Title: An Impossibility
Rating: K+, adult themes
Disclaimer: Characters are property of Tina Fey, NBC etc.
Warning: Major character death
Pairing: Jack/Liz, mentions Jack/Avery
Spoilers: "When It Rains It Pours", "Everything Sunny All the Time Always".
Summary: Future fic. Jack is glad he kept the tape.
Jack is glad he kept the tape. The one with him and Lemon side-by-side at his desk. The one in which she gives advice to his yet-to-be-born daughter on everything from stubborn hair removal to inopportune first kisses. After he cut off her first attempt, Liz persuaded him to let her try again. And again. And again. Until they were both satisfied with the result. Liz often had that effect on him, he seems to recall. Her enthusiasm was hard to reject, impossible for his reserve to entirely withstand. On the tape, it might almost seem like his friend was more excited than him about the new addition that was about to arrive in his life. But perhaps Jack only views it that way in retrospect, being aware of the ache she carried around for years after finding out she could never have her own children.
That deep ache didn't last forever. It withered in time and eventually healed. Despite their intimate relationship, Jack knows this had nothing whatever to do with him. It had to do with Liddy and only Liddy. His only child never really knew her birth mother. Avery was with her for only a few short months after her birth and even then, her mind was not totally focused on her new baby. After her capture, she became so immersed in her royal duties and newfound status in North Korea that Liddy was lucky to receive a sparse, stern letter on plain paper once a year, sometime round her birthday. This left a massive, hungry hole in Liddy's life and heart. A hole that was filled by Liz. Gradually, at first. They gravitated towards each other instinctively, bonded naturally.
Jack can still remember each strange increment with which their family slowly shaped itself. The first step in that direction was Liddy beginning to talk and almost immediately dubbing Liz "Mommy". It was a shock to them both, yet at the same time, rather fitting. Liddy certainly seemed to think so. No matter how many times she was corrected, she always reverted to the preferred title, until ultimately, it stuck for good. Jack had to admit that Liz had been more of a mother to Liddy than anyone had been. His friend had wanted to be someone's mommy almost as desperately as his daughter needed someone to fill that role in her young life. And not just anyone either. But someone who truly loved her and would show it. Someone who could support her, someone who'd be there, always. Someone who'd see her for who she was and encourage her to be that and only that. After years of fulfilling this role in his life, Jack couldn't think of anyone better to do the same for his growing daughter. Liz was undoubtedly the best candidate for the job. And his daughter had known it from those first garbled words, perhaps even before.
There were many other incremental steps along the way, both significant and small ones. Liddy's chaotic christening was one. The first Christmas they spent together with Milton and Colleen was another. The first kiss he and Liz finally succumbed to that same night, brought on by mistletoe and an oversupply of mulled wine. Liddy meeting Liz's family and them meeting, and instantly adoring, her. And many more casual dinners and shared movies and school events and forgettable experiences that Jack wishes he could recall each mundane minute of now. All of them contributed, all of them drew the strings connecting them that little bit tighter. The event that stands out the most for Jack though is his sixtieth birthday. That's when they gave him Clinton, a big, dumb dog with thick golden hair and a perpetual, slobbery grin. Liddy picked him, Liz named him (and refused to budge on the moniker) and it was Clinton who completed their family. He ushered in a whole new era, turned them into a fully functioning unit before they even knew it.
One year later, one wet weekend, Jack and Liz exchanged vows in a short ceremony at City Hall, with Liddy, Colleen and a few friends in attendance. After years of squatting in their apartment and sharing his bed, Liz had officially moved in six months prior, joking that after so many years, all it took to finally get them together was a dumb dog. Well, that, she'd added as she messily shoved her clothes into one of his drawers, and their mutual adoration of his tremendous kid.
Another year after that, Jack is going through the same drawers, packing fresh clothes into a bag to take to the hospital when he hears a well-known, overeager voice emanating from the living room. He knows it isn't his wife. His wife has been in the hospital for over three weeks. But he follows the sound of her voice, one of her sweaters drooping from his hands. Entering the living room, he sees that Liddy has found the rough cuts of Liz's girl advice, recorded so many years ago. He had Jonathan transfer them to disk but never bothered to have them cut into any proper form. Looking at the two of them, he can't help smiling. They look so different. And yet, they look exactly the same, not a bit different at all. The Liz of that time is still so clear to him and seeing her again brings years of memories rushing back. Jack finds himself chuckling at their on-screen squabbling, making Liddy turn, a guilty look on her face.
"I found it, it was in the thing." She stalls, blue eyes blinking up at him. "Is this for me?"
He nods slowly. "We made them for you, yes. This was…before you were even born."
Liddy's gaze drops to the sweater in his hands. "Is Mom coming home today?"
Jack looks at his daughter, sitting cross-legged on the floor in her pajamas. He gives her a reassuring smile. "Soon, pumpkin. I promise."
Liddy bows her head and turns back to the television, continuing to watch their earlier selves go at it while one hand unconsciously lifts fistfuls of cereal from the box to her mouth. Jack shuffles back towards their bedroom, but hears his daughter ask him quietly:
"Can I keep this, Dad?"
He glances back at his former self with his former friend, now wife, now love, now life. On the screen, he is watching her deliver her bizarre guidance with both caution and disapproval. A small smile betrays him though. It often did, he suspects. Jack gulps down a tightening in his throat. "Of course you can. They're yours."
Jack knows that Liddy watches the collection of clips constantly while Liz is in the hospital. And he knows that she asks less than she wants to when her mom will be coming home. He always gives her the same response. Truthfully, it never occurs to him that there might be an alternative. That's why he made those tapes in the first place. Because he is the old one, he's the one who lived hard and worked harder. It's him who couldn't be counted on to always be around. Aside from this though, the inescapable fact is that losing Liz seems utterly inconceivable. It's simply not an option. It can't happen. It won't happen. Because he can't fathom it. He won't allow it, not for him or his daughter. To Jack, it's an out-and-out impossibility.
Which is why it hits him so hard when it does happen. It happens. The unthinkable. The unacceptable. He loses Liz. And he is not prepared. He is not prepared for that at all. He can not deal. He will not deal. At first, he can't even believe it. When the doctor tells him, he laughs. Because it's just not possible, surely. For Lemon - who's been at his side, at his beck and call for so many years - to suddenly be gone. Just gone. Without even saying a proper goodbye. Her last words to him were asking him to bring her favorite cardigan the next time he visited. Because she was always cold and she didn't understand why they had to keep a hospital room so cold, didn't they know that germs loved that? But he knew the one she meant, didn't he, the one with the red stripes? He did, he knew. Liddy had given it to her, years ago, one snowy Christmas. She'd worn it that whole day and the whole of the next day too. She'd barely taken it off all week. He'd meant to pack it for her. But he hadn't. Perhaps on some irrational level, he'd thought that if he left the cardigan where it belonged, Liz too would return to where she belonged, to the place she'd finally found in his life.
It's only when his laughter dies, only when he notices the grim expressions on the doctors' faces, the bereft expressions on the faces of Liz's parents that he begins to understand. He begins to comprehend that the impossible has actually occurred. Liz will not be getting better. Liz will not be coming home. Liz will never be getting out of that bed or walking out of those doors. Liz will not be growing older with him. She will never snicker at him again or throw a lame quip at him or touch his arm or remind him to walk Clinton. She will never sleep beside him again, wake up with him, kiss him, hug him, roll her eyes at him, huff at him, steal his food, pour his morning coffee. Never. She will not be there to see Liddy grow any older than she is on this awful day. She won't be there to see her hit teenagehood or graduate school or go off to College or marry. She won't be there for any of it. They will go on, the two of them, and Clinton. But Liz stops here. Her life, despite all their best efforts, has been stopped in its tracks. And there is nothing he can do to fight that. Not a goddamn thing will change it or reverse it or bring her back to them.
When he looks back on it later, Jack thinks that everyone knew but him. Liz's parents knew, he's sure of it. They knew from the very beginning and probably assumed that he knew too. Because Liz knew. He's sure of that too. That's why she left the disk for Liddy to find. Even Liddy had known. Watching those clips over and over, in the darkness of her room, prepared her in the gentlest way possible, in a way that Liz couldn't find the words for. Jack wishes she'd found the words to tell him though. Because if he'd known, if she'd told him that this was really it, that he was going to live the rest of his life without her, then there were things he would have said. Or things he would have wanted to say, at least. Whether he could have is a different story. He's not sure he could have actually said them to her. Not to Lemon. He could never have said goodbye to Lemon, he would not have known how. Jack wouldn't have even known where to begin saying goodbye.
Perhaps, in the end, that was why Liz never said anything to him, why she let him believe she would get better when she must have known she would not. Why she constantly told him she'd be home soon, why she let him make plans for the future when she knew none of it would eventuate. She probably had no more idea how to say goodbye to him than he'd have had an idea how to say goodbye to her. It was an impossible task for both of them. So it went unsaid. Like so many things during their relationship, so many really, really important things, it went unsaid. But not unfelt. The only comfort and closure he has now is remembering the way Liz held his hand the last time he visited - not saying anything meaningful, not gripping him hard. Just holding his hand as they chatted with Liddy, his hand warm and big, hers cold but strong. And the smile she'd given him just as they'd been leaving - it lasted a little longer than usual and led him to believe that Liz in some, silent way was at peace with letting him go. Now, somehow, he must find his own peace with letting her go.
Jack is not sure how to accomplish this. Sitting on their bed, gazing out at the chilly night, he closes his eyes, trying to imagine what Liz would tell him to do. He can still hear her voice perfectly, hear the exact tone she would use to try to buck him up. If this was one of his countless business dilemmas or pointless lady dramas. Which it is not. He feels his closed eyes begin to well with tears. A part of him wishes desperately to keep them closed, to remain in a world where Liz, even remnants of her, still exist. Another part can't stand the pain of experiencing any memory of her while the truth of her being stolen from him is still sinking into his consciousness. A knock on the door sounds, light and tentative, and his eyes open. Jack turns from his position on the bed, Liz's favorite cardigan, the one with the stripes, clasped loosely in his hands. A tear runs down his face, unchecked. It lands on the cardigan with a little pat.
Liddy is in her pajamas, her light brown hair in a ponytail, her glasses perched on her nose. She doesn't say a word as she comes into the bedroom he shared with Liz for too few years. Slowly, she climbs up onto the bed and places between them a loaf of bread, a slab of butter, a knife and a large bag of salty potato chips. Jack's eyes well with fresh tears as he watches her silently make a potato chip sandwich and hand it to him. He takes it then waits for her to construct another one for herself. She does so slowly, like it's a ritual, like it's an honoring, which he supposes is exactly what it is. When she's done, they both grasp their sandwiches in their hands, lift them like they are making a toast. Then they eat. Soft bread and crunchy chips. And plenty of salt.
"Mom's right," Liddy says eventually, wiping away tears with the back of her hand. "This is really, really good."
"She wasn't often right," Jack tells her when he is able to find a voice, he pauses to lick the salt off his lips: "But when she was, she was very right indeed."
Liddy nods and for a few moments they just munch in silence. She gives a little shiver and Jack places the red cardigan around her shoulders. When she finishes her sandwich, she dusts off her hands and slips her arms through the sleeves carefully, one at a time. Then she looks up at him and says, sounding exactly like her mom:
"Want another one?"
Jack nods and reaches for the bread. This time, he makes the chip sandwiches himself, throwing a crust to Clinton who dozes dolefully by Liz's side of the bed. As they eat, with each bite, his heart swells a little fuller and his memory grows a little stronger and he feels a little surer in himself that while their family will never be the same, Liz will always exist at the core of it. She will always persist at the very core of him. It will take him days, weeks, maybe months to process what has happened. And longer to fully comprehend all that she has been and meant to him. All he's had and all he's lost. But he will eat his chip sandwiches and walk his dog and sleep in his bed and love his daughter. He will keep on living and for as long as he does, he will keep those memories close and not let them fade. His mind is every bit as tenacious as his heart and neither one will ever, ever forget.
He won't allow it. He won't.
It's an impossibility.