She's always wanted to fly ('to grab the sky,' her mother calls it, showing her pictures of a baby with a face looking nothing like Diane's, tiny hands always reaching up, up, up) and so fly she will - her father tells people she is 'stubborn like a mule' at her graduation ceremony, and it's only later, on the photos, that she sees him standing beside her, smile bursting with pride.
It's not easy. It's not hard, either.
Women are not a common sight in the Air Force, not then and there, and quite possibly they never will, but she's got two feet on the ground and two hands that can be turned into fists as easily as they can hold a pen or a cup of coffee or a stick and best of all, she's got a head with brains in it.
Her face isn't particularly pretty, and that helps, too. Nobody whistles as she walks by, nobody seems the least bit interested in staring at her chest - not until it's gotten a medal pinned on it, at any rate, and then another one, because she tends to be good at what she wants to do.
"Who better to fly me to the heavens than one of God's own angels?" some hot-shot CIA operative tells her - the first time anyone's actually hit on her, instead of making the kind of overture she can and will mistake for an offering of friendship, because she wants to put her head in the clouds only when there's a cockpit around her and a stick in her hand.
He doesn't mean anything by it, anyway; she turns away to check on some readings and hears him chuckle behind her, making the line a joke, offering to share it.
"My apologies. Roan Montgomery, at your service." He salutes, waiting until she's turned around again.
"Captain Diane Beckman," she says.
When she switches to doing intelligence work instead of flying, it's not because she doesn't want to fly anymore. It's because they need good intelligence people more than they need good pilots, because being a good pilot doesn't mean a thing when some idiot gives you the wrong target to hit.
It's not easy. It's hard.
She knows everything about flying while keeping her feet on the ground; she knows when to rely on the handbook and when to rely on herself and when to rely on her plane, but sitting behind a desk instead of sitting in a cockpit or a briefing room makes everything different.
Her mother cautiously asks if there's a man involved, sounding half-disappointed and half-relieved upon being told there isn't; her father seems to understand why she is where she is now at once better and worse. He knows it's not about courage. He doesn't know it's not about ambition.
More than anything, being in intelligence seems to involve doing things that are, if not unintelligent, then at least rather more boring than flying.
"There is no sight more sad than that of an angel who has forsaken her wings," Roan tells her, sipping one drink or another. "Hello, Diane."
He's the only person at the reception she knows as something more than a face on a file. She's not dumb enough to think that makes him a friend, nor jaded enough to think it makes him an enemy.
"Good evening, Roan."
"Not yet," he says. "Your radiant beauty has given me back hope, though."
She doesn't quite know when she stops wanting to fly. In a sense, perhaps she never does. She simply arrives at a point where flying doesn't require a plane anymore - when it becomes a state of mind.
A decade ago, the thought of a woman leading the NSA would have been unthinkable.
A decade ago, the notion of a person of color leading the CIA would have been given consideration, certainly; the CIA does not discriminate in any way, no more than the American people do, when chosing a president.
Her father might have mistaken her for ambitious; her mother, she thinks, would not have done so. The balance of power is delicate, especially when there's an empty desk at the top, a pair of boots that needs filling. She's the youngest contender, and a woman. She gets underestimated a lot.
"If I weren't under strict orders not to talk to you, I would wish you good luck," Roan says.
Graham seems not to be watching them from the other side of the room. She considers how much trouble Roan might be put into, if she gives him a mere smile.
She doesn't smile. "Thank you."
"You won't need it, naturally," Roan continues. The glass in his hand is half-full, as always, no matter how often he seems to sip of it. "Skill, intelligence, people not stabbing you in the back with a letter-opener - that's the sort of thing you need. I have, of course, no doubts regarding the first two."
If his eyes seem sad for the brief moment he allows her to see them, it's no concern of hers.
On an average day, she flies all over the world, mostly to places she would have prefered not to visit but sometimes, occasionally, she bears witness to something beautiful. Sometimes, her feet lose touch with the ground, just for a brief while.
She's been warned not to think in numbers, not to keep track of lives lost and lives saved. She's been warned not to care too much. She's been warned to look at the bigger picture instead of the smaller one, the one where some people die so that others may live.
It seems obscene.
She's not sure who told her to never give an order she wouldn't be prepared to carry out herself, but it seems as good a rule to lead by as any - better than some, and no worse than others.
The one time she makes an exception, the one time she gives an order she would never carry out herself, it's because she knows the man she gives it to won't carry it out, either. It's a calculated risk, which is to say it's no risk at all. The records will show she did what was judged to be necessary by the powers that be; those not knowing better will call her a cold-hearted bitch, and Major John Casey may learn something new about himself.
"Do you ever think about retiring?" Roan asks, his voice sounding like that of a man who's spent too much time giving other people the impression of being drunk.
She doesn't lie. She's had his phone swept for bugs less than an hour ago; she can afford honesty.
"Never," she says. Graham's successor is a weakling with delusions of strength; he needs someone like herself to keep him in check, to make him feel like a fool until he stops being one.
"It's lonely," Roan says. "It's very lonely indeed, Diane. You should come visit some time."
"Perhaps I will."