If You're Gone

by ReaperWriter

Josiah sat typing quietly. Their mark had yet to call Ezra, and he knew it was bugging the undercover agent. The longer he had to wait on that call, the longer his communications black out from Lili lasted. He had thought of going down to the CSI office himself and checking on her, but decided against it. Instead, he was in his private files he kept on disks that went home with him. It had no use to the team, other than to make his job easier. There had originally been six disks, one for each man. Then he had added one for Mary Travis, and now one for Lili MacKenna. On the disks were profiles of each person, including copies of their personnel record he hacked into, wouldn’t JD be astonished?, and his personal observations. Most of the ones for his team were pretty complete, though Ezra’s still had gaps. He even knew quite a bit about Mary. Lili, however, was still a mystery.

The biggest piece of the puzzle missing for Sanchez was the three years on her files that were classified. What could be classified about being a forensics agent? He pondered on her experience with the Martin Graham case. Surely the FBI wouldn’t send an untrained agent in undercover. Could that account for the missing years?

The phone interrupted his ruminations. "Sanchez, ATF," he answered.

"Hello, Josiah," the very subject of his thoughts answered on the phone.

"Lili, what do I owe the pleasure?" he said. He wished Ezra had been in the office.

"I just wanted to thank you again for the referral. I am seeing Dr. Michaels today," she replied. Something in her voice sounded different.

"How are you, really Lili?" Josiah asked. She sounded calmer, more self-assured than she had on the phone Sunday night. Then again, he had watched their undercover man appear perfectly fine and sound like the most unburdened soul in the Lord’s flock, when he knew the man was actually breaking down psychologically.

"I’m gonna be okay, Josiah. The other reason I called was to see if you can get Ezra a message for me," she said.

"I can, what do I need to tell him?" he asked, taking out a pencil and pad of paper.

"He left a message yesterday and said he would try to call this week if he could," Lili dictated. "Tell him I will be in a meeting this afternoon, and then I’ll be out late tonight. If there is any sort of emergency, he can get me on my cell. 555-8858."

"555-8858, got it. Anything else, Lili?" Josiah asked.

"Make sure he eats, okay Josiah? He had a bad habit of forgetting to do that in college when he was into something."

The profiler laughed. "Come see us all soon, okay, Lili?"

"Will do. Bye, Josiah," she said, hanging up.

The profiler shook his head. One way or another, he was going to find out her secret.

+ + + + + + +

Lili looked at the clock. It was just now eleven. Her appointment was at one, across town. Vaguely, she wondered how Josiah knew this doctor. The profiler had mentioned something about the man being an old friend from his school days. She pondered what kind of shrink the man would be: the cold and clinical type or a tye dyed hippie. She hopped for the second type. She would have felt comfortable just talking to Sanchez himself, but she knew she needed a bill to show accounting and her superior to justify the time off with records. Heck, SAC Donaldson would probably be just as willing to let her take the day to do whatever. He felt guilty for not probing ex-Agent Wharton further on his plans.

Suddenly, Lili became aware of her stomach growling, and realized she had skipped out on her breakfast that morning in favor of coming in early. Looking through the window of her office, she was satisfied Steven was in control of the situation, then began gathering up her files she was digging into. She put them all in the monogrammed attaché case and snapped it closed. She grabbed her jacket and slipped it on over her shoulder holster, then picked up her handbag and felt the weight of her spare weapon in it. She always kept two weapons with her, either in her shoulder holster and purse, shoulder holster and hip holster, or shoulder holster and ankle holster. She carried the regulation Smith and Wesson in her purse or at her hip, and a Sig in the shoulder holster. But the snub nose lady’s special that fit her ankle holster was her favorite. She rarely had occasion to use any of them as a CSI, but she made a point of doing two hours on the range every week to keep in practice. You never knew when it might come up.

"Steven, I am heading out to catch lunch before my meeting," she said.

"Okay, Lili, I got everything covered," the young man said, not looking up from the screen. The older agent recognized the dogged determination on his face, having felt it many times herself.

"Steven, don’t forget to eat and don’t stay too late, all right?" she said. She watched him nod, then headed out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was impatient as hell. Not normally a feeling he experienced, he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. He wanted their mark to call him, and soon. His man on the inside had been instructed to inform his boss, Peter Tavington, that Elias Stanton wanted a meeting. Now, he had to wait for Tavington to make the move, and he was going stir crazy. He walked back into the office, cell phone clipped on his belt, from his trip to the deli for lunch. He came in, carrying the office order, and looked for a clear place in their break room to set it. He didn’t even hear Josiah come up on him, until the baritone voice boomed behind him, and he jumped...Wonderful Standish. If you couldn’t hear Josiah, how will you ever hear someone less friendly sneaking up on you?

"Hello, Brother Standish," the profiler said. He pretended not to notice the southerner was keyed up. "Lili called me while you were out. She asked me to tell you that she would be out all afternoon and evening. She left a number where you can reach her in emergencies."

Ezra let out a breath. At least she had called to check in with someone. "How did she sound?"

"Better, brother Ezra. I left the note on your desk," he said, relieving him of one of the deli bags and setting it on the counter.

"Thanks Josiah," Standish said quietly. Josiah smiled softly. Only in times of emotional trial did their black sheep use their first names, even after all this time.

"Your welcome, Ezra," he said. The profiler headed back to his computer and took out the white disk that had been in there, replacing it with a green one. Time to add this latest observation to the Ezra P. Standish file. In love with Lilian Grace MacKenna.

+ + + + + + +

The session had gone off well. Daniel Michaels was very like Josiah Sanchez. His office was actually something like a giant terrarium, all windows and plants. It looked out over a small garden in the middle of the office complex courtyard. When she had come in, the psychologist had been sitting at his desk, setting up a file for her. The strains of Simon and Garfunkel played in the background. There was no couch, only a collection of pillows, cushions, and beanbags, and Lili had felt right at home. The hour had past quickly, as Lili poured out her frustration and her exhaustion, and listened to Dr. Michaels offer suggestions, none of which were simple platitudes or quotes from self-help books.

It was 2:45 by the time she had gotten home. She had a few hours before she was supposed to meet Simon for their date. Had she really agreed to a date? She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but she wasn’t horribly troubled by it. Nothing wrong with two like-minded adults enjoying each other’s company for an evening. It wasn’t as if Jesse wouldn’t approve. Hell, he had always told her that if anything happened to him, he expected her to get on with her life. He had given his all for her, taking that bullet to save her life. She hadn’t really forgiven him for that. She couldn’t figure out how he valued his life and his potential as less than hers. She shook her head. No time to ruminate on that now. She hadn’t had time to really work out in a few weeks, and she felt rusty.

In her room, she had tossed the slacks and shirt from work in the hamper and pulled open a drawer. Out came a pair of running shorts and a gray sports bra. The criminalist quickly changed into them, than grabbed a pair of ankle socks and tugged them on. Sticking her head into her closet, she routed around over all the dress shoes she wore for work, her riding boots, her casual shoes, her sandals, and her evening shoes, until she finally found what she was looking for. The trail runners were hardly broken in. She had been forced to buy a new pair when her last ones got swamped while running out at Thomas’s farm. She had ruined a lot of good shoes that way. She pulled them on and headed out her back door, across the patio, and to the trail that led away from the barn and towards the foothills on her property.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat listening to JD bounce a ball against one of the walls separating the young agents office from his own in the bullpen. The rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk of the small rubber sphere only served to accentuate the ticking of the government issue wall clock. Fighting the urge to groan, the southerner shuffled a pack of playing cards in his hands. He kept one eye on his phone, glaring quietly at it and attempting to make it ring with sheer will power.

"Feelin’ a little antsy, Ez?" Vin asked. The quiet Texan had his feet propped up on his desk, going over a requisition form for the team’s armory.

"I do find the waiting to be somewhat intolerable, Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied. "I prefer my targets to be a tad more punctual."

Tanner laughed out loud. "Well, we’ll be sure to inform Mr. Tavington when we arrest him."

"You two seem like you’re having fun," Chris said, standing in the door. Before either man could answer however, the shrill ring of Ezra’s cell phone cut the air. Everyone froze and the room went dead silent as their leader signaled him to answer the phone.

"Stanton," the undercover man answer, his normal southern accent replaced by a more refined version of JD’s Bostonian tone. "Ah, Mr. Tavington. No, you didn’t keep me waiting. Yes, it is good to make contact." He reached over and grabbed a pen from the holder on his desk and quickly scribbled down information on the legal pad on his desk. "Of course, a late lunch tomorrow will be fine. La Unita is perfect. I look forward to it too sir. Right, I shall be wearing the gray linen Armani suit. Until then. Ciao."

"Finally," Buck said. "Good work Ezra."

Ezra plopped into his chair, wiped out from the adrenaline rush. Chris immediately sprang into action. "Nathan, call the management at La Unita. Explain what we need. Buck, take JD and start a surveillance profile. Vin, work up a list of what we know the guys has, then make up a shopping list for Ezra to ask for. Josiah, run a back check on the number he called from. I want to know if it was cellular or grounded." Larabee paused for a second, surveying the undercover agent. "Ez, go home. You look wiped out. Eat dinner and get a good night’s rest."

"Really, Mr. Larabee, I’m fine," Ezra started to say, when a big yawn cut him off. He had been sleeping poorly for two days, and he really was tired.

"Be in at nine, Ezra," the team leader ordered. The others left him be as he put his files in his briefcase. With any luck, he could pick up dinner in a few hours at Berelli’s, if he swung by home now and made sure his suit was ready to go for tomorrow. He grabbed the case and tipped an imaginary hat in the direction of Vin as he headed for the door.

+ + + + + + +

Lili looked in the mirror again, wondering why her butterflies had chosen now to swarm in her stomach. Get a grip, MacKenna, this is no big deal. You have been on date’s before. Unconsciously, she reached up to smooth her hair a bit. The outfit she wore was simple, a beaded tank top, black Capri pants, beaded matching sandals. She had little barrettes clipped in her hair and a simple black purse that held her creds, her weapon, and her lipstick. She chuckled softly at the thought, just another normal girl on a date. Sighing, she looked at the clock, then grabbed her keys to the Shelby and headed out.

The drive from her ranch was quiet. She had left the radio off in order to give herself time to think. Her mind drifted back to seven years before, and an ill-fated bust that had turned deadly.

Washington DC area warehouse,
Seven years before...

She didn’t know what had tipped them off or how things had gone wrong, but as Lili MacKenna looked down the barrel of the .44 Magnum, she knew she was going to die. Even if the cavalry busted in now, it would be too late. The weapon was aimed right at her chest, and the evening gown she wore offered no protection.

"No one betrays our family, Ms. Moreno," mobster Tony d’Angelo said, addressing her by her cover name. "And certainly no federal agent slut." She drew in a quick breath as she saw his finger tighten on the trigger. The doors burst open as their backup busted in.


Just then, she saw Jesse move from next her, where he had been playing the role of her bodyguard. Belatedly, she realized what was happening as he slammed into her as the gun went off.

"NOOOOOO!" she screamed as she saw his body jerk, the bullet ripping into his chest. FBI snipers opened fire, taking out d’Angelo and one of his bodyguards as the rest of his men threw down their weapons and hit the floor.

The gunfire stopped, leaving the warehouse eerily silent. Lili dropped down next to Jesse, pulling him into her lap as she tried to stop the flow of blood. "Get a damned ambulance, now!" she yelled. "Hold on Jesse, please, hold on."

"You’re..alright," he gasped, his lips turning blue.

"Don’t you die on me, Jesse Tyler Morgan," she said. "I forbid you to die."

"Even you..." cough, "aren’t that good." he said.

"I can’t do this without you here, Jess," she said, the tears streaming down her face. "I’m not strong enough."

"Lili...you have to...go on," Jesse said. She began to sob. "Don’t cry, my...love. Just promise me."

"I can’t," she said. "God Jesse, hang on."

"Please...promise me," Jesse said, his warm gray eyes taking on a glassy look.

"I promise," Lili said. Jesse gave her a smile, a pale ghost of his normal little boy grin. Suddenly, he shuddered hard. "Damn it, Jess, please don’t leave me. I need you... I love you."

His eyes had glazed over. "I love you," he whispered, and then he was gone. Deep inside her soul, the blood spattered woman felt something shred. She hadn’t felt pain like this since Ezra had shunned her during their final year. It hurt the same way losing Billy had.

Her supervisor, Peter Donovan stood next to her, watching his two agents, wondering how he had never known how deep their bond was. The ambulance crew hurried in, but seeing the still form in the woman’s lap, they had slowed their pace. Peter knew they needed to load the body for transport, so he laid a hand on her shoulder. "MacKenna..."

She jerked away violently from his touch. "Don’t touch me." The words came out in a disembodied growl. She continued to stroke her dead lover’s hair, her eyes seeing nothing. Her world ground to a halt and finally, she let out a gut-wrenching sob. The rest of their team stood there, disbelief and horror on their faces. Her beautiful dress covered in blood, the lady clutched Jesse to her as the world turned over and she slipped into oblivion.

The sky was beginning to color dusk as she pulled into the area of town where Berelli’s was. She saw the stars just starting to twinkle and noticed that it was shaping up to be a cloudless night. Is this what you wanted, Jess? She pulled the Shelby up into a parking space and climbed out. Walking towards the restaurant, she willed her nerves to calm down.

Orlando and Simon stood outside the restaurant. Orlando went over the contents of the large hamper again. "Now remember, there is lemonade in the thermos, because the signorina a is not a heavy drinker. The wine will stay chilled an hour and half, and don’t put the dressing..."

"On the salad until we’re ready to eat it. I know, Dad, I know," Simon replied, laughing. "I waited tables here for how many years?"

"Ack, smart-alec," Orlando said. He glanced up as a figure became clear in the shadows. "Good evening Signor Standish. What can I do for you?"

"I need to get dinner to go, Orlando," Ezra said.

"Of course. Have you ever met my son Simon, the attorney?" Orlando asked.

"Dad," the lawyer groaned.

"Nice to meet you Simon," the southerner said, extending a hand. "Ezra Standish, the federal agent." The three men laughed, and didn’t notice the fourth person come into the light.

"What’s so funny?" the light female voice asked. All three men turned.

"Lili," Simon and Ezra said in unison, then looked at each other.

"Well, I see you two have met," she said. "Ezra is an old friend from college, Simon."

"Good evening, Signorina," Orlando said, taking her hand and kissing it. "You and Simon had best go, my dear, if you are to be there on time."

"Go where?" Ezra asked. Her message hadn’t said anything about what she was doing.

"Simon is taking me to the symphony in the park," she replied. "I’ll talk to you soon, all right?"

Ezra nodded dumbly. She had a date. It shouldn’t bother him. They weren’t a couple. However, if he were to be really honest, it was bugging the hell out of him. "Have fun." He stood watching them walk toward a nice Toyota Corolla.

"Signor Standish?....Signor?" Orlando said. Ezra looked up. "What can we make for you tonight?"

The ATF agent took a second, throwing up an internal wall. He couldn’t deal with this right now. He had to focus on the case, being ready for his meeting tomorrow. "I’ll have an order of veal parmesan and a Caesar salad, Orlando." Mentally, he locked the lid on the box holding his emotions and followed the restaurateur into the bistro.

+ + + + + + +

Music drifted through the air, which twinkled with the glow of summer fireflies and perfect stars glittered above Lili as she sat with her back against a tree trunk. Simon sat next to her, his hand resting casually over hers, his eyes closed as he listened to the Denver Symphony. She was enjoying the quiet companionship of this man. Dinner had been excellent. Orlando had packed an antipasto salad, a cheese board, lots of fresh fruit, and some delicious chicken. The wine had been the perfect compliment, and they had finished the meal with cheesecake and lemonade. Now they lounged, enjoying the beauty of a movie theme Lili recognized but couldn’t place. She sighed in contentment, but even as comfortable as she was, and as much as she was enjoying herself, something nagged at the back of her mind.

Ezra The look on his face when he realized she was on a date. He had almost looked jealous. She shook the thought out of her head. Though she knew he cared for her, she believed it was as a dear friend, almost like a sister. It was silly to imagine feelings he didn’t have, no matter how much she might have wished it. Especially since she had a perfectly handsome man sitting next to her right here. Sighing softly, she leaned her head over to Simon’s shoulder and moved a bit closer. She could see him smile softly as he took firmer possession of her hand.

"Penny for your thoughts?" he said quietly.

"Just that this is a perfect evening. Thank you for bringing me," she replied.

"It has been my pleasure," Simon said. They were both quiet for a moment, before Simon spoke again. "Do you...I mean...would it be possible for...I mean..."

"Kind of tongue tied for a lawyer, aren’t you," she teased gently.

"I’d like to see you again," he said quietly. She had expected the question, but paused a second before answering. Another image of Ezra flashed through her mind. Stop it! He doesn’t think of you that way, just move on. She looked at the handsome, intelligent, kind man next to her and made up her mind.

"I’d like that, Simon," she said. "I’m not sure what my case load is like this week, but if you call me tomorrow, I can tell you."

Simon smiled. He took her hand and kissed it gently. "That sounds great," he said. Lili just smiled in return.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat in his living room, lights off, listening to an aria by Verde. A glass of wine sat at his right hand, serving to chase the dinner he had brought home from Berelli’s. For the past two hours, he had been sitting right where he was trying to seal his emotional lock box in a big block of cement. His eyes closed, he could see her, just as she had been one night, years before.

Boston University
Eleven Years previous

Ezra wasn’t sure how he had been talked into this. Then again, he had never been able to say no to Lili when she really needed him. Still, the fact he was standing in a tuxedo, in the middle of a ballroom floor, at a cotillion dance competition was a little flooring.

She had come to him a week and a half before, desolate. Her brother’s former roommate and her dance partner, Michael Carston, had broken his ankle. This was a horrible turn of events for Lili, who was top ranked and preparing for the regional competition. At first, he couldn’t understand her attachment to something that reeked of convention, until he learned that Billy had been her first partner and any competition she danced in was danced for him. That was how he had been recruited. How he had ended up spending every spare moment not in class or doing assignments in a practice room, stepping on her toes. That was how he ended up here, in first position, keeping eye contact with Lili, who looked beautiful in the rich garnet taffeta ball gown. As the music began, she gave him a heart-melting smile. "Relax, it’s just like practice."

"Then I do hope your shoes have steel toes, Lili Grace," Ezra replied.

"Thank you, Ezra," she said, before her face slid into a mask carefully kept for competition. He hoped he wouldn’t let her down as he took the lead.

The southerner sighed and finished the last of the wine. He couldn’t think on this now. Not if he wanted to survive his meeting tomorrow. He used the remote to shut off the stereo and placed the wine-glass next to the sink, before going very wearily to bed.

+ + + + + + +

"Thank you for tonight," Lili said again. They were at her car, near the restaurant. Most everything was closed by now, and though he knew she could handle anyone who might come at her in the dark, he had walked her to the Shelby anyway.

"You’re welcome," he said. He turned to face her as they stood under the old fashioned streetlight, his eyes seeming to question her. She smiled, and wasn’t surprised when he leaned down and kissed her gently. Breaking the light kiss, he stepped away. "Goodnight, Lili."

"Goodnight," she replied as she got into the Shelby and started the engine. Pulling away from the curb, she saw him wave in the rear view mirror. She felt herself blush ever so slightly as she drove towards home.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra awoke to the harsh sound of his alarm clock. He cracked an eye open slowly and looked at the blinking numbers. 7:15. "Aw hell," he groaned and reached out a hand to bat the alarm off. He had just about gone back to sleep when another shrill bell sounded. Damned back up alarm. He forced himself out of bed and in the direction of his shower.

Twenty minutes later, he picked up the paper off the porch. On the front page was a picture of last night’s symphony in the park. "Lovely, just what I needed this morning." He threw the paper on the table and began to collect his files for his brief case and a weapon for his ankle holster. He grabbed the keys to the Jag and was out the door.

With his stop at a Starbucks for coffee and a danish, he was still early to the office. Buck glanced up as he walked in and nearly dropped the cup of coffee he was holding. "Lord," the rogue said. "I think the sanctified dead have risen from their graves."

Ezra shot him a look to melt glass and continued on into the side office he shared with Vin. The sharpshooter looked up and almost commented, but he noticed the southerner’s face and decided it would be healthier to just stay quiet.

+ + + + + + +

Lili was at work early and found an excited Steven waiting for her in the lab. "I’ve got it!" he said as soon as she was in the door.

"Slow down, Steven, got what?" she asked.

"The Schulmaker case!" Steven replied. "I found the evidence the first guy missed, enough to make a case against Thompson."

"Congratulations Steven," Lili said, smiling. "Why don’t you call the field agent in charge and give him the news?"

"Don’t you want to do it?" Steven asked, confused.

"It’s your victory, Steven," she replied. "Go on." She watched her assistant scamper off and vaguely thought of JD. She continued into her inner office and set her attaché case down on the floor. She smiled as she noticed a small vase of flowers on her desk. They weren’t her favorites, but they were still beautiful. She picked up the card.

Lili~ Thanks for a wonderful evening. I’ll call you later. ~Simon.

Smiling to herself, she sat down and hit the play button on her answering machine.

"Lili, this is Josiah. Just wanted you to know the mark made contact last night," the profiler said. "Ezra has a lunch meeting set for today. He’s been in a mood all morning. Anyway, why don’t you swing up by the office later and we’ll fill you in on the forensics aspect."

"Lili, this is SAC Donaldson. I’d like to meet with you tomorrow to discuss equipment acquisition. Call Margaret to set a time, please."

"Hey Lili, it’s Thomas. Marian told me to call you and see how you were. You know she worries. Anyway, she and the kids send their love. Call us when you get the chance. Bye."

The messages ended and Lili settled into her chair to call Margaret. Briefly, she thought about Ezra and his meeting. I hope he’s careful.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra’s Jag pulled up to the valet station of La Unita right on time. His poker face was firmly in place, and he was ready to deal. He had decided that the best thing to do with his feelings about Lili and Simon was to channel it into his character.

Peter Tavington was distinctly British, from the tweed patches on his blazer to the fact he was smoking a pipe. He was sipping what looked like warm tea, even though it was almost 100 degrees outside. Ezra could already tell he would be a bore to negotiate with. "Good afternoon, Mr. Tavington," he said, Bostonian accent in place. "Elias Stanton."

"Quite," Tavington replied, standing and offering his hand. "Indeed, you seem the quintessential type, Mr. Stanton. Do sit, and we shall dine."

The undercover agent already disliked the cocky man across from him. Taking him down would be a treat. "Of course. Would you prefer we discuss business before or after we dine?"

"I always feel business is best discussed over desert and brandy, sir, if that is acceptable," Tavington replied.

"Perfectly," Ezra said. Picking up his menu, he smiled. The man’s own cockiness was going to bring him down.

+ + + + + + +

Lili had grabbed a quick lunch in the commissary, before heading back to the office to go over a chemical analysis Quantico had sent her on bomb debris from a case ATF 4 had worked last year. She always laughed at the reaction of outsiders to the forensics field at the idea of reading autopsy reports and evidence manifests over lunch. Steven was taking a long lunch on her to celebrate his success, as well as to give her some peace and quiet.

The ringing of the phone snapped her out of her reverie. "MacKenna," she said.

"Good afternoon, beautiful," came the voice on the other end of the phone.

"Simon," she said warmly. "How are you?"

"Wonderful, just for hearing your voice," the lawyer replied. "How’s your week looking? Are you free on Friday night?"

Lili opened her schedule book and flipped through the week. The evening on Friday was wide open. "Barring a case breaking, I’m free. What did you have in mind?"

"A surprise, if you’re game," the handsome tenor voice answered.

"Sounds good, what time?"

"Is seven okay? I can pick you up."

"No, my ranch is pretty far out," she said. "I’ll meet you at the bistro."

"Good. See you then," Simon said.

"Bye," Lili replied and hung up. She glanced at the clock that read 2:00PM. Time to head upstairs and check in with the boys. Briefly, she wondered what was thinking after she had run into him last night. Josiah’s comment about him being moody came back. Surely he was just aggravated with his mark. Because he couldn’t be jealous of Simon. Could he?

+ + + + + + +

Ezra smiled his appreciation as his team members complimented his performance. Tavington had bought it all hook, line, and sinker, and he had been flawless. He had been Elias Stanton. Because Elias Stanton hadn’t watched the woman he loved go on a date with another man last night.

Just then, the office door opened and there she was. Lili strode in, looking very business like. He didn’t often see her during the workday, and he still marveled at how she could make even business suits look seductive. But, the most amazing part was, she had no clue she was even beautiful. He sighed inwardly, refusing to allow his poker face to slip as Josiah walked over to the forensics specialist and gave her a quick hug.

"You look much improved, Lili," the profiler said, stepping back. He was right, too. In just three days, her color was back and there was laughter in her eyes.

"Thank you Josiah," she said. She turned to Ezra. "How’d it go today?"

"Exceedingly well," he replied, Bostonian accent intact. "Mr. Tavington will be sitting in a cell come Sunday afternoon."

"That’s great news," Lili said. She notice his smile seemed a bit forced. He is not jealous. Stop it.

"Yes, it is. Why don’t we get down to business?" he replied curtly. Smooth, Standish. Nothing like a little palpable animosity to make her curious.

She nodded, and headed for the conference room, avoiding looking at Ezra. He did the same. Vin watched them both. They really are blind. The sharpshooter followed both of them through the door, shaking his head.

+ + + + + + +

By the time they were done, Lili was no longer concerned about Ezra. She was downright pissed off at him. He had been rude, short, and distant all meeting, and he had gotten up and left quickly to avoid her after the meeting was over with. She sat at the conference table for a few minutes, taking a couple of deep breaths and wondering if she should update her anger management training. Josiah had immediately excused himself to go after the southerner, while Chris had shot everyone else a "Leave it be and give her a minute" glare. Buck, JD, and Nathan quickly followed their leader out into the desk area. Only Vin had remained, and she hadn’t even noticed him for a moment, so good was he at blending into his environment. Only when he spoke did she shake herself out of her angry funk.

"Wanna explain what crawled up his ass?" he asked. Lili looked up.

"I wish I knew," she said. In frustration, she picked up the ink pen in front of her and hurled it against the wall. Tanner was a little surprised to see it stick straight in the wall.

"Damn," he said. "Remind me to stay outta range of ya when you’re mad."

She had to laugh at him. The humor in the blue eyes was infectious, and reminded her of her brother, Billy. "I saw him last night, and I wasn’t able to warn him I was going on a date."

He nodded, but internally shook his head. Figures, would be the vehicle for the green-eyed monster. "And you think he’s upset?"

She sighed. "He never did like surprises. ‘I abhor gambling, and as such never leave anything to chance,’ he used to say. I am sure he’s pissed I didn’t tell him. But, that doesn’t give him the right to act like a righteously big jackass."

Vin chuckled. "He’ll get over it," he said, then grinned wickedly. "Now, who is this guy ya’ll are seein’?"

+ + + + + + +

Ezra wasn’t even sure where he was going until he pushed open the door that led onto the roof. The winds of the Mile High City wiped hard up here, but the beating he was taking was almost comfortable. It was physical pain, the kind he preferred. He had felt emotional pain a little too often since becoming a member of this team...family really, and being emotionally attached to anything went against everything he had ever been raised to believe.

The conman was so focused on the pain and the view that he didn’t hear the door open and shut quietly behind him, didn’t feel Josiah move up behind him. "A little cold out here, isn’t it Brother?" the profiler asked.

"Can I help you Mr. Sanchez?" Standish said, keeping tight control over his emotions. It was hard to do around Josiah, the man had a way of wielding things out of a person.

"You can begin by telling me what that was all about," the profiler said. He moved over to stand next to the younger man. "Why you just treated Lili like so much trash? What has gotten into you?"

"Leave it alone, Mr. Sanchez," the southerner replied. "It’s none of your concern."

Josiah was shocked and angry. He grabbed his friend and spun him around to face him. "None of my concern?! That is a hell of a thing for you to say to me," he thundered. "Damn it, Ezra Standish, this is your family you’re talking to, and that woman you just treated abominably is family to you too."

Ezra cringed as the physical force of the grip made his arm ache. "Mr. Sanchez..."

"God, Ezra," he cut him off. "Do you have any idea how good she has been for you? How much happier you have been, how much more open you are? You laugh, you grin a real smile. Hell, you’ve even been calling some of us by our first names."

"She had a date last night, Josiah," Standish said quietly. His friend dropped his grip.

"Beg pardon?" the profiler asked.

"I went to pick up dinner at Berelli’s last night and I ran into her. She was leaving on a date with Orlando Berelli’s son, Simon," he replied. "And I must have looked a fool not to know."

"Ezra, did you ever think why she didn’t tell you?" Josiah asked. "She knows the pressure you’re under, and she probably didn’t want to throw you any loops."

"I am her best friend for God’s sake," the undercover man replied. "She can tell me anything. She should have told me that, and why is she dating now anyway? Why worry about it this late in life?" The profiler shook his head, and asked the Lord to take the veil off of his friend’s eyes.

"Maybe she got tired of waiting," the profiler said. He turned and headed back inside, leaving him to himself.

+ + + + + + +

Lili avoided the office of ATF Seven for the rest of the week, purposely communicating with Tanner, Sanchez, Larabee, or anyone else for that matter, rather than speak to . She was still angry with him. How dare he get upset just because she didn’t tell him about her date in advance? It was none of his damn business. Starting that afternoon, she had gone to one of Denver’s indoor shooting ranges. She had done target practice after work for almost three hours, and had gone back on Thursday. Every frustration she had came out as she hit target after target with deadly accuracy. She had been top of her class at the Academy range and was proud of it, and at the moment, she almost wished to be back in the field, using a weapon again.

By Friday, her anger had parboiled down to pure annoyance and confusion, which really were not much better in her book, but no case had come up to ruin her plans for the evening, and by God, she would have fun tonight if it killed her. She had received a simple fax from Simon Thursday over lunch. Dress for the mission Friday night: Semi-formal dance wear. S Then, early Friday morning, her office phone had rung.

"MacKenna," she said, a bit snappish.

"I’m sorry Lili," Simon said. "Bad timing?"

"No, Simon," she replied, her voice softening. "God, I’m sorry. I’ve been having a...disagreement with someone and it has me irritable. Something wrong with tonight’s plans?"

"Not at all," he said. "This may be presumptuous, but how does Saturday look?"

"That sure of yourself, hmm?" Lili teased. "Wide open, why?"

"In that case, bring an overnight bag tomorrow," he said. "Separate accommodations of course."

"Mr. Berelli, I do believe I am about to be kidnapped," she joked, flirtingly.

"I prefer spirited away," he replied. "See you tonight."

"Ciao," she answered, hanging up. She looked up to find Steven in the door to her office, looking at her quizzically.

"Ciao?" he said. "What was that all about?"

"I have a date tonight," Lili said, surprisingly pleased at how easy that sentence came out.

"So he finally got around to saying something, huh?" her assistant said.

"Finally?" she replied. "What are you talking about? I am going out with an attorney from the Justice Department."

"Oh," Steven said, confused and embarrassed. "Well, I have a report to do." With that, the young agent beat a hasty retreat out of both her office and the lab and headed for the evidence lock up. She shook her head, wondering what on earth the kid was talking about. Sighing, she picked up a pencil and a memo pad and made an inventory for her overnight bag.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat at his desk, shuffling his cards repeatedly. The noise had been getting on Vin’s nerves for the past hour, and if the undercover man didn’t cut it out quick, Tanner was seriously going to shoot him. "Hey Ez, ya gonna play with them cards, or ya just goin’ ta shuffle ‘em til they disintegrate?" the southerner mumbled under his breathe and slammed the deck down mid-shuffle, causing the cards to spray across both of their work spaces.

"Dammit!" he growled. He started picking up the cards from his side as the sniper picked up those on his own side.

"Ya know, Ez," he said. "If ya don’t sit down with Lili and have this out, ya will go outta your mind."

His friend didn’t say anything for a minute and the Texan thought he might have crossed the line. Then, the southern voice split the silence, even though his voice was just above a whisper. "I’m already there," Standish sighed.

"Ya don’t have a good reason ta be," Tanner said. "She’s your best friend, and she cares about ya. If ya don’t get yer head outta yer ass, ya’ll lose her."

"If I tell her what is bothering me, I will lose her Vin. I will lose her, I will lose myself, and then everything else in my life will turn to ashes the way it always has," he said. "I’ve already lost her."

"Horseshit," the Texan said. "Ezra, I have seen ya do some dumbassed things, things that seem ta say ya ain’t got no fear in ya. I can’t understand why ya can’t stand up and tell her how ya feel." He handed the rest of Ezra’s cards to him and watched as the tell tale signs of withdrawal come to the southerner’s face. Silently, the southerner set the cards down on his desk and then turned and walked away.

He sighed heavily, shaking his head. Just then, his desk phone rang. "Tanner."

"Vin," Lili said. "I was just calling to check in."

"How are ya?" he asked.

"I’m good," she responded. "I have a sort of extended date this weekend, but I’ll be back Saturday evening. I should be fine to work the bust on Sunday."

"Extended date?" he asked. "Aren’t ya takin’ things a bit fast here?"

"Separate accommodations, hon," she laughed. "It’s a kidnap date. I don’t know where I am even going yet."

"Ya trust this guy?" Vin queried. For a minute, he reminded her of Billy so much that it hurt.

"Yes, dad," she said. "I’ll have my phone, and if I need to be rescued, I know who to call."

"I gotta go," Vin said. "Have a good time, ya hear?"

"Will do," she said, "Thanks Vin."

"Bye," Vin said, then turned and hung up the phone. Glancing at Chris’s closed door, he decided that this was something that the team leader needed to know. He got up, headed that way and knocked gently.

"Come in," he heard Chris say. Pushing open the door, he walked in to find Larabee looking over the specs for the warehouse that would be the scene of their bust on Sunday. The team leader looked up. "What can I do for you, Cowboy?"

"We may have a problem," Tanner said.

"Does this have something to do with Ezra and Lili in the meeting Wednesday?" Larabee asked. He nodded. "What exactly is going on there?"

"Basically, Lili is seeing someone, and Ezra found out about it the hard way," the Texan said. "He didn’t take it none too well.

"Hell, I probably wouldn’t take it too well either if a woman I loved as much as he loves her was seeing someone else," Chris said. "But, I can’t blame her. He won’t speak up."

"So ya got the fact he loves her too, huh?" his brother responded, sitting down across from the desk.

"Not only that, but she loves him too," Larabee said. "They’re both just too damn stubborn to figure it out. So, how serious is this man she’s seeing?"

"Serious enough to be going away with him for the weekend," Tanner replied. "What do we do here, cowboy?"

"Nothing we can do, Vin," the dark man said. Tanner started to protest, but Chris stopped him. "It’s none of our business. We can’t betray either of them by letting the other know how they feel. It's just going to have to run its course."

"That sucks," he said. "They should be together."

"Something tells me, if it’s meant to be," Larabee responded, "they’ll figure it out. Give them some time. Maybe this will be what it takes to get him to say something."

"I hope so, Cowboy," Vin said. "Can’t stand ta see him so miserable."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat in the coffee shop across from the federal building, staring at the top of his latte cup. He couldn’t decide what the hell to do. If he told Lili, he was going to lose her. If he didn’t tell her, he was still going to lose her. There was no winning this game, one he had been playing for so many years he seemed to have lost count.

He sighed hard, staring out the window. He supposed he always knew there was a possibility that if they met again, there would be someone else in her life. He really had no right to feel like this. After all, she had never shown anything more than friendship to him, never initiated the first move. He knew he really only had one choice. He had to let Lili live her life, and that meant accepting this new situation. But, it didn’t mean he had to like it.


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