Chapter 1

Rachel Burke walked out of the prison door, and stood breathing deeply in the early morning sunshine. She couldn't help the prick of tears that swelled suddenly in her eyes, and Peter Kolowsky, her lawyer, put his arm around her, reassuringly.

"I'm so sorry it's taken this long, Agent Burke," he said – "That last lot of information we got on Marks and his affairs, was what clinched the whole matter. Everything then fell into place. The Bureau is very sorry about what happened – you will be fully compensated."

Rachel nodded, not willing to risk saying anything yet, not till she had her emotions back under control, she did not want to break down in front of this man. He kept his arm around her and continued – "Agent Grant put his career on the line when he went after this person," he said – "He refused to back off, when ordered by HQ, and was in an enormous amount of trouble for disobeying a direct order from the top. Grant followed the lead to Washington and managed to get proof of what Marks was up to – he and Malone then got word to me – and I took it from there.

Finally Rachel took a deep breath, and turned to look at Peter. "Well, I guess I have to thank you," she said slowly. "And John Grant, and Bailey Malone. I can't believe that the Agency left me in jail for nearly three months. And yes, they will compensate me, big time!"

"I have set up an appointment for you with the Heads of the Bureau, for tomorrow morning – the panel there want to debrief you and also apologize for what you have been through; also to reassign you. The plane leaves at 9, I'll pick you up at 8."

Rachel nodded once more. "I am in no mood to be pleasant to anyone in authority," she said to the lawyer, as they approached his car. "I hope they don't expect me to be in any way grateful for their apologies – in fact at the moment, I think it would be better if I didn't speak to anyone for a week or two. I might say something they will regret!"

Bailey was at the airport, when the plane landed, and she rushed into his arms. He fired questions at her wanting to know how she was feeling, and what it was like to be free, and it was bliss for her to be able to look into his stern and craggy face, and to be able to talk to him without a thick pane of glass separating them. He held her hand tightly in the car on the way to Headquarters, still wanting to know if she was going to be able to handle the coming interview, and what she was going to demand.

They were whisked through the reception lobby, and down through the main office, to the very superior looking boardroom, where a trio of very important personages were waiting for them.

The three men introduced themselves; and apologized for her incarceration, and the Bureau's part in it. She was then offered any position she liked, in the F.B.I. that she was qualified for, and told she would be paid for her time in jail, at the premium rate.

She sat there looking back at them, and said nothing for a long time. She had all three of the men in front of her shuffling their feet, before she leant forward to say her piece.

"My demands are simple," she said softly, glancing first at Bailey, then at the lawyer sitting by her side. "I want you three gentlemen to look into why the VCTF was closed. I want an investigation into the Senator that closed us down. I want my old job back, as Profiler, and the old team back together. "

The three men looked at each other, and the gentleman sitting in the middle, who had been elected spokesman, leaned across the table.

"We were expecting something of the sort," he said to Rachel, with a small smile. "We have been tossing around the idea of re opening the VCTF for the last month or so. We have had too many violent and unsolved crimes happening lately – and our resources are stretched without your old department. Agent Malone already has had talks with us on this matter."

Rachel swiveled her eyes around to meet Bailey's dark dark ones, and he smiled at her.

"I didn't want to let on, till we were sure," he said to her, "But hopefully it will happen now."

Rachel took a deep breath. "It should never have been disbanded," she said severely. "What if I had asked for a million dollars as compensation? Actually I'm still considering it. I am absolutely furious over what happened."

The men smiled pleadingly at her. "Agent Malone was sure you would be pushing for the VCTF," said the spokesman. "It will take us another month, to get the whole package together – in that time you are on leave, fully paid of course. Once again, we are sorry that the Department did not back you up in your time of trouble – rest assured the slackers around the place have been given their marching orders – and we sincerely hope that nothing like this will ever happen to one of our operatives again!"

Rachel sat back in her chair, stunned. She smiled at Bailey; then turned back to the panel.

"I am still angry at what happened to me," she said. "But this is a start, I suppose."

An hour later she and Bailey and Peter were sitting in a café, drinking Irish coffees, and Bailey was smoking a cigar.

"For the first time in a long time, I feel confident about the future," said Bailey, leaning back in his chair and blowing smoke out of his mouth in a long stream. "I tried so hard to get things back the way they were, but I seemed to be going in circles."

Rachel looked up at the overcast sky, and smiled.

"I am going to spend a week or so at home, catching up with friends. And doing nothing. I'm going sleep late, and eat whatever I like, and watch television, and listen to really loud music!" she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the heavens, and Bailey and Peter exchanged wry glances.

"I am so very sorry," Bailey said again, reaching over to squeeze her hand. "I would have given anything for that whole scenario not to have happened!"

A month later, and they were operational again.

George had spent the last two weeks in the operations center, programming the computers and hovering over the updated systems, Bailey tracking down his back up staff, while Grace and Rachel had all been holidaying in various parts of the country, and John overseas.

Rachel had not yet had a chance to catch up with John, since she had been released from jail, and was looking forward with reservations, to seeing him again – she had spent a lot of time thinking about him whilst in prison, and wondering what would have happened to their working relationship, if the whole Marks thing had never happened. After a very rocky start, they had actually started to like one another and work really well as a team, and John had gone way out on a limb in clearing her name, but she had not heard from or seen him in 3 months. He had been there for her when Danny died, and she had sat with him for hours, while he grieved for Kate. They were just starting to look at each other in a different light, when everything had blown up in her face, as she was sent to jail. She knew she owed him a big 'thank you' – but was hoping that their meeting again would not be awkward, or revert to what it had originally been, with its sniping and bitching at each other.

She arrived early, the day the VCTF was officially re-opened, and sat in her clean smelling office, with the new computer and desk, and comfortable, ergonomically correct chair, still smelling of paint and chemicals, and closed her eyes in silent thanks, that her world was finally back to normal.

"Asleep on the job already?" came a voice next to her ear, and she opened her eyes with a jump, to look up at John, who was grinning down at her. He looked fit, tanned, and his eyes were very bright blue. An answering smile crept over her face, and she stood up, and flung herself into his arms.

"I haven't been able to thank…" she began, and he pulled away from her, looking intently at her, still grinning.

"Don't start thanking me," he said, "You got the team back together. We should all be thanking you."

"John, let me do this," she said, trying to look stern. "You went to extreme lengths to get me released, I need to thank you," and she leaned up, and kissed him on his closely shaven cheek. He started to say something, but she kept on talking over the top of what he was going to say.

"You were amazing, and I want you to know how grateful I am," she said, "Especially as we had never been all that close." The words she wanted to say came out all wrong.

He pulled away from her again, the smile dying from his face, the light fading out of his eyes, turning them blue/gray.

"That's right," he said, almost stiffly. "I'd better go and say hello to the others," and he walked away, leaving her staring after him in puzzlement, feeling guilty because she couldn't say what she wanted to him, and what she had said sounded rude, and almost patronizing.

Bailey called every one into the ops room, for a welcome back first morning chat – and to introduce the newcomers to the rest of the team. There were two new agents starting and another returning, whom Rachel had never met, but she could see by the amount of back slapping and hugging going on, that the rest of the team knew the bald, handsome dark man that came over to shake her hand.

"I'm Marcus," he said to her, his handshake firm, "I've been over with the ATF for the past three years, but when I heard the VCTF was being reformed, I had to come back."

"Well, we knew it couldn't be all good," said John lounging back in his chair, and Rachel glanced over at him in surprise at his tone, but Marcus smiled.

"Its good to see you too John, I'm surprised you managed to stay out of jail." he replied, and John grinned back at him. Marcus looked back in concern to Rachel, and put his hand over his mouth. "Oh God, I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't think – I hope I didn't offend you, I certainly didn't mean to."

"Same old Marcus," said John, still grinning. "Just opens his mouth to change feet."

Rachel reluctantly smiled, and turned back to Marcus. "No, you didn't offend me, I'm glad everyone here knows the story, so it doesn't have to be retold all the time. And I too, am surprised that John manages to stay out of trouble. With a lot of help from his friends, of course,"

"Things have changed then," said Marcus quickly, "He never used to have any."

John protested, and George laughed. "There was never a dull moment, when John and Marcus were partners, they used to argue more than you and John do, Rachel."

"I have a feeling we are going to be friends then, Marcus," said Rachel, and he laughed and nodded. John made a face at Rachel, behind her back, and Grace leaned over the desk and swatted at him with her hand.

"Behave yourself," she said to him. He ducked his head; then turned to slant a grin at her.

"Sorry Mom," he said cheekily, and Grace narrowed her eyes, looking at him speculatively.

"Your behavior hasn't improved," she said, and he took her hand and kissed the back of it in mock humility.

She pulled her hand out of his in exasperation. "It feels like we have never been away," she said with a laugh. "You never change. Or grow up - And I'm glad," she added, in a softened tone, leaning forward, and giving him a hug.

Rachel looked over towards where they were sitting, and watched the byplay between them a little pensively. She wondered why her own relationship with John seemed always to be so strained, even after they had sorted out the embarrassment of Marks' accusations.

Their first day was spent getting reacquainted with the staff for the department, the researchers and back up people, who were so valuable to the team, and worked so hard in the background. They also pored over old files, and were brought up to speed with the latest crimes that would soon be their whole focus.

It was good to catch up on some of the people she hadn't seen for a while, and everyone was glad to see her, out of jail and especially glad to be back working with a viable department. She was thrilled to discover that she had been assigned a research assistant/secretary, and even more thrilled when realized that she knew her already, from Quantico. So when her office door opened, and an attractive young woman walked in, Rachel stood up in delight, and hugged her.

"Donna, I can't believe you were assigned to be my assistant," she said, as the pretty brunette hugged her back.

"I know, isn't it great, I was thrilled when they asked me if I wanted to come out here, and work with you again," replied Donna. "I've known for about the last month, that we would be working together again."

"I can't believe it," repeated Rachel, "So you've moved here to Atlanta?"

"Yes," came the reply, "I really had nothing to stay for – you know that Michael and I broke up? This offer came at just the right time for me – a new and fresh start."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," said Rachel, making sympathetic noises. "Are you all right? What happened – you and Michael seemed so right together."

"Maybe we can have a drink together after work, and I'll fill you in on all the sordid details," replied Donna, grimacing slightly. "And you can fill me in on your love life."

Rachel grimaced and rolled her eyes. "The full and detailed story of my love life wouldn't fill the blank side of a postage stamp," she said, slightly bitterly. "A couple of flings, a one night stand, that's about it. I get pretty caught up in my work – I don't really seem to have enough time for much of a social life. And of course there's that whole 3 months in jail thing, being locked up with lots of other frustrated women! That doesn't do wonders for an almost nonexistent love life!"

"So no cute guys working here then?" asked Donna, with a glint of mischief in her eyes.

"Definitely not," replied Rachel emphatically, and at that moment there was a loud knock at her door, and John walked in. He stopped when he saw Donna, and then apologized for interrupting.

"I just thought I'd tell you, that Marcus, George and I are heading over to the bar, in about half and hour, if you want to join us for a drink," he said, flashing a smile at Donna and lifting one eyebrow. Rachel nodded, looking from John, to Donna, who was staring back at him with her mouth slightly open.

"John, this is Donna Hastings, she is my research assistant. Donna, this is John. He's …he's… he is err, he's one of the agents," said Rachel, and John turned to Donna, smiling again at her, and bowed slightly. "He's delighted to meet you," he said, flicking a glance back at Rachel, "And you are welcome to join us for a drink, if you feel you could take meeting the whole disreputable bunch of us at the same time."

Donna goggled at him, quite unable to say anything, and Rachel shooed him out of her office, saying that they may turn up at the bar; depending on how early she could leave.

As the door shut behind him, Donna turned back to Rachel, her eyes still wide.

"No cute guys, huh?" she said, and Rachel made a small gesture of denial, and sat down on her chair.

"John and I clash a little," was all she said bleakly, and Donna turned to look out of the window, down into the control center, where John was leaning against a desk, talking to George, his expressive face lighting up in a wide smile.

"So – that guy – is he attached or involved with anyone?" she asked, and Rachel rolled her eyes.

"Not that I know of, not now," she replied, a little reluctantly.

"So it's open season then?" asked Donna, still watching John through the window. "I mean, I wouldn't be treading on your toes, if I tried a little inter office fishing? You know, if I bait the hook, and see if I can get a bite?"

Rachel didn't answer her straight away, and she turned back to look at her friend.

"Well – is he fair game?" she asked again, and Rachel smiled a little ironically, wondering why she was feeling a little uncomfortable.

"Yeah, sure, whatever." Rachel replied a little stiffly, "But remember this is where we both work. Sometimes these office affairs cause more trouble than they are worth."

Donna laughed. "Hey, the guy hasn't even looked at me properly yet. And here you are talking about affairs. I'm talking about a little flirting – that's all. You have to admit he's very cute."

Rachel snorted rather inelegantly, and shrugged her shoulders.

"Whatever turns you on, I suppose," she said, "As I said before, John and I tend to clash a little. And cute is the last adjective I'd use in conjunction with him."

Donna looked at her in a speculative manner, and then changed the subject, asking about what her duties would involve, wondering why Rachel seemed so defensive. It was unusual behavior for her friend, and something she was looking forward to exploring in the future.

Rachel explained that a lot of her work would be research, and took her off to introduce her to the other staff members, especially Grace, who would also be utilizing her researching abilities.

She couldn't believe how quickly the first day passed, and by the end of it, they were called into the control center, and briefed by Bailey, about a series of murders that had occurred, and the team swung into action as if there had never been a break.

The first murder was of a young man, early 30's who was found brutally murdered in a back ally in the downtown area.

"He was reported missing by his wife several days ago, and turned up dead this morning," said George, his hands flying over his keyboard, and producing, up on the big screen, the driver's license photo of a man. Bailey looked over at Rachel and then across at John, and nodded slightly.

"Well, lets go," was all he said, and headed out towards the elevator. John grabbed his suit jacket, and followed, with Rachel close behind.

They were back!