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Author's note: Thanks to my betas, as always! Especially Amilyn.

Coffee Break
by LJC

Ever since he'd gone from her top field agent to her right hand, riding a desk, Kyle brought Lou her coffee.

She was always in the office ahead of him, no matter how early Kyle got there. Even nights that stretched into days, he'd come by her door at 6am, at the shift change, and there she'd be. Sometimes pressed and neat, other times just as he exhausted as he suspected he looked.

She always thanked him, and after the brief hazelnut experiment, never berated him for his choices. She accused him at first of sucking up, which he admitted outright, making her laugh—which had seemed a risky proposition at the time, but worth it for the desired result. It wouldn't just be career suicide to piss off a woman like Louise Beckett; it would be mentally unsound.

They had developed a routine. First thing in the mornings, they always took time to get caffeinated, and go over the events of the previous day, as summarised in the endless stream of reports that flowed past her desk. He could have handed in his own stack mere minutes before, but she was always up to speed. Always questioning a critical point, or making a connection he'd missed.

This Wednesday morning was no exception. He set her 16oz black coffee, and two packets of sweetener on the coaster just to the right of her blotter, and settled into the chair opposite her, almost burning his mouth on his own paper cup.

"Is this everything?" she asked, prying the lid off the cup with a thumb, and dumping both packets into it without even looking.

"Everything we have on Soledad."

"Did crypto have any leads on the coded transmission out of Jerez?"

"Not yet, but Carver and Hart are still working on it."


She sipped her coffee, the large onyx ring on her left hand catching the light as she lifted the paper cup to her mouth. She'd worn the ring for as long as he'd known her—going on six years—and had told him late one night while they were waiting to hear from a strike team in North Africa that it had been her grandmother's.

He bet it would hurt like a mother to get punched while she was wearing that ring.

"Jake did good work on the Carano case," Kyle said conversationally as he sipped from his own cup. She didn't lift her eyes from the file, showed no change.

"He's shaping up to be quite the agent," she continued. "I don't know if anyone else would have put the pieces together. We had the file, and we didn't."

Kyle did his best to hide his surprise at the compliment, and if Lou noticed the way his eyebrows shot up, she didn't betray a flicker of acknowledgement.

From the beginning, they'd had differing opinions where Jake was concerned. Where she saw a fortunate accident and an opportunity she should take advantage of before it disappeared, Kyle had seen a kid with bigger dreams than he had potential who'd had his choices abruptly snatched away. He knew a little something about being a victim of circumstance. He knew something about having all your choices taken away. So maybe his judgement was a little clouded where Agent Foley was concerned. But he also knew that, while Lou might affect a stone-cold ruthless demeanour for the sake of the unit and her position, she was hardly as unfeeling as she appeared to be. He was glad to note that for Lou, Jake had stopped being "an opportunity" and started being a flesh and blood individual. It had just taken time.

"Frankly, I'm surprised she was able to keep the charade going as long as she did," Lou said as she leaned back in her chair and took a long sip of her coffee.

"Why's that?"

She lifted one shoulder a fraction in a shrug. "Some people have a problem with women in positions of authority."

Kyle grinned. "Not me."

It was her turn to lift an eyebrow. "Really?"

"You never met my mother. Or my grandmother. Or my aunts, sisters, and some of my nieces. There's one, she's fourteen and I'm pretty sure someday she's going to rule the world."


"Too smart for her own good." He thought of the late night phone calls he'd received from Maria, the one sister out of four he had managed to remain close to while they were growing up. "I'm tempted to ask Hart to put her under surveillance. Just to keep an eye on her."

"Anything I should know about?"

"I'd say it was the usual kid stuff, except for the part where no eight-grader I ever knew staged a sit-in to protest the school cafeteria's working conditions for the custodial staff."

"Ah. Social revolutionary?"

"Well—it may have also had something to do with the quality of the Salisbury steak and tater tots. And one time, she hitched halfway to San Diego to see some band, when she told her mother she was on a field trip for her physics class."

"Sounds dangerous. I hope the concert ticket was worth it."

"It was a big band orchestra."

"She hitched to another city for Glenn Miller covers?"

"You can see why my sister would like the use of some of our spy satellites now and then."

Lou chuckled. "I have a nephew in Chicago that my brother and sister-in-law would probably love tagged and tracked."

"He likes big band?"

"He likes to blow things up," Lou said, dead serious. "Last summer, we found out he and his friends had been ordering chemicals under their chemistry professor's name from the school suppliers, and blowing up concrete blocks in the vacant lot behind a friend's house."

"He any good?"

"I see a potential future as a black ops commando. Or a terrorist. We'll just have to see where the chips fall."

"Heaven forbid the two ever meet."

"Not very likely. I haven't actually seen them since graduation, going on seven years ago. We're not all that close," she said with a shrug. "Really haven't been since I shipped out."

"Your folks didn't want you to 'be all you could be?'" he asked, realising that he hadn't really known much about her relationship with her family.

"Let's just say I'm the first Beckett in the military," she said dryly. "I think my parents would have been fine with doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief... Anything other than—"

"Head of Field Operations for the NSA?"

"There's really no good way to you tell your mother over the candied yams at Thanksgiving dinner that your college nickname was 'Tankbuster.' Not without them asking 'why', anyway.... And the less they knew about my work in the field, the better."

"Hey—preaching to the choice." Kyle held up his hands. "My folks have spent the last eight years believing I'm a paper-pusher, remember? I haven't actually been home since... Well..."

"Since Spain?"

"Yeah." Kyle's smile dimmed slightly at the memory. Those wounds had been re-opened after the Chinese Embassy, and had yet to fully heal. He had resisted checking up on Mei Ling in the weeks since she had kissed him and bid him good-bye one last time. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know how she'd escaped the wrath of her government—or if she had. Not yet.

"I figure, the further away from them I am, the more likely they'll stay safe," he responded with a shrug, some of the sorrow falling away with a gesture. For good or ill, this was the life he had chosen. He couldn't live it any other way. "It's hard on them, though. Maria wanted me to be her youngest's godfather. You should've heard my mother, when she found out I couldn't come to the baptism. That woman can curse a blue streak in three languages—you cross her at your own peril. What's so funny?"

Lou's eyes were dancing.

"You. You're a mama's boy," she drawled in amusement, smile lines appearing at the corners of her dark eyes.

Kyle grinned and tipped an imaginary hat. "Yes, ma'am."

Anyone looking in at them in that moment would have seen a very different Kyle Duarte and Louise Beckett than they were used to seeing. She had a rep as a stone-cold bitch, but Kyle saw sides of her she was careful to keep hidden out there in front of the big board. But while her smiles were rare, they were worth it.

He knew there was gossip—unfortunately, there always would be, when a woman as dedicated and driven as Lou also happened to be a knock-out. Anyone who worked in Sat Ops learned pretty quickly that there was nothing going on between the Deputy Director and her second in command. But that didn't always mean there wasn't water-cooler banter elsewhere in Crypto City.

Lou Beckett lived a solitary life. He didn't even think he'd ever heard so much of a whisper about her having a private life outside the office—let alone dating. Not since Alex Brandt, years ago. And even that was only rumour. Remembering Lou's face—so still it could have been a carved mask—watching Jennifer Brandt accept the folded flag in front of an empty coffin at Alex's funeral, he supposed he understood. While Jennifer could lean on her friends and family to grieve her husband, presumed dead in Serbia, Lou had to bear the weight of her own grief in silence. She could mourn a fallen comrade—but very few outside Sat Ops knew what she truly had lost in that explosion. And so far as Lou was concerned, that was as it should be. She had borne it alone—and she would continue to bear her enforced solitude in stoic silence. That was just who she was.

His own romantic entanglements were casual and fleeting. Mei Ling had been the only woman he had ever really loved, and losing her had made it hard for him to even imagine sharing his life with anyone who could never truly understand what his life was really like. So he settled for the occasional dinner—and breakfast—with girls like Christina McDonald and Megan Reilly. But like Lou, the NSA was his life.

"So, where were we?" she asked, all business once more.


They returned to work, the coffee in their cups steaming as they cooled.


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