A/N: Okay, okay, enough obsessing over getting every word perfect! I owe it to everyone who read chapter one to finish the tale. This is probably the geekiest thing I have ever written, btw. Science puns abound, you've been warned…
"Alright, who made the DNA cake?" Robert asked, laughing as he examined the confection laid out on Irene Quatro's confetti-covered office table.
"I did!" Dr. Tsuji said proudly, tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear. "I baked a vanilla cake and cut it in a twisted ribbon shape, and used the cut-out hemispheres to build the ribbon even longer. The frosting is chocolate buttercream," she added, watching him take a closer look.
"I see you've included the nucleotides as well," Robert remarked, adjusting his glasses as he gazed at the pink candy letters of G, C, A and T. "Are those…" he paused, noticing the blue-wrapped packages lying near the cake. "Are those for me?"
"Yes. The flat one is from Markus; the boxier one is from me."
"I love how you bent over backwards to avoid saying 'larger' and 'smaller,'" Markus told Irene with a grin. "But yeah, that one's from me, Robert. Hope you like it."
"I have no doubts about that. Dr. Tsuji, what do you say we sample this confection of yours?"
"I was hoping someone would say that!" Elena said with a relieved smile. "It's making my mouth water just to look at it."
Justin and Val had been eyeing the cake as well, so Irene brought out the paper plates and a silver cake knife. She was poised to cut the first slice when Robert cleared his throat. "Yes, Robert?"
"Madame Director, I know you are aware my time of being able to use a knife without hesitation is running down. As trivial as it may seem, I ask permission to serve the cake."
The room fell silent.
"Of-of course, Robert." She handed the knife over.
"Elena?" Justin said in surprise, turning at the sound of a sniff.
"I…I haven't cried while watching a cake be cut since my cousin's wedding," Elena sniffled, wiping her eyes with her wrist.
Robert had already placed several pieces on plates. He carried two over to Elena. "Here, my dear. You choose first. Intron or extron?"
"Extron, please," she said with a tiny smile, wiping the last few tears away with the back of her slender hand.
"Excellent choice." He handed a piece over. "It's important to keep things organized and separated properly, but it's just as important to have something of substance and value to organize. Some people get too caught up on introns."
"I'll remember that." Elena accepted the piece, squeezing his hand as she did so.
Just as Robert was handing the last plate to Justin, the door burst open and Cynthia stepped in, breathless. "Sorry I'm late! I had to finish up a report and fax it to Humani. Did I miss anything?" She was looking stylish in sandblasted jeans, beaded moccasins, and a soft peach t-shirt.
"Nothing major, we were just about to eat the cake. Want some?" Val asked, picking up her own plate and offering it to her friend. "Kenae made it herself."
"Oh! I don't usually eat desserts, but…it does look tempting." Cynthia accepted the piece and took a seat across from Robert. "I-I'm really going to miss working with you, Robert," she said sadly, looking down. "You taught me so much."
"I'm going to miss you, too, Cynthia," Robert replied softly, a shadow crossing his usually sunny face. "You were a great help."
Markus put down his fork. "Are we coming to the sad part already? I was hoping we could put off the emotional farewells at least until we finished eating."
"Goodbyes aren't automatically depressing," Kenae protested, picking a candy letter off her plate and biting it in half with an irritable clip of her teeth. "Look, why don't we go around the table and say a memory of working with Robert? I'll start."
Despite what Kenae had said, once everyone had shared their memories there was a long moment of silence before the party mood was recovered enough to tackle the presents.
* * *
"Ah, Madame Director, the newest edition of "Grey's Anatomy"! It's beautiful." He thumbed through the gold-edged pages, pausing now and then at favorite bits. "Look at the new illustration for—"
"Uh, that's okay, Robert," Irene said, holding up a palm. "We trust they are fantastic illustrations. Glad you like it."
"You know me too well. It's the perfect book!"
"Don't forget to open mine," Markus put in.
"Oh yes of course." Robert gently lay the heavy book down and picked up Markus' floppy gift. He carefully slid his thumb under the fold in the paper and ran it along the edge to peel up the tape. "A…shirt?"
"Yeah, but look what it says on it," Val said, hiding a smile behind her hand.
Robert grasped the black t-shirt by the sleeves and held it up. In large white block letters, front and back, was the sentence "I Have a Golgi Complex."
"Where in the world did you…?"
"I got the letters at a teachers' supply store and ironed them on," Markus said sheepishly. "Like it?"
"I do. Very much." Robert gave him a warm smile. "Thank you, colleague."
"I didn't know you had a quirky sense of humor, Markus," Cynthia remarked.
"Well…I guess you learn something new every day, huh? Glad you like it, Robert."
The sun was beginning to slant lower and lower across the table, the mood was quieting again and everyone seemed to know the final time had come. Elena and Kanae began throwing away trash.
As everyone was leaving, Markus caught Robert by the sleeve. "Robert, I swear that I'm going to work on replicating Xapier. I'm dead serious. I don't care if I have to break into the storehouse and find the ingredients written in invisible ink on the wall. I'm gonna do this, and you're coming back when I do. Got it?" Markus' voice was growing slightly husky.
"Dr. Vaughn…I don't know what to say…"
"Just please don't give up hope. Never, never stop hoping."
"Now, I can agree to that old boy," Robert said, thrusting out his hand. "Our profession is built on hope, wouldn't you say?"
"I would," Markus said, and they gripped hands.