The rest of the afternoon went much like it had the previous time through, only- even more pleasant, if it were possible. Once the frustrations associated with the morning's work had worn off, Allie faced everything with the effervescence of a bride secure in herself and her chosen partner, and Tess was not only feeling cautiously excited about her own romantic life for once, she felt closer to Allie than she had in years. Maybe the idea of moving out to the Pacific Northwest, of having her work and her best friend (and, maybe, Jack) all together in the same place wasn't such a far-fetched idea, after all.
Provided, of course, Global ever started hiring again. And that they'd want a 'lady ham radio operator from SETI' on their payroll when they did. But the point was moot, for the time being. She'd just have to wait and see if that changed any time soon- and see how she felt when it did.
Regardless, she sailed through the rest of the afternoon with a smile on her face. She didn't even face the heckling she'd expected when she and Allie stopped at Café Diem again to look over Vince's catering one last time and pick up a snack. Vince himself merely twinkled at her and didn't comment, and the rest of the sparse crowd present at the time took up his cue, undoubtedly quelled by the presence of Allison.
Not that it would have made a difference to Tess, either way. But she was just as happy not to mute the bride's thunder so close to the wedding. Allie deserved to spend the rest of the day in a cloud of bliss.
There was only one sour note in the entire production: Jack's absence at the ceremony itself. Nathan's expression grew more and more thunderous the closer the clock approached six, and it didn't lighten much when Tess passed him the necklace with Jack's apologies, either. And Allie's expression, when Tess passed her his apologies through a puzzled Deputy Lupo, flashed briefly on hurt, before she asked the deputy to walk her up the aisle instead. Tess wavered between wanting to add her own apologies and excuses on Jack's behalf, and being grateful that it wasn't their last attempt at the event.
Though the look on Deputy Lupo's face at being asked to stand in was a sight to see.
As she stood in the audience listening to Dr. Deacon for the second time, Tess Fontana's last coherent thought of the day was a random: He was right; he didn't get a chance to see me in my dress again.
Then the sky ripped open in a curtain of fire, and she was back in her Audi, on her way up to G.D. for the third morning that day.
For a day that had re-begun in such an auspicious manner, though- she only barely jerked the wheel, and completely skipped the whole embarrassing noises of surprise part- it soured almost immediately and failed to improve for hours.
She really should have been expecting something to go wrong. But she'd let her optimism get the best of her again; and those were the kinds of errors that always hurt the worst in the long run.
First of all, Jack wasn't there to greet her when she pulled up in the G.D. parking lot. Tess consoled herself with the thought that it had probably taken him at least a few minutes to throw his clothes on, reassure his daughter, and dash out to his Jeep; and as pleasant as those mental images were, they got her through the next few minutes without another worry.
He wasn't there when she entered the building, either, though; nor did he appear at any point between the moment she took up station again off the rotunda, and the moment Thorne walked by, the cue for her to step out and meet him and Allison. Fair enough, she mused to herself; perhaps he'd been caught up talking to her friend, presuming Allison had had more to talk to him about given the additional time available before meeting with Thorne.
Jack didn't even show up with Allison, though. And that omission hit Tess like a cold bucket of water. She stared at the empty space at Allie's side and the furrows of worry on the other woman's brow, sick with dismay, and decided not to bother sneaking up on her friend again. It wouldn't be the same without him there. She waited in her chosen alcove until the director had already handed over the redaction paperwork, then strolled out to greet Allison with as warm a smile as she could manage and a wave of greeting.
"I'll call Deputy Lupo in and get right on it," Allie was telling Thorne as Tess approached, mouth drawn into an unhappy frown.
"Good; I wouldn't want you to miss your beautiful wedding," Thorne replied, as smugly as ever.
Allison sighed as Thorne turned to walk away- then lit up as she finally registered her friend's presence. "Tess! You're here!" she exclaimed, drawing her into a tight hug.
"Yeah, I was able to clear a space in my schedule after all," Tess said, consciously echoing her own earlier words. Then she cleared her throat and went off-script. "Though it looks like you're a little on the busy side this morning?"
Allie glanced down at the papers she held and made a disgusted face. "Yes, unfortunately. Do you mind sitting in the office with me for a couple of hours- or, if that sounds too boring, going for a coffee at Café Diem? This shouldn't take long if I can get someone up here from the sheriff's office to help me, but it really does have to be done today."
"Your office is fine," Tess replied, then took the conversational opener she'd been offered. "I guess law enforcement has to work a seven-day schedule even in Eureka, huh?"
Allie smiled ruefully as she headed for her office, heels clicking on the smooth floor. "Yes, I suppose it's a little much sometimes with only the two of them, but they're compensated well, and there are plenty of slow weeks up here when there's virtually nothing for them to do. It worries me that Carter isn't answering his pager, but I know Jo will be able to handle the redactions before she has to be at the park with the wedding party, and that's all I have time to worry about right now."
Tess swallowed, a sudden specter of him slipping in the shower, dead of a broken neck before she'd even parked her car at G.D., flashing through her mind. "And you tried calling his house?" she asked, just a little too sharply.
Allie gave her a puzzled look, eyebrows raised. "Of course," she said. "Which is why I'm worried; his daughter said he left this morning without even eating breakfast, and didn't tell her where he was going. I just hope he gets whatever it is he's up to done before the wedding."
"I'm sure he will," Tess said, reassuring both her friend and herself.
Not dead, then. And he had left his place early, as he'd said he would. Where on earth had he gone, then, if not to Global Dynamics? She shook off the speculation and followed Allie into her office, taking a seat beside her friend's desk.
"Are you sure you're all right with this?" Allison asked her, taking a seat behind the desk and shuffling the redaction paperwork into a stack on its smooth surface. "I don't want you to feel like you have to sit around and stare at me while I wrangle red tape."
"Don't worry about it," Tess assured her again, waving a dismissive hand. "I've brought my notebook; and there's a theory I've been working on that could use some additional calculations. I can keep myself entertained. And if you feel the need to break the monotony up with a little gossip about some mutual friends while you're working..." She trailed off with a smile.
Allie laughed, lightly. "Thank you, Tess," she said. "I'm so glad you're here." Then she turned her attention back to the first page, eyes skimming down the columns of details.
Tess felt her smile slip a little, then shook her head at herself and reached into her purse to retrieve the notebook she'd mentioned. She stared at it for a moment, then opened it and flipped to the first blank page; pristine whiteness mocked her where rows of cramped script had detailed all her observations about her experiences the morning before. She ran a thumb over the lightly textured surface, then took a deep breath and started writing down everything she could remember from her discussion with Weinbrenner, and the glimpse she'd seen of his formulas.
Hopefully, it would end up being wasted effort, but it would at least help clarify the scientific basis for Weinbrenner's bizarre success in her own mind, and maybe she'd even be able to spare him the risk of synching with G.D.'s main system. She ought to be able to come up with a timer in her sleep.
Humming lightly to herself, Tess checked the clock on the wall, then lost herself in the work.
The new day was already a little over two hours gone when a soft knock at Allie's door heralded the late arrival of one Sheriff Jack Carter. Tess missed Allison's first reaction to his presence in the grip of her own reaction; it felt as though her entire skin flushed hot, then cold, and her pulse automatically jumped into another gear. It was ridiculous; hadn't hadn't her observations that morning proved that she'd got way ahead of herself with the depth of her infatuation the loop before? But she couldn't help the excitement, any more than she could help searching him from head to foot for any evidence of what might have prevented him from keeping his promise. He looked a little scruffy, but otherwise the same as usual- though there was a conspicuous absence of catsup on the front of his shirt.
He was also staring at her, an expression on his face she wasn't sure how to read. Tess swallowed, at a loss to know what to say.
"Jack, there you are," Allie spoke, distracting Tess' attention as she dropped her pen on the desk. "Where have you been? I must have paged you six times; I ended up having to call Jo in to help with Thorne's new set of redactions this morning."
"Uh, Allison?" Jack replied absently, tearing his gaze away from Tess for a moment. "Can we talk about that later? I kind of need to borrow Tess for a moment."
Allison blinked at that, then turned to fix Tess with an assessing stare. "I didn't know you knew Jack," she said, voice lifting at the end of the sentence in a half-asked question.
Tess bit her lip. "It's kind of a long story, Al," she said. "And I'm not even sure exactly where it's going."
Allison stared at her a moment longer, then sighed at Jack and picked up her pen again. "That explanation had better be a good one," she said. "Go on. If you're going to talk, I'd rather you did it outside my office, anyway; I've still got a lot of paperwork to get through."
Tess glanced at Jack again, herself, and winced at the troubled expression he was now favoring her with. Then she sighed, put her notebook back in her purse, and stood. "I'll be back later, Al. And don't worry; I'm sure everything will work itself out the way it's supposed to." Then she headed for the door.
Jack waited until she'd passed him, out into the hall; then he shut the door behind her.
"'Not exactly sure where it's going'?" he repeated, sounding hurt, though he kept his voice low enough not to carry.
Tess frowned, crossing her arms in front of herself. "Well, I'm not now," she said, indignant that he was trying to play the defensive side. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Where the hell have I been?" he echoed her again, eyebrows raised. "I told you exactly what I was going to be doing! Only I found out some things from Thorne that I had to double-check with Henry, after I figured out how to track him down, which meant a stop at Café Diem since he wasn't answering his phone, which meant yet another idiot fight with my sister, which, before you even say anything, yes, I was completely male and totally in the wrong this time as I've already been amply informed by my daughter, and if you'd just bothered to call me I could have reassured you hours ago!"
Tess rocked back a little at the force of all that fervently whispered ire. "And why should I have had to call you when you were the one who said you'd meet me here first thing!" she fired back.
"Because you never gave me your number!" he gritted out through his teeth, stabbing a finger at her. "And it's not like there's exactly anyone here I could ask for it!"
"...Oh," Tess replied, deflating- and feeling more than a little foolish- in the face of that logic.
Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out through his nose and opened his eyes again. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to go off on you like that. It's just been- a very frustrating morning."
"I can tell," she joked, half-heartedly. Then she swallowed, and added her own bit of inconvenient truth: "I was afraid you might have been lying dead in a ditch, somewhere. I know that sounds ridiculous, but- you told me to be careful yesterday, and never promised to be careful yourself."
"Oh," it was his turn to say. Then he lifted a hand to touch her cheek, his expression softening. "Tess."
"Jack," she replied, managing half a smile or so past the churn of turbulent emotions half-choking her.
He took another step closer, into her personal space, and for a long moment she wasn't sure if he meant to kiss her or not, or whether she really wanted him to. Then he drew his other arm around her, pulling her into a hug, and she rested her cheek against his broad shoulder while her breath calmed and the storm inside her eased a little.
"I am sorry," he said again, before he released his hold, stroking thumbs over collarbones and down the lengths of her arms as he let go. "I think the whole, been awake for more than twenty hours thing is starting to get to me, but that's no excuse."
"I hadn't thought of that," Tess said wanly, smiling at him. "You're probably right. Remind me when Weinbrenner calls us, I should probably double-check his math- it would be really dumb to get that far and rip the universe apart because he got tired and made a basic arithmetic error, you know?"
"I will," Jack assured her. "Though that's probably not going to be until tomorrow- I stopped by his lab before I came up here, just to double check."
Tess sighed, her sense of weariness growing heavier at the very thought of another eighteen hours ahead of her until the world could be set right again. "Great," she said. "So what do we do in the meantime?"
"Well," Jack said slowly, drawing the word out. "Before I lost my temper, I had this whole plan worked out, to sort of make this morning up to you. I don't know if you're still interested...?"
Tess rubbed her palms against her thighs as she considered that, hope beginning to flicker around the edges of her uncertain feelings once again. "You did? I mean, of course. What kind of plans...?"
"Well, I know you said you hadn't seen much of Oregon before, and you mentioned a few of your favorite things to do yesterday, so I thought we'd make kind of a tour of it," he said, tentatively. "There's a planetarium a short drive south of here, in Eugene, and they have a summer night show on weekends at twelve-thirty that we should be able to make. Not real in-depth or anything, but, you know. It sounded fun. Then we could drive up to Salem for a late lunch; I've got some restaurant recommendations to try out. Maybe take a walk in the park by the capitol building after that. Then over to Keizer- the local minor league ball club has a game at five-oh-five. We won't see much of it before the reset at six, but..." He shrugged.
"Wow," Tess said, a smile dawning on her face as she took it all in. "You really put some thought into this, didn't you?" "Well." He shrugged, hands in his pockets, and looked down at the floor. "I'm kind of rusty at the dating thing, and it's not like we've really done anything the normal way since we met. I just thought- I wanted to have at least one really special day with you, while we have the chance. Just to see how well we really get along, away from all the drama."
"And while it won't have a serious impact on your pocketbook," Tess teased him, gently, trying not to show how touched she was by his line of reasoning.
"Well, I won't lie and say that wasn't a consideration..." he said, finally smiling again as he looked back up from studying his shoes.
"Okay," she said.
"Okay?" he replied, hopefully, raising his eyebrows.
"Yeah," she answered, smile widening into a grin. "On one condition."
"And what's that?" he asked.
"You change into something a little more casual," she said, eyeing him from head to toe again. "Oh; and we take my car."
"I think I can agree to that," Jack said, eyes twinkling.
"Well then, c'mon," Tess said, reaching out to link one of her hands with his again. Palm to palm, fingers interlaced and inner wrists touching as they turned down the hall, she still felt as though she'd fallen backward in personal time, not just literal; maybe a heady seventeen now, rather than the earlier stages of pigtail-pulling and crushes. She wasn't sure what that meant; wasn't sure where they'd end up, but was more sure than ever, even after their brief fight, that it was somewhere she wanted to go.
"Let's get going," she beamed at him. "We don't want to miss the show."
The rest of the day seemed to pass at the speed of molasses, and simultaneously at the speed of light. Despite the fact that they'd actually left the bubble of Eureka to enter the real world for a change, it felt as though they had created a tight, private space of their own instead, a magical niche suspended between past and future where consequences were something that happened to other people and all they had to do was simply relax into each other and enjoy.
Sprawled on her back under the dome of the planetarium, pressed up against Jack's side as she pointed out her favorite features of the night sky. Horrifying him with her fava bean and artichoke salad at a little French bistro in the capitol, and sneaking bites of his artery-defying, half-pound gourmet burger. Sharing a pitcher of dark, locally brewed craft beer- a taste they'd been delighted to discover they shared. Brushing drifting pink petals from his hair as they walked beneath flowering trees in the capitol park mall. Giggling as she buried her face against his shoulder on a narrow metal seat at the tiny Class A franchise stadium, while he shouted in indignation at another fan who'd dared speak ill of the Red Sox.
Hands molding to hips. Lips against lips; teeth, nipping along the prickly edge of a five o'clock shadow. Breaths, exhaled shakily as they teased at the edge of arousal, standing in the shadow of the bleachers. There wasn't any need to rush; the day had been all about taking the time to get to know one another better. The other kind of exploration could wait.
She didn't think her toes stopped tingling the entire day.
They talked, too, of course, between creating memories to preserve later like a series of crystalline snapshots. She asked him about the fight with Lexi that had so disturbed his mood, and learned about a boy who'd always idolized his very conservative father and the younger sister who'd never been able to sit still her entire life, who'd finally come to him looking for help. In return, he'd asked her about the apparent bad blood between her and Leo Weinbrenner, and she'd ended up spilling more than she'd intended about her experiences as a young, attractive, assertive woman in the hard sciences. Some of those experiences had been positive; but many hadn't, especially when she had been younger. She'd earned her hatred for guys who assumed that any disagreement on her part must simply be evidence that she did not understand their theories properly, rather than having fully knowledgeable reasons of her own to object.
He asked about her coffee preferences. She mocked his dislike of tequila. He bought her half a dozen extra large diet sodas, easy ice, and didn't complain about the frequent bathroom stops that ensued.
Tess was still a little nervous about the speed at which things between them were moving, but a larger part of her had started to look on the whole event with wonder: the universe was already exposing one of its secrets to them; what was so farfetched about the idea that they might have been gifted with another? She'd never been in love before, but she was pretty sure the chips were starting to fall in that direction. And even better: that Jack felt the same way.
Would it be enough, when the world was set back on its axis? When his prior feelings for Allison and the distance enforced by her job became factors in their lives again? If they'd only had the one chance at the day, no matter how cute he was, no matter how much fun they'd had- she didn't think it would have. But they'd spent the last few days laying out a foundation that felt more solid than anything she'd ever built in past romantic encounters.
Forget teenage uncertainty; she felt old enough to toast her own success now, and make a mature decision. So much change, in so little time; but it felt right. She'd wait to say anything until Jack did, but she knew what she would choose when the option was presented.
"Ready for this?" she said as her watch ticked off the last few seconds before the time loop's end.
He put down his snacks, then stood and tugged her to her feet, ignoring the complaining spectators behind them. "Yep," he said. "One more time through; and this time, we play for keeps."
"Yeah, for keeps," Tess said, smiling at him. "Thank you for today, Jack. It was wonderful."
"My pleasure," he said, grinning back, looking pleased and a little smug. "See you in a few minutes?"
"Mmm." She snaked her arms around his neck for one last kiss, and closed her eyes against the roar of noise and the wash of light that followed.
...and the wash of water that followed that.
Tess coughed, leveraging herself slowly up from a slick tiled floor, hand pressed to her ribs where she'd fallen hard on the unexpected surface. Sprawled against her, Jack sat back and up, shifting to give her more space; the oozing red line of a fresh cut marked his cheek, and his eyes were wide with dismay.
"What the hell just happened?" she asked, completely disoriented.
He glanced down at his damp shirt and then swallowed. "I have no idea." Then- almost as an afterthought- he looked up and added, "S.A.R.A.H.? Off."
"Sheriff Carter!" the ceiling announced as the water pattering down around them trickled to a halt. "I sense bruises and lacerations! And an intruder!"
Tess gaped. She was in Jack's house. In his shower! Whatever Weinbrenner had said, the space-time continuum was clearly starting to collapse within the loop, if things had bled through this badly. Maybe the dislocation had been made worse by their distance from the origin point and thus the range the frame-dragging effect had had to cover to return she and Jack to their starting places, which had been further complicated by the fact that they had been touching when the end of the time loop arrived- she should have thought of that!- but she wouldn't be willing to bet on it. This had to be the last loop, no matter what; the scientist would just have to suck it up and accept help. And-
Wait. If she was in Jack's shower, then what did that mean for-
"Oh, my god," she muttered, hand flying to her mouth in horror. "My car!"
Fortunately, neither of them had broken any bones, and the wet-clothes problem was fairly easily remedied. Jack's last clean uniform was still waiting, as it had been every morning that day, in his bedroom; and Tess had brought a couple of extra changes of clothes in her car. They left Jack's place before his daughter could stir and investigate breakfast, then hurried over to the stretch of road where her Audi had suddenly lost the benefit of its driver.
Tess stared at its slightly crumpled form in mourning for a moment, then sighed, removed the keys from the ignition, and took her suitcase out of the back. It had drifted off the road at a slight curve and driven the hood straight into the trunk of a fir; the damage wasn't too extensive, but she'd be there another day or two minimum while the proprietor of Henry's Garage made sure it was safe to drive.
Well, at least it gave her another excuse not to leave right away, she thought with a wry smile. Then she marched back through the weeds and ankle-high grass of the verge and tucked herself into the back of Jack's Jeep while he called the accident in on the radio.
"Just going to change my shirt," she said, when he turned to give her an inquisitive look about her choice of seating. He raised his eyebrows, eyes lingering where she gripped the bottom edge of her white shirt with her hands, then smiled appreciatively and turned away again to give her space.
She bit her lip, trying not to blush, or to imagine the next time she might undress in his proximity; then she stripped the shirt off quickly, tucking it and the water-spotted pinstripe vest she'd worn over it into one of the outer pockets of her suitcase. She replaced it with a stretchy purple three-quarter sleeve top that wasn't quite as dressy as she'd intended to be that day, but would do in a pinch- and at least had the benefit of being something Jack hadn't seen her in before. Then she accessorized with a chunky necklace from her jewelry bag, closed up the suitcase, and slid back out of the Jeep to take the passenger seat in the front.
"All done," she told him.
"Here, too," he replied. "Henry's not answering his phone this morning any more than he has been every day so far, and I didn't want to waste the time to track him down in person again, so I got hold of Spencer- his old assistant- who's in town for the wedding. He remembered where the keys to the tow truck are; he'll get it taken care of for you."
"Good," she said, then frowned. "So what now? I know we were planning on going through the whole redaction cycle today like we did the first time, but now that we know for sure there are consequences to the time looping..."
He wrinkled his brow, then took his pager from his pocket. It was blinking to notify him that he had a message- probably the one from Allison asking him to help her out with the newest round of redactions. "I think I'd better go ahead and go through with it," he said, slowly. "If you think you'd better stick with Leo in the lab, though, I'll help you convince Stark first. The more minds working on the problem, the better chance we have of making sure this doesn't happen again."
"I agree," she said, then reached out to twine the fingers of her left hand through his right. "The next time we end up in the shower together, I don't want to have the fate of the universe on my conscience."
He chuckled. "Yeah, that tends to be kind of a mood-dampener." Then he squeezed her hand and let go to start up the Jeep and put it in gear. "I just hope Allison forgives us for disrupting her fiancé's schedule on their wedding day."
"I'd be more worried about Nathan's reaction if I were you," Tess laughed. Then she buckled in, leaned over and tucked her head against his shoulder. Jack had been right; the strain of spending over thirty hours aware, in addition to the sleep deprivation of her original drive up, was starting to affect her. They'd better have everything fixed in ten more hours; she didn't even want to think about how exhausted and error-prone she'd be, never mind Leo Weinbrenner, with another day under their belts.
"Aw, he's mostly bark," Jack groused. Then he turned the radio on something soft and settled his arm around her. She sighed and closed her eyes, then let her mind drift for the rest of the ride up to Global Dynamics.
Jack was mostly bark, too, she'd noticed. She kind of liked that about him.
Allison and Thorne were already in the rotunda talking when Tess and Jack entered, arm in arm. Allie looked frazzled, as expected; Thorne looked, as always, smug. Allie's mood improved markedly when she saw the pair of them, though. Tess greeted her, dodging her questioning look with a smile, and promised to catch her up on everything later. As planned, Jack quickly agreed to take care of the footwork for the redactions- as soon as he'd got Tess settled with 'something to entertain her while you're busy' and asked a quick question of Nathan.
Thorne didn't particularly care, as Tess had hoped; she whisked off to do whatever it was Jack had spent the late afternoon investigating two loops before, with only her habitual injunction to make sure Dr. Blake wasn't late to her beautiful wedding. Allie was a little more difficult to convince, but neither Tess nor Jack wanted to ruin the day for her any more than it had been already; brilliant as she was, Allie's skills lay primarily in other subjects, and three theoretical physicists (or four, if Dr. Fargo joined them) would crowd Weinbrenner's lab as it was. No sense worrying her with something she couldn't do anything about.
Nathan was, as he had been every other time she'd run into him, considerably less pleased to see them.
"Tess. Carter. What did I do to deserve the two of you in close proximity today?" he asked acerbically.
"It's not so much what you did, as what Leo Weinbrenner is doing," Jack replied, leaping hastily onto the offered conversational opening.
"Really." Nathan raised a sardonic eyebrow at him. "Considering that his job becomes obsolete the moment we activate this clock," he said, gesturing to the delivery elevator behind him, "and its arrival has been on the schedule for weeks, I fail to see how anything to do with the man could demand my attention."
"He's managed to create a time loop that's been running for about four days now," Tess said, quickly, "and it's beginning to collapse. I know that's theoretically impossible, but..."
"Impossible? Try crazy," Nathan said, crossing his arms and giving them a distinctly unimpressed look. "Do you really think there's a break in the space-time continuum and I don't know about it, but the two of you do?"
"Does your ego even fit in this building?" Jack interrupted, rolling his eyes.
Nathan glared at him. "If this is some attempt to convince me that I'm better off not marrying Allison..."
Tess shook her head, holding up placating palms. "No, this has nothing to do with you and Allison, except that Weinbrenner just so happened to go off the rails on the same day as your wedding. And, okay; I know I was probably a little harsh on you before. I apologize. As long as you keep making her happy the way you have the past few months, I'm actually glad the two of you are back together."
"Really," Nathan replied dryly, the tense lines across his forehead relaxing a little at her olive branch.
"Really," Jack said, taking up the thread of the conversation again, more calmly than before. "I know you have no real reason to believe me, either, not that your ego would even accept it if you did, but I want what's best for Allison as much as you do, and so help me, you seem to be it." He grimaced a little, then threw Tess a wry smile. "But like she said, this has nothing to do with you and Allison. Good old Leo decided he needed a little more time with his research before Thorne locked him out of his lab, and he managed to do something with a photon and a set of really intense almost-black lights that I didn't follow that have made us repeat the same day for about half a week now."
"Almost black lights," Nathan repeated skeptically. "Do you even hear yourself, or is the idiocy unintentional?"
"It's a frequency he calls ultra-indigo that seems to produce an observable frame-dragging effect," Tess filled in for him. "We stumbled into the experiment accidentally the first time Jack tried to redact him. He was adamant that he didn't want any help when we finally tracked down the source of the problem, but the side-effects are starting to become noticeable, and I'm pretty sure we're going to need a fresh mind that hasn't been working on it thirty hours straight to double-check the solution."
Nathan stared at her intently for a moment, as though trying to catch her out in a lie; then he glanced at Jack, eyes narrowed. Finally, he sighed. "All right. I'll give you five minutes to convince me. Fargo? Stay with the delivery; if I'm not back by the time you're through here, join us down in Maintenance."
"You got it," Fargo said, straightening his spine where he stood next to the freight elevator.
"Great," Jack said, sighing with relief. "Frankly, I thought that would be harder."
Tess reached out for his hand, and gripped it tightly one last time before they parted for who knew how many more hours. "Thank you," she told him. "I'll see you when I see you?"
"Yeah," he replied, smiling affectionately at her. "Good luck."
"Everything will turn out the way it's supposed to," she reassured him, then let go and shooed him toward the stairs.
"What, he's not coming with us?" Nathan objected, frowning.
"No; he's got another job to do," she said, still smiling after her- her what? Her boyfriend? Tess' grin widened. "So let's go do ours."
The furrows on Nathan's brow deepened even further as he stared at her, as though trying to decipher what had so improved her mood. Then he shook it off and gestured toward the nearest personnel elevator. "After you."
Weinbrenner was not best pleased to see them arrive, either, when they reached the Maintenance lab in the basement. "Dr. Fontana-" he began, a frustrated look on his face, when the door slid open.
"Time wave, Leo," she replied crisply, fixing him with her best disapproving stare. "Tell me you didn't get thrown around a little that time through- because Jack and I sure did. You promised us, if things started going wrong, you'd take all the help you could get immediately, no questions."
His obstinate expression crumbled at that, and he nodded, abashed. "I suppose you're right. I never meant to hurt anyone, you know."
"If I never hear another scientist say those words in Eureka, it'll be too soon," Nathan said, looking down his nose with distaste at the board full of equations. "It's true then, what Tess told me?"
"About the time loop? I'm afraid so," Weinbrenner sighed. "I've about got the procedure for reaccelerating the photon worked out, I just haven't managed to work on the timer yet."
"Well, while Dr. Stark double-checks your work, why don't I see what I can do about the timer problem?" Tess said, brightly. "I know you probably don't think you need it, but considering just how many hours you've been working on this straight, having a fresh set of eyes on your equations only makes sense. When you're as sure as you can get that it'll work, then I'll show you what I've come up with, and we'll get it all set up."
"It has to activate at the exact moment of synchronicity with the timestream; otherwise, the effects will start becoming permanent in another two or three loops," Weinbrenner said. "The rough specs I had worked out for the timer are on that computer, there."
Tess moved to the computer workstation in question, jogged the mouse to see what he had open, and nodded. "I can work with this, I think," she said, glancing over at Nathan.
He was frowning at the wipe board. "This is the part, here, that determines the length of the time loop?" he was saying, pointing at one section of equations with a manicured fingernail. "What made you pick ten hours?"
"Well, those were pretty much the only hours security would allow me to be in the lab today; I figured, why waste the energy blocking out extra time?" Weinbrenner shrugged.
Nathan heaved a sigh. "I don't think I need to tell you that was a short-sighted decision," he groused.
Mostly bark, Tess thought, and smiled. She hadn't felt so charitable toward the man in years; thanks to Jack, she was remembering why she'd actually considered him a friend all those years ago. Perhaps they would be friends again, soon- provided they made sure there would be a soon, and not just an endless, disintegrating present.
She cast her mind back to the ideas she'd scribbled out in her notebook the morning before in Allison's office, and dug into the coding with a will.
Amazingly, with the three of them working together- four, once Fargo had finished settling the new G.D. clock in place and making sure its synch window was set- they managed to wrestle the science to a workable solution by the time Jack had finished the rest of the redactions, just after what would ordinarily have been lunch time. With her timer code in place, it didn't even require any of them to remain there in person, though Weinbrenner volunteered to do so just to be absolutely certain nothing went wrong at the last moment. Tess was pretty sure it wouldn't- without the inherently risky requirement of manual intervention, the process of reacceleration should go off without a hitch- but she did agree that in this case, it was better to be safe than sorry.
"Great," Jack said, beaming at her as she explained what they'd done. "So I can drag you out of here, then? No more last second equations, or anything?"
"Why, did you miss me?" she smiled, threading her arms around his waist in full view of the other three scientists still conferring about risks and consequences on the other side of Weinbrenner's lab.
"Well, that, and I'm still holding your suitcase hostage for good behavior," he smirked down at her, little crinkles around eyes and mouth betraying the depth of his good humor.
"Oh? And what constitutes good behavior, in your opinion?" she teased back.
"What, you want a checklist?" he drawled.
"So that's where your suddenly magnanimous behavior comes from," Nathan said, in the tones of one who has just received a great revelation. "Now it all makes sense. Except for the way it really doesn't- does Allison know the two of you know each other?"
"Well, I do now," Allison said, joining the rest of them in the lab with eyebrows raised.
"Oh, no," Jack said, turning to wag a finger at her. "This is your day; our story will come later. In the meantime, though, I'm starving; I'm going to drag this one off for food, and we'll see you again in a little while at the wedding."
"You'd better; I won't be answerable for what will happen if you screw things up at this late date," Nathan replied, ominously.
"Now, Nathan..." Allison chided him, stepping into his personal space the way Tess was currently standing in Jack's.
Fargo, a slightly forlorn look on his face, heaved a sigh at the sight.
"And on that note," Tess said, disentangling herself from Jack's arms. "C'mon."
Together, they made their way out the door.
She was a little curious why he hadn't let her loose with Allison to run the rest of the wedding errands, as she had the first two times the day had unspooled that far along its normal track, but was willing to play along; she figured he had a plan. Probably something to do with his daughter, since they were headed for the café, and they'd met her and Jack's sister there before.
Her guess was proved right when they strode into Café Diem a short while later just in time to hear Lexi mentioning the World Health Organization to Vince, who stood behind the counter with Zoe putting the final touches on Allison's wedding cake. "Hey, guys," Jack said, announcing their presence as they walked toward the counter.
"Dad!" Zoe exclaimed, smiling at him. "And- who's this?"
"This is Tess," Jack said, smiling back at her, dropping a possessive hand to the small of Tess' back again. "Dr. Tess Fontana. She came up for Allison's wedding, so I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce the two of you. Tess, this is my amazing daughter, Zoe Carter; and the young woman over there who's just returned from six years of traveling around doing good deeds is my lovely sister Lexi."
"Why, you sweet talker, you," Lexi said, smiling, though she looked a little perplexed at the praise.
"Wait, introduce introduce?" Zoe raised her eyebrows, though she, too, was smiling as she held a hand across the counter. "Um, great to meet you!"
"It's great to meet you, too," Tess said, shaking her hand. "I've heard a lot of good things."
"And I- actually haven't heard any things, I'm sorry. Dad's kind of- lacking that way, sometimes."
Tess laughed, and feeling a little daring, decided to tease back. "Yes, I'm already well aware I'm the communicator in this relationship," she said.
"Relationship?" Zoe's voice rose.
"What other kind of introduction did you think I meant?" Jack interjected, still smiling. "We met through Allison, but she works in California, and this is the first time she's been able to visit. Hopefully not the last, though."
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Tess said, smiling happily up at him.
"Aw, I haven't seen Monkey this relaxed in years," Lexi chipped in.
"Nice, Stretch," Jack said, taking a seat at the bar next to his sister; Tess settled into the one on his other side. "I've missed you too, you know."
"You haven't called me that since I was twelve," Lexi said, looking touched.
"Yeah, well, you used to hate it."
"Because I was five foot nine in seventh grade," she chuckled, rolling her eyes.
"Fair enough," he smiled. "You know, I'm glad you came early. There's a lot of people in town today that you might not get the chance to meet for awhile otherwise. Though I see you've already made the acquaintance of one of the town's most important residents...?"
Vince looked up from the cake again at that, a long-suffering expression on his face. "By that, I take it you're placing an order for your usual, sheriff?" he said, lightly.
"If you would, Vince?" Jack smiled. "And, Tess...?"
"Oh, I don't care; hit me with your best shot," Tess decided, smiling at the café manager.
He brightened at that. "Oh, I approve of this one, Sheriff," he said, beaming, then bustled off into the back, leaving Zoe to watch the counter.
Zoe grinned, then leaned forward, bracing her elbows on the smooth surface. "So, tell me. What exactly went through your mind the first time you saw my dad?" she asked, in conspiratorial tones.
Not the type to freak if her dad were dating, Tess thought, remembering her concerns the first time she'd met the girl. Though she didn't mistake the current conversation for anything but a covert interrogation. If she were anything like Jack, though, Tess thought she had a good idea how to handle it. "Actually?" she smiled, casting her thoughts back to her first glimpse of the sheriff at Allison's side nearly thirty-six hours before. "I think it was something like, 'what the hell is that on his shirt?'"
"What?" Jack spluttered at her side. "You didn't tell me that!"
Tess laughed at him. "Don't worry," she said. "The next was something like, 'Well, Allison trusts him, so there's got to be something special about him'. And sure enough, you proved me right."
"Well, then," he drawled, looking somewhat mollified.
"And what was the first thing you thought of when you saw her?" Zoe pressed, grinning with delight.
Jack glanced at her, then smirked. "Actually," he said, "I probably shouldn't throw stones, since it was something along the lines of, 'Oh god, I hope she doesn't turn out to be Thorne's apprentice'."
Tess snickered. "I don't know whether to take that as a compliment, or not."
"Definitely a compliment," he said, eyes twinkling.
The rest of their lunch passed just as smoothly, with good food, better company, and excellent spirits. Jack took her back to the bunker on Coriolis Loop to change once they'd eaten, then dropped her by Allison's house while he took care of a few last things; the next few hours passed in a blur of excitement and joy both on her part and Allison's, and when the time came for them all to assemble in the park again, she was feeling more in tune with the world than she had in years.
She made sure to take a seat near Zoe and Lexi, with one left open between them for Jack; and when he joined them after walking Allie up the aisle, she nestled within the circle of his arm, beaming at the happy couple as Dr. Deacon began the ceremony.
"You know, my sister says weddings are like funerals with champagne; final, yet festive," he whispered into her hair, a contemplative note in his voice.
"Not so final as all that. You'll see," she whispered back.
Moments later, Dr. Deacon gave the traditional challenge, and paused to wait for the audience to answer; though this time, hardly anyone turned to look at Jack. Tess smiled to herself, and held her breath as the final seconds of the time loop crawled by.
Jack froze at her side. Then Dr. Deacon turned to Nathan, a proud smile on his face. "Nathan Richard Stark. Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife?" he asked.
Tess pinched herself. Then she glanced up at Jack. "See?" she whispered.
He let out a long sigh of relief, then pulled her closer to him. "I never doubted you," he murmured.
"Shh!" Zoe hissed, elbowing her father, though she was smiling at them as she did so.
Tess bit her lip, then settled back to enjoy the rest of the wedding. It was six-oh-one, and all was well with her world.
Only two more uncertainties marred the next forty hours of their acquaintance: the first, when they returned to the bunker after the wedding, and the second when Tess left Eureka Monday morning.
The first was easily dealt with. Jack paused for a long, awkward moment in the living room, pointedly not inviting her to stay- then hesitantly explained that his sister was already staying there. Equally hesitantly, Tess pointed out that she'd taken a room at the town's bed and breakfast for the weekend- and was gratified to see his face light up in response.
That night, and the next, were everything she could have dreamed of, the next-to-the-last hurdle in their potential compatibility crossed with a positively Olympic flourish.
Only one thing remained: the conversation, the one they'd been skirting around the entire week-long weekend.
"I've had an amazing time with you, Jack," she concluded, studying his expression as they stood next to her hastily-repaired car. "And I'd like to continue it; I want to see what we could be like together over the long term. But I don't know when, or even if, I'll ever be able to move here."
"You're only nine hours' drive away, not on another whole continent," he replied, with a warm, very serious look in his eyes. "Don't worry; I'll be here for you whenever you get the chance to visit. And hopefully, I'll get the chance to visit your place, soon."
Which, of course, he did. And when she finally got a job offer from the tiny scientific Mecca a few months later, he was, in fact, waiting the moment she crossed the electronic barrier around the town.
She hadn't actually expected to find him standing next to her car as she emerged from the woods after a quick rest break, courtesy of one too many diet sodas on the long drive, but only because she hadn't called ahead; she'd been hoping to surprise him at home. But it was very Eureka of him. She would have been more surprised if everything had gone according to plan.
"You do know you can't park your car in the middle of the road," he said, grinning at her. "Though I grant, that's one way to get law enforcement's attention."
"I didn't think I had," she said with a shrug, grinning back at him. "I guess I must've really had to go."
"Or it could be that you just bring chaos with you whenever you visit," he smirked.
"That's always a possibility, too, I suppose," she said, resting her palms against his chest as she finally approached within arm's length of him. "What are the odds, do you think?"
"I think the universe sometimes does things for strange reasons," he said, eyeing her admiringly as he settled his hands on her hips. "But strange doesn't necessarily mean bad."
"Amen to that."
"Hello, Tess," he murmured, leaning forward to breathe in the scent of her hair.
"Hello, Jack," she replied, breathing deep against the crook of his neck.
"...You do know you're still going to have to move your car, or I'll have to cite you."
Tess burst out laughing at that. "Jack!" she exclaimed, swatting at his chest. "No, I thought I'd just leave it here," she giggled. Then she leaned up for a proper greeting.
"Here is good," he said hoarsely, a moment later.
She smiled at him, knowing exactly what he meant. "Yeah. Here is good."