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Peace of Mind
by Tara LJC O'Shea
Jake hissed as Diane cleaned the gash across his abdomen with an alcohol wipe.
She made an apologetic face. "Sorry."
"It's okay," he said, with as much of a shrug as he could manage while lying flat on the examination table. He was spending an awful lot of time there, lately. He'd have to ask Diane about maybe getting one of those nice padded ones with the paper covers, like in a doctor's office. Or maybe he could bring one of his Aunt Rita's hand-knit afghans from home. "It just stings."
"It's healing—by tomorrow, you probably won't even have a scar." She applied a new bandage, smoothing it flat with her fingers. She'd dropped her wrap on the back of her chair, and had her white lab coat on over her dress. "If it weren't for the last day or so—"
"Yeah, I gotta stop letting the bad guys hit me in my fresh wounds," he said wryly as he sat up.
"You're strong and fast; you just need to learn how to avoid getting hit."
He gave her a 'duh' look. "Thanks."
"That didn't come out right."
"Diane, it's okay. It's not like hand-to-hand is really my specialty."
"I just hate that you got hurt. I mean, it was me they were after, at the fundraiser. If you hadn't been there..." She shuddered, unable to finish the thought.
"I wouldn't have been, if Sarah hadn't had tickets."
"I'd say thank her for me—but it's not like you could tell her why I was thanking her, or anything."
"Um... not much of a chance of that. I think it'll be a real long time before Sarah ever talks to me again."
"She mad about you running out on her?"
"Actually, all she wanted was for me to be totally honest with her."
"Oh. Yeah, I can see how that would—"
"I told her everything, Diane."
She stared at him, mouth open in shock.
"You told—you what?" Her voice rose on the last syllable.
"Diane!" Jake whispered, and they both quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard his potentially damning confession.
"You told her?" she repeated, this time in a whisper.
"It doesn't matter," he said with a shrug. "She didn't believe a word I said. She thought I made the whole thing up, to get out of dating her. I guess 'Jake Foley - Superspy' was too ludicrous to believe. I don't blame her." Jake rubbed his cheek even though there was no bruise, thanks to the nanites. "First time I've ever been slapped for telling the truth."
Diane brushed his cheek with one hand, running her fingers lightly over the exact spot where Sarah had walloped him hours before. "She actually hit you?"
"Yeah. Maybe we shoulda sent her after Steve—she's got quite an arm."
He tried to laugh it off, but couldn't come up with a particularly convincing smile. Diane's brows drew together in a frown.
"Maybe, if you just give her a few days?" she suggested, obviously trying to cheer him up. He shook his head.
"I don't think so."
"I'm so sorry. I know how much you—I mean, six years. I'm so sorry."
"Yeah," Jake sighed. "Me too."
She gave him a quick one-armed hug, and he sighed.
"Are you two okay?" Lou said from the doorway, and both Jake and Diane practically jumped.
"Diane's patching me up," Jake assured her as he buttoned his shirt. "She says I should be good as new by morning."
"Good work tonight. Both of you." She turned to Diane, her brisk no-nonsense demeanour slipping slightly and genuine concern shining through beneath her hard-ass façade. "We're interrogating Clemens. I'm going to be honest with you. We don't know if he told his contacts the name of his target. LaFortunata is on it, and I've got people monitoring just in case. But it is a possibility."
Lou gave them a moment for that to sink in, and Jake watched Diane carefully. She seemed to shrink in on herself right before his eyes.
"You mean," Diane swallowed. "You mean they could still be after me?"
"There's a good chance that with Vasily dead and Clemens in custody, we can identify and isolate the threat before they have a chance to send anyone else," Lou said, her tone gentle. She placed a hand on Diane's arm reassuring her. "Something tells me Clemens will be more than happy to finger his contacts, if it means a reduced sentence. I can assign two agents—"
"I can stay with her," Jake said, and Lou's gaze flicked to his. "I can sleep on the couch. I mean, if you have a couch. I can—on the couch."
"Jake, the NSA has an entire fleet of agents, nanites, or no nanites, that can handle—"
"Lou," Jake said cutting her off. "I—I'd like to, if that's okay. I mean, if it's okay with Diane." He turned to her. "It is okay with you, right?"
Diane chewed on her bottom lip. "That would be—that'd be great. I mean, yeah. I have a couch. It's okay."
"Fine. For tonight," Lou said, obviously humouring Jake. "But tomorrow, depending on what we get out of Clemens, I'm assigning Willis and Charles. Is that understood?"
"Understood," Diane and Jake said in unison.
"Go home, get some sleep. We have other agents whose job it is to stay here all night," she said, with a pointed look at Jake.
"Thanks, Lou," Jake said as they exited the lab, and their boss gave him a guarded smile before heading back to Sat Ops.
"Is this the one?" Jake asked as he pulled up to the townhouse in a quiet section of Alexandria and shifted into park. She blinked, staring at her building as if she'd never seen it before. She felt as if she was surfacing from deep below an ocean of icy water.
The whole drive from Ft. Meade, she'd sat in the passenger seat, unusually quiet. Once the initial adrenaline rush had worn off, her ability to laugh or joke about her situation seemed to have wholly vanished. It hadn't occurred to her until Lou had mentioned it that this might be only the beginning—instead of the end—of her ordeal.
"Yeah. Good memory." He'd driven her home from his place only once before, one night when they'd stayed up half the night when the second Matrix had come out on DVD, watching it and the first one back-to-back with all the special features. She'd planned to take the metro, but he'd insisted on giving her a lift from Glover Park to Old Town.
"Intel inside," he said, tapping his temple, and she couldn't help but smile. "Okay, I think we're clear. But when we get upstairs, let me go first, okay?"
"Okay," she said softly.
At the top of the stairs, Jake stopped and listened for a moment. He used her key to open the door, motioning for her to stay in the hall. There was a knot in her stomach that seemed to tighten with each second that passed, but after a moment he was back. He smiled and gave her a gallant bow.
"Door to door service, milady."
"Thanks." She smiled, and stepped inside. "Sorry about the mess— I just wasn't expecting..." she began, and then trailed off. She wasn't expecting to have anyone over because up until two hours ago, she'd been expecting to spend the night with Steve at his place. It being their third official date, and all. She'd actually been looking forward to it—a fact which made her feel sick, now. "Um.. company," she finished lamely.
Her eyes were immediately drawn to the laundry baskets of clothes currently occupying the couch, as well as the stacks of magazines and papers all over the coffee table. She flushed slightly, moving to stack them and get them out of the way. The only reason her place was in the state it was in was because she'd spent the last week out—dinner, concerts, and movies had taken the place of her usual cleaning routine.
"Please," Jake took a plastic laundry tub in each hand easily, and together they carried them to the washer which was hidden away in a little cupboard covered with a folding wooden door. "You didn't see my old place. This is amazing, by comparison."
"Slobs?" she asked, kicking the basket she'd been carrying against the wall. Jake set his down on top, creating a leaning tower of laundry.
"Pre-nanites, I was lucky to do laundry once a month, though Darin was... You can't begin to imagine. However, now that I've got an enhanced sense of smell?" He laughed. "My mother would never recognise my apartment. I even washed the windows."
"Yeah. I guess everybody has a post-college apartment, with pressboard everything, and shelves made out of two-by-fours and cinder-blocks. Right?"
"Yeah, while I was getting my doctorate in Boston, I think I had a futon on the floor, and one of those chairs—you know, from Pier 1? And that was, like, it." She picked up an armload of magazines and dumped them onto the floor of the small office in what the landlady had charmingly referred to as 'the breakfast nook' when she'd been shown the apartment, so that the tipsy stack leaned against the desk to keep from falling over.
Her apartment took up half of the top floor of the townhouse, but she'd filled it to the brim over the last three years. Every wall that could hold a bookshelf did, and she'd given up on the feng shui after her maternal grandmother had passed away two years ago and Diane had inherited half her over-stuffed, massive furniture. She'd never have one of those places that looked like a page out of the IKEA catalogue, all blond wood and clean lines, and airy. The best she could hope for was "cosy."
The couch clear at last, Jake plopped down on the faded rose damask cushions. At least, she mused, it no longer had the little hand-crocheted doilies on the arms that it had when it had dominated her grandmother's sitting room.
"Um... if you're hungry, there's a really good Thai place that delivers," Diane offered, but Jake shrugged.
"Let me at least put the kettle on for tea."
"I can do that. Boiling water—I'm good at that. That, and I can make toast."
"You just can't butter it?" she finished automatically, and he grinned.
"Ah, another devotee of Charlie Brown holiday specials, I see."
"I'm just gonna..." she pointed towards the bedroom. "I feel silly, standing here in heels and—"
"You go change. I'll make tea."
After some trial and error, Jake found the cupboard of tea. Literally, an entire cupboard with boxes and tins and plastic sandwich bags full of every kind of herbal tea imaginable. After carefully inspecting the first row of boxes, he opted for something called "Peace of Mind," assured by the colourful box that the "comforting blend of camomile blossoms, lemongrass and lavender" was guaranteed to relieve stress.
Mugs hung on pegs above the sink, and he chose two matching pale orange mugs that looked like they could hold an entire can of soup each. Unsure about what one did with herbal tea, he grabbed a plastic bear full of honey, a Ziplock full of yellow packets of something he assumed was sweetener, as well as a sugar bowl shaped like a Jersey cow. He carefully set his armload down on the now-clear coffee table, the mugs clicking against the cow. He couldn't spot any coasters, and the number of rings on the coffee table hinted that Diane wasn't fastidious about using them. Dropping two spoons into the fragrant, steaming liquid, he knocked lightly on her bedroom door.
"Diane? You okay in there?"
There was a muffled reply, and he opened the door slowly. Her dress was draped over the back of a chair, and she now wore sweatpants, socks, and a faded MIT sweatshirt. She was standing at the foot of the bed, silent sobs wracking her small frame.
Sitting in the middle of the bed were the two giant stuffed dogs Clemens had won Diane at the St. Sebastian's charity carnival.
Without her high heeled shoes, his chin barely rested on the top of her head as she let him fold her into a hug.
"He was going to—he was—-" she managed between hiccuping sobs. "This wasn't supposed to happen. This can't be happening."
"Hey, hey—it's okay." He stroked her back as she cried, rocking her gently as her tears soaked the front of the zip-up fleece sweater he still wore. "It's okay. It's gonna be okay."
The tea had gone cold by the time they trooped back out to the living room. Diane had produced a large black plastic garbage bag from beneath the sink and together, they stuffed the toys into it. Jake had suggested ritual burning, which had finally gotten a smile out of her, but she'd confessed that she didn't much relish the smell of burning man-made fibres.
"I guess I can take them to the children's hospital this week-end," she said as she dropped the bag into the closet and shut the door. "I just can't stand to even look at them."
Jake moved over so she could sit beside him on the couch. She'd been embarrassed about falling apart. But he hadn't. She'd been there for him so many times over the last few months—hell, she'd saved his life and his sanity. The very least he could do was be here for her now.
"I just feel so..." she trailed off, hands disappearing into the sleeves of her sweatshirt as she sat sideways on the sofa, feet tucked up under her. "Okay, remember my whole thing about life outside the NSA? Just feel free to ignore that from now on."
She gave a little self-deprecating laugh, but Jake frowned.
"Hey, you're the one who told me not to let the job get to me, remember? About spending time with people you can trust?"
"It just never occurred to me that I might be a target, you know? I mean—you're used to it by now, I guess. I mean—I know it's only been a couple of months, but you've wanted to be a field agent your whole life. I never... I always thought the most dangerous thing I might ever do would be to walk through East Market after dark, you know?"
"Did I ever tell you about what happened at the Chinese Embassy?"
She shook her head.
"So, there was this guy. And he, like, totally knew kung-fu. I thought I was gonna die pretty much any second, and I knew that I should be thinking about Kyle and how to help him and what to do to get to him. But all I could think was 'I don't want to die.' I was scared out of my freaking mind and this guy was just kicking my ass. Then I hit him and... he kinda got impaled. On a spike."
"Yeah. I mean, there was so much going on, and it wasn't like it was the first time—I mean that whole thing with Vaughn, you know? But I dunno, maybe I never really had time to process what happened to Vaughn. Or the fact that I, you know, killed him. But this guy... I could see the life, whatever, fading in his eyes as he died. I could close my eyes for weeks afterwards, and see this guy's eyes. It really messed me up."
"You never told me that," she said softly.
"I didn't tell anybody. Not even Kyle. I was supposed to be this superspy, and all I could think was that guys out there in the field, they have to kill people all the time. I mean, it's a kill-or-be-killed life, and I chose it. I chose it even before I got the nanites—and I didn't exactly make an informed choice, you know?" he shrugged, and took a sip of his tea. "I thought I wanted it so bad... But I guess reality kinda sets in, and all the stuff you think will be so cool, like in the movies. Yeah. It's not. I think that's part of it, you know? Learning that. So it's okay to be scared, and fall apart. Because it's not supposed to not be scary, the whole kill-or-be-killed thing. I think the fact that it's still scary is kinda a good thing."
"I think you're a great superspy," she said, cradling her own mug between her hands. "You knew something was up with Steve—"
"No, I didn't," Jake admitted sheepishly. "I mean, once we found Vasily dead, yeah. But I wasn't checking up on Steve because I thought he had any connection to an Eastern European Mafia plot to kidnap anybody. I just didn't like the guy."
"Well, I'm glad you didn't like him. Because I did, and I would have ended up God knows where. Just... I feel so stupid. To believe a guy like that would actually like me without some ulterior motive—"
"Hold it. Hang on. Stop right there." He took the mug from her fingers and set it on the coffee table before taking each of her hands in his, turning his body on the couch so he could look her square in the eye. "Any guy—and I say this as a guy—would be incredibly lucky to go out with you. You're unbelievably smart, you're funny, you're beautiful—"
"It's true. I am," she said with a tentative smile.
"Damn straight," he agreed, and was rewarded by a full grin that time. "Diane, you can't let it get you down."
"I know. It's just... I was so excited tonight. Here was this great guy—handsome, smart, funny, paying me all this attention, whisking me off for a romantic getaway..." She trailed off, and he could see her eyes shining with tears again. "I thought he really liked me."
"Yeah, well, he's an idiot, and Kyle's probably punching him in the kidneys right now."
She leaned against the sofa, brushing her hair behind her ears with one hand.
"Picturing it as we speak. Try it—I think it'll cheer you up."
"It is kind of a nice mental picture," she admitted with a chuckle.
"Like kittens and puppies. Only, you know, it involves pissing blood."
She reached for his hand, and he gave her fingers a squeeze. "Thanks for being here."
"Hey, this friendship is a two way street, remember?" He gave her hand an answering squeeze. "I will always be here for you."
"Diane?" Jake reached over as far as his position on the stationary bike would allow, and snagged the sleeve of her coat as she passed him. "Am I done?"
"Huh?" She looked up from her JMD, blinking.
"Kinda.. getting... tired."
"Oh, God. I'm so sorry! You're done."
"Thank you." Jake dropped his head to his folded arms and let the stationary bike coast to a halt. "Two hours was a bit much, even for me."
"Two hours? I had you on there for two hours?"
"And twenty-three minutes. Not that I was counting or anything."
Ever since they'd arrived at the lab, Diane had been restless and distracted. She'd run the same diagnostic three times, changed the dressing on his wound—which had faded to a pink line which she assured him would be a mere memory by evening—and Fran had had to come in and remind her about an R&D staff meeting twice, which she'd still missed.
"I just feel like there's this sword of Damocles hanging over my head—"
"I know. But I'm sure Lou and Kyle will tells us soon."
"I know. I know. I just hate the idea that I might—"
"—come home to find you've been mysteriously moved to a more secure location above a deli?" Jake offered helpfully as he mopped the sweat running down his face and neck with a towel.
"Yes. Or find scary guys with accents and big guns with silencers in my apartment. Either one is pretty much freaking me the hell out."
He'd actually awakened that morning slightly disoriented by the lack of the pervasive aroma of liverwurst. It had taken him a moment to remember where he was and why. He'd gone to check on Diane, but she was already up and in the shower. Jake imagined that, even with him there to protect her, she probably hadn't slept much. If it hadn't been for his all-nighter Monday, which was followed by a very uncomfortable night nursing a recent stab wound, he probably wouldn't have either. The fact that he'd slept at all was pretty much a testament to the limitations of the nanites. They might be able to knit his flesh together in mere hours, but he still needed at least six hours a night before he felt human.
She'd been cheerful when she'd emerged from the shower, wearing a pair of tailored green slacks and a fuschia top that he was pretty certain, had Steve seen her wearing it, would have ensured her at the very least getting laid before being shipped off to Moscow. He wisely chose not to voice this thought, however.
They'd stopped off at his place first, so he could shower and change, and had arrived bright and early at Ft. Meade, much to Fran's surprise.
"You sure you're up to this today?" she'd asked as Diane had slipped on her lab coat.
"I'm probably safer here than anywhere else, right?" she'd said with a smile. But her good humour of the night before had faded over the course of the morning. By the time Jake had run down to the canteen to grab them both some lunch, she was wound tight enough to snap. She'd merely picked at her vegetarian roasted veggie wrap, and finally thrown it in the infectious waste bin, declaring she had no appetite.
"Diane—it'll be okay."
"You keep saying that."
"I keep saying it because it's true," he said as he stripped off his sweat-soaked t-shirt. "This is Lou we're talking about. She's not going to let anything happen to you. For the sake of national security, if nothing else."
"Yeah." Diane tapped her stylus against her glasses absently, until Jake finally reached out and took it from her fingers.
"You're not just a commodity—you're a member of the team. And have you ever seen Lou and Kyle not go to bat for the team?"
"I know, I just... God, I wish someone would just—"
"You know what you need?"
"Well yes, but also a back rub." He took her shoulders and steered her over to her chair at the counter.
"Jake—" Diane glanced back over her shoulder at him, wary.
"Sit," he ordered. She rolled her eyes, but sat obediently.
He pushed her lab coat off her shoulders so that it hung loosely on either side of her, and carefully removed her glasses, setting them down on the countertop. She made a face, and he poked her in the shoulder-blade with one finger. "I'm good at these. I am! 'Magic Fingers' Foley, that's what they used to call me. I was famous in my dorm."
"Yeah, well—put your money where your mouth is alread—-oooooooh."
Jake grinned. He wasn't actually lying—he had been somewhat famous in his dorm, particularly during finals. Of course, a lot of that also had more do with the impressive array of completely-against-campus-policy small appliances he and his roommate had squirrelled away in their 12ft. by 12ft. academic palace, than his prowess as an amateur masseur.
However, his back-rub skills—though rusty—seemed to be meeting with Diane's approval, if the sounds she was making as he worked on her neck and shoulders were any indication.
He'd started at the base of her neck, fingers working on the knots of tension slowly and methodically. Her hair was held up by one of those funny plastic clips, so he didn't need to hold it out of the way as he worked. To say she was tense was an understatement. But he didn't need nanite-enhanced abilities to fix that—just patience.
Also, it did not hurt that from his vantage point standing behind her, he had an amazing view of her breasts. It wasn't that he hadn't noticed previously that Diane had cleavage. It was just that she rarely wore anything to work which accentuated it so effectively.
His hands moved to her shoulders, and her head drooped, chin resting practically on her breastbone. He could feel the stiffness draining out of her as she began to relax at last. He ran both thumbs lightly over her spine a few times, and was rewarded by shivers and goosebumps.
"You like that, huh?" he teased, mouth next to her ear, and she gave a contented sigh.
"God, I can't remember the last time someone did this," she said, stretching and rolling her shoulders.
"Let me know if it's too hard, or—"
"No, it's good. 'S perfect," she mumbled, practically slurring her words. Jake grinned. He'd have to remember this for future reference: Diane plus backrubs equalled 'pile of goo.'
"Am I interrupting something?" Kyle said from the doorway, and Diane's lethargy disappeared and she practically leapt out of the chair.
"What happened? Did he tell you anything? Am I gonna have to move and change my name? Did you punch him in the kidneys? Did he bleed? Tell me there was pain."
"Remind me never to break up with you," Kyle said, apparently taken aback at Diane's bloodthirstiness.
"Your boyfriend didn't reveal the target," he assured her. "We're having LaFortunata double check, but it looks like this project—and you—are secure. And we're taking greater precautions, to try to ensure this sort of thing can't happen in future."
"You're gonna screen our dates?" Jake asked, and Kyle gave him the eyebrow of death.
"I'm beginning to think it can't hurt," he said wryly.
"Oh thank God. Not the date screening part—I'm not sure how I feel about that, actually."
"I think he was kidding," Jake said in a stage whisper.
"I'm not kidding."
"Okay, he's not kidding."
"I can have a life!" Diane was practically dancing around the lab. "I can have the life I had before, which actually wasn't much of a life. But I can have a life!" She gave the senior agent a very quick, enthusiastic hug. He seemed rather dazed when she released him, and more than a little bemused. "Kyle, thank you."
"Just doing my job, ma'am." He tipped an imaginary hat, and then turned to Jake. "Speaking of which—Lou wants you in Sat Ops in ten."
"I'll be there." He turned back to Diane as he took his shirt off the hanger next to the spare lab coats. "So, got any plans tonight?"
"Wanna come over and play Boggle?"
She gave him a bright smile as she helped him with the last two buttons on the dark blue striped shirt. "I would love to come over and play Boggle."