|Welcome Back Rachel
Author: EHfan PM
Rachel is finally ready to return to Hood's detail, but it isn't as easy as she had thought it would be.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Mystery - Chapters: 3 - Words: 20,140 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 2 - Published: 06-19-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8233298
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This story is, obviously, set five months after the events in Medea.
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Rachel Young automatically quartered the church with her eyes; her training in security and surveillance kicking in unconsciously in an unfamiliar environment. Her actions weren't missed by her companion, who found it amusing. With a quiet huff of laughter, he leaned over to whisper in her ear.
"That's an old wives tale, you know. The roof won't really fall in just because a heathen like you has set foot in the church."
Rachel suppressed a snort of laughter. She murmured quietly, "I'm not a heathen, I'm an agnostic."
"Tomayto, tomahto," was the whispered reply.
Rachel smiled but shushed her seatmate. She was enjoying the quiet in the large church in the moments before Mass was to begin. She needed this time of reflection; the past five months had been tumultuous to say the least and she was coming to the point where she had to make a serious decision about her future.
Ignoring the man beside her Rachel closed her eyes to better concentrate her thoughts. It was hard for her to believe sometimes that so much time had passed since she had been shot. While her leg was back to normal, there were days when it seemed as if the whole nightmare with Sofia had happened only yesterday.
It had surprised Rachel how long it had taken her to recover. She had started physical therapy while still in the hospital and had worked at her exercises with her usual determination and single-mindedness. Her efforts had pleased her doctors. She was off the crutches within two weeks and dispensed with the cane in another three. Eight weeks after her injury Rachel was declared fit for duty. But to her surprise and disgust, she was not allowed back on Hood's protective detail.
Her detail chief, Tyler McGruder, had decreed that until she could run the obstacle course at Quantico in her pre-injury time, she was going to be assigned to alternate duties. McGruder had her posted to Quantico where she was temporarily attached to the teaching staff at the FBI Academy. She was detailed to assist in surveillance training. She was also informed by McGruder that she would be joining the recruits in their physical training. Rachel had a hunch that he was counting on her competitive streak to act as a spur to regaining her old time.
McGruder knew what he was doing. Within two months her leg was much stronger and she was running the obstacle course in her old time. But teaching at Quantico meant living in the barracks, where her nightmares were eventually noticed and reported.
McGruder had yanked her out of Quantico and assigned her to a desk job in the Hoover Building. He also ordered her to consult one of the Bureau shrinks. He was adamant that until she was cleared psychologically she could forget about being assigned to any protective detail.
Rachel was sure that she would be able to bluff her way through the sessions with the Bureau shrink. After all, she had easily convinced the one she had seen before she left the hospital that the incident hadn't affected her emotionally. She was unpleasantly surprised to find the doctor she saw this time was a lot more perceptive than the other one. It had taken a few sessions, and a lot of soul-searching, before she could admit to and let go of the guilt the shooting had caused her.
Guilt that she had acted so recklessly, had left Hood unprotected while she ran off after Sofia like some damned excited rookie. Guilt at how she had let a civilian get the drop on her, a supposedly trained federal agent. As soon as she had triggered the floodlight, she should have retreated; not stood there like the target she was. It was something of a shock to Rachel when she realized she had been blaming herself for her injury.
With a sigh Rachel acknowledged to herself she still had one more truth she needed to face; one more decision she needed to make. She had never admitted to the shrink, even though he had delicately probed in that direction, that her feelings for Hood had clarified in her mind during her ordeal and in the time she had spent recovering from her injury.
She had readily accepted that they had become friends. In the few months before her injury, however, she had come to realize her feelings for him were changing, that she was beginning to be interested in him as a man, not merely as a friend. She had attempted a date or two to prove to herself her feelings were born of loneliness. They hadn't turned out well but still she couldn't admit to herself that she cared more for him than was safe.
Since her injury she had come to realize how deeply she did care for him; that she wanted, loved him. She remembered how thoughts of him had buoyed her when Sofia had her handcuffed to that bed. How she had known he would be looking for her and she had never doubted that he would find her. Her only worry was he would find her too late. She didn't want to be the cause of any more grief in his life. As weak as she was, she had tried to reassure him it wasn't his fault if she died, that he couldn't fix everything.
All of that was behind her now. Tomorrow, almost five months to the day she had gone running off behind Ray Wynne's burning weekend home, she was back to protective duties. At nine a.m. she had an appointment with Tyler C. McGruder, Detail Chief of the Executive Protection Detail to determine if she should resume her spot as the handler and bodyguard of Dr. Jacob Hood or take another assignment.
But she wasn't sure if she should request to be allowed back on Hood's detail. A slight smile twisted her lips; she remembered how indignant she had been when he had suggested she ask for a transfer. At the time, he had been worried about her safety. Now she was unsure which would be worse, to be with him every day knowing he only considered her a friend or taking another assignment and, given the nature of both their jobs, never seeing him again.
Rachel was pulled from her reverie by a nudge on her shoulder. "Stand up," her companion murmured, "The Mass is starting."
Rachel obediently stood but her mind was not on the liturgy unfolding around her. Instead her thoughts briefly turned to the man beside her, her former high school boyfriend, Denny Herrera. It had been a shock when Denny had announced he was going to enter the seminary. At the time, she had assumed he saw the priesthood as the best way to satisfy his desire to work with the poor and disadvantaged. He had always had a taste for social justice and the priesthood would allow him to follow this calling while providing him with a decent means of support.
She hadn't been too surprised when he had turned up at her door the week before to beg a temporary place to stay. He had been transferred to the DC area and wanted to chance to look around, to check out his new parish incognito, before he took up his duties. It had been a shock to find that Denny's, or she guess she should say Father Herrera's, new job was as the pastor of the suburban church they were currently sitting in. She couldn't see him offering comfort to the complacent people surrounding them.
Rachel bit back a smile; she wondered what it meant that the first man she had ever had sex with was now sworn to celibacy. Did no other women ever measure up to her or was it so awful that he decided it wasn't worth the trouble? That thought caused a snort of laughter that drew a disapproving glance from Denny. Rachel sobered up and tried to pay attention to the service.
But that was hard to do, this was the second Mass they had attended that weekend and she was bored. Her thoughts kept wandering to the scene in the diner, how Hood had held her, stroking her arm as he pleaded with Sofia to allow him to get medical help for her. She had felt safe in his arms. And try as she might, she couldn't help but wish that he would take her in his arms again.
She didn't think that was likely. The few times she had seen him during her convalescence he had been friendly, but politely distant. He had never been a physically demonstrative man so she hadn't been surprised that she had received no more than a head nod and a shy smile when they met. It was hard to tell exactly how he felt about her; she always found it hard to read him emotionally.
Unlike Felix. Rachel smiled as she recalled the bear hug he had swept her up in when they met. With him, it was easy to see that he was fond of her as a person as well as valuing her as a supervisor. He had, without criticizing her replacements, made it clear that he missed her on the team.
At the same time, it wasn't as if she and Hood hadn't been in touch since her injury. He would call her every few days and they would talk, sometimes for as much as an hour. But they rarely strayed into the personal. Instead they would talk about their days, the work each was doing, sharing funny stories of the people and events they encountered. She had to admit that she could have had the same conversations with Felix or any of her friends. She knew how important those calls were to her, she just couldn't tell if Hood found them equally important.
With a start Rachel realized that Denny and the choir had launched into the closing hymn. She followed him from the church, and taking his lead, smiled and murmured greetings to the people around them. She rolled her eyes when Denny insisted on stopping to greet the priest, complimenting him on what was really a rather uninspired homily. It was the same priest who had said the Mass the day before and Denny had said the exact same thing then. The priest had accepted the compliment absently, his eyes moving beyond Denny to the people behind them.
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Rachel sat on one end of the sofa watching Denny at the other end frown over the notes he was making. He was shaking his head and muttering to himself. She felt obscurely sorry for the poor priest who had said the Masses they attended. From the expression on Denny's face the man was going to get an earful when Father Herrera turned up to take over the reins of the parish. Chewing her lip, she considered her relationship with Denny. He was one of her closest friends. True, their lives had taken wildly differing paths and they might go for years without seeing each other; but they had always been able to tell each other everything. She wondered if she should ask him what she should do about Hood and his protective detail.
This was something she couldn't hash over with her other friends. Half of them were FBI, telling them about her feelings for Hood would be tantamount to telling McGruder. They would feel duty bound to report her. The other half would think she was crazy for not telling Hood that she was in love with him. They would urge her to plan some kind of seduction scene. Denny would be the perfect person to tell. Not because he was a priest, although that did help. It wasn't because she believed in the sanctity of confession. It was because he would understand about giving something up, something important, because the job required it. Reaching out with her foot she nudged him.
"Denny? Can I talk to you about something? It's kind of important."
Still looking at his notes, Denny answered absently. "Uh, yeah sure. What is it?"
Rachel kicked him harder. "It's important, put that damned tablet down for a minute, will you?"
Denny looked up with a smile. "So, you finally feel the need for confession and absolution? About time."
His eyebrows rose at the look on her face, a mixture of uncertainty and determination. He hadn't seen her look like that since they were15 years old. Since the day she had decided that they should lose their virginity to each other. He wondered if maybe he hadn't been so far off the mark, maybe she did need to confess. He put down the tablet he had been scribbling on and turned to face her.
"Ok, sorry for the priest humor. You know you can always tell me anything, no judging, no criticism."
Rachel began haltingly, telling him about Hood, how she had been assigned to his detail, the way they had become friends. About how her feelings for him had grown over time, but that she had tried to ignore them. Until she had almost died and realized she couldn't ignore them anymore. She also shared her fear that he would never see her as more than a friend, that he would never recover from the grief caused by the premature death of his wife. Her fear of what would happen if he did return her feelings, how it would mean sacrificing her hard won FBI career.
As he listened to her story, Denny couldn't keep a small smile from his lips. He had been beginning to be worried about her, worried she would never find someone to love, to share her life. He knew she had never been in love before; certainly not with him. What they had when they were teenagers was a relationship fueled by friendship and hormones. He always had a sneaking suspicion that she had engineered the occasion of her father finding them in bed together. Not to get them in trouble, just to piss off her dad. He had learned early on in their friendship that Rachel veered from seeking her father's approval to doing things solely to enrage the man. That aspect of her relationship with her father was the only thing about this Hood guy that was worrying him.
As her tale slowly came to an end, Denny leaned over and took her hands. He looked her in the eyes, his face serious. "I have to ask you something and I don't want you getting mad at me, ok?"
Rachel nodded her head and he took a deep breath. "But I know you. More to the point, I know how you are about your dad. Is there any chance that you've convinced yourself you're in love with this guy because subconsciously you want to getkicked out of the FBI? This way you get free of the Bureau and you get to piss your dad off at the same time?"
She tried to pull her hands away angrily. "You fucking jerk," she spat out. "I pour my heart out to you and you ask me something …"
Denny tightened his grip. "I said don't get mad." He arched an eyebrow at her. "You almost died Rachel, it would be normal to be hesitant about going back to a job where you're required to risk your life as a matter of course. So, I need you to think about this and tell me honestly. Could it be that you're looking at this Hood guy as a way out of a job you're not sure you want to do anymore?"
"No, I'm sure." Rachel took a deep breath to calm herself. "I began falling in love with him long before I got shot." She shrugged, "As for ambivalence about the job, there isn't any. Trust me; I went over all that with the shrink." At Denny's look of surprise she smiled reluctantly. "Yeah, I know, me sharing feelings and stuff. But they ordered me to do it and it helped. But this is one issue I couldn't talk to him about. He's FBI; he would have had to tell my boss."
She shook her head to stop the comment Denny was about to make. "No, patient confidentiality doesn't apply when you see a Bureau shrink. Not when you're talking work stuff. He would have had to tell and I knew that going in."
"Ok," Denny nodded in understanding. "So what's the bottom line here? What do you need to decide?"
"What do I do tomorrow? Everyone, McGruder, Hood, hell, even me, expects me to ask to go back to Hood's detail. Should I Denny? Should I stay or do I go? If I stay with Hood I know that eventually I'll lose him or the job. If I ask to be assigned to a new detail, I'll lose him but I'll keep the job."
"If you love him like you say you do," Denny argued, "why don't you just tell him? You admit that you have a hard time reading him, maybe he's not as grief-stricken as you think."
"I can't tell him." Rachel shook her head decisively. "If I do and he doesn't feel the same it would be to awkward for us to stay working together, he'd be uncomfortable. He'd request that I be transferred. He's too decent to tell them why, so I'll still have a job, but I'll never see him again. And that will kill me. No, if I go back on his detail, I would have to wait and hope that he'll eventually see me as more than a friend. And if that happens and we …, well, I'll have broken about a half-dozen EPD regulations and I'll be thrown out of the Bureau on my ass. I'll lose a job I love and that will kill me."
"I still vote for telling him. Let's look at the best case scenario. He does care for you. What's so awful about a transfer? The two of you would be together but in different jobs. Would that be so terrible? Or, if you're dead set against a transfer, keep the relationship quiet, so you can stay working with him."
"The way our jobs work, we're on the road for days, sometimes weeks at a time. If we weren't working together we'd hardly ever see each other. I couldn't face that. You wouldn't believe how much I've missed him these past few months. As for hiding our relationship," she snorted. "He's too high profile for that, shit, the director's one of his best friends." She added sadly, "Plus, he's really big on honesty. He'd never agree to lie to people like that."
"Ok, worst case scenario. He doesn't care for you. Why would you want to moon over a man who doesn't want you? Honestly, Rachel, that's like some bad romance novel. You'd be better off not seeing him every day; you could move on, find someone else."
"But even if he doesn't love me, he likes me," Rachel argued. "And besides loving him, I like him too. I enjoy being with him, surely it's better to be friends than have no relationship at all."
Denny looked at Rachel, exasperated. "It sounds to me as if you've already made up your mind. Let's look at the bottom line. Feeling like you do about this guy, knowing that he might only see you as a friend; that he might even fall in love with someone else; can you still do the job? Could you still lay your life on the line for him?"
"Of course," Rachel looked surprised. "I mean, how the protectee feels about you is never a consideration. I'm lucky; some of the agents in the EPD end up with real jerks, having to protect someone they dislike. " She smiled faintly, "actually, I think I'll do a better job now, if anything should happen to him it wouldn't just be a loss for the Bureau, it would be a loss for me personally."
"Well, in that case I say go ahead and wait." Denny shrugged. "Go back on his detail and see if you can figure out how he feels about you. But Rachel, honey," Denny squeezed her hands. "Promise me you'll give yourself a deadline. Don't break your heart over this guy indefinitely. If he can't see what a prize you are, then you need to move on."
Rachel smiled weakly but before she could answer, her cell phone rang. Denny's eyebrows rose at the smile that lit up her face when she answered. He unashamedly eavesdropped on her conversation as soon as he realized it was this Hood guy on the other end. A thoughtful look crossed his face at the way Rachel's voice unconsciously softened as she talked to the man, the way she giggled at whatever he was saying. He brightened when he realized that Rachel was confirming plans for Hood to meet her at the apartment the next day, that they would be going out to breakfast. It looked like he would be getting a chance to meet this guy after all. He would feel better about the situation if he could meet the man, see for himself how he treated Rachel.
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Jacob ended the call with a smile on his face. He felt suddenly content; the nightmare that began with Sofia Lyons trying to take Ray Wynne's wife hostage had finally ended. Tomorrow he and Rachel would be reunited. Even better, they would see each other even earlier than he had any right to expect. Felix had announced on Friday that they should surprise Agent Young by taking her to breakfast before she had a chance to meet with McGruder. He had jokingly said that they needed to wine and dine her before her meeting to insure that she would agree to returning to Hood's detail.
Jacob was relieved when Jack Patterson, his temporary bodyguard, argued that a surprise breakfast was a bad idea. Patterson pointed out that Young might not appreciate them turning up before she was ready to face the day. It saved him from having to explain that there was no way in hell he was going to show up unannounced at Rachel's apartment ever again. To his relief, Felix had immediately seen the point and called to issue the invitation. Jacob realized he was holding his breath until Felix, beaming, announced that Agent Young was looking forward to breakfast.
After nearly two years of almost constant companionship, Jacob had been discomfited to discover that once Rachel was no longer on his detail it was impossible for him to see her without raising eyebrows. He didn't know if it was considered acceptable for him to practically live at the hospital while Rachel was a patient or if his actions weren't noticed in the confusion that reigned at the Bureau after Wynne's arrest. But it soon became clear to him that expressing a desire to see Rachel, to check on her, would give rise to gossip.
He had been called out of town before Rachel was discharged and he had worried about how she was faring. When he returned, he had told his new handler he wanted to swing by the rehab facility to see how Rachel was settling in. He hadn't missed the look of speculation on her face at his request. He also couldn't miss how Rachel's face had quickly assumed her polite, indifferent mask when she realized that he accompanied by someone other than Felix. The visit had been awkward for both of them.
It had been over three months before he saw her again and that was at a sanctioned FBI event. Because she had been shot in the line of duty, Rachel was being awarded the FBI Star. She had been teaching at Quantico by that point and Frank had decided to make the award there. He wanted to emphasize the role Rachel had played in Wynne's downfall. He wanted the new recruits to get the message that just because they were now FBI, it didn't mean the rules no longer applied to them.
It was hard seeing her with both Frank and Ty McGruder by his side. He had to be circumspect, if they suspected his feelings for her she'd never be allowed back on his detail. He had envied Felix who immediately swept her into a hug and kissed her cheek. He had stuffed his hands into his pockets and contented himself with a smile and a nod. Even when they were both back at the Hoover Building, he had to be careful. He never went to her office and he tried not to engineer to many accidental meetings.
Luckily, Rachel seemed pleased when he called. Jacob smiled remembering the trouble he took to make the calls seem casual, merely one friend checking in on another. He had gone so far as to use a random number generator to keep him from calling her daily. The length of the calls increased as time went on; by the time Rachel was back at work they would talk for as long as an hour, chatting about everything and nothing, sharing details of their days, teasing each other. Those calls were the one thing that kept him sane during her absence. Jacob had never told anyone about the calls and he had the feeling Rachel hadn't either.
The call tonight hadn't been necessary. He had pretended he was merely confirming that he hadn't been called out on a case so breakfast was still on. In reality, it had been a few days since he had heard or seen her and he missed her. It was foolish, he would be seeing her the next day, but he couldn't help himself.
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The contentment Jacob had been feeling vanished when Rachel's door was answered by a good-looking Hispanic man wearing a t-shirt and cargo shorts. It was clear, from his damp hair and the way the t-shirt clung to his body, that he was fresh from the shower. The butterflies that had been in Jacob's stomach turned into a ball of lead. Keeping the smile plastered on his face, he winced inwardly. 'Damn it, I should have known, she's been in DC for so long, of course she's found someone.' He couldn't believe that in their many phone calls Rachel had neglected to mention she had a new lover.
For his part, Denny was elated that his plan had worked out so well. He had beaten Rachel to the shower ensuring that he would have some time to evaluate this Hood guy.
"Please come in, I'm Denny Herrera, I'm a friend of Rachel's."
Felix looked quickly at Doc, as if expecting him to handle the introductions, when Doc remained silent, he did the honors.
Denny nodded. "Yes, she's told me all about you." He gestured for them to sit. "I'm afraid she's still in the shower. I was a bad guest and not only snagged the first shower this morning, but I took an extra-long one." He lounged back in his chair and smirked. "I figured she owed me since it was her fault I was so hot and sweaty."
Denny was slightly gleeful at the reaction of the three to his remark. The large black guy, Felix, looked slightly censorious, the other one, Patterson, looked amused. Hood, however, sat with a frozen smile on his face. Denny was familiar with that look. It was the same one the Cardinal Archbishop wore when he was trying not to react to Father Herrera's latest outrageous statement. Denny nodded to himself, the guy wasn't as indifferent to her as Rachel seemed to think. He decided to put Hood out of his misery.
"Yeah, can you believe it? She insisted I run with her this morning. Five miles in this heat and humidity? I thought I was going to die." He was interested that Hood, while relaxing slightly still regarded him warily. They heard the water in the shower turn off. Denny went over and stuck his head around the bedroom door. "Rachel, honey, your friends are here."
He grinned at the men as he sat back down. "Twenty bucks says she's out here in ten minutes, ready or not. She'll be afraid I'll tell you stories of her misspent youth."
"You've know each other a long time?" Felix asked politely.
"Umm, we're very old, very good friends. I was transferred to the area and she's been letting me crash here while I get my bearings."
"Oh, what line of work are you in?" Jacob asked.
"I'm what you could call a reclamation specialist," Denny replied airily. "I work for a large, international outfit. They send me in when someplace isn't performing up to standard. "
Before anyone could reply, Rachel rushed into the room. Her hair was still wet, tucked behind her ears, and her shirt was mis-buttoned. "Uh, hi guys," she said, "Ready for breakfast?"
Denny burst out laughing. "Damn, no one took my bet." He stood up and took Rachel by the shoulders, gently turning her around. "Go back and get ready properly, don't worry, I won't give away any of your secrets."
Rachel opened her mouth, but her reply to Denny was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone. Rachel's eyes flew to Hood; it was the ringtone he had set up for the Director. Excusing himself Jacob moved aside to take his call. What he heard obviously disturbed him, the others could see from the frown on his face.
"Yes, we'll leave immediately. Email me the files." Jacob ended the call and looked at Rachel apologetically. "I'm afraid breakfast is off, I've been called out…" Rachel's phone rang before he could finish his sentence.
"Young here." Rachel answered her phone crisply; the display indicated it was McGruder on the other end. A smile spread over her face. "Mine sir. Yes, I'll tell him. Thank you sir."
"That was McGruder; he said three seats to Lincoln were being held for you, he wanted to know whose name should go on the third ticket." Satisfaction shone on her face, "I told him mine, of course." She turned to Patterson. "He wants you to report to his office, he has your next assignment lined up."
Patterson grunted an acknowledgment and left after wishing Jacob and Felix well. Rachel looked down at her shirt and grimaced. "Give me a minute to finish dressing properly and get my bag together." She looked at Felix with an arched eyebrow.
Felix grinned. "Yes, ma'am. I've got a bag in my car. We just need to swing by Doc's place to grab his bag and we'll be ready to go."
Denny looked disturbed; he knew that Rachel was going back to her protective duties today but he hadn't realized that she might be exposed to danger so quickly. "Excuse me, Dr. Hood, can I ask what's going on?"
Jacob looked at the man thoughtfully, tilting his head slightly to one side. While many of the cases he worked on ended up being classified, this one was sure to make the news. He shrugged mentally; he could at least tell this friend of Rachel's what was surely going to be public knowledge within twenty-four hours.
"I've, well, we've been called to Nebraska. Three members of a high school football team died during practice. They first thought it was dehydration, then cardiac arrest. It seems there's some doubt as to cause of death."
Denny paled. "Children dying? That's awful. Do you think it could be dangerous? I mean, could it be dangerous for you and Rachel?"
Jacob shrugged. "It's hard to say. A lot depends on what we dig up, if someone is responsible for these deaths, they may…" he trailed off as Rachel entered the room.
"Look Denny, I have to go. Lock up when you leave, I'll get the key back from you later." She turned to Hood and Felix. "Let's go."
"Wait a second," Denny objected. To Jacob's surprise he began rummaging in a duffle bag that was behind the sofa. He was further mystified when Denny absently handed him a small glass vial; his eyes widened in shock when he realized the length of cloth Denny had in his hands was a stole and the man was reverently pressing it to his lips.
"Oh, Christ," Rachel groaned, "Denny, you aren't seriously…"
Denny looked at Rachel sternly as he donned the stole. "Quit blaspheming. "
Facing Rachel, he placed his hands on her shoulders. "Almighty God, the boundless source of all good things, we humbly ask that you pour out your blessings on your daughter Rachel. May she be blessed by you with health of soul and body, and the grace of a holy life. May she and her companions, with the help of your merciful love, find the answers they seek." Taking the vial from Jacob, he poured a small amount of oil into his palm. Dipping his thumb into the oil, he quickly made a sign of the cross on Rachel's forehead as he finished his blessing, "This we ask though Christ our Lord, Amen."
He shook her lightly as he finished the blessing. "And your rolling your eyes doesn't negate my prayer." He kissed her on the forehead. "Go with God, and keep safe."
Smiling, Rachel hugged him goodbye. They left him leaning against the open apartment door. He waited until the elevator doors opened, revealing quite a few of Rachel's neighbors. "Hey Rachel," he called out. She held the elevator doors and looked back at him. "Come to lunch next Sunday if you're in town. But bring your friends, my new parishioners might be scandalized if they find out I'm entertaining sexy blondes alone in the rectory."
Rachel face was bright red as the elevator doors closed. She glared at Felix, who like her neighbors, was smothering a laugh. She snuck a quick glance at Hood and was relieved to see that he had chosen to ignore Denny's rather lame joke.
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Rachel sat back with a sigh of contentment. She thought she should feel guilty for being so happy. After all, she was on this plane because three teen-aged boys had died. But she couldn't help but smile; she was finally back to where she had wanted to be for months. She was at Jacob Hood's side. She looked over at Hood fondly. He was deep into the files he had been emailed, oblivious to her presence. She found that oddly endearing. She looked across the aisle to where Felix was sitting; he was frowning at his computer screen.
"What's the problem Felix?"
The big man shrugged. "I don't know. I've never worked on a case that involved kids before." He looked at her sideways. "I guess this is pretty old hat to you."
Images of the children she and Hood had encountered flashed through her mind. From villains like Stephen Brown to victims like those babies in Oregon. No matter how peripherally involved they were, cases involving kids of any age were tough.
"It's never easy Felix. We've dealt with cases like this before, with kids dying, being hurt; but you never get used to it." She looked at him somberly. "Frankly, I don't think you should ever get used to it." She shot a glance at her seatmate and, reassured he was firmly on Planet Hood, she leaned a bit into the aisle to mummer to Felix, "I just hope it doesn't turn out these kids did this to themselves." Her eyes flicked in Hood's direction. "I don't think he'd take it that well."
Felix pursed his lips in thought. He knew what Agent Young was talking about. The Doc did sometimes seem to get tied up in knots about what was happening to the victims. "What do you mean, doing this to themselves?"
"I hate to even think it, but we're dealing with high school athletes here. They wouldn't be the first or the last kids to do something stupid to give themselves an edge." Rachel thought back, "we dealt with something like this before you joined the team. I wonder…"
"I doubt that we'll be dealing with anything like that," Hood's voice interrupted her. Rachel's breath caught in her throat as he leaned over to join in the conversation, his shoulder pressing into hers. She worked hard to keep her breathing even; it wouldn't do for Hood to suspect how his nearness affected her.
"Why not Doc?" Felix was always interested in hearing about the work the Doc and Agent Young had done before his arrival.
"In that case we were dealing with a fairly sophisticated case of gene-doping." At Felix's look of confusion he elaborated. "A student developed a virus that added a gene to make muscles produce nitrous oxide. It would have given anyone who was injected a tremendous competitive advantage."
"Why don't you think something like that's going on here?" Felix asked.
Jacob smiled briefly. "Maybe this is my prejudices showing, but that case involved students at a large research university. According to what I've been sent, we're heading to North Platte, Nebraska. They have a population of a little over 25,000 and they're not close to any major metropolitan area. I can't believe that they would have access to drugs of that kind."
Rachel, having gotten her breathing under control, figured it was safe to join in the conversation. "I don't know that I'd call them prejudices, but your attitude is a bit, um, naïve?" She grinned at Hood's raised eyebrows. "Either you forgetting or you don't realize that North Platte is on Interstate 80, drug dealers have easy access to the area."
At Jacob's look of skepticism, Felix nodded his head vigorously. "Oh yeah, Doc, it's true. The feds have targeted I-80 as a major drug pipeline in the U.S."
Jacob shook his head, still not convinced. "We'd be seeing a different profile of the victims if these cases were merely drug related. I have to think that the fact that all three victims were high school athletes is more than a coincidence. And even so, I have a hard time believing your run of the mill drug dealer would be trafficking in drugs that would enhance athletic performance."
"I dunno Doc; maybe these kids got ahold of a bad batch of steroids?"
"That would have shown up on the tox screens. No, if we're being called in, it has to be something more complicated than that."
Felix grunted in agreement. "Well, I guess we'll find out soon enough." Closing his computer, he pulled his iPod out of his carryon and sat back to relax for the remainder of the flight.
Jacob pulled down Rachel's tray table and slid his computer over to her. "Here, I'd like you to take a look at the files. See if anything suggests itself to you." Jacob gave a sigh of pleasure as Rachel pulled out her glasses and began reviewing the information on the screen. It felt good to have someone to share in the work. Felix, by his own admission, wasn't big on the "science thing", and while he had tried, he had never shown the aptitude Rachel did. She often saw things, made connections between people and events, which he overlooked. Jacob had missed Rachel as partner as much as he had missed her personally. They spent the remainder of the flight speculating on what they might be facing in Nebraska.