jacqueline leroux, pg-13, ~3700
follows 'carbon copy' and nt2, knowledge of 'calendar marks' needed
The beginning of the courtship of Riley Poole and Jacqueline Leroux, and the beginning of the Ben Issues that totally aren't an issue, really.
Eight years after Jacqueline Leroux was born, her family accepted the inescapable truth: their youngest child was a conspiracy theorist.
For a family composed of historians and linguists, the truth was— slightly distressing.
The realization itself came the day her mother, walking by Jackie's bedroom with the clean laundry, came to a stop when she caught the sight of her youngest child and only daughter through the open door. Jackie, deeply involved in helping Barbie throw Ken out of the house (he had cheated with the other Barbie) so her historian boyfriend could move in, didn't seem bothered by the stunned gaze that focused on her.
"Honey?" When Jackie lifted her eyes, fearless in the midst of her divorce: "What's on your head?"
"It's a tin foil hat."
"I see." There was a moment of silence as her mother shifted her grip on the laundry basket, drew in a breath and held it as she considered. Finally, with something close to acceptance: "Why are you wearing it?"
"To keep the electromagnetic waves out of my head."
And that was that, after four generations of some of the finest French-American thinkers to come out of New England, they got a kook. They loved her anyway in the way only a large family could and conspiracy theories aside, she was every bit as brilliant as the men and women that had come before her.
When she called her mother for their usual weekend chat seventeen years later and accidentally let slip who she was spending her spare time with, the news was handled reasonably well by the Leroux family.
For one, they'd had more than a decade and a half to cope with her taste in men. As well, and this was something that was of added comfort to her father, Riley Poole wasn't wearing a tin foil hat in the headshot they found at the back of his book (even if the picture itself was rather laughable).
As far as they were concerned, it was a start.
Riley offered her his jacket an hour into their first conversation, the both of them still wide-awake and frighteningly excited, finally having found someone that spoke their own language.
She started, a little awkward and a little flattered, "You don't need to—"
And then faltered because he looked a little baffled, frowning slightly in confusion. "What?"
"Your jacket, I don't—"
"You looked cold," he babbled, adorably terrified that he had done something wrong, and she almost wanted to pet him and shake him all at once, it was weird.
"It's not, you didn't do anything wrong." She didn't know why she was smiling, why she felt so relaxed and so excited, and didn't know why it didn't even bother her. "I was cold."
"Oh," he said, and didn't seem very cold at all. "I lived in Maine," he added and she hummed in instant understanding.
And then they were talking again, about everything, absolutely everything, and the fireworks were long since over when she heard, somewhere distant but close: "Riley, we're going."
The voice was male, tired but sure of itself, and Riley parroted without looking: "Yeah, sure."
Another, "Riley," and then a female voice, "Come on, let's go to the hotel—"
"Ben, leave him alone."
The voices were leaving then, fading and then gone, and they kept talking.
The jacket smelled like dirt and sweat, and Jackie got his number and his address for the singular purpose of shipping it back to him since, yeah, she was kind of fucking cold.
Jackie was sure it was just to ship the jacket back.
Surprisingly, it was her that said, after their fifth phone conversation and endless weeks chatting through text messages and e-mail, "Maybe I can drop by D.C. and nag you in person."
The first response, immediate: "You're not a nag" and the second: "... really."
As if he were instantly suspicious that she'd said it, that she could actually mean it.
"I think we'd have fun—" she started and then hesitated, unable to keep herself quiet as she flexed her fingers restlessly around her phone, straightened with that jarring sense of sureness that always scared her parents. "We'd have fun together," she corrected, and the silence seemed uncomfortable and excited.
At first unsure: "We would" and then: "I think we would."
This is a little of what she's learned, three months after their bi-monthly visits become weekly:
He likes ice cream and hates frozen yogurt, he thinks kiwi tastes delicious but refuses to eat it because it's furry, he's afraid of dogs to the extent that he sometimes breaks into hives just talking about them, and he is the most family-oriented person she's ever met who never actually seems to go visit his family.
He snores, he sings in the shower and it's horrible— and he is a fantastic cook when he actually decides to cook instead of run by Burger King.
Her mother insisted, "I think you should bring him home" but Jackie stubbornly ignored the comments for another month.
Until her mother confronted her one afternoon with a cheery, "Really, dear, you know how he likes his eggs in the morning" and Jackie paused in the middle of peeling potatoes (one of the few things she's allowed to do in the kitchen) and just kind of stared at her mother with an increasing amount of horror building in her stomach.
"I didn't say anything," her mother assured— and was now smiling serenely at the chicken she was cutting.
"You don't like video games." Riley looked at her like he didn't get why this was such a big deal. "What's wrong with you, dude?"
Riley, halfway through his large coffee and watching Jeopardy! as he worked on his current project (something to do with weather patterns in the Mediterranean but she's a history geek, not a weather geek) made a little scoffing noise that suggested he thought she was insane.
Well, screw him, man. "You need more video games."
"Video games suck."
"You never played Super Mario?"
"It always looked lame to me."
It was funny how those words caused such physical pain in her. "You're not human."
This so stated, she reached to grab her phone off the impossibly chaotic coffee table and unlock it. "Stealing your Internet," she offered even as she did it, and grinned helplessly at the almost soundless little chuckle he made in response, always amused despite how she said the same thing every time she visited.
After a moment: "Wait, what are you doing?"
"Looking for a GameStop, dude, we're going to reeducate you this weekend."
Because Super Mario would be perfect for him, really.
"You really— like—this—"
Riley sounded more than a little bit like he was about to die horribly.
Glancing down, unable to fight her grin, she found Riley gripping the handholds a bit desperately, eyes blown wide and expression tight with apprehension. "It's exciting," she chirped brightly, shifting easily against the false rock. "I've been doing this in the real world for ten years, Riley, this is nothing."
Riley stared at the rock climbing equipment they're on like she was completely insane.
Barely fighting the cackle that bubbles up inside, Jackie let herself drop slightly until she was even with him.
"It's okay," she assured, and decided not to mention that they were still only ten feet off the ground. "You've done way scarier things than this, Riley... just... enjoy it."
"That was... that was not this, that was different, with..."
And the hint of a... bitter... edge in his voice almost caused a twinge of something in her chest but it was gone before she could process it fully, fell away as easily as he seemed to expect himself to plunge to his unfortunate death.
Again: she would not bring up they're only ten feet up the rock wall.
"Maybe I can make it easier for you," she teased, and he shot her a glance that made her smile falter, made her shift restlessly in her skin and flex her fingers around the rope suspending her. "Um—"
"I really like you." He was serious, more serious than he's been since she'd met him, and it was a little debilitating how steady his voice was despite that edge of insecurity. "I really really like you, and I want to keep spending time with you, but I have really bad luck with people when I want to spend beyond-friend time with them, you won't believe how many ex's I actually have, and it's really—"
Something tugged inside her, and then she was laughing, amusement bubbling as she chokes out, "Oh god, you're adorable— beyond-friend time—"
And then she kissed him.
Didn't think, didn't consider, didn't worry about doing it, she just kissed him.
And it's super-chaste and probably not sexy at all, the way she laughs against his mouth while she does it, but when she drew back, he was staring at her like he wanted to draw down the moon for her now.
"I like you," Jackie promised him, mouth curved into a helpless smile. "I really like you." She shifted her feet against the wall, and kind of wished he were more open to this because this was seriously one of her favorite things in the world, but he was actually brilliant and he was honest and he loved his family and he was... perfect in a non-perfect way. "And I've wanted to go out for Indian food with you for months, and I also have had bad luck." She paused, grimaced and shook her head, and couldn't help her momentary irritation. "Really bad luck, really really bad luck, really really really—"
"I don't like wall climbing," he blurted out all at once, and looked down at the ground and back at her beseechingly. "Please?"
The Young family was— impressive.
Not that Riley seemed to believe she actually thought so.
"You're going to laugh at me."
"I'm not going to laugh at you." Riley just stared at her from behind his computer, expression openly suspicious, and she rolled her eyes, tossed away the remote and crawled over. "You're the only guy I know who knows what the Taos Hum is who has a car and knows how to take a shower, Riley. It's impossible for me to laugh at you." He looked less than impressed and she sighed, climbing onto the couch in an attempt to seduce the info out of him. "What about the Masons," she repeated when she felt like she had his attention, "who told you about them?"
"My aunt taught me about the Masons." He got a grip on her hip to help her settle across his lap, finally pushing the laptop away to focus completely on her. "Lindsay, the history geek I told you about," he continued easily, only the cool tone giving away his obvious suspicion that she didn't actually care about the subject matter. "Lindsay says that's how she met her husband."
Wait. "You don't know him?"
"Never met him."
What— "My aunt and my mom used to go on digs in Egypt and Greece but that didn't end well after that whole ordeal with the kidnapping and ransom." Off Jackie's look— "You don't want to know, trust me." No, she decided with unexpected certainty, no, she really didn't want to know. "My mom came back to the States and worked as a meteorologist until she passed away."
And the way his voice dipped, settled into an overly-casual pleasant tone, was something she now knew to connect to his mother and her death. She didn't know anything really, knew only that Riley had lost his mother when he'd been young and been raised by his aunt and father, but beyond that, nothing.
Switching quickly: "What about the President's Book?"
"Grandpa," he returned in a tone that suggested he was grateful for the change as he drummed fingers along her spine. "Found out about it in the forties and was always telling the rest of us about it." He seemed to be relaxing a little, was no longer squinting at her like she was untrustworthy. "Or at least we think it was Grandpa but great-grandma Eustacia mentioned a book, too, but then she disappeared after running off to that carnival but then my grandparents found out about it so we knew they all had to be telling the truth."
Jackie looped her arms around his neck, settled where she was. "What about her, your grandmother?"
Momentary silence, Riley's palms shifting oddly across her back. "Mathematician," he finally explained, tone suggesting that someone hadn't paid the woman in question the proper respect at the some point in the past and that it was a grudge he was holding onto. "German Jew, only member of her family to make it over." A thumb fiddled with one of her belt loops, features torn between insecurity and stubbornness as Riley gazed at her jaw. "Wrote a bunch of books about math and still complains that I still don't have a nice Jewish girlfriend."
Which explained a lot.
Riley was more agnostic than anything else, a fact she had learned the way she learned that his father was a practicing Buddhist and his cousin apparently "switched religions like shoes" but seemed to think Buddhism and Judaism could "totally work together," a comment Riley had repeated with a frown that suggested he had no idea what the hell she was talking about.
"Was she okay with your father?"
"More… okay with her daughter being happy. And he jumped through the usual rings we put people through when they decide they're good enough to marry into the kook clan," he explained with an odd tone of pride, and she smiled a little like a dope and didn't really care.
"I want to meet her," she decided, and felt him grin into her neck. "Sounds like a genius." His muscles were loose under her fingers, his body relaxed. "What about Area 51?" she prodded, badly wanting more information and just as badly wanting to destroy the obvious unease he was feeling. "There was a lot in the book that I didn't— What?" she asked, catching his sudden nervousness.
"Uh." There was a longer silence as he drew back, and Riley's expression was once again oddly insecure. "I had a great-aunt who lived in Nevada until she was forcibly sent back to Maine." She stared. He stared back. "Don't look at me like that."
"She lived in Nevada."
"The greatest journalist nobody ever took seriously," he informed her with sudden surety, tone of his voice suggesting that she had opened a can of worms and that he would defend this great-aunt with extreme prejudice. "She was… a lot like our grandfather. All her work went to my mom and aunt when she died, and I got most of it a while ago." When she stared, honestly curious, he explained, "A lot of the book actually came from them, their work."
"Seriously." Off his glance, wary but defiant— "Holy crap, Riley, your family is awesome."
Riley just stared at her, something in his face seeming to crack in confusion.
"Your family is iawesome/i!" she blurted without much shame at all, and that was that.
Jackie ihad/i to meet these people.
After they're still trying to pretend they're not spending pretty much every weekend together now: "I've never met anyone so picky."
Jackie just laughed at him as she mixed the runny yolk of her egg into the syrup dripping off the pancakes, and only felt a little guilty at the way Riley looked anywhere but at her plate for a couple seconds.
"You need to stop cooking them like this if it causes you so many problems."
"That's how you like them," Riley replied and there it was, that jagged little burst of heat inside her.
Because this guy from Maine was sometimes caring to a fault, and she half-worried about it and half-basked in the sharp way he watched the little things she did that few people in her life knew even if she mentions them aloud all the time. He figured things out, was the kind of guy who went digging because he was bored and hyper, and she'd never say it but he was starting to remind her of an overexcited dog of some kind—
A knock, so sharp and sudden that she jumped and almost dropped egg down her top.
Riley looked— mildly confused, and a little excited, and also... nervous.
He was halfway to his feet when the knock came again, louder and startlingly demanding. "I'm coming," Riley shouted but the knocking started up again and didn't stop this time, a neurotically quick rapping that made Jackie raise her eyebrows in surprise. "I'm coming—"
A second voice, as soon as the door opens: "Oh good, you're home."
Jackie frowned, leaning forward on the couch to try to see the front door, and finally made out an older-looking man— oh shit, it's Ben Gates—
"I'm a little..." Riley tilted his head almost comically towards the couch. "Busy..."
"Yeah, that's okay, it's okay," as Gates stepped past him and continued to be seemingly unaware of her at all, "but I need you to help me with this, Abigail's threatening to change the locks again—"
Riley's voice notched up, a little more annoyed, but his expression for a moment seemed nervous as he threw a glance over at her, hastily looked away like he was embarrassed by something. "Ben—"
"—and I can't work at my father's house, he and my mom are trying to redesign the cabinets, and you know how they get, she wants tan and he wants tan but he keeps calling it light brown so they keep—" The man was now heading towards the kitchen looking right at home. "I'll pay for pizza tonight, what do you think—"
"Oh my god," Riley blurted with a desperation that is a little unsettling, grabbing his friend and swinging him around to face the couch where Jackie watched with an overly-pleasant smile. "I'm with someone."
The silence that followed was... confusing to say the least, only got more confusing as Benjamin Franklin Gates stared at her, stared some more, blinked and looked... confused. "I..." he said slowly, and Jackie had the feeling that he was working extremely hard to process what he'd just walked into. "... see."
"Hi," she greeted slowly, pushing carefully to her feet and adjusting the pajamas she was still wearing from their sleepover this week. "I only saw you once before, I'm—"
He made her name sound... weird.
"Jackie," she corrected easily. "You can call me Jackie, only my mom calls me Jacqueline."
Gates stared at her, blinked slowly, and finally looked over towards Riley. "You didn't tell me you two... were..." He stopped, glanced at her again, and then turned his attention back to Riley. "You didn't tell me."
"Yes, I did."
"No, you didn't," and there was an edge to Gates' voice, something thin and a little frantic.
"I left you a voicemail—"
"A voicemail isn't telling me—"
"You wouldn't pick up the phone!" Riley bit back and now Jackie was a lot less amused because this was the first time she'd heard Riley sound so genuinely angry— no, pissed-off, he was pissed-off, and it was a hell of a shock to hear. "You never pick up the phone when I call so I leave you voicemails—"
"This isn't a leave-a-voicemail kind of a life change, Riley—"
"This isn't a 'life change,' Ben, we're dating—"
"Um," Jackie said, and then Gates blurted— "Don't you think this is a little quick?!"
Riley's head snap was impressive, if not downright intimidating. "Uh, we're not moving in together, Ben, we're dating, and I tried to tell you about it and you were too busy— you're always too busy—"
"It's a little quick!" This came out an almost-shout, like Riley wasn't listening.
"Oh my god," Riley breathed and with a horrified and humiliated look towards her, grabbed his friend and hauled them both bodily out of his apartment, closing the door behind them. Jackie had a moment to blink, take a step forward to follow— and then yelling.
She couldn't make out the words, could only stand there in shock and listen to the two fully-grown men (friends, Riley always insisted, and he talked about Ben all the time, shared stories of his best friend from the night they'd met) argue just outside her new boyfriend's apartment like two angry ten year old boys.
"— you don't even know her!"
"— should be happy for me—"
Maybe she should—
"—ignoring your responsibilities!"
"—happy for you with Abigail—"
Holy god, Jackie decided, and finally understood what Riley had meant when he'd admitted those few times that his best friend was a bit of a—
"—can't you just be happy for me?!"
"—don't even know this girl—"
Jackie decided that Ben Gates was a nice guy when he wasn't being completely self-obsessed— and then the shouting stops— the door jerked open and Riley stepped in, looking upset and sad and then panicked when he realized she was staring at him expectantly.
"Um," he said, and seemed so strangely despondent that she moved forward to lift her arms around him in a careful hug, draws back and smiles as calmly as possible.
"He's very... intense."
"Yeah," he said warily, and looked like something horrible was going to happen. "That's... that's Ben, that's..."
My best friend.
"I like him," Jackie offered carefully, and then: "When do I get to meet his girlfriend?"
notes: parts will appear as vignettes. sorry, guys.