CHAPTER 15

It took every bit of her courage, to get ready for work on Monday morning. She drank more than her usual 2 cups of coffee, and went all out with her make-up, something she usually didn't bother with.

She had spent Sunday curled up on her sofa, trying to watch television, something she didn't do very often, and trying to block from her mind, images of her shocking behavior of the day and previous night. She deliberately tried not to think of what had happened between her and John, shying away from memories that stained her cheeks with embarrassment, and made her heart pound.

She knew that all the anger she had been harboring, since her arrest, had somehow been unleashed in her, and maybe that had something to do with her actions, anger and confusion, and even loneliness – and that she had lashed out at John, but she didn't know why. She still didn't understand how his casual comments in the operations room had so angered her, and disturbed the huge emotional baggage that she was carrying! She was the profiler – and now she knew, she had to profile herself, with complete honesty, if she was to ever understand what had happened, and to prevent herself from exploding like that again.

She parked in the underground garage, and walked over towards the elevator, then froze as she saw John getting out of his car, and coming towards her. They reached the elevator together, and she gritted her teeth, as the doors opened.

The doors closed with a hiss, and John immediately turned to look at her.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked, smiling a little, but not sarcastically.

"Yes, thank you," she replied, then heaved a big sigh. "John – I have to…"

"Don't apologize to me again," he said. "Let's just forget it. I'm sorry too – my behavior wasn't much better than yours. If we start tiptoeing around each other's feelings at work, everyone will know something happened between us."

She nodded in agreement, still unable to look him in the eyes.

"So I think you should just start being rude and dismissive of everything I say, and things will seem like normal," he continued, and the lift door opened onto their floor, as her mouth dropped open in anger.

"I am NOT rude and dismissive of everything you say," retorted Rachel, as Bailey and George walked out of Grace's office.

"Oh please, are you two still at it?" said Bailey. "We've got work to do today, I thought having a whole weekend off for a change, would have made one of you smile at least."

"John, I've got those records you wanted," said George, and he and John headed off down the corridor, and Bailey walked back into his office, and Rachel stood there, smiling to herself – John's words in the elevator had been just right. Things were back to normal – well almost, and she headed back into her own office, to see what had happened over the two-day break.

She turned on her computer, and began to assemble her thoughts, staring at her screen saver, when Bailey indicated through the window that he wanted her in the control room.

She ran down the steps behind him, taking a deep breath, as she saw the rest of the team already seated around the big conference table. Averting her eyes, she sat down in the nearest empty seat, between George and Marcus, and studiously avoided looking in John's direction.

"Well, this is another success," began Bailey, smiling widely. "Things couldn't have worked out better, if I'd written a script. In the short time we've been back, we have solved several murders and a kidnapping. The suits at HQ are very happy with us, at the moment. – That being said, I've just had notification from the Police in Orlando that they believe they have a serial killer on the loose. Three young boys have been killed in the last three months, all sexually abused. I am heading out there in a moment, and Marcus is coming with me. John, you have reports to write up and are due in court this afternoon. Rachel likewise. I'll be back tonight, and see if I think we need to fly the rest of the team out there. John, you've been there recently, do you remember anything about this place?"

Bailey had spread a map out on the table, and he reached out to circle the area that the bodies had been found, and John reached out also, and placed his hand on the map, looking to read what was written on it, and the sleeve of his immaculately pressed soft blue shirt rode up a little.

Grace leaned forward and grabbed his hand, and turned it palm up. John looked at her in surprise, almost but not quite snatching his hand back, but Grace held on tightly, and pushed the cuff of his shirt up a higher to expose a little of his forearm.

"What on earth happened to you?" she asked, and everybody in the room stared at the ugly bruise that circled John's wrist. Rachel stared, along with the others, suddenly she felt faint with horror, as she realized what had caused that bruise. She felt the heat and color rise in her cheeks, and stayed perfectly still, hoping that no one would look at her, because she knew that embarrassment and guilt were written all over her face for all to read.

John, to his credit, did not look in her direction. He stared down at his own wrist for a long moment, then smiled and looked back up at Grace.

"That's what happened when that paramedic pulled me over the edge of the canal," he said finally. "It's faded heaps."

Grace continued to frown. "If that has faded," she said ominously, "then it must have been horrible when it first happened. Does it hurt?"

John pulled his hand out of her grasp, and pulled the sleeve of his shirt back down, making sure the other one did not ride up as he did so.

"No, it doesn't hurt," he said. "I forgot it was there, it's no big deal Grace," And he turned to Bailey, and began talking about the new case.

Eventually the team dispersed, Bailey and Marcus to catch the jet, and the rest to their respective desks. John risked a glance at Rachel, but she was staring at the ground, and would not look at him. She picked up her files, and made her way back to her office.

Once back there, she turned on her computer, and stared blankly at the screen, and then with a decisive suddenness got up and walked across the corridor, and into Grace's office. She shut the door behind her, and Grace looked up, frowning a little, when she saw Rachel's expression.

"What's going on?" she asked, in her brusque manner.

Rachel dropped her eyes, and began to shake.

"You were right," she said, not looking at Grace. "I did something really stupid, and now have to live with the consequences. I think I'm ready to talk to that counselor, the one Sam recommended."

Grace nodded, and reached into her desk. "This is the number – give her a call, she is really good. And I think it will help you. Do you want to talk to me about it?"

Rachel looked up at her friend then back down at the table. She sighed again.

"There is someone else involved," she said. "I did something stupid and involved another member of the staff. Oh Grace, I feel so bad."

"By someone else, do you mean John?" asked Grace, and Rachel's eyes flew up to Grace's, and her cheeks colored.

"How did you know?" she asked, then bit her lip.

"You just told me," replied Grace, "But anyone can see there is an attraction between you guys."

"An attraction!" said Rachel, firing up suddenly. "There is no attraction – " but she stopped short, and dropped her eyes again.

"Oh Grace," she said, and tears welled up in her eyes again. "I've made such an idiot of myself."

Grace stood up and came around to where Rachel was sitting, to put her arms around her and give her a hug.

"You are not superwoman," she said. "You went through a shocking time. Everyone needs a little help now and then. Go talk to this counselor. She will be able to help you. And whatever is between you and John – well he's not the type to hold a grudge. He'll get over it."

"He might," said Rachel tearfully, "But I don't think I will ever forgive myself for what I did. And any relationship I might have had in the future, with John, well that won't ever be happening now. And I can't blame him, either." And she began to cry in earnest.

Grace didn't say anything; she hugged Rachel again, and then sat, waiting for the storm to pass. Finally Rachel looked up at Grace, and her sobbing slowed and eventually stopped.

"I…" she began, "I can't seem to stop this stupid crying," she said. "I am not the crying type, I never cry."

"Go and see this psychologist," said Grace. "I'm pulling a few strings, and getting you a consult today."

When Rachel tried to protest, Grace overruled her. She made Rachel sit while she rang and made an urgent appointment with the psychologist, then sent her into the bathroom to wash the tear stains off her face.

"You can see Dr Saddington at 3 this afternoon. She's setting aside a couple of hours for you." Grace told her. "Now do you want me to tell Bailey, or are you going to?"

Rachel returned to her office, and began typing up her report, trying to lose herself in the mundane aspects of her work, the endless form filling and report writing, but she didn't want to break down again, especially at work, so when Donna came in, she gladly handed over her notes, and told Donna she was leaving early. It was a relief to leave and head for home, but it was also a relief to have finally admitted that perhaps she needed help to overcome what had happened to her. And now the decision had been taken out of her hands by Grace, it was a relief to just go along with it, and not fight or try to be strong anymore.

As she drove away FBI building, she heaved a huge sigh.

Everyday, for nearly two weeks, Rachel spoke to her counselor, and attended a daily workshop running self-help programs, that had been recommended. She did not go back to the VCTF, Bailey had rung and told her to take as long as she needed, and also that he was glad she was sorting things out, he had been very worried about her.

She spent the time re-learning many things that she had forgotten, but mostly learning how to be kind to herself, and finding her inner peace again, after months of feeling lost.

Grace rang her nearly every evening, to find out how she was coping, her mother and best friend from back in Boulder rang often as well to make sure she was well, and even Sam Waters had rung to encourage her. Donna and Grace had kept her up to date with what was happening, the team had managed to track down and arrest a man for the killing of three little boys, and at the moment was bogged down in a murder that had happened much closer to home, in Atlanta, so for a change were not flying all over the country, sleeping in motels and keeping weird hours.

She had spent the day pampering, she treated herself to a facial, had her legs waxed, her hair trimmed and styled again, and finally a pedicure and manicure. It had been a long time since she had bothered. Now she was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her apartment, with a box of chocolates opened, sipping on a really good Australian white wine, and talking to her Mother long distance. She had decided to return to work on the following Monday, and was determined to enjoy her last 3 days of freedom.

"I can't wait for you to get here," she was saying to her Mother, about her impending visit "You haven't seen my apartment yet, and there is plenty of room. I can show you the city, Mom it's really beautiful!"

She listened to her mother's reply, and was distracted by someone knocking.

"Got to go Mom, someone's at the door," she said, "Bye – love you." And rose to her feet, wiping her chocolate covered fingers on the side of her jeans.

She opened the door, and then took a deep breath of shock – staring at her visitor with hugely surprised eyes.

John, who was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, smiled down at her. She goggled back at him. He was wearing a plain white tee shirt, tucked into well-worn jeans, the casual look suited him so much, she almost couldn't breathe.

"I thought I'd call past and see how you are," he said, and smiled at her, his special smile, the one that lit up his whole face.

"I'm – good," she said, after a pause, still frozen in position, still staring up at him, with incredulous eyes. She wasn't sure if she was ready to face him yet, embarrassment started somewhere near her toes, and began winding its heat through her body.

"Are you busy?" he asked, peering around her, but making no move to straighten up. "Can I come in? I bring a peace offering."

Rachel took a deep breath. She moved slightly, to one side and he straightened up, unfolding his arms as he did so, and producing a bottle of champagne.

"I thought we could have a drink, or," and he paused for effect "if you prefer – we could play?" and held out his other hand. A pair of handcuffs dangled from his finger.

She made a choking sound, and he stepped forward, into her apartment, and placed the handcuffs in her hands. And he stared to laugh.

After a long moment, she smiled, then she began to laugh also, and then it was all gone, the awkwardness and embarrassment dissolved.

He took another step towards her, the laughter slowly dying off his face, and caught her hands in his.

"Rachel," he said. "I've missed you. I missed you for all those horrible weeks you were wrongly imprisoned, and I've missed you again, these last two weeks. I want to be friends – I want to be more than friends."

She looked down at his hands, clasped over hers, then up into his beautiful blue eyes. She was standing so close to him, that she could smell his obviously expensive after shave, and see a muscle jumping in his closely shaven cheek. She suddenly realized that he was nervous, that he was stepping outside of his comfort zone, wondering what her reaction would be, and something inside of her melted.

She took a deep breath, and snapped one end of the handcuffs over her own wrist, and the other over his.

"I hope you've got the key," she said, and walked back into her apartment, pulling him with her.

The End