A/N: From what Rachel says in the episode "Resurrection" we know she was only supposed to be assigned to Hood's detail for three months. This story posits why and how their partnership began.

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Special Agent Rachel Young was seething with resentment as she sat behind the wheel of her SUV trapped in a Sunday afternoon traffic jam. Her annoyance wasn't directed at the traffic but at her current situation. 'I can't believe it. I worked my ass off years and for what, for this?' she thought resentfully.

Rachel had decided she wanted to be an FBI agent when she was ten years old and, with single minded determination, began to shape her life to achieve that objective. While the other little girls in her class were taking ballet lessons, she signed up for marital arts. She had her black belt before she had her driver's license. In high school she badgered her father into letting her take boxing lessons so she could learn how to fight.

Even in her rebellious teenaged years she hadn't completely discarded her goal. She was smart enough to keep the more interesting of her escapades from her teachers or her father. She was also smart enough to keep away from anything illegal, anything that would bring her to the attention of the authorities. She kept up both her rigorous physical training and her grades to insure that she would still have the option to join the Bureau if she chose to do so.

9/11 sealed her decision. She would not only join the Bureau; she'd join the Counter-terrorism Division. She switched her major to Mid-Eastern Studies and minored in languages. By the time she graduated college she was almost fluent in Arabic and knew the rudiments of both Farsi and Dari.

Law school was still the preferred method for becoming an agent so she applied to every school in the District. She decided on George Washington solely due to its proximity to the Hoover Building. Exploiting her father's connections she wrangled various internships in the Bureau during law school. When she graduated she had an offer to join the Legal Department but she made it clear that she was only interested in a field agent position.

So she had taken, and aced, the two stages of testing and was soon headed to Quantico. She kept up her manic pace and was acknowledged by both the instructors and her classmates as being a rising star. Physically, she out-performed all of the women and most of the men. Intellectually, she wasn't at the top of the class; but her inquisitive attitude and shrewd judgment impressed her instructors more than simple book knowledge would have. Rachel was rewarded at the end of her twenty weeks at the Academy with her coveted spot in Counter-terrorism.

Ironically, it was because of her language skills that she received an assignment that irked her. She was put on a desk monitoring chatter on the Internet. After almost a year of this, and repeated requests for a transfer to a field assignment, her dream came true. She was assigned to Task Force Eagle and sent to Kabul.

Rachel loved the work in Afghanistan. Because of her earlier studies, she quickly picked up the language. That and her no-nonsense attitude soon made her the unofficial leader of the squad. The intel they provided the military was vital and she thrived on the danger the work entailed. But after six months she received the first check in her career.

The squad was due to be rotated state-side for a period of rest and relaxation and some additional training. Her first intimation something unusual was happening was when she was pulled aside by her squad leader. Rachel knew the man didn't particularly like her. He was an older agent, near retirement, and he was definitely old school. He didn't think women belonged in the field, especially when the field was a war zone. Furthermore, his command of the language was poor and he resented the leadership role she had assumed due to her superior skills.

Rachel knew whatever Perdue wanted when he called her in, it wouldn't be good. She was stunned when he told her that as a favor to his old friend, T.C. McGruder, he was "lending" her to the Executive Protection Detail. It was only for three months he assured her with a smirk. She knew, however, at the end of those three months it would be impossible for her to re-join the squad; her spot would be given to someone else. She would be stuck on another desk job until a slot opened up in a new squad.

She scowled as she recalled that conversation. 'Bastard, lending me out like I'm a piece of chattel.' When she met with McGruder she had thought, at first, this detail wouldn't be so bad. A valuable FBI asset needed protection. There had already been one near miss and credible death threats were still coming in. It sounded like it might be interesting, on a short term basis. Rachel was quickly disillusioned by the job.

Even before she met the asset, other members of the EPD filled her in on the problem. Unlike most rationale people whose lives had been threatened, this guy resented the protection detail. He never listened, he was arrogant, and he treated his handlers like they were idiots. Rachel had no trouble believing the gossip after meeting him in the Director's office. The man had been downright rude. He had the nerve to question her qualifications merely because of her appearance and then tried to put her in the wrong by asking a trick question.

Then there was the work, which was nothing less than mind-numbingly boring. After six months in a war zone where her job literally meant the difference between life and death, Rachel had been reduced to being a babysitter. In the two weeks she had been on the job her work had consisted of sitting in a lab in the Hoover Building while the asset did some weird experiments, escorting him to meetings on the Hill, and generally chauffeuring him around.

She had thought the low point was when she had to take him grocery shopping last weekend. She almost screamed with frustration when he had casually strolled up and down the aisles of the store, leisurely inspecting everything on the shelves. But this was much worse. She had been pissed when he had informed her yesterday he needed to go to the mall to buy a Christmas present for his nephew.

She flicked a quick look, filled with loathing, at her passenger. There he sat, freaking Dr. genius Jacob pain-in-the-ass Hood, cheerfully humming along to the radio. A radio she had tried to turn off claiming driver's privilege. She vented her feelings by blowing her horn at a car that attempted to cut in front of her.

"You know, if you dislike driving in traffic, you could have let me drive." Jacob offered mildly.

Rachel took a breath. She made it a point never to show irritation at anything Hood said or did. She also made it a point only to speak only when spoken to. "You know very well that you can't drive yourself. You don't have training in evasive driving maneuvers, if someone tried to take you out you'd be helpless."

Jacob looked at the traffic that was bumper to bumper. "I don't think that even you could maneuver in this traffic."

Rachel did not deign to reply. Soon they were at the mall. Jacob objected when Rachel began to pull into a handicapped space. "Wait, what are you doing? We can't park here."

Rachel looked at him impatiently. "We can park anywhere we damn well please. I have a FBI plates on the car."

"That," Jacob retorted, "Is a gross abuse of power. You can park here if you like, but I'll refuse to get out of the car."

Without a word Rachel reversed out of the space and began the slow crawl up and down the aisles of the parking lot looking for a space on this busy weekend. After ten minutes Jacob became exasperated.

"Look, I'm only going to one store and I know exactly what I want to buy. Why don't you just drop me off and circle the lot. I mean, I'll only be a few minutes."

"I'm your protection detail. I can hardly protect you if you're in the mall and I'm stuck out here in the parking lot." Rachel replied flatly.

Jacob waited until the SUV was stopped. He quickly unfastened his shoulder belt and opened the door. "Just pick me up in a few minutes." He slammed the door shut and began to walk toward the mall.

Jacob had only gone a few steps when the sounds behind brought him to a halt. The first was the sound of a car door slamming. This was followed quickly by the blaring of many car horns. He turned around and his mouth dropped open at the sight of Agent Young walking toward him.

"You, you can't do that," he stammered, pointing to the SUV abandoned in the middle of the aisle.

"Yes, I can. The car will be impounded but I can have someone from the Bureau retrieve it later. When you are ready to leave I will contact the Bureau and have them send a car for us."

Jacob stared at her for a few minutes, noting her bland expression. 'Damn, she's not going to back down.' He gave a huff of irritation and walked back to the car. Rachel allowed herself a small smirk behind his back.

Buckling the belt, Jacob surreptitiously observed Agent Young. 'She is a stubborn one. She really was prepared to leave the car sitting in the middle of the lot.' Jacob tucked this bit of knowledge away for further study. Over the past two weeks he had been patiently trying to discover the limits of this latest one. So far she had displayed nothing but polite indifference, no matter what he had requested she do. 'Crap, even I got bored grocery shopping.'

Jacob knew Frank and Ty McGruder thought he had some kind of death wish. What they didn't understand was that it wasn't the detail per se he resented; it was the agents they assigned to him. That he found it hard to concentrate on the work when he was constantly being badgered and ordered about by people who didn't have the faintest idea what his work entailed.

It wasn't merely they didn't understand the work. They had no curiosity about the work, about what he did. While it was true they didn't have to know what he did in order to do their job, Jacob couldn't believe they had never shown any interest in learning. He would have thought that knowing why he was doing something would help them understand why it had to be done. They never asked questions and would barely listen as he tried to explain the science behind his actions.

It also didn't help that those agents didn't bother to conceal the contempt they felt for him. That he was some head-in-the-clouds academic who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. They all seemed to forget that before the damn bombing he had operated perfectly fine on his own. So he spent his spare time trying to find ways to get rid of the latest unsatisfactory guard dog.

His reverie was interrupted by a grunt of approval from Agent Young. She had found a parking spot and eased the SUV into it. They walked toward the mall without speaking.

Once inside Jacob headed straight toward an educational toy store. Rachel silently snorted with derision as she followed Hood inside. 'It figures, he's going to a nerd store to buy a present for his nephew. I wonder if the kid's as bad as his uncle.' True to his word, Hood had known exactly what he wanted. He was at the counter paying for his selection in moments. While she waited for him to conclude his purchase, almost against her will, Rachel found she was fascinated by some of the toys.

Jacob thanked the clerk for her assistance and turned to leave with satisfaction. He knew Owen would enjoy the chemistry set. He blinked in surprise at the sight of Agent Young. She was playing with one of the wooden puzzles on display and he could swear that was a genuine smile on her face.

"Uh, I'm ready to leave now." Jacob blinked in surprise again, this time at how quickly Agent Young resumed her cool, bland expression. Before he could decide if he wanted to comment on her playing with the puzzles, her phone rang.

"Young here." She glanced at Hood. "It's for you." Rachel handed over her phone and watched Hood intently. She could tell from his expression that he was puzzled by the call.

"You're sure? It doesn't sound like my kind of thing." He shrugged. "Ok, if you say so." Jacob ended the call and stared into space a thoughtful look on his face.

Rachel mouth twisted in irritation. 'Christ, he's zoning out on me again.' Rather than wait for Hood to come back to earth, Rachel grabbed his hand to retrieve her cell phone. As she hoped, this broke Hood's trance.

"What's going on? Who was that on the phone? "

"Um, the Behavioural Analysis Unit wants me to consult on a case." Jacob shook his head. "I don't know why, but Frank's emailing you the logistics. We need to get going. Now."

Rachel's cell phone was buzzing in her hand, signalling an incoming email. Her eyes widened when she saw that the "Frank" sending the message was Frank Fuller. 'Shit, talk about top of the food chain.' She hadn't realized that Hood reported right to the Director. Keeping one eye on Hood as they made their way back to the SUV Rachel scanned the message.

"It looks like we're headed to upstate New York. Seats are being held for us on a flight to Buffalo, leaves in about two hours" She looked at Hood skeptically. "Can you be ready to leave that quickly?"

"Of course," Jacob replied. "My lab kit is already stocked and it won't take me long to throw some clothes in a bag." He tilted his head. "The real question is how long will it take us to get to your place to pick up your things?"

Jacob brightened at the thought of their having to stop by Agent Young's apartment. He knew there was no way she would allow him to sit unaccompanied in the SUV. She would have to bring him inside. She was so reserved, almost secretive, about her personal details. This would give him an opportunity to snoop a bit. With luck, there might even be some mail lying out; it had been two weeks and he still didn't know her first name.

Rachel dashed his hopes. "I have a go-bag in the car. We can head for the airport as soon as we pick up your stuff. Luckily, our flight is leaving out of National, so we won't have to back-track."

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Shortly after their flight took off, Rachel relaxed for the first time that day. They were safely cocooned at 25,000 feet, so she didn't have to worry, or even think, about Hood until it was time to land. About an hour into the flight they hit major turbulence. The plane bounced around enough to make even Rachel feel a little sick to her stomach. She glanced over to see how Hood was handling the bumpy flight and gaped in surprise. He had a look of intense concentration on his face as he read the files he had been sent; he was oblivious to what was going on around him.

'Jeez, talk about the ability to focus.' Rachel thought with a shake of her head. She wondered idly if this was what the other agents meant when they complained that Hood never listened to them. She felt a flicker of impatience with her predecessors. 'Surely it occurred to them that maybe they had to hit him upside the head to get his attention.' Her lips curved up slightly at the thought of whacking Hood.

Despite her intention to ignore Hood until landing, Rachel kept sneaking glances at her seatmate. He was clearly disturbed by what he was reading. The other agents had been vague as to what kind of things Hood investigated; "crimes using science" was the closest she got to an explanation. She wondered what it was about the case he was about to embark on that had Hood so baffled. She was about to break her self-imposed vow to do her job without showing any interest in him or his work when the man spoke.

"This is ridiculous," Jacob grumbled. "There's absolutely nothing here for me to work on, I don't know what those idiots were thinking, calling me in for a consult."

"I hardly think," Rachel responded coolly, "that anyone in the BAU qualifies as idiots. That's one of the most difficult units to win an assignment to. If they called for a consult, I'm sure they had their reasons."

Jacob was pulled up short by her rebuke. 'Damn, she doesn't let anything go.' The other agents would have just ignored him and his jibs at their capabilities. Not one of them would have challenged him like that.

"Maybe," he conceded. "But I've gone over the files they sent me and I can't find anything that would call for my expertise. I'm a scientist, not a detective, so by definition it's idiotic to believe that I can contribute anything to the case."

"Maybe there's something that's not in the files, something confidential that they didn't feel comfortable putting on paper just yet." 'Maybe you shouldn't make so many goddamned assumptions about the people who called you in.'

Jacob considered her words carefully. She had a valid point. Despite the problems he had with his various handlers, he had a healthy respect for the intelligence and dedication of the agents with whom he had come into contact on his cases. If this BAU person thought he could help, he should reserve judgement until he was on the scene.

"You're right. I should know better than to make unwarranted assumptions; that's the antithesis of the scientific method."

Rachel looked at Hood closely. He wasn't being sarcastic, he was dead serious. She filed this nugget of information away for later consideration. She had been warned that Hood was arrogant but he had not only accepted her rebuke but he had also considered and acknowledged her point of view.

Rachel could constrain her curiosity no longer. No matter what was waiting for them in Buffalo it had to be better, more exciting, than her duties the last two weeks. "So, what exactly is your area of expertise?"

"Didn't Ty explain it to you?"

"Not really," Rachel shrugged. "I was told I was being assigned to the protection detail for the Special Science Advisor and given background on the threats to your life."

"My PhD is in physics, but I've got an extensive background in chemistry and biotechnology. My field is biophysics and I did some post-doc work in quantum mechanics, but generally I've worked on issues dealing with quantum biology."

Jacob smiled at the blank look on Agent Young's face. "To put it simply, I get called in when people start using science to hurt rather than help." A look of irritation crossed his face. "Which is why I can't understand why anyone would think I could be of help on a simple murder."

Rachel tore her attention from trying to remember all of the words Hood had used to describe his background. She was going to have to do some serious research; she didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about. She focused on his last sentence; that at least she understood.

"It's hardly a simple murder if the BAU is involved." She frowned, "They only get called in on cases of serial murders."

"I don't care how many bodies there are," Jacob said. "Murder is outside of my bailiwick. Unless," he hastily added, "you're right and I don't have all the facts yet. Although," he continued thoughtfully, "I have a hard time imagining what that might be."

"Maybe the unsub is using some sciencey method to kill the victims?" Rachel offered.

"Sciencey?" Jacob's lips twitched and he couldn't keep a hint of laughter out of his voice. "And what is heaven's name is an unsub?"

Rachel glared at Hood with narrowed eyes. 'Is this son of a bitch laughing at me?' "Yes, sciencey, maybe the unsub is using something science based to kill his vics." And unsub is BAU terminology, it means unknown subject."

"Well, at least that would make sense," Jacob admitted. "But according to these files, the cause of death is clear." He shifted his laptop so that Agent Young could see the screen. "See, all of the, uh, vics, were strangled."

Rachel leaned back slightly to bring the screen into focus. She's be damned if she'd let Hood know that she needed reading glasses. After that scene in the Director's office she wasn't about to let him discover that she had any weaknesses. "Maybe cause of death isn't so clear. Maybe that's the reason why the BAU called you in."

Before Jacob could reply the announcement was made that the plane would be landing shortly and Agent Young reverted to her cool indifference.

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Rachel shivered slightly as they parked in front of Buffalo General Hospital. She wasn't looking forward to the visit to the morgue. She wasn't squeamish about dead bodies. She's seen more than her fair share in Afghanistan but that didn't mean she liked watching them get cut up.

Jacob looked around in confusion. "Why are we coming here? According to the files, the Buffalo police are in charge of this investigation. Why aren't we going to the police headquarters?"

He had been disappointed when Agent Young had gone back to her usual uncommunicative state. The exchange on the plane had been their longest sustained conversation since they met. He had been pleased when she, unlike the others, had shown at least a rudimentary interest in the work he did. He had hoped that some of her resentment at being assigned to him had begun to fade. But the trip into the city had been accomplished in almost total silence. She hadn't even bothered, as a courtesy, to let him know what his destination was. That kind of power play, putting him in the position where he had to beg for simple information, was one of the things he hated about his protection detail.

"This is where the Director told me to bring you. We're scheduled to meet the BAU agent and the local LEO here at the morgue," Rachel answered. She looked at him with raised eyebrows. "I assumed you knew, that the bodies had been brought here for autopsy, wasn't that in your files?"

"No, Frank only sent me the preliminary autopsy reports and the notes from the various detectives." Jacob felt somewhat better. She hadn't deliberately kept their destination from him; maybe she was shaping up to be a little better than her predecessors.

The two quickly made their way to the hospital morgue. They pulled up short when they saw that the door was blocked by two men engaged in an argument. The one with his back to them was stocky, with a shock of red hair. Jacob easily identified him as the BAU agent. He was wearing the unofficial FBI uniform of a dark suit.

The other man was middle-aged, slightly overweight, and dressed in a wrinkled brown suit. He was waving his hands in the air and was clearly annoyed by his companion. Jacob loudly cleared his throat and the two men turned toward them. To Jacob's surprise, the red-head broke into a broad grin.

"Rachel, Rachel Young, damn, it's good to see you girl." He advanced on them and swept her into a bear hug.

Jacob's eyes widened and he waited to see what the chilly Agent Young would do to this presumptuous young man. He was amazed when she merely extricated herself from the hug with a laugh.

"It's good to see you again Gilly."

Gilchrist looked at her inquiringly. "But what are you doing here? Last I heard you were in Counter-terrorism?"

Jacob wasn't surprised to see Agent Young stiffen.

"Temporary assignment," she said shortly. She turned to Hood. "Dr. Hood, this is Special Agent Riley Gilchrist. Gilly, this is Dr. Jacob Hood, the Special Science Advisor. You called him for a consult?"

"Agent Gilchrist," Jacob nodded and held out his hand. "I'm not sure what help I can be, I'm not really knowledgeable about serial murderers or murderers of any kind."

"That's what I tried telling this kid," exclaimed the older man. He held out his hand to Jacob, "I'm Detective Herb Coffey of the Buffalo PD. Like I said, we don't need you or any other FBI types on this investigation."

Jacob noted that the two agents locked gazes behind the older man's back and rolled their eyes. "Oh? And why is that?"

"Well, for one thing, there's nothing to do with science so I can't see why you had to be called in." Coffey glared at Gilchrist. "And as for the BAU, I don't see where they have jurisdiction either. Yeah, this may be serial killer but there's no evidence that he's operated anywhere but here in Buffalo."

Gilchrist blew out his breath in exasperation. "I keep telling you, this isn't a serial killer. And I do have jurisdiction, your second body was found on federal property."

Coffey gave a snort. "Federal property my ass. It was in a parking lot off of Franklin, in the middle of the city."

Gilchrist looked at the ceiling, visibly trying to control his temper. "The parking lot of the Teddy Roosevelt Inaugural Site which is a federal property. So yeah, that makes that body the business of the FBI. And he's the reason why I called in Dr. Hood." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the doctor who had been quietly standing in the corner.

"Dr. Hood, this is Dr. Ted Ondracek, head of pathology here at Buffalo General. He's found something, well, unusual."

Dr. Ondracek came forward. "I'm hope you're not here on a wild goose chase Dr. Hood. What I found isn't really a medical anomaly, but Agent Gilchrist here …."

"Exactly," broke in Coffey. "There isn't anything for you here. By rights this is my case and I don't need any FBI doctor butting in."

"Dr. Ondracek, if you could please tell Dr. Hood what you found." Gilchrist ground out.

The man shrugged. "I didn't find it exactly." He turned to Jacob. "What you have to understand is that this is a teaching hospital, we're part of the University of Buffalo's medical school. Normally, these two bodies wouldn't have come to me for autopsy.

But the city recently suffered from a severe spell of cold weather resulting in the deaths of quite a few homeless people. Since the city morgue was backed up, the police requested that we take over these two cases."

He shot a dirty look at Coffey. "It seems there was a great deal of panic over the thought that we had a serial killer operating in the city. Well," he continued, "the autopsies of both bodies were fairly straightforward, both victims had been strangled."

He led Jacob over to the autopsy table where two bodies were laid out. "As you can see the injuries are consistent with manual strangulation."

"Hmm," Jacob murmured as studied the bodies. "Yes, I can see that this is almost a classic case." He frowned suddenly, "but what are those red flecks in the ligature marks on their necks?"

"Those," Coffey put in triumphantly, "are what make this the work of a serial killer. Those red flecks are parts of the ribbon tied around their necks." He grinned at the look on Jacob's face. "What? You thought I was making it up about a serial killer? This isn't just three white, middle-aged women getting themselves strangled."

He shot a dirty look at Gilchrist, "Even thought that would be enough. But after strangling them, the perp ties a big bow around their necks with red ribbon."

"Ah, yes, I can see your point." Jacob replied. He turned to Ondracek. "So what is the anomaly you found?"

Ondracek scrubbed at his face. "Like I said, this is a teaching hospital. Since we couldn't release the bodies, I thought I'd use them for an exercise for my pathology students." He noted Jacob's look of distaste. "Only to run some tests and with the permission of the next of kin."

He took a deep breath. "I was trying to get across the point that tox screens don't catch everything. How you can't test for everything, so eventually, something would get missed. I told them to go to town, to test for everything they could think of. Apparently, one of my students is a fan of old fashioned murder mysteries. He decided to test for plant poisons. And damned if he didn't find traces on coniine in the samples from one of the bodies."

"Coniine, you're sure?" Jacob asked.

"Re-ran the test myself," Ondracek confirmed. "When it came back the same, I decided to test the other victim. They both had been poisoned with coniine." He looked at Jacob and his face showed his puzzlement. "The concentrations were pretty high, I would estimate, given what I found, that both of these women were within minutes of death when they were strangled."

Coffey was impatient. "So what? Serial killers are all nuts, so he poisoned and strangled his vics. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal," retorted Gilchrist, "is that isn't how serial killers operate." He turned to Jacob, "and that's why I called for you Dr. Hood. I have the feeling that this case hinges on that coniine and I wanted your opinion on that."

Jacob looked at him doubtfully. "I don't see what you expect me to do. I'm not an expert on poisons."

Before Gilchrist could answer, a cell phone rang. "That's me," announced Coffey. He mumbled into his phone briefly before pocketing it. "Got to go, got a lead that I need to follow-up." The others watched him leave without regret.

"Look," Gilchrist urged Dr. Hood. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee, let me tell you about what's bothering me about this case."

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Jacob soon found himself in the hospital cafeteria sandwiched between the two agents. Gilchrist was determined to convince him that something out of the ordinary, something that merited the attention of the Special Science Advisor, was going on in Buffalo.

"I don't care what Coffey says," Gilchrist said. "This isn't the work of a serial killer, it doesn't fit the methodology. Serial killers may be nuts, like he said, but they run to type and these three murders don't fit the type."

"I dunno, Gilly," Rachel said. "Just 'cause you don't like Coffey doesn't mean he isn't right. Three women strangled and left with bows around their necks? That sounds like the mark of a serial killer to me."

Gilchrist looked at her grimly. "Maybe, but you need to know those women, none of them, were raped. They weren't sexually assaulted in any way, shape, or form."

Jacob nodded in understanding. "Yes, that is telling." Rachel looked at him skeptically.

"Really," he insisted. "Agent Gilchrist is correct. Serial killers are generally acting out of some kind of, of, well, of some kind of sexual impulse. One of the hallmarks of their crimes is that they have, uh, a sexual component to them. The fact that these women haven't been, uh, assaulted is a strong indication that this isn't the work of a serial killer."

Rachel mentally rolled her eyes. She couldn't believe that Hood was stumbling over the word sex. 'He can look at dead people without batting an eye but he can't say the word sex without blushing?'

"But that's not true," Rachel objected. "What about those "angel of death" killers you read about? The ones who go around killing old people, sick people. They're not killing because of sex."

"Depends on what you mean by sex, Rachel," Gilchrist replied. "Those types of killers, that's how they get off, killing people. They pick the old and sick to cover up the murders." He held up his hand, forestalling her protest. "And don't tell me about the ones who act like hero's, trying to pull the dying person back from the brink, those are a distinct minority, they like the adrenaline rush."

His face turned grim. "Trust me, I've been tracking serial killers for over a year and this one just doesn't fit any of the profiles."

Jacob shrugged. "So it's not a serial killer. You've got a mass murderer instead. What makes that something for me?"

"The coniine. My gut tells me that it must be important. This guy is strangling women who are about to die from coniine poisoning. Why? To cover up the real cause of death? What is going on here?"

Jacob started at the young man, considering. The chances of getting a flight home tonight were slim. He had to pass the time somehow; he might as well spend it in a lab running a few tests on this coniine. His lips twitched, he didn't think Agent Young would agree to spending the afternoon catching a movie.

"Fine," he said abruptly. "If you can find me some lab space and Dr. Ondracek is willing to let me have access to tissue samples, I'll run some tests for you."

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Rachel was rapidly revising her opinion about being in the field with Hood. So far, her afternoon had been as boring as when she was stuck with him in DC. For the last hour he had been fiddling around with tissue samples and microscopes. Gilly had sat with her for a while giving them a chance to catch up before he had to go make some phone calls. Unused to inactivity, she was rapidly becoming impatient.

To relive the boredom Rachel began pacing the lab. One of her circuits took her within Hood's orbit. "Could you hand me that sample please."

She pulled up short. There were several slides on the table at her side. "Uh, which one do you need?"

"The one marked spleen A."

Rachel handed over the tissue sample. Despite her desire to remain aloof from Hood's work, she couldn't help but ask a question. "Why is it marked with an A?"

Jacob looked up, a crease of annoyance on his face at the interruption. His "What?" came out sharper than he intended.

"Nothing." Rachel began to retreat to the other side of the lab.

Jacob straightened, stretching out his back. He hadn't realized he had been bent over the microscope for so long. In reality, he should have thanked Agent Young for the interruption, he needed a break.

"No, I'm sorry, what was your question?"

She was tempted to deny any desire for information, but her curiosity overcame her. "I was wondering why the sample was marked with an A."

"Oh, that. I asked Dr. Ondracek to mark the samples A and B so that I could run the tests blind."

Jacob elaborated at Agent Young's look of confusion. "We know that Dr. Ondracek found coniine in both bodies. But he only looked in the first body after it was discovered in the second. Now, I'm not disparaging his work, but there is a chance that the results of his second test were contaminated by his first. So what I'm doing is taking completely fresh samples from both bodies and re-running all of the tests making sure that there's no cross-contamination."

Rachel nodded in understanding. "You're re-establishing the chain of evidence. Making sure that the results will hold up under examination." She cocked her head. "But why the A and B?"

"As I said, I want the tests to be completely blind. I don't want to be influenced, even unconsciously, by what Dr. Ondracek found."

Rachel pursed her lips. That made sense. She had one more question. "How come you're only testing samples from their spleens?"

Jacob regarded her thoughtfully. 'Well, this one seems to have a streak of curiosity.' "Do you have a sponge by your kitchen sink?"

Rachel looked at him blankly at this non sequitur. "A sponge?" She thought hard. It had been awhile since she had spent any time in her kitchen, she was a reluctant cook, but she could swear that yeah, she did have sponge on the edge of her kitchen sink. "Uh, yeah, why?"

"Well you have to understand that your spleen is like a sponge. It absorbs the blood that passes through it much like a sponge absorbs water. It's also the job of your spleen/sponge to clean; the spleen filters out impurities in the blood. But the debris builds up in your spleen, just as it does in your sponge. It's filled with impurities. So if you're looking for something that passed through someone's body the spleen is a pretty good place to go looking."

Rachel nodded, screwing up her nose. 'Eww, have to remember to throw that sponge out.' "So did looking at their spleens tell you anything?"

Jacob frowned. "I'm not sure. It depends on the results from this next test. But I'm beginning to think that your friend might be on to something, that the coniine is significant."

Jacob turned back to his microscope leaving Rachel to try to figure out what he meant. She was relieved when, a short time later Gilchrist came back to the lab, a pleased expression on his face.

"Hey Gilly, what's up?"

Gilchrist returned her smile. "Good news, that's what." He turned to Jacob. "I've been on the phone to Coffey's superiors. He's been putting roadblocks in the way of my seeing any of the evidence in the first murder. But I've got authorization for you to examine the samples from that body."

Jacob frowned. "Why are only samples available? Surely in a case like this they would have held on to the body?"

"That's another reason why I don't think this is a serial killer," Gilchrist said. "The timing. Generally serial killers speed up as their killing spree goes on. The first body was found a month before the second. They released the body to the family right after the autopsy since they didn't suspect anything out of the ordinary. Yeah, the bow thing was kinky, but not something to get excited about until the second body showed up. The gap between bodies one and two is expected. Then two and three were practically on top of each other. But we haven't had another body since number three. If this were a serial killer, we'd have had four and maybe even five by now."

He faced Jacob seriously. "What I think what we have here is three murders that are linked and the murderer wants us to think it's a serial killer to disguise the real motive. And I think this coniine is the key."

"You may be right." Jacob told him. "I duplicated Dr. Ondracek' s tests and there is quite a bit on coniine in both bodies. Neither woman would have been able to survive even if they had sought medical attention when their symptoms began to manifest themselves. If his only concern was that these women die, then strangulation was unnecessary. And you were right about the coniine. It is important."

"I knew it," crowed Gilchrist. "I knew it had to be the key. What's unusual about it?"

"It's not unusual, not at all." Jacob began.

Gilchrist's face fell. "Shit, I was hoping that you'd be able to tell me that it was some kind of rare type that could only be found in a small area of the country."

"You've been watching too much TV," Jacob said reprovingly. "You were on the right track, but it's not that esoteric. What you have to understand is that there are two kinds of coniine, natural and synthetic."

He sighed at the look of confusion on the faces of both agents. 'Damn it, don't any of these kids take science anymore? I'm gonna have to talk to Frank about improving their basic training.' "If you want to make coniine you have two avenues to take. Either you find yourself some hemlock and boil it down or you make the compound out of its constituent chemical parts."

He waved a hand at the lab bench. "And the coniine that was used on those women was definitely synthetic. There were none of the impurities you would expect to find in coniine made from hemlock."

"Hemlock," Rachel asked doubtfully. "You mean like Socrates?"

Jacob's lips twitched. 'Well at least she knows her history.' Exactly, hemlock is one of the most common botanical poisons; it was used by the ancient Greeks as an execution method." His face hardened. "It's a particularly nasty way to kill someone though, the victim is gradually paralyzed, they're fully conscious of what is happening to them until they die."

Gilchrist continued to look puzzled. "I don't get it. If the coniine isn't that rare, why strangle the women to cover up the fact that you used it? Hell, why use it at all, why not just strangle them?"

"Maybe," Rachel offered, "the unsub wanted to immobilize the victims, make it easier to strangle them."

"Perhaps. But just because the coniine isn't rare doesn't mean that it isn't important." Jacob explained patiently. "Anyone could make natural coniine, it's not that hard. But the synthetic version?" He shook his head. "It isn't that easy to get your hands on synthetic coniine and you'd have to be a fairly skilled chemist to make it yourself."

"So you're telling me that my unsub has to have access to a lab?"

"Not necessarily. The ingredients to synthetic coniine can be purchased at any chemical supply store." Jacob shrugged. "I could whip some up in my kitchen if I wanted to."

Gilchrist swore in frustration. "I thought you said that it wasn't easy to get ahold of the synthetic? Now you're saying anyone can make it if they have the right ingredients?"

"That's not what you asked me." Jacob replied clearly irritated. "I was merely pointing out that you don't need a lab to manufacture coniine if you know your chemistry." He glared at Gilchrist, "and I know my chemistry."

Jacob shook his head, exasperated. "Look, let me start over. Your killer, your, your, unsub has got to fall into one of two categories, maybe both. Either he has access to a lab where there may be quantities of coniine available for him to steal. Or he is a skilled chemist with or without access to a lab."

A thoughtful look came over Jacob's face. "Although if I had to make a guess, I'd say that this person has to be a skilled chemist."

"Why?"

"A single lab isn't going to have sufficient quantities of coniine available that a theft would go unnoticed for this long. I mean, this stuff isn't in general use. If a lab had some available, and not all labs would have it around, they'd track it pretty carefully. A theft of the quantity needed to kill these women would have been hard to cover up."

"Maybe my unsub has access to several labs." Gilchrist objected.

Jacob shook his head. "No, that's unlikely. Like I said, this stuff isn't something that's in common use. Very few labs would have any need to keep it around. Coniine has very limited uses. No, I think you'll find that your unsub has a strong background in chemistry."

"Or he has an accomplice who does." Gilchrist added.

Jacob nodded acknowledging this point. "I can see why the killer would want to conceal the presence of the coniine. After all, it limits your suspect pool. What I can't understand, is why the bows? Why try to make the police think this was the work of a serial killer?"

"To shift the focus of the police," Rachel blurted out.

"Exactly!" exclaimed Gilchrist. "Anyone who's read a serial killer book or saw a movie knows that serial killers pick their victims by some weird criteria that only mean something to them. You focus on the method, the killer. You don't look at the victims as closely, not like you would in a normal murder investigation."

"I'll have to take your word for that." Jacob said. "Like I said, I don't know anything about murders or murderers. Now, you said you got me access to the tissue samples of the first victim. Could you arrange for them to be sent here for me to test? I want to check them for synthetic coniine."

"Ahh, it's not that easy." Gilchrist replied. "I talked to Coffey's lieutenant; got him to order Coffey to cooperate, give us access to the evidence. But they won't let the physical evidence out of their control. You're gonna have to go over there to their lab."

He paused, thinking. "Actually, that might be best. I'd like you to explain about the coniine to the lieutenant. It'll sound better coming straight from you."