Maybe one day he'll be back, Jax thinks to himself as he walks away from the Waverider, but right now, he can't face the ghost on the ship. The fight against the Vikings had been a distraction, and a good one, but he knows that every time he steps into the field with the Legends, he won't be able to stop looking for Gray at his side.
What he told Sara was the truth: he would never have been able to move on if he'd stayed. The Legends are still his family, but the Waverider can't be his home. Not with Gray's ghost hiding around every corner. His room, his lab, the kitchen and the bridge, the library and the med bay… Jax would never have been able to stop looking.
In the crisp clean night air of Central City, walking away from the home he'd spent the last two years of his life in, Jax feels alive in a way he hasn't since Gray's death.
Except… no, that's not quite right. There's still a heavy feeling in his gut and a gaping hole in his heart. He still searches mentally for emotions he'll never feel again, the consequences of a psychic connection torn in two. Gray's death is… it's not a weight dragging him down, not a burden, but it's heavy nevertheless. It's solid, too real, almost.
But despite the heaviness in his soul, leaving the Waverider behind still lifts a weight off his shoulders, and Jax doesn't even care that he's on the outskirts of Central City, miles from any place he might call home (his mom's house, Gray's place, even STAR Labs). Right now, he just needs to… to walk away. Needs the physicality of leaving his old life behind.
On a crisp December night in the year 2017, with the stars twinkling overhead and the ground solid beneath his feet, Jax walks away from Sara, from Nate and Ray, Amaya and Zari, Mick. From Leo and Gideon, from the Waverider and time travel. From anachronisms and Damian Darhk, from Mallus and the Time Bureau.
But not from Gray. Jax will carry Gray with him for the rest of his life, the way Gray had carried Ronnie, the way his mother carries his father. The way any loved one left behind keeps a piece of their partner with them.
Jax walks away from life as a Legend, but, he thinks to himself as he does so, there's more than one way to be a hero.
On a crisp December night, Jax walks and walks and walks, breathing in the fresh air, letting the silent tears flow down his face as he mourns a man he'd grown to love in a way he'd never known before. But he's not walking away from something, not really, he's walking towards something else.
Jax sleeps at his mother's house the next night, after he finally makes it home. He puts some effort into his relationship with her, helps with the cleaning and the cooking and the laundry, but he knows he's not staying. He needs a fresh start.
But first he just… wants a little time. Wants to mourn. He doesn't have a car anymore, so he takes three buses to get to the cemetery they buried Gray in, three days after he left the Waverider behind. For an hour, maybe two, Jax just sits, and talks. He tells Gray how the Legends are handling his death, talks about trying to save him, muses on his own plans for the future. He cries again too, silently, choking as he speaks. Sometimes, he thinks the tears will never stop, though his mom assures him that one day they will.
When he leaves the cemetery, he heads for Gray's house. Lily's not there, she and little Ronnie have been staying with her boyfriend since the birth, but Clarissa lets him in with a faint smile and a tight hug. She's coping by keeping herself busy, so Jax doesn't insist on doing any chores (on taking her distractions from her), but he helps her cook dinner that night, and they eat it together at the dining room table, sharing stories of Gray between their laughter and their tears.
She hugs him again as he leaves, and promises he's welcome anytime. Despite the fact that he's not Jewish, Jax promises in return that he'll be around for the Hanukkah celebrations that year, which start in a few days.
At his childhood home, Jax lies awake at night for hours until he drifts off, and then starts the day all over again.
Jax lets himself wallow, but only for a few days. He'd meant what he said to Sara, about starting a new adventure. He goes back to Hudson University, re-applying for the spring semester, and gets a job at a mechanic shop near campus.
When he tells his mom he's leaving, she hugs him tight, kisses his forehead, and wishes him the best of luck. Her smile is sad but fond, and she helps him pack when he finds an apartment.
Back when the Legends had split the first time, and Rip had taken their time ship, Jax had been itching to get back out there, to travel to different time periods and save lives. Jax feels the same drive to help people inside him now, but it's not nearly so reckless. The little things matter too now, and working on cars again isn't nearly as boring as it had been before.
And thinking of Rip… Jax doesn't know if their former captain knows about Gray, but it's not his job to tell him. On the other hand…
He pulls out his phone, and locates a number he hasn't called in a while. Kendra and Carter have settled into their life in St. Roch, but they still deserve to know.
Managing college and work and having enough money for food and rent is a challenge, but Jax was a time traveler, once. He's fought immortal tyrants and evil magicians, speedsters and ninjas. He's seen so much of history, and tackled challenges most people his age couldn't dream of. He's lost two fathers, and gained two families.
The solidity of life as a college student is reassuring, after Gray's death, and the challenges are nothing, after the life he's lived. (You're only twenty-three, he thinks to himself after that thought, but most days, he feels much older.)
He doesn't really talk to other people, in the beginning, keeps to himself. But he's not isolated. He babysits Ronnie whenever Lily asks him to, has dinner with Clarissa on Saturday nights and with his mother on Sundays. Kendra comes up to visit once, crashing on his couch in his tiny apartment. She runs a finger over his framed picture of him and Gray, and he pretends not to see her tears when he takes her to the cemetery.
He talks to Cisco and Caitlin on occasion too – Caitlin comes for dinner on Saturday nights with Clarissa from time to time, and the three of them, each a partner to one half of Firestorm in one way or another, try to fill the holes in their hearts. When Jax has trouble with his homework, he knows he can text Cisco without judgement, and when Cisco's busy, sometimes he texts Wally West instead.
The guys (and girl) at the shop are friendly, and the kids in his classes are nice enough, but Jax isn't looking for a person to fill in for his missing family, he just wants something to do.
So he learns during the day and works during the night, meets with his families on weekend nights and volunteers at a homeless shelter on weekend afternoons. (Friday nights are reserved for Gray, and Jax's weekly visits to the cemetery.)
(And the early mornings seemed to be reserved for waking up from his many nightmares: Russian scientists and Time Masters; the nuclear explosions that result when he leaves Gray behind; Nazis, and the terrible conditions they'd seen on Earth-X. Gray's blood on his hands. Jax relives their worst missions over and over in his dreams, and it's not always Gray who dies. Sometimes, there are still black holes and army generals in his nightmares, and sometimes, though he knows he shouldn't, Jax wishes for those particular terrors to fill his dreams, because they were a part of Gray more than they were ever his, and he wants the old man back in any way the world will give him.)
But time passes, the way Jax knows it must, and he does talk to other people. There's a fight on campus one day, when Jax just happens to be walking past. Without thinking, he throws himself between the two young men (not even adults really, he thinks, but in reality he's only a couple of years older than them). It doesn't work, and as one continues to spew hateful comments at the other, Jax ducks under an outstretched arm and knocks him to the ground with one punch. That gains him a bit of notoriety for a while, and Barry gets him out of trouble with the police.
When an angry customer starts ranting at the shop, the guys learn pretty quick to send Jax to deal with him. On one hand, Jax knows how much is wrong with the world, has seen humanity at their worst, and he feels a simmering rage at the fact some idiots seem to take what they have for granted. On the other hand, Jax has dealt with Vandal Savage and Damian Darhk, the arrogant Time Masters and slavers from the civil war. A little anger means nothing to him.
Truthfully, Jax is… calmer, with Gray gone. Not content, never content, not with the hole in his heart that he knows will never fully disappear, but… settled. Aware of who he is and what he wants. He is Jefferson Jackson, Legend, half of Firestorm, time traveler, hero, football star, engineering student. He wants to help people, and he wants to be kind, and he wants to live the kind of life that would make any father proud.
(But there's no doubt as to that. Jax knows with certainty, because he'd known Gray in a way he would never know anyone ever again, that the old man would be proud of him regardless.)
He'd thought, after losing Gray, that maybe he'd lose himself as well, but the opposite seems to be true. Jax wallows and grieves and mourns, but he doesn't disappear, doesn't retreat or withdraw or pull back in on himself. Instead he steps forward, and tries to make a difference.
But it's not just random fights and angry customers that draw peoples' eyes to the twenty-three-year-old who seems much older. (It is his kindness and his sad smile and his willingness to help whoever needs it.)
He carves a new life for himself, and there's something refreshing about living in a world that doesn't know what he's lost, that doesn't ask why he's grieving, that doesn't try to get him to open up. (There's something refreshing about living in a world that doesn't tempt him to just say screw time, and bring Gray back regardless of the consequences. Jax might have never followed through, but at least it's no longer an option.) And on the days he misses Martin almost too much for him to bear it alone, he doesn't have to. Clarissa and Caitlin and Cisco and Lily are always there, even if all they can offer is their own tears in return.
He starts hanging out with a woman who volunteers at the homeless shelter with him, and throws a football around sometimes with the guys from the shop.
He's still Jax, still friendly and fun loving, even if half of him is missing.
At office hours one day, Jax spots an award on his teacher's wall.
"Gray had one of these," he says without thinking.
"Gray?" the woman asks.
"Oh, sorry," Jax turns to her, and he doesn't even tear up at the mention of the professor (the only professor – Jax calls his teachers Doctor, and nothing more), "Professor Martin Stein."
The woman lights up. "You knew Dr. Stein?"
Jax smiles sadly, and doesn't mention how he'd loved the man like a father, or how he eats dinner with his wife on the weekends, or how he babysits his grandson every now and again. "Yeah," he says, "friend of the family." It's not quite the truth, but it's not really a lie.
The casual comment earns him a mentor of sorts, but thankfully they talk more about science than Gray.
But Jax is still a Legend, whatever he's doing with his life. He scribbles time travel equations on the margins of his notebooks, and dreams of an endless green vortex. He helps the Flash's team out from time to time, and sometimes, underneath a car, he sees nothing but the Waverider.
He knows strange facts about history, a random assortment of trivia from a random assortment of eras. He's dealt with ninjas and pirates and cowboys. The old west and the far future. There isn't much in the life of a college student that can phase him – at least, not on his good days.
On his bad days, Jax collapses at the drop of a hat: at a few lines of one of Gray's favorite songs, at the grapefruits on sale at the supermarket, at an equation scribbled down by his teachers, at a mention of the moon landing, of all things.
The bad days start to get few and father between though, so at least there's that. In the meantime, certain aspects of his classes are easier than others, things he shouldn't be so knowledgeable on: the basics trip him up sometimes, but Jax knows more about time travel physics and nuclear transmutation than most experts from the era.
Jax walks Lily down the aisle when she gets married. It's strange, because Jewish tradition dictates that both parents accompany their children, but Lily asks, and Jax can't say no. With Clarissa on one side of her, and Jax on the other, Lily looks stunning in her white dress and veil, but all three of them are aware of the gaping hole of Gray's absence.
Jax gets a more than a few looks as well, from those in the crowd who have no idea of who he is, or what his relationship with Gray had been, but he doesn't care. He's going to do right by Gray's family, his family, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
And it doesn't matter that Gray had been like a father to him, making Lily something of a sister: a piece of the old man lives on in Jax in a way it can't in anyone else, simply because of how deeply they had been connected. Jax isn't a stand in for Lily's father, but no one who knows about Firestorm argues that he doesn't hold the biggest piece of the man left in the world.
Gray'd loved his wife and daughter with all his heart, poured his soul into his relationships with them, but Jax… Jax had known what he'd felt without trying to. They'd been psychically connected, and that's a bond deeper than anything else Jax has seen throughout Time.
(None of the Legends are there, Jax hasn't seen them, not yet, but Cisco and Caitlin sit side by side on the bride's side, and tears stream down their faces as well, when they see Jax's place in the procession.)
Time passes. He starts sleeping through the nights again, makes friends and joins study groups. He takes summer classes as well though, still trying to keep busy, to occupy himself. Almost a year after returning to Central City, Jax goes on his first date.
In the end, their relationship lasts less than three months. Jax is moving out of the grieving period (he is, he only goes to the cemetery about twice a month these days, rather than once a week), but only because it helps that there's no one in his day to day life who knows about Gray. Jax isn't ready to share, and you can't move forward in a relationship when one of the participants is holding themselves back.
They part amicably, wishing each other well, and still see each other on occasion.
School gets harder, but also, easier, now that Jax is used to the schedule and the note taking and the tests. He gets promoted at the shop, which comes with a much-appreciated salary raise. The holidays pass again, and Jax starts thinking of the people he'd walked away from and the life he'd left behind.
(Jax wonders if he'll fall apart on the anniversary of Gray's death, but he doesn't. He takes off work and school and spends the morning at the soup kitchen, the afternoon at STAR Labs with Caitlin and Cisco, and the evening at Clarissa's house with Lily and her small family. He gets to the cemetery after night falls, and sits down in the grass next to Gray's stone and just talks. He grins through his tears this time, sharing his life with Gray, and leaves with a murmured "Love you Gray". Despite what he'd been expecting, his sleep that night is the best he's had in months.)
He joins a martial arts studio in his spare time, thinking again of the Legends (he's kept in shape, but until then, he'd stepped away from fighting). He's no prodigy, but he gets elevated past the basics pretty quickly, thanks to all the training Sara had given him.
In April of 2019, when the Legends stop by Central City, Jax pays a visit to the Waverider, says his hellos, and does the repairs that are the entire reason the Legends are there at all. His heart clenches at the familiar halls, still far too empty, and his nightmares resurge for three weeks after that, but Jax's glad he hadn't declined the opportunity.
It was good to see everyone again, and good to remember the life he'd once lived (but he's still not sure he can live that life without Gray at his side).
Off the Waverider, back in the normal flow of time, Jax gets to do things he never would have as a Legend. Boring, normal things, sure, but they're things that Jax (as a young adult who'd gone from living with his mother and working on cars, to half on the run in Pittsburgh, to time traveling with assassins and thieves) has never experienced before.
He learns how to cook more than just a few recipes, now that he no longer has a replicator on hand.
He learns how to manage his own place, and what it's like to live alone, responsible for every chore possible. (It's not that he doesn't know how to clean the dishes and do the laundry and take out the trash, he's just never had to do it all before, on top of paying the rent.)
He contacts a couple of his buddies from high school, and learns what it's like to just go out to a bar with old friends and talk about the game that weekend while they catch up on old times. (Except that doesn't quite go how he was picturing it: Jax walks away feeling so much older than his friends, because they're still laughing and joking and growing up while he mourns a man who'd died so Jax could live. And they notice the difference in him now too, but they're good friends, and they don't press.)
He gets his own car, and navigates the challenges of buying insurance.
He has a schedule, and there's a rigidity to his days that would have been confining before, but is instead comforting (and as time passes, his schedule becomes more and more flexible, as Jax learns to relax into the person he's become).
He does what he can to help people, in little ways. Sits down next to a random college student trying to hide his tears; does an extra repair on a struggling mother's car without mentioning or charging for it; mows the lawn for Clarissa, and one of her neighbors, and shovels their sidewalks in the winter. The things that the Legends do are important, as is the Flash's work, and the Green Arrow's, but what Jax does matters too. Saving lives, even one life, is enough, and so is helping those in need.
Jax earns his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in December of 2019, two years after he leaves the Legends. And as he stands there on the stage, diploma in hand, his future is clear in his mind, because despite how much he's lost, he's pretty sure he's got the largest family in the crowd.
His mom and Clarissa sit side by side, Lily and Caitlin next to Clarissa, an aunt and uncle and two of his cousins next to his mom. In the row behind them sit the Legends: Sara, front and center, Nate and Ray, hollering like fools when they hear his name, Amaya, smiling proudly, and Mick, slouched in his seat (but Jax knows he's not sleeping). Even Zari is there, though Jax hadn't really spent much time with her, and she's sitting next to Kendra and Carter, whom Jax kept in touch with.
After the ceremony is over, Jax joins his families. He hugs his mom and Clarissa, thanks Lily and Caitlin and his blood-relatives for coming, and turns toward the Legends.
Sara, grinning madly, steps forward and claps him on the back. "Congratulations!" she says. "Where to next?"
Jax returns her wide grin. "I don't know Captain," he says to her, and the rest of the Legends behind her, "you tell me."
(Jax still craves grapefruit some mornings, still feels an ache in his knees sometimes that has nothing to do with his old football injury. Sometimes he reaches up to adjust glasses he never wore, or tries to grab at a fire in his soul that has long since died. He still misses Gray something fierce, but when he sees the old man's ghost on his ship, it's the sight of the professor smiling proudly at him.
And it is Jax's ship, however long he'd been absent from it. Sara points them forward, and Jax makes them go. He knows the ins and outs of the Waverider better than anyone except perhaps Rip.
He settles back in with the Legends easily, fights by their sides again. No one judges him for his absence, because he is family, and he has come home.
His dreams are no longer just black holes and Nazis, or countless scenarios in which he fails to save his partner. Sometimes now, in his dreams, Firestorm takes to the air once more, whole and content and happy.)
AN: After Crisis on Earth-X, I had this idea that Jax would leave and maybe get his degree or something, like Martin had wanted him to, but I didn't plan on writing it. Then I watched the next episode, and Jax actually left so... I wrote it. It was quickly written though, so I'm not sure how good it is. *shrugs* Let me know what you think.
On an unrelated note, I have a Firestorm AU I'm working on (involving Martin and Ronnie) and for the first time, I'm looking for a beta reader if anyone's interested (though I've never had one before, so I'm not really sure how the process works). Feel free to send me a PM or leave a message on my tumblr (link on my profile).
Thanks for reading!