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Where'd You Go
Noogie
md123
Title: Where'd you go?
Rating: PG
Word Count: 2,117
Pairing: Jack/Liz
Spoilers: through "Mazel Tov, Dummies"
Summary: Jack retires in 2026.

It was a bland party.

Perhaps all retirement parties were bland, even one for someone who had achieved quite as much as Jack Donaghy had. The hotel banquet hall had been exquisite of course; every detail of the fine European decor was classy, every hors d'oeuvre of impeccable taste. Everyone had been perfectly complementary to the departing boss, the head man.



They should have been: after a decade in the top spot, leading the company from success to success, everyone in that room owed their status to him. But there was something empty in the praise, a certain shallowness in that they only knew the work Jack. Throughout his life, he'd learned to cultivate a personal life, interests that couldn't possibly pad his resume or prove his superiority to other men. These people knew nothing of that Jack. And now that those pursuits were to define him in retirement, they knew nothing of him.

There were people that could have spoken about his other side. Liddy, now 16, knew nothing else. But she was too into her boyfriend, whom Jack hated, to tear herself away for a night, especially to hang out with a bunch of old, rich white guys with the occasional token female. No force on Earth would have dragged her here.

Then there was Tina. Jack's wife was no fan of these kinds of events, even if she hadn't been in Denver taking care of her father after his surgery. She had been a departure for Jack: a bit older and more bookish then his past loves, she was a good complement to his outgoing personality. Pretty in her own, unconventional way, and invariably loyal, Jack knew she would be an excellent companion in his declining years. And yet, he found himself not regretting her absence tonight. He loved her with the easy familiarity of longtime marriage, not intense passion. He missed the thrills of his past loves, even after he accepted how destructive they were for him.

Jack always found it useful to have a few yes-men around. In general, nurturing more independent thinking in his inner circle kept his business sense sharp, but at times you needed a scapegoat, someone to take on the most thankless tasks, and someone you could keep on side with the mere hint that greater things were in store. Louis Velton was one of those people, pathetically clueless as to his role in Jack's universe. Right now he was still praising the old man, locking him into a pointless conversation. The sycophant continued with his own momentum, blissfully unaware that Jack's opinion was simply no longer relevant. To anyone.

Jack excused himself in mid-sentence, and in a state of mild panic forced himself through two service doors, finding himself in a linoleum corridor. It was totally incongruous with the decor in the ballroom. In the harsh fluorescent light, he regarded the doors, still swinging as they restored their equilibrium.

Having broken the conversation, he could go back in there and start again. But to what purpose? His real proteges -- the ones he genuinely groomed for greater things -- had already forgotten about him, astutely preparing themselves for the new regime. He'd trained them well.

Jack suddenly felt overwhelmed with the end of his professional life. He'd felt this once before, at the end of his time with Kabletown. But then there'd been time to pull out of the dive; now, there was only oblivion.

He turned to look at the other end of corridor, the door with the unblinking exit sign above it. It led to the street and freedom. He pushed it open, absorbing the blast of frigid December air, and hopped down a couple of steps to the sidewalk. It was a mistake; he was not as young as he used to be, and he stumbled on to the concrete, caught by his hands and knees from doing a faceplant.

Feeling somewhat humiliated, he became aware that someone was standing before him. He looked up and froze.

For there, stopped on the sidewalk and dressed like she had somewhere to be, was Liz Lemon.

*****

Liz, before that moment, had been rehearsing what to say. For a week she'd planned to crash Jack's retirement party. Fear, and uncertainty about what to do when she got there, had kept her in her apartment well past the point of being fashionably late. She considered that as an excuse to not go at all, but a final dollop of resolve forced her out the door at the last possible moment.

She had decided to go to the party to bury the hatchet. Well, she didn't know if there was a hatchet, but it was the only logical explanation for what had happened.

Jack had been the only "work husband" she'd ever had. Over seven years, they'd probably met outside of work a few dozen times at most, but they'd had daily contact at the office, where their relationship went many places that she would have once considered inappropriate. When Jack left NBC, she realized she'd have to make an effort to keep him in her life. She called him and they arranged to meet for dinner, but the date kept slipping. After nine months of extended regrets from Jack, and a promise to do it later, Liz gave up.

In the mid-21st Century, of course, Liz wouldn't lose track of him completely. Through the business news and his YouFace page, she'd been able to follow the basic contours of his life, both in his career and his marriage six years ago. She presumed that he was also aware of her basics: the daughter she'd given birth to "just before the store closed," as she liked to say; the second daughter that she and Criss later adopted from China; and her success as a screenwriter and producer.

On the way downtown in the cab, she'd rehearsed how she would act, what she would say. She vacillated between cool, open and friendly, or somewhat hostile. Would her very presence there be enough a concession to him? Regardless, she should open with something witty. She's a comedy writer; that should be easy enough.

Of course all that planning fell away with Jack's surprise entrance.

"Hey, Jack."

Nerds.

*********

In the moment, everything she wanted to say pushed to come out all at once: for all her success and happiness, there'ds been a hole in her life for fourteen years. Criss was a wonderful husband, but she was clearly the brains in the household, it scared her sometimes, and she didn't have anyone to go to for advice.

"Aren't you going to give me a hand, Lemon?"

"What?"

"Help me up."

Liz snapped back into the present. "Of course." Jack was by no means decrepit; it was just that at 68, getting all the way to standing cout be a bit of a chore.

She offered her hand and pulled him up.

Liz flashed back to when he helped her up, sprawled all over a stage in a wedding dress. She suppressed it.

Jack dusted himself off. Liz just stood there, gawking at him. Beyond the cab ride, she'd thought about what to say to him in this moment for a long time. Her speech had evolved over the years, of course, but now, she was speechless.

He looked pretty good.

"Did you come by just to watch me embarrass myself?" There was a hurt beyond the hostility in Jack's voice, one that Liz thought was beyond the simple humiliation of falling down like an old man.

"No, I.... I came to see you."

Jack looked at her, assuming there was something more to the sentence.

"To see you at your retirement party."

"Well, you're too late. You just caught me leaving."

This isn't going well at all, Liz thought. The last time they'd met face-to-face, as he left 30 Rock for the last time all those years ago, he'd seemed oddly sad and distant toward her. Over the years, that seemed to have hardened into hostility.

Liz felt a certain heaviness in her heart. She'd made the effort, once again, and had been rebuffed. It was time to go home and retire to a carton of ice cream. But no. She'd come this far.

"Let me buy you a cup of coffee. Please."

Something in Jack's expression softened.

"I suppose I can spare a few minutes."

Jack gestured with his hand to a place across the street, and Liz wordlessly followed.

"So how are Criss and the kids?"

"They're good. Alice just started high school, which seems scary, but.."

"It is scary, Lemon."

"Tell me it gets better."

He glanced sideways at her as they walked. "A little. But I'm only halfway through it with Liddy myself."

The coffee shop was empty, so they got their drinks quickly. Liz's fingers appreciated the warmth of the cup.

"So how's your wife?"

"Well. She's at her parents' in Colorado right now."

"You know, I've never met her! What's Tina like?"

"You'd like her. She's accomplished, of course, but also funny and weird."

Liz nodded. "Then we should do that sometime."

Jack smiled weakly, his eyes fixed on hers. There was an uncomfortable silence.

She swallowed hard.

"I miss you, Jack." Her voice wavered as she said his name.

Jack looked stricken for a moment. Softly, he replied.

"I miss you too."

"What happened to us?"

Jack thought for a moment, as if he was carefully weighing what to share. He answered with as even a tone as he could muster.

"I needed a break. At NBC I felt like my life had stagnated, like I coudn't accomplish anything I wanted as long as I stayed there. So I cut myself off from that life entirely."

"Was it really that bad?"

"The last few months or so, definitely. Doors were closing all around me."

A feeling of sadness and lost opportunity welled up within Liz. A decade of distance -- and of wisdom -- had given her a little more insight, an insight that she felt more sure of now.

"Why didn't you ever tell me you were in love with me?"

***********

Jack erupted in fake laughter. "Please, Lemon. Don't flatter yourself."

She just looked at him with concern. His smile melted away and he took a sip of his coffee.

Jack studied Lemon's face for a moment. His charade didn't seem to be working. Not this time.

He studied the carpet. "Because you never saw me that way."

Lemon made that face she always made when she pitied him. From anyone else, the sight would revolt him, but Its familiarity comforted him. She put her hand on his wrist and lightly caressed it.

"It never even occurred to me. That there was a possibility."

He raised his glance to hers. There was still an open wound in those eyes. Jack was unused to rejection, even if it had occurred entirely in his own mind.

Liz thought she should say something. She decided to ask the question that she wanted to, the one she'd come here for. "What do I have to do to make you come back to me?"

Jack sighed and looked at her longingly. "Walk me home."

*************

It was only about 25 blocks. After a near miss between Liz and a taxi, Jack offered his hand and she took it. As they strolled hand in hand, the weight that had crushed the last decade plus slipped away, and they eased back into a mode of easy conversation, warmth, and light laughter.

After a too-short walk that reminded both of them what they'd missed, it was time to part.

"Lemon, would you like to come upstairs for a bit?"

It was so nonchalant that Liz wondered if it meant what she thought it could, what it had to. He'd mentioned his wife was out of town.

"Oh, Jack, I don't really think I should--"

As she spoke, Liz detected a suppressed look of defeat. It was the kind of expression only a few people would have picked up. As Liz was someone who'd harbored her share of crushes in her time, it occurred to her that he'd probably rehearsed in his mind a moment like this for many of the years they'd been together, yet more in the years since, only to have it so carelessly squashed...

And what seemed absolutely unthinkable a moment ago suddenly possible and necessary and desirable. She regretted that it wasn't Leap Day; that would have given her a much better excuse to do what she was feeling a sudden urge to do, something which compelled her. Not to start something new, but to restore what was before, and also (a bit) just to see.

Jack was starting to look at her funny, as her sentence had trailed off into a succession of unintelligible noises.

"You know what? Sure. Let's do it."

"Let's go upstairs," she corrected herself, so as to not be too explicit.

Jack smiled that warm smile of his, and offered his elbow.

There would be a special kind of personal hell tomorrow. But tonight would be about disposing of long-held regrets.

END



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Yay new fic! *happy*

There are a lot of fics out there where Jack and Liz don't see each other for a long time and they make me indescribably sad, but in a good way.

Also, Jack/Liz fics make me a big fan of adultery...

I'm sad to say that if Jack really has been harboring something for Liz all along, the setup I wrote here is really plausible, although the ending probably isn't.

Ha, I couldn't agree more with the above comment. Jack/Liz is the only time I am ever in favor of adultery in any form.

Yay for new fic! Favorite line:

It was time to go home and retire to a carton of ice cream. But no. She'd come this far.

Go, Lemon.

I'm glad this worked for you guys. I got up to the "why didn't you tell me you were in love with me" and then got stuck on how to end it for a long time.

I heard that :) <3

(Unfortunately, I am still too traumatised by my ship's murder to read anything "30 Rock" related. I admire you persisting with it tho against all odds.)

I guess this comment is related to my next post?

As someone who came into this habit mid-5th season, where the possibility was already pretty much dead, I'm used to having no hope. In fact, if I thought Tina was going to give us a Jack/Liz ending, I'd be less inclined to write these and see what they came up with.

Ugh, so sad. But this was a great read, thank you!

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