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Disclaimer: jake 2.0 and all related elements, characters and indicia © 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.

Author's note: Written for Francesca Hendricks as part of the Jake 2.0 ficathon. Contains excerpts from "The Tech" teleplay written by Silvio Horta. Thanks again to J Solt and all those who've read and reviewed my previous stories.

Clean Up on Aisle 9
by StuckHereWithNoTV

"Don't be so discouraged, it happens all the time," Diane said sympathetically. "I'm sure it was the stress that caused it. A slower time is nothing to be ashamed of and I promise the injection won't be that bad." Smiling, she stroked the top of his head. "Don't worry, I still love you," she laughed teasingly.

"Miss Hughes."

Diane nearly fell off the stool she was sitting on. Straightening her lab coat with as much dignity as she could muster, she turned to face the gruff voice that had addressed her, "Yes, Doctor?"

"Who were you talking to?"

"Uh, n-no one, sir."

Dr. Gage craned his neck to see what was behind his assistant. A pair of beady black eyes stared back at him. Twitching its nose, the small mouse stood on its hind legs peering out of the large box maze that sat on the table.

"Miss Hughes," Dr. Gage reprimanded, annoyed. "You are not being paid to socialize with your experiments."

"Yes, Doctor."

"You are here as my assistant and are to do as told."

"Yes, sir. I know I—"

"And when I said to run tests, I meant run tests. Not give a pep talk to a rodent."

"Well, I know that. But I was just—"

"Can I see you in my office," he said already walking towards it, not waiting for her answer.

Diane picked up Antonio and set him back in his cage muttering, "Well geez, since you asked so nicely—"

"Miss Hughes!" she heard him bellow from afar.

Exhaling, she made her way into the other room. Diane wrung her hands together feeling as if she'd been sent to the principal's office. "You wanted to see me?"

He sat behind his desk writing on a piece of paper. "Close the door please," he ordered not looking up.

Diane did as she was told and stood waiting for Dr. Gage to continue. After a few minutes of silence had passed, she felt her temper start to rise. "Is there something you wanted?" she asked impatiently.

"I have a task for you." He pushed the piece of paper towards her. "It's imperative that no one finds out about this." He repeated again sternly, his eyes boring into hers, "No one. Do you understand?"

"Y-Yes Doctor," she swallowed, hesitantly picking up the paper. "What is it?"

Dr. Gage pointed to the door, "Just go. And remember, no one."

Her shoes made rhythmic clicks on the tile floor as Diane walked clutching Dr. Gage's paper. Stopping in front of the specified shelf, she reread the directions and frowned. After looking around to make sure no one was watching, she took an object off the shelf and dropped it into the plastic basket.

"This isn't right," she made a face while reading the next item on the list. Glancing down at the various cartons of laxatives and other personal hygiene products she carried, a blush crept up her neck as she imagined what the checkout clerk would think of her. "Okay, either Gage is just stocking up for a rainy day or he's a ticking gas bomb," she giggled to herself. Shaking her head, Diane grinned as she added a bottle of hair gel to the stash. "I mean what the heck is he going to do with this?" she scoffed out loud. "Like he really has any hair to gel down."

Continuing with her important mission of fulfilling Dr. Gage's shopping list, she writhed uncomfortably when she reached the last item on the paper.

"Oh my God. Now this is just wrong," Diane commented in disgust, "Ugh, just... eww." She managed to shut out the mental images for which she suspected no words in any language could thoroughly express her relief. Reaching to knock the product into the basket, she quickly sidestepped away making sure she wasn't caught having been seen anywhere near the area. As she stood in line at the cash register, Diane concluded that presently her career — basically her whole life — had just hit a new rock bottom.

Med school for this, she thought bitterly. When she had signed to be on Dr. Gage's team three years ago she never imagined that one of her main duties would be to make sure she bought him the real Pepto-Bismol brand and not some other fake pink stuff. Diane sighed as she set the basket on the counter. She wanted to be part of some great groundbreaking discovery, something so fantastical that would excite her more than cleaning beakers for two hours. She wanted — needed — so much more than this.

Snapping out from her depressing reverie, she noticed the store clerk smirking at her as he rang up the items. Oh God, what if he has to— Diane's mind raced while her cheeks grew red.

As though on cue, the audacious teenage male reached for the intercom receiver and announced louder than was necessary, "Hey, can I get a price check on—" he tilted his head sideways to read the label, "Extra Strength GasX. Five boxes."

Diane shielded her face from the other customers behind her. Inwardly cursing the acne-faced moron, she tried to look on the bright side. At least it wasn't the other product, she rationalized.

The sudden ringing of her cell phone brought even more of the store's unwanted attention to her. Diane dug into her purse, wondering if her day could get anymore surreal.

"Hello?" She listened to the caller silently, her eyes growing wide at the information being relayed to her. "Okay. I'm on my way," Diane affirmed. Quickly putting away the phone, she started to head out the store entrance when the checkout clerk yelled out to her.

"Ma'am you forgot your condoms!" he hollered holding it in the air along with a bag full of the other purchases.

Shutting her eyes, she kept her head down as she turned on her heel, grabbed the out held bag from the clerk with a muttered "Thanks," and scurried out the door.

Diane couldn't help but ruefully her head at the irony of the situation. Dozens of investigators swarmed around the lab as she stood looking down at the prone body of Dr. Gage. Taking off her glasses, she rubbed the bridge of her nose. It was one thing to wish that your boss would drop dead, but having it actually happen, even if you can't stand his guts, is an entirely different matter.

She transferred her attention back on surveying the hazardous material teams analyze and restore order to the crime scene. Completely absorbed into the action, Diane jumped when one investigator tapped her on the shoulder.

"Are you Doctor Hughes?" he questioned.

She nodded, "Yes."

The investigator pointed to the other room, "We've got somebody in there that's injured. EMT should be here in a few minutes but this guy looks a little out of it. Could you take a look at him?"

"Yeah, sure," she agreed, taking a last look at the scene before walking into the next room. Sitting on the examination table was a man about her age hesitantly poking at an area on his arm. Diane slipped on a lab coat that hung in the corner and then timidly approached him.

Clearing her throat, she pulled out the stethoscope from her pocket and started twisting it nervously. "Hey. Um..." Diane blushed when he looked up and stared blankly at her. "My name is Doctor Hughes. I'm a doctor." She rolled her eyes at herself. "Well, yeah, of course I'm a doctor since my name is Doctor Hughes — well, not Doctor Hughes, obviously, it's Diane Hughes. So you just basically drop the Diane part and add Doc— um..." She bit her lip realizing she was blabbing a lengthy explanation about the composition of her name. This is exactly why I didn't go into family practice, Diane scolded herself. For years she'd only been handling and talking to her furry, little mice. It felt awkward to now start examining something that was so... life-sized... and that could also talk back to her. She rubbed her forehead, stammering, "You-you can just call me Diane."

He tilted his head contemplatively before letting his eyelids droop a little. "Okay," he murmured, turning back to the cut on his arm.

Diane frowned, concerned about her patient's lack of alertness. Nodding to the paramedic who had just entered the room, she put on her stethoscope and wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm. "Don't worry Mister—" Diane leaned forward and squinted at his ID badge, "Foley. We'll have you fixed up in no time."



He shifted his gaze to her when the paramedic started to stitch up his wound. "You can call me Jake."

Diane’s brow furrowed in sympathy. He looked so lost, and the raw feeling of shock that filled his eyes and voice touched her to the core. "Okay," she replied gently.

Several moments of silence passed as Diane resumed her task. Taking off her stethoscope, she removed the cuff on his arm and declared, "One twenty over eighty. Good. That means that your blood pressure is normal. Uh..." She paused, noticing he was staring out into space. "You okay?" Diane waved her hand in front of his face. "Jake?"

He blinked absentmindedly. "What?"

"Oh, I-I just asked if you were okay, which is an incredibly stupid question when you consider that you just saw that." Changing the subject, she asked, "Um, can I get you anything? Do you want some water or some aspirin or..." Diane smiled nervously as her mind raced to think up of something that would lighten the mood, "valium?"

A faint smile formed on Jake's face. "I'll be okay, thanks."


"Doctor Hughes," a woman's voice interrupted from the doorway.

Diane twisted around to see Deputy Lou Director Beckett walk back towards the crime scene. Turning back to Jake, she uttered a quick "Excuse me," before rushing out of the room and falling into step with her superior. "Yeah?"

"What's the status here?"

"Well, everything seems to be fine and Hazmat's got containment, so..." Diane trailed off when they stopped in front of Dr. Gage’s body.

"You worked with this guy for three years," Lou stated, not glancing away from the corpse. "Did you have any idea?"

"No." Diane shook her head, reflecting on the years of verbal put-downs and menial lab work he had put her through. "No. Dr. Gage was a jerk. I mean, this guy thinks equal opportunity is something you put in your coffee. But a traitor?" She had often witnessed Gage spending long hours of overtime in the lab, but Diane had always assumed it was associated with his dedication to science. For her to ever imagine that all those hours might actually be geared towards his own financial gain... "No. Never."

Director Beckett turned to an agent that had accompanied her while Diane viewed her deceased boss get zipped up into a body bag. Noticing the two of them were stating to move away, Diane rushed to follow after them.

"I want to know everywhere Dr. Gage has been in the past few months," Lou instructed to the agent. "Every phone call, every e-mail. Everybody's he's been screwing and everybody whose been screwing him."

Diane's stomach lurched briefly as she was reminded about the box of condoms that still remained stuffed in a grocery bag on the passenger seat of her car.

Director Beckett continued, "He was with us for ten years so we know he didn't come cheap." She turned and glanced in Jake’s direction. "Is that the guy who made the distress call?"

Realizing that she was addressing her, Diane hastily stepped forward. "Yeah, Jake Foley. He's tech support. He's really shaken up right now, though, so I—"

"I want to see him."

"Of course." Diane pursed her lips, not surprised. After observing the deputy director leave, she made her way back to her patient.

"Who was that?" Jake questioned when she waked in.

Hanging onto both ends of the stethoscope around her neck, Diane raised an eyebrow. "That was Deputy Director Beckett. She wants to see you right away."

"Oh... really?" he asked, unfocused curiosity flashing across his subdued expression. Jake glanced back and forth from her to the paramedic who was packing up equipment. "So... so am I done here?"

Diane folded her arms knowing exactly what he was thinking. "Yeah, I think you're fine," she confirmed. She bit her lip, worried, as she observed that he was already off the table and near the doorway before she had even given her answer. "Just take it easy the next few days, okay?"

"Yeah, of course," Jake consented while he rubbed an eye with the heel of his hand. "Um, thanks again for making sure I'm all right and uh... for the drug offer."

Diane shyly smiled, focusing down at her shoes. "Well, if... if you ever need something to get high off of, you know where to find me."

Swaying slightly, Jake took a few lethargic steps forward before finally regaining his balance. "Yeah," he replied, distracted. "Anyways, um... G'bye, Diane."

She lifted her head and watched him walk out the door. "Goodbye," she echoed.

Collapsing on her couch, Diane let out a heavy sigh as she rested her feet on the coffee table. The afternoon seemed to drag on forever with all the sudden paperwork and organizational duties she needed to do to get her lab up and running again. The lab. Her lab. Diane grinned to herself; she had her own lab. Granted, she wasn’t thrilled with the way that she acquired it nor did the lab occupy more than three cramped rooms, but at least it was something she could call her own.

A sense of giddiness washed over her as she started diving into the thick pile of files she brought home from work. Four hours and three cups of coffee later, Diane flipped over the cover of the last file and stretched out across her couch.

It was amazing. Reading over the project data, Diane felt her brain get blown away by all the various experiments she could explore with her newfound knowledge. And to imagine that the stack of documents in front of her barely skimmed the surface of the information now available for her to look at... information that could catapult a former medical research underling to the MVP of the international scientific community...

Diane scratched her head while a disbelieving smirk crossed her face. Indulging herself to a short fantasy of her picture being plastered in textbooks next to the likes of Marie Curie and Thomas H. Morgan, Diane's smile slowly faded as she dragged herself back to reality. Following the laws of scientific discovery, the chances of her making a breakthrough that would bolster her career to such a degree were slim to non-existent. Not to mention NSA restrictions on publicizing any programs that operated within its walls.

Diane's lips parted when suddenly a new concept that easily overshadowed the low prospect of fame slammed into her mind.

"They own me," she said out loud to her empty apartment.

She had always been aware the NSA owned her to some degree when she signed the confidentiality agreements three years ago, but that was only for a certain extent of her life. Being a lab assistant, Diane knew how low the security level of data she would be allowed to see and, as such, expected to be able to leave the agency whenever she wanted to without having severe, life-altering ramifications.

But today as she absorbed the details of the progress that had previously hidden behind top-secret clearance, she had unwittingly signed a new contract. An imaginary contract where she wasn't allowed the privilege to decline. All of a sudden, she had been thrown into a larger, terrifying arena with no one to turn to. No one who could empathize with the out-of-her-depth feeling that was threatening to drown her at the moment.

She rose from her seat, a sinking sensation forming in the pit of her stomach as she went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. Diane shoved the toothbrush into the corner of her mouth while self-doubt cycled through her head.

"I don't know if I'm ready for this," she panicked through a mouthful of toothpaste suds. Leaning against the counter, she searched her reflection in the mirror for some sort of reassurance only to find a young doctor unsure in her sudden leadership position. Dejected, Diane turned off the light and climbed into bed.

"And to think I've always wanted this," she grunted, pulling the bedcovers up to her chin. Diane stared up at the shards of amber color that the streetlights projected onto the ceiling. Frustrated with her inability to sleep, she replayed the day's events, pausing to linger over the encounter with her unexpected patient.

Poor guy, she mused ruefully. It was obvious to her that Jake assumed he was going to be rewarded when he had left the lab, but Diane knew the system well enough to know he was in for a big disappointment. She'd bet her eyeglasses that the only thanks he'd be receiving would be a coffee mug, or if he was really lucky, an official NSA mouse pad.

Diane frowned with pity but couldn't help but feel envious of him at the same time. Although he might not have been rewarded for his good deed, she guessed the NSA must have let Jake go despite his exposure to classified material. It was depressing to know that someone who was involved in the same situation as her was allowed to continue to lead a normal life while she had that choice stripped away from her.

Burying her face in the pillow, Diane concentrated on convincing herself that tomorrow would be a new day; that when she'd wake up things would eventually get back to the mundane, or as mundane as it can be considering her position. Taking comfort in that thought, she shut her eyes and slowly drifted off to a dreamless sleep.