(Don’t forget to tell me which story you read – Thanks)
RATING – PG-13
Author's Note: I think the story is pretty much okay… Just a whole lot of memories it all…
If you're not sure, please see the warnings below for further details…
WARNINGS – There are characters remembering a drunken sexual encounter. Although some references are somewhat crude, I don't describe it in any explicit detail. You'll also find a character remembering the less than civilized treatment they were subjected to, but I've seen much worse. More details below…
LANGUAGE – Oh, hell, yes! Read, you'll figure it out… lol
VIOLENCE – Remembered in 'flashback' sequences, there are some subversive situations described in this story that might be considered offensive by more sensitive readers. Some acknowledged, and other, less reputable people and organizations, are known to employ such ‘techniques'… just ask 'Amnesty International'. Conditioning, training, or a form of torture… you decide!
PAIRING – Umm… Yes, no, and not exactly! But there are heterosexual couples in relationships described within…
UNIVERSE – ATF
SERIES – Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
PREVIOUS STORIES – #1 - 'Aftermath…' #2 – 'First, you stumble…'
SPOILERS – It's pretty hard for this one to stand on its own I'm afraid. At the very least, you'd best read the second story before attempting this tale. Reading them both will provide a clearest picture. Oh, and I've already started the next one…
RECOMMENDATION – For those of you reading the 'Adult' versions of these stories and who might be Ezra fans - There is a parallel storyline available at my friend Barb's 'Wind & Rain' Series - . Again, they are 'Adult' stories. Her Chapters XI thru IXX match the timeline of this story exactly, but tell the tale from Adrian and Ezra's point of view.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – The lyrics found within this narrative are clearly not mine. I gratefully acknowledge the brilliant creation of singer/songwriter Mr. Brian Adams.
ARCHIVE – Yes, but ask first please.
SUMMARY – Have you ever wondered at what point black and white become gray? When does that fine line grow thick and is stepping over it still so easy? Maybe that all happens when you come to realize that you really don't know, that person that you thought you knew so well…
DISCLAIMER – If only wishes did come true… Reality is harsh
John Watson and CBS own The Magnificent Seven and all of its characters.
I seek, nor shall receive, profit from this narrative.
I claim All Original Characters as my own.
Please, DO NOT use them without my express permission.
WRITER’S NOTES – There's a whole lot going on in this story, and I'm not exactly sure where some of it came from. I blame the muse, but hey, it’s always fun to mess with our boys.
Sometimes life really isn't as easy as we like to make it in some of these flights of fantasy that we write. This story might be considered a serious dose of reality, but I like to think of it more of a challenge. The original Magnificent Seven characters were amazingly well written, with depth and charisma, unsurpassed. They had flaws, too, and that's what made them even more believable, and I'm convinced that's one of the reasons why we love them so much.
As is a custom of mine, I'd like to explore those characters a little deeper now… and hopefully discover how they would handle not being in control…
I'd like to once again send my thanks out to Antoinette and Marnie. Their beta skills, insight and friendships are invaluable to me and I can't thank them enough for being there.
DEDICATION – Once again, I don't normally do this, but exceptions are necessary sometimes…
This story is for Sunni. As I mentioned at the beginning of 'First You Stumble', she truly loved this couple together. She only got to read part of this story before her tragic passing but I'd like to think she'd approve of where the story went.
Rest well, my lady…
~~ Then you fall… ~~
"Thank you. Come again," the Saloon manager cheerfully waved as some of her patrons departed. With a fleeting glance at her watch however, the happy expression faded, quickly replaced by a scowl. It was late. Last call had been an hour ago and most of her staff had already left. The remaining few customers were preventing the pretty Mexican and her bouncer from going home. A foursome at one of the booths was partying loudly but not creating any real problems. She figured they would leave when asked. The couple at the bar… Well, they were very drunk! She hoped they wouldn't be a go just a peacefully.
"Want me to get rid of those two for you?" Joe nodded toward the counter as he approached Inez.
Without a second thought, Miss Recillos sighed, "no." She then indicated to the corner booth, "You go remind the others that I'm locking the doors in five minutes. I'll deal with these two."
The burly man frowned. "Are you sure?" Although relatively new to his job, he did recognize the couple from previous visits. They weren't normally there alone mind you, and he’d never seen them so drunk before.
"Yes," she smiled. "They are friends. They will not cause trouble." She hoped!
Cocking his head, Joe's eyebrows knitted. "I don't know about that, Inez. They’re not feeling any pain you know?"
"Go," she waved, smiling.
With a huff and a shrug, Joe relented, sauntering over towards the noisy booth.
Refocusing on the couple, Miss Recillos shook her head. He bouncer was so right. Intoxicated was putting it mildly. By herself, the woman had consumed two bottles of rye since arriving more than twelve hours ago. The gentleman had almost emptied his own full container before being joined at the bar by his colleague. Together they’d polished off his Jack Daniels, and then ordered another. No… It wasn't at all surprising that they were… 'Happy!’
Considering their present state of mind, Inez had to count her blessings. Merrily drunk was certainly better than the condition both had arrived in… Confrontational was her first thought. Pissed was a colorful word, but it certainly fit. She had no idea at what or whom they were mad at, but so intense had those previous emotions been, that Inez had to seriously wonder if they still smoldered beneath the surface. Either way though, the barkeep was glad their moods had slowly given way to mutual companionship and joviality.
Joe’s friendly banter from across the room broke her train of thought and, setting aside her concern, Miss Recillos rounded the bar, determined to go home sometime soon. She approached her friends, cleared her throat, and then waited to be acknowledged. "Keys, please," she requested as the pair slowly took note of her outstretched hand.
Trying to decipher the request, Lansky stared at the woman hard. When recognition finally dawned, she snickered loudly, folding her face into Ezra's sleeve. "Someone… someone else who… who, likes keys," she managed to say, her slur and stutter evidently the results of too much drink.
With an indignant scoff, Standish looked into the pretty brown eyes. "Miss Rec… Miss Reci… Inez," he sighed, forcing his green pools to focus on only one of the barmaids. "I do not give… give up my means of, of access… to just anyone you know."
Ignoring the inebriated temperament, the manager insisted again, curling her fingers in a 'give' motion, "Keys please!"
Pursing his lips, the southerner huffed, clearly not willing to argue, yet annoyed enough to show his displeasure. Sluggishly, he started to search his pockets. Several vain attempts saw him eventually retrieve two different sets of keys. He 'shushed' Lansky's chuckling and again tried to focus on Inez, a stupid grin on his face. "Do you wish to… to intrude on my home or… or run, run away with my veh… veh… the car?"
Watching the proceedings intently, Kate's glazed eyes grew wide as the lady took Ezra's vehicle keys away. "Oh, no, not… not the Jack… Jag."
Standish frowned indignantly. "Jack?" he turned to his cohort sluggishly. "Do I… do I know the gentle… gentle… the guy?"
Lansky snicker. "Nah, Ez… He, he ain't yer type!"
"Ah hum!" Inez cleared her throat loudly again, this time waving a beckoning hand in the blonde's direction.
After careful consideration of the outstretched limb, an answer erupted. "No!"
The Mexican cocked her head. "Yes!"
"No!" Lansky spat back again.
Fast loosing her patience, the brunette narrowed her eyes, hands moving to her hips to show her ire. "Do I need to call Mr. Larabee?"
Looking incredibly serious for all of two seconds, the drunken woman snorted loudly and chugged back the remaining liquid in her glass. "Oooh, I'm so… soooo scared," she taunted as the tumbler came down hard.
Throughout the evening, Standish and Lansky had engaged in colorful conversation, the quickly acquired focus apparently mutual. Exasperated by their current relationships, both had come to drown a few memories. Moral support offered and received continuously as their alcohol slowly dwindled; the southerner now understood his friend's sarcasm completely and instinctively supported her position. "Yes," he smirked right along with his giggling colleague. "I don't… don't believe, Mr. Sour Pusssssssss could… could perswa… perswa… make Kaaatie do anything."
"Especially now!" Lansky blurted out, snickering loudly and falling into his shoulder yet again.
Happy was one thing but Miss Recillos was quickly becoming thoroughly disgusted with the couple's display. As the evening had progressed, she had hoped that someone from Team Seven would have shown up. They normally did on Fridays, but that was hours ago. Now, clearly, she'd have to deal with this situation on her own. Resigned to that conviction, Inez tried one more time. "If you are not willing to hand over your keys, Kate, then I will be forced to have you escorted home by our city's finest."
"Ooooh," Standish quipped. "She's… she's pulling out the… the big guns now. That… that's a real threat… Miss Lans…ski took… taken in by the Den… the Denver PD."
To most who knew her, at the very least, Kate could be considered bold. Drunk, she was no exception. "Nah!" she snickered wildly. "They wouldn’t… wouldn't stand a chance!" An eerie, almost instantaneous personality change saw the laughter cease. She then looked at the barmaid far too seriously. "But I promise… I won't make 'em look too bad."
Dropping right back into her previous drunken persona, Kate curled into Ezra’s shoulder again, chuckling at the apparent joke.
Inez was too annoyed to give much serious thought to her patron’s words. She huffed, thoroughly exasperated with the non-compliance. "Alright," she twisted, grabbing for the telephone. Her fingers worked their magic with the buttons before she turned back and smiled. "If that is how you wish to leave, then I will oblige."
Realizing where this was going, Ezra stumbled off his barstool, leaning on the counter and trying to grab at the receiver. With the pretty Mexican dodging his attempts however, he quickly decided on Plan B, settling back and glancing at Lansky. "Perhaps you should… should do, do as, the lady asks, Mz Lans… Lansk… Kaaate."
Staring at the southerner, the blonde looked from him, to Inez and then back again, several times, blinking with each change in scenery. Tossing her head from side to side, she eventually reached deep into her Jeans' pocket. "Fine!" she begrudgingly threw a set of keys across the bar. "Have it your way!"
Tracking the small bundle as it hit the floor, Miss Recillos thanked the person at the other end of the telephone, indicating that their assistance would not be necessary. Hanging up, she bent down to pick up the ring and after a quick study, slipped the ignition key off Kate's loop. "There," she handed the rest back.
Retrieving their remaining keys, Lansky and Standish watched in confusion as their hostess once again picked up the telephone, dialing numbers.
"Wait," the southerner protested indignantly right along with his companion. "She… she did what you… you wanted.
The blonde nodded insistently as she grumbled, "and she's still squeelin'." Standing up on the stool's footrest, she, too, tried to grab the phone as Inez spoke into it.
Again dodging wayward limbs, Miss Recillos finished her brief conversation, "Thank you, senor," before hanging up. Turning fully to face her intoxicated patrons, she folded her arms smartly across her chest. "I have taken your cars," she said matter-of-factly, "but I can not leave until you do. I will therefore provide you safe passage home."
Having settled back to her stool, Lansky slowly turned to Ezra, her eyebrows rising quizzically. "What'd she… she say?"
Standish snickered, considerably amused with his cohort's confusion. "I do believe Miss Rec… Reci… Inez… has called a driver."
Contemplating the words, the blonde’s expression went from puzzlement, to a scowl, and finally to understanding. "Oh, a cab," she refocused on the other woman, happy again. "Thanks!"
"One should be enough, no?" the barkeep asked as she tucked the ignition keys safely away on the far side of the bar. "The driver can drop Kate at her apartment, then take you on home, Ezra?"
Seeing Standish nod his agreement, the brunette wandered off, busying herself loading the dishwasher with glasses. A moment later, Joe finally escorted the other two couples to the exit and Inez once again waved, smiling as her bouncer secured the door and then went to check the back. Refocusing on Ezra and Kate, she shook her head. They were giggling and laughing at each other like kids with a secret. She suspected that they were both considerably more drunk than they appeared and she had to give them credit for the merriment they were currently displaying.
Five minutes later, Inez was putting the last of the dirty glasses into the machine. She switched it on and looked back at her last remaining patrons. "The taxi should be arriving shortly," she motioned to the door. "You have enough money for the ride home, yes?"
Recognizing the question, both Lansky and Standish dug in their pockets to find some cash. Retrieving several bills simultaneously, they grinned amusingly at one another.
"Bet I… I have more," the southerner smirked.
The blonde raised a suspicious eyebrow. "I don't make suck… sucker bets, Ez… Ezzzzzra."
Stuffing the currency back into his jacket pocket, Standish presented his customary cocky grin and a knowing wink. "No… Miss… Miss… Kaaate… I don't… don't believe you do."
"Shall we?" Now on her patron’s side of the counter, the pretty Mexican indicated the door.
Sluggishly acknowledging the direction, Standish carefully got down from his perch and was busy straightening his coat when Kate, busy replacing her cash, started to follow. Not watching what she was doing however, her feet became tangled and she completely lost her balance, colliding with Ezra. Together, they toppled backward, several chairs and a table eventually stopping their impending collision with the floor.
Taken aback by the sudden barrage, the southerner was surprised to find himself staring at the woman on his chest. Lying across a tabletop, neither his position, nor the chair digging into his ribs, registered. His complete concentration was locked firmly on hazy blue eyes and a uniquely feminine form. At that very moment, it didn’t seem to matter that Lansky wasn’t even close to being his type. Unquenched desire he had, and it had been known to cloud a man's judgment in such situations. It was rarely picky about who satiated that hunger. And at his most basic, Ezra was very much a man.
"Ooooh!" Miss Recillos squealed. Completely caught off guard and oblivious to anything but her toppled patrons, she scurried after them, full of concern. "Oh dear, Are you all right?" she enquired, trying to help the blonde up from her reclined position against Ezra's broad chest.
Kate barely registered the anxious question of their hostess. Just like Standish, her eyes had become instantly glued to wanton reflections and it took several seconds for the insistent tug at her elbow to get her attention. When it did however, she complied, reluctantly pushing against the southerner's torso to assist Inez with her ascension. She however, never lost sight of the hunger studying her intently.
Summoned once more, Lansky sucked in her bottom lip and tried to blinked away Ezra's hard stare. Now reacquainted with a standing position, the blonde nodded absentmindedly in answer to the manager's repeated queries of concern. She was fine. Standing on her own two feet and no longer touching him but… there was something still lingering in the air. Preoccupied thoughts risked another fleeting glance as she moved. That in turn, caused a second stumble, this time over the disheveled chairs. Irritation took hold and Kate once again shrugged off the barmaid's assisting arm, finally heading for the door.
When Miss Recillos sent an inquiring look in his direction, Standish quickly collected his wits. Righting and straightening his twisted body, he readjusted his jacket, cleared his throat loudly and then wandered after the ladies.
After witnessing a string of unusual events between these two today, Inez wasn’t truly paying much attention to their antics. Instead, she ushered Ezra after Kate and into the parking lot, following to make sure they would adhere to her directions. Catching up to them in the cold night air, she halted their progress, pulling Lansky back to stand beside Standish and herself. A brief moment of uncomfortable silence was broken when she indicated a vehicle approaching their position, "Here comes the taxi."
The cold front over Denver had already curbed any previous musings and as it stopped in front of them, the southerner eyed the uncouth mode of transportation with loathing. "I cannot… not, believe you are making me… sin… sink to using… using… going home in a cab," he grumbled. Stepping forward, he fought against the wind to open the door. The weather didn’t help, but having just come from inside, the temperature was dropping rapidly and Ezra was finding the sting extremely uncomfortable. Finally succeeding in getting the taxi open, he smiled as the bar manager held the doorframe to prevent it from shutting on him again. Climbing, none too gracefully into the vehicle, he lumbered across the seat, making way for his companion.
"Where to Mister?" the cabby asked.
Ezra responded and then looked back the way he'd entered, calling out impatiently. "If you wish to part… partook… catch this ride, Miss Lanskyyyyyy, might I sugg… suggest you… you….” Sighing deeply at his long-winded speech, Standish shook his head. "Oh, get in!"
Amused, Lansky laughed aloud.
This outward display of enjoyment was just another in a long line of atypical emotions Inez had witness this evening. This time however, she was concerned. Turning to the snickering woman, she set an arm on her shoulder. "Will you be alright to get home, Kate?"
The blonde sobered, seemly taking offence at the question and managing an indignant expression as a result. "You're kid… kidding… right?"
The barmaid raised an eyebrow. "You are a friend. It is late and your apartment complex is dark, no?" Giving Lansky a pointed look, Inez was a little indignant herself. "My head knows you will be fine but my heart still demands I ask." Glancing back at the southerner, she forced a quick smile. "I do not think you have anything to worry about where Mr. Standish is concerned."
If she hadn’t known better, Inez would have sworn that Lansky sobered completely this time.
Incredibly sure of herself, Kate squared her shoulders. "Damn straight," she professed loudly before leaning forward to whisper in her friend’s ear.
Casually informed that Lansky 'wasn't afraid of anyone… armed, or otherwise’, Miss Recillos found herself eyeing Standish as the blonde continued in the low tone.
"He may think he's safe, just 'cause he has… a gun… Never stopped me before though."
At first unsure of how she should react to such words, the pretty Mexican quickly shrugged off the comment, once more acknowledging the intoxicated state of her friend.
Almost as if her drunken state returned, Kate swiftly succumbed to a giggle and changed the subject. "Go on now," she shuffled the other woman towards The Saloon. "Get your… yourself in there and… and lock them doors. Damn cold… cold out here!"
Chalking the ‘big talk’ up to drink and knowing Lansky was right about the weather, Miss Recillos smiled cordially and resigned herself to the fact that her charges, drunk or not, were adults, and could see themselves home. Nodding her agreement, she walked backed to the establishment's entrance and waved once more before going inside.
Satisfied that Inez was secure, Kate turned and shuffled around the open car door. A gust of wind shook the door as she rounded it and in the resulting awkward side-ways motion, the blonde tripped over her two left feet, stumbling into the cab and landing sprawled across the seat.
Time stood still for Standish at that moment. This second sudden intrusion allowed lust to be reborn in his consciousness and as he glanced down to see the head in his lap, rational thought vanished in the blink of an eye. His right arm reached out, seemingly of it's own accord. Ezra so wanted to touch...
"You closing that door?" the cabby called back, briefly distracting the southerner from his salacious thoughts.
Face down on Ezra's thighs, Kate found one hand on his hip and the other strategically placed under her nose. She shifted slightly to gaze up into familiar green eyes.
Returning her overwhelmed look, Ezra’s eyebrows rose quizzically. "Shall I?" he asked, motioning to the door.
She'd tried so very hard to ignore the implications of his stare when they'd fallen before. Ignoring the replay was almost too much. An apprehensive smirk curled the corners of her lips and Lansky slowly nodded.
Leaning to reach the door, Standish slammed it, readjusting as he straightened back to the seat and trying to calm wanton thoughts.
Slowly moving to a sitting position as the taxi drove away, Kate responded in kind to his aloof look.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
Gradually, an alcohol affected brain registered what he hoped was his mattress beneath his body. It didn't take much to ascertain his nakedness. Neither pajamas nor bedding covered him to chase away a chill in the air.
Something familiar had awoken Standish but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was. He knew what it wasn't, however… For the first time in two long weeks, his subconscious was giving way to wakefulness without the torment of a lustful dream. Something else that didn't feel right!
The southerner winced as another level on awareness dawned. He suddenly became cognizant of the blazing headache hiding behind his eyes. Foreign visions and sounds bounced around in his mind and he immediately abandoned any idea of inspiring them to make sense. The vague shadowy images left little hope that he might recall how much liquor he'd consumed last night, now or any time soon.
A painfully dry mouth made Ezra lick at his lips and an arm rose slowly in an effort to shield his eyes from the sunlight. Somewhere in his hazy mind, he remembered that it was Saturday. 'Thank God' he praised as his moving hand suddenly made contact with something cool and soft.
Confused and disorientated, the southerner forced another level of consciousness into his perplexed gray matter. "Oooh," he moaned uncomfortably as his head gradually turned towards whatever it was that he'd touched.
Peeling one eye open cautiously, his blurred vision slowly made out the shape next to him. Frowning, he blinked, hopeful that his eyes and intellect had made a mistake. Recognition didn’t side well though and his other hand traveled quickly to his belly to settle sudden unpleasant urges. A deep breath later, Standish tried once more to focus on the shape in his bed.
It took a few seconds for the signals from his clearing eyes to force their way through to the still drowning receptors in his brain. When they did however, Ezra's arm slumped back over now closed eyelids. "No!" he whispered.
With all that he held dear, Standish absolutely refuted the message his senses were telling him, shaking his head vehemently in denial.
Bringing a hand up to his weary eye sockets, he rubbed them as vigorously as his deepening headache would allow. Sucking in a deep breath, he prayed silently that his vision was purely a nightmare and gradually refocused on the shape.
Fighting the ever-increasing throb of his temples, Ezra tried to sit up. After two attempts, he rolled to his side, careful not to disturb the sleeping woman. Without thought, his eyes unwittingly took in the muscular physique of her back and legs. For a moment, he found himself transfixed on the roundness of her naked flesh, her bottom accentuated by a bent knee, the curve of her torso, and one arm pinned under her slightly turned body.
Abruptly cognizant of his mindless musings, Standish shifted on the bed, shutting out the sight. He was suddenly and painfully aware that his life was no longer worth living. In his daydream, this woman wasn’t here, replaced instead by the pleasing vision of Adrian Delaney. She was the woman who belonged here. The one he'd been deliberating about for two long weeks.
If ever Ezra was certain of his facts, it was now. Adrian hadn't left him. She had only been trying to attain some semblance of independence in a new city, a new country, and most importantly, in a new life. His selfish thoughts had wanted her near him, so much so, that he'd refused to see the truth.
'God, no!' he begged silently.
All too quickly, the southerner realized that everything he'd ever hoped and prayed for had been shot straight to hell.
Adrian was there in his dream. He could see her with his eyes closed, but now it all became a nightmare. The woman he loved, the likeness in his mind's eye was turning her back on him and without a word, she slowly walked away… leaving him forever.
The image was distressingly real as Ezra’s eyes sprang open. He swore again, promising he'd find a way to bring her back… both to his dreams, and to his life.
Cursing every stupid, arrogant, stubborn, pompous thing he'd every done, Standish shifted further away from the woman in his bed. He was in shock. This…! This act…
Every foolish, senseless thing that he'd every done before bore no comparison to this!
He'd succumbed to his primitive instincts and… and bedded some… some woman in his drunken stupor, finally driving away the only true maiden who'd ever meant anything to him.
Swallowing hard, Ezra forced his eyes to look at 'her' again. He cursed, scowling angrily at his lack of memory. Rubbing his temple arduously, he sighed.
There were no words to describe the way he felt at that moment, not only mentally, but physically as well. Trying desperately to order his thoughts, he resigned himself to the fact that fate would run its course. He made a conscious bargain, agreeing to tackle the situation with as much honesty and dignity as he could muster. Perhaps, just maybe… he might be able to salvage something… anything… of his life.
Carefully, Ezra leaned over, trying to ascertain the identity of his bed partner.
Finally reacting to the shifting of the mattress, the woman stretched, straightened her body to lie flat on her stomach. Her arms traveled slowly upward to rise above her head…
Two things became abundantly clear to the southerner at that moment. One - 'she' had a rather large and very displeasing scar covering a good portion of the left side of her body, and two -
As her face turned lazily towards him, Ezra quickly realized that he was going to have company on his trip straight to hell!
Eyes widening in horror, he scrambled off the bed and headed for his bathroom.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
Sensing motion on the mattress, Kate moaned quietly as she shifted again. Unconscious, but seemingly aware of her surroundings, she remained content, none of her ingrained instincts kicking in.
Her rambling thoughts wondered what the hell Chris was up to. It wasn't unusual for him to rouse her slowly, coaxing her awake so that they could…
'What the fuck!'
Lansky's mind instantly cleared the haze of complacency and her eyes shot open. There was no damn way she was going to allow Larabee to suck her back into his neat little world of lov…
'What the fuck!'
Now pushed up on the bed, Kate scowled as she looked at the headboard. Not familiar with it, she immediately sprang to a seated position, turning and glancing around to take in her surroundings. 'Where the hell am I?'
A lifetime of training flashed in her consciousness. Somewhere in an instance though, Lansky had already ascertained her safety. Her 'fight or flight' reflex was mysteriously absent and she was confused. Booze! Too many times she’d chased reality away in this manner, but not of late. Life had become… ‘Almost normal’... Scoffing at the thought, she raised an eyebrow, disputing whether she’d ever used that definition before.
Noticing the coverings bunched up at the bottom of the bed, the blonde reached for the sheet and pulled it up around her body. Still looking about, she frowned again. One hand reached for her eyes, rubbed vigorously before snaking its way across her scalp to massage the back of her head. 'Think, damn you!' she cursed silently.
Her automatic recall hadn’t kicked in so far and Kate was perplexed by the apparent calm she felt. Instinctively she understood she was in no danger but her mind hadn’t yet told her why.
She… knew where she was?
There were times she wished her fiercely indoctrinated instincts would ease up a little and give her memory a little hint!
At that moment she chose to move, shifting to the edge of the bed and bunching the sheet up tight around her torso. The material billowed at her chest and as she reined it back in, the blonde caught a strong trace of his scent.
Like the flood of a thousand life times, ‘sudden recall’ rapidly brought everything rushing back. Setting aside ‘the distasteful’ had been a way of life for Lansky. Being forced to remember was never easy. This time was no exception...
Under normal circumstances, their gentle touches might have been construed as supportive friendly communication but last night, rational thoughts came face to face with hardened feelings and growing desire. Their inebriated conditions had sided against them and the battle was lost before it ever really got started.
The walls of resistance finally came crashing down around them when they'd realized that her apartment was miles away. Ezra hadn't given it a second thought when he'd provided the cab driver with his address. By the time they’d understood where they were heading, the decision had already been made. Kate wasn't going anywhere.
With a seductive saunter in her step, she'd headed for his door, taunting him as he fumbled with the key. Quickly locking them inside, she'd blatantly discarded his jacket and moved further into the room.
There was nothing slow or tender in the way she'd disrobed him… items thrown haphazardly, heaven knows where.
Blue pools drifting to the open hallway door, Kate's eyebrows rose as she took in a deep pensive breath.
She clearly remembered how he'd playfully plucked her from the floor. Then, growling in his best caveman imitation, he'd promised her 'the best fuck of your life' as he'd carried her across the bedroom threshold.
Throwing her on the bed, he'd made quick work of her clothes.
Her stare slowly shifting to the ensuite door, the blonde couldn't help the tiny smirk that curled her lips.
He'd delivered on his suggestive pledge. Just the way she liked it, Standish had ravished her with a primal passion she'd never dreamed the man possessed.
Of course, she'd reciprocated in kind… more than once.
Momentarily stunned, Kate found that she was gently shaking her head, clearly surprised at the memories. She closed her eyes, puffing out a resigned sigh and dipping her chin as she pursed her lips.
A maze of disjointed images swirled in her mind but then, without warning, pale-green reflections shattered the darkness. Lansky’s eyes sprang open, another curse cutting the air.
‘This is all his fault.’
All that time spent immersed in drink had been precipitated by a desperate need to break ties with Larabee. His outpouring of affection on Thursday had been too much and Kate was only now realizing what her subconscious already knew. With nothing but good intentions, the man in black had inadvertently re-opened a well of churning secrecy, sending her spiraling back into the blinding turmoil she’d clawed her way out of years before. She had been looking for quick directions out of Larabee's heart yesterday, and a reason…
With her blue pools closed again, Lansky’s head hung down in defeat. She pawed at her eye sockets, dreading, yet clearly contemplating her next move.
The surroundings, the predicament, and the incessant ache behind her eyes… It all eventually blurred as Kate tried so very hard to focus. Another sigh had her glancing at the closed bathroom door again and it was then that she spotted the shadow barely moving under the sill.
‘Reality can’t be denied’ she quickly decided.
In the maze of her mind, a long dormant 'Lansky' took charge. She squared her shoulders resolutely and forced all emotions aside. Trying to refute this wasn’t worth the time. 'One-night-stands happen all the time' she reasoned. The sooner they confronted their actions, the better.
Decision made, the blonde called him out from his self-imposed prison. "Ezra… get that pretty little naked butt of yours out here… now!"
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
Bent over the toilet, Standish slowly looked up and glared at the door.
Inwardly chastising his stupidity, the southerner sighed and shook his head. Sluggishly gaining his feet, he went to the sink, splashing water on his face after rinsing his mouth. Reaching for the towel, he patted himself dry and was about to replace it on the rack when he realized that he was still unclothed. Indignantly, he wrapped his 'naked butt' in the material, refusing to even think about the other descriptive Kate had just used. Proceeding to the door, he took a deep breath before opening it.
A struggle was going on inside Lansky’s consciousness as he emerged. The persona she had lived for the past three years was battling to maintain some semblance of control, somehow holding at bay a much stronger, veiled personality.
As composed as she was going to be, the woman sat on the mattress, arms folded across her chest. She carefully studied the man as he appeared from his seclusion and edged closer… too cautiously by her estimation. "Geez, Ezra," she scolded, "somebody might think you're afraid of me." Cocking her head nonchalantly, and without thinking, she added. "Of course… given the right circumstances, you should be."
Facing Kate Lansky, sitting on 'his' bed, considerably more naked than he'd ever wanted to see her, the southerner was totally oblivious to the bravado of her words. Vague images still plagued him as his mind raced with possibilities and probabilities. His apprehension and uncertainty grew. Ezra still couldn't quite comprehend the act that he had clearly perpetrated and blamed no one but himself for their predicament. The unsettling thoughts had him saying the first thing that came to mind. "I cannot tell you how sorry I am for what has occurred, Miss Lansky."
Staring straight into the man's green eyes, Kate frowned. Her mystified expression however, soon turned to amusement. Huffing loudly, she looked at Standish, almost incensed. "What? It wasn't good for you?" she asked matter-of-factly.
Completely taken aback by the indifference in her attitude, the southerner answered ardently. "I don't think that is proper conversation for a mistake." As he spoke, flashes of remembrance filtered into his consciousness. A stark vision made him gulp… He was holding her down and taking his pleasure. Looking at her blankly, Ezra swallowed hard again, his chin dropping. "I… I have acted without regard," his words faltered for a moment as he looked back at her. "It is most unfortunate… but I… I appeared to have enjoyed myself, " he reluctantly admitted.
Kate's eyebrows rose quizzically. "Unfortunate?" She snickered loudly. "A mistake?" Frowning, she wet her lips. "Hell, Ezra... it was sex." As hard as it was to admit, Lansky knew that she was now completely free of doubt. She didn’t need to reject how she felt. That long-dormant persona that she was trying to resist hadn’t been suppressed after all. It was alive and well and living as part of her stark, no-nonsense approach to life.
The woman’s statement was so matter-of-fact that Standish cringed.
"Sex, plain and simply! Hell, you're supposed to enjoy it. But, you do know that, right?" Looking at the stunned southerner, Lansky narrowed her gaze. "Just don't you go putting feelings into this." Rubbing a now lowered forehead, she muttered more quietly, "Fighting feelings is what got us into this in the first place."
Still fixated on fuzzy recollections of the rough treatment he had apparently utilized, the southerner was clearly concerned at her words. "How can you say that? I used you poorly…"
"Used!" Kate interrupted as she stood rapidly.
A second was needed to calm herself, but she growled before taking a few steps in the opposition direction. Tossing aside the cumbersome sheet, she stooped to scoop up her undershirt, pulling it over her head. "Damn it, Ezra...” she voiced with less annoyance this time. “If there was any using going on last night, it was mutual." Turning to face the man again, she saw that Standish had turned his back, his need for discretion and decency still inherent, despite the situation. With raised eyebrows, she continued her rant. "Believe me… what happened was very mutual." Gently shaking her head, she looked around the room and, locating her underwear, stalked across the floor to retrieve it. Sitting on the bed, she spoke again. "No one ever 'uses' me... you got that?"
With a hand to his temple, the southerner was trying very hard to block the image of naked flesh from his mind. He nodded, acknowledging what deep down he already knew. The Kate Lansky he was acquainted with could never be taken advantage of... "I believe you have made your point succinctly," he agreed, although it was clear that he was now having trouble accepting the ‘mutual’ explanation she was presenting. "Might I suggest that you make any further 'points', with a little less, volume…?"
Standing briefly to pull her jeans from their hung position on the dresser, the blonde sat back and fought her way into them. Accomplishing that task, she looked at Standish as she regained her feet. "Ezra," a quieter voice summoned as she got closer. "It happened... there's no getting around it." As her hand drifted to his shoulder for encouragement, Lansky got the distinct impression that the touch wasn't welcome. She withdrew it quickly, a forced smile gracing her lips for mere seconds. "Life goes on, okay?"
A long pause begged for distraction and Kate found herself looking around the room again. Spotting a bra hanging off the lamp, she rounded the bed and stuffed it into her pocket. A continued search however, failed to yield the items she was still looking for. "You got any idea where my socks might be?" she finally asked, now totally absorbed by her quest.
Ezra turned back to stare at her in disbelief. His mind reeled. He couldn't accept that she was so tolerant of what had occurred between them. He was barely hanging on, fully cognizant of how complicated his life had just become, and here she was, asking where her socks were!
Standish started laughing.
He couldn't help it.
He knew it was a touch hysterical but the southerner just couldn't stop the reaction. "I have no idea where your damn socks are, Kate." he blurted out
Lansky’s eyebrows rose inquisitively as she stared at the man from across the room. No socks there, but Kate was sure she'd found something she'd never witnessed before... Ezra P. Standish, unnerved and unguarded.
The obvious anguish of Ezra’s momentary lapse almost had Kate second-guessing herself. In more recent times she had developed an affinity for these men… let them in as it were. And knowing how she truly felt made the moment even harder to accept. It took everything she had to rein her feeling back in, forcing her discomfort to yield to more acceptable reactions.
For almost a minute, the undercover agent stood, naked except for his towel, softly chuckling at his predicament. He replayed his mindless stupidity over and over, never quite accepting the depths to which he'd sunk. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the laughter died down, finally stopping with one last sigh. Taking a deep breath, the southerner picked up his housecoat, engaged his famous 'poker face', and then spoke quietly. "I'll look in the living room.”
Having ascertained the location of most of her other clothing, Kate did one more check of the bedroom before following Standish out into his home. A pleasant whistle erupted as she took note of her surroundings. "Nice digs, Ezra," she smiled, checking the hallway as she went. She'd been in the Standish residence before, but rarely had the opportunity to view more than the kitchen.
Wincing at the noise, Ezra reminded the woman of the colossal headache growing steadily in his brain. Observing her mood and attitude, he had no clue as to how she wasn't feeling as badly as he was. It seemed natural to contemplate how Larabee could have survived a multitude of 'next days' after drinking like this for more than a year. When Standish did though, his eyes suddenly grew wide. Here he was reflecting on how strong Chris would have to be to persevere through months of alcohol abuse, and then, recovered of his own accord… "Oh lord," he muttered incoherently, "make it a quick death." Ezra had completely forgotten about… his team leader… his friend. Larabee's reaction to all of this was something he hadn't even begun to consider…
At the other end of the living room, Kate was retrieving her outer-shirt and didn't hear the man's prayer. She was now suddenly engaged in a more pressing matter, her special ‘item’ as yet unfound. Careful to remain casual, she looked about anxiously. A hidden location would normally be determined by the positioning of her jacket or shirt, but she still hadn't found it. 'Damn' she cussed silently, closing her eyes in an effort to remember.
His thoughts on yet another fallout of last night’s events, Standish was aimlessly wandering her way when he paused, frowning as he looked at the coffee table. "I believe that would be one of your boots," he indicated the leather protruding partially from the furniture's small alcove. “Perhaps your socks are inside.”
Lansky's eyes tracked a listless path as Ezra continued on to the dining room. She snatched up the footwear, reaching inside. Breathing a sigh of relief, she smiled. 'Old habits die hard' she thought, covertly tucking the pouch in her waistband. “Not in there,” she then replied casually, all the while relaxing inside.
Continuing to look for her other wayward clothing items, the pair wandering around the condo for a while looking high and low. They managed to locate her other boot hiding behind the sofa. It had obviously flown there… but still, no socks.
Lansky kept a close eye on the southerner, wondering what he was thinking and noting that he looked a little worse for wear. It had been years since she’d indulged this generously and she was surprised how well her body remembered its conditioning. Her head hurt mind you, and just like her, their drinking clearly didn't sit well with Ezra’s head. She had seriously doubts about the man's stomach, too.
Ten minutes later and with no hosiery in sight, Kate huffed, sitting down on the couch. She glanced suspiciously at Standish and frowned, "Come on, Ezra... what the heck did you do with my socks. It's probably still freezing outside and I am not leaving without them."
The undercover man raised an indignant eyebrow. "I did nothing with your clothing, Ms. Lansky."
"Beg to differ," Kate shot back, just as offended. "If I remember correctly, you pretty much took charge of getting rid of it."
Ezra cringed at the thought, his face loosing all color. Before she could utter another word, he took off like a shot.
Watching him blazing a path directly for his bathroom, all Lansky could hear was the sound of Standish vomiting. "You didn't answer my question," she chuckled to herself.
Feelings suddenly invaded Kate’s conscience like a tidal wave. Her callus mocking was part of a defense system that she’d thought long gone. The barrage of conscience told a different story though. This man wasn’t a mark, or even an objective in some elaborate ruse. This was Ezra P Standish she was making light of. A friend and trusted colleague whom she’d spent the last three years getting to know.
Maybe it wasn't just their night of drinking that was making the man sick… maybe regret was already taking it's toll... maybe she needed to consider what this all meant as well.
Battling back and instantly growing angry, Kate clenched her jaw tight. "Nope," she shook her head rigorously. "Not going there!" With another resounding huff, the blonde stood and headed back to the bedroom.
There was just no damn way that she was allowing herself to feel… anything!
Frustrated by the emotions trying to invade her thoughts, Lansky bunched her face up in hopes of driving them away. Growling as her hard stare searched the room again; she tried to think, her eyes involuntarily closing as images flashed in her mind.
Her jacket and boots definitely hadn't made it this far. Ezra's skillful hands had made short work of her shirt buttons…
'Don't think about it like that' she scolded silently.
She remembered being 'delivered', none too gently to his bed, and each item of her remaining clothing had been dispensed with in good order, but… no socks! "Damn it," she cussed aloud, "Where the fuck did they go?"
It was at that moment that Ezra came out of the bathroom, holding a cool cloth on his forehead. His face still had a sickly cast but he had made every effort to clean himself up. "Please," he drawled as he exited the smaller room. "I would ask that you to refrain from using that particular superlative when in my bedroom."
Shooting the southerner a sneer, Kate sat down on the bed again and frowned
Completely unimpressed by her attitude, Standish watched the blonde twirl his sheet in her hands, totally oblivious to the vague recollections her actions stirred in his mind. "I think it best that you search elsewhere for your clothing," he advised, turning towards his dresser
Kate glared at Ezra's back. "Nope," she answered. "I had them on when we got in here, they have to be in this room somewhere."
"At this point, I don't care where your damn socks are!" the southerner growled. Opening the top drawer, he retrieved something and turned. "Here," he offered, "put these on." Holding out a pair of heavy winter socks, it was his fondest wish that Kate would take them, and her opportunity to leave. Ezra needed to think and he couldn't do that with the object of his indiscretion traipsing around his bedroom.
A resigned huff announced the woman's decision. She needed breathing room, too. Getting out of there would be her priority. Rising from the bed, she took the offered clothing. Then, gazing at the bundled socks, Lansky's concentration suddenly lapsed. Her eyes narrowed and her lips slowly parted.
Ezra studied the expression carefully, his mind's eye flashing on that look. He'd seen it before… just as she had been about to...
Slamming his eyes shut, he swore defiantly under his breath, not wanting to remember any of what had gone on last night. Drawing a fast conclusion, he looked back at her and spoke, "you know where they are, don't you?"
Returning the offered socks with a toss, Kate turned back and eyed the bedding piled at the end of the mattress. Quickly, she dove headfirst under the mass.
"Oh, good lord!" he muttered. Seeing the blonde bouncing on the mattress, with her behind waving in the air, brought back more images and Standish had to turn away again. He gritted his teeth, returning the socks to his dresser.
No more than twenty seconds passed before a resounding, "Ah ha!" was heard from under the covers. There, at the very bottom of the bedding were her socks, obviously discarded as they squirmed around
His stomach rumbling once more, the southerner fought to keep himself from succumbing. "I take it you've… found your precious socks," he drawled sarcastically
"Yep," she clambered out of from under the blankets. Sitting herself down, Kate proceeded to fluff and then put each one on.
Standish couldn't believe Lansky was sitting there happily replacing her socks with what looked like, not a care in the world. His life was going up in flames and she was humming off-key!
The woman jumped to her feet and wiggled her toes in satisfaction. Looking at the southerner, she shook her head. "Cheer up, Ezra," she grinned, "yours are in there, too."
Standish threw his hands up and stalked out of the room, muttering about being 'driven crazy', and 'what the hell was he thinking?' Of course, he knew he hadn't been thinking. A certain part of his anatomy had done all the thinking last night and, like the fool he was, he'd blindly followed.
Admittedly, Kate wasn't bad looking. Pretty even, in a decidedly physical sought of way… but she definitely was not the woman he wanted.
That single thought made him angry.
Lansky watched him leave and a vague feeling of uneasiness came over her. The time they'd spent searching for her clothing had allowed her body to clear itself of the remaining alcohol's influence, but she was now experiencing unwelcome recollection and maintaining her 'act' was becoming harder. Forcing back more stray emotions, she grew ever more determined not to let them show through. Heading for the bathroom, she slammed the door.
Less than five minutes passed before the blonde appeared in his living room. Planting herself on the sofa, she gruffly put on her boots. Then, returning to an upright position, she grabbed her coat and slipped it on.
Standing at the entrance to his kitchen, Standish licked at his lips as she prepared to leave. 'What does one say', he wondered. Lovers he'd had before… and, yes, the occasional one-night-stand, but never anything like this.
He'd slept with a colleague and, more importantly, a friend. Both of them had been in a highly intoxicated state and obviously totally oblivious to the consequences of their actions but… that was no excuse!
Finally able to admit what was really bothering him, Ezra hung his head, ashamed of himself and his actions. He was completely and undeniably in love, but that woman wasn't here…
Kate was right.
Last night was purely about sex.
Surprisingly, that declaration didn't feel as indecent as Standish had first thought. He wasn't exactly sure how long the conclusion would last but, being honest with himself at that moment, he admitted that his respect for Lansky hadn't really changed… any more than the respect he had for himself, anyway. They were obviously blitzed, totally pissed out of their ever-loving minds to be exact. Whatever it was that had passed between them was over and he just needed to move on… as quickly as possibly.
Being absolutely sure of those thoughts was one thing but no matter how hard he tried, Ezra couldn't will himself to be hospitable… to offer her food, or even coffee. He just needed Kate to be gone.
Straightening her coat, the blonde knew instinctively that she'd outworn her welcome. Tossing her head from side to side, she looked like she was working out a kink, yet consciously, she was rebuilding her crumbling strength. She was determined to leave with her pride and resolve still very much in tact. With one final deep breath, she felt ready to face him. Turning quickly, she immediately realized her mistake. For the first time that morning, a wave of regret broke through her protective armor.
There stood a man she cared for.
He was a valued associate…
A close friend…
'What have I done?'
Still observing her movement, the southerner was amazed at what he bore witness to, as their eyes met. Every imaginable emotion known to man must have crossed the woman's face in mere seconds, and then, just as efficiently as he'd ever slid into his undercover roles, he watched, stunned, as an obviously accomplished expert slipped behind a wall higher than any he could muster. Lansky's face became unreadable in that instant, and for a moment, Standish was confused.
Unconsciously closing the distance between them, he was about to speak when a hand on his lips, ceased his attempt.
Immediately registering the curiosity and questions on his face, Kate had raised her hand. "Don't… say a word," she offered, her fingers slowly relinquishing their fleeting touch on his skin. Gazing up into his eyes, she gave him a faint smile, "From what I can remember, Ezra… it was fun," dropping her chin, she licked at her lips again, "but, like you said, it was a mistake." Another second passed before Lansky looked back at him. She cocked her head nonchalantly, "let's just leave it at that, okay?"
His eyes tracked her as she turned for the door and then Standish followed, unsure of what he was, or should be feeling. As the portal opened and she stepped outside, he caught the door, leaning his head against the wooden structure. The coolness of the afternoon air bit into his lungs and for a moment, the southerner almost seemed refreshed. He breathed deep and found his smile. "It's cold out," he noted. "Can I call you a…"
"No," Lansky answered before the man could say another word.
Nodding slowly, Ezra acknowledged within himself that this woman needed no help. She was as capable as he was… probably, more so, in certain circumstances. 'She'll survive this' he mused. He had little doubt of that fact but wasn't entirely sure why. On some very basic level, he had always admired Lansky for her comparable inner strength.
It wasn't sentiment, but with the momentarily lapse in his attitude, Standish called out, "For, what's its worth, Kate," he waited until her head turned to look at him. "Nothing has changed between us."
Lansky didn't believe a word Ezra had just said but offered a quick nod anyway. 'We'll see' she thought to herself. Eyes returning to the path, she casually walked away.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
The truck engine was running again to warm up the cab.
Larabee had been sitting outside her apartment building for hours, just staring up at the third floor. Not exactly the most comfortable way to spend a cold damp Sunday in Denver but Kate was refusing to answer her phone and her machine wasn't even picking up his calls anymore.
Throwing his cell across the seat, Chris glared up at the sliding glass patio door. He could see the light on and knew Lansky was home. With an angry growl, he ran both hands through his blond locks. Allowing his elbows to rest on the steering wheel, his chin sunk down. His eyes were closed, his mind lost in thought. Rubbing the back of his neck vigorously to work out the knots, he questioned his intent, probably for the hundredth time that weekend.
So much of his turmoil made sense, but then… so much didn't.
He kept dwelling on Thursday.
The couple had celebrated, what the man in black had hoped would be a new beginning. The evening had seemed beyond perfect… yet, when he thought about it now, he knew he should have seen the signs. 'Idiot' he chastised.
Green pools staring once more out the truck window, Larabee bit his lip. He hated the way all of this made him feel… almost as if he should apologize for caring for Kate… for having developed such a strong bond with her… for just needing her close… someone to confide in, or for just… wanting her.
Gritting his teeth, Chris scowled. After her accusations on Friday morning he'd had a lot of time to think. Nothing made sense. So many times, they had talked about Sarah. How often had Lansky looked at the small keepsakes he had remaining around the house… a few of Adam's little toys, the figurines his wife had collected… the last picture ever taken of the Larabee family.
That photograph had been hidden away for so long before Kate came into his life, but now it had a permanent place in his home… perched safely on the corner of his dresser.
Lansky was the one who had given him the courage to look at that snapshot again. She'd fought with him, telling him implicitly that honoring their memory meant never forgetting how important they were to him.
Bunching his face up tight, Chris clenched his fists. 'Just an excuse' he cursed silently.
He was angry… Beyond angry, if that was possible.
He had been thinking about this since she'd mysteriously disappeared from the office on Friday morning. He'd continued to dwell, even when the call for back up had come that evening. Waiting for the signal to move on Prichard, he'd been distracted by their arguments… and, her reasons. And then, all through the debrief and reports Saturday his mind had been somewhere else.
How could her constant support over the years seem so wrong now?
She was twisting her reasoning!
By convincing him that there was still a place in his life for his devotion to Sarah, Kate had allowed Chris to live again. Ultimately, he was finding peace with his loss and, eventually, he hoped to come to terms with his heart… maybe even feel as deeply for his new love as he had for the one stolen from his life.
'How fucking convenient' he sneered. 'Tell me I can still love Sarah, but because I do, I can't love you, too!'
One hand rose to massage his eyes, hopefully aiding to chase away the dull ache that was growing there.
Larabee had always known that Kate was a complicated woman. Yet, for some reason, he'd never delved deeper than the surface. Analyzing everything carefully over the past two days, he could see things now that he'd missed... clues.
He knew he'd had questions before… about actions, reactions, information she knew, things she said or did, or didn't….
But Lansky was so smooth…
You could ask a question and, without knowing, she'd have you distracted and completely forgetting that you never got an answer…
Chris pondered life at the office again. Certain things stood out in his mind.
Kate often helped Buck with blueprint analysis and had proven herself as a good back up, a second set of eyes when the surveillance expert wasn't convinced he'd seen all there was to see.
Then there was that bust where she'd convinced Vin to move his sniper nest to a different location, and in the long-run, probably saved the sharpshooter's life.
Chris cleared his throat loudly when he remembered how Lansky had disarmed a prisoner right under their noses. The man had blindsided JD, grabbed his gun and pointed it wildly around the room. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Lansky had the assailant down and subdued.
In their rush to her aid, no one had questioned Kate's 'Oops'. With an embarrassed grin, she had shrugged, mumbling excuses about 'too much adrenaline’ and ‘Just protecting my co-workers.' She’d actually gone back to work as though nothing had happened.
"Co-workers!" Larabee muttered to himself angrily. He'd never really thought about it. Never questioned the varying degrees of friendship his team members had with this lady. In a lot of ways she was just like one of the guys. They were all at ease around her for many different reasons. She could be just as foul mouthed and gritty as them when they were fresh in off a grueling case. She could hold her ground with them on any 'challenge' that happened to float around the office, and yet, unlike your average 'buddy,' she could offer the occasional, really comforting hug.
Chris suddenly frowned, his anger giving way to doubt.
'A hug, yes… but… was there ever any warmth… Always words of encouragement and support… but without feeling? Had she ever really let any of them close?'
Straightening in his seat, the man in black set his hands firmly against the steering wheel and squeezed hard. The more things he put together about Kate, the more confused he became.
With all his questions and misgivings surfacing, Chris, again, had to wonder why he'd never seen this before. It was almost like some game Lansky had been playing…
'But has she been playing it all along?'
Larabee could almost see the blonde standing in front of him, taunting him with words… 'I'll let you in… but only so far. Never far enough so that you can discover who I really am'.
A sudden rage made Chris lash out, his elbow landing squarely in the center of his driver's side window, splintering the glass into a thousand pieces.
Cursing under his breath, the agent knew he was in no mood for the confrontation he'd wanted… he needed to have with Kate.
Flicking glass from his lap, he set the truck in reverse, pulled out of the parking spot and drove away, tires squealing as he departed.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
Lansky's eyelids closed after she watched the vehicle speed away. The regret was short-lived however. As her eyes opened again, they narrowed menacingly. The hard-trained Kate was back and wondering if Chris thought she was stupid. 'Know your friends better than you know your enemy' she mused. The thought made her angry, shocking that long-dormant persona back from whence it had come. Wandering slowly to the telephone, Kate sighed heavily. Contemplating the replay button for a long moment, she finally hit it, her head dropping as the last message came on.
A very tired and angry sounding Larabee spoke, his words left just after two am.
'Kate…! Goddamn it! I know you're there, pick up the fucking phone!'
There was a pause as he waited; obviously hoping his foul mouth would provoke a reaction. It usually did, but Lansky knew he was running on serious emotion this time and hadn't allowed herself to be sucked into his 'game'.
'Jesus, Kate… Talk to me, please.'
His tone was low this time, the pleading in his voice almost heartbreaking.
'Look… so; maybe Thursday night was too much, too quick. Okay... Maybe, we… we had a little too much to drink and… feelings got a little out of hand.'
Another long pause had the woman swallowing hard. Looking coldly at the machine, she cleared her throat loudly to chase away the doubt. A moment later, her expression was almost a sneer. "I use the bottle the same way you do, Chris," she whispered as though he were there. "Just better at controlling my surroundings is all." Her face became completely lifeless, as she spoke again, "I just can't let you become another weakness."
'Look… I don't want to do this over the phone, Kate. I need to see you… to get this all out in the open. We have to talk. If you won't answer me, you know damn well I'm just gonna show up. I won't give up this easily, you got that? I can't… I won't… and I don’t care if that's okay with you or not!'
As the tone sounded his hang-up, Lansky slowly reached down and clicked off the recording, her hand fisted to tap the machine forcefully. Taking a deep breath, she held it, lowering her head before exhaling all at once. "Damn you," she cursed, whirling quickly. Marching back to the window, the woman peered through the shades and nodded, her mood mellowing all of a sudden as she realized he hadn't come back.
Eyes searching the horizon, Kate turned from the glass, letting the blinds fall back into place. All at once, she was lost. Seemingly overwhelmed by an inner turmoil, the blonde's face contoured as she fought against her emotions. "Don't do this to me, Chris," she pleaded. Her chin rose in the air to chase away threatening tears. "Don’t!"
As quickly as it had lifted, her head came down. Her eyes shut tight to block out the world. "Damn you, Larabee," she cursed again. "Why'd you have to get so close…?"
One arm wrapped tightly around her ribs, Kate's other hand pawed at her forehead, desperately trying to maintain control. As the fingers flexed, she tried to chase away the opposing thoughts that invaded her consciousness.
'You love him, damn it!'
'No! I can't … I… I can't be responsible. Not again!'
'Chris is different'
'No… they're all the same'
'Don't tell me what's wrong…'
'Or right. Go on, say it… He's different. He's not Cole'
'Don't do this to me! I can't… let him… close. I can't…'
Blinking painfully, Kate drew in a deep breath, her head rising once more. She swallowed hard and, wandering slowly towards the sofa, slumped into the corner. "I tried, damn it…" she pulled a throw pillow in tight and held it. "Honestly, Chris… I tried."
Tears welling in her blue reflections, Lansky slowly curled into a ball, the cushion ending up in a death grip. "I tried," she repeated, her words barely a whisper, "but… I sold my soul to the devil years ago… and he never gives it back."
Her body began a gentle rocking motion as a single tear escaped, tracking a lonely path down Kate's cheek.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
Her run Monday morning was grueling, at least double the distance she normally went but just the thing Kate needed to prepare her mind for work… for the office… to face not only Larabee, but Ezra, as well.
Standing in front of the mirror, she looked sternly at the woman who stared back. "You know the drill," she whispered. Cocking her head from side to side, Lansky cleared her throat loudly. One last glare at the image and she headed off to the Federal Building.
Despite her long run, the blonde still arrived before most of the staff. Checking in on the third floor, she gathered her mail and walked upstairs. Flicking on the lights for Team Seven's bullpen, she hung her jacket and sat down to initiate her computer's start-up cycle.
Three minutes later, the 'mail in' tone sounded and Kate turned back to find a priority message from Travis flashing on the screen. "Oh, great," she muttered, clicking the acknowledgement and allowing the communication to download for reading.
A small smile grew on the woman's lips as she checked over the note…
Not like you to up and leave in the middle of the day. In fact, you've never done it before Friday. Thanks for coming up to tell me directly though, and all I can say is… that must have been one heck of a headache… and none of the boys better have caused it or there'll be hell to pay.
I know, I know… you'll take care of whatever it was, but you had better remember this, lady. I owe Frank a lot for letting you come to me and I guaranteed him you'd stay in one piece. I don't break my promises, you got that?
Get yourself up to my office before 9 am or I'll send the dogs out looking for you and you know what mood I'll be in if I have to go that far.
Kate frowned at the mention of General Garrett's name. She could only hope it was an off-handed comment.
Shaking off the thought, she refocused on the last sentence and her expression brightened. Glancing at her watch, she smirked outright, 'I'll only make him wait a few minutes' she mused. Seeing it was barely eight, she knew she had plenty of time to complete her normal Monday morning routine. Bringing up the shift rotation for the following week, she set about deciphering who would need a change in scenery and who was engrossed in a specific case.
Over the next twenty minutes, different members of Team Seven slowly wandered in. Customary mirth dotted the conversation until Standish showed up. Noting the sudden silence, Lansky glanced over to see the southerner greeting his colleagues rather briskly; their curious looks left in his wake. Quickly entering his own space, the undercover agent closed his door.
Not impressed by his unusual behavior, the blonde chastised silently, 'Don't you dare blow this, Ezra'.
Until that moment, it hadn't even occurred to Kate that Standish might reveal what had occurred between them on Friday night. He was very adept at his practiced 'poker face' and his skills as an undercover agent were well known. They hadn't broached the subject the following day, but she was hoping his 'nothing has changed between us' meant that the man would keep their secret.
At this point, she really needed him to keep their secret…
Instantly snapped from her thoughts, the woman turned in her chair to look up at Larabee. "Damn it, Chris… don't sneak up on me like that," she said bluntly. Glancing at the reception area, Lansky noted that the senior agent would've had to have come in and duck through there in order for her not to see him approaching.
The man narrowed his gaze. "You're not easily surprised, Kate," he observed. "What's got you so distracted?"
Immediately sensing the calculation in his words, the woman played it cool, sighing and then turning from his stare. "As though you didn't know," she acted forlorn. Resting an elbow on her desk, she folded her head into her hand and pawed at her scalp softly.
Chris was suddenly unsure of his approach. He frowned and, responding to Kate's apparent 'hurt', he carefully set a hand on her shoulder. "We have to talk," he offered quietly.
'Oh, Chris' she lowered her head. Instantly, her heart and mind were battling again and Lansky knew she needed to put some distance between her and the blond before she lost her composure. "I know," she tapped the hand he offered and then turned back to look at him. "But, not here. I won't let you bring this into the office."
"For once, I agree with you," Larabee nodded. Staring at the woman, he smiled. "I've been trying to reach you all weekend… I was worried."
Glancing at the floor for a moment, Kate looked back and scowled playfully. "Of all the things you should have learned about me by now, Chris Larabee, it's that I can take care of myself."
The senior agent could only smirk. "Yep," he raised an expectant eyebrow, "that you can."
Second ticked by like hours as his eyes searched hers for any sign of deception. No visible indicators were evident and the man in black forced a smile. "Best get to work then," he offered.
Nodding slowly, Lansky's eyes met his as she cocked her head, smiled innocently and then turned back to her desk.
Standing still, watching her for a moment, Chris wasn't sure, but he could have sworn that he'd missed something in their exchange. Finally shaking off the hesitation, he ventured to his office and, with one last glance at Kate, pushed the door shut.
Hearing the portal close, the woman let out the breath she had been unknowingly holding. She peered at the wooden structure and her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What are you up to, Chris," she muttered. All of a sudden, her instincts were on alert and she rarely experienced this with Larabee. Her gaze shifted to the other men in the room, blue pools finally settling on the wiry figure of the team's sharpshooter. 'Had any interesting conversations with your best friend lately, Vin?' she deliberated accusingly.
One last disgruntled huff and Lansky went back to work; unaware of the pondering look the Texan was giving her.
An hour later, she was in the elevator heading for thirteen and the two people she wasn't exactly dying to see. While Travis was a wonderful caring boss, the woman had a nagging feeling his 'demand' to see her, wasn't all pleasantries.
Then there was Adrian Delaney…
A part of Kate actually felt regret for her betrayal of this lady. The brunette was doing an absolutely wonderful job for Orin and had taken considerable pressure off Lansky's shoulders in the last two weeks. And not only that, they were developing a friendship, the likes of which the blonde rarely permitted herself with other women.
Clearing her throat as the elevator door opened, Kate purposely started fumbling with the files she was carrying. 'Anything to avoid talking to her' she thought as she sauntered through the big glass doors, walked right past Adrian's desk and straight into Orin's office.
Looking up from his papers, Travis smiled. "Bout time you got here," he sat back in his chair. "I was ready to call out the Marines."
Nudging the door closed, Kate sneered playfully, "like that would do you any good," she joked dropping her files in one chair and taking up residence in the other.
The AD looked at Lansky, sheer contemplation in his expression. "Well, I'm not privy to what Frank gets up to," he shrugged, "but if you're one of his, then I know it'd be a lost cause."
The hairs on her neck suddenly stood but the blonde played it cool. Sitting back in her chair, she crossed her arms and narrowed her gaze. "Why is it, I smell a set up?" she asked pointedly. "And here, I thought you were my friend, Orin."
"I am your friend, Kate," Travis responded curtly. "What I’m not however, is a patsy. I don’t like to be caught in the middle of things I know nothing about." Leaning forward on his desk, the older man clenched his jaw. "Would you like to tell me exactly how he knew when you checked out of here Friday morning?"
More than hairs were standing up now and Lansky scowled. 'Bastard' she cursed silently. Taking a minute to think, she took a deep breath. "And just when did the General allude to this information?"
"How did you know I was talking about him, Kate? And he didn't allude to anything," Travis sat back roughly. "I've known Frank Garrett for almost forty years and he's never beat around the bush with me."
"Or so you think!” Continuing to test, the woman narrowed her eyes. “You know you don't really know him, don’t you, Orin?"
The man huffed abruptly. "Oh, I know…" he cocked his head. "I know nothing about the things he gets up to, and I'm happy not knowing, you got that?" There was a pause and, recognizing that he'd receive no response, the AD continued. "Kate…" he looked at her speculatively, "Frank asked me to tell you to respond to his last e-mail and… it didn't sound like a request from where I sat."
Relaxing her arms, Lansky tapped her thighs. Slowly raising her chin in the air, she smiled. "One of these days that man is going to learn what the word retirement means."
Orin grinned, "So am I." Chuckling softly, he continued. "That is, of course, if you and your antics don't put me in my grave before my time."
"Just me?" Kate's smirk brightened. "I thought I had lots of help around here for that."
Travis raised an eyebrow, his expression mellowing. "Well, yes, you do," he nodded. "One of the reasons I hired you on the spot, remember?"
Lansky frowned playfully, "and there I thought it was because I laid down my version of the law."
The man laughed outright this time. "Well, that is antics in my book," he shook his head comically. "And the whole reason you ended up on Larabee's doorstep."
Rising from her chair, the blonde cocked her head as she gathered her files. "Have I thanked you for that lately, by the way?" she groused.
Seeing her readying to leave, Orin quickly called out her name as she turned for the door. Getting to his feet, he put on a serious face as he rounded the desk. When she turned, he set a hand on either side of her bent arms and took a deep breath. "We missed you during the bust on Friday," he forced a smile. "Whatever it was that kept you away… you let me know if I can help."
Travis interrupted the reply she was about to give. "And that includes anything to do with Frank Garrett, alright?"
There was a long pause as Lansky's chin dropped slightly. Attempting to hide the dubious expression, the blonde looked back at her boss. "I appreciate everything, Orin. Always have, you know that." She continued through his nod and smile. "Don't you worry yourself about what the General wants with me… okay?" she gave the AD a complimenting grin.
Travis couldn't help the questions that came from his lips. He had no idea of the real implications of what it meant but from what he'd gathered over the years, a positive response meant he'd be in way over his head. Relaxing his arms from hers, he looked at her far too seriously. "Are you one of Frank's boys, Kate?" he asked quietly. "Do you ever get to retire?"
Lansky deadpanned and without missing a beat, snickered. "Do I look like a boy, Orin?" she shook her head gently. "I did for Major General Garrett what I do for you and Chris," she insisted, "that's all." Turning for the door again, she huffed, yet sent a wink in Orin's direction, "And one of these day, that man is going to realize that I no longer work for him. You're my boss now and I'm damn proud to be here."
Following, the AD offered her a soft smile. He still wasn’t sure about all this, but he knew he had no other option but to play along. "Well, good, 'cause I'm damn proud to have you here, Kate," he set a hand on her shoulder, "and to call you my friend."
Watching as the man's hand tapped her arm, the woman gave him a cocky grin. "Not trying to make me blush now, are you?"
A chuckle erupted as he opened the door. "Wouldn't dream of it," he whispered as she prepared to leave.
"Good," she answered just as quietly. "Cause it's never going to happen."
Lansky exited the AD's office, followed closely by Travis. "Oh, and Kate," the man quickly added an afterthought, "when you get back downstairs, can you send Standish up?" he asked gathering his mail.
"Of course," the blonde replied with a smile before walking past Delaney's desk and heading towards the big glass doors.
Suddenly cognizant of a low snarling noise, Kate paused at the door, 'did she growl at me?' she questioned silently. Shaking off the foreboding feeling that suddenly came over her, Lansky continued on her way.
A quick trip downstairs to see Montgomery saw her relieved of her stack of folders. Climbing into the elevator, she watched the numbers click off the floors, getting closer to seven. Suddenly apprehensive about following Orin's orders, she swallowed hard as the 'ding' announced her arrival. Clearing her mind, Lansky wandered into the bullpen and headed straight for Ezra's closed door. Knocking once, she didn't wait for a reply and waltzed straight in.
Standish froze when he saw Kate; his poker face dropped in to replace the agitated look he'd worn moments before. "Miss… Lansky," he stuttered glancing away.
Securing the door behind her, the blonde acted casual. "Mr. Travis wants to see you," she said very matter-of-factly.
Licking at his bottom lip, Standish nodded. All morning he'd been expecting to be summoned to Larabee's office, but the door had remained closed. Now he knew why. "Did he say what for?" he asked gingerly.
"Nope," the woman answered truthfully. "Sounded important though. You'd best go right up."
Swallowing, the southerner stood and reached for his jacket. "Thank you, Miss Lansky," he summarily dismissed her with his words. Hearing the door open and close, he relaxed his shoulders and buttoned his coat. 'She's up there' he closed his eyes for a moment.
Standish loathed the idea of what Travis had in store for him. He guessed what was coming, having discovered his pager under the sofa on Sunday afternoon. Suddenly, Larabee's phone call the previous evening had come into sharp focus. The undercover agent had ignored the summons... ignored his duty, and for that, there would have to be obvious repercussions.
Yet, for all that, the thing at the forefront of Ezra's mind was the beautiful brunette who he'd been longing to see ever since he'd betrayed her…
Lowering his head, the southerner pushed back the painful feelings that all of a sudden reared. He was determined to get passed this… resolved to face his mistakes like a man and, hopefully, win back the woman of his heart's desire.
Squaring his shoulders again, he cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and then exited his office. 'Maybe, if I'm lucky' he thought, 'Travis will fire me outright, and we can start a new life somewhere else…'
Half an hour later, Kate was busy updating herself with what had gone on over the weekend when a shadow appeared at her desk. Glancing up, she peered into Ezra's green eyes. Forcing back a flash of memory, the blonde frowned. "Yes?"
The undercover man stared for a moment, his own recollections holding his tongue. "Mr. Travis would like to see Mr. Larabee in his office," he repeated the orders he'd been given.
Acknowledging the message, Lansky's focus returned to her computer screen, but Standish didn't leave. Giving him a full minute, Kate finally looked back at the man. "Is there something else?" she said gruffly.
Seeing this as his best chance to act, the agent looked about carefully, forcing a weak smile. "Could I see you in my office for a moment, please?"
Raising an eyebrow, Kate stared and then finally shrugged. "Lead on, McDuff," she joked, waving the man ahead of her.
Together, they traversed the bullpen; the southerner asking Vin for a moment as they arrived at the small glass enclosure he shared with the man.
Seeing Lansky, the Texan excused himself as Standish motioned the woman in and closed the door behind them.
"Something I can do for you, Ezra?" the blonde asked coldly.
Turning to face her, the agent cleared his throat quickly. "Yes, actually," he began. Looking at her for a moment, he appeared to be trying to form the right words. Eventually, he began, his voice barely a whisper, "Whilst engaged in cleansing my abode of your presence…."
Kate smirked, her arms folding as she settled back on the edge on Tanner's desk.
Briefly interrupted by the smugness of her expression, Standish pressed on. "It came to my attention that we… well, we…" he sighed lowering his voice another octave. "It appears that we did not utilize any means of protection," he cleared his throat at the end of his sentence.
Lansky began to laugh, covering her mouth with her hand to keep her amusement from growing in volume.
"I fail to see the comical nature of the conversation," the southerner said rather indignantly.
Leaning towards the man, the woman grinned. "That's what makes it so funny," she blurted out.
Squaring his shoulders against the obvious insult, Standish pushed on, rather forcefully this time. "Do I need to be concerned in the future about any repercussions of a medical nature, Miss Lansky?" he asked quite pointedly. "Do you take appropriate measures to ensure that conception does not occur?"
Kate stopped laughing but, as she pushed off the desk, the amusement was clear in her voice. Stepping a hair away from the man's face, her voice was low and deliberately sexy as she smiled and tilted her head. "You were so drunk and horny that you didn't even think about it until the third time around, Ezra," she whispered.
Standish stepped sideways to avoid looking at the blonde but she followed, halting his retreat. "And just like I told you that night… I'm on the pill… have been for many, many years. I'm not interested in having some brat to be responsible for, so no worries there."
The southerner used the pause in her answer to respond. "I'm very glad to hear that…."
"As for the crack about communicable diseases," Lansky interrupted his gratitude. "I'll forgive you for that," she steeled her gaze. "And besides, you know we all get tested for the rest, as part of our annual medical check up."
It was true. The once a year physical examination that all federal employees submitted to did include blood tests for HIV, hepatitis, and several other transmittable diseases.
Lowering his head, Standish suddenly felt rather awkward. "I apologize for the nature of my queries," he turned to face her yet, wisely, took a step back.
"No worries," she smiled. "I know you can't remember much." Tapping his shoulder, she reached for the doorknob.
All the bravado in the world couldn't guard her from that question and she swallowed hard, fighting to crawl back behind the protection that had just crumbled.
Suddenly, Ezra didn't need a verbal response.
More than most, he could read the answer in her conduct, or lack thereof. For a moment, the southerner was drawn back to her reactions Saturday morning. Unknowingly, he'd been able to acknowledge her feelings then and knew she was fighting hard to suppress them now. "Thank you… for your honesty, Miss… Kate," he nodded, giving her a reason to leave.
Without turning to face him, Lansky's chin rose to stare at the exit. She contemplated a response, yet could find none suitable. Lowering her head again, she opened the door and quickly returned to her desk.
Sitting at the large 'map' table, Wilmington frowned. "Wonder what that was all about?" he questioned to no one in particular.
"I'm not sure, brother," Sanchez responded with a comparable scowled. "Ezra seems to be having that affect on people lately."
Jackson huffed. "He's sure acting weird, today. Actually apologized for his behavior earlier."
"Say what?" the rogue looked at Nathan quickly.
"Yep," Dunne added. "Said sorry to me, too. Said something about not being himself the last couple of weeks… being out of sorts, or something like that."
Buck shook his head and glanced at Ezra's closed office door. "Somethin' ain't right with that man," he muttered, watching the undercover agent flip papers on his desk. "Like he figures he's foolin' anyone by pretendin' he's interested.” There was a pause, and then a question, “What you got to say about all this, Vin?"
Tanner's focus was drawn from the blonde woman across the office floor and he gazed at his teammates, obviously oblivious to what they'd been discussing.
Sitting forward in his chair, Josiah frowned. "It would appear that Ezra isn't the only one pretending he's interested," he quipped narrowing his eyes in the sharpshooter's direction.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
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