Once upon a time, Jo Lupo thought as she trudged away from Global Dynamics, long past dusk, I had a job that allowed me to eat dinner sometime before 9:00 pm. Then again, she thought ruefully, once upon a time a night that ended by 11:00 was an early night. She chuckled humorlessly to herself and tossed a stack of paperwork into the backseat. I'm turning into an old woman, at twenty-eight. Maybe I should get a cat. She'd had a lot of things, once upon a time. She sighed and turned the key in the ignition, half-expecting yet another hapless scientist to come out demanding some sort of arbitration – or retribution. It was hard to believe this job had once felt like a promotion. She'd gone from babysitting Carter to babysitting belligerent, self-satisfied scientists. At least when she was on Carter duty it was implicitly understood that she was a valuable team member and not a glorified marriage counselor, of all things. The last thing she wanted to do was negotiate other peoples' relationships – right now, she'd had enough of relationships to last a lifetime.
She pulled into the parking behind Café Diem about fifteen minutes later, but rather than go inside she gave herself a moment, leaning against her car. Light flooded out of the cafe full of people and cut into the surrounding night, giving faint illumination to the relatively dark street. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the people inside, knowing there was a distinct possibility she'd be accosted by the one person she wanted to avoid most – or worse, he'd be in there, too engrossed in the girl she loved like a sister to notice her entrance at all. Either possibility was nauseating.
Since she'd moved out from Carter's and into her new house, they hadn't had much opportunity to talk – and they'd been avoiding the topic of Zoe whenever possible since long before she'd left. She had no idea where Zoe might be right now.
She tried to slip through the door quietly, and slink in without attracting any attention, but Vincent (damn him) had rigged the door with an electronic bell so he would never risk missing any of the best gossip. True to form, his head shot up like a jack-in-the-box from rummaging behind the counter.
"Jo!" he enthused, much louder than she would have liked, and across the room, the ears of a certain blue-eyed scientist and sometime felon perked. Jo cringed and took a seat at the bar, feeling a certain degree of queasy anxiety establish itself.
"Vincent…hi," She said, unenthusiastically, eyes already sliding back in the direction of her exit route.
"What'll it be this evening? The special tonight is curry with shrimp! Have I got a taker?" Jo shook her head. Her stomach was twisted into knots badly enough as it was. God, she was going to give herself an ulcer at this rate. Perhaps she already had.
"I think I'll have to settle for a baked potato and a salad, Vince." She replied.
"And a cup of your usual?" he asked.
"No," she sighed, and Vincent raised his eyebrows. "A cup of ouzo right now would only put me to sleep on the drive home, and that's the last thing GD needs. Just tea, please. Peppermint." Vincent gave her an odd look, but nodded and bustled off to the next customer. Jo fiddled with the salt and pepper shakers while she waited for her meal, but it had only been a few minutes when she felt a familiar presence hovering behind her and stiffened. Zane stepped to her side and took a seat at the stool next to hers with a familiar smirk.
"Long time, no see, Jo-Jo." He drawled.
"Not nearly long enough," she muttered, and refused to look him in the eye. It had been nearly a week since she'd last made that mistake and she had been avoiding him with near fanatical determination ever since. As she stared determinedly at the counter, Vincent slipped a plate in front of her and fled the scene, posthaste. Curious he might be, but he and just about every other inhabitant of Eureka had long since learned that when Jo and Zane were at war, it was best to keep a safe distance and avoid the fallout.
Zane took advantage of the distraction to slide his stool just a half-foot closer. Unfortunately for Jo, Zane's learning curve was just as good, if not better, than most of Eureka. Rather than take Jo's pointed avoidance as an answer, he'd quickly learned that persistence was the path to his goal – whatever that might be at any given moment. At the moment, his goal was her attention, so as Jo began a half-hearted excavation of her baked potato, he lowered his voice and began his latest phase of attack, one which had been inevitable after that revelation of a kiss in Carter's office.
"So," he started again, "If I remember, when we last… spoke, there was something you were going to explain to me." He smiled wickedly. "Not that I was opposed to a little show and tell."
"Go to hell," she muttered at her plate.
"Jo-Jo," he said, in sing-song tones. "Come on now, Jo-Jo, don't be like that," and now his fingers ghosted lightly across her waist. Jo sucked in a sudden breath and closed her eyes, her last bite of potato now seeming utterly tasteless in her mouth. She swallowed with sudden difficulty, and was grateful she had once Zane's fingers began tracing feather-light patterns on her skin, causing her to choke on her own breath. "Ah," he said smugly. "I think you may be paying attention after all." His hand slid from her mid-back, down to her waist, and he was playing a dangerous game because next thing she knew, his hand was on her thigh, caressing gently.
He leaned forward, "You know, this would all be easier if you would just tell me, Jo-Jo," he murmured. "We both know what you want." There was no hesitation evident in his movements, and Jo thought faintly that this was the trouble with deceiving geniuses. He had, no doubt, sussed out that if she'd been planning on tasing him over this, she would have done so a week ago, in Carter's office. Her traitorous body kept giving her away, she thought ruefully. Even Jo had realized not long thereafter that her will to resist him had dwindled to almost nonexistent, and from then on she'd been pointedly avoiding him. But now his hand was stroking and massaging her thigh with no little skill, and, to her complete mortification she realized she'd just made a breathy little sigh, which for her was about a heartbeat away from a moan.
She had completely forgotten about her food, at this point – it was probably cold by now anyway – and she made the mistake of looking up.
His eyes were dark, like the sea in a storm – a look she remembered well – and she felt a sudden rush of satisfaction when she recognized that, whatever his original motives, he was no more immune to what lay between them than she was.
"Jo," he finally said, sounding a little strangled, and just like that the spell was broken, and she remembered where they were, and cold reality began to sink in - people would notice, and she was frozen, because she couldn't bring herself to stop him, but she knew she couldn't respond either. It was starting to feel hard to breathe, and she felt lightheaded, and with alarming clarity she realized that if she did not get up right now, she was going to be ill in the middle of the crowded café. She stumbled off the stool and fled for the bathroom, leaving Zane behind to stew in his puzzlement at what reaction, exactly, he had just provoked in her.
She burst into the stall and was incredibly thankful that she kept her hair up in a practical ponytail, because the door had barely shut behind her when she started retching, losing most of her meals for the day and then some. When she was finally finished, she flushed and collapsed, boneless, against the cool wall of the bathroom stall, and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, right there on the floor, and deal with the aftermath some other day. Still, the lingering scent was more than enough to turn her now empty stomach, and with reluctance she cleaned up what mess there was and rinsed her mouth in the sink, eying the door with apprehension.
Finally she mustered up the courage to step through the door and passed through the hallway back into the café. A wave of relief passed through her when she realized that Zane had gone, followed by the slightest taint of disappointment, and she thought fleetingly that it was not entirely inconceivable that just a month ago, Zane would have been holding back her hair, perhaps rubbing her back… she and Zane had done more than their share of sickbed duty, living in the zone of constant chaos that was Eureka. It was remarkable, really, that their relationship had survived the steady stream of disasters at all. With the exception, of course, of this one – without which she would no doubt never have actually become stressed to the point of illness in the first place.
"Vincent, I'm going to have to bring this home, after all." She said, regretfully. Vincent gave her a calculating look, but handed her take-out containers just the same.
"Well have a good night!" he called after her. Doubtful, she thought, but called back "You too!" just the same, and headed to her car. And if a part of her was disappointed that Zane – any Zane – wasn't waiting for her – well, she certainly wasn't about to acknowledge it. She returned home, resolute in her decision to firstly, get some rest, and secondly, forget all about Zane.
It wasn't until hours later, long after packing away her leftovers, and much later than she had intended to go sleep, that she thought of Zane again. For once, it started as a pleasant thought as she absently brushed her hair, running through her typical routine of one hundred strokes every night. Lately, this routine felt like the most stable thing in her life. It was, after all, something she'd picked up from her childhood habit of sitting on her father's knee and having him brush her already long, dark hair. Even long after their routine had faded away, the fond memories and the habit remained. It was one of the first quirks Zane had noticed about her after the first few times he stayed over her house – every night, she'd settle down with her hairbrush. One evening, he'd realized she was actually counting each stroke of the brush through her hair, and hadn't been able to resist satisfying his own curiosity. It was only a few months later that she'd allowed him to pick up the tradition himself. It had been one of the first ways she'd cautiously begun to let him in. Now was just one more way he'd managed to squirm in through the chinks in her usually impeccable armor.
She continued to brush her hair absently as she remembered the last night in which she'd sat in bed while Zane slowly ran the brush through her hair stroke by stroke. It would have been perhaps a little more than a month ago… the night before he proposed, and everything had fallen to pieces. Did he already have the ring from his grandmother, she wondered, and where on earth had he been hiding the lingerie box – surely it wasn't one of the boxes left over from the original delivery? Had he been thinking about it that night, while they were together? Had he been just a little bit more tender, or attentive, than usual? It'd been a week since they'd had sex last, she thought, because she distinctly remembered making some kind of protest about how she needed to get up early for her Founder's Day duties, and he'd taunted her into his way of thinking: 'Come on, Jo-Jo… haven't you missed me, just a little?' He'd breathed into her ear and toyed with the elastic of the boy shorts she'd been wearing to sleep, knowing perfectly well how hard it would be for her to say no to him.
She smiled faintly at the memory and put down the brush, looking in the mirror and wondering how it could have happened that she'd gone from that idyllic evening, to fleeing his near-perfect replica's advances and losing her stomach in the public bathroom at Café Diem. She'd never thought before that she was the kind of woman who gave someone so much power over her. Once upon a time she'd thought the only thing that could make her stop in her tracks was debilitating injury – perhaps the only time her body won out over her own determination. Something like a bullet in the chest, or near death by electrocution, that was what she expected to hold her back from what needed to be done. She'd certainly never let herself lose control enough that someone else could make her physically ill.
Well, perhaps the issue was her body, after all. She hadn't been feeling anything like feverish, but… she hadn't exactly been attentive to things, lately. She grabbed a thermometer, shaking her head. It could be any number of things, the flu, food poisoning – an actual poisoning, which she wouldn't put past the scientists she'd been handling, day in and day out. She glanced at the thermometer. 98.5°.Normal. Perfect, even. Then a stray thought flitted through her mind, and she almost rejected it out of hand, until she considered her uncharacteristic reaction to Zane's advances. Now that she'd regained a little clarity and control, she heartily wished she'd shot the smug bastard.The very thought was absurd, and she really wanted to dismiss this out of hand, but now that she began to consider it, she was starting to feel afraid in a way she hadn't since she'd first arrived from 1947. Then, she had been panicked, and rightly so, over Zane. But now… in a daze, she replaced the thermometer and went to look at the calendar in her office. It'd been about nine weeks since Founder's Day. Her heart jumped into her throat, but she forced herself to stay calm. It was entirely unlikely, after all, but she'd just go test it herself – just in case – and then she'd have an answer, and she could write the whole thing off. Jo returned to her kitchen on autopilot and grabbed the car keys. Sleep would just have to wait.
Disclaimer: I do not own Eureka, and if I did, trust me, it would not be limited to summer seasons. Nor do I own the title "Everything is Illuminated." I just chose it because it sounds nice and seemed apropos.
Happy reading, folks.
EDIT: 11/1/10 – I finally decided on a decent timeline for this story so I've tweaked this chapter almost imperceptibly.