A/N: Well, I'm back from my conference and the end has finally come! I would like to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who has been reading this - and especially to my two faithful reviewers EHfan and kygal. Hint, hint everyone else...please review here ;p . Thank you all for keeping with the story. Happy reading!
It had been three days since the patients had been dosed with the redesigned virus. The morning had dawned bright and full of promise, dew glistening brightly atop the grass, and the air, freshened by the rain the night before, was clear and crisp. It was a morning, Dr. Wilkinson reflected, almost like the one a few days ago that had seen the start of this whole mess. The last few days had completely blurred together, the normal landmarks of the day lost in the mayhem. He stroked his chin thoughtfully as he peered out of the window and sighed - he really could use a few days off. He was already planning a fishing trip to the Potomac for the next week and quite frankly, he couldn't wait.
He glanced down the hall toward the isolation ward, smiling slightly. This was the day that he would take the patients off of the drugs completely. He planned to reduce the dosage gradually over the course of the next few hours and to have the medicine completely out of their systems by around 6:00 pm tonight. Initially, he had to admit that he was not sure whether or not Dr. Hood's redesigned viral vector was going to do the job, but now, all of the signs pointed in the direction of a complete cure. Already, Dr. Wilkinson had needed to reduce the drug dosage significantly for the majority of the patients - because they were beginning to exhibit muscle cramps. He walked back toward the isolation ward, head down and mind elsewhere.
The hospital staff were carefully monitoring all of the patients because, as Hood had reminded them, different people would probably synthesize new proteins at a different rate and thus, would possibly respond in an altered manner to the withdrawal of medication. Such diversity was, as Hood had said, par for the course. Dr. Wilkinson brought his head up, realizing for the first time just how odd those words were. They meant 'average' or 'to be expected' but he would like to meet the average person who regularly scored even par on the easiest course. Maybe he should advocate the phrase 'bogey for the course'. Dr. Wilkinson shook his head rapidly, realizing just how tired he must be if he was thinking nonsense like that. Slightly exasperated with himself, he strode to the door of the isolation ward and stepped resolutely inside.
Hood and Rachel glanced up at him from their perches against the far wall and smiled briefly. Though the last couple of days had been much slower, all three of them still looked like raccoons. Rachel was still having occasional bouts of peevishness (causing most of the men in the area to filter discretely from the room) and Hood's shoulders trembled slightly as he fought to hold himself erect. At that moment, Rachel received a phone call, hissed apologetically and slipped quietly from the room. From his vantage point, Hood watched as she leaned against a wall to talk. Presently, she smiled mischievously and walked purposefully in the direction of the parking lot. Hood tapped two fingers together, huh, he thought to himself, I might want to watch out for tricks later. With that, he settled himself more comfortably in his chair and dozed off.
Later on, Hood awakened to feel a small hand shaking his shoulder. He planted his hands and scooted further up into the seat, blinking in surprise as he registered the time on the clock - he had apparently been asleep all day and the westering sun, shining through the slatted blinds, cast a striped pattern, slightly distorted, on the far wall. Dr. Wilkinson caught his eye and nodded fractionally, indicating nonverbally 'so far, so good'. Hood finally raised his eyes to Rachel's face, wondering what she wanted to say. He blinked in surprise as, instead of speaking to him, she gripped his forearm firmly and tugged him after her.
She led him out to the car, opened the passenger side door and removed a white box which she passed to Hood, now barely able to contain her smirk. Hood hesitated, wondering what on earth he was in for now - Rachel grinned at the discomfited expression on his face and gestured for him to open the box. Hood looked inside and stared for the space of a few seconds and then threw his head back and laughed, Rachel joining in. When they had recovered, she leaned in and whispered something in his ear, evidently forgetting that there was no one around to overhear them. In a moment, he nodded enthusiastically, took the keys and the box from her, and drove off. It was over an hour before anyone at the hospital saw him again.
Rachel glanced up as Hood entered the isolation ward, peering questioningly in his direction - he replied with a wink and a good-humored smile, 'all clear'. Hood glanced around the room, up at the clock, and then around the room again in a series of rapid fire double-takes. Dr. Wilkinson caught his eye and grinned, walking over to meet him, "Fantastic news," he breathed, "all of the patients are now completely off of the drugs! They are all doing excellently well. If they keep going like this, they'll be able to go home tomorrow!" Hood smiled broadly and only Rachel noticed as he allowed his shoulders to drop slightly in relief. With a typical scientist's skepticism, Hood had been unprepared to assume that his treatment would work - he had spent most of the last two days researching alternative methods of treatment and writing ideas down on a well worn notepad.
The room had come alive again. In the far corner, JJ was gripping his father's hand tightly and grinning at a joke he had just been told. Closer to Hood and Rachel, Mara Winters was once again telling some story from work, hands constantly in motion and threatening Vivian Maxwell's bed with a shower of coffee. Vivian caught Hood's eye and tilted her head slightly, her eyes twinkling good-naturedly. She shrugged as if to say, 'Oh well, here we go again'. Little Abby Loomis was practically invisible behind the crowding balloons and visitors - and milking it for all she was worth. Hood took it all in, a sense of fulfillment lending him a gentle smile. This is why he did what he did. These were the moments that made it all worthwhile. At last Hood nodded toward Dr. Wilkinson, exchanging with him for the last time their mutual respect and friendship. Then, tapping Rachel's shoulder lightly, he turned to go and soon Hood and Rachel were on their way back to the chartered jet.
Hood and Rachel had arrived several minutes before the rest of the crew. Glancing briefly around the empty plane, they settled into two adjacent seats. Hood looked toward Rachel, his eyes warm with humor and they shared a grin of anticipation before allowing their heads to droop forward as though asleep. Soon, lumbering footfalls announced the arrival of Felix. Rachel's lips twitched slightly upward before she stifled the urge to smirk. Hood was watching Felix out of the corner of one eye.
Felix moved to take his seat but instead spotted a strange white box. "Huh?" he muttered softly to himself and reaching out, he took hold of the box and lifted the lid. In the box was a cookie, lightly frosted in blue, and shaped curiously like...a flea! He froze, staring into the box with a sour look on his face. Next to Hood, Rachel swallowed a laugh, ready to blow at any second.
Exasperatedly, Felix placed the box to one side and reached in the seat pocket for a magazine to read. He pulled the magazine out decisively and froze for a second time that day as, along with the magazine, out slipped a perfectly balanced mobile of multi-colored flea collars. Finally, Hood and Rachel looked at one another and, each seeing the twisted expression on the other's face, finally lost it and howls of their helpless laughter chased each other around the plane. Felix spent most of the flight home muttering acidly about too-clever scientists and their sneaky bodyguards. However, when they finally touched down, the cookie was gone.