A/N: It was on this day (almost), one year ago, I posted the first in the Jack Daniels series – Jack was Arithilim's birthday (then known as JK Mafia). So, I now post Part 7, Rising Tides, and the last part of the series, as her birthday gift, alongsideThe Dark Side of Honor.
Happy Birthday, Ara!
Sorry about the lateness – but I had to go attend some festival celebrating the birthday of the main Hindu god, Krishna. (Basically, the Indian Christmas). I even had to wear a freakin' puffy kameez…
Summary:He was going to tell them the truth. Ben's family deserved it, no matter how hard it was to hear…or would be to watch. But he'd be there, to hold them through the tears. After all – he promised to. Part 7 of my 'Jack Daniels' series.
Alex sighed as he pulled his VentureOne into the driveway, smiling at its slightly awkward positioning and size in comparison. Jack's house's driveway had been designed for four-wheeled cars, not the three-wheeled ones that were growing in rapid popularity, today.
The humor quickly faded, and he reached over to the Comm-Center and grabbed his phone, another momentary pang of nostalgia running through him as he remembered the fancy gadgetry Smithers would imbue his 'toys' with, his playfulness, his joy and delight, and childish fancy towards the grown-up world. The man's replacement was a genius, but she was still no Smithers.
Swallowing – and fighting back his own desire to have a mental breakdown – he got out of the trike and walked right up to the door, knocking on it, tapping his foot as he waited for an answer, and trying to ignore Ben's voice in the back of his head.
"I just…if I ever go on a mission and don't come back – I just need you to take care of her."
Alex couldn't help but shake his head bemusedly. Of course he still remembered that, despite the fact the wedding was over thirty years ago.
Alex looked up as a third of the front door became a screen, with Jack's face on it. Apparently, she was in the living room.
"Open the door?"
She laughed, and the screen went back into being a door again, while the lock clicked open, and he walked in.
He wondered how long it would be before he heard that joyful laugh, again, after today.
"Alex!" Jack said, hugging him warmly before tugging him to the kitchen. Alex took in the sight of her, carefully, wanting desperately to preserve this last vestige of complete joy. He knew it would be a while before he found it again.
Six and a half decades old, and she was still as spry as ever. She still had enough strength in her body to actually drag him to the kitchen.
It was rather surprising, actually, how kind age had been, to Jack, considering the stress in her life. Her wrinkles were not those of bad, dry skin and too much time with tanning salons and buckets of different skin care treatments that Alex saw on women her age, but rather, more from laugh lines and too much time in the sun (wherein Alex marveled at her lack of skin cancer, too).
And her hair was shining, pretty much all white, but still full-bodied and well cared for. And she still kept up to date with modern day fashions, and still kept to her style. Wearing old style jeans from both their youths, and yet those strange translucent-plastic rag-shirt thingies he was seeing all over the place, and that he was wearing now.
Her eyes still shone with life which betrayed the amount of death just on the edges of her life.
"She's braver than both of us put together, mate," Alex said. "She's half adopting one MI6 agent, and marrying another. Both of us have low life expectancies, both of us are reckless on the job, both of us keep getting put in so fucking many dangerous situations…she's setting herself up for loss and grief, mate…not to mention, knowing just one of use puts her at high risk for hostage situations and kidnapping…but two? One weak link, two agents…she's a kidnapper's dream…but she's still sticking with us. For us. Because of us…"
She sat him down and got them both a beer and started prattling on and on about the girls, Ally's work on the moon, Taylor's son's start in reception – named Jason, after Wolf, ironically enough – and Jordan's new company off in Africa.
All the while, Alex smiled as Jack went on, his gut twisting inside, continuing to observe her in his mind.
He remembered, far back, back when their age gap was so profound, his age not even in the double-digits yet, while she was a college student.
But now, both of them over half century old, well past their primes, and living ridiculously filled lives. The age difference, by number, stayed the same, but now, there was no gap – the number of years between them was nothing, truly, and Alex found himself missing his childhood, when he was younger enough to cuddle up to the woman before him. He missed the age where she would read from her textbooks to get him to sleep, the content boring enough and her voice soothing enough for him to do so.
He looked up at her.
"Sorry…spaced out for a minute, there."
"…okay, spit it out," she said, leaning back on the stool and crossing her arms.
Alex sighed. "This is…I don't know how…"
"I just said: just spit it out."
He nodded. He took a deep breath, and said it.
The playful look froze on Jack's face, before it fell as she said, "You're…what?"
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the phone, snapping it to unfold the screen to a notebook sized one, and brought up the files on the wavery screen, turning it to her.
It was a picture of Ben in the morgue, skin pale, lips blue, his chest hosting a gaping hole right over his heart.
"Sniper," he said. "Assassinated by some Yakuza cast-offs, for that oil stunt two years ago."
Jack's eyes were fixed on the picture, the wound, her husband's face.
"N-n-no…" she said, eyes wide in horror.
"I…I promised you that if anything ever happened to him, I would be the one to tell you. I'm sorry, Jack, I really am."
"NO!" she screamed, shoving the phone-screen away and jumping back, glaring at Alex. "He…he isn't…"
"I'm sorry," Alex said again, feeling helpless.
But Jack, being surrounded by death on the edges of her life, tragedy on the fringes, got out of the denial stage, quickly, as she collapsed to the ground, sobbing, and Alex was at her side, instantly, wrapping his arms around her and holding her to his chest as she cried, ranting against the world, against MI6, against Alex and snipers and criminals, and ultimately, against Ben, for taking him away from her.
"We need to protect her, Cub."
"Shh…it'll be all right…don't worry…I've got you…" Alex murmured into her ears, Jack sniffling into his shirt. The material meant he couldn't actually feel the wetness, as her tears didn't soak through, but he still felt the warmth from her body and her head on his shoulder. Her hands were clutched in his shirt-lapels.
"I knew it…" she mumbled. "He said he'd die of old age…he wasn't a high-enough-ranking target…he lied…"
"He didn't know," Alex said. "We never know."
"How are you going to die?"
"I have no idea, and I don't want to know," Alex said, as he started tugging her up and back to her seat.
As he poured her some vodka – stronger than the beer, much stronger – and sat himself down across from her with a much lighter soda, as she used a dish-towel to wipe her eyes.
"So," she said, her voice somewhat choked. "What's the official story?"
"Drive-by victim," Alex said, already, showing her the fake news articles. "You'll be getting a call, likely, from some low-end reporter, soon enough. MI6 wants you to just make some off-hand comment about rising crime and how your husband was a good man who didn't deserve this."
Jack swallowed and nodded. "You ever notice," she asked dully. "That supposedly, crime rates are always rising, yet most people go about their daily lives without running into any? I mean, seriously…they've had 'official records' that it's been rising for the last century or so, basically since World War II…we went through and finished with World War III, already, damnit…"
She continued rambling, while Alex just sighed as he looked through the files.
Sure enough, within half an hour, a familiar and alien ring-song went through the house.
Part of the wall behind Alex suddenly turned into a screen, with a caller ID showing the Skype number, and the location, and name of location.
"Comm: answer," Jack said. A reporter's face appeared on it, and started asking Jack about how she felt about her husband's untimely death.
Jack, accustomed to MI6 machinations by now, duly responded with the agent-perfect answer. She was grieving for her husband, she was sorry to see this happen, today. She thinks guns should be illegal again. She's glad he was at least somewhat old and lived a full, productive life.
Generic. For the reporter, satisfying.
Chest shaking when the screen wall'd again, Jack turned back to Alex and said, "Do…do the girls know, yet?"
Alex shook his head. "We have to call them. I thought you deserved to know, first."
Jack nodded, already starting up a screen on the countertop. "I'll…I'll do it."
"Mum?" Taylor said, walking into the living room. Her husband was right behind her, holding their baby Jason in his arms.
Jack sobbed again and Jordan was already there, her arms around Jack's body and both of them were crying, and even Mark looked sad. He was rather close to Ben, actually.
Walking over, Alex held out his arms. "My great nephew, if you will?"
Mark rolled his eyes. Alex was well known as the girls' second father, in a sense, and he considered them all family, regardless of what the law or their DNA said.
Taking the sleeping toddler in his arms, Mark went to the kitchen to busy himself away from the crying women, while Alex simply wandered about, rocking his body and holding the toddler's head to his chest as if it were made of glass.
Alex rather felt he was made of glass, right then.
The next day, Jordan came home. She had a deep tan from the African sun, and kept her hair shorter than Taylor for practicality's sake, but otherwise, they still looked quite similar – especially now, both wearing those weird multi-shade jeans and more designer rag-shirts.
Alex was watching over Jason again, clutching him like a lifeline. Mark had gone back home to hold down his and Taylor's company, and the girls and Jack were up in Jack's room, doing…whatever it is girls do.
Little Man was currently sitting on the couch, playing some game on his kidtop, game keys clattering away as he solved puzzles and made significant headway in the maze or whatever it was. Alex was holding an old paper-book, but he was watching Jason, remembering his own youth.
He remembered Ben. From his first training tour with the SAS, Ben had been the nicest one to Alex…which, at the time, had consisted of basically not harassing Alex, but still.
And the first mission he worked with Ben. A success and a disaster in one.
And the second one, too.
He remembered when Jack and Ben first met…
…and how much they hated each other at the time. Jack's turbulent relationships and love life and personal crises at the time.
And how Ben had unwittingly helped her, and how they'd become enamored with each other.
Much of how he knew Ben was mostly through Jack. Without Jack, Ben would, by now, be just a vaguely familiar face he might pass in the hallways every now and then in MI6, an agent he worked with, a man he trained with…
But now…now, Alex's life was..strange.
"Where's my grandson?" Jack asked playfully, walking into the room. "J.J.?"
Jack stilled thought of Jason as 'Jason Junior'. Then again, she was one of the only ones who really thought of Wolf as Jason.
Smiling, Jason looked up, and said, "Right here, Gran."
"Come here," Jack said, but walking over, Jason hitting pause on his kidtop and shoving it aside, holding out his arms for Jack to easily lift him up.
Six and a half decades, and she was still as strong as ever.
She pressed her face into his head, and he returned the favor into his shoulder. "Is Grandad ever coming back?"
That right there broke Alex's heart.
"No, honey," Jack said, rocking herself and her next generation baby boy. "He's not."
Ally came a few days later. Passenger shuttles between the Moon and Earth only went once every ten days or so, so she came with her funeral clothes pressed and pack, Ben's funeral being the next day.
She walked in without a word, straight to the kitchen, and wrapped her arms around Alex, then Jack.
His goddaughter was still in her Lunar Base uniform. Cargo-slacks and a half-tunic-half-suit-jacket type thing on top, all black, with white linings, and identical lines of silver logos down both her arms. Alex had only been to the Lunar Bases twice, but if he knew how the logos worked. There was a lowercase 'gamma' sign for her Base, an International Army 'Lieutenant' sign, an SAS-marker (Ally was in the first wave of women allowed into the SAS…which, oddly enough, surprised no one), and a few other abstract markers showing basically her positions and occupations on the base.
Tall and proud, she was an odd army girl in everywhere but heart, where she was still her father's daughter.
Her official line of work had her as a liaison up on the base.
Her unofficial line of work was slightly more subtle than that. And Jack knew it.
Jack stepped back and pointed at the picture of Ben's corpse on the countertop-screen and looked at Ally almost pointedly.
Ally just nodded, and Alex didn't know what they were saying, but he knew better than to try and understand.
After all, Ally was her mother's daughter, too.
And Jack, if the way she threw her arms around Ally again was anything to go by, knew this well.
The funeral was quiet, private, just like all MI6 funerals were, whether the agent was retired or not.
Except Ben had, oddly enough, wanted a cremation. Namely because Jack always wanted to be cremated, herself, and Ben followed suit out of a general apathy for his body…his main logic being that he was dead, so what did it matter to him?
And so, Alex and Wolf now stood on a coastal rock, standing back from Jack and the girls as they all walked towards the pier, the edge, and stayed back as they each dunked a hand into the ornate box and brought out a large pinch of ashes.
Until Jack turned back.
"You're just as much our family as one can ever hope to be," she said, and held out the box to them.
"Jack," Wolf said. "This is for family."
"And," Alex said. "We…I'm not-"
"You've been either at or near the center of my life for pretty much, well, most of it," Jack said, directly to Alex, and indirectly to Wolf. "More than two-thirds, really. If it weren't for you, Ben and I would never have even met, and my daughters and grandson would never have been born. You've been my little brother and more, Alex. And you know Ben saw…Ben sees you…much the same."
Ben took a deep breath and said, "As much as you keep saying you'd be fucked without us, I sincerely believe we'd be even worse off without you. I mean that, Alex."
Alex swallowed, and nodded, stepping forward, taking some ashes alongside Wolf, waiting for Jack to go first.
"You know how we do this," she said, with a soft smile, at Wolf. "Whoever knew the deceased longest goes first. You met him over a year before I did. You both did."
The girls and Alex blinked in surprise. Rationally, he knew and remembered that. But otherwise, he rather…felt, felt like it was the other way around, that he was Jack's first and foremost and that it had always been that way.
"Erm…okay…" Wolf said, stepping towards the edge of the rocky pier, away from their ears.
Alex didn't know what Wolf said, though he could see the man saying something. There was a pause, a moment of silence, before Wolf threw the ashes up into the air, and turned away when the most of it had fallen into the water.
"Your turn," Wolf said, gruff as ever, to Alex, standing behind the girls.
Alex nodded and stepped forward to where Wolf had just been. He paused, holding out the ashes, looking out at the ocean before him. It was slightly warm, being summer, though really not that warm, right now, what with global warming cocking everything up. The tide, incongruously, was rising, creeping up the rocks as the sun set.
"So…what am I supposed to say?" Alex asked the ashes in his hand, some of which was already falling and sprinkling in the wind. "It's been nice knowing you? It's been good? See you on the other side? What?"
He refused to acknowledge his heaving chest.
"I have far too much to say," Alex said to the ashes. And this throat was fine, damnit. "Yet…just not here, all right, mate? Wolf, and I are going to get sloshed tonight, so when I wander into some toilet for a post-fuck piss and a mental breakdown, then you listen to me, all right?"
"But I really will miss you," Alex said. "And wherever the hell you are, just remember to save me a seat."
And with a smile, Alex, instead of sprinkling Ben into the water, threw him up into the air, into the high and strong breeze, and into the winds that would travel the world, carrying one of his longest-lasting friends with it.
Alex stood vigilantly as Jack went next, kneeling on the rock and clutching her handful of ashes to her chest, Jordan holding the bag of ashes, with Wolf using one arm to keep a reassuring hand on her shoulder, the other slung tightly over Alex's shoulders as he watched his longest lasting friend cry against the sun.
She threw the ashes over the rock wall, and turned back, gesturing at the girls.
Taylor and Jordan stepped forward together, Little Man in between them, as he was too young to go near the edge of the rocky pier himself, and the twins had never really cared about the minutes apart their births were, and had always considered themselves one person, in a way.
That was their reasoning, anyway. But when the girls locked arms, seeming to be the only thing holding each other up, as little Jason clutched onto both their trousers, and cried and said their piece in apparent unison, Alex wondered if that kind of logic was just covering for the fact they needed each other.
And lastly, Ally. Walking up to the edge with her shoulders back and her chin high, she held up her ashes and observed it, stared at it against the lowering sun, but said nothing. She simply kissed the back of her hand that was holding the ashes, and smiled as she threw the ashes into the winds.
Alex supposed that in the movies, they would wait until the sun set and walk back in pure silence, but this wasn't a bloody movie. Alex wasn't James Bond, Ally wasn't Case Officer Alex, and Jack was just Jack – herself in all her glory.
They turned their backs on the setting sun, Wolf never letting go of Alex (and probably being the only thing keeping him up at this point), as Jack grabbed Alex's hand while they walked back to the beach.
"Thanks," Jack said, smiling.
"For…I dunno," she admitted, with a sheepish smile. "For being such a frustrating seven-year-old that Ian had to go through a million nannies before finding one that can handle you?"
"Who's Ian?" Little Man asked from his spot over Taylor's shoulder. To that end, Jordan, who never had much interest in family stories, seemed to be along the same line of thought.
"My uncle," Alex said. "He died a long time ago. Before your mother was born."
"Your grandfather is with him, now," Taylor said to her sun, as Little Man squinted up at her through her red hair flying in his face, contrasting sharply with his blond hair.
That made Alex think.
For Alex, Ian'd death was…oh, god, almost forty years ago. It was so long ago…he admitted, freely, that he no longer remembered the man's face. But it was odd, to think he was with Ben, now, and Alex's parents, too.
He stopped thinking about his lack of family ages ago, despite being surrounded by Ben and Jack and Wolf and the girls. Or maybe that was why he stopped thinking about it.
It was a part of him, and his history, now. And so was Ben, and as much as it hurt to think, so Jack would be, too, one day, though hopefully not too soon. And one day, he would be a part of Ally and Taylor and Jordan's histories, as well.
It was just a strange perspective to think about.
"Think your dad and my dad will get along?" Ally asked with a quirked eyebrow, looking over her shoulder and rolling her eyes at Jack and Alex's hand clasped together.
"Probably," Alex said, somewhat absently, looking down at his and Jack's joined hands.
At the sound of Alex's voice, Jack looked up from her textbook and smiled at Alex, despite the look of fear on his face.
Setting aside her textbook, she opened her arms for the small child to run into them, his teddy bear blanket trailing well behind him as he jumped into them, burrowing his face into her shoulder.
"What's wrong, honey?"
"Ian," was all Alex said. "When he left. He was crying when he said goodbye. Why was he doing that? He never does that. And when he came home last time…he said he lucky. He's not making sense!"
Jack swallowed. Ian had come home oddly injured, this time. Something about some political robbery-slash-hold-up, and some self-deprecating jokes about putting his old black-belt to use. But she'd seen the fear in his eyes, and the sheer relief of having Alex in his arms.
They'd agreed that Alex was too young to need to know about what happened. But Alex felt it, anyway.
"He loves you, Alex," Jack said, and for a moment, his small hands wrapped around her neck, she felt his fear, and the reassurance he needed. "He'll be with you, no matter what happens, ever. Just remember that – no matter what happens, your uncle will always look after you."
Leaning back in her lap, the little one rubbed his eye with his hands, and said, "How do you know?"
"That's the funny little thing about love," Jack said. "You can't hold it – it goes wherever it wants to go. Your parents watch over you, Alex, because they loved you, so it follows you. It stays in your heart, where they want to be. Your uncle loves you, and I can't imagine anywhere else he'd want to be."
Alex smiled softly from under his floppy hair and asked, "Read me to sleep?"
Smiling, Jack stood up, and only smiled when Alex refused to let go of her hand. She only tugged him along as they headed towards his bedroom.
"For the record, Alex," Jack said, using their joined hands to point to her heart. "Your heart is the best place in the world I can think of for mine to be."
Alex's hand was much bigger, now, bigger than Jacks. His were calloused from a rough life handling weapons and bodies and holding lives, and scarred with the story of those experiences.
Jack's hands were a little more delicate, softer, accustomed to gentle stroked and cradling the minds, hearts, and souls of those who suffered to protect the lives of others. She may not be any kind of soldier, and never had been, but she protected their hearts and kept them going.
But despite the wrinkles and scars and their shared and differed experiences and a lifetime of memories together, she still held his hand the way she did so long ago, and Alex felt nothing but the sense of calm and strength in the form of warmth from the simple point of contact.
"You once told me," Alex said. "That love can't be held – it goes where it wants. Lodges in its chosen hearts and watches over its survivors."
Jack smiled, clearly remembering her own words well.
"Ben is with us all," she said simply.
"Grandad is here?" Little Man asked, as they stepped onto the sand.
He had his grandfather's eyes.
Holding her son out from her, like Jack did Alex so long ago, Taylor nodded, while Wolf pointed to his namesake's heart.
"He's right here," Wolf said. "One day, we will be, too."
Which was true, Alex thought, as Jack took her grandson into her arms.
It would all come together in the end, like that.
After all – when they had tossed the ashes, the wind had spread it in all directions, where it would circle the earth and come back again, in the sea, only to travel the world again, with the tides.
As it did so, Alex walked with his hand in Jack's, the once-person of his childhood, and his shoulders wrapped by Wolf, the once bridge to his future, with the harsh reality of the world, with the unity of the SAS, the brutality of MI6…and his whole once-upon-a-brand-new life, really.
Death went on. So did life.
The cycle of those two, life and death was Old Jack holding young Little Jason. It was watching dark ashes rise into the sunset-brightened hues of the sky. It was watching his friend become history and knowing he would be history, too.
It was watching the sun setting against the rising tide.
A/N: Sorry if it's a little sappy, there. I haven't slept in a full day and a half and I'm currently running solely on Coke Zero and Fruit Loops, so if anyone asks, that's why.
And, for those of you who were wondering about Ally's choice at the end of Part 6 - yes, that was left deliberately vague.
The italicized quotes are all from previous installments in this series. The first three are from Part 1: Jack Daniels, while the fourth one is from Part 3: Labor. The bit at the end was made up, completely.
The Jack Daniels series has been fun to write and go through over the last year, and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.
As always, please remember to review. This is the last installment of the Jack Daniels series, so this would be the best time for it. Thank you, all, for keeping me going through all this!