Diane tapped her stylus against her glasses absently, staring at but not really seeing the data that streamed across the screen of the full-size JMD.
"...try some alternate endurance tests."
"That sounds good, Fran."
"Diane? Did you even hear a word I just said?"
"Sure. Endurance. Yeah."
She looked up to see her research assistant staring at her, arms folded, and lips twitching in faint amusement.
"What?" Diane asked at the look on Fran's face.
"So you seriously want me to design an experiment based on how long Jake can hop on one foot while patting his head?"
"Hop on one--What?"
Fran took the stylus and JMD out of Diane's hands, and set them on the counter. "Why don't you head home?" she suggested, her expression sympathetic and stern all at once.
"After Jake checks in," Fran said, nodding her head sagely, and Diane scowled. Fran had only been on the project for a month, but she had thus far proven herself a keen observer of human nature. At least where Diane was concerned. It was nice to actually have a co-worker on whom she could count not just for her abilities, but also her companionship. Especially after three years of being treated less like a colleague and more like a gofer by Dr. Gage, a mistake she was determined never to repeat with one of her staff.
However, there were times when she wished Fran couldn't read her quite so easily or so well.
"After I finish this diagnostic." Diane reached for the hand-held JMD, which Fran pushed out of her reach.
"You've run it twice. I've run it twice. I think we're good."
Diane sighed in defeat, and cupped her chin in her hand. "It's just that he hasn't come by since--I mean, the whole thing with Theresa really had him messed up, you know?"
"I'm sure he'll be fine."
"I dunno. I mean, he's really not happy about having to lie to a girl--any girl that he's, you know--I mean, sure she turned out to be all... evil. And lying to Jake all along. I knew she was too aggressive. All 'oh, why don't you come upstairs and see my studio, Strange Young Man I Met On The Street?' and 'my, how sexy you are, I must dance with you and feed you--'"
"Aren't you taking this a bit personally?"
"What? No! No," she finished, lamely. "Fran. We're just friends."
"We are," Diane repeated, a little annoyed. "I just want to make sure he's okay, that's all."
"I believe you," Fran assured her, her tone light. "But you might as well head out."
"Jake was headed home, last time I saw him."
"When I went to get some coffee, he was talking to Agent Duarte."
Diane froze for a second, debating the relative merits of playing it cool so that Fran might actually believe her when she said her interest in Jake was 100% strictly professional, and then muttered, "Oh, screw it."
She grabbed her bag and jacket, and threw her lab coat in the general direction of the coat stand in one corner of the lab, much to Fran's amusement.
"See you in the morning," Fran called after her.
Diane hit the door of the parking garage running, her footsteps echoing on the concrete floor. According to Carver, Jake had only just left, and she tried to ignore the relief she felt when she caught sight of him making his way across the parking lot towards his car.
"Jake, hey." She slowed down as she caught up with him, breathing a little hard from her mad dash from the medlab. "What, ah.... Whatcha--What are you doing with that?" she asked, gesturing to the oil painting he held in his left hand.
"Uh, evidence cleared it," he said, sounding slightly distracted. "I'm taking it home."
"Oh." She fell into step beside him. "It's nice. It'll look nice in your place."
"Yeah. It's my reminder that I can't trust people anymore. I can't even trust myself, you know?"
She goggled slightly. "Jake, you can trust people. What...?"
She stopped dead in her tracks, frowning at how utterly dejected he sounded. "No. Whoa. Wait. Wait wait wait wait wait."
He'd gotten a bit ahead of her, and she ran to catch up. "Jake, just listen."
He turned to face her, still looking resigned a just a little bit wary, and she took a deep breath. "Look, I know for the mission and all that, yeah, you--you can't trust anyone. But that's--that's just your job. I mean, you don't have to take that home. It's just... you gotta find moments with people that you do trust. You know. And people with whom you can be honest, and then it keeps you balanced." Her resolve faltered a bit, as his expression appeared to be carved of stone. "You know what I mean?"
There was lengthy pause while he considered her vaguely rambling reassurance. Butterflies danced in the pit of her stomach, while she waited to see if she'd just made things worse.
"So where are you from, anyway?" he asked, some of his black mood having apparently lifted.
"Bar Harbour, Maine." She grinned, relieved. They started walking again, this time side-by-side. "What about you?"
"Akron, Ohio? What's there to do in Akron, Ohio?"
"There's an amusement park," he said, and she laughed.
"Yeah. Geauga Lake."
"Is it fun?"
"I threw up on the Big Dipper when I was thirteen," he said with a shrug as they reached his car and he slid the painting into the back seat.
"That sounds... um... fun."
It was his turn to laugh, and she was glad he was able to. "Not so much for the people on the ground."
"Yeah. Hey, do you want some company?" she said quickly, as he moved around to the driver's side door. "Maybe help keep you from making more holes in your walls, hanging that thing?"
He paused, lips parted in surprise. Then he gave her a smile. "Yeah. Actually, I would."
"Okay, a little higher on the right."
Jake tilted the heavy wooden frame. "How's this?"
Diane squinted. "Just a little more."
They stepped back to admire the landscape now hanging above the television.
"It looks really nice," Diane observed.
"Yeah. For an international arms dealer, Theresa's a surprisingly good artist."
Diane didn't know how to answer that, so she nervously tucked a stray curl behind her ear, and pointed to the phone on the desk.
"Oh hey--your message light is blinking."
Jake's eyes narrowed as he gave the phone a Significant Look, and Diane imagined she could see the nanites leaping to work along his central nervous system as the phone beeped and a tinny voice issued from the small speaker.
"Hey Jake, it's Kevin. Just calling to let you know there's a fitting this Saturday. Don't forget! Jenny's been on the phone with the store in D.C. all morning, so make sure you and Sarah get your butts over there on time. If they have to re-schedule one more time, we'll just safety-pin that puppy onto your skinny-ass body. How's the speech coming? Later, dude."
The machine beeped again, the red light glowing steadily.
"Fitting?" Diane asked, unable to hide her curiosity.
"My best friend from college is getting married in a few weeks in Seattle. I'm the best man, so--tux."
"Oh. That sounds really--you and Sarah?" she said, before she could stop herself.
"He--your friend. He just said you and Sarah, so I thought maybe you were going with--I mean, together."
"Oh. Um... I mean, we're both in the wedding party. She and Jen--Kevin's fiancée Jen--they were sorority sisters. So, we'll be there together, but not, like... together together."
"Oh." Diane said, knowing she should stop now before she said something she would regret later, and yet somehow wholly unable to flip the switch in her brain that would allow her to just let it go. "Didn't you have a sorta kind of date with her?"
"Yeah, as it turns out, the 'sorta kinda' part translates to I thought it was a date--and she didn't."
"Oh." She cringed on his behalf.
"Yeah--the story of my life."
"Are you trying to get me to give you another pep talk?" Diane asked, arms crossed and giving him the eye. "Because I was quite peppy earlier. I might be pepped out."
Jake laughed. "You're not much into enabling, are you?"
"Mmmm, not so much," she agreed.
"You want some dinner?" He picked up a stack of take-out menus from the coffee table. "There's pizza, Chinese, or there's a Thai place down the street--"
"That sounds great. Um, Chinese, pizza. Whatever you want. I'm just gonna run to the little scientist's room."
Diane turned on the taps, and let the water run into Jake's sink while she stared at her reflection in the mirror.
There was no reason why Jake going to a wedding with an old college friend should bother her. Not a single logical reason.
She was bothered.
This was *insane.
For that matter, there was no sane reason she could think of why a beautiful international arms dealer putting a quarter in Jake's parking meter would have bugged her to the point where she'd gotten snarky in the middle of Sat Ops, in front of Lou and Kyle and Carver and half the NSA. She shouldn't even have been in Sat Ops. But ever since the Chinese Embassy, she seemed unable to stay away when Jake was out on a mission. He hadn't needed his doctor to monitor him while he was in a parked car on stake-out, but Lou had humoured her.
Fran's teasing of that afternoon came back to her, and she frowned.
She and Jake were just friends. Friends who shared a secret. It was nice to have someone to talk to who was, for lack of a better word, a civilian. He may be an agent, but he wasn't like the other agents they worked with. He still acted and thought like a normal person. Albeit, one with millions of microscopic computers coursing through his system that gave him superpowers that she was only just beginning to understand.
Sure, she had thought he was cute from the moment she'd met him, that was true. And she'd entertained all sorts of fun little fantasies after they'd spent the night on his couch, watching old movies and just talking. She was so comfortable with him, even though they'd only know each other a few months. She genuinely liked him, and she was ridiculously pleased with the fact that she was able to tease him out of his moody spells.
But she was pretty sure Jake hadn't had the same idle thoughts about throwing her down and ravishing her with wild abandon. Those sorts of fantasies were reserved for college crushes, and apparently international arms dealers. Not his doctor. Not his bespectacled, not particularly tall doctor who wore make-up beyond lipstick maybe twice a year and hadn't had a date--let alone anything even approaching a love life--in six months.
"Okay, Hughes," she told her reflection sternly. "You think he's cute. You so need to get over that."
"Diane? You okay?" Jake called from the living room, and she turned off the taps.
Nano-enhanced hearing. Fabulous.
"Be out in a sec!"
"Light beer, dark beer, or beer beer?" Jake asked as Diane emerged from the bathroom.
"You have an assortment of beer?" she asked, one eyebrow raised. "Where's Jake Foley, and what have you done with him?"
"Hey, I'm complex."
"Beer beer's fine," Diane said, smiling. Jake had to admit that he was glad that she'd found him in the garage. If she hadn't been here, he probably would have spent the night wallowing in self-pity.
It wasn't just the fact that Diane had been right--it was impossible to believe that a girl like Theresa could possibly be interested in him. Apparently, the only time a woman was interested in him was if she was trying to use him to help the NSA funnel explosives into the country or, couldn't find her C-drive. After all, that wasn't exactly news. He'd spent most of high school and all of college wistfully daydreaming about all the untouchable girls who wouldn't give him the time of day. So he was at least accustomed to the constant rejection.
No--what had really gotten to him about the whole thing was the idea that not only could he not trust anyone, but that no one could really trust him. He hated all the deception that had become a part of his daily life, and part of him was slightly terrified by how easy it was becoming to look someone--even someone he cared about--straight in the eye and lie. So the idea of having at least one person in his life with whom he could be completely honest was intensely appealing. Lou was his boss, and although he and Kyle had been getting along a lot better since the Chinese Embassy, he had a hard time picturing Agent Duarte coming over after work to drink a few beers and marathon Hitchcock movies on DVD, or play the new Lord of the Rings trivia game.
"So, what's there to do in Bar Harbour, Maine?" Jake asked as twisted off the lids of two bottles of beer--despite the fact that they weren't in fact, twist offs--and handed Diane one.
"Well... there's a national park, if you like camping, or bird watching, or being outdoors, you know, at all." She sat on one end of the couch, one leg tucked beneath her, and sipped her beer. "Oh! There's a ferry that goes up to Nova Scotia. It's called the Cat, and it's supposed to be the fastest car ferry in North America. And there's fishing. Lotta fishing. All sorts of fishing."
"Do you fish?"
"No." She shook her head. "God, no."
"Ah. I can see why you didn't stay. Even with the ferry, and all."
"Not a lot of call for nanotech experts in Maine. What about you?"
"While there might be a huge, possibly even untapped market for IT people in Akron, I couldn't get away fast enough. A fact which I think mortally wounded my mother."
"I think she got the clue when every single school I applied for was out of state. Akron was..." He groped for the right word, gesturing with his beer, and finally gave up. "Akron."
She giggled. "I think I know what you mean."
"You've been to Akron, then?"
"Well, no. But I have a mother. Boy, do I have a mother."
"Ah," Jake said knowingly.
"Yeah," she confirmed.
He sighed. "I do kinda miss White Castle, though. The microwaveable sliders? Not at all like the real thing."
"Okay, I can't begin to tell you how gross that is."
"What about you? You ever miss it?"
"What, White Castle or Akron?"
He gave her a look.
"Sometimes." She took a long pull off her beer. "I mean, I go back at Thanksgiving and Christmas, usually... That's about all of my family that I can stand. They're great in small doses, but anything longer than a week, and suddenly it's 'You'll never meet a nice boy with that thing in your nose.'" She tapped the diamond stud in her nose lightly with a fingertip. "Or my personal fave, 'Nice girls don't have tattoos.'"
Jake coughed as beer went down the wrong pipe. Alarmed, Diane patted him on the back until the coughing fit subsided.
"Are you okay?"
"You have a tattoo?" he asked, incredulous, and she shrugged.
"You just, um..." Jake wiped his mouth with a folded piece of paper towel, "never struck me as a tattoo kind of girl."
"Oh, please." Diane rolled her eyes. "Everybody has tattoos these days. Even research scientists who work for the government."
"Um, so... I mean... where? Is your tattoo, I mean. You don't have to show me, or anything--"
She slipped off her right shoe and extended her foot so he could see the three Japanese characters tattooed on her foot.
"Oh--that's nice. I mean, it's kinda classy. I like it."
"So glad you approve," she said as she fumbled with the buckle on the shoe. "What about you?"
"No tattoos," he said quickly. "I'm not really wild about needles. Or pain. Or any combination thereof."
"What about Sarah?"
"You know, I actually have no idea how she is about needles--"
"So, no visible tattoos? That you know of, I mean."
"Nope. As for non-visible ones... Not like I ever stand a shot at finding out."
Diane frowned in sympathy. "She shot you down, huh?"
"No-no, not exactly," Jake said quickly. "I haven't really made my move."
"How long have you..."
"Since freshman year."
"You're kidding." Diane's mouth dropped open in shock, and she quickly closed it, composing herself. " Jake, she's got to know how you feel--I mean, that's, what? Seven years?"
"Closer to eight," he admitted, fully aware how pathetic that made him sound. "We haven't actually seen that much of each other since we graduated in '99. Actually, the last month or so... I don't know. I thought maybe, but..."
Jake frowned, leaning forward to that his forearms rested on his thighs. He began peeling the label off his beer, a nervous habit he had picked up in college. "Have you ever had somebody who, you see them every day and you just can't help falling for them even though they look at you and all they see is..." he trailed off. "If they just want to be friends?"
"Yeah. Actually, yeah. I have." Diane was quiet for a long moment. "I think... I think, if you care about somebody that long... Eight years is a really long time. Maybe you should just tell her? I mean, what have you got to lose?"
Jake balled up the torn wrapper of his beer and tossed it towards the waste paper basket next to his desk. It bounced off the edge, landing next to his chair. "I suppose bringing up the paralysing fear of complete rejection isn't gonna get me anywhere, huh?"
Diane sighed. "Look. The only way you'll definitely fail is if you never even try."
He gave her a lopsided smile. "I thought you said you were all pep-talked out?'
"Yeah, well... I got my second wind."
"What about you?" he asked, chin in hand.
"What about me?"
"Any stalkers in your past?"
"Oh--no." She shook her head. "No. I'm not the sort of girl who inspires epic undergrad crushes."
"Oh, c'mon. I bet you left a trail of broken hearts when you left Maine."
"Nice boys don't like girls with piercing and tattoos, remember?" she said wryly. "Not to mention ones who are more interested in molecular biology and nanotechnology than parking on a Saturday night."
"Have you thought of expanding your dating pool? Most of the geek guys I know, when they find a pretty geek girl, it's like," he sat up straighter and intoned "'And now we must mate.'"
Diane laughed. "Yeah. I've actually met some of those--just a little too socially inept for me. And, you know--knowing me, that's really saying something."
"You seem pretty socially ept, to me."
"I try. I often fail miserably. But I try."
"Did you ever tell him how you felt?"
"The guy you..."
"Maybe you should take your own advice?" he suggested gently, and she flushed, setting her now-empty beer down on the table and nudging it forward with a fingertip.
"Maybe," she said softly. "Maybe someday."
"So--not to change the subject from our mutual lack of social lives, or anything." He held out the fanned stack of menus like a magician with playing cards. "Pizza? Or Chinese?"
"I probably should head home, actually."
"Are you sure?" Jake asked as she shrugged on her jacket, pulling her hair out from beneath the collar and grabbing her purse off the floor next to the couch.
"Sure!" He jumped off the couch to walk her to the door.
"And the painting looks really nice," she said, gesturing over his shoulder. He glanced back towards the oil painting, half of the path and dense trees blocked and hidden by the decorative pillar that marked the entrance of the bedroom.
"Yeah. It does." He grinned at her, and she smiled.
"So, I'll see you in the morning?"
"Bright and early."
"Okay." She adjusted her purse strap and turned to go.
"And Diane?" he called after her as she started down the hallway, not caring that his nosy neighbour Karen probably had her ear pressed to the door trying to make out what he was saying and to whom.
"Thanks. For just..." he trailed off, trying to figure out what exactly he was thanking her for. "For everything."
Jake sat at his desk, staring at the half-finished missive.
Hello Sarah, it's Jake. A friend of mine got me thinking, and I need to be honest with you. I've known you all this time, and I've never told you how I feel. How I really feel about you. I like you. I've always liked you, Sarah, and not just as a friend.
He'd start off thinking it was more like a script--that he'd pick up the phone and call her, repeating the words he etched onto yellow lined paper. It wouldn't be the first time he'd "rehearsed" to try and not trip over his own tongue with a girl he liked. But he couldn't even bring himself to dial her number. He supposed he could have dropped her an email--or even posted a letter, like some guy in the black and white movies he was always staying up half the night watching on cable.
He even had a vivid daydream of Sarah opening the letter, reading what'd he'd written--but he couldn't seem to get past the look he imagined would be on her face. Confusion, probably. He was vaguely terrified it would be revulsion. All through college, she and Jen hadn't seemed to mind him and Kevin tagging along after them like puppies. And Kev and Jen's upcoming nuptials should have filled him with confidence--that sometimes, the guy really does get the girl of his dreams and the happily ever after.
But he couldn't get past the fact that even if he did tell Sarah how he felt, he couldn't be honest with her. He'd tried. He'd told her flat out at the Chinese Embassy that he was an undercover agent for the NSA on a mission and she'd just laughed at him. Maybe if they'd really met at the Lincoln Memorial that night--split a six-pack, reminisced about old times, and he managed not to puke at the foot of the statue this time--things would be different. He still wasn't sure she'd ever be able to look at him and see a guy worth dating. Dateable material. Anything other than a tech geek she thought moonlighted as a cater waiter to supplement his income.
But the fact was, he hadn't made it to their pseudo-date. And he hadn't been able to tell her why he'd bailed on her, and he couldn't. So things couldn't be different between them. At least not right now. Maybe not ever.
Theresa Carano had been a pretty harsh lesson to learn. Before the pieces had fallen into place and he realised he'd been duped, he'd been practically giddy with the idea that a beautiful girl would want to spend time with him. And he'd been utterly sick with dread, lying to her. That dread welled up again in the pit of his stomach as he tried to imagine going to work every day and lying to Sarah about his day. Telling her he'd been defragging hard drives and replacing network cables, instead of being shot at by gunrunners and beat up by international terrorists bent on world domination.
He just didn't know if he could do that--look at someone he genuinely cared about, and lie to them over and over again.
With a sigh, he took the pad of paper and dropped it in the desk drawer. He turned off the lights and found himself standing in front of the painting now hanging opposite his bedroom wall. In the moonlight that filtered in through the open curtains, the landscape was muted into shades of blue, white, and grey.
He remembered, suddenly, what he'd said to Theresa about not knowing where the path in the painting went. He'd been making it all up on the fly--after all, he hadn't exactly chosen the painting. It had been handed to him by a bored NSA employee who had had him fill out a bunch of paperwork in triplicate. But he actually did kind of like it.
It had been so normal, hanging out with Diane. Drinking beer and talking like normal people about their homes and their childhoods. Balance, she'd said. He needed balance.
His whole life now was on a different path, and he had no idea where it was going.
It was still nice, knowing he wasn't exactly travelling it alone.
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Fandom: Jake 2.0
Title: Balancing Act
Author: Tara O'Shea [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG | gen het | 23k | 05/17/04
Characters: Jake, Diane
Pairings: Jake/Diane, Jake/Sarah
Summary: Set during "Arms and the Girl." There was no reason why Jake going to a wedding with an old college friend should bother Diane. Not a single logical reason.
Disclaimer/Other: jake 2.0 and all related elements, characters and indicia copyright Roundtable Entertainment and Viacom Productions, Inc., 2003. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situations-save those created by the authors for use solely on this website-are copyright Roundtable Entertainment and Viacom Productions, Inc.
Please do not archive or distribute without author's permission.
Author's note: This story is set during "Arms and the Girl", and contains excerpts from the teleplay written by Mark Wilding. Thanks as always to my betas.
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