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15 April 2004 @ 20:34
 

For the second night in a row, Diane was lying awake in bed, unable to sleep.

There had, of course, been life before Jake.

Three years at the NSA, working alongside a boss who at best treated her like an underling and at worst, some sorority girl he'd been saddled with who was deserving of every verbal insult he could muster. She remembered when she'd first been recruited, while still working at her doctorate in molecular biology and nanotech at MIT. She just remembered men and women in crisp suits with passion in their eyes as they explained to her how the NSA had the largest research budget of any branch of the government—over $300 million a year, just in DoD funds earmarked for research. Everything that followed after that was a blur of smiles and handshakes and a stack of legal forms three inches thick, swearing her to silence in order to secure her clearance. She hadn't even met Dr. Gage until she'd moved to Alexandria. She'd known who he was, of course. She'd read his work, studied it. She'd been beside herself with excitement that had quickly cooled upon actually discovering he was a sexist jerk who left three-day old mugs of coffee all over his lab, treated his research assistants like slaves, and chewed the ends of pencils like a ten year old.

And then there was the fact that working in the Research & Development sector of the NSA meant she really couldn't quite have the kind of social life her peers had. When she attended conferences, she wasn't allowed to even disclose which branch of the government she worked for. When her friends and family asked her what she did for a living, all she could say was "research."

But the research... the research was worth it. The idea that there even was Biomedical Research being done that wasn't constrained by the need for ASBREM Committee approval would have horrified or terrified some of her more idealistic (and naïve) classmates from med school. But she hadn't cared. Gage's project had gone far outside the merely theoretical, into practical applications that amazed and astounded her. She'd always assumed while she'd been working on her doctorate they were at least decade away from functioning "nano-assemblers." It seemed practically science fiction. Yet her first two months on the project, she'd learned Gage was two years into trials with mice and rabbits.

She'd met the army of programmers whose job it was to write the code which actually told the assemblers how to construct the nanites—and she'd spent the first two years working on simply how to get the code to be transmitted to the microscopic little buggers intact. The challenge had kept her enthralled to the point where her complete and utter lack of a social life outside of work had really ceased to bother her. While other young women her age were dating, falling in love, getting married and starting families, Diane had been up to her eyebrows in the kind of biomedical research that was going to hugely benefit all of mankind. That fact alone had kept her warm at night for a good long while.

But it wasn't quite feeling like enough, the last six months.

As she lay awake in bed that night, listening to traffic sounds outside her windows and watching the shadows cast on her wall by the streetlamps and the trees rustling in the fall breeze, she kept trying to picture what her life would be like without Jake Foley.

No anticipation of his arrival in the mornings for his work-ups, sometimes bearing coffee and bagels from the Dunkin Donuts on the corner across from his apartment, still hot despite the 40 mile commute. No idle chatter as she checked his vitals, or he changed from his button-down shirt into sweats for his work-out, making fun of the late night talk show guests they'd watched the night before in their separate apartments, or catching up on the office gossip of who in Sat Ops was pissed off with whom this week, or who had nailed which bad guy thanks to ECHELON chatter or discovering an heretofore undiscovered encryption key.

No sharing lunch in the canteen, stealing off each other's plates, Jake almost always mocking her obsession with trying to make the perfect salad from a salad bar which had only fake bacon bits and iceberg lettuce. Or her ribbing him about his all-junk-food diet which seemed to consist mainly of burgers, burritos, and pizza, while not so secretly envious of his nanite-enhanced metabolism.

No more Boggle or Scrabble after work, and fighting over whether or not words in Klingon or Elvish would be allowed to count towards the final score. No week-end DVD marathons of old black and white movies she adored, or cheesy sci-fi epics he was always making her sit through. No more late-night phone calls while he was out on a mission, and she was catching up on paperwork in her lab.

No more pretending his X-Box or Playstation addiction was all a part of his training.

No more emailing each other silly chain letters.

She rolled over onto her side, tugging her pillow into a different shape and burying her face in the cotton pillowcase as if that would somehow make sleep come sooner when she knew it wouldn't. She closed her eyes against the tears that suddenly burned behind her eyelids.

No more Jake.




She'd known the lab would be empty when she arrived.

It wasn't unusually for Diane to have already been there, working for hours, before Jake showed up for their regularly scheduled appointment. She usually arrived sometime between six and seven, so she could get an early start before the day got started for everyone else. Fran joked that she shouldn't bother paying rent on her place, since all she ever did was sleep there—and it wouldn't have surprised her one bit if Diane set up a cot in the lab one of these days. Especially considering all the late nights she put in.

She'd know the lab would be empty—but that hadn't stopped her from having visions the entire drive from Alexandria to Ft. Meade of her arriving and finding Jake there waiting for her. That she'd turn the corner and see his dark head bent over the desk, just like always.

Her Jake fix, Fran had called it. And Diane was beginning to admit that her assistant wasn't far off.

As she rounded the corner, there was a tightness in her chest as if she was gripped by hands that were slowly crushing her. She'd known he wouldn't be there—but she had still hoped.

At the sight of the empty lab, the breath she'd been holding came out in a strangled sigh. She hung her jacket up, and slipped on her lab coat. The beakers from last night's "binge" were washed and sitting on the counter. She put them away, then settled into her chair to check her email.

Six messages from her mother from the last two days—she'd promised to read them, but couldn't bring herself to click on them. She had a staff meeting that afternoon, and there were several requests for sign-off on new supplies and equipment.

She stared at the screen, seeing but not really absorbing what was in front of her, and then gave up.

Diane was almost breathless when she reached Sat Ops. Lou and Kyle were in front of Carver's station, the deputy director's back to her as she approached.

"Lou... hey." Diane tried to sound casual as Lou and Kyle closed the files they'd been reading. Lou kept her face blank. "I-I thought that I—I would find Jake here?"

Lou's eyes drifted up to the catwalk, where Skerrit and Warner perched like Huginn and Muninn, grimly watching the tech ops bustling across the crowded floor as they went about their jobs.

"Maybe?" Diane's voice was barely above a whisper.

"You won't," Kyle said as Lou turned away from Diane, casting her eyes to the big board.

It was a dismissal even Diane could understand.

A lump in her throat that threatened to turn to tears, Diane headed towards the door. It slid open just as she approached and she gasped as Jake stepped through it.

"Jake." Her voice was barely above a whisper, and he stopped just short of barrelling right into her. "Hi. You're..." here, she almost said, but stopped herself in time, "late. For your morning work-up."

The tears that had threatened just seconds ago now were on the verge of becoming tears of joy, like she was in a long distance commercial or some other suitably sappy situation. But she couldn't help grinning. Her heart felt like it was going to burst. Sappy or not, that was exactly what it felt like. Her head spun from the sudden reversal—from abject sorrow to a joy so intense it felt like she might shatter.

For his part, Jake reached out and gave her shoulder a squeeze, his eyes shining with what she recognised as hope. He was a completely different person than the Jake Foley who had exited her lab the night before. Something had changed, and she wasn't sure what it was—but whatever it was, she was so glad of it it was almost painful.

"Director Beckett, Agent Duarte," Carver said, and Jake's eyes slid past Diane's, over to Carver's station. "There's something you need to see."

Jake gave Diane's shoulder a quick squeeze before he went over to join Kyle and Lou. She trailed after him, just as Carver put the morning news up on the Big Board.

"In another tragedy for the royal family of Kembu, Prince Malik, last remaining heir to the throne, was killed in a car bombing early this morning. Also killed, an unnamed female companion..."

Diane glanced at Jake, expecting him to be completely shattered. But rather than grief, what she saw was something different. As the newscaster continued, citing the fact that the State Department had opened negotiations with the new regime, it all clicked. Diane's mouth dropped open in shock when she realised that was what was giving Jake hope.

He'd traded his future. Given it to the prince and his girlfriend.

"Why don't we take a walk?" Kyle said quietly to Jake, and Diane followed Lou's gaze to the catwalk where Skerrit had his head bent towards Warner's, their voices too low to carry.

Kyle left, Jake in tow behind him.

"Dr. Hughes?" Lou said, her eyes never leaving the little drama unfolding on the catwalk.

"Yes?"

"Shouldn't you be in the lab?"

This time the dismissal didn't feel as crushing, and Diane practically skipped out of Sat Ops.




Diane could hardly concentrate on her work, and when Jake finally appeared in the lab late that evening, she stood up from her desk so quickly her chair rolled backwards almost two feet. Jake's eyes scanned the room-she didn't need the JMD to tell that he was sweeping for bugs—and he nodded, giving her the all clear.

She threw herself at him, hugging him so tight his breath rushed out with an "oooof."

"God, you have no idea what it was like, seeing you walk through that door this morning," she said, her voice slightly muffled by the fact that her face was buried in his chest, "I thought I'd never see you again."

"Yeah, well—you're stuck with me now, 'cause I gave away my 'get out of jail free' card." She could feel his chuckle more than hear it.

"Don't—don't laugh. Don't laugh about it." Her eyes burned with tears. "Don't even."

"It's okay, Diane—I'm not going anywhere. At least, not for a while."

"Good."

"Are you okay?" he asked as she released him, glancing over his shoulder at the hallway beyond the clear glass doors to make sure no one had happened by to see her little emotional display.

"Yeah." She dashed away tears impatiently. "Yeah, I just, ah... yeah. Sorry. I didn't mean to pounce."

"You can pounce anytime," he said gently, fishing a Kleenex out of his pocket and handing it to her. "I'm resilient. I can take it."

She wiped at her eyes, smudging her glasses in the process. "So, um... how..."

"How'd my day go?" Jake finished for her. "Pretty good. I went to a wedding."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. No fear of public speaking this time—it was pretty quiet. But I think it ranks right up there—better than the last one I went to, even, except for the part where this time, I didn't get to dance with a pretty girl or anything," he added with a wink, and was rewarded with a smile from Diane.

"Do you—do you wanna get out of here? Grab some dinner? Malik took me to a great Moroccan place near campus that I think you'd really like."

"That sounds perfect," she said as she shrugged off her lab coat and grabbed her jacket off the hangar.




"I know it didn't work out the way you'd planned," Diane said as Jake set the Styrofoam container containing the last of the lamb and couscous on her coffee table, "but what you did for Malik and Anna... That was really amazing."

Jake's smile was rueful. "Yeah, well, it woulda been more amazing if it had worked a little better."

"Hey—look at it this way." She raised a brow. "How many agents can say they're on a first name basis with a king and queen?"

"True," Jake admitted which a chuckle, and then grew serious again. "Assuming Malik's able to reclaim his throne."

"He wouldn't be able to do anything if he was dead," Diane reminded him. "You saved his life, Jake."

"I just wish I could have done more."

"You did a lot more than most people would have. And for what it's worth—I know it's scary, knowing that you could end up... you know, five miles underground in a mountain in Colorado." She pushed her glasses back up on her nose, tucking one leg beneath her and turning sideways on the couch to face him. "I mean, knowing that, you still tried to help him. It was just a really good thing. You are one of the good guys. Even if it doesn't feel like it all the time."

"Yeah." He flushed, staring down at his scuffed sneakers. "I'm one of the good guys."

He smiled crookedly, bringing his gaze back to hers.

"You'd come visit me, if they stuck me in Cheyenne Mountain down with the Stargate project, right?"

She smiled and gave his hand a squeeze. "They'd have to keep me out with Uzis."

He looked down at their clasped hands. "Can I ask a question?"

"Sure. I mean, always."

"Yesterday, and the day before—you seemed... okay with me going. I mean, you weren't exactly shoving me out the door or anything—"

She cringed. "That was yesterday. Today's different."

"What's different about today?" he asked, curious. She took a few seconds before replying.

"Jake—whatever you choose, it's your choice. I don't want to stand in the way of anything..."

"But you didn't want me to go," he prompted.

"I really, really didn't want you to go."

"Then why the act?"

"It wasn't—it wasn't an act exactly." Diane frowned, drawing up both legs and wrapping her arms around them. "I mean, you need to do what's best for you. And if what's best for you is to disappear," she shrugged, "then I need to put aside how I might feel about that. Put aside my personal feelings, you know... And let you make your own choice."

Jake eyed her sceptically. "I know it's you talking, but somehow, I'm hearing Lou."

"Yeah, well... the phrase 'united front' was used repeatedly." Diane laughed nervously. "She and Kyle showed up at my apartment Monday. Like, in my apartment when I opened the door. Waiting for me. Kinda freaked me out."

"Yeah. I can see how that would. I do appreciate what she and Kyle tried to do—did. For me. And what you did, too."

"I didn't want you to think that I didn't care, 'cause I did. I mean, I do. Care. I just didn't want that to stop you from... From having a life." She rested her chin on her knees, regarding him seriously. "Jake, I mean it. If this ever gets to be too much for you, don't—don't stay on my account. Not that I think you would, or anything," she said quickly, a blush rising in her cheeks.

Jake suddenly found his shoelaces utterly fascinating.

"Diane... when I thought about leaving. When I sat down, and really thought about it—it wasn't just about my folks and Jerry and Kevin and Darin and Sarah and D.C. and my own name and my own life... I mean, I'd miss being an agent. And Kyle. I'd even miss Lou, I think. Sorta."

He took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh.

"No matter how much running away might seem like the only answer—I'm not sure that this crazy war we're fighting would really be over if I just took off. Warner would still be out there, and at least where I am... At least I can do something.

"And the life I'd be leaving behind... no matter how hard it gets, it's not like it's all bad. Some of the best parts of my life these last few months have been... I guess I just can't picture my life without you anymore. Even stuff like this—simple stuff, like having someone to talk to who understands, knows me better than anybody else, someone I can trust. Ever since this whole thing began, you're the one who's been there for me. Not just... not just as my doctor. But as my friend. I guess it just kinda threw me, you being so... I mean, last night in the lab, when we said good-bye. Leaving you behind was—would be really hard. I didn't realise how hard it would hit me until this morning. The look on your face when I walked through that door.... Diane?"

She suddenly realised that while he was talking, her eyes had drifted closed.

"M'sorry." She covered her mouth as her face was split with a yawn.

"Am I putting you to sleep?" he joked, and she shook her head.

"I, um... I just didn't really sleep the last couple of nights, and the food and the wine..." She sat up straighter, blinking a few times to try and stay focused.

"It's okay. It's been a crazy couple of days. I should probably take off, anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"I haven't exactly gotten a good night's sleep lately either."

She followed him to the hall closet, still stifling yawns despite the fact that it wasn't even ten o'clock yet.

"You'll be on time for your morning work-up?"

"Yes, ma'am. And I'll bring the coffee and doughnuts." Jake winked. "For medicinal purposes."

"God, if I never have cinnamon schnapps again..."

He laughed as he pulled on his jacket, and she gave him a quick hug.

"Thanks," he said into her hair.

"For what?"

"Letting me know I'm not fighting this war alone," he said simply, chin resting on the top of her head for a second before he let her go.

"Any time," she said softly, and closed the door behind him. "Any time."


 
 
 
Bruce d.b.a. Jamesir Bensonmumbktheirregular on 16th April 2004 02:24 (UTC)
Very nicely done. Just left you feedback on ff.net - good stuff!
Angela: smoochiestehshiny on 16th April 2004 05:14 (UTC)
*eyes turn to glitterly, sparkling hearts*

I love.

The episode feels more complete and this is just WOW.

*loves*