Taste and Memory

~~~

People -- human people -- are not a huge mystery to Jack. He's spent a great deal of his lifetime with other humans, and for the last several (too many) years, he's been living on Earth in a single century, surrounded by them.

He's met and slept with a variety of people, and he's known enough otherwise that he has a good idea of every possible type of human that life can produce. He's met happy, healthy, wholesome people. He's had tea and knife-throwing contests with Zen masters who only had one toe left in the world the rest of them shared. He's met unhappy, broken, and wandering people; he's met psychopaths and psychos and psychics; he's had lunch with a tyrant so evil he isn't sure the word quite means what it should. He's danced with a princess so beautiful that he still doesn't know if she was real or a dream.

People, individual people, can still surprise him, but not in the ways that show who they are. He knows people, and most of the time that fact doesn't bother him.

Occasionally he wishes he didn't know so much. Occasionally he wishes he knew more.

He can't decide which this is: sitting in a bar somewhere in the middle of the North American continent, with accents that remind him of things he doesn't want to know. There's a smell on the air that he knows intimately well: testosterone and gun oil. Men and women are gathered at tables and the bar, some talking quietly to their companions and others sitting alone or just as well as. Drinking cheap, watered down beer that makes Jack long for the distant shores of Makalia and its green cava grains. Beer like none Jack has found elsewhere -- disgusting taste and a wicked hangover that lasts for a week or until you got drunk again.

But he suffered the stuff through the Academy, and he remembers the taste of freedom being slowly tied to duty, and the laughter of companions he will never see again. Nostalgia doesn't grip him often, but here, surrounded by people he knows inside and out without speaking a word to any of them, he finds himself wishing he had a way back.

Jack walks up to the bar and gives the bartender a smile; she returns it like he expected, the tired and experienced smile of a woman who knows his type as well as he knows hers. He could flatter his way around that smile if he wanted, but he gets the impression she'd just as soon toss him out on his ass than let him charm her. Instead, he orders a beer and asks about food. She gives him the rundown of a short menu consisting mainly of sandwiches or chili.

He opts for a sandwich and takes his glass of American beer and turns to look over the crowd. They're ignoring him, but he knows they have checked him over from head to toe. He dressed carefully, leaving his blaster tucked in a pocket that truly wouldn't show, and schooling his voice back to the featureless one he'd learnt way back when.

Gwen had laughed for a week when she'd heard him slip momentarily into a Welsh drawl.

When his sandwich arrives, Jack gives the bartender a more-friendly and less-flirtatious nod and turns his attention, for the moment, to his dinner.

He doesn't know how long he'll have to wait, but Jack has become an expert at many things, and waiting is nowhere near the most difficult of them.

There's no way for him to know how long it will be; he took a fortnight holiday from Torchwood, though a single phone call will get him back within hours. But he's fairly sure they can handle things -- and really, he finds he doesn't much care if things go mildly wrong. They always go wrong, and Jack has spent too much time looking for other things to worry about the state of the universe today.

He's here because of a phone call, and because of the state of the universe, and the threat of the world ending and the real reason was just the soft, exhausted voice that echoed the one in his memories. He'd not missed how defeated those words had been, asking him to please come -- not that he would have tried hard to refuse.

But the message had come, and Jack had more or less immediately found himself on a plane and renting a car and sitting in a bar in the middle of somewhere, drinking a beer and eating a sandwich that was better than he would have predicted.

He was ready to wait for as long as he could, but he really was rather surprised when, half an hour later, the door swung open and he walked in.

Jack blinked, and looked. Nothing there to surprise him -- the eyes, the tight, wary stance, the lean, hard muscles underneath a leather jacket that he recognised instantly.

Jack slipped off his stool and walked over, eyes flicking as another man walked in, towering over the other but standing close and protectively as Jack approached. Sam, he realised. Jack just walked up and held out a hand, and one more second he waited.

Then Dean slipped past his hand and grabbed him in a hug, ignoring the confused noise from his brother. Jack pulled him in, buried his face in that leather -- how it could still smell of him, he didn't know.

"I'm sorry," Dean suddenly said, and his voice broke just barely, the softest noise that Jack heard only because his voice was so familiar.

Jack nodded, brushing his hand across the arm of the leather coat. His fingers curled in a fold at the elbow, and Dean's confused look gave way quickly to something else.

He could remember that day, so clearly. Laughing, half-drunk on beer brewed from things he didn't want to know. Arms slung over each other's shoulders, weaving back and forth as they left the bar. The leather jacket was the only thing Jack could keep a grip on as he stumbled in the dirt.

The smell of it is still there, the dirt and sweat and drink. It brings to mind the soft, tender noises as they made love, slipping that jacket from shoulders and arms that he caressed and kissed and was held down by. The touch of hands that Jack could recall so vividly, even now, rough, strong hands, and a gruff voice that whispered in his ear.

He remembers the tears, mostly unshed, as they parted. Going home to marry his sweetheart, raise a family. Leave the war behind.

Jack pulls his hand away from John's jacket, and looks his son in the eye. "You look so much like him," he says, and Dean only nods. Then Dean hands him a small vial, looped with a chain. Inside is a dusting of ashes, and Jack knows. He closes his hand around it, and after a moment, he slips it into his pocket.

the end