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Author's note: For the LiveJournal Variations on a Plot fic challenge — how two people met before canon says they did.

And So It Begins
by helsinkibaby

When he was a field agent, Kyle always took his job for granted, was guilty of thinking once or twice that it might be nice to be Washington bound, not to be putting your life on the line day in, day out, to be able to settle himself in his apartment for longer than a couple of nights at a time.

He knows now exactly how wrong he was, because since his cover's been blown, he's been dry-docked in Washington, and the passing of time isn't making it any easier to deal with. Half the time, he's in Sat Ops, listening to other people doing what he should be doing, with the walls feeling like they're closing in on him, and for a man who always loved his work, he now finds himself eager to leave at the end of the day.

Like today, and he makes his way through the underground parking garage running through a checklist of things he wants to get done this evening. His thought processes are, however, interrupted by the sound of a woman's voice, muttering angry words he can't make out. He turns, because if someone's in trouble, he wants to help, but when he sees the woman in question, he doesn't see anyone beside her.

In fact, he barely sees her, since her upper body is leaning into the trunk of her car and all that's on display is a pair of legs... very nice legs, Kyle notes absently. Taking a step or two closer, he sees the reason for her displeasure; right back tyre completely deflated.

"Miss?" She jumps a mile, coming within an ace of hitting her head against the open trunk, and he holds up his hands as she turns to face him, making himself as non-threatening as possible. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to alarm you."

"It's fine, it's fine," she tells him, though it's obviously not, because the hand that reaches up to adjust her glasses is noticeably shaking. Her cheeks are flushed — as much with frustration, he thinks, as with embarrassment — and her eyes show wary distrust as she looks him up and down.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asks, pointing to the tyre, and he sees a flash of indignation in her eyes. The flash turns into something more as she crosses her arms, tosses her head so that the errant curls that have escaped from her upswept hair bounce against her forehead.

"Are you under the impression that since I'm a woman, I can't change a tyre on my own? Because I'll have you know, I'm more than capable."

Again, Kyle finds himself holding up his hands, this time taking a step back. "I would never imply otherwise," he tells her, because if she's in this parking garage, then she's NSA, and if she's NSA in any capacity, she's able to take care of herself. "I'll leave you to it."

He takes another step back, then another, during which he sees her bite her bottom lip, glance into the trunk. He turns, hiding his smile, takes another couple of steps, and he's not the least bit surprised when he hears her voice.


He turns slowly, lifts one eyebrow. Her discomfort is obvious; one hand on her hip, the other gesturing nervously as her gaze flits between him and the trunk. "I... um... I haven't changed a tyre in a long time... well... ever actually... and, not to perpetuate a female stereotype or anything, but if you could..."

"Miss." One firm word cuts off her babbling, has her looking at him wide-eyed. "It's no problem."

"Diane." He's at the car when the word makes him tilt his head, and she lifts a hand, like a child seeking her teacher's attention. "That's my name... Diane. Hughes."

He smiles. "Kyle Duarte."

It doesn't take him long to change the wheel, and in that time, she tells him about the construction going on near her apartment, how she must have driven over a nail or something. He learns that she's a research assistant upstairs, he tells her simply that she's an agent, and he enjoys how it doesn't get the impressed reaction that it sometimes gets from women he meets. When he's finished, she reaches inside the car, grabs a rag from the glove box and gives it to him to wipe his hands, and he surprises himself by thinking that he really wouldn't mind talking to her a little more. She's the first woman to capture his attention that way since an aborted mission to Seville almost ten months ago, and the realisation dries his throat, makes anything he was going to say evaporate.

Diane doesn't have that problem though; in point of fact, she hasn't stopped talking since she called him back. "Look," she says, and she's nervous again, he can tell, shifting on her feet, barely able to look at him. "I really appreciate this..." He's about to tell her it's nothing, but she's not finished. "I was wondering... there's a great coffee shop near here... I don't suppose you'd let me... to say thank you, I mean... you don't have to..."

"Diane." He gets that wide-eyed look again, and it makes him smile. It also helps him come to a decision, and he speaks quickly, before he can change his mind. "I'd like that."

She beams, gives him directions, and he tells her that he'll meet her there, watches her as she drives away, doesn't move towards his car until her tail lights are out of sight. He finds the place without any trouble, and she's right; it is great, good coffee, good pie, even better company. They linger there for hours, and when he leaves, he does so with her phone number, a smile on his face, and the sense that this could be something really special.