Disclaimer: Story is mine; characters aren't.

Author's notes can be found at cultward dot tumblr dot com

The early afternoon sunlight was surprisingly warm against my back considering it was only April, probably because I'd chosen to Scully it up today in a black suit. I hadn't been able to resist. When Jacob had joked on the phone that today's lunch date was "official FBI business," I'd immediately started planning what to wear.

"Am I in trouble?" I'd asked, and he'd laughed, his rich, deep voice reminding me of chili-spiced chocolate even over the phone.

"Well, let's say it's semi-official business, anyway," he'd said, teasingly, and refused to tell me more. I couldn't wait to find out what this was all about.

Even more, I couldn't wait to see him again. Jacob Black was the son of one of my father's oldest friends, and as such, our paths had crossed repeatedly over the years. Nothing had ever come of it, mostly, I suspected, because we'd always lived in different states.

But now we were adults, more or less. Jacob, five years older than I, was a fully-fledged FBI agent; I was finishing up the third year of my undergraduate degree.

There was no reason, I thought with satisfaction, that he shouldn't ask me out. I'd been expecting him to for years.

When I reached the cafe he stood up in one fluid, graceful motion. If that had been me, I'd probably have tipped over the tiny round table, or at least banged my hip against it and spilled the waiting cups of coffee. But Jacob was uncannily athletic, even though he looked too large to be confined in such a fussily civilized space. He towered over me, and my hand disappeared inside his when he reached out to greet me.

"Bella. You look exhausted. Have you been getting enough sleep?"

Annoyed, I tucked my hair behind my ears. "Final exams start in two weeks, Jacob. Nobody's getting enough sleep."

He frowned. If Jacob had a flaw, it was his tendency to be overly protective of me. I think on some level he felt responsible for me, as if I were his kid sister, rather than an independent, competent young woman.

It was high time I did something about that. I sat down, trying to radiate maturity and desirability. Not easy, when you're as ordinary looking as I am.

He got right to the point. "Do you have plans for this summer? Because I think I have an assignment for you, if you're free to travel."

"Really?" I gasped, forgetting all about flirting or making a good impression, and sat forward eagerly, promptly knocking over my coffee.

"Oh, hell. Sorry, Jacob." He was chuckling again, but watching me in a way that made me reconsider his opinion of me. Was it possible that he found my klutziness attractive? I grabbed a handful of napkins and mopped up.

Or more likely, I decided, my enthusiasm. Whatever it was, the way he looked at me, through half-closed, amused eyes, made my skin feel warmer than the sunlight did.

"Yes, really. There's a situation I'd like to check out. It's nothing serious yet-" his eyes darkened as he spoke-"but we're picking up some chatter that concerns me, and I could use a pair of eyes on the ground. Thing is, I can't spare an experienced agent for something that might turn out to be nothing, and it needs to be someone young and non-threatening enough to make contact. So. You still into your cults and freaks?"

I scowled. Jacob had never taken my studies as seriously as I wanted him to, and his time in the FBI had only made him more cynical and judgmental on this point. "Not cults, Jacob. Emergent religions."

He grinned back, unrepentant. "Like I said: cults and freaks."

I sighed. "Have it your way." Then I realized what he was saying. "Wait, you want me to go observe a new religious group? Jacob, that would be fascinating! Only as a sociologist, you know I'd have to inform them upfront about my interests and..."

He interrupted me, shaking his head as he spoke. "That's just it, Bella. You aren't going as a sociologist, and this isn't academic research. If I send you in-and that's a big if-you're going as an employee of my department. That makes you law enforcement, not an academic, for the duration of your contract. Got that? So you abide by our rules, not by whatever airy-fairy politically correct nonsense you're used to."

I scowled. He was deliberately trying to annoy me, I could tell, but I also knew him well enough to know that he wasn't doing it just to be a jerk. He was being upfront with me, which I appreciated, and was, however harshly, underlining the constraints I'd be working under.

I thought for a minute. "Do I get time to consider this? I'm not sure how I feel about going undercover. Because that's what you're talking about, isn't it? Having me conceal my background?"

He nodded, regarding me solemnly. "That's it exactly, Bella. And your observations could lead to further action on our part-to our opening up a serious investigation, for instance, or even laying charges. So it's not the kind of neutral fieldwork you've been training for, I know."

He leaned forward, and took both of my hands in his. "But it's important, Bella, even though I want this to be the most casual operation possible. I need someone I can trust to infiltrate the group and evaluate these people. If they're a potential threat, I want to move on them as soon as possible. But, equally, if they're just a pack of innocent weirdos, they deserve to be left in peace. I know you'll be fair to them without being blind to the potential danger they could pose." I thrilled at his praise of me. This was the first time he'd ever given me such a clear indication he respected my judgment.

He sat back, releasing my hands. "So I can give you a few weeks, Bella, to finish your exams. But then I'd like an answer from you."

Deep down, I already knew what my decision would be. I suspected he knew as well, because I couldn't keep my fascination off my face. "What else can you tell me about these people, Jacob? I want to know everything."

There was a little bit of triumph in his smile. I didn't blame him. We both knew I was already hooked.