Okay, here's the place where I usually give a summary and some other junk. Instead of that, I'm telling you that this is a wraparound companion to the stories "Nothing's the Same" and "Nothing At All", told from Jack and Eric's POV. It starts 5 years before "Nothing's the Same" (so, 2 years after the series finale), and will finish 5 years afterward "Nothing at All".
Warning: Part of this takes place in New York in the time period around 9/11. So, I will mention it in here. If you think this might bother you, I understand if you don't want to read this.
Rating: PG-13 (brief language, strong themes, slashiness)
Disclaimer: If I owned them, there would be movies based on these stories. With explicit scenes.
Feedback: If you write me, I might go away. Vixxxen@rocketmail.com
Thanks to: the people who beat me for fun- my betas, Sugar and Jack.
For: My usual crew. Ya'll keep me going!
Prologue: Before the Beginning
The sun is just starting to appear in the sky when Eric Matthews starts his day. He stretches, kicks the covers aside. He stumbles into the kitchen, where a fresh pot of coffee is waiting, thanks to modern technology. He pours himself a cup, drinks half of it absentmindedly before he remembers that he doesn't like black coffee. He doctors it with half a cup of milk and sugar, and then hits the shower. Once he's dressed, he rolls out the door, ready to face the world.
Every morning, he does the same thing: stops by a newsstand and grabs a newspaper and a candy bar, cuts through Central Park, and arrives at work right on time. He reports to the store manager, because there's always some kind of crisis that needs attention. After that, the day goes pretty smoothly. By the end of the day, he's exhausted, but in a good, satisfied way.
Tonight, he's going over to Cory and Topanga's for dinner. It's something they've kinda fallen into over the last year. He'll grab a bottle of wine, nothing fancy, and Topanga will fix a meal that she found in one of the magazines that she likes to read. Sometimes, Shawn joins them, but oftentimes he begs off, giving excuses and promises to come the next time. This night, he already told them that he has something urgent tonight, but that he'll try to make it the next week.
Dinner's relaxed and nice. Cory and Topanga tell Eric about how their jobs are going, and Eric tells funny stories about various things at the store. Between the three of them, they polish off the bottle of wine and get comfortable, watching a movie. The night wraps up the same as always, with them promising to do this again real soon.
Shawn's at the apartment when Eric comes home. He's on the beat up computer that they share, typing furiously. When he notices Eric, he gives a distracted greeting and returns his attention to the screen. Eric smiles at Shawn's determined expression and makes his way into the bedroom. He gets undressed quickly and slides underneath the covers. He is asleep almost before his head hits the pillow.
This is a typical day.
Chapter One: Beginnings
"Hey, Matthews, we need you on aisle 14!"
"I'm on it!" Eric shouts. He drops off his backpack and jacket and heads over to see what the problem is. It's nothing big, so he fixes it quickly and then makes his usual rounds. Working in a hardware store is almost like being at home, and he reacts to the customers just like he used to in his dad's camping store.
As he's trying to special order some bathroom fixtures for a customer, he feels someone tap his back. He swings around to see his best friend, Jack Hunter.
"Jack!" he yells. "What are you doing here?"
"27 months, man. I'm free!" They embrace and then Eric whoops excitedly.
"Okay, you have to stay with me in the apartment."
"Not going to argue with you," Jack laughs. "But what about Shawn? Is he still on tour?"
"Yeah. Last I heard, he was somewhere in California. Hey, you've read his book?" Eric waits for Jack's nod before continuing, "I've never read anything like that before."
Jack nods again seriously, making Eric glad that he didn't think of the usual joke of 'you read?' or something like that. "You know, when he sent me the advance copy, he explained that it was all fiction, but I really felt like that guy had lived."
As Eric opened his mouth to say something else, his boss came up to him. "Matthews, did you find that sink for that lady?"
"Yeah, but it only comes in black and hunter green. If she's set on white, she's gonna have to pick a different design."
"Good deal. I'll give her a call." The guy walks away as Eric turns his attention back to Jack.
"Know what, I'm gonna run, seeing as you're at work and all. Why don't I meet you back here after work?"
"Where are you gonna go?"
"You're in a mall, Eric. I'm sure that I can find something to do," Jack reasons. "Wait, do they have a bookstore?"
"Yeah, there's a Barnes and Noble on the second floor. Look, I'm off at 4 today. Meet me at the entrance, okay?" As Jack nods and turns away, Eric has a sudden thought. "Hey, how'd you find me?"
"Shawn gave me directions. I just told the cabbie the address and made sure he followed them." Jack smiles and walks out the store. Eric watches him for a second, and then goes off to actually work.
Later, when they meet back up, Jack reports that they had a display up for Shawn's book at the bookstore. "I looked at the jacket cover, and then I watched for a while as people picked it up. I kept wanting to shout, 'buy it!' to them."
Eric bursts into laughter. "You know, I had the same reaction at first. People would talk to me, and I would drop the book in casual conversation."
"So, how are Cory and Topanga?" Jack asks abruptly.
"Good. Happy with their jobs and all. They're thinking about moving to a brownstone."
"Running out of room in the apartment?" Jack questions, eyebrow raised.
"Not really, it's just that they wanna be closer to their jobs." Eric walks outside, squinting at the sunshine. "I usually just walk home, but if you want a cab, that's doable."
"Nah. I'm used to walking."
"Hey, where's the rest of your luggage?" Eric asks, casting another look at Jack's duffle.
"You're looking at all of it. Believe me, if you don't have electricity and running water half of the time, you get used to traveling light."
The two fall silent as Eric quickly leads them to the apartment. The fall sunshine feels good, but there's a bite in the wind, making Eric glad he wore a jacket. As he walks through Central Park, he stops, as usual, to talk to two old men who play checkers there. He introduces Jack to them, and then sets off again.
At the apartment, Eric motions for Jack to toss his duffle anywhere, and then quickly shows him the bedroom and bathroom. After he plays the good host, he sits down on the couch. "So, tell me. What was the hardest thing about being in the Peace Corps?"
Jack answers immediately, "Being over there," and he makes a vague hand motion, "while all of this turmoil was happening here."
"Did you have some of the problems that they talked about on the news?" Eric asks curiously.
"Don't know what they said."
"They were saying that some Americans were being targeted by the foreign governments, stuff like that."
"No, can't say that I was, but I dunno. We were pretty sheltered. Um," Jack drops his voice, "What did you do that day?"
"I usually start my day around sevenish, and I'm out the door by eight. Well, I was getting ready, and I was running late. I got a phone call, and it was from my boss. He told me to turn on the TV. I did, and watched everything happen. And I could hear it too, vaguely. I called Cory and Topanga, and when I heard about the plane in Pennsylvania, Mom and Dad. Shawn called here, so we all were in touch. We would have called you if we could have reached you."
"I was thinking about you guys, when they told us. I was so grateful that Cory didn't take that job, now. The one in the World Trade Center," Jack hastens to explain.
"Yeah. Out of all of us, he was the one who took it the hardest, because he knew a bunch of people who worked there." Eric frowns for a second, then in a deliberate attempt to lighten the atmosphere, asks, "And how is the lovely Rachel doing?"
"Fine, apparently. You know she re-upped."
"I did not know that," Eric says slowly.
"Yeah, she says that she's found her calling in life. So," Jack exhales, "any plans for this evening?"
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot! I usually eat over Cory and Topanga's tonight. Hold on, let me call them. Maybe we can all go out or something." Eric gets up and goes over to the phone. Dialing quickly, he counts the rings before he hears Topanga's efficient voice answer, "Hello?"
"Hey Topanga, it's me."
"Eric! Hey. Are you still coming over tonight?"
"Well, here's the thing. Jack's in town, just got out--"
"You make it sound like I was in jail!" Jack interjects from the couch.
Eric makes a face at him and continues, "And we were wondering if you guys wanted to go out, or something."
"Well, I fixed this huge pot of spaghetti, so why don't you bring Jack over here? That way, we can catch up and everything without getting booted out of a restaurant."
"Fine by me." Eric turns to Jack and tells him, "Topanga fixed spaghetti."
"I'm in," Jack immediately replies.
"'Kay, that's fine," Eric says into the receiver.
"See you at seven, then. Bye."
"Bye." Eric hangs up the phone and goes back over to the couch. "Topanga always says that seven is when I'm supposed to be over there, but I usually run late from work. So, we have some time to kill, unless you wanna be an early nerd."
Jack laughs. "You and your terminology! And since when do you call Topanga 'Topanga', as opposed to the various nicknames that you used to call her?"
Eric shrugs. "I guess when they graduated from college. Don't know really."
"Just wondered." Jack goes to stand up. "Well, I don't know about you, but I could use a shower before I go over there. Is that all right?"
"No," Eric replies, perfectly deadpan. "It's okay to stay here, but my shower's off limits."
Eric gets the face he made earlier returned to him before Jack steps into the bathroom. Eric putters around the apartment for a while before turning on the TV and waiting on Jack.
Jack finally emerges from the bathroom, hair still damp, but otherwise fully dressed. "Hey, I didn't cut you short on time, did I?" he asks.
"Nah. I usually just wear my work clothes over there, and it won't take us long to get there from here. So, you ready?"
After Eric grabs Jack a spare jacket, they head back out. The walk over to Cory and Topanga's is about ten minutes long, and on the way there, Jack tells Eric about some of the experiences he had in the Peace Corps.
Cory and Topanga jump up and greet Jack and Eric effusively. Eric notices that Topanga seems a little thinner, but doesn't comment on it. He waits impatiently through all of the small talk before cheering up considerably before the food is served. In addition to the spaghetti, they have fresh breadsticks and a green salad. They eat until they're full and then polish off the bottle of chardonnay that Eric brought. After dinner, they start making small talk to catch Jack up on everyone.
"And I talked to Angela. It's hard to believe that Shawna's almost 2!" Topanga comments.
"So she's content in London?" Jack asks.
"Very much so. I can't even get her to come here for a visit, even." Topanga smiles as she starts clearing the dishes from the table.
"And Rachel re-upped!" Cory leans back in his seat, earning a dirty look from Topanga. "Is being in the Peace Corps that fun?"
"I don't know about fun," Jack replies honestly, "but it's that fulfilling."
After that, they say their goodbyes among promises to come back soon. Eric and Jack start walking home slowly, still talking about different things. They enter the apartment, laughing over an incident that had happened to Eric at work. "Man, I don't think I've laughed this much in forever," Jack finally gasps, wiping tears out of his eyes.
"That story wasn't nearly as funny before we broke out the chardonnay," Eric teases him.
Jack throws up his hands. "Not guilty, man. I don't touch the stuff. " He smiles at Eric to let him know that it's okay, then continues, "No, I think it's the company."
Eric's smiles softens at this, and he replies, "I really missed you."
"I missed you too." Jack throws his gaze down to his lap and mutters something.
"Hey, what'd you say?" Eric asks.
Jack looks back up, and the look in his eyes is extremely readable to Eric. This is where all of the subtext becomes text, Eric thinks before their lips meet.