~~ Aftermath… ~~

by TJ

Exhausting the hot water supply in the tank, Larabee had dragged himself into the kitchen and cooked up some desperately needed nourishment. It was just past eight o'clock when he'd finally settled to consume the meal; a beer chasing it down very nicely.

Looking at the clock somewhere after ten, the blond thought about what everyone else would be doing on a Saturday night. 'Probably at the Saloon...' He briefly considered heading into town, but the idea quickly lost its luster when he thought about most the team being in couples these days.

Things were changing again.

Time was he'd hung out with 'the guys', all single and looking for some action. Then Sarah had entered his life and everything changed. He became a homebody; reveled in the quiet evenings he spent with his wife, alone. Then the turmoil of her death, the anger and pain, and the drinking… so much time spent alone with his bitterness and his bottle. He dropped completely out of the mainstream, mostly being by himself.

Then Team Seven had become a reality. Six men who quickly became the family he so desperately needed. Designated staff assistants came in to help yet never lasted too long. Then Lansky had hit the ground. She'd done so running, and hadn't stopped since.

With her tenacious attitude and strong desire to have everything 'ship-shape', she'd fit in so well. It took Travis less than a week to situate her workstation outside of Larabee's office and she quickly become more than a faithful assistant. He relied on her like a buddy would. Her army background fit in perfectly with the men in the office. A lot of them had varying degrees of service history, both military and civil servant.

For almost that whole first year, in Larabee's eyes anyway, Kate was just another one of the crew. A welcomed sight when they got back into the office from a case. An attitude adjustment when they needed it and a shoulder to lean on when that was called for, too.

Things changed for Chris on the third anniversary of his family's death. He'd returned the favor Lansky had gifted him with just weeks after they'd met. He'd lit into her so badly; they'd almost ended up in a physical confrontation.

Knowing full well what the blond's problem was, Buck had stepped in to separate them.

Next thing Chris knew… there was knock at his door.

By the end of the night, Kate, 'his buddy', was gone, and Kate, 'his friend', had been born. He'd told her everything over the next few months. She'd witnessed his tears, eventually seeing what was left of his soul.

'Fifteen months' Larabee pondered.

In all that time, he'd seen relationships in his office come and go, yet, the friendship he had with Lansky just kept blossoming. 'Not like any other!' he mused, his head shaking lightly as he snickered.

They fought like cats and dogs sometimes. He'd have a bad day and take it out on someone. Kate would be right there to set him straight about 'keeping things professional'.

In the lighter, more secluded moments however, they had grown closer.

'That's what makes me love you' The blond's lips pursed, the set of his jaw line showing his anger, sharp as a knife.

The doorbell interrupted his thoughts.

Glancing at the clock, he approached the door cautiously. "Yeah," he growled. One a.m. wasn't a time for visitors.

"Hey," came the reply.

Larabee's heart skipped a beat and he couldn't get the door open quick enough. Calming his voice, he smiled. "Hey."

Kate's blue eyes sparkled back at him

~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~

He stood staring at the coat in his hands, wondering if she could have come up with a better excuse to 'drop by' at one o'clock in the morning. A small grin came to his lips are he watched the petite blonde disappear around the corner and into his living room. Closing the door, Chris followed, all the while, thankful for that coat.

Setting the garment on the back of the sofa, Larabee leaned casually against the entranceway. "Didn't hear you drive up."

Staring at the mantle, Kate's head turned slightly. Nothing else moved. "Didn't want you to," she said quietly. Her eyes moved back to the knick-knacks he had on the fireplace.

A tongue darted out to wet Larabee's suddenly dry lips. It lingered as he contemplated what she had said. "Thanks for bringing the coat back," he shuffled, green pools locked on the woman's back.

There was a pause.

"Didn't have to come all the way out here though. Monday… at the office… would have been fine."

Lansky sighed heavily, her eyes closing for just a brief second before she turned. Eyes on the floor, she slowly tracked up his body. Bare feet gave way to those same tight black jeans that he seemed to wear every day.

'Must have fifty pair' she mused.

One hand shoved deep into his hip pocket; the man's other fingers clung to a belt loop… the belt itself, clearly missing.

Chris had a dark shirt on, although not black, as was his norm. The garment wasn't fastened and hung loose around his torso, the visible lines of his chest sending a quiver through the woman's body...

'Damn! If he ain't the sexiest thing this side of…' Shaking the thought away, she said the first thing that came to her mind. "Didn't think I needed an excuse." Locking eyes with the blond, she offered a quick grin. "Figured I'd bring one though… just in case."

He smirked, his gaze drifting down as the honesty of her words hit home. "Nope," he glanced back at her. "You never need an excuse. That hasn't changed."

Their eyes met and just as suddenly pulled away from each other. Chris licked at his lips again.

Once more, Kate turned away, this time she ventured to his entertainment center. Fingering the records, she desperately tried to order her thoughts. 'Why is this so damn hard?' she questioned. She could hear a thousand words in her brain, yet none of them seemed to want to come out. She pursed her lips angrily.

'Great!' Larabee chastised himself.

Here, he'd been waiting almost two days to have her close again. Couldn't bring himself to go to her, and thanked the heavens above, when she'd showed up at his door. She'd been there less than five minutes and he was already driving her away. He shook his head in a huff, lips bunching up tight, showing the determination in his jaw. Taking a deep breath, Chris decided to take charge. "This is a really good one."

The hand that snaked up beside her was nothing, compared to the strong, masculine body that settled in behind her. Lansky's eyes closed tight as the blond moved closer, brushing her shoulder as he reached for the album he favored most.

"You like this one, right?"

Glancing up, she was struck by his closeness. Something she'd wanted all day, yet, couldn't quite accept, now that he was there. "Chris…" any remaining words failed to materialize.

She wasn't exactly cradled in his arms, but Larabee had an incredible urge to kiss her. His eyes never wavered as he leaned down to touch her lips.

Like relaxing into the warmth of a hot bath as you sink beneath its surface, Kate melted into his touch. All the confusion of the past thirty-six hours disappeared in an instant, leaving nothing behind. Their mouths molded to each other as though they had never been apart. Lips vied for position as she turned gently in his arms.

The long moments of sheer tenderness left her wanting more, yet, like a tiger sensing that she was walking into a trap, the blonde slowly pulled away.

Chris watched her eyes as they shied from his. Carefully, she ducked under his arms and moved back into the middle of the room. 'Damn!'

The frustration didn't seep from his mouth but his head drooped as eyes shut tight. "What?" he blurted out, his anger beating out the rational part of his brain that so desperately wanted to remain calm. Spinning around, Larabee glared at the woman.

"Don't you dare take that tone with me, boy!" she growled back. Turning quickly, she met his fierce stare without batting an eyelid.

"Boy?" Chris snarled. "Since when did I become…a BOY? You think I'm acting like a child?"

"If the shoe fits," she retorted.

His arms flailed, exaggerating his 'what the fuck?' in the air.

Realizing, all too quickly, that she had crossed the line, Lansky held up her hands, indicating a surrendering Whoa! One hand moved quickly to her forehead, massaging her brow vigorously. The other tucked securely under the crooked elbow, hugging her body tightly.

The blond could see the tautness of her fingers as they kneaded her head. All of a sudden, the fight in him was gone. As abruptly as it had arrived, his anger vanished, and Chris took in a deep calming breath, eyes clamped tight as he realized how he'd reacted. A tongue worked its way across pursed lips before disappearing.

Slowly, the man took up his favorite chair.

The fingers buried in her hair slowly squeezed the life from the roots. "Damn you," she cursed, eyes rising to look painfully into his eyes as her hands settled to her sides. "Why does this have to be so complicated?" the questioning tone begged for an answer.

He couldn't help it… Chris chuckled. "Because it's us," he offered without hesitation.

The smile on his lips was contagious and Kate joined in the amusement readily. Her head dropped, attempting to hide the grin. "Damn you," she offered again.

"Truer words were never spoken."

The huffed laughter erupted without warning. "So, you're a poet now, too?"

He smirked. "Why not? I can do anything, can't I?"

Lansky's blue gaze met his so fast it almost made her head spin. "Everything… except…" She'd started to speak without thinking first and instantly regretted her actions.

If ever, silence was deafening...

She so much wanted to say the word, but her mouth wouldn't form the syllables. She couldn't say it.

She wouldn't!

It was an unpleasant word.

A word that brought so much relief, yet, required that you give up, so much. 'Like selling your soul to the devil…'

Kate could never ask Chris to… 'Forget…'


Larabee could see the sudden change in her features. He frowned, totally unfamiliar with the expression as she tried to hide it. She almost seemed…

He couldn't put a name to it for a moment, and then it hit him like the weight of the world… defeated? "Except, what, Kate?" he got to his feet, urgency and concern overshadowing everything else that had gone before. "Except, what?" he repeated, setting a hand on her chin, raising her eyes to his.

Lansky's mind reeled. She couldn't answer him truthfully. She wasn't at all sure if their relationship would ever get that far. Not for a conversation like that, anyway. 'Think! Think!' she scolded. Then the light went on… "Agree to my terms," she said strongly. She drew in a quick breath trying to hide her anxiety.

Larabee eyed the woman suspiciously, his glare drilling into her soul. "That wasn't what you were going to say," he accused.

Removing his hand from her chin, Kate played it cool. "Well, what else is there? I've given you time to think it over."

Chris wasn't buying it but he wasn't sure what else she could be hiding. "Some terms," he replied. "Win-win situation for me, as far as I can see."

"Oh?" her eyebrow rose inquisitively at the statement.

"Yeah," he shot back. He still felt she was hiding something and the need to push became evident. "A nice piece of ass whenever I want it and no strings attached."

Stepping back slightly, she grinned. "Is that right?" Looking him square in the eye, she cocked her head. "Does that mean you accept?"

Chris frowned. Now he knew something was wrong. The Kate he knew would have chewed his head off by now. Taking a deep breath the man calmed himself. "You're not even gonna question what I said, are you?"

She shrugged, determined not to let him get the upper hand. "Why? Sounds good to me… Really, I could say the same thing."

"Whenever I want?" his brow furrowed.

Kate drew closer, brushing a cheek with her hand. "Within reason, of course. And… I'll call in my markers, too… whenever I want."

Taking her fingers in his, the man in black pulled her closer, allowing their lips to meet again. The embrace was strong, full of a need that had been building for two days. As her other hand snaked up to hold his head, Larabee took hold of her wrists. Pulling them apart, he held her tight. Their eyes were fevered as they burned into one another's souls.

"What?" she breathed heavily.

The man sucked in his bottom lip, frustrated that his conscience wouldn't let him react, as his body wanted to. His head dropped slightly before Chris looked back into her passion filled blue reflections. Nope! He was surer than ever that she was hiding something. "Why no strings, Kate?"

She growled and quickly tried to pull away. When he wouldn't let her go, the woman tried to force his hold by twisting in his arms.

The turn was so fast that she slipped from his grasp, but Larabee wasn't giving up that easily. He quickly took hold of her, his limbs clasped tight around her shoulders. "Don't!" he insisted, the urgency of her tugging almost causing him to lose his balance.

"Let me go, Chris!" she said forcefully.

"Answer my question," he held her tight.

Angry, more with herself than the man in black, Lansky said the first thing that came to her mind. "Sex is easy, Chris."

Not letting her go, yet relaxing his hold as she settled, Larabee sensed there was more, "And?"

Kate's chin dropped and she sighed, her breath calming slightly. "And you're not ready for strings," she said quietly.

The blond let her go, watching carefully as she stepped away before turning to meet his gaze. "Me?" he scowled. "You're the one that doesn't want to… hear me say I… love you."

Lansky stared at him. The thousand or so words were still going through her head and she still couldn't quite find the ones to say.

She wanted to tell him that he was lying to her… lying to himself. That Chris Larabee had only ever loved one woman in his life. Sarah would always remain 'his one true love' and she had no intention of ever intruding on that fact. With all those possibilities available, the words that finally came were so simple. "Because you don't."

Larabee's eyes were locked hard on the blonde. "You doubt me?" he queried. "You don't believe…"

"No!" she snapped back. A moment of silence that should have been brief stretched on endlessly until Kate's chin dipped again.

Once more, Chris saw the defeated expression he had perceived before. He frowned.

"I don't doubt what you think you feel," she looked back.

He was shocked and confused. "I think?" he queried angrily. What gave her the right to question his feelings?

She nodded before turning away. Going to the sofa, she sat down at the end furthest from him, a head bending into open palms as she leaned heavily on the arm of the furniture.

Tracking her movements, Larabee glanced at the floor. Sighing, he moved to join her, resting behind her curled form as he sat down. A hand traveled slowly to her shoulder. His anger waned as he sensed the fight suddenly gone from her. "Why don't you think I mean it, Kate?" his tone was subdued, his voice barely a whisper.

Her hands slowly tracked up over her head and down to circle her neck. As fingers touched his, they grasped tight, the remaining hand continuing to rest in her lap. There was silence for a time. The joined digits simply held each other.

Nearly five minutes passed before Kate slowly turned, her gaze downcast. She held on tightly to his hand, the hesitation clear in the 'drumming' her fingers were doing. "I don't think…" blue eyes slowly lifted to meet his green reflections, and in an instant, the blonde lost her nerve, yet again. Looking away, she spoke the only other truth she knew. "I don't think I'm ready, Chris. Please, don't say it again… not now, maybe not…"

"Don't," he stopped the word he knew was coming next. He smiled at her as she looked up into his eyes. "Don't say anything you may regret later," he brushed her cheek.

Curling into his touch, Kate covered his hand with hers, pulling him closer as she leaned into his chest. "A conversation for another century," she remembered Josiah's words much earlier that day.

Chris chuckled as he pulled her close. "Maybe."

As the profiler's speech echoed word for word, she pulled the blond closer; amused that Sanchez could be so profound.

Larabee reveled in her hug as they pulled each other tight.

~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~

They sat for a time, arm in arm... just being there for each other. Neither said a word.

Chris thought about all the things he knew about Kate… and all the things he didn't. Most of their conversations had focused on him. He was in pain, and she was there to help. She always seemed to know the right things to say or do, even when it drove him nuts… but he so liked being with her.

Sitting next to him, the blonde's thoughts drifted to the arms that held her securely. The strong chest that warmed her and the heart that beat so strongly within. Without meaning to, her mind wandered to a time when another had held her like this… suddenly, she pulled away.

"What's wrong?" Larabee's concern was evident.

Turning to sit properly on the sofa, Lansky searched for an explanation to offer. Her eyes glanced at Chris but refused to meet his stare. "Nothing!"

"Don’t lie to me, Kate," he challenged. "You accuse me of not knowing my feelings. Don't you dare hide yours… Not from me."

Her mind still half in another time and place, his 'commands' made her angry. She narrowed her gaze, looking directly into his eyes. "You don't know anything about me, Chris Larabee. Don't you dare presume to give me orders."

It was true.

As he searched her reflections for something to connect with, Larabee was able to admit to himself again that he knew very little about the woman behind all her 'image'. Whether the façade was real, a part of her, or just a shield to hide behind… he had no idea.

Curious, a little angry and almost desperate, the words came out without him even thinking, "Tell me about the burn."

Kate panicked inside; yet, her reaction was barely visible to Chris, but she turned from his prying eyes, just to be sure… 'Why now?'

He hadn't asked that night. She knew he couldn't have missed the scar that covered a good portion of her left side. 'Too much of a gentleman to ask'. Or maybe, he just had other things on his mind at that moment.

The army's plastic surgeons had done a wonderful job trying to cover up the whole mess, but you couldn't ignore it when you were close… as close as they had been on Thursday. "Guess you couldn't miss it?" she asked, shifting uneasily.

"Don't turn away from me, Kate," Chris moved a hand to her cheek as he returned her eyes to his. His words were honest and calming as he spoke. "It's not you... it's not important, but you know so much about me… my past… I don't know anything about you… I think I've earned that right, don't you?"

The woman studied her companion. The gentle smile on his lips and the touch of his hand made her tingle. Only once before had she felt like this. She'd fought it then. Never allowing things to progress too far… and then it was too late. She'd never allowed herself the pain of that loss. She'd denied her connection to that man. Denied that he really meant anything. "The right to know me?" she questioned hard. "Knowing me is the easy part…"

Chris cut her off, "Then tell me!"

She frowned. "Knowing me is the easy part," she repeated.

"Then tell me!" he interrupted again.

It didn't take much to make Kate angry, yet his insistence almost made her smile, too. "Let me finish," she blurted out, trying to hide the grin.



"Tell me!"

"Stop it," she moved away from his hands.

"You afraid, Lansky?"

She turned on him, the question blatant, the use of her last name too much of a challenge. Only inches from his face, she snarled, "I'm not afraid of anything… you got that, Larabee?"

A tongue protruded from his mouth long enough to cockily tease her fury. "Then, tell me," he added insult to injury.

Several heavy breaths were the only signs of her anger. Sitting back in the corner of the sofa with a huff, she crossed her arms and stared at the fireplace. Barely a moment passed before she blurted out her reply, "Okay, you wanna know how I got this scar… I'm gonna tell ya."

Noting the 'rough' tone the blonde was now using, Chris was suddenly worried he'd pushed too far. "You sure?" he queried, not wanting to force her into something she didn't want to do.

"What's the matter?" she blurted out. "You turning tail and running?"

He smirked. "Never been known to do that!"



"You were ready to take the easy way out after…" Kate's eyes suddenly widened as she realized what she was about to say.

His breath stopped. Chris knew how that sentence ended, yet, as hurt as he suddenly became, he was determined not to let her fire distract him. Sucking back his discomfort, the blond pressed on as though he didn't care. "So what's your excuse? I think I had a valid one. What about you?"

Lansky was caught off guard, not expecting him to ignore her comment or to continue with his questions. She reacted defensively, just as her training had taught her. "Dessert Storm," she shot back forcefully.

Larabee stopped dead in his tracks. Her answer surprised him, taking the fight from him instantly. His voice grew quiet. "You were over there?" Kate nodded, unconsciously rubbing her side and Chris didn't miss the motion. He joined her, sitting back and waited patiently to see if she would continue.

Several minutes passed as Kate collected her thoughts. She fidgeted uncomfortably but finally decided she'd come this far… said enough that he wouldn't let it go now. She might as well tell the rest… or, at least a good portion of it. "You remember… the 14th QM Det out of Greensburg?"

The name was familiar even though the memory, somewhat faded. Chris knitted his brow as he slowly put the bits and pieces together from memory. Operation Dessert Storm… 14th Quartermaster Detachment out of Greensburg, Pennsylvania… supplying purified water for the troops. Once he'd remembered the basic information, the rest hit him hard. The warehouse where they were quartered… the SCUD that got through the defenses… "You were with them?" he suddenly asked.

Again, there was silence.

Her eyes clenched tight and Lansky's knees came up as she huddled into a ball. A deep breath saw her glance toward the darkened window, her mind clearly lost in remembrance. "There were thirty-five filler positions allocated to the Det, both us active Army and other reserve contingents. I volunteered to go with them," there was a pause. "We were waiting for their equipment and supplies to catch up to us. Been 'in theatre' less than a week…" her voice trailed off.

The images that came back to Chris were faded, but all too real. He was remembering the story now… clear as day. The members of the detachment were temporarily assigned to some reconfigured warehouses, now set up as barracks. Then a SCUD missile had slipped through coalition defenses, hitting the quarters early in the evening. "You were inside the shacks when it hit?"

Kate looked at Larabee and stark realization hitting hard once more. "In my rack," she answered slowly before turning away again. "I… don't remember any of it," her voice was lifeless and very quiet. " 'Cept… I was one of the lucky ones."

Chris was at a loss for words. He'd always known Lansky was a trained soldier. You don't reach the rank of sergeant just on good behavior alone. He just… "Never knew you were in combat," he offered solemnly.

Kate chuckled. "We'd just gotten there," she sighed. "Spent the next year… recovering." the last word was spoken with a heavy heart. "You weren't supposed to know, Chris. None of this was supposed to happen." Looking back at him, she smiled softly. "We were never supposed to be more than friends," she whispered.

He glanced down, and then back into her eyes, "I'm glad we're friends... but there's more to it. Has been long before now." The blond hesitated, not sure if he should continue. Deciding it was now or never, he pressed on. "That explains the scar, Kate… But not… your terms?"

Her eyes closed again. She sucked in her bottom lip and sighed heavily. "There… used to be someone, Chris."

There was a long pause.

"Someone, who… told me he loved me," her head dropped. "I wasn't ready for what he wanted. A life together… a home… family. I'm not like that."

Larabee smiled, "Really?"

Even in her state of mind, Lansky reacted. A hand reached out and swatted him across the chest and Kate's head turned to look into his green reflections. Her playful smile dwindled, "I don't know if I can ever be like that, Chris," she said in all honesty. Turning slowly to face him, she glanced down before refocusing on his eyes. "I don't want to hear your words of dedication… is that so hard to accept?"

Slowly, Larabee began to understand her hesitation, yet, there was still something missing from her tale. "What happened to him?" he asked softly.

Kate's eyes closed and her face tightened visibly. "I'm told… He came in looking for me. Pulled several others out before he found me… Assured I was alive… he went back in to see if he could get anyone else out… That's when the roof finally gave way," the anguish in her voice was like nothing Larabee had ever heard.

His hand rose slowly to her shoulder, offering support. "A true hero."

Instantly, her mood changed. Lansky huffed loudly. "Yeah, another dumb-ass American cowboy, ready to lay his life on the line at a moments notice, without consideration for…" the sarcasm streaming from her mouth suddenly stopped and she stood up, knocking his arm from her shoulder. "He's dead, Chris. Wouldn't have even been there if I hadn't volunteered to go. I refused to accept him, to love him and I got him killed." The anger in her voice was strong; the biting sound of each forceful word rang in Larabee's ears.

The blond watched as she shook her head and headed towards the hallway. "Where are you going?" he shouted after her.

Kate stopped at the doorway and glared. "Bed… you coming?"

~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~

Chris silenced the stereo and turned all the lights off in the house. Checking the front entrance one last time, he set the alarm and headed for the bedroom. The door was still closed.

He'd heard it slam after Kate disappeared down the hall.

That was nearly half an hour ago, and the blond had seriously considered NOT going to bed. Standing outside his room, he cursed himself for all the self-righteous, forceful, obnoxious ways he had sometimes. 'Sometimes?' He questioned silently. 'Hell! All the fucking time!'

Maybe he'd finally gone too far! 'God! I hope not!'

This whole thing had started because of his wants. He'd been bored and his mind had wandered to the woman he kept great company with these days. But he wanted Kate to be more than just a friend. HE had gone to her, and HE had asked her to take him as a lover.

Chris closed his eyes tight, wondering why he hadn't given this more thought. No warning, no edging into the relationship... he'd just showed up at her door and dropped a bomb.

Now that 'bomb' was ticking.

Sure, she had a choice. She could have said, No. 'But… would that have changed anything?' he wondered. Larabee would have never forced the issue, he knew that much. He'd suspected a mutual attraction for a long time. Maybe he'd just got tired of avoiding the topic. No! Chris was sure this had been something they both had wanted. He just wasn't expecting complications. 'I wasn't expecting… this!'

In some ways, Kate's past mirrored his own with shocking similarities. Yet, in others, there was so much contrast. No matter which way he tried to look at it, the woman seemed to have always avoided the subject of relationships. He suspected, practically since the day they'd met, that she was a career woman. Probably never had the desire for a husband or children and had joined the military with that very thought in mind. Not that he ever doubted her commitment to service in defense of their country. If nothing else, Lansky was as patriotic as they come.

Chris smiled; it was one of the things he loved about her. He'd… just never suspected how much that dedication had cost her. Straightening from his leaning position, the blond knocked gently on the portal and waited for any response.


Tapping the wooden structure again, he called out, "Kate?"

Still nothing!

Larabee frowned. Trying the knob, he found it unlocked. He pushed, cracking the door slightly and, hearing the shower running, he breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't been ignoring him, but… he still wasn't entirely sure where he stood.

Shaking off the lingering doubt, he slowly ventured to the bed. Unconsciously, he started to unbutton his pants, then stopped. He scowled, wondering 'what' he should expect.

Just like every other 'less-than-tactful' approach, he'd ever used; Chris had bulldozed tonight. Their argumentative communication style was pretty normal, in between quiet conversation. When he pushed, Kate always pushed back… only this time she'd given up information that, until now he suspected, had remained very personal.

Larabee suddenly suppressed a laugh, speculating if his lady was one of those who believed in the 'I'd tell you… but, then I'd have to kill you' rule.

"What's so funny?"

Glancing up, green eyes met the sparkling sky blue reflection that made him smile. "Nothing," he answered quickly, watching her stop on the opposite side of the bed.

An eyebrow rose and her gaze narrowed. "Umm!"

Eyeing the muscular legs as they disappeared under her towel, Larabee continued to grin. "Of course, I could be smiling 'cause I'm sitting here staring at a wet, barely clothed you. At three o'clock in the morning, to boot."

"You are so full of it, Larabee" she turned, sitting down on the bed.

Chris watched intently as she pulled the smaller towel from her hair and rubbed the naturally blonde locks vigorously. "That dye your friend put in, ever gonna come out?"

Lansky huffed. "It getting lighter everyday. Just not fast enough," she growled.

"You'll be you soon enough."

Peeking out from underneath the towel, the woman glanced back at him curiously. "Bet you've just about had enough of ME, haven't you?" She resumed drying her hair.

Watching the vigor in her technique, Larabee frowned. Oh, he'd certainly got more than he bargained for, that's for sure. But he didn't regret a single moment of the past forty-eight hours. His eyes narrowed. 'Except maybe that!' "Guess you could say the same thing," the blond frowned. "I really did bite you, didn't I?" he studied the deep bruise surrounding the teeth marks on the back of Kate's shoulder.

Realizing what he was talking about after glancing at him, she strained to see the object of his attention. Another gruff look belied her words. "No worries," she said casually. "If it bothered me, I'd have let you know by now."

"I bet you would," Chris replied, not even wanting to imagine what she meant.

Throwing the extra towel into the bathroom, Kate turned on the bed and patted it lightly, motioning him to join her. "Besides, I'm presuming you don't have rabies."

Settling onto the comforter, Larabee shook his head.

"Or AIDS?"

He scowled, pursing his lips.

"Or any other STD's of the more common variety?"

An exasperated expression mellowed as an eyebrow rose. "Well, I did bring the condom," he responded playfully. "You're the one who said we didn't need it."

"Not like one would have done us any good," she smirked.

Chris tried hard to suppress the laughter. "Maybe not, but we still should have asked all the questions."

"Agreed," she smiled. "I just had… other things on my mind about then," she leaned closer. "Might have had something to do with it… being so long… Maybe having a handsome blond-haired, green-eyed boss asking if I'd care to take him as my lover."

Crawling within inches of her, Larabee frowned again, playfully this time. "I didn't put it like that, did I?"

She laughed a little, "You kept telling me my job was safe."

"Umm," he sighed. "Well, you did ask, if I recall, but, I guess I'm guilty as charged," he looked at her thoughtfully. "You don't think… that qualifies as coercion, do you? 'Cause it sure wasn't meant the way… and I'd have to apologize right here and now, if I pushed you into it in anyway."

"Chris Larabee," she smirked, "If you really think you could ever push me into anything without my consent… Well, boy… you really don't know me at all."

"Again with the 'boy'," he complained. "What's with that?"

She sat up and smiled coyly. "I have a thousand others that are worse."

The blond shook his head. "I bet!" Dismissing the banter, he straightened as well, recognizing that their moods had changed. "So… where does this leave us," he asked seriously.

The woman's head turned slightly, avoiding his gaze.

Taking a deep breath, Larabee forced himself to speak, "We can't just ignore our pasts, Kate."

"Sounds like a philosophy lesson," she complained with a huff.

Chris suppressed his laughter. "I think that's exactly what I said when you told it to me… the first time."

The woman glared at the man, then quickly turned away again.

"We need to talk about this, Kate. You said… knowing you was the easy part," he repeated her statement from earlier. Averting his eyes for just a second, he looked at the woman, knowing he'd refused to let her finish before. "What is the hard part?"

Sucking in her bottom lip, she sighed heavily. 'I don't want to talk!' She thought. A hand rose quickly to rub the back of her neck. It lingered for several long seconds before she slowly stood up. Rotating, Lansky looked directly into the blond's soft stare. Their eyes never wavered as her arms rose to casually unfold the cinch that held her towel in place. "Sex is easy, too," she murmured. Pulling the corners of her towel, she gradually stripped the material and let it settle to the floor.

His eyes were still locked hard on hers, but Chris couldn't help but see the naked flesh before him. He remembered feeling every inch of her curves. She had an athletic build for a woman her age. The man in black had little doubt she could keep a comparable pace with him at anything he tried. He'd seen her work out in the Federal Building's gymnasium and had accompanied her on more than one run.

Remembering her energy, Larabee's concentration faltered. Green eyes drifted slowly lower, taking in the set of proud shoulders, down to the roundness of her breasts. The arms flanking her, carefully concealed the rough skin down one side of her torso, her hands hung loosely beyond the arch of her hips. Strong legs completed her body, standing as credit to Kate's fitness, rather than the perfection so many others sought.

Chris felt his body stir. Yet, not simply from subtle feminine lines, but the inner beauty housed within her flesh. Lansky's spirit was much like his own. Of this fact, he was sure. A truth he could never deny. Through all the harshness that could surround them, there were times when he was so much at peace in her company… "Not gonna let you do it," he smiled, his voice barely a whisper. "Not that I don't want to," his chin rose as he took in a deep breath, "But I'm not allowing you to distract me… until you answer my question."

Kate's eyes narrowed menacingly. Her jaw set tight as she clenched her teeth.

No one moved for what seemed like an eternity, and then she, too, sucked in a very deep breath. "Fine," she spoke in a very low tone. "Told you the easy part was knowing me."

Chris nodded, knowing she was becoming defensive, simply by the body language being displayed.

"Hard part is letting me, be me!" she said slowly. As Larabee's brow creased questioningly, Lansky pursed her lips. "Yeah! Didn't figure you'd understand." Shaking her head she pulled back the sheets on her side of the bed and climbed in.

'Letting me, be me' he puzzled. Watching her snuggle down under the bedding, Chris sighed. "I just want to talk, Kate… I don't want to change you. I lo…" Stopping short, he'd realized what he was about to say. He frowned, wondering if it were really something he just said out of habit, or whether he really meant it. Really understood anymore, what those three words were supposed to mean.

Running a hand quickly through his hair, the blond took another deep breath. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he exhaled slowly, and proceeded to strip off his shirt. "Mind if I join you?"

There was no response.

Taking off his pants and underwear, Chris switched off the overhead light, and slipped into bed. On his back, he lay staring at the ceiling, arms tucked under his head. 'Great!' he cussed. He could feel the warmth radiating from the body that lay only inches away. Part of him wanted to hold Kate, just to comfort her. Another part wanted her, body and soul, while still a third recognized that they were at an impasse.

This was a woman who'd probably avoided being held most of her life. As for comforting, she'd clearly done without that, probably didn't even miss it. If Chris was going to have any chance of holding her the way he desired, it was going to have to be on her terms.

He thought about that option for a while. No matter how he played it out, it didn't work. He'd spent this long getting to know Kate. The last two days had cleared the final hurdles and he wasn't about to lose everything. Not now, not ever… His lips pursed as he considered the option again.

'No' he resigned himself to that simple answer. If she had terms, then he'd sure as hell meet her half way… if she would, too. "Alright," he turned towards her, propping himself on one elbow.

Lansky opened her eyes slowly, yet, didn't move.

"Alright," Chris repeated. "I'll meet your terms… if you can meet mine."

Chris was sure he heard a small giggle…

"Oh, this ought to be good," she said, sarcastically. Rolling completely to her stomach, she tilted her head and looked across at the blond in the darkened room. "YOU have terms, now?"

"Fair is fair, right?"

"In love… and in war… at least, that's what I'm told."

Eyes locked in the shadows and they seemed to be sizing one another up.

"Okay," Kate finally spoke. "Lay it on me, Larabee. What are the terms and conditions of your surrender?"

He smiled. "Presumptuous, aren't we?"

She cocked her head and grinned.

"No surrender," he sucked in his bottom lip. "Not by me… and not by you."


Bring his arms up as he matched her position, Chris lay shoulder to shoulder with the woman, other body parts touching under the sheets. "Nope," he continued to smile. "I'll meet your terms. We can stay friends… and more importantly… lovers."

Watching his eyes sparkle, Lansky couldn't help it… her chin dipped in a beleaguered effort to hide her grin.

"And," Larabee continued. "I promise never to say those… three little words."

The smirks slowly died on their lips as their reflections met, once more.

Searching his eyes for any signs of a lie, Kate finally whispered, "Ever?"

More moments of silence passed and Chris did some soul searching of his own. "Not until you say it first," he countered.

Gradually, her gaze drifted to the bookshelf that made up the head of the bed. "Well… don't hold your breath," she finally offered.

"But, I need something in return," he put in quickly.

One eyebrow rose. Pursed lips showed Lansky's disapproval as she turned to look at him again.

"Didn't think it was really going to be that easy, did you?"

"Spit it out, Larabee, before it burns a hole in your tongue."

Chris grinned again. Nodding, his voice grew quiet. "I'd never ask you to be anyone but you, Kate. I'll never, consciously, try to change anything," he smiled softly when their reflections met.

As she turned away again, the natural blonde closed her eyes. "There's a but, there… I can hear it loud and clear."

Leaning in closer, Chris kissed her shoulder. "But… you have to talk to me, Kate." He felt her body tense and he quickly finished what he had to say. "No topic off limits... Nothing," he added for good measure.

The woman's head dropped and she sighed. There was a long silence before she spoke. "Well," she said quietly. "You had some time to think on my proposal… seems only fitting that I have some time, too." With that, she punched her pillow several times before setting her head down. "Night, Chris," she whispered.

Larabee's eyes closed. He was disappointed that she hadn't answered straight away. In one respect, he wished she had… or maybe yelled and screamed a little. At least that way, he'd know what she was thinking. Right now… the blond had no idea just how badly he'd messed up or even if he'd messed up at all.

"Night, Kate," he whispered in reply. Kissing her shoulder again, he scooted over and plopped his head on the pillow, hoping against the odds, to find some sleep.

~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~

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