she tolerated a fairly thick rind of jerkishness over the good guy underneath.

God knew he wasn't going to go for kissing, so he hooked his chin over Stark's shoulder, licking Stark's neck just to see what it was like—bitter tang of had-to-be-expensive aftershave, rough scrape of beard against his cheek—and fumbled blind for Stark's fly. Even the zipper felt like it was made better than any of Jack's clothes. After a couple of seconds Stark groaned and batted Jack's hand away, working at the hidden buttons and catches himself, pulling his cock out of his briefs and practically shoving it into Jack's palm.

Jack smiled into Stark's pampered skin and got to work, jacking him fast and efficient. They'd twisted most of their bodies onto the couch, and he got his groin up against Stark's hip, giving himself some pleasant friction as he worked. After a couple of minutes of warmup, he stopped long enough to spit into his hand, and when he wrapped his fingers around Stark again he bit down on Stark's neck right where it started to slope into shoulder, pushing his face into the stiff cotton of Stark's shirt.

That was about it; Stark fucked his fist a couple of times, then came with what was probably some sort of scientific curse but just sounded like nonsense to Jack. His come dripped over Jack's fingers. Jack grabbed, blind, for the napkins left over from the hot wings. It would have been funny to wipe off his hand on Stark's tailored suit, but not really worth it in the short run.

Stark was panting beneath him. Jack considered trying for a blowjob, but that was heading in the direction of becoming a Thing, and success might end up being more trouble than failure. So he grabbed Stark's hand and stuck it down his sweatpants, which had more than enough give to allow easy access, and let Stark reciprocate.

It was pretty awesome to have someone else's hand, someone else's steamy skin to breathe against, someone else's warmth. He had been a long time without. It was even better to be humping on the couch like a teenager, free of responsibility, free of worry about tomorrow.

Stark's hot panting raised the hairs on his neck. Jack's hands tightened on the rough cotton of the cushions; he gritted his teeth, tilted his head back, and let it happen.

****

Being the second to come was a mistake, Jack realized when he woke up on the floor, his back aching. It had made him far too pliable when Stark pushed him off the couch, insisting there wasn't room for both of them. The carpet was not a good mattress.

He blinked at the green blank of the television, the cheerleaders long tumbled offscreen, and fumbled for the remote to turn it off. His mouth tasted like cats and birds had fought a long war inside it.

When he managed to sit up, his shoulder knocked into the coffee table, and a couple of beers rattled. Stark made a surprised noise and jerked awake.

This was the point where they both said how drunk they were last night. But Jack didn't really think it was necessary. He still wasn't a big fan of Stark—loving Allison and Kevin and Eureka just made Stark smart, actually smart rather than just brainy, but he wasn't likeable or anything like that. But Stark knew that about himself; and Stark, apparently, got lonely just like everyone else.

So instead of trying for the good line, he looked at Stark, and Stark looked back. Stark's tie was crumpled on the floor, and his fly was still undone, but otherwise he looked about as rumpled as any Eureka scientist after a hard day unlocking the secrets of the universe.

"So," Stark said after a moment. "Until the next crisis."

"Monday, then," Jack agreed with a nod.

Stark got up and left, and Jack told SARAH to make him some coffee. His head felt like a sock stuffed with marbles, and there was still that crazy report about Beverly to go over.

Nothing about Eureka was what he'd imagined for himself. But that didn't make it bad.

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