Lost and Found

Summary: Allison thinks it should be easy to tell the real from the fake now, but it isn't, and Jack just wants to reassure her. Post-Lost but pre-Jack of All Trades.

A/N: The one bad thing about writing fics during the season is that I usually take longer than a week to become satisfied with what I've written, and it becomes AU by the next episode. The first version of this was written directly after Lost and had Jack not knowing what had went on in the virtual reality and Allison not wanting to tell him. Then when Jack went into it and pulled them all out, I revised it to fit. Now it remains slightly AU because I had speculated that the virtual reality was not based on predictive algorithms, but on psychological fears, and this fic also does not deal with any of the complications/jealousies arising from Jack of All Trades. Also, I have no idea about those looks Jo's been giving Jack so I'm not even going to speculate or bother with it right now.

When all is said and done, when the false reality is finally stripped away, everything in Eureka is very similar to how Allison left it. She's lost only a month, not years. Her son is still at home in high school, her daughter still small enough to hoist easily into her arms.

And Jack is still hers.

When all is said and done, it should be easy to fall back into her old routine, settled with her family and happy with the love of her life. And yet, the memories of those false images cling like a poisonous residue in her mind, and pull at the fabric of everything she feels and everything she wants to believe.

Jack doesn't understand how very real it still feels sometimes. Some irrational part of her fears that at some point, he'll stop and look at her and say, We were waiting for the right moment to tell you. A larger part of her doesn't want to admit to these insecurities, to the vulnerability that she can't bear to reveal to him or to herself.

It's a Eureka she helped create, and she'd very much prefer to leave it behind for good. For her sake. For Jack's sake.

Because Jack knows that all is not well between them, not well with her. He of course sees the way she clings to Jenna and obsesses over Kevin, even more so than when they'd come back to find the altered timeline. And of course he can feel it when he leans in to touch her, to kiss her, and her first reaction is to hesitate and hold back. It's just so hard, sometimes, to remind herself that this is real, that it won't be stripped away into some matrix-world of nothingness.

She doesn't want to feel these emotions that have taken root in her heart, but now everything hurts. It hurts to trust Jack, because she has realized just how much he has the ability to break her. All he'd have to do is fall out of love with her, and that would be enough to shatter her and she wouldn't even know how to put the pieces back together.

When, she wonders, did she become so dependent?

There's a distance between them now, and she hates it, and she hates that she can't stop herself from sending the occasional death glare Jo's way. She's been trying to reign in those feelings of betrayal but part of her just can't.

Jack's done nothing but search for her for a month, take care of her children, and wait for her. Jo's likewise done her part in pulling them out of that place. And yet, when she looks at them, all Allison can feel is a type of devastation, and the cracks are beginning to show.

It happens one night, about two weeks after the Astraeus Crew has been rescued from Senator Wen's clutches and subsequently released from her lies.

She's laying in Jack's bed and the blankets feel unnaturally cold around her. Her back is to him as he settles in on his side of the mattress, and the tension is a palpable, visceral thing. They haven't made love since she's been back, and though Jack has never once pressed her for it - he knows she's emotionally exhausted, and he's nothing if not selfless - she knows he's hurting, feeling rejected and confused by the sudden emotional and physical distance between them.

Allison says a silent prayer that there will be no more nightmares tonight, no more falling back into that world.

Just as she closes her eyes, she feels Jack's hand slide up and down her arm, supportive and comforting. Despite everything she's told herself to forget, she still tenses at his touch. His hand freezes in its place, as though wary and unsure. She can imagine the spasm of hurt that might shoot across his face, but she doesn't turn around to check the accuracy of the mental image.

He removes his hand and she thinks he's given up for the night, just as he has every night this week. But then she feels his arm press down against the mattress so that he can manage to curl it under her waist, and all at once he's gently pulling her towards him, so that they're face to face.

It's so intimate, so familiar, and so wrong when all she can see is him in love with another woman, in love with Jo.

"Jack..." she says, and though she intended her voice to be strong, it comes out as more of a plea. He cringes at the tone, but his eyes are filled with soft blue resolve in the dim lighting.

He raises his hand to cup her face, rubs his thumb along the soft skin of her cheek. "This is real." he whispers, and she's not the only one with a desperate voice. "I know that adjusting is hard, but let me help you, let me fix it."

She isn't surprised. No matter what timeline, world, or alternate reality, she could always count on Jack to want to fix it. It's so ingrained in his character, so much a part of him, and it's one of the many reasons she fell in love with him.

Tears form in her eyes, because she understands the irony of it all. She's so scarred by the thought of losing him that she's actively pushing him way. Here and now, she's losing him, and there's no more machines left to unplug.

Jack doesn't say any more; he doesn't have to. He simply looks at her and waits, patiently, quietly, lovingly. He pulled her out from the matrix two weeks ago, but now he wants to talk about why she can't seem to pull herself out.

The explanations that he needs to hear, however, are the last things she wants to discuss. Yes, he already knows about all she saw in that virtual world, but given everything that's happened, it is no surprise that he hasn't thought about why her mind created a world in which him and Jo were together. He just doesn't realize how the virtual reality has brought to life the fears and insecurities she's held onto for years. He doesn't know that there's always a basis of truth in every fiction.

But God, she wants to tell him, because his eyes are pleading with her to let him in. To trust him again.

Allison breathes in deep and tries to steady the beating of her heart. She once told him that she was afraid of losing him, but the implication at the time was that she would lose him to death. She was too embarrassed to mention how very afraid she is, has always been, that she'll lose his love because of some failure of her own.

She's spent years always trying to be the strong woman he admires, the woman he fell in love with, and she's worked very hard to never let that shield down.

But now he's asking her to let down the same walls she's built up so desperately.

She looks at him, really looks at him, and sees nothing but love and concern, nothing but soft eyes and quiet patience. And just like that, she thinks he's finally managed to teach her what she never could have learned on her own: strength, true strength, doesn't necessarily come from always being able to hold yourself up. Sometimes it's about being strong enough to let someone carry you.

And now it's time to be truly strong.

Because she trusts him and he's earned the truth.

"Did you know," she asks in a small voice, and his hand reaches for hers, his fingers naturally tangling with hers in a gesture of support, "that the simulation was built not only on memories, but on fears?"

"I figured as much," he says, and her heart falters to realize that he's already put the dots together, that he already knows all her insecurities and vulnerabilities without even having to be told...but he continues on, and seems almost oblivious to her particular train of thought. "Evil Andys? Come on, that had to be someone's nightmare."

His smile is warm, light. Instinctively, she reaches out to touch his face, just to be sure he's real, solid, permanent.

"That's the point, Jack. I know that I haven't been the same since I came back, but I just want to explain that my nightmares were real there. These weren't just fabrications created by Beverly or Wen, they were things I really do fear, here, now, always."

"You shouldn't have to be afraid," Jack says quietly, running a finger through her hair.

"But I am," she argues. "I am completely terrified of missing out on my kids' lives, of coming back to a time in which I don't know them and they don't know me. And I'm terrified of losing you..." she hesitates slightly, but forges onward, because it's time he's earned the truth. "...of losing you to Jo..."

"Me and Jo?" he questions, taken aback.

For a long moment, he simply looks at her, and she feels the irrational fear surge once again, that part that waits for him to say, I'm sorry you had to find out this way.

And then, completely disregarding the fact that she's still teary-eyed, he bursts into laughter so deep it shakes his entire body. It's practically a howl of mirth. "How could you think...wow, I was not expecting that one to be a real fear."

She scorches him with her gaze, releases his hand. "It isn't so funny when you think it's actually turned out that way." she says harshly.

He sighs, lets the laughter fall away, and takes her hand again, just firmly enough to convince her to not pull away. "But Allison, you've gotta know that there would never be anything like that between Jo and me, ever? Not in any real universe."

Suddenly Allison feels as if she's not explaining this right. "Jack, it was four years and I'd left you alone with the kids. And you and Jo both lost people, both needed the support. You put each other back together...it could make sense under those circumstances..."

"No, it couldn't," says Jack, not a hint of doubt in his voice. "Yeah, maybe we'd be there for each other through the grief, but I think of Jo as a sister or daughter or something. Family. I promise you, I'm not going to fall in love with my sister." he says, cringing at the thought.

"I should hope not," Allison replies, smiling slightly, for the first time in what seems like forever.

"And besides," Jack says, scooting even closer against her so that she feels the warmth of him wash over her, "Even if it wasn't someone I thought of like family...I don't think I could really be in love again, no matter how many years went by. You're...all I ever think about, Allison. All I ever want to come home to."

This man, he has her love, her trust, her heart. She's given him every part of herself now, released those insecurities and he's waved them away as though they're incomparably small to what they have together, and he's looking at her with such love that she couldn't possibly doubt him.

And suddenly she's kissing him like she really hasn't seen him in four years. He kisses back, gentle and sweet at first, then eager and passionate, and it's some blessed miracle, that a man as wonderful as this loves her, unconditionally.

"Jack?"

"Hmm?" he asks, even as he trails kisses down her neck.

"You're all I want to come home to, too."

And later, as she rests her head against Jack's chest, when all is said and done, she's never felt as safe or as happy as when she's in Jack's arms.