Title:

Title: The Bet

Pairing: Jack/Nathan, side pairing Vince/Paul Sueños

Rating: PG, for some cursing

Word Count: 7800

Disclaimer: Nope, not mine, though I did try to barter for them once…

Warnings: A lot of silliness, a bit of seriousness, and a boyfriend for Vince. Spoilers for all of Season 2.

Summary: Challenge from my beta Jenn, to see the developing bet over Jack/Nathan from everyone else in town's perspective. It's also why I should never accept a challenge on tequila night while we write out on a napkin who exactly constitutes 'everyone' in Eureka…. thanks, Jenn… rolls eyes

Henry

He'd been at Café Diem when the news about Callister had caught up to him. He was grateful Jack was nowhere to be found, as he broke several speed limits on his way up to GD. He made his way quickly down to cold storage, where Nathan would have been forced to bring Callister.

Henry stopped abruptly in the doorway, surprised to spot a familiar blond head blocking his view of Nathan. Jack's hand hesitated for a moment, and then came to rest on Nathan's arm. "You don't have to do this right now," Jack said softly.

"We don't need to add another erratic action to the tally for the day," Nathan snapped, but his shoulders were sagging. "Not that I don't appreciate what you're doing, Sheriff, but there's already an awful lot that won't add up in your report."

"Let me worry about that," Jack said quietly, looking up and drawing back when he spotted Henry. "Hey, Henry," Jack greeted him, his tone reaching for normalcy and cheerfulness, but falling a little flat. Nathan looked up quickly, his body snapping into line and the shutters falling closed over his eyes again.

"Henry," Nathan greeted him coolly.

"Hey, I just came to see if you needed any help," Henry said, unable to explain why he suddenly felt as though he was intruding upon a very private moment. He shifted uncomfortably, pinned by two pairs of oddly intense eyes.

"It's all taken care of," Nathan replied, his voice painfully neutral. He hit the keypad on the wall with more force than necessary, deliberately looking away as the stasis unit with Callister's body vanished into the floor. "If you'll excuse me, I have work that needs to be done."

Henry watched helplessly as Nathan pushed past him, not looking at either man as he left. Henry looked over at Jack, who looked torn, rubbing the back of his neck while he tried to make a decision. "You'll stay with him?" Henry asked, recognizing that unlike himself, Jack hadn't been shut out.

"Yeah," Jack straightened up, forcing a grin to his face. "See you later, Henry." He strode out, and Henry waited, turning things over in his mind. Frowning, he slowly made his way back up to the exit, a highly improbable hypothesis forming in his mind.

He paused in a dark alcove just off the main floor, looking up at the glass office. Jack and Nathan were arguing, he could tell from their body language. Nathan was slipping, his façade cracking a little. He winced, recognizing that whatever Jack had just said had hit the wrong button, and Nathan took a swing that Jack easily avoided, catching Nathan's arm.

Then again, Henry mused to himself as Nathan collapsed against Jack's shoulder, his grief finally showing plainly, maybe Jack had hit the right button. He drove slowly back into Café Diem, taking a seat at the counter, hardly aware of his actions until Vince pressed a cup of coffee into his hands. "You okay?" Vince asked worriedly, and Henry chuckled darkly.

"Working on a crazy hypothesis," Henry informed him, and Vince smiled.

"Crazy enough to open one of my betting pools?" Vince asked, obviously trying to cheer Henry up. Henry looked up, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

"You may already have this one on the books," Henry replied, making a beckoning motion with his hand. Vince checked carefully around the room, then handed Henry a black binder from under the counter.

Henry flipped it open, finding the right page, quickly drew a third column and scribbled his own bet in it. He handed it back to Vince with a nod, before heading to the door. "Um, Henry, are you sure?" Vince called after him, sounding baffled.

"I like long shots," Henry replied, winking at Vince. He headed out to his truck, pausing for a moment to stare up at the stars. "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies, Horatio," he murmured to himself, before climbing into his truck.

Back in the diner, Vince looked skeptically at the scrawl that marked Henry's bet. He sighed, tucking it away again, wondering if Henry was playing a prank on him.

Fargo

"And I need him here." Normally, Fargo would have been very proud of this, but his mind was thinking about how much hotter Willow and Tara would have been if they had bickered like the Sheriff and Dr. Stark were doing. Come to think of it, Dr. Stark and the Sheriff would probably make a pretty hot slash pairing. He'd have to ask Dr. Fields next time he saw her and see what she thought. She wrote those really good Spike/Angel stories, not that he read the sex bits…

"No."

"Not really."

Check that, Fargo decided, sparing a moment's pity for Allison who didn't realize she was now standing in the way of his new pairing. They would be hot. Especially if he could get them to do more of that talking at the same time. Maybe a culminating in a wrestling match that turned into a completely different type of rolling around on the floor, he thought, realizing he was grinning inappropriately as Allison berated Dr. Stark. He pulled on a sober face, waiting for his opportunity to slip away. Unfortunately, Sheriff Carter seemed to be having a lot less fun than everyone else and wouldn't let him get away.

Sulking in his corner of the jail cell, eyeing Jo's water gun warily, Fargo couldn't help asking her, "Do you think the Sheriff and Dr. Stark would make a good slash pairing?" She sat up, grinning.

"I'd read it if it had ice-skating!" she chirped happily, and Fargo settled back, feeling justified. The thought lingered even after he was unhappily ensconced in the after pollen hangover, falling into a seat at Vince's counter.

"Just pour it yourself," Vince told him, flopping a hand in the direction of the coffee pot. He was obviously just as hung over, cleaning up some broken plates. Fargo walked around the counter, helping himself to some coffee.

"Dr. Stark and Sheriff Carter together, hot or not?" Fargo asked Vince, who rolled his eyes.

"Henry put you up to this?" he asked wearily.

"Henry?" Fargo repeated blankly.

"He put a bet on the two of them a few weeks ago," Vince explained. "In the pool about the two of them and Allison. I think it's supposed to be a joke…" he trailed off as Fargo pulled out the binder, thumbing through it. There, in Henry's familiar scrawl, was a bet for 20 on Carter and Stark, Fargo confirmed, reaching into his shirt pocket for a pen.

"You never gamble," Vince observed, dumping his dustpan into the trash and coming over to watch Fargo scribble in a note of his own.

"I am this time," Fargo grinned, handing it back to Vince. "Twenty on Stark and Carter."

"This is like a big joke you and Henry are playing, right?" Vince called after him, but Fargo just waved him off. "This town cannot be that weird," Vince decided, closing the binder with a snap.

Jo

"Good job, Carter." Stark didn't sound sarcastic, which naturally had Jo suspicious. She looked over, waiting. "Wow, that didn't even leave a bad taste in my mouth," he remarked, and she grinned. There was the Stark sarcasm she knew and loved.

"Ah, give it a second," Jack replied, and Jo had to give him credit for playing into the joke. No common sense sometimes, but Carter had guts, always going head to head with the other man.

"Yup, there it is," Stark grinned, and Jo was surprised to see Carter returning the grin. She tilted her head thoughtfully, trying to remember if she'd ever seen the two of them quite so in sync. It was a nice change from normal. She followed Carter out, smirking.

"You and Stark made a good team," she said slyly, and he rolled his eyes.

"Don't get any ideas," Carter informed her. "I imagine he'll be going back to his plans to leave Eureka soon enough."

"What if he stays?" Jo asked before she thought about it.

"Then he stays," Carter replied crossly. "What's with the third degree?"

"No third degree," Jo replied, shrugging. She crossed over to her Jeep, unlocking the door. "I'm going to head in to Café Diem, get some coffee. Want to join me?" she asked, and Carter shook his head.

"I just want to go home," he told her. "See you tomorrow."

Jo drove in to Café Diem, nodding to Vince, who looked up anxiously when she entered. "Fargo's fine," she reassured him, dropping exhaustedly onto one of the stools at the counter. "I got to shoot and kill him, actually," she remarked, accepting the large mug of coffee Vince handed her.

"Sounds like you've got quite a story to tell me," Vince remarked, giving her a smile. "Let me check on my other table first and then you'll have to fill me in."

"Okay," Jo agreed easily, settling in. She noticed the black betting binder open on the counter, and pulled it over, idly flipping through the pages. She paused, noticing a page with a very short third column.

"Vince?" she asked, turning the binder toward him when he came around the counter again. "Is this a bet about what I think it is?"

Vince looked at the page, grinning. "Yeah, I couldn't help myself," he told her, shrugging. "The three of them make it quite a lot of fun to bet on."

"But, Henry and Fargo…" she let the question trail off, not sure what she wanted to ask.

"I thought it was a joke they were playing on me," Vince told her, shrugging. "Then again, it's been a few months, so I guess maybe they were serious."

"Huh," Jo mused, thinking back to the grins between Carter and Stark after Fargo was saved. "Vince, you got a pen?"

"Are you serious?" Vince asked, giving her a pen with a skeptical look. "Seriously, Jo, is this like some joke the three of you cooked up? Taggart going to be in soon to keep it going?"

"No joke," Jo informed him, signing her name with a flourish under her 30 bet. "I'll even give you the thirty dollars right now if you want. Then I'll tell you about the two of them working together today."

"Really?" Vince stared at her, accepting the pen back. He considered the book for a moment, then added his own name to the short column. "If it's good enough for you, it works for me," he told her. Jo grinned into her coffee.

Beverly

Vince came out from the back room, surprised to see Beverly Barlowe flipping through the betting book. "Dr. Barlowe," he greeted her pleasantly. "Thinking about placing a bet?"

"No, just looking," Beverly replied sweetly. She raised an eyebrow. "Stark and Carter? Really?"

"It's sort of a joke," Vince started, and Beverly snapped the binder closed, smiling and shaking her head.

"No kidding," she replied dryly. "I haven't heard anything that ridiculous for a long time. Thanks for the laugh, Vince," she told him as she turned on her heel to leave.

Vince watched her go, unable to shake the feeling that Beverly hadn't just found it ridiculous, she'd found it distasteful. He scrubbed extra hard at a spot on the counter.

Abby

Vince beamed as Abby Carter entered Café Diem, looking around. When her eyes landed on the chef, she lit up, crossing the room quickly. "I hear you're the man to talk to about a certain betting pool involving my husband, Dr. Blake, and Dr. Stark," she told him, setting her bag down next to the counter.

"Uh, Dr. Carter," Vince began, alarms blaring in his mind.

"It's okay, Vince," she told him, smiling a little sadly. "I saw… when Jack was hurt," she struggled through the words, sighing. "I remember having that look on my face once, when I was first falling in love with him and he got hurt," she explained. "So, I figured I'd leave a little message here, and if Jack ever figures it out, you can show him."

"Okay," Vince agreed, feeling his heart break a little for the woman as he handed her the binder. She scribbled something quickly, and folded a ten-dollar bill into the page before handing the binder back to Vince.

Vince waited until the door had closed behind her, opening the binder again and removing the bill. In the column marked 'Stark and Carter', Abby had scrawled, 'with my blessing.'

Vince refused to answer any questions about who Abby had bet on or what she had written.

Paul Sueños

Paul wasn't a gambling man, but he'd heard mutterings about the betting pool regarding the Sheriff, Dr. Blake, and Dr. Stark's odd love triangle. And after ending up more involved in the affairs of the movers and shakers of Eureka than he had ever intended to be, and certainly had no intention of ever becoming again, he was puzzled about the whole affair.

"Dr. Sueños," Vince greeted him as he took a seat at the counter. "Your usual iced tea and club sandwich?"

"Ahh, how about the special and some information from Eureka's most well connected man?" he replied, aware that he was buttering up the other man, but not minding it if it would get him some inside information. Besides, Vince was his favorite person to flirt with anyway.

"You're in a daring mood," Vince observed, scribbling on his pad and handing the order off to his assistant, leaning on the counter to look down at Paul. "What sort of information are you looking for?"

"Stark and Carter," he replied in a low conspiratorial tone. "I've heard some mutterings about a bet on the pairing."

"It's the long shot choice," Vince agreed, handing Paul an iced tea, adding an extra lemon and handing him the honey before Paul had to ask. "What's got you curious?"

"I saw them before Carter went into the treatment for the acetylcholine," Paul told him. "Up until then I'd only ever seen Stark like that with Dr. Blake or Kevin."

"They have something," Vince agreed, his gaze getting a little distant and dreamy. "Intense chemistry."

"Exactly," Paul agreed, taking a sip of his tea. "Too bad they'll never do anything about it."

"What?" Vince asked, looking surprised.

"You think either one of them has it in them to make a move?" Paul challenged Vince, raising an eyebrow. "They're so entrenched in thinking they're competing for the same woman, they don't see each other."

"Sometimes they do," Vince disagreed. "Like you said, you saw them together before the treatment."

"You and I both know that chemistry and occasional bits of flirting don't lead anywhere unless someone is willing to take a chance," Paul observed pointedly. Vince stepped away from the counter, taking the plate with the special that his assistant set in the window. He set it in front of Paul, giving him a speculative look.

"Sort of like you finally deciding to try something other than a club sandwich?" Vince asked, and Paul grinned.

"I'm just feeling particularly adventurous today," Paul replied easily, picking up his fork.

"Any chance I can talk you into reconsidering betting on Dr. Stark and the Sheriff?" Vince asked hopefully, and Paul shrugged, feigning indifference. "Maybe over dinner some night this week?"

"How about I cook for you?" Paul invited, a slow smile spreading across his face. "Tuesday, my place. And you can try to convince me that people really do change and take chances."

"Sounds good to me," Vince turned, a customer calling out to him. Whistling, Vince headed over to help her.

Zane

Zane wasn't sure what to make of Vince, but he was pretty sure the chef was just reserving judgment on him until he was certain the scientist wasn't plotting to deliberately blow up Eureka. "So what's the deal with Sheriff Stick Up the Ass?" Zane asked, earning a dark look from Vince that he wasn't quite quick enough to blank off his face.

"Huh, usually I only hear that nickname for Dr. Stark," Vince replied casually.

"Now Stark I like. Guy has a sense of humor," Zane replied.

"Yeah, just wait till the first time he chews you out," Vince promised. "You'll change your mind pretty quickly then."

"So which one of them is he with, Carter or Blake?" Zane asked, and Vince glared at him. "Hey, I get the protective thing, but they've all got crazy vibes all over each other. Just trying to get the lay of the land."

"None of them are together, but I'll be happy to take your money if you want to make a prediction," Vince offered, and Zane looked up, grinning.

"What are the odds on a threesome?" Zane asked, laughing at the look on Vince's face. He figured that would get a rise out of the chef. Actually, he thought, it would give him a good bit of identity around here if he always bet on the absurd choice. He made a note to do so whenever possible.

"Long, as you'd be the only one," Vince replied as soon as he got his composure back.

"Excellent," Zane declared, spinning on the stool. "I'll lay twenty on it as soon as I get paid." He set down the now empty plate and strolled out, leaving Vince sighing.

Zane passed Carter on his way in, and saw Vince wave a pancake turner in Zane's direction. "We really have to keep him?" Zane overheard him ask the sheriff, who gave him a commiserating look.

"Apparently," the sheriff rolled his eyes. "Allison won't let me get rid of him." Zane grinned to himself, pushing his way out and heading toward the police station in search of Jo.

Zoë and Pilar

"Come on, Vince," Zoë pleaded, and Pilar made a pouting face.

"You're both too young. Come back when you're eighteen," Vince replied, firmly tucking the black binder away under the counter.

"Can you imagine if it actually happened?" Pilar giggled as Zoë made a face.

"Please, my dad has no clue," Zoë replied, rolling her eyes. "Dr. Stark could haul off and kiss him, and my dad would probably just drag him in for testing to see if he'd been exposed to some toxic spore or something like last week."

Vince stopped dead hearing this. "Wait, you want to bet on Stark and your dad?" he asked, stunned.

"Yeah, have you seen them today?" Zoë asked, and Pilar dissolved into giggles.

"What am I missing?" Vince asked, and both girls fell into hysterical laughter.

"Don't tell him," Zoë told Pilar, hitting her friend's arm. "They'll be here in a bit, and I want to see the look on Vince's face."

"Oh my god, imagine if Stark became your step dad!" Pilar had hit that special register that usually only teenage girls around young male actors achieved. She and Zoë were both turning a little red from laughing, so Vince simply set a pair of diet cokes on the counter for them and headed over to where Fargo was trying to hide behind a stack of menus.

"Fargo, are you going to order anything?" Vince asked, and Fargo squeaked, shaking his head vigorously. Vince rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, counting to ten before he checked his watch to confirm that he only had two more hours before he closed the café and Paul joined him for dinner. He was filling his head with that thought when the door opened and Carter tugged Stark into the diner, nearly tripping him in the process.

"If we could avoid looking like a bad three stooges routine," Stark complained, now tugging Carter with more force than necessary toward the counter. "Vince, big coffees."

"Huge," Carter added darkly, sitting down and appearing to tug Stark down with him. Zoë and Pilar were shaking from the effort of holding in their laughter. Carter turned his scowl on both of them. "Go on, get out of here," he growled, and Zoë and Pilar fled for the door, giggling hysterically as they went.

"Are you two okay?" Vince asked, mystified. He set two of the large ceramic mugs on the counter, filling them both carefully.

"Oh, peachy," Jack sniped sarcastically. He wrapped his right hand around his cup of coffee, hastily gulping it.

Stark reached for the coffee, his hand pulling Carter's up with it. Up close, Vince could see that Carter's left hand and Stark's right were encased and bound together in a thin layer of a clear, shiny substance. "Could you not do that?" Carter asked, his head dropping forward to rest on the counter.

"I'm right handed," Stark grumbled, awkwardly trying to drink with his left hand. He groaned setting it down awkwardly and splashing some on the counter.

"Is that…?" Vince started, breaking off when both men glared at him.

"Fargo's new super adhesive?" Carter replied, glaring at the conjoined hands, which now rested on the counter. "Oh yeah."

"48 hours till Henry can finish synthesizing a chemical that will remove it and not take our skin with it," Stark grumbled. "If I get my remaining hand on Fargo…"

Vince glanced out of the corner of his eye to the corner where Fargo had been buried under menus, unsurprised to see that Stark's assistant had vanished. "I have a hidden stash of Bailey's," Vince offered, and the two exchanged a look.

"I'm off duty," Carter offered, and Stark nodded.

"No one is calling me into GD like this," Stark replied, awkwardly holding up his coffee mug. "Irish coffee, please, Vince."

Vince kept a good amount of Bailey's flowing into the pair of coffee mugs, eventually setting a towel down to soak up what was missing the men's mouths. "I have a plan," Stark announced, once he and Carter discovered the bottle of Bailey's was empty. "My house is easy to walk to, I have a big comfy bed, couple of bottles of scotch, no daughter to laugh at us, and no house to try and help us."

"Sold!" Carter agreed, setting his mug down with a thunk. "Probably should tell the giggling daughter I'm not coming home."

"I'll call her," Vince promised, taking the now empty mugs. He looked up as Paul entered, giving him a quizzical look. "They're stuck together," he explained, and Paul grinned.

"I think I saw a sci-fi show where this happened once," Paul quipped, ignoring the glares both men shot his way. "Hmm, imagine what we could do if we were stuck together like that," he added, winking at Vince. "I'm just on my way upstairs. See you in twenty or so?"

"Twenty minutes," Vince promised, watching Paul duck up the stairs to the loft. He turned back, finding Carter watching him with a grin.

"I didn't know you were dating Sweeny," Carter announced, his tone far too amused for Vince.

"Suarez," Stark corrected him, mangling the name as well, but Vince didn't bother correcting them while inebriated and stuck together. "I think it's nice."

"Didn't say it wasn't nice," Carter argued. "It's sweet, but I didn't know about it."

"Probably cuz you'd tell Jo, and she'd tell everyone," Stark observed.

"Actually, yeah, that's why," Vince agreed. "You two going to be okay getting home?"

"We'll manage," Carter replied, standing and carefully maneuvering their conjoined hands so that Stark could also stand. Vince watched as the two men, now that they were much more mellow, help each other out the door and carefully make sure neither pulled the conjoined hands too quickly. Vince grinned as he dialed the smart house. "There just might be hope for them yet," he mused, making a mental note to double his bet.

Taggart

"Bloody laboratory, bloody nightmare of a night, bloody Beverly, can I have a bloody Mary?" Taggart groaned, settling into one of the stools at the counter.

"Can't serve you alcohol if you're cursing. It's your rule," Vince reminded him.

"Listen, mate, I just spent the past hour suffering through Larry whinging about how he was going to die, battling with that horrid building's security, and before that listening to Stark and Carter bicker like an old married couple," Taggart ticked off his fingers as he spoke but somehow came up with four fingers. Odd, he thought, then continued. "If that hasn't earned me a blood drink, then I'm packing me bag and heading for the Arctic Circle!"

"Bloody Mary?" Vince repeated, reaching under the counter for the tomato juice.

"Big one," Taggart said, his eyes wide. "Like you were serving Gigantipithicus Americainus."

"Uh huh," Vince rolled his eyes, obviously unimpressed. "What happened up there?"

"Not rightly sure, mate," Taggart announced, settling back. "Everyone's close lipped, but someone said Beverly's dead. Apparently she's the one that rigged the accident that did in Kim Anderson."

"You think Henry…?" Vince asked, his tone hushed and disbelieving.

"Nah, they didn't bring a body up from the bunker at all," Taggart told him. "Vaporized, apparently. Probably did it to herself, trying to escape the GD security system. Bloody near vaporized me twice."

Vince handed him the Bloody Mary, and Taggart took a large gulp, hoping his nerves would settle soon. "And rumor has it Henry's to be arrested."

"What?" Vince dropped a cup, turning quickly.

"Tripped the false alarm, made a mess of GD, all for a bit of revenge," Taggart replied solemnly. "Should have just come and told me. I'd have given him a toxin the autopsy would never find to take care of her."

"Are you serious?" Vince demanded, leaning in closer. "You'd have helped him kill Beverly?"

"In a heartbeat, mate," Taggart finished his Bloody Mary, draining the glass in a few moments. "She nearly took out all of this town, messing with that artifact. Killed Kim Anderson too. Then she uses Kevin tonight against Allison. Believe me, she'd not hesitate to kill either of us to get what she wanted. Rabid, like a dog, that one."

Vince shivered, confirming Taggart's suspicion that Vince had some idea that Beverly wasn't quite what she pretended. Vince was usually a bang on judge of character. "Ahh, doesn't surprise you that much, does it?" Taggart observed slyly.

"Can we talk about something else?" Vince asked abruptly. "So Carter and Stark both stormed GD to rescue Allison?"

"Yes, and she was quite cozy with Stark afterwards, quite grateful," Taggart replied. "I might even bet on them in your little pool, but I don't think her heart's won just yet. So don't count your winnings yet."

"I didn't bet on Dr. Blake and Dr. Stark," Vince replied smugly. Taggart frowned, looking puzzled.

"You're not the type to be gambling on Blake and the sheriff," he commented, his brow wrinkling. "Doesn't suit your romantic sensibilities." His eyes narrowed, a grin turning up the corners of his mouth. "Might there be a third river flowing into this pond?"

"Might be," Vince replied, refusing to elaborate. His silence was driving Taggart crazy, though he tried to hold his tongue a few seconds longer.

"You can't have bet on Stark and Carter?" Taggart burst out, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "They'd need to be hit with a clue by four before either sussed it out!"

"And those are so hard to come by in this town?" Vince asked sarcastically. "Next time there's an accident up at GD, they'll probably end up sharing bodies."

"That'll do 'em," Taggart agreed, with a grin, tapping his cup for a refill. "They share bodies, and I'll bet a fiver or two myself!"

Allison

Allison resisted the urge to rest her head on the counter, the pain gathering in her temples nearly overwhelming her. "You sure you don't want a sandwich or an omelet?" Vince offered, offering Allison a smile when she looked up.

"I'll be fine," she told him, setting her head on her clasped hands.

"Regretting it?" Vince asked sympathetically, topping off her coffee.

"Stepping down or saying no to marrying Nathan?" she asked dryly. "Yes, and no."

"Is that yes to the first, no to the second, or both for both?" Vince asked, and Allison smiled, appreciating his quick catch of her ambiguity.

"I suppose I'm sorry your betting pool has probably fallen apart," Allison decided to try evading the question with a dry bit of wit. "Everyone jumping ship to place bets on me and Carter now?"

"Not exactly," Vince hedged, and Allison noticed he was suddenly very interested in cleaning the cappuccino machine. "Some people still think you may change your mind."

"And you don't clear it out until I make a decision," Allison snapped, sighing. "Sorry, Vince, I didn't mean to sounds so bitchy. It just feels like everyone's watching me, waiting to see what I'll do."

"Normally, I wouldn't advocate running away, but would it hurt to take a bit of time, maybe go visit Kevin's grandparents up in Washington?" Vince suggested. "After all the chaos of the past few weeks, it might be good for him to get away too. I don't even have half the pressure you do, but I can't wait for my vacation next week."

"Tell me about it," Allison said, leaning against the counter. Anything to take her mind off the fragment of a suspicion she'd been harboring since watching the security tapes of her ex-husband and the sheriff storming GD together.

"Paul and I are going to Maine, little cabin his parents left him," Vince told her. "Fresh lobster, no work, boating, that kind of thing."

Allison nodded, a thought forming in her mind. "You know, that sounds amazing. I haven't taken Kevin up to Port Angeles in over a year. And it's not like GD is keeping me here."

"That's the spirit," Vince grinned, obviously pleased that Allison was perking up a little.

"So is the betting still pretty even?" Allison asked, her grin more mischievous. She was fishing, she knew, but she wanted to know if her suspicions were well founded.

"Well, I'd say it's more even now," Vince replied carefully. "Unless you count Zane still being the only one with money on the threesome."

"Oh," Allison laughed, shaking her head. "You let him bet on that?"

"I am more than happy to take his money," Vince replied easily.

"What about Nathan and Jack?" Allison asked quietly. Saying it aloud lifted the weight of it off her chest, and Allison felt herself relax a little.

"Oh, they haven't bet," Vince replied quickly. "I don't think either of them actually knows about it."

"You know what I mean," Allison said, setting her coffee down. "How much of the town thinks they'll figure out that they flirt as much with each other as they do with me?"

"A third," Vince replied, shrugging. "Like I said, tied up."

"Thanks, Vince," Allison said, standing and dropping a ten on the counter. "It's nice to know it's not just me who sees it."

"Dr. Blake, you don't need to…" Vince started to protest, waving the bill at her.

"It's for my bet," she told him, smiling enigmatically at him. "Same message as Abby's, please." She walked out the door before Vince could even think about asking how she knew what Abby had written in the binder.

Jack

"Don't ever leave us again!"

Vince grinned as Jack entered. Jack noticed the chef looked well rested and more cheerful than ever, while he was certain he looked like a step up from death warmed over. "Nice to feel loved, Sheriff," Vince replied. "Coffee?"

"Yes, please," Jack replied, sitting down at the counter. "Your replacement tried to cut me off after two cups every day."

"Well, I'm sure she was just thinking of the health and safety of Eureka," Vince replied, handing over a large mug.

"No, that would have involved just giving me the coffee," Carter quipped. His smile slid a little, before he could stop it, and he saw Vince giving him a sympathetic look.

"I heard Callie left town," Vince said simply.

"Big research grant, her own lab in DC, too much potential to do good for her to turn it down," the sheriff took a big gulp of coffee, cursing mentally as it burned his tongue. "The fact that her former teacher who offered her the job looked like George Clooney might have been a factor too."

"Ahh," Vince winced. "I met Paul's ex this past week," he added. Jack latched onto the information, glad for a new topic.

"Oh boy," Jack said, amused. He'd heard rumors about Paul's ex that involved parallels to attractive models. "How'd that go?"

"I think he maybe should have warned her about me," Vince remarked, and Jack laughed.

"Didn't tell her anything?" Jack chuckled, his worry and tension sliding to the back of his head. "Did she at least know he was bi?"

"Nope," Vince replied, grinning as Jack began to laugh even harder. "It was quite the conversation. But by the end of it, I wasn't so worried about the fact that she was a blonde Cindy Crawford, which he forgot to mention to me, by the way."

"Geez," Jack sighed, feeling more relaxed. "Thanks, Vince. I needed some perspective."

"When's Zoë get back from LA?" Vince asked.

"Three weeks," Jack replied, wrinkling his nose. Vince nodded knowingly. "Yeah, too long to wait for her to come kick my butt for moping."

"At least you've got the football game against Jo's team this weekend," Vince reminded him, and Jack grinned.

"Oh, and apparently, Stark plays football," Jack said gleefully. Stark coming into the station and announcing he would be joining Jack's team had completely confused Jack, until Jo had started pouting. "I hate to admit it, but he's pretty good. Trying to steal the quarterback position from me, but good."

"Well, I've got twenty on your team," Vince replied confidently.

"Oh, that reminds me, what are the numbers this week? I haven't gotten any good mocking in on Jo since she got Taggart for her team," Jack dug into his pocket, pulling out his pad. Adding Stark to his roster had to have helped a little, maybe evened up the betting.

"Here," Vince told him, carefully opening the notebook to the football pool and turning it so Jack could see. "2 to 1 in favor of team Carter since you added Stark to your team."

"Really?" Jack turned, watching Vince as he took an order over to a booth.

"He was Tesla High's captain twenty two years ago. Not much of a team, but he was pretty good," Vince pointed out, and Jack nodded thoughtfully. He started thumbing through the betting binder, which usually Vince wouldn't let him get too close a look at. Vince got his table a refill, coming back over to the counter as Jack spotted his name on a page. Vince managed to snag it back, looking worried as he saw what was on the page Jack had just opened.

"Wait, was that what I thought it was?" Jack asked, frowning at Vince.

"You're surprised that people bet on if Allison would end up with you or Stark?" Vince asked, his tone a little too innocent.

"I'm surprised it looked like there was a third option to that bet," Jack said suspiciously. He had to have seen that wrong.

"Four, if you count Zane betting on a threesome," Vince said, giving him a big grin, obviously hoping to distract Jack.

"First, remind me to smack Zane around extra on Saturday, and second," Jack paused, seeing Vince's wary look. "Really? Not like people just screwing around?"

"Some pretty serious bets, Sheriff," Vince patted his arm consolingly. "You two do kind of… flirt." He paused. "A lot," he added emphatically.

Jack scoffed, folding his arms. Sure, he thought Stark was attractive, but also annoying, and frustrating, and so much fun to argue with… He studied his coffee for a moment then looked up at Vince, knowing his confusion was clear on his face. "I had to stop your daughter from placing bets on you two," Vince added, obviously hoping Carter was catching on.

"Does Stark…?" Carter never finished the question, but Vince knew what he was asking.

"Just as clueless as you," Vince replied. "Well, as clueless as you were ten minutes ago."

"Thanks, Vince," Carter said, standing up, lost in thought. The idea was startling, but he definitely wasn't repulsed. In fact, he sort of found the idea… appealing.

"You want a to go coffee?" Vince asked, seeing the mostly full mug on the counter.

"No, I'm good," Carter brushed him off, still mentally elsewhere as he left the café. Vince smiled as Carter left, whistling 'Matchmaker' as he cleaned up.

Stark

Paul had staked out the best seat in the bleachers for them, Vince observed, while he dealt with the last minute bets, still heavily favoring Carter's team. He was adding a bet as Stark and Carter passed behind him, bantering as always. "…just saying flag football is kind of lame."

"Next scrimmage we'll play tackle then," Stark replied cheerfully. "But I'd rather not be around when Taggart gets his chance at laying Jo out."

"That's half the fun," Jack retorted, flirting more openly than Vince had ever heard. "Justified excuse for pressing together, wrestling each other to the ground. Of course, that only works when you're on opposite teams."

"Right," Stark said faintly, and Vince couldn't resist looking over. Stark was struggling against blushing, as Jack gave him a somewhat suggestive grin before strolling off toward the sideline, leaving Stark behind, looking baffled as he tried to figure out what had just happened.

"Now that's a clue by four," Vince chuckled to himself. He turned his attention back to Dr. Justice, who had made it out of her cellular cloning lab for the event, to explain to her again how the betting worked. She had finally figured out that she wanted to bet three dollars and fifty cents on Jo's team when Stark walked up to Vince.

"Thanks, Dr. Justice," Vince said, taking the sack of pennies she handed him, sighing as he spotted Stark. "Any chance you could hire a sane one now and again?"

"Not my call anymore, Vince," he replied cheerfully. "What's the spread?"

"Still two to one in favor of your team," he replied absently, scribbling the 3.50 in for Dr. Justice. "Zane tried to bet on a tie, but Jo and Carter banned the teams from gambling."

"That's what I thought," Stark said, looking a little mad genius-y as he stroked his beard thoughtfully. "So why did I hear Fargo asking you to double his bet on Carter and I on the phone the yesterday? Not to mention betting against his own team, seems odd."

"You sure you didn't misunderstand?" Vince asked, having caught the glint in Stark's eye that meant he was totally busted. "Fargo doesn't gamble usually, in fact, I don't have anything on the books from him for almost a year now."

"I'm thinking this bet might just be that old," Stark made a beckoning motion with his hand.

Vince mentally weighed his options, and closed the binder and tucked it under his arm. "Sorry, Dr. Stark, but Fargo's bets are his concern. Have a good game!"

Stark glared at Vince but was prevented from pressing the issue when Carter called out from the sidelines, "Stark, get your ass over here!"

Vince climbed up into the stands, tucking the binder safely into his bag. "What was that about?" Paul asked, nodding in Stark's direction.

"He overheard Fargo doubling his bet yesterday," Vince explained in a low tone. "I think he figured out that Fargo wasn't talking about the game when he said he was betting on Stark and Carter."

"Why do I get the impression that he wouldn't be happy to see the current pool?" Paul muttered. The three-way tie had definitely shifted direction, tilting in favor of Carter and Stark.

"Hey, your name is on there too now," Vince reminded him with a smile. "Man can't kill me, I make him coffee."

"You'll protect me, right?" Paul joked, and Vince pretended to be considering it. "Hey!"

"I'm just thinking, Stark's a scary man!" Vince replied. There was a loud whistle from the field, and Vince turned back to watch the game.

"Hey, isn't that Zoë's boyfriend on Carter's team?" Paul observed, pointing to Lucas.

"Hmm, this one might actually last," Vince replied, impressed. "I didn't realize Carter liked him enough to let him on his team."

"Could be he's hoping Jo will maim him," Paul pointed out, and Vince laughed. "By the way, doesn't anyone else think having Larry as the ref is a bad idea?" Paul asked.

"They'll kill him by the end of the game," Vince predicted.

-

After the two halves and four overtimes, Carter and Jo called the game a tie on account of the teams' weariness. Nathan hung back, helping Carter load the equipment into bags. Both men were tired and a little battered, as it had turned out 'flag football' was as theoretical as most things were in Eureka when it came to Jo and Taggart. They'd sent Jo and the teams ahead to Café Diem, planning to catch up when they'd packed away the gear. "You know, you didn't have to stay," Carter commented, his voice closer than Nathan had expected, making him jump.

"I'm still thinking about getting you that collar with bells," Nathan grumbled.

"Kinky," Carter joked, winking at him and making Nathan flush. He was fairly certain Carter was flirting with him, but he wasn't certain what had prompted the other man to make such open gestures. He hoped he was reading things right, otherwise he might be about to end up making the same mistake he'd made with Allison a few weeks earlier. "I meant it though, I could have cleaned up on my own."

Nathan shrugged, holding open a bag as Carter tossed several spare footballs in. "Always easier with an extra set of hands," Nathan said, shrugging. "Besides, we can start planning our strategy for the next game."

"Jo and I are shuffling the teams for each round," Carter pointed out, stepping in closer to help tie the bag closed. "We could be on opposite sides next week."

"Could be interesting," Nathan grinned, adding a little more pressure than necessary when he pushed the bag into Carter's arms. "We are officially upping it tackle football, right?"

"After Taggart and Jo's repeated ambushes today? Oh yeah," Carter replied, setting the bag to the side with the other packed gear.

"Hey, do you know anything about a bet Vince is running about the two of us?" Nathan asked, his eyebrows rising when Carter flushed suddenly. Maybe he wasn't about to make a mistake, he thought.

"Uh, why?" Carter asked, rubbing the back of his neck. Nathan gave him a long look, and Carter flushed harder, averting his eyes and finding a football under the bench and picking it up.

"I overheard something about it, thought you might know what was going on," Nathan said lightly, letting Carter off the hook if he wanted it.

"It's…" Carter looked up, as though he expected to find a teleprompter in the clouds to help him speak. "They have a bet, about you, me, and Allison. Who will end up together."

"And you and I?" Nathan started, trying not to smile.

"It's one of the options," Carter admitted, his words rushed. "It's silly, I know you wouldn't… oof!"

Nathan had wrapped his arms around Carter and brought him down to the ground in a full on tackle, raising his body just enough to hover over the prone man. "I wouldn't?" he asked teasingly, enjoying the surprise on the other man's face. "Your flirting for the past few days says otherwise."

"I wasn't sure what you wanted…" Carter was babbling, and Nathan could see an easy way to stop the problem. He lowered his head, touching his lips gently to Carter's.

"I want," he reassured the sheriff. Carter smiled, looking relieved, as he pulled Nathan back down into a searing kiss.

-

The end of the game saw Vince back at Café Diem, with a large pot of money that couldn't be awarded, while both teams celebrated and claimed their victory over the other. "Even after four overtimes," Paul groaned, shaking his head.

"And the only person who bet on a tie score is ineligible to bet in the first place," Vince sighed, shrugging. "Hey, Carter, Jo!" he yelled over the din, quieting the room.

"What's up, Vince?" Carter asked from where he was sitting next to Stark. Vince was keeping one eye on them, as they had arrived late together, commandeered a booth together, and the conversation had looked like some intense discussion mixed with flirting to him.

"We getting a rematch, or do I just have a betting pool that can't be closed?" Vince asked. After a few more shouts from each side about who won, Carter waved a hand and the group settled.

"Jo, rematch?" he asked, and she shrugged.

"I was looking forward to shuffling the teams," she confessed. "I guess we could though. Puts the scientists versus civvies game back a week though."

"Why not donate the pot to Tesla's team?" Stark suggested, stretching as he leaned back, his legs tangling into Carter's. Vince noticed that Carter didn't bother moving away or protesting. "Granted, I think our team took more hits today than they do in a whole season…"

"But that's a pretty good idea," Jo agreed, looking over to Carter. "Chief?"

"Sure," Carter said. "Since Zane is the only idiot who would bet on a tie score."

"Hey, that's not even my craziest bet," Zane said proudly, and the conversation dropped sharply, Jo making a throat cutting motion at him.

"Huh, yeah, heard about that," Carter remarked dryly, aware of the silence building around them. He looked over at Stark, who Vince was amazed to see was slightly flushed. "Should we let Vince clear out a pool today after all?" Carter asked quietly.

"Oh hell," Stark grumbled, reaching over and grabbing a handful of Carter's shirt and tugging him into a kiss that made Vince blink in surprise. "There, now you can all clear out your bets and leave us alone."

"Um, I don't suppose…" Zane started to ask, and both Stark and Carter cut him off.

"No!"

"Right," Zane replied, grinning. "Congratulations."

"Thanks," Carter said, his glare softening. The noise picked up again in the café, as Jo began teasing the two men, and people moved on to other topics.

"Told you so," Vince commented to Paul, who grinned.

"I am completely glad to be wrong this time," Paul replied, turning to look over at the corner booth where Stark and Carter were now bickering. "They'll kill each other in a week."

"I give it two," Vince challenged him.

"Winner does the dishes for a week?" Paul suggested, and Vince laughed.

"You're on," he replied, before heading toward the booth to congratulate his friends.