Author's Note: To Zaedah. Old friend, if you are reading this, may John replace the void that Miles' character left. ;)


Part One


i

Michaelson was a real annoying sonofabitch that was better left ignored in Jenna's most humble of opinions, but when he mumbled a statement near the coffee pot that sounded like it might have ended in a question mark, she looked up from the Newsweek and raised one of her perfectly manicured eyebrows.

"Talk around your breakfast, John, not through it."

He gave her a biteme smile and swallowed his drink, "Coffee, I'll have you know, is not a real breakfast."

"About as real as your accent."

"Oh, lay off already. I've told you, I'm half-Welsh, not all-English with a cocked accent."

When he picked at his teeth and took a seat across from her, Jenna did her honest-to-god best to ignore his existence, but that was like pretending you couldn't hear the fog-horn being blasted in your ear.

"Look, Jen-na. What I was saying was do you reckon we're going to have to do all the paperwork again? Connor's been up in arms about my expense reports all week."

"That's because you haven't done them."

"Have too!"

"On bits of dirty napkins. I don't know what backward place they pulled you out of, but we've got rules here. And paper."

"Yeah, and I follow them."

Jenna snorted, rolled her eyes and was about to comment on the pathologist's inability to comprehend the basic tenets of the NIH's vast rule book let alone make an effort to adhere to them, but his face went slack before she got a chance.

"Well, hold on, now. Who's that nice pair of legs with Frank?"

"Jesus, John! You could curdle a feminist's milk," Jenna turned and caught a glimpse of the woman in question through the room's transparent glass wall, "She's got pants on, you idiot."

"How can you tell that..."

"Trousers!"

But the Visitor tag on the woman's blouse as clear as day, so she definitely was not in-house. She and Frank seemed friendly-like, but Jenna knew he was married to a nice Kim-person, who stopped in on occasion to pick him up for lunch on slow days.

"Whoever she is, she's probably not going to like that you're staring."

"Shut up, you're doing it too."

"Yeah, well I haven't reduced her to a single piece of her anatomy, so -"

"Look, now, two pieces of her anatomy. Gal's got both of her legs."

"You disgust me."

"What's new?"

When Frank and the woman who was more than a pair of legs walked away, Jenna flipped John a snobbish glance and went back to her magazine. A little over three hours later, with John locked away in his lab (finally) and Anna in from one of her medical trials, Jenna was seated in the conference room flipping through old NIH press-releases. She hadn't quite botched the last one she'd sent out, but her wording could better improve, or so Connor insisted.

"I'm no Eva Rossi," she mumbled, going through the 2007 stack, but neither was she expected to be. Her predecessor had been good. So good that she'd wound up in better, more interesting parts of the Hill, probably making a fortune off of using social networking. Jenna had met Rossi once, roughly two years prior, and had been surprised to see Connor crack a smile, he never did that for her (or John...or Anna, really, now that she thought about it). Anyway, that woman was a legend in the making, and Jenna knew very well enough that she, herself, would only ever amount to a footnote in one of John's excuses for an expense report.

"Heads up," Anna mumbled into her file (on the outside, the young doctor was a mouse. Short, nondescript brown hair tucked behind tiny, nondescript ears, and vague hazel eyes - imprisoned behind a nondescript brown pair of spectacles - that always looked pained when their owner was reminded just how much reality sucked. Jenna knew better, though, that the diagnostic expert had a devious streak more than a mile wide. Still waters and all that).

Too late.

Connor arrived with his usual frown, his unnerving gaze flickering between the pair of women at speeds clocked somewhere up there near 'light', "Where's Frank and Michaelson?"

"Lunch."

"Lab."

"It's two in the afternoon, why is Frank still at lunch?"

"You could call 'em."

"No need," John entered the conference room with his patented scramble of a walk and plopped down in the chair beside Jenna, "Just saw him coming down the hall," sotto voice, he added, "with that pair of legs following him."

Jenna elbowed him, "Pervert."

That must have come out a little too loud, because Anna smirked behind her hand, Connor scowled, and Frank strode into the room with a perfectly timed, "Who's a pervert?"

Anna pointed to John, who pointed to Jenna, who elbowed him again.

The woman accompanying Frank was the one from earlier. Up close, Jenna could see that she was in her early forties with (probably-not-dyed) light brown hair, an attractive smattering of freckles across her nose, and yes a nice pair of legs (appropriately hidden beneath a sensible pair of gray trousers). But this was all very unimportant compared to the amount of blinking Connor was doing in her direction, mouth contorted in an unattractive grimace of something Jenna had never ever seen before.

Jenna immediately liked her, "Hello! Frank's being rude and not introducing you. I'm Jenna, over there is Anna, and the slob next to me is sometimes referred to as John."

That earned a pretty smile, "Only sometimes?"

"We sometimes just call him, 'you'," Anna offered in explanation, "mostly in derision."

"They love me," John added, "they really do."

"I'm sure," said the woman, pointedly ignoring the silent conversation that Frank and Connor were now having behind her back with their eyes, "I'm Natalie Durant. Nice to meet all of you."

Something curious happened then. Namely, John choked on his tongue and began coughing violently into his fist, and Anna looked genuinely curious for the first time since they'd dealt with that fake Ebola case in Virginia.

Jenna contemplated giving John's back a solid thwack, but left him to it, "Either John here is allergic to your name or it means something."

Now that the eye-fight between Frank and Connor had ended, strangely enough in the favor of the former, the latter spoke at a quick clip, "Dr. Durant works at the regional office for the World Health Organization."

Sensing that her day was about to explode with medical and perhaps intra-office intrigue, Jenna grinned, "Cool."

ii

Frank was awesome, in that way where Jenna looked at the supposedly older and wiser and bought that he was both. Very much older than she was, and all that much wiser. He was the guy she could turn to when Connor was going apocalyptic about one thing or another, and with little more than a, ''you hold him down, while I punch him'', Frank would leave the room and work some sort of magic and viola, Connor deflated to a normal level of anger.

As far as she knew, he and the big guy went all the way back - if not to diapers than to their infant days at the NIH. Jenna's lack of curiosity regarding both men had been an excellent preventative for her learning any more than that, which meant that when a little bit of unhealthy interest tickled her fancy, she had to go to John.

"All right," she mumbled, shoulders hunched as she sat next to him in economy on their flight, "you know who that lady is, otherwise you wouldn't have choked on your own tongue."

John adopted the air of a man who finally was allowed to feel pride for his gossiping ways, "She's my predecessor."

"Juicy, but why does that matter any? The turnover rate here is through the roof these days. I'm surprised we've held on to Anna this long."

"Still waiting for the CDC to call," Anna said from the row behind them; apparently the mousy brunette was hovering.

"Ha," John intoned, lowering his voice further, so as not to include the several strangers around them in their conversation, "She was at the NIH forever in Connor-years. Outlasted a couple handful of other hires, apparently. I don't know anything other than that, except for what we saw this morning."

"What's that?" Anna whispered.

"Connor doesn't like her."

"Connor doesn't like anyone," Jenna said automatically, the response all but instinct now.

"He likes Frank," Anna muttered.

"He tolerates Director Ewing," John agreed.

"Well, Connor doesn't like people for three reasons," Jenna said, "They disappointed him, he disappointed them, or they suck at their jobs."

"Everybody disappoints Connor," Anna said, rather astutely.

"Yeah yeah, necessary but not sufficient condition, we got it," John was growing annoyed yet oddly excited, "and that woman clearly did not suck at her job if she worked her way up to the WHO. Wowza, and her publications. Her research warms my heart among other things."

"Ew."

"I saw the way you were looking at her, Anna," John defended himself, "you'd take a bite too."

"I like my ladies to be artists; those pants of hers speak to me about as much as an instruction manual does. No, thank you."

"Connor inbound," Jenna hissed.

All three perked in their seats and sealed their mouths as Connor approached them from the front of economy. He had a folder tucked under one arm and a tablet grasped in the other hand. When he reached them, he offered the tablet to Jenna and gave Anna the folder, "This case will be cut and dry. We're allowing the WHO assist, so keep your heads down and do what you're told. Dr. Durant will be in charge."

"More beautiful words have never been spoken," John sighed, "I'll do anything she tells me to."

Connor rolled his eyes - a sign of minor annoyance if there ever was one - but Jenna watched long enough for it to morph into a clenched jaw and flared nostrils.

"Ignore John, yeah? He's just excited he doesn't have to write that expense report yet."

"Oi, woman. Don't remind him."

"There are three hours left on the flight," the imposing blond stated blandly, "I recommend you take that time to finish it."

iii

"All right, everyone," the woman of even greater interest now said in a tone that had grown increasingly more exhausted in the past five days, "great work."

Jenna hadn't figured in, while sitting on the plane roughly a week prior, that she wouldn't be in a position to witness the great Dr. Durant at work, or witness her interactions with Connor at all. According to John, however, nothing of importance had actually occurred. Durant monitored the lab while Connor was elsewhere working with Anna and Frank.

As everyone filed out of the makeshift conference room, Jenna leaned into John's side, "I thought this was supposed to be something to gossip over when we got back."

"Life is a twat," he muttered, the half-Welsh in him still not cluing in to the fact that that his choice of language was considered vulgar.

Jenna pinched his arm, "So, have you updated your opinion?"

"She is perfection. I didn't even notice that she turned me down until fifteen minutes after it happened. Beautiful creature."

"Do you want a bedpan for all that drool?"

"La, no need to be jealous; you know you have my heart."

"Gross, John."

"She wounds me," he said dramatically to the air.

Frank, who had stayed behind to whisper a few words to Durant, approached the bickering couple with a broad grin on his face, "Connor is going to throw a fit over your behavior. You two know that right?"

"Did we embarrass daddy in front of mommy?" John inquired.

"Ugh, don't ever call Connor daddy again," Jenna shook the chills out of her arms, "completely unnecessary."

"I'm just trying to lighten the mood," the pathologist threw up his hands in defeat, before gracing Frank with a scowl, "We weren't misbehaving enough to cause the particular brand of sour I saw on Connor's face this morning. What happened?"

Frank threw a furtive glance around the conference room before leaning in to whisper, "She offered him a job."

After an appropriate three second pause to digest the information imparted, Jenna and John fell into one another laughing; Frank took his cue to dart away quickly.