Eight days later Jack came back, wearing a cocky grin, a pair of black leather trousers, and a snug white shirt. At first they simply stared, unbelieving, not sure if it was really him or some apparition come to haunt them for their past misdeeds.
It was Gwen who broke the silence, stepping forward and reaching out to him, her dark eyes wide as she touched warm skin. "Jack? Is it really you?"
"In the flesh," he grinned. "Did’ja miss me?"
She gave a wordless cry and enveloped him in a hug, Tosh joining her to sandwich Jack between them, the Asian woman babbling unintelligible words as she wept.
"You next, Tea-boy?" Owen asked, shrugging when he shook his head, then crossing the distance to the small grouping and adding his voice to the clamor.
Over their heads, Jack glanced at him, his eyes narrowing slightly in an unasked question, and then he nodded, the act a strange parody of his return to the Hub after Lisa’s death. Jack grinned and nodded back before allowing the others to draw him into a rapid-fire question and answer session regarding where he had been and what had happened.
The act of brewing up a fresh pot of coffee gave him something to focus on, and he took comfort in the simple act of measuring and pouring, of setting mugs on a tray and ensuring that the sugar and cream were fresh and topped off. It was easier to look at the wall than the others’ faces, to see the smiles that he feared would cause his face to fracture if he even attempted it.
Understanding why Jack had left had been simple, if painful; dealing with his return brought with it a myriad of other questions, most revolving around the fact that he wasn’t sure what he would do if it happened again. Granted, the chance of those precise events occurring a second time was miniscule, and they all liked to think they were wiser when it came to dealing with the Rift, but there were certainties in their lives, of that he was sure.
The babble of conversation was almost soothing if he didn’t concentrate on the words, though from time to time single ones cut through the blanket of numbness to stab at him, but he slowly blocked them out, losing himself in the blank grey ocean of the wall in front of him, trying to find that place inside of him that wasn’t screaming in some mad combination of joy and terror.
The soft pressure of a hand on his shoulder brought with it a return to reality, and he blinked as he was bodily turned, grey nothingness resolving into familiar features. "Did you find the answers you needed?" The question spilled from his treacherous lips without thought, born of the conversations the four of them had had as they tried to paste together the pieces of themselves and the operation.
"Some of them," Jack allowed, one corner of his mouth curving up in a smile of fond remembrance.
"And the rest?"
"They’ll come in time. Here and now is where I need to be."
He nodded at that and was proud of the fact that he managed a smile. "Then welcome back, Captain."
"Actually," Jack murmured as he enfolded him into a hug that felt and smelled both familiar and alien. "I prefer ‘welcome home’."
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