Spoilers: Through Season 6

Jack Donaghy is numb.

He should be feeling something, he thinks. His dearest friend is getting married. He should be happy for her, or jealous that she was with someone and he wasn't, or at least churlish that after all he'd done for her, this interloper was going to come in and replace him at the center of her life.

But instead, he is numb. Numb in the face of what is about to happen, what is happening, something he could see as clearly as if he was out of his body, hovering over the city and taking in everything.

He braces himself for the storm.

***

"So they wouldn't give us the license."

"Is that so?" Jack plays dumb. "Why is that?"

Liz isn't bothering to conceal her anger and irritation. "I think you know why, Jack," she seethes. "Or should I say, dear."

Jack winces.

"Why didn't you submit the paperwork?"

"Would you have wanted to be the one to tell Avery? That she and I were not only not legally married, but that instead I'd married someone she already found somewhat suspect?"

"How could you not tell me that we were still married!"

"I was trying to forget that it ever happened. It did make divorcing Avery a whole lot easier. And what would you have said? You would have demanded I fix the paperwork. After a while, the lie was too big to confess."

Liz grits her teeth, eyes bulging in frustration.

"Elizabeth, I'm sorry... but Avery had already tried to split you and me up once. I didn't want to give her an excuse to do it again."

That defuses her a bit. "Well, Jack, if you could just turn it in, now. I'm trying to get married next week."

Jack just sits there, quietly, stroking his thumbs together.

"Oh God, you want me to write the pilot for the Kabletown Small Government Hour, don't you?"

"I do, but that's not what I'm hesitating about. Unlike some people, I would never use this... situation for business advantage."

"So then what's the problem?"

He pauses again, looking at her in a way that makes Liz wonder if she'd overlooked something obvious.

"The idea of another divorce is... difficult for me."

"So, what? Are we supposed to stay married then so you can keep your divorce count down?"

Jack frowns. "Of course not. I'll turn in the paperwork immediately."

"Thank you." Liz turns to leave, aggravated that Jack was being so weird about this, and still smarting over the fight she'd had with Criss. Over Jack. He was supposed to make her life easier, not complicate it.

***

But Liz soon has much more elemental things to worry about. She doesn't find out about the fire in her apartment till she gets home that night, and it is in the wee hours of the morning that she finds Criss, badly burned and in critical condition, at a local hospital.

When after a late-night vigil, she calls Jack and tells him she wouldn't be in that morning, he shows up immediately to check up on them. He holds her tightly as she quietly weeps.

"What are the doctors saying?"

"They don't know yet."

"Elizabeth. You should go home and get some rest."

"I don't have a home anymore."

"Then stay with me."

***

Criss, of course, has no health insurance. It was Jack's paperwork "mishap" that had delayed their marriage and denied him Liz's benefits. The only decent thing to do, under the circumstances, was cover Criss's bills.

He will be in the hospital for quite a while; what happens in those weeks, as Liz's place undergoes repairs, catches Jack by surprise. Jack and Liz settle into a domestic routine. She takes a couple of hours each afternoon to visit the hospital, but afterwards they arrive home from work, often together, and have a meal prepared by his chef. He finds that Liz's appreciation for the good food heightens his own.

If Liddy is at his place, Lemon plays with her a bit. She doesn't have a lot of experience with children, but she is a quick (and motivated) learner. Pretty soon, she is making Liddy smile and laugh in ways that Liddy's tightly wound parents never can.

He starts to treasure those moments. Almost as much as he cherishes the times when, as the night lengthens, Liz's thoughts get her down, and Jack simply holds her, perhaps lightly stroking her hair or her shoulder. He can't help but think, this is what a real marriage to Lemon would be like. And he can't find anything wrong with it all. How tempting it is to call his lawyer, and ask him to sit on the paperwork making its way through the system.

But Lemon has promised herself to someone else, someone who at this very moment is fighting for his life in a hospital room.

***
As luck would have it, Criss's recovery is faster than the apartment's. It is through gritted teeth that Jack invites Criss into his home as well. He appreciates what Criss does for Lemon, how he makes her happy; but he is simply not constitutionally capable of liking a man with Criss's foibles and worldview.

Nevertheless, it does give him an opportunity to view them up close. He does make her laugh, Jack thinks, before silently cursing that the twists of life have placed him in competition with this... nobody, a nobody who doesn't even realize he has a rival.

But he has to wonder if he ever has - or ever could - make her smile in quite that way.

***

It's a Wednesday afternoon that the apartment is finally ready. Criss is already packing stuff up while Liz finishes the work day.

Jack and Liz take the car home together before Liz goes to spend the night at her place. Jack mourns that the day has finally come. His domestic bliss will slide quickly away, as she moves away, the divorce is finalized, she gets remarried, and TGS inevitably winds down. The strands that bind them will be torn asunder, one by one.

The car pulls up to his front door and Liz sticks her foot out the door to get out. It's now or never; Jack grabs her wrist and holds it firmly. She looks back at him, surprised.

"Lemon." It's a command, not a question.

She watches his piercing gaze as she waits for his point.

"Choose me."

End Ch 1.