SPOILERS: through season three

NOTES: Okay, so maybe it's a bit delusional to hope for, but someone has to be Tom's partner while Diana's away. Regardless, I really think it makes sense, and my muses have been quite taken with the idea. They insisted on this desk scene, but it evolved beyond that because, after all, the one whose life Diana impacted the most with her departure was Tom. I'll do my best to finish this before season four starts. Please, no mention of spoilers in reviews.

DISCLAIMER: The 4400 and all things associated with it belong to other people.


DESK, PART 1

HOMECOMING

In some ways, it was like coming home, but, as of late, not even home felt like home. It was as though everything had changed, as though all the emotions she'd used to have had been wiped clean. She felt as if she was having to relearn the significance of things through the gauzy filter of Ben's love, like wearing a pair of warm, fuzzy mittens that didn't let you feel the world directly.

It was familiar yet odd, being back at NTAC. After leaving during the beginning of a major crisis, she hadn't been expecting to be greeted with fanfare, but neither had she expected to be unable to park in the underground garage. Apparently, the codes had been changed in her absence. So she parked in the guest lot and came through the front door. With a modest amount of fuss, they eventually let her pass.

Nina wasn't there, and Diana didn't recognize half of the few people she saw on the main level, none of whom gave her more than a nod. The door to the office she shared with Tom was open, and light shone through the mostly closed blinds. Although she hadn't talked to Tom since her departure from Seattle, she figured he, at least, would be happy to see her.

Diana paused in the doorway. Tom wasn't there, and she was a bit shocked to find someone at her desk. It shouldn't have startled her. Just as she'd had other partners while Tom had been stuck in a desk job two years earlier, it only made sense Tom would have found a substitute partner while she was away. Even so, it was innately disturbing, as though this man were violating her psyche as well as her space.

There was something familiar about him. Typing diligently on his keyboard, his monitor was angled so that he was turned away, and she couldn't get a good look at his face. He wore a well-fitted suit, and his posture was comfortable but professional. She might have thought it was Garrity, had he grown a beard, but this man wore glasses, and his curly, black hair caused some distant part of her memory to stir muddled emotions. Uncertain, she knocked on the doorframe.

He continued typing but responded with a polite, "Give me a moment, and I'll be right with you." The slight roughness of his voice caused something inside her to shift, as though the world had suddenly changed the tilt of its axis.

"What are you doing at my desk?" She hadn't intended it, but her words came out with a harsh, accusatory tone.

At that, he stopped typing and turned slowly to face her. Placing his arms on the rests, he leaned back in the chair, as though consciously trying to be open and non-threatening, though the gesture exposed the shoulder holster he was wearing. Even after six years, she was still not comfortable with carrying a gun. It boggled her mind that, in half a year, Marco had grown so accustomed to one that he wore it while doing deskwork.

"Actually...this is my desk." He said it mildly and calmly, as though there had been no emotion in her words, the first she'd spoken to him since he'd uncovered the location of Collier's hideout near the Sound. "Is there something I can help you with?" There was no inquiry into how she was or about her trip--though she only then realized she had never told him she was leaving, had never said goodbye. He spoke to her with a polite indifference, like she was practically a stranger. More than that, there was no warmth or concern in his eyes. It wasn't that his expression was cold, but where once his gaze had held inviting depths, now she couldn't see past the surface, which offered no hint of the emotions that might lurk below. As though adding an exclamation mark to the list of profound changes in him, his left cheek bore a long scar that disappeared into his tidy beard.

"I..." It was too much to take in, and she found herself flustered. "You're Tom's substitute partner?"

If the incredulity in her voice bothered him, it didn't show. "No...I am his partner." Marco tilted his head, brows drawing subtly together. "I don't understand why you seem so surprised."

"How could I not be?"

His brow furrowed further. "Because Tom and Nina kept you informed via email and you've had months to respond to this?" There was no sarcasm in his tone; he seemed sincerely puzzled.

"What?" She vaguely remembered some subject lines concerning position changes, but she didn't remember reading about Tom getting a new partner.

"Look," he spread his hands in a placating manner, "if you've changed your mind, maybe you should bring it up with Nina. She'll be back tomorrow." It was as though she were a distraction or an irrationally disgruntled employee, one he wished would leave so he could get back to work. A year ago, he would have drawn out a conversation with her as long as she'd have allowed.

Again, the change in him diverted her attention from the content of his words. Belatedly, she wondered, "Change my mind about what?"

"Resigning your field agent status." Clasping his hands, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "With all you've been through, it's understandable. If I had an eleven-year-old, I probably would, too." It was the first personal comment he'd made, but its sympathy was overshadowed by the impact of his initial remark.

"Resign my field agent status?" She said it with unfettered vehemence and noticed Marco make eye contact and shake his head at someone behind her. Swinging around, she saw several people in the main room staring at her with looks ranging from worry to animosity. Ignoring them, she turned back to the man at her desk. "When the hell did I resign my field agent status?"

Apparently giving up his attempt at understanding, Marco leaned back, again, returning to polite indifference. "I don't know. I never received any email about it from you or anyone else." It might have been a guilt-inducing statement, a painful reminder of how completely she'd cut him out of her life since the Blink incident, but he said it in such a way as to distance himself from the whole topic. He wasn't involved and didn't want to be.

He was right, of course. It wasn't as though she should expect him to know something like that, but what he did seem to know made no sense. She would have remembered resigning her field agent status.

Just as she was about to demand more information from him, his watch beeped. Glancing at it, he sighed and shut it off, then distractedly closed down his computer and collected some papers on his desk. "I'm sorry you seem upset with this decision. I can't do anything about it, and I have an interview to conduct. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll be going." With that, he walked past her, forcing her to move out of his way.

She grabbed his arm to stop him. "Where's Tom?"

His gaze weighed heavily on the place where she touched him, and she could feel a tension work through his arm, as though he was restraining himself from some automatic, physical response. Then his brow smoothed, and he met her eyes. "He's in the medical wing."

"Is he hurt?"

Marco shook his head. "He's with Shawn."

"Shawn? God, is he still here?"

Like the flash of a fish in deep waters, she finally saw a glimmer of true emotion in his eyes; it was contempt. "Yes, he is." With an impatient jerk, Marco pulled his arm free. "Goodbye, Diana." And, with that, he walked briskly away.

Stunned by his unspoken reproof and dismissive departure, she watched him until he turned a corner and out of sight. Even when she had ended their relationship, he had never reacted to her negatively. That he did so now caused a confusing combination of feelings to rise within her--regret and indignation, mystification and a disquieting desire to not know what had changed him, as well as an odd longing for the comforting friendship they'd once shared, which warred irrationally with her instinctive devotion to Ben.

Sensing eyes upon her, Diana turned to catch a couple of people glancing hastily away. It wasn't just Marco. While she'd never been particularly sociable, not one person had greeted her with a friendly smile or comment. Whatever had happened, Tom was her best hope for answers.

Once she arrived in the medical wing, it didn't take long to find out where Tom was. Despite the brief distance from the office to Shawn's room, Diana was so agitated by the time she arrived that she burst in without preamble. "What the hell is going on?"

Tom had been flexing his unconscious nephew's leg, presumably as a part of some exercise, and nearly dropped the limb in surprise. "Diana?" He smiled a weary but friendly smile as he tucked Shawn's leg under the bedcovers. "When did you get back?"

"Over the weekend." She glanced about the room, absently noting various personal effects that gave a vague sense of homey comfort. "Look, something weird is happening."

"Weird? Weird how?" His eyes widened. "Is Maia okay?"

"She's fine." Diana waved his concern for her daughter away as she paced, trying to coordinate her thoughts. What came out, with disbelieving disdain, was, "You chose Marco as your partner?"

A disapproving frown crossed his brow. "Why not Marco? I needed someone I could trust who could give me the kind of ideas and perspectives you would."

"So you trust him?"

"Why the hell wouldn't I?" He blinked at her in confusion.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she began pacing, again. "I didn't resign my field agent status, Tom. I didn't know about any of the things that have been happening here. The only explanation is that someone tampered with my email, probably Marco."

"WHAT? How can you say a thing like that?" Head shaking in disgust, he sighed. "If you had any idea what he's been through-"

"Who else could it be?"

Tom looked at her like she was an idiot. "You need a list?"

"But he has directly benefited from this."

That got her a derisive snort. "Being my partner is beneficial? Diana, being my partner caused you to leave the country!"

Sometimes, the truth hurt, and his honesty left her smarting. Apparently, it showed, because he did a Tom Baldwin, sort-of backpedal.

"I don't mean to suggest you weren't entitled to your trip, but try to understand how difficult it was when you left. Collier's new 4400s had just started popping up, and Piershal wasn't the only one to have a positive reaction with negative results. My first two partners ended up in the hospital barely a week apart." Gripping the bedrail, he leaned over Shawn's bed toward her, speaking slowly for emphasis. "Not only was Marco the only person who could fill your shoes, by the end of the first month, he was the only person willing to take the job."

Why had she not known how bad it had been? In response to her stunned expression, Tom leaned back from his aggressive stance.

"Think, for a minute, Diana." His voice had calmed, though it still carried the edge that came from his trying to reason with someone he felt was being obstinate. "How many years have you known Marco?"

"Six."

"And in all that time, has he ever done anything deceptive?"

Rolling her eyes, she held out a finger, intent on counting the examples. "First there was hacking into Lytell's computer-"

He gave her a hard look. "Has he ever lied to you?"

Grudgingly, she admitted, "No."

"Has he ever done anything detrimental to you in any way?"

"No."

"Given what you know if him, does it seem like he would do what you're accusing him of?"

"I...suppose not, but it's like...someone is trying to keep us apart, and he's in the perfect position to do it."

"You're in an even better position and have been doing a fine enough job of that without anyone's help." Again, she was stung by the truth, but Tom just shrugged. "Only someone in a big hurry could get a passport as quickly as you did for Maia. You might have had some small concerns about leaving, but you practically flew out the door, Diana."

Wanting to keep the focus on Marco's suspicious new nature, she insisted, "Plus, he's so different, now."

"And you're not?"

Her brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

Tom gave a laugh, as though she were joking. "The Diana I met four years ago would never have gone to Spain for half a year with a man she'd known for less than a month, least of all when she had a child to worry about and a major crisis at work."

When he said it that way, it did sound odd. "But...you didn't say anything."

"What would I have said?" He shook his head and smiled. "It's your life, Diana. It's not my place to comment on how you live it."

"Just like it wasn't my place to comment on Alana moving in with you?" At that, Tom nodded and looked away, his whole stature changing. Unsure as to the cause, she asked, "What is it? What's wrong?"

He busied himself with straightening his nephew's bedding. "She's gone."

"What do you mean, 'gone'? Did the government renege on their deal?"

Meeting her gaze, his was shockingly hollow. "I mean 'gone' as in 'abducted.' It happened shortly after you left."

She could feel her eyes rounding in response, her heart speeding up, but it was as much at the shock of not having known as at the prospect of the woman Tom loved having been kidnapped. "Who...?"

"Marco and the guys in the basement think it's the same people who took them all in the first place."

"He does, does he?"

The skepticism in her voice caused Tom's brow to furrow, again. "She was taken from in front of the house, and no one has claimed responsibility, nor has forensics or our investigation come up with any leads."

"That doesn't mean-"

An angry gesture cut her off. "They used the gravity test you originally proposed. Besides...there were witnesses."

"What?" For some reason, it bothered her that Marco had again been let off the hook. It made her wonder at herself. All that the eager young scientist had ever done was try to help them as best as he could. Why was she so determined to paint him as a villain?

"Ball of light, the whole nine yards." Her ex-partner looked down, a subtle strain in his voice. "They took her back. They took her away from me, almost like it was punishment."

"Tom..." She'd never seen him like this and didn't know what to say.

"I haven't seen or heard from Kyle, either, not since the government seized all of The Center's assets." He shrugged again.

For some reason, his ability to do so in connection with something so heartbreaking reminded her of Marco, of the time she had told him it was over between them, and it made a part of her soul twinge. Even so, she resisted the urge to reach out and offer comfort. "I'm so sorry."

"You do it?" He smiled sadly.

"No..."

"Then there's no reason for you to feel sorry."

"I didn't know..." And she should have.

Nodding, he held up a finger. "About that. Since you seem to have issues with Marco, and it's possible someone connected to NTAC is involved, how about we ask Sid to quietly start an investigation for us?" Sid had stayed with the DHS when NTAC had been formed, content to keep out of all the "creepy stuff" his colleagues had found so compelling. "After all, no matter who's responsible, it's something that needs looking into."

"Good idea."

Pulling out his cell phone, Tom started flicking through menus. "So, if he's available, how about lunch at Sakura?" It was a little Japanese place with private booths, located about halfway between NTAC and the DHS headquarters.

Having not eaten Japanese for more than half a year, the idea appealed to her. "Perfect."