A/N: This one is dedicated to my friend Lattelady, who suggested that it would be interesting to get Hood and Rachel into a poker game. While Hood was enthusiastic, Rachel wasn't sure it was such a good idea. They compromised on this story.
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"I hate these things," Jacob Hood grumbled from the passenger seat of the SUV. "There's nothing worse than a political event masquerading as a dinner party." He paused thoughtfully, "except a political event that's not pretending to be anything else."
"Then why didn't you turn down the invitation?" Special Agent Rachel Young asked reasonably. "You've no one to blame but yourself for tonight."
"Yeah? You try turning down a dinner invitation from your boss."
Rachel opened her mouth and shut it again. Hood did have a point. In the unlikely event that either T.C. McGruder, Chief of the Executive Protection Detail or Frank Fuller, Director of the FBI ever invited her to dinner she's be as stuck as he was.
"Not that it was an invitation," Jacob continued to grouse. "More like a command. Frank wants to expand the Laboratory Services Division and he wants me to butter up some senator or other who's on the Appropriations Committee. Honestly, why I couldn't visit the man in his office…"
"Well, you're not the only one whose night has been ruined and you don't hear me complaining," Rachel retorted tartly.
Technically her evenings weren't her own. As Hood's bodyguard, she was on call and had to be available to accompany him if he were to go somewhere at night, even if it was a social event. Rachel had been relieved to discover that Hood wasn't one for the Washington social whirl; he rarely went anywhere in the evenings leaving her free. She had gotten used to being able to arrange casual get-togethers with friends. Tonight, she had planned to meet her law school roommates for drinks.
The few times he had attended an evening social event it was a formal, official affair. Since these events usually included the Director or some other high-ranking FBI official Hood would be under their security umbrella; there was no need for her presence. But recently he had taken to requesting that she chauffer him to these events. Rachel wasn't sure if it was because he wanted to insure himself of seeing at least one friendly face or if her presence allowed him to escape from his social obligation as quickly as possible.
The street in front of the Fuller residence has been blocked off and black-suited agents were inspecting all the cars that came into the neighborhood. Rachel lowered her window and after identifying herself and Hood proceeded to park in front of the house. She felt something like a nanny delivering a reluctant child to a birthday party as she escorted a still complaining Hood to the door. She fought the impulse to tell him to behave himself and to remember to say please and thank you.
After being greeted warmly by both Director and Mrs. Fuller, Rachel was discreetly directed to the family room at the rear of the house. She suppressed a smile at the look of anguish Hood threw at her as she walked away. 'How can the Director expect him to lobby anyone? His face is an open book.'
Rachel hesitated briefly before entering the family room. Of the four agents already there, she only recognized one, Ian Kendrick, part of the Director's protection detail.
Kendrick looked up and spied Rachel in the doorway. "Young, hi, come on in." He waved to his companions, "do you know everyone?" At the shake of her head, he performed introductions. "This is Rich Wheeler, he's with the Deputy Director, Diane Lewis, she's with the Attorney-General, and Jack Carroll, he's with a visiting VIP."
As Rachel nodded an acknowledgment to the introductions, Kendrick waved his hand at her. "This is Rachel Young; she's with the Special Science Advisor."
She was pleased to note that this introduction didn't so much as raise an eyebrow. Apparently her campaign to quash any gossip about her continued success as Hood's handler slash bodyguard had been successful.
"So, what's the deal here tonight?" she asked Kendrick. "Do we take turns patrolling the neighborhood or what?"
"Nah, not tonight," Kendrick smiled. "We lucked out; the vice-president is coming, so the Secret Service insisted on providing security tonight." He exchanged a smirk with his fellow EPD members, "they didn't trust lowly FBI agents to do the job right."
"Which means," Wheeler said with satisfaction, taking off his jacket and loosening his tie, "we pretty much have the night off."
"What do you mean? We can leave if we want to?" Carroll asked. Rachel nodded, wondering if it wasn't too late to catch up with her friends after all.
"No, we're still responsible for the security of our assignments." Kendrick replied.
Wheeler snorted. "Which means we won't be doing jack shit tonight. When a target like the vice-president or the president is involved, the Secret Service locks down the neighborhood tighter than Fort Knox."
Kendrick corrected him. "Which means we have to stay here in case someone penetrates the perimeter the Secret Service establishes. He added, "Even if there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that we'll be needed."
"So what, we patrol the house?" Rachel wanted to know.
Wheeler and Kendrick looked at each other and laughed. "You've never done on of these private house gigs before have you?" Kendrick asked. When both she and Carroll shook their heads he explained.
"These people," he tilted his head in the direction of the front of the house. "Like to pretend they live a normal life, that this is a normal dinner party." At the look on Rachel's face he snickered. "Yeah, like normal people have senators and the vice-president over for dinner." He continued, "They don't like to see us lurking in the background, reminding them that they aren't normal. So we get stuck someplace where we won't get in the way of the caterers."
"At least we're lucky that we're at the Director's place," Wheeler offered. "Mrs. Fuller? She's a real class act, she'll make sure we get fed and fed well. Not pizzas or crummy take-out."
Kendrick agreed. "Both of them are really decent, they don't have any problem with us making ourselves at home." He pointed to a pile a DVDs on the coffee table. "Which is why I brought along some movies for us, we might as well be entertained while we wait for this dinner party to break up."
The agents were good-naturedly arguing about which movie to watch when the door opened to admit another black-suited agent. The FBI contingent stiffened and gave the newcomer a wary once over.
"Steve Barr, I'm with the Secret Service, on the vice-president's detail. Since my colleagues have the area so well wrapped up your director told me I was welcome to wait in here. After all," he smirked, "it's not like anyone in this house is going to see any action."
The five agents looked at each other sourly. It looked like they were stuck playing host to the competition.
Despite their misgivings, the time passed more or less pleasantly. After watching a movie, they ate the excellent dinner Mrs. Fuller provided while gossiping discreetly about their assignments. The only sore point was that Barr had a nasty habit of topping their stories. He would counter every anecdote with a story about someone more high profile, more important. They began to resent his bragging.
Rachel thought she might defuse the situation by talking a bit about Hood. She was pretty sure his antics couldn't be topped. She couldn't talk about their cases since most of them ended up classified. Instead she told them how quirky he was, recounted some of his stranger actions. Like the time entered a school through a ventilation shaft or dipped his watch in a tub of ice-cream to prove thermal shock failure.
How it amazed her that the Director expected him to lobby when his feelings were always reflected in his face. She ended by saying she wished she could get him into a poker game because she was sure she could clean him out.
"What an excellent idea!" Kendrick exclaimed.
Rachel looked at him in confusion. "I was joking; I think I'd get in big trouble taking money off my assignment."
"No, I mean, we should play poker." Going over to the shelves lining the walls, he was soon back with a container of poker chips and a deck of cards. "It will be fun; we can play for penny-ante stakes."
"Oh, come on." Barr scoffed. "We're all big boys here; we should play for something more than that. How about a twenty dollar buy-in and a two buck limit?"
The others exchanged glances; they silently agreed that they couldn't back out of this challenge. They began playing and it quickly became evident why Barr wanted to play for higher stakes. He was an excellent player who rarely lost a hand. Lewis was quickly out of chips, she had let Barr goad her into a reckless bet. After almost an hour, Rachel was down to her last two chips. She declared her intention of retiring from the game and refused to let Barr bait her into buying more chips.
"No thanks, I have no intention of losing my shirt tonight."
"Losing your shirt? Rachel, are you playing strip poker?" Jacob's voice, amused, came from behind her. "I don't think Frank would approve and I know his wife certainly wouldn't."
Rachel tipped her head to smile up at Hood. "It's a figure of speech and you know it." She looked at him quizzically. "What are you doing back here? Is the party breaking up? Are you ready to leave?"
Jacob sighed dramatically and leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets. "I wish. Unfortunately, the vice-president is here and it seems he's rather like the bride at a wedding reception."
The other's looked at him in confusion but Rachel nodded in understanding. "You mean you can't leave until he does. Still, what are you doing back here?" She narrowed her eyes, "you didn't insult anyone did you?"
"No," Jacob began indignantly. His lips kicked up in a half smile. "But if I have to go back there I might. Frank insisted I talk at length to Senator Warburton about the Laboratory Services Division. It turns out the man is scientifically illiterate." He looked at her with raised eyebrows, "The man doesn't believe in DNA." He snorted, "That's like saying you don't believe in gravity or evolution."
The agents all exchanged amused glances. They could see what Young had been talking about, the disgust was clearly written all over the man's face.
"Uh, Dr. Hood?" Kendrick cleared his throat. "You do realize that some people don't believe in evolution? It's a tenant of their religion."
"Maybe," Jacob conceded, "but that still doesn't make it acceptable, especially in someone with the authority to fund scientific research like Warburton."
"Well just steer clear of him for the rest of the night; you should get back to the party." Rachel said.
"Why can't I stay here until the vice-president leaves?" Jacob asked.
It wasn't only Warburton he was trying to avoid. Frank's wife, Karen, had invited an old friend of hers to dinner. An old, recently divorced friend. She had introduced the two saying that she was sure they had a lot in common. After a few minutes of uncomfortable conversation, Jacob had decided the only thing they had in common was that they were both members of the genus Homo sapiens. He wished that Karen would stop trying to fix him up with her friends. He just wasn't ready for that kind of thing.
Before Rachel could answer, Barr spoke up. "I don't see why not. Now that the ladies," he sneered in the direction of Rachel and Lewis, "have retired from the game, we could use another player."
"I don't think that's such a good idea," Rachel said uncomfortably. She was mentally cursing herself for the stories she told about Hood.
Jacob brightened. "Of course it is Rachel; it's been a while since I've been in a poker game." He removed his wallet from his jacket pocket, "what's the buy-in?"
Barr smiled wolfishly. Maybe the FBI agents were reluctant to take money off an FBI asset, but those rules didn't apply to him. Hell, the Service might even give him a medal for plucking this FBI pigeon. "Twenty dollars with a two buck limit."
Jacob fished two twenties from his wallet. "Deal me in." He removed his jacket and settled into the seat Rachel vacated. He turned to Carroll hesitantly. "You look familiar, do I know you?"
Carroll smiled. "Sure you do, Doc. My name's Carroll, I was on your protection detail for two weeks."
A look of consternation sweep over Jacob's face. "Oh, really?"
The man nodded. "Yeah, but I tripped and sprained my ankle, so they had to replace me."
Barr sat back with a grunt of satisfaction as he observed the asset's face. Young had been right; the man couldn't keep his face from showing his thoughts if his life depended on it. He was going to enjoy this game.
Rachel watched unhappily as Hood proceeded to lose the majority of his chips. She wished she could intervene and order him to cash in his remaining chips and quit while he was ahead. But their relationship had been slowly changing. She was beginning to think of him as more of a partner rather than an assignment. She was even beginning to feel that they might be friends.
She knew he would never forgive her for treating him like a child in front of these other agents. No, she had always made it a policy that if she was going to disagree, to question his actions, it would be in private. Still, she groaned silently when Hood bit his lip, tilted his head a bit and with a lift of his eyebrow suggested that they raise the limit to five dollars to give him a chance to recoup his losses.
Rachel's eyes narrowed suspiciously at the small smile that quickly came and went from Hood's lips when Barr enthusiastically seconded Hood's suggestion. With a start she realized that she recognized that look on Hood's face. It was his "Gotcha" face. It was the look he got right before suggesting a course of action that was sure to provoke an argument. 'What the hell is he up to?' she wondered.
She watched in amazement as Hood's fortunes slowly changed. He didn't win every hand, but he won more than he lost and the pile of chips in front of him grew. One by one the FBI agents dropped out of the game leaving Hood to face Barr alone.
"Final hand," Jacob suggested. "Five card draw, no limit?"
Barr frowned at the smirks on the faces of the agents. He knew that the shoe was now firmly on the other foot and he would have to be the one to accept this challenge. "Fine," he ground out.
Kendrick elected to be dealer. He quickly dealt out the cards. Rachel and the others gave a sigh of relief when, after picking up his hand, Hood's face lit up with satisfaction. Barr opened the betting with twenty dollars. Hood saw the bet and raised it twenty. Rachel felt a pang of anxiety and tried to move behind Hood to get a look at his hand. Jacob casually turned his cards so she couldn't see them.
"All right gentlemen, cards?" Kendrick inquired.
"I'll take two," Barr said.
"I'll stay," Jacob said with a small smile.
Barr studied his cards carefully and matched Jacob's bet. He took a deep breath and pushed in the rest of his chips. "And I raise you twenty."
Jacob smiled slowly. "I'll see your bet and raise you ten."
Silence descended on the room as they waited for Barr's response. Everyone was so intent on the game they didn't realize the Director had come into the room until he approached the table. The agents watching were about to speak but he put a finger to his lips.
Barr looked at Hood intently. The man seemed way to calm and confident. He looked at his own hand, a straight with ace high. "Damn, I'd love to know what you have in your hand," he said softly.
"I'm afraid that will cost you." Jacob replied cheerfully.
Barr swore to himself. "I fold." He laid his hand down on the table. "Please tell me you can beat that."
Jacob laid his cards face down. "I said it would cost you to find that out." He began cashing in his chips.
Frank Fuller burst out laughing. "God, Jacob, I can't believe it. You've left off making life hell for my agents but now you're fleecing them?"
Jacob looked up with a flicker of amusement on his face. "What do you mean fleecing? It's a friendly game of poker. Besides," he nodded toward Barr, "he's not one of yours."
"Fleecing is what I said," Frank snorted as he leaned over Jacob's shoulder and flipped his cards over. The agents all gaped to see that Hood had held a pair of twos. "And fleecing is what I meant."
Jacob haughtily raised an eyebrow. "Not my fault they're not well-read."
The agents all frowned, wondering what Hood meant. Did he think they should be reading Poker for Dummies or something?
"Uh, what does being well read have to do with poker Dr. Hood?" Kendrick asked curiously.
Frank let out a bark of laughter. "You mean you've never read of the three rules to live by?"
At the blank look on the faces in front of him he explained, "Never eat at a place called Mom's, never sleep with a woman whose problems are worse than yours…"
"And never," Jacob stood with a smirk, tucking his winnings into his wallet, "play cards with a man called Doc."
The FBI contingent burst into laughter at the scowl on Barr's face.
"I'm assuming you're here because the vice-president is ready to leave?" Jacob asked. At Frank's nod, he smiled in satisfaction. "Good, that means I'm free to go. Rachel?" He gestured to the door.
Jacob paused, looked back at the agents, and winked. "Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure doing business with you."
Rachel followed him with a smile still on her face. Just when she thought she had him figured out, he went and surprised her. Shaking her head she wondered what other tricks he might have up his sleeve.