Disclaimer: Characters property of UPN (At least, the last I heard!) and not used for profit.
A/N: I love this show and wish we could get it back on the air… Bear with me when I'm slow, I can see things playing out in my head but they don't always cooperate when I'm trying to get it written down, and I really want to keep everyone in character (the way I interpret them, anyway!) Suggestions are always welcome. Hope you enjoy!
As the first storm of anguish passed Jake slid down to sit on the floor, pulling Diane with him and into his lap. A few minutes later he realized she was crying, too, whispering to him as they rocked together for comfort.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she was whispering, and her cheeks were wet with tears.
"Shh, Diane, don't cry. I'm sorry. It's okay. Everything is going to be fine," he found himself trying to reassure her, cradling her close. "I guess I came a little unglued…too much happened too fast, you know? But I'm okay now. I'm fine. We'll be fine."
She'd gone quiet in his arms. Her tears had stopped but her arms were still holding him tight. Jake cupped one hand around her head and tilted her face up, his thumb gently brushing the last of the tears from her cheek.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you. And I didn't break your JMD, I promise. I just drained the battery. It'll be fine when it's charged."
"I don't care about that. That's not why I came," she whispered.
Jake smiled slightly. "Worried about me?" he questioned softly, and he wasn't surprised when her eyes welled with tears again.
"Not worried, exactly," she hedged, trying to return his smile. "I just-- I wanted to be here. I knew you'd be, um, upset. You had to kill her, Jake, and I know how much you hated that. I wanted to be here, for you."
"You always have been. Every time I've needed you - even when I didn't know it at the time - you've always been here for me." He pulled her closer for a moment and pressed his lips against her forehead. He fought the surge of emotions inside him, pushing them back, tamping them down. It had taken him long enough to figure out how he felt about her; he could wait a little longer to say it out loud. Besides, he was pretty sure tonight wasn't the best time to tell her he loved her. She wouldn't believe him. Not yet. Too many traumatic things had happened in the past few weeks; she'd think he was just reacting to the stress.
The skin of her forehead felt very warm against his lips. Several degrees over normal, he was pretty sure. "Are you okay?" he asked, drawing back to look into her face again, searching.
"Yes. Well, I have a headache, but…"
And here he was holding her on the floor.
He got to his feet with her still in his arms and carried her over to his bed, laying her down carefully over her protests. "Have you taken anything? I've got some pain relievers."
She rubbed her forehead, dislodging her glasses. "No, actually, I haven't yet. I probably should just go home. I think I'm coming down with a cold or something – I just feel a little funny."
Jake sat down on the bed next to her, preventing her from sitting up. "Stay here tonight and let me take care of you for a change. I'm pretty sure I've got…" His voice trailed off. He'd picked up her hand as he spoke, and the feel of a band-aid triggered a memory, slightly fuzzy because it was while he was drugged in the burn tank and watching Diane through the security cameras…She'd cut herself on a broken slide. Why was that important? It was in the lab…
"Diane," he said urgently, his hand tightening around hers. "You cut your hand on a broken slide. When I was in the burn tank, and you were in the lab. You dropped a slide, and when you picked up the pieces you cut yourself – I saw the blood."
She frowned at him, confused by the sudden change of subject, then her eyes went wide. "What do you mean you saw blood? You were all the way over—in the burn tank—how could you have seen me?"
"I was looking for you through the security cameras."
"You did make me coffee!" she exclaimed, smiling. Her smile faded, though, when Jake's expression remained serious.
"What was on the slide, Diane," he prompted again, his voice sounding urgent.
All at once the color left her face. If she hadn't already been lying down Jake thought she might have fainted.
"Nanites. Oh, god, Jake. Mostly it was a morphine solution, but there were a few nanites too so I could see how they were affected. I was careless… What if I'm infected? Oh no…!"
"Diane, it's okay!"
"I'm dead. I'm dead! If the nanites don't kill me, Lou will! She's still angry about-- about-- She'll think I did it on purpose!" Now she was starting to hyperventilate.
"You're not going to die, Diane! Calm down!"
"But Jake, you're the only living thing that's survived this long with nanites! And we still don't know why!"
"Don't panic, please. It's scary, I know, but we'll get through this, I swear. I'm right here and I'll do anything, anything to help, but we have to think. We have to stay calm and work together. Please, Diane. I need you."
Her grip on his hand was almost painful but she gamely made the effort to get control of herself and control her breathing. Jake made encouraging noises, and smiled at her as she calmed. "That's my girl. Now, you said there were a few nanites. How many?"
"Five, seven maybe. I didn't need very many – I only needed to see if the morphine affected them, and how. I was trying to figure out why you weren't healing."
"Okay. So if any got in your cut it couldn't have been more than seven at the most. Were they the same…um…generation as my nanites?"
"Okay." Jake was thinking fast, trying to get some kind of handle on the facts. "That's good. And how fast do the nanites replicate?"
"They duplicate themselves about every 12 hours. There is some attrition as the older ones break down. Of course once they're integrated into your system, if you sustain damage the replication rate can be increased..."
"It's been how long? A week?"
"Since I was cut? Um… It was afternoon when I was in the lab, then there was the mess with the laser and we got you off the morphine. You were healed by morning, and we ran a few tests but they called you so you could go with Kyle… Four days? No, five days plus a few hours."
"Okay. If you managed to get five nanites in the cut - which is unlikely – then there would be roughly 5100 by now."
Diane sighed, looking a little less worried. "That's not even enough for the JMD to pick up. The liquid that infected you was extremely concentrated – about 25,000 per cubic milliliter. I've estimated you probably got close to that when you were cut. And you started feeling the effects, what, about 12 hours later?"
"Something close to that. After the accident it took the rest of the day to get things cleared up so that I could leave, and by the time I got home I felt sick. The next morning I started noticing…effects. And you noticed my arm."
"By the time I got you to the lab and under the monitors they'd just begun integrating to your nerves, so that was more like twenty-four hours, maybe a little more," Diane put in.
"Ok, the JMD won't be able to pick them up yet…how about the monitoring program on your laptop?"
"It might." She started to sit up. "My computer's in my car—"
Jake was across the room and back before she could finish, holding his own computer. "I've got it on here."
For a long heartbeat she gaped, then she glared at him. "You stole that, too?! I still can't believe you took that upgrade code without telling me. Jake, you could have died!"
He winced. "I know, but I didn't. And I already promised not to do it again." He pulled up the program and they both shifted so they could both read the screen. "Okay, I haven't had time to change anything so it's still set up for the original nanite configuration. Since I did the upgrade I don't think it will pick me up, will it?"
"I don't think so. The JMD did, but I designed it to track any changes in your nanites so it followed along."
They watched as the computer said 'searching…', but after several minutes it came up blank.
"That didn't help," Diane muttered, slumping.
"Okay, maybe I can change the program parameters to make it more sensitive…" He trailed off and turned to look at her, a speculative look on his face. Closing the screen, Jake put the computer on the nightstand and reached for Diane's hand. "I have an idea," he said. He peeled the band-aid from her skin and they both looked at the small cut. It was there, but barely. It had healed down to a thin pink line.
"They stayed in place to heal the wound," Diane observed thoughtfully.
"Does that mean they won't try to spread and integrate until they're done?" Jake asked, concentrating.
"Maybe. Injuries are priority – that's part of their programming. If they find damage they're designed to put all their effort into repair, and replication is secondary."
"Then if the nanites got sidetracked by healing your cut, maybe that buys us a little more time. Gives us a window…" Jake fell silent, absently stroking Diane's hand as he seemed to be thinking hard. Diane waited, for some reason soothed by his presence. After a few minutes he spoke again. "Do you trust me?"
"Of course I do."
"I think… I think I can alter the programming in the nanites. Slow their replication time, make them dormant, maybe even to the point that they'll shut down and break up, be flushed out of your system."
For several long heartbeats Diane just stared at him, then she frowned. "That's why you copied my monitoring program. Jake, you promised you wouldn't play with your—"
"And I won't," he said firmly, "but I do want to study the code and see if I can find any room for improvements."
Diane gave the idea some serious thought. "I don't have the original programming code--" she began, but again Jake cut her off.
"I know where it is."
She gave him a shocked look, and he grinned.
"I was curious— After I found out what had happened to me, found out about the nanite project, I did some snooping. I had some practice breaking into encrypted files before - and I'll deny I said that if you tell anyone. It was a while and a little practice with the nanites before I could get into the project's encrypted storage banks, and the program itself is stored on a removable disk, but someone in the programming department was careless a while back and I was able to copy it into a dummy file. I can get it."
"From anywhere. I did my own encryption, and put it somewhere only I know to look."
Diane gave him a long look, then her eyes widened and seemed to melt backward until her back hit the headboard. She looked stricken.
"You were planning… for when you… to disappear. You let Kyle's escape ticket out go to the prince…" She trailed off incoherently as if overwhelmed.
"Yeah," he admitted warily. "I wasn't going to tell anyone. And I was really hoping I'll never need it, never have to… but, you know…just in case."
He watched as emotions chased across her face, though her eyes; surprise, dismay, betrayal, worry, and finally determination. She met his eyes and gave him a determined if shaky smile.
"I won't say anything, to anyone, if you'll promise me you won't leave w-without telling me goodbye." Her breath caught a little at the last.
"I promise," he whispered, and pulled her into a hug.
She hugged him back tightly for several long minutes, then pushed back, drawing in a deep breath and blowing it out. "Well. If 50,000 is the magic number that gives us at least eighteen hours to do something. Let's get busy."
She started to move, expecting Jake to get up and let her off the bed. He didn't move.
"How about you take something for your headache and lay down for a little bit? I've got to retrieve the code and take a look at the program and it may take a while. I'll wake you as soon as I have anything, I promise." She looked reluctant, and he pushed. "You'll think much clearer when you're rid of the pain. Trust me."
She sighed and gave in. "You're probably right. I need to, um…" she broke off shyly and he smiled at her.
"The pain relievers are in the medicine cabinet," he said, helping her off the bed. She was missing a shoe, he noticed, and realized they were both still in their work clothes. She wouldn't be very comfortable sleeping in her slacks and fitted blouse. "Diane? If you want to change, there are t-shirts and shorts and pajama pants in the right-hand dresser drawers—help yourself, okay?"
Jake picked up the computer and pretended not to watch as Diane shyly opened the drawers and searched gingerly through the contents. She pulled out a pair of patterned pajama pants with a drawstring and a t-shirt that matched the blue in the print, then hurried into the bathroom and closed the door. He sighed, quickly changed his own clothes, and headed for his desk to get started.