Hafidha could feel Stephen Reyes too damned close behind her chair. She pretended she didn't and started writing another set of search filters.
"Can I see you in my office, please?" His voice was neutral, which, she already knew, meant absolutely nothing.
Hafidha turned in her chair and draped her arm over the back. "You can."
It took him half a beat to figure it out, and his mouth lifted and compressed at one corner. Smart boy, Il Dottore. She almost wished she could have held off, just long enough to get more of a taste of this. No, better to do it now, before it hurt.
"Would you come with me to my office, please?"
"Sure thing." She hit three keys to throw up the password-locked screensavers on her monitors and spun her chair. He'd already started out the door.
Hafidha followed Reyes through the bullpen. Peretti looked up at Reyes before his eyes shifted to her. He blinked, opened his mouth, seemed to reconsider, and turned back to the file in front of him.
Solomon Todd came out of the kitchenette and spotted her. His eyebrows lifted a little, just enough to line his forehead. He stuck out his lower lip in thought. Then he nodded to her and went on to his desk.
It was stupid. It wasn't as if it mattered. But that nod gave her a little warm, soft ball in her chest. It's been nice working with you, Agent Todd. A week I'll treasure always.
In his office, Reyes waved at the visitor's chair. She sat in it, and he closed the door. As she'd expected, he settled behind his desk, hands side by side and flat on the surface, before he spoke. "This building is full of people who voted for Ronald Reagan."
Hafidha widened her eyes and made an O of her mouth. "Oh, no. Sir, just tell me what I can do to help."
He looked down and pressed his lips together. Point to her. "Unfamiliar things make them nervous. Things that don't fit their world picture make them very nervous."
He stopped and stared at her. So Hafidha stared back and nodded.
"Shadow Unit is so far out of their comfort zone that 'nervous' applies about as well as 'unfortunate' does to the Waco seige."
She didn't laugh, but she knew he could see her throat compress around it. Point to him.
"I'm trying to keep us as much off the radar as I can, under the circumstances," he continued. "The more successful I am at that, the better it is for the unit. We need a certain amount of hands-off attitude to get results."
"Yes, sir," Hafidha said, since it seemed like a good time to say something.
He clasped his hands. "You're making that harder."
Battle is joined. She put a layer of sad-and-earnest on her face. "I know. I'm the wrong color. I'm a girl. But I thought, with all those federal anti-discrimination laws--"
"You know what I'm talking about."
She smiled. She couldn't help it.
He added, "That is not how FBI agents dress."
Hafidha did a quick inventory. Cowboy boots gleaming. Distressed-velvet skirt a little wrinkled, no helping that, but draping nicely. Vintage ladies' suit jacket, blue raw silk with covered buttons and asymmetrical lapels--best thing in her closet. No need to check her hair. It was cornrowed to top-of-ear height, then sprang free in natural curls to her shoulders. She'd done the purple streaks on Saturday. All her earrings matched.
Yep, perfectly groomed, professional, and a credit to herself. Last week she'd only been two out of three. She'd needed a week to know if this fight was worth having. "Face it, not many of them could dress like this."
He raked his fingers through his own dense, barbered hair. "I'm asking for your help."
Oh, hell. That took the fun right out of it. "I get that. Look, Secret Service? I was navy-blue suit and hair scraped back and nice black flat-heeled shoes every damned day. I did it because I loved the job, and that's what the job demanded. That I leave me at home.
"And look what that got me."
The line of his jaw changed, hardened. Teeth clenched, probably. Join the club, Doctor Reyes.
"Now you want me here, working for you. And you promise that nobody will give me shit for what I am now. Well, this is what I am now. If you want the Real Me, you have to take the whole package."
"Or I find someone in the private sector to love and cherish the multifaceted wonder that is me." Maybe she could find a place in the private sector, maybe. One that wouldn't require a disguise harder to live behind than a navy-blue suit.
She saw something happen behind his eyes and added, "Or is this The Village, and I'm a number after all?"
"You mean, do I want you where I can keep an eye on you? Of course I do. But if I meant to lock you up, you would be already."
"So. What do we do?"
Reyes stared at her, his mouth working a little. "I guess," he said slowly, "I run interference for you, while you work miracles for me."
It took a second for it to register. "No dress code?"
"I wouldn't go that far. And neither would you."
She was weak with relief. My God, she'd wanted to stay. She hadn't known it until this moment. "Yes, sir. Very good, Capitaine."
"I think I prefer 'sir'."
"Of course you do." She smiled, stood, and crossed the room to the door. The cowboy boots made an authoritative noise even on the carpet. She loved that. "Oh, and I should warn you. I'm getting a tattoo."
Reyes laced his fingers together under his chin. "I already have one."
Her smile stretched beyond her control. She bowed from the waist and let herself out into the bullpen and her future.