by Valerie Vancollie

valeriev84 at hotmail dot com

Spoilers: Uncertainty Principle, Structural Corruption, Sniper Zero, Judgment Call

Note: 1) This fic is set just after Structural Corruption. The reason Sniper Zero and Judgment Call are listed as spoilers is because of the information they contain about Terry and her relationship with her ex-husband.
2) NAT New Agent Trainee
3) This fic was written for the summer fic quote challenge at Numb3rs Het to write a fic inspired by a chosen quote prompt.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Numb3rs characters, items or situations. I only lay claim to the original aspects of the fic.

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. - Jean Houston

The first time Terry had really noticed Don Eppes had been at lunch, three weeks into their training at Quantico. Sure, she'd seen him before and had appreciated his physical appearance along with most of the other female NATs, but it had been more in the abstract. The way one's eyes were naturally drawn to beautiful people or things.

That lunch, though, was different. She'd been sitting on her own, waiting for her friend to show up while Don had sat two small tables further down with a group of his own friends. Terry's attention had drifted towards them just as one of the guys, Daniels she thought, had cracked a joke of some kind that had caused them all to roar with laughter.

Oh Lord, that laugh. It had been her undoing.

Don's entire face seemed to transform when he laughed. Having seen it again earlier in the week, Terry could well remember the effect it'd had on her all those years ago. In a single instant he'd gone from being a classmate to a potential boyfriend, at least she could see that now, back then she'd been too focused on her studies to allow herself to recognize what she felt. Luckily for her, Caroline had chosen that moment to arrive or she was sure she'd have kept staring at Don.

As it was, she'd been distracted enough for Caroline to notice.

"And Agent Brightman will be bringing monkeys in for her lecture on Friday."

"Uh-huh," Terry uttered as he gaze slid back to Eppes before her mind processed the sentence and she whipped her attention back to her new friend. "What?!"

"I wanted to see if you're paying attention and you're clearly not," Caroline stated as she started to turn in her chair. "What are you looking at anyway?"

"No, don't!" Terry warned, but it was too late.

"Oh, has someone caught your eye?" Caroline questioned, a huge smile on her face as she turned back to Terry. "So, which one is it?"

"No one," Terry replied, forcing herself not to look beyond her friend.

"Come on, you can tell me," Caroline cajoled, sneaking a quick glance over her shoulder. "Is it Daniels? Fitchman? DiNozzo? Eppes? Ein- oh, it's Eppes!"

"And what makes you say that?"

"Your eyes," Caroline stated, quite pleased with herself. "He's hot, isn't he?"


"You do realize half the class has a crush on him, don't you?"

Terry scowled at her friend even as she noticed the group of guys getting up. "Just because I noticed him today doesn't mean anything."

"Noticed him? Today? Girl, you need to get your eyes checked if you only 'noticed him' today!"

Terry bit her tongue as the guys passed by their tables, her eyes involuntarily seeking Eppes out. Just as he passed behind Caroline, Don looked up and their eyes met briefly. She was thankful to be seated as her legs felt like jelly at the smile that lit up his face.

A smile directed purely at her.

Terry found herself smiling at the memory. Despite all of Caroline's teasing and encouragement, she'd found herself unable to approach Don, preferring instead to watch him from a distance. She'd told herself at the time that she was profiling him, practicing her skills.

What she hadn't thought of was that while Don wasn't training to be a profiler, he was both an FBI NAT and a guy used to be looked at. Two factors that would make him more likely to notice her covert observations.

Even now Terry wasn't sure when it was that he'd realized she was watching him, but she could clearly remember when he'd let her know that he knew.

"You sure you don't want to come?" DiNozzo questioned as all of the guys sitting with Don got up.

"Yeah, you guys go and enjoy yourselves," Don said. "I've got to finish this."

"Do it later, man," Fitchman argued. "There's still plenty of time to get it done."

Terry glanced up, catching the disapproving glance of another NAT aimed at their table. They were being a bit too loud for the library.

"I've got other assignments I need to complete," Don stated. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Terry focused her attention on the article she was trying to reread as they said their goodbyes and walked past her table. Although she wanted to glance up again, she forced herself not to in case Don was still watching his friends.

She managed to keep her attention on the article until an inarticulate noise made her look up. Don was in the middle of a full body stretch, perched on the edge of his seat in such a way that Terry wasn't sure how he managed to stay on it. Automatically her eyes ran along his tanned and muscled arms and across his chest. As usual he was wearing a T-shirt and jeans a size too small. Due to the stretch, the shirt was pulled up, revealing just a hint of muscled and tanned abdomen that made her mouth go dry.

As the shirt dropped back down and a hand came into view, Terry's eyes followed the forearm up to his shoulder. Looking up further, she started as she met dark eyes. Don was looking right back at her, a smug smile on his face. Terry felt the heat rise in her face as she realized that she'd been caught. Then, deliberately, Don dropped his eyes and ran his gaze along her body.

Terry fought down another blush and merely leaned back in her chair and raised an eyebrow. Don threw his head back and laughed, causing her breath to catch at the sight once more.

A loud 'ssh!' sound from the scowling NAT had Don attempting to look contrite as he grabbed his things before walking to her table, a large smile still gracing his face.

"Trainee Lake, do you mind if I join you?"

"No, go ahead," the words had left Terry's mouth before she realized it.

"Ah, perfect," Don said as he saw the article she was reading and pulled his own, highlighted, one out. "Do you fully understand what the author is saying about the compulsions of serial killers?"

Terry shook her head, unbeknownst to either of them at the time, that had been the start of a partnership and friendship that would last all the way to the present. They'd quickly learned that they were each able to help the other in their training and they'd collaborated on a number of projects, to the delight of their trainers.

Their relationship had started a bit more slowly, Don clearly sensing that she didn't want to rush into anything. Despite that, he'd known exactly when to push when she was hesitating. Although they'd gotten together at the library or target range, their first real date in the sense of dinner and non-Academy conversation had been at one of those times where she was holding back.

Instead of pushing the point, Don had merely shown up at the laundromat on her laundry night with pizza, beer and a huge smile saying that she had to eat and he could keep her company as she waited. Terry's smile grew wishful at the memory. Despite what she'd said to Alan earlier in the week and the ribbing she'd given Don, she had nothing but good memories of that evening. They'd really gotten to know each other and had shared their first kiss at the end of it.

Terry shook her head and took a sip of the hot chocolate she'd made after she'd changed into her nightgown and robe. She knew she shouldn't revisit the past, for while the memories were good, they only served to make her feel even more lonely than normal. She wasn't sure she could have stopped herself, though, not after the past week. Some of the memories had returned to her as soon as Don had asked her what she was doing the night of Alan's date. Combined with his carefree laughter during the evening... it had almost been inevitable that memories would be triggered given that it was what had made her notice him to begin with.

"No weirdness, Don, just history."

Her words echoed in her mind and Terry shook her head as she recalled the conversation and subsequent dinner. What she'd said was true, there was no awkwardness between them. Don was the only one of her ex-boyfriends with whom she was still friends and with whom she still felt comfortable. Yet their history was clearly still there, as evidenced by the subtle undercurrents and flirting that arose from time to time.

The complete lack of awkwardness was the main reasons why she had not made any attempt to reestablish what they had once had, tempting though it was at times. Well, that and the fact that Don had made no move of his own in that direction. On some level Terry almost wished that he would, while at the same time she was glad he didn't.

Their unique ability to move beyond their failed relationship and back to the friendship and partnership they'd formed first was probably due to the nature of their breakup. Unlike all of her other romantic relationships, they'd parted ways without an argument, without heated words being exchanged and without one person hurting the other. They had both come to the same conclusion; they had both known that come graduation they would be leaving for different posts and that a long distance relationship was unfeasible.

None of which stopped her from being tantalized by the possibilities. Would that her marriage had only ended in such a way, Terry mused as she looked down at the ring she still wore despite the pain and anguish in that breakup. There was another man she wasn't quite ready to forget.

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