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Assassin - Chapter 9

The flight went quickly and they set down in Fresno with barely a jostle. Case followed Rain off the plane, the larger woman naturally creating a large wake for Case to fall into. As soon as they were clear of the terminal, Case moved up to walk beside the tall woman. They'd only had their carry-ons, so they immediately went to the rental desk and Case put in an order for a large SUV. They got a hunter green Ford Explorer.

Case took the driver's seat this time and Rain buckled up on the passenger side. Rain was a little surprised when Case tore out of the parking lot and didn't slow down, as she made the turn onto the street. Case changed gears and sped up, tapped the steering wheel to the side in both directions, causing a slight swerve, and then switched back to a lower gear and slowed down.

Case caught Rain's look out of the corner of her eye and glanced over for a second before returning her eyes to the road in front of her. She smirked.

"I like to know what a vehicle is capable of before I need to find out," she explained and Rain nodded.

"You been in a lot of car chases or something?"

"No. Well, yeah, a few, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. And we're going up into the mountains, so it's nice to know how touchy the steering is. Most of the roads are sheer drops on one side and the curves come out of nowhere sometimes, so it helps to know how much I need to turn the steering wheel to get the tires to turn." Case glanced over at Rain again and then back to the road. "Unless you want to take a crash course in flying a vehicle that doesn't have wings?"

Rain groaned at the badly made pun and they both laughed. It eased the tension from earlier and Rain felt her chest lighten, as if a small weight had been removed that she hadn't know she'd been carrying.

The ride was quiet, for the most part, until the landscape started to change and then Rain couldn't help ooing and ahing over the beauty that was just outside her window. Case grinned at Rain's enthusiasm.

Case had grown up in Southern California, knowing only city life, until she'd started traveling as part of her work for Carlotti. She'd seen the beauty of upstate New York, namely the Adirondacks, then immediately gone off for a hit in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Grand Canyon was only a few hours north, so she'd driven up and decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Case had stood at the edge of the South Rim for hours just staring out at the orange and pink cliff walls below her. She was never really sure of all the thoughts that had gone through her mind as she stood there.

She'd contemplated jumping, a phenomenon she'd heard affected just about everyone who went there. There was just this strange pull that made you want to experience the free fall the canyon offered, regardless of the fact that your logical mind told you it would cause your death. Of course, Case had more than a few reasons to want to end her life, but she'd never moved from her spot at the cliff's edge.

By the time she'd left, she'd been converted to a nature lover. She'd driven further north to Zion National Park and looked up at the mountain for which the park was named. It had been a strange experience, after visiting the Grand Canyon, where just about everything worth looking at was below you. Mount Zion was absolutely breathtaking in sunset and again at sunrise. After that, Case had made it a point to visit the parks she was near after a hit.

She hadn't been able to do that recently with her back-to-back assignments, but with Rain's obvious interest, hopefully she could get back into it. She'd never been able to share her enjoyment of the peace that being away from the city brought her. The thought made her smile.

It took them over four hours to get to the Upper Pines campsite, mostly because Case kept slowing down, and sometimes even stopping, so Rain could see everything. Case couldn't get the grin off her face. Every time Rain exclaimed over some new discovery, Case felt warmth seep into her. It was a very strange feeling, like suddenly being immersed in warm water without ever having realized you were cold.

Case gave her name to the booth operator and received her reservation ticket in return for some cash. A few minutes later, Case was pulling into one of the campsites.

They settled quite easily into their site. The side trip to a camping supplies shop had been the other factor in their delayed arrival and both of them acted a bit like kids on Christmas day, as they opened up all their new toys.

Case and Rain worked side by side, setting up their sleeping bags and the brand new gas grill, and getting a fire started in the pit in the middle of their camp. It was as though they'd done this a hundred times before. Both were obviously consummate campers and it showed in how they silently communicated with each other while performing their individual chores.

Finally, they were done and Rain gathered up their cooking supplies to get some food started on the little grill. Case heaved an audible sigh of relief. When Rain had picked up the grill, she hadn't said anything and had hoped Rain didn't expect her to play chef.

"Oh, good, you can cook. Usually, I just eat trail mix and beef jerky strips when I'm out here," Case commented.

Rain smiled, then her expression changed to sadness before she could stop it.

"What?" Case asked.

"Nothing. I just... My mother was teaching me how to cook before she died. I took a home ec class after that. I wanted her to know it was important to me."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

Case thought about her own mother and couldn't imagine ever learning anything from the woman, let alone something useful like cooking.

"It's okay. She had cancer. Nothing they could do about it. At least, not back then," Rain replied.

"How old were you?" Case asked.




With the somber turn the conversation had taken, Rain decided to distract them both by refocusing on Case, and at the same time, try to glean a little more information about the hit woman's past.

"What about you? Your mother never taught you how to cook?"

Case's eyes went cold in the firelight, but then she laughed, something Rain was learning was a cover for Case's more vulnerable emotions.

"Nah. The woman couldn't cook for shit. We always ate TV dinners. My dad could do scrambled eggs really well, but that's it."

Case looked away. Why the hell had she brought him up? Fuck, you're supposed to be getting away from this shit, not jumping headfirst into it.

Case shook her head and went to the back of the truck to find something to do. She pulled out her bag and started going through it. She found what she'd been unconsciously looking for and then put on a long-sleeved shirt against the cooling temperature of the air, as the sun set behind the trees.

Rain watched, as Case rummaged through her bag and then put everything back in order. Case then walked off into the surrounding forest without so much as a "be back later" to Rain. Rain looked down at the food cooking on the grill. You weren't really supposed to leave the things alone, but then again, Rain didn't think letting Case be alone at the moment was a good idea either.

Rain lowered the flame on the grill and closed it to keep the food at least warm, if not actually cooking. She put out the campfire with a bucket of sand set out for just that purpose and grabbed a sweatshirt from her bag. Then she followed Case's last seen direction into the woods.

Case walked for almost an hour. She knew she should turn around and head back to camp. Rain had probably already finished with making dinner and would be wondering where her teacher was. But she just couldn't stop yet. She looked down at the knife in her hand and saw the blade glint in the light from the rising moon.

She stopped walking and then mechanically bent down to dig in the dirt near a large tree. Once the hole was deep enough, Case dropped the knife into it and then shoved the excavated dirt back over it. She stood up and stomped a booted foot over the area to tamp the dirt back down to the level of the surrounding earth.

She looked up at the moon and then back down to the ground. She took a step forward and leaned against the tree. A song popped into her head, and she started singing it out loud.

The notes began low and soft, and Rain stood transfixed, as she listened to the beautiful voice singing into the night air. She had watched Case in the moonlight, as she dug the grave for the knife and then buried it. The grave imagery hadn't hit her until Case had begun singing, and then she'd just been unable to escape the feeling that she was watching a funeral take place.

Rain recognized the song Case had chosen. It was called Shelter, and it was by Sarah McLachlan, one of Rain's favorite artists. But the way Case had reinterpreted the lyrics for the present situation amazed the agent. Rain was speechless. The complexity of the woman standing only twenty feet away from her was daunting. As a profiler, she had a need to understand even the smallest details about an individual's personality in order to create a complete picture. But as a woman, and Rain only admitted this to herself in her most private thoughts, she simply wanted to learn everything there was to know about Case just for the sake of getting to know the woman.

Case stilled her breathing. There was someone close by. There had been no sounds to alert her, but something in the air was different and Case knew she was being watched. She realized she'd left her gun back in the truck and the one weapon she'd brought with her was now twelve inches under the ground.

Well, unless they had a gun, Case was pretty sure she could handle herself. And putting up a confident front tended to end potentially annoying situations before they even started.

"Show yourself, or I'll come find you."

Rain's ears pricked at the suddenly deafening sound of Case's voice calling out into the silence. She debated attempting to backtrack the way she'd come, but Case sounded sincere in her promise to come after whoever was watching her. Rain stepped forward into a wide beam of silver-blue moonlight coming through a break in the tops of the trees above her.

"Hi. I didn't mean to scare you," Rain offered quietly and continued to move forward, until she was only a body length away from where the woman was still leaning up against the tree.

"You followed me," Case stated accusingly.

"Yeah, you looked upset," Rain replied steadily.

"No, I didn't."

"You did to me."

Case looked away. She was a little annoyed that Rain could apparently read her so well. Case didn't think that was a good thing, but she did feel strangely comforted at not being alone.

"So, why did you follow me, if you knew I was upset?"

Rain looked blank. That was a very good question.

"I don't...I don't know. I guess I was worried about you and I wanted to make sure you were all right."

Rain shrugged her shoulders and looked around at the trees, as if they might offer her a better explanation to give to Case.

"Why would you care? You don't even know me."

Case tried to clamp her mouth shut. This was ridiculous. She was lashing out at a virtual stranger for no reason. It wasn't Rain's fault her mother had chosen her husband over her only daughter, even after... It just had nothing to do with Rain or anything else for that matter.

"I do know you," Rain argued. "At least, enough to care whether you're feeling bad or not. And anyway, we're going to be in pretty close quarters for a while, right? So it would be nice if we could be friends. And friends care about when the other one is hurting." Rain held up her hand to stall Case's immediate objection. "I don't know what's going on, but I'm here if you want to talk about it. I'm not going anywhere."

Rain was surprised at her impassioned speech, more because she actually meant it, than anything else. She also felt slightly guilty because it would be a great break for her, if she could get Case to open up to her. She pushed the guilt aside and went back to walking the line between liking Case and being a Federal Agent.

"You are kind of stuck, aren't you, since I've got the keys to the truck."

Case grinned and Rain smiled back. Rain hoped the attempt at humor was a good sign. It meant Case had gotten her emotions under control again, but maybe with a little gentle prodding, Rain would be allowed to get a better idea about what had set Case off. She knew it had something to do with Case's parents. Case had shut down at the mention of her mother and then pulled away completely when she'd spoken of her father. Rain really needed to talk to Dawson soon.

"You interested in a little night jogging?" Case asked.

Rain dragged her attention back to the outside world and replayed the question she'd halfway missed because of her internal thoughts.

"Yeah, sure. There's plenty of moonlight to see by."

They started off at a pace just barely above a walk and then gained speed as their bodies warmed up. They easily navigated the hard ground in between the large trees, which were illuminated by the bright three-quarter moon. What had taken almost an hour to traverse at a walk, took them less than a half hour to cross at a run. By the time they could see the truck glinting brightly in the moonlight, both of them were at a dead run.

Rain couldn't figure out how Case was keeping up with her long strides. She looked down at Case's legs and they were almost a blur in the diffuse light coming from overhead. They entered the camp together and skidded to a stop, Case using the side of the truck to brace against, as she caught her wind again. Rain was leaned up against a tree doing the same.

They looked up at each other at the same time and burst out laughing.

"Oh man, I haven't done that in a long time. That felt great," Case panted out.

"Yeah. I can't believe you kept up with me. No offense, I just know I've got long legs," Rain replied, as she caught her breath.

"None taken. I used to run when I was a teenager and I had to find a stride that could compensate for my shorter legs. Guess I've still got it," Case grinned.

"Yeah, you sure do."

Rain realized what she'd said and how it sounded and tried not to look as embarrassed as she felt. She looked around for a way to excuse herself and noticed the grill.

"I'm gonna go check on the food," she said and quickly walked away.

Case watched the tall woman work over the grill, as she went through a short cool-down routine. Case had wondered if Rain played for the same team she did and now she was pretty sure her gaydar had pinged correctly. But Rain seemed to have some problems with it, at least where Case was concerned. That remark had obviously been spoken unintentionally and it pointed to an attraction that Rain was apparently unwilling to deal with at the moment.

Case stretched her recently worked muscles and used the time to think about her own feelings toward Rain. Rain was, quite simply put, the most beautiful woman Case had ever seen. She was tall, which Case preferred, and had long black hair, another plus in Case's book. And Rain had the most incredible eyes. They were a shade of blue that seemed both light and dark at the same time.

Rain was also very intelligent. No matter what average front Rain tried to put up, Case knew that Rain saw everything and understood things on more levels than most people even knew existed. And Case realized she was attracted to that intelligence because of the danger it represented to her internal world. In a flash of insight and precognition, Case knew Rain would come to understand more about her than she'd ever allowed anyone else to know.

Unless she stopped divulging any and all information about herself and she knew she wouldn't do that. She wanted Rain to know her. For the first time in her entire life, Case actually wanted to share her secrets with another human being. That in itself was dangerous and Case resolved to be careful. Trust was not something she thought she could ever give, having never known it herself, and this sudden feeling of safety was unnerving.

Case finished with her stretching and joined Rain at the grill.

"How's it look?" Case asked.

"Well, I think the stuff actually cooked while we were gone. I left it on low and I guess it worked like an oven. Get some plates and I'll dish it up."

Case pulled out two metal plates from their respective mess kits and grabbed their cups and forks, as well. They sat on an accommodating log that had been placed there for just that purpose and watched the flames of the newly relit campfire as they ate.

They spoke only a few words during clean up and then they both retreated to their sleeping bags. Case banked down the fire so that it would continue to do a slow burn during the night to keep them warm, without too much possibility of it getting out of control while they slept. They exchanged goodnights and then let sleep take them where it would.

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