~~ Then You Fall… ~~

by TJ


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

Larabee had ignored her most of the day and for that, Kate was grateful. He'd come and gone several times, different meetings, impromptu 'comparing of notes' and 'details' that needed to be seen to. Upon each return, he'd lingered at his office entrance, waiting for Lansky to meet his eyes.

When she’d finally responded as he’d wished, he'd smiled, lowered his head and then closed the door.

Knowing instinctively that she couldn't avoid the inevitable, the blonde wasn't surprised when she found him at her desk fifteen minutes before quitting time.


The familiar greeting hit her ears and her heart skipped a beat. Forcing a deep breath inside, Kate sent all of her emotions away. Turning, she gazed up at him. "Hey," she responded as expected.

Taking his time and searching her eyes, the smile on Larabee's face grew as her expression brightened with his stare. "Was wondering if you'd like to… maybe have dinner tonight," he asked coyly.

Lansky's chin dipped before she stood to respond. "I believe I'd like that," she smiled in all earnestly.

"Anywhere in particular?" he edged a little closer. "We could go now… spend some time."

Looking up into his eyes, Kate could see his desire held at bay. Inwardly, she felt the slight pang of guilt and something else lingering below the surface. Although it was reined in tightly and denied acknowledgement, her longing was unmistakably there, fighting to be heard. "Just so you know, Chris," she grew serious for just a moment. "I have something I need to get done tonight."

Understanding all too clearly, the disappointment was visible in his expression, yet Larabee soon chased it away. "You have enough time for dinner though, right?"

Lansky nodded and the man in black grinned again. "Why don't we take a walk through the park before dinner," he suggested. "I can follow you home and we can take the truck."

Thinking about the temptation that was ever present between the two, the woman considered the proposition, changing the parameters at the last minute. "I don't need to change," she replied, not wanting him in her apartment. "Why don't we just drop my van and go straight over to the pond before the sun sets?"

Pursed lips pouted slightly but Larabee nodded his acceptance of her plan. Running one hand up her arm, he squeezed slightly. "Will you be ready to go right at four?"

Her acknowledgement sent them both in separate directions to tidy up for the day, Chris gathering his things and flipping off the light to wait at his office door. Lansky set her computer into shutdown mode and went to secure some documents in her filing cabinet.

Watching the senior agent as she leaned down for her backpack, Kate couldn't help feeling that he was observing her far too closely. Forcing the foreboding thought to the back of her mind, she turned for the door and Larabee stepped to her side.

Wilmington snickered, nudging JD and indicating the door with his chin when the kid gave him that 'what?' look. "And you say I'm bad?" he teased.

Dunne smiled and looked back at his roommate. "You are bad, Buck," the younger agent chuckled, continuing to collect his things.

Beside them, Tanner, too, was intently watching the couple as they departed.

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

An hour later Kate was eyeing Larabee with a scowl on her face. As he left the old woman and walked back towards her, Lansky cocked her head. "If you wanted bread crumbs that badly," she complained, "I would have brought some from my place when we dropped off the van. Don't see why you have to be paying strangers for stale loaves."

"Her name is Marta," Chris offered with a gentle smile. "And giving her my spare change is nothing compared to what she gives me. It calms me, coming here to feed the ducks and geese, you know that… and if she can collect enough coins to get a good meal for herself, then I'm happy."

Staring up into the wonder of his green eyes, Kate was reminded of why she felt so strongly for this man. There was a gentle, innocent quality about Larabee that few were given the honor of seeing. Yet so often, she'd been graced with that gift. Turning away from his smile, she spotted an empty bench close to the water's edge. Lansky knew why they were here and she had no desire to fight him this time.

Watching as the blonde made her way to the vacant seat, Chris bowed his head for just a moment. Quickly glancing back, he followed, accepting once again, the knowledge and contentment they shared in this place.

Kate sat quietly and watched the man in black see to his task. He always followed the same routine… never failed. First, he'd rip the top of the plastic bag off, rather than undo the knot or untwist the tie, depending on how Marta had managed to secure it that day. Then, being Larabee, he'd force his big hand into the bag as far as it would go and, sorting the crumbs through his fingers, he'd withdraw them, flinging the bread in a wide arc for all the fowl to take notice that he had arrived. Suitably assured that his presence was recognized, Chris would finally sit down, doling out the remaining crumbs a few at a time.

Sitting on the park bench and watching the birds partaking of the offering, Lansky found herself smiling, memories from eighteen months earlier - their first trip here - clouding her mind.

The cold spring day hadn't deterred her from Larabee's request.

They'd spent a lot of time in the last month, just sitting, apparently listening to one another breath. Five months had passed since that major blow-up between Buck and Chris. Kate, thoroughly discussed with the two of them, had stuck her nose in where it didn't belong and almost had it taken off for her trouble.

Never known to turn her back on a friend, she'd confronted Wilmington with information most knew, but never spoke of.

Suspicions confirmed, she'd told the ladies' man that he 'knew where to collect the body in the morning' and set out for the Larabee ranch.

It had been one hell of a night, but she'd never backed down from a fight in her life and she'd be damned if a drunken widower with a foul mouth and a wicked temper could chase her off.

Kate made an indelible mark on Larabee's shattered soul that night.

Well into the long hours before dawn they had argued and fussed. According to Buck, the persuading and fighting had always ended up physical and Lansky concluded that Chris didn't know how to have a real conversation about the pain he felt.

That weekend he learned how!

As much as he wanted to lash out, the man in black somehow found restraint, and although his tortured soul made her cry inside, the woman didn't waver. Wilmington's anxious phone call the next afternoon had Kate laughing and Larabee more determined than ever to rid himself of this meddlesome, cantankerous, overbearing, loudmouthed, pushy bitch who just happened to work for him.

It never happened…

Oil and water… Dynamite and a fuse… firewood and open flame… No one had ever come up with a proper term to describe the relationship Kate and Larabee had, both before and after that weekend, but one thing was obvious from that Monday on… They were stuck like glue, and nothing or no one in this world could keep them apart when they needed to be together.

They had finally figured out where they stood with one another…

Christmas came and went that year and, although they talked often, Chris was feeling incredibly low. His phone call that spring morning had sounded desperate and without a second thought, Lansky had agreed to accompany him.

That was the first time they'd come here, to feed the birds of the lake. It was a place that Sarah had introduced her husband to years before. Adam had become accustomed to the flocks, throwing bread from his stroller and giggling as all children do when faced with the mystical ways of the world.

Special family memories were sheltered in this small little hideaway. A lifetime of wonderful remembrance… and Larabee had finally shared that with Kate.

Finding her gaze transfixed on the blond's beautiful smile, Lansky couldn't help but hide her own. The curl of her lip was eaten away as she licked at the corners of her mouth, hunching her shoulders against the cool afternoon air.

"You getting cold?" Larabee broke the silence. He offered her the near-empty bag of crumbs as she sat forward and shook her head no in answer to his question.

Plying a few morsels into her fingers, Kate fumbled with them, tossing the bread from one hand to the other. "We're here because of me," she finally mumbled. Looking across to meet his gaze, she lowered her head, sending the bread sprawling into the lake.

There was a long moment before his responded. "What if I say yes?" he queried. A scattering of bread was tossed purposely to the ground.

Turning on the seat, Lansky drew one leg up and set an arm across the back of the bench. She was facing him completely, yet the man kept his distance, his attention barely acknowledging her. With a determined pout, Kate said what she needed to say. "This is your place, Chris," she glanced down before refocusing. "Yours and Sarah's. I know why you come here. I know you can see her in your mind's eye. Feeding the birds… teaching Adam how to be gentle, playing with him on the grass and cuddling with you on your blanket."

Larabee's gaze focused on the woman, yet his head barely turned. "You allow me those memories, Kate," he said quietly. Refocusing on the ducks and geese he tossed the remaining contents onto the ground and stood, forcefully. "You taught me it was okay to remember, and now… now you're throwing those memories back in my face." Bunching his eyes up tight, Chris quickly ran a hand through his hair and then walked away.

Holding her position, Lansky tracked him with her eyes as he found a trashcan and tossed the empty bag away. Leaning heavily on the receptacle, he hung his head low, apparently lost in thought.

Returning to her face-front upright position, Kate stared out at the lake. It, and the scenery beyond, barely registered. It was beautiful here, peaceful, quiet… all the things that she never ever took the time to enjoy in life. Her closed eyes expressed regret in that fact. So many things in the world she'd never taken the time to appreciate… to savor.

Dropping her chin, the woman thought about her past and all the things she did know. She was all too familiar with the unpleasantness and torment that the world had to offer. Depravity, danger, and just plain ugliness were everywhere… some of it, left in her wake.

She was one of the chosen few… but had she been given a choice, she would never haven chosen that life. It was perhaps the same reason why she’d escaped in the first place. But had she really…

Not that she could ever escape her memories…

"Why, Kate?" his question broke through her hollow musing. "Why did you spend the last two years of your life sucking me into believing that I could live again… love again… when you refuse to…?"

Having raised her chin to listen to him, Lansky lowered it again, regretting the silence that was now accentuating his question. The hush settled around them like the coming night and finally, she could stand it no more. "I've always meant every word I’ve ever said to you, Chris… I never sucked you into anything. Never forced you to see anything you didn't truly believe in your heart… You just needed someone to show you a clear path back to the light… And here you are, ready to live again. Love again, if you… find the right person. You'll do just fine. You know that as well as I do."

From a distance, they may have presented the perfect image. His lady perched on her chair, the gallant gentleman on guard behind her, both lost in the far away vision of gray skies fading to black. Yet, for all the tranquil beauty of the picture, there was unimaginable pain…

"Why, Kate?" his question came again as his chin dropped. Swallowing hard, Larabee rounded the bench and knelt down, her knees between his legs. Taking her chin in his fingers, Chris drew her eyes to his. "Why are you so afraid?"

Searching every inch of his soul with her gaze, the woman's expression slowly softened. Taking a deep breath, she smiled for him. "I'm not afraid, Chris. Not of you, not of anyone… not even of myself."

"Then what are you running from?" he pressed on, lowering his hand to join his other on her lap.

Lansky snickered quietly to herself. "Running from," she met his stare hard. "Damn good question that. An easy one to answer, too… my past would be the response you are looking for." Filling her lungs to capacity, her chin rose in the air and her eyes closed briefly. "There, I said it, now you can get on with your life and I can get on with mine."

The blonde gave a resounding sigh and made ready to leave. As she tried to stand, Chris pushed her back to the bench. "Not so fast," he growled through her matter-of-fact demeanor. "Ya see…" his eyes narrowed calculatingly, "in order to get on with my life… I need you in it."

Talking right through her cold expression, the man in black continued. "You helped me face my past, Kate, and come hell or high water, I'm going to return that favor."

Laughing at his insistence, the woman shook her head softly. "You don't get it, do you Chris? I'm not trying to bury my past like you were. I'm not even trying to ignore it, pretend it didn't happen." Her expression grew serious and one hand rose to cup his cheek. "I face my past every day, Chris. When I see the new life I've built for myself… my staff at the Federal Building, Debbie, Orin, the Team… you all help me live, be normal… survive my past and move on."

Cupping her hand in his, Larabee turned his head for a moment and kissed her palm. Refocusing on her blue reflections, he frowned. His eyes closed and he chewed on his bottom lip. Releasing the flesh after a long moment, he spoke again. "Two years ago, I might have accepted that explanation, but now," he looked back at her, "now I can see the difference between having a life and living your life." Pulling the hand back to her lap, Larabee collected the other in his empty fingers. "You taught me that, Kate. You taught me that going through the motions, isn't living."

The woman closed her eyes, but Chris kept on talking.

"You taught me something else." She couldn't see it, but the man in black offered her a genuine smile. "You taught me what it's like to live again… and love again."

The true power hidden in her arms became evident at that moment. Lansky was trying to pull away and the agent was having a hard time repressing her flight. "Stop!" he pulled at her. "Stop… running away… from me," he ground out as her upward arm motion steadily increased in force.

"Kate!" he finally yelled.

All movement ceased and two sets of flaming eyes bore into one another's souls.

Lansky's fingers slowly wiggled from his grasp and she rose, hesitating to cup his cheek. When Larabee's hand assisted her, their flesh met again and an audible sigh sounded from the woman's very heart. "I face my past every day, Chris," she repeated, her voice barely a whisper. "I face my past every day when I see you smiling, doing your job, content, happy… when I look into your eyes."

As she spoke, Larabee thought he could sense the unconditional emotion he longed to see yet, with her last words, he saw all of that vanish, replaced instantly with pain and what seemed like a lifetime of regret. Kate's eyes closed tight and she pulled away from, relinquishing all physical contact.

Standing, Chris gave her space. Confused, he needed some of his own. Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, he shrugged his shoulders against the growing cold, both inside and out.

There was a lingering silence and with the light finally faded, Lansky spoke. "It's getting late, Chris."

Turning, the man in black found her standing at his side. Without thinking, he reached out and offered his hand. "Let's take the long way back to the car," he suggested hopefully.

Searching his eyes for intent, Kate found nothing deceptive. Indecisively, she raised a tentative hand and watched in wonder as Larabee, without a qualm, scooped her palm, entwining their fingers happily.

"Shall we?" he indicated the softly lit path along the lakeshore.

The woman nodded and followed closely as Chris started them on their way.

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

Closing her door against the world, Kate sighed heavily, her back planted firmly on the wooden structure. The rest of the evening had been pretty quiet, although talking Chris in circles was becoming increasingly hard. Turning to secure her many locks, the blonde was grateful that he hadn’t wanted a lot of conversation through dinner.

Wandering to the sofa, she discarded her jacket and tossed it to the chair. Sitting, she slumped, running splayed fingers through her locks. The walk along the lake had been peaceful, Larabee's hand on hers surprisingly comforting. Staring at the far wall, a sudden thought made Lansky wonder - had she ever done that before? Walked hand in hand with a boy!

Laughing off the musing, she got to her feet and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water. Preparing the beverage, she reflected on what little dinner conversation they’d had.

He'd told her 'if you didn't like my eyes, you've sure taken your sweet time telling me about it'.

'You have beautiful eyes, Chris' she had answered, confusing him even more. It would be impossible to explain the absolute fear she saw reflected in her bad dreams. Dark blue eyes pleading as sheer terror enveloped them, begging for a mercy that could never be granted.

'Impossible to explain…' she forced away the image.

Angry with herself for associating her nightmares with reality, Lansky stomped over to her computer, angrily shaking the mouse to reactivate the screen. Seeing the image of brilliant mountain scenery replace the fading black, she pulled out her chair, and then sitting, placed her glass on its usual coaster.

Clicking her e-mail, an 18 flashed on her screen and Kate cussed loudly, arms flailing, sending her water flying across the desk. Spying the monitor with pure hatred in her eyes, the blonde growled. Lumbering to her feet, her chair crashed to the floor as she stormed towards her bedroom.

Once inside the room, she got down on her hands and knees, turned over, and then inched under the bed. "Goddamn son-of-a…" she cursed aloud, clearly fumbling with something on the underside of the frame. The stream of condemning and denouncing words was punctuated with more colorful language as she continued to work at her task.

Finally, some two minutes later, the blonde emerged from beneath her mattress and bounded to her feet. Snatching her laptop from its perch on her dresser, she marched back to her living room, both hands clutching a variety of electronic components.

The process was done in an angry, none-too-gentle manner, but when Kate was finished, her laptop sat on her kitchen counter and booted up. A small antenna protruded from the PCMCIA card and pointed out the open window. A tiny scrambler for a SAT link was hooked to the aerial and fed directly to one of the series ports.

Lights and sounds indicated the boot-up cycle was finished and a large 18 appeared on the screen. Kate's pursed lip announced her displeasure as she turned up the volume and spoke. "What do you want?"

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

Trekking back upstairs from the Identification Section, Lansky smiled a hello to several other people as she passed them in the stairwell, completely suppressing the covert switch she had just made.

Having the building's lifts temporarily out of order throughout the week was obviously proving a challenge to some of the less active members of their community. The exercise however helped Kate mask the stealth activities she’d just completed, actually finding it amusing that so many people could be fooled so easily. She also found it funny that so many federal employees might actually choose to wait and wait and wait for the remaining pesky elevators to finally arrive when called.

Finally on the seventh floor, she reached for the exit door, only to have it open in front of her. Quickly sidestepping, she smiled in recognition, "Hi, Nathan."

Surprised, the tall man paused to greet the blonde. "You're actually enjoyin' havin' ta use these stairs, aren't you?" Lansky seemed to be in an unusually good mood this morning.

Kate chuckled as she stepped around him. "Never thought I'd hear you complaining about getting some exercise, Nathan. You're always after one of the boys to get off their 'duff' and do something."

The medic smiled coyly. "Yeah, guess I am," he acknowledged with a chuckled. "Don't reckon I meant climbin' alllllll these stairs though."

The woman smirked again. "Does that mean you're still coordinating the upgraded First Aid kits with Harper?"

"Yep," the agent nodded with a huff. "And she's still got all the stuff spread out on the boardroom tables up on twelve."

"And here I thought having those spare offices was a good thing."

Jackson cocked his head as he turned for the stairs. "Oh, they are," he sighed. "Just wish they were a few flights closer, is all."

Watching the man start up, Lansky was obviously amused. "Look at the bright side, Nathan," she announced. Seeing him stop, his eyebrows raised curiously, the blonde tried not to laugh aloud. "It’s only hard work in one direction!"

Jackson sneered playfully before continuing upstairs. Kate sauntered happily towards Team Seven's bullpen. She stopped short of her desk however, a scowl emerging as she gazed at an angry looking Larabee. He was glaring rather well this morning.

Across the floor, JD's eyes suddenly became glued to the top of his screen; his fingers stopped pecking at the keyboard.

Noticing the halt in the kid's typing, Wilmington eyed his roommate suspiciously, bunching his brows as he leaned over JD's terminal. "What's the matter with you?"

Swallowing hard, Dunne looked at his watch. "Is it… lunch time yet?"

Struggling with a written report, Tanner heard the younger agent's strange question and glanced at him inquisitively. Following the wide-eyed gaze to see what had prompted the query at nine thirty in the morning, Vin sighed and set down his pen slowly. "Aw, hell!" he muttered, seeing Larabee about to strike and Lansky's shoulders squaring against the incoming assault.

The rogue looked from one man to the other and finally turned completely around to see what was going on behind him. “Ain’t it a wonder their office romance ain’t goin’ nowheres? The office keeps gettin’ in the way!” he quirked, shaking his head. With a heavy sigh, Buck looked from the wall clock to his watch. "Gee, look at that," he announced. "Coffee break came early today."

The three men exchanged abrupt glances, each checking the closest timepiece.

"Good timing!" JD agreed as he got to his feet and hurried to the break room.

Nodding, the Texan stood and followed the kid. "Yep, I got a feelin' I'll be needin' a strong cup," he offered.

"Me, too," Buck took up the rear.

Noticing the shadows going past the window of his office, Sanchez looked up and scowled at his three colleagues. 'Wonder what they're up to?' he mused. Shaking his head, he smiled but the happy expression soon faded as he caught sight of the postures being exhibited on the other side of the room. "Oh, lord," he muttered, wondering if he should try to dissipate the brewing storm. Siding with his better judgment, Josiah leaned over to close his door and went back to work as the portal latched.

"What the hell is this?" Chris growled as he shoved a piece of paper in Kate's direction.

Immediately on the defensive, the federal building’s administration supervisor snatched the document from the senior agent without looking at it. "Mind telling why you're going through my desk?" she demanded.

"Won't be yours much longer," Larabee glared. "Obviously you can't control what goes on around here and if you can't do your job then you need to find something you're better suited for. Cleaning toilets, maybe…"

Lansky's eyebrow rose slightly. "Why not?" she shrugged off the derogatory hint. "I get enough practice with the shit that's flies around here. Should be damn good at it," she snapped back.

"Well, there's your first pile," the blond indicated the form angrily. "Start cleaning!"

It was damn hard to forgive the man his attitude when he came on so strong and Kate was more than curious as to what had him so upset. With a self-righteous sneer, she raised the paper to examine its contents.

Watching her blue eyes scan the document, Larabee could have sworn he saw them sparkle. His hackles raised another notch, and when she lowered the directive to speak, he interrupted. "Do something about it!" he commanded. "Now!"

Chris turned for his office but Lansky wasn't about to let him get off that easily. "Can't," she said. Calmly setting the document down on the edge of her desk, she smiled far too sweetly.

Whirling back around to glare at his assistant, the man in black narrowed his focus, totally unimpressed with her 'prim and proper'; hands held tightly together, 'not-gonna-do-a-damn-thing-about-it' pose. "What do you mean, you can't?" he sneered as he regained his lost ground.

Uncurling her fingers, Kate collected the paper and held it up to Larabee's face. "Orin signed it," she smiled. "You'll have to take it up with him."

Chris snatched the sheet out of his assistant's hand and crumbled it up into a ball.

Sighing heavily, the woman turned towards her desk and carefully rearranged the stapler and hole-punch. "Feel better now?" she queried. Grabbing for her tape dispenser, she positioned it beside the day planner.

The grunt Larabee gave was very loud and very final. Clenching the document in his fist, he stormed towards the double doors, obviously not impressed with anything this morning, least of all Kate.

Shaking her head gently, the blonde sighed as she watched Chris exit forcefully through the glass opening. Seeing him continually pushing the call button for the elevator, she wondered if he'd read the maintenance alert about the servicing. Her pondering was answered when the senior agent threw his hands up in the air and stormed towards the stairwell. 'Good' she mused. 'A brisk walk will calm him down some before he makes it up to Orin and gets his ass fired'.

Quietly contemplating that fine piece of 'man', she suddenly realized where her thoughts had gone and cleared her throat loudly. Looking around the empty room, she was glad that no one was there to see her distraction and promptly went back to her desk.

Barely ten minutes later, everyone had returned to their work when Larabee came storming back into the bullpen. Marching right past everyone, he entered his office and slammed the door.

"What did you do this time?" Wilmington piped up.

Situated at the center workstation, Kate was just gathering a report from the printer when she heard the remark. She turned, pointed to her chest and raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"Yeah, you," Buck answered the silent query.

"Well," Lansky huffed indignantly. "I had nothing to do with it… but, considering the attitude around here lately, I'm beginning to wish I did."

A strangled silence settled for a moment as the men contemplated what Kate's disgruntled message meant. "You ain't got a clue what's eatin' him, then?" Tanner’s question punctuated the quiet.

Looking over her shoulder at the sharpshooter, the blonde shrugged. "Didn't say that, Vin… but, I'm sure he'll get around to passing on the… 'News', when he's good and ready."

"Are we going to like it more than Chris?" JD looked at her slightly confused.

Cocking her head, the woman answered as she went back to her desk, "Doubt it."

The three men seemed to frown in unison.

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

"Mr. Sanchez," the undercover agent smiled at the profiler as his friend glanced up. "May I join you?"

Motioning to the cushion beside him, Josiah tapped it, giving Standish permission to sit on the couch.

An uncomfortable moment passed between the two men. The profiler set down the paper he'd been reading over the lunch break while the southerner shifted several times, obviously unsure of how to proceed.

"Just spit it out, Ezra," the big man put his tea mug on the table and looked at his fellow agent.

Clearing his throat, the younger man smiled. "Mr. Sanchez, I would like to apologize for my deplorable behavior over recent weeks." When Josiah tried to respond, Standish held up his hand, a finger indicating 'just one more thing'. "I… events of late have prompted me to… re-examine my immediate situation, and I…" shrugging embarrassingly, he continued, "I… eh… find myself rather abhorred at the way I have behaved toward my friends and associates. I offer no excuses for my actions because there is no adequate justification."

Folding his arms over his chest, the profiler nodded thoughtfully, his frowned gaze traveling slowly to the southerner's. "Quite the revelation, Ezra," he offered, "and I, eh … I accept your apology."

"I do not feel it necess…."

"Events of late, huh?" Sanchez interrupted the undercover agent's response. "Re-examine what situation, exactly?" he frowned. "Anything I can, eh… help with?" the profiler asked rather pointedly.

Licking at his lips gingerly, Standish forced a smile, realizing that perhaps he shouldn't have been so forth coming with the profiler. "No, actually, Josiah, I, eh… have it all under control," getting to his feet, the southerner continued to act the epitome of politeness. "Thank you again, for accepting my apology, but… given Mr. Larabee's very apparent bad mood… I might suggest that, perhaps, you, eh… might lend your professional assistance to areas where it is needed most." Giving a huge smile, Ezra departed, leaving one last 'good day, Mr. Sanchez' in his wake.

Arms still folded across his chest, the older man found his eyebrows knitted. He was slightly shocked at the obvious avoidance tactics prominently displayed by their normally 'cool and collected' undercover agent.

"Damn it, Kate. This won't work. I have a meeting Tuesday!"

Rolling his eyes, Josiah looked over as his Team Leader handed his assistant a piece of paper. Larabee had calmed his temper somewhat in the last hour but his mood and attitude left something to be desired. Standish was right. The profiler needed to talk to Chris but just how to approach 'the problem' was a dilemma.

"And where the hell is Orin?" the blond snapped. "I've left several messages with that… that secretary of his, two in the last hour, but nothing! And now, apparently, she and Travis are 'out'. Convenient, if you ask me!" he sneered. "I want that consolidated report on Prichard on my desk, NOW!"

"I don't have the damn report, Chris," Lansky said getting to her feet. Putting her hands firmly on the desk, she leaned over. "Look, I'm sure Delaney is following Orin's directions to the letter. Give her a break. She's still new at this. In the mean time, I'll re-arrange the Psyche evals for next week, but it's too late to change this week's schedule. I've already phoned down to get three of you in."

Grumbling, the man in black turned the paper to look at it. "JD's first up then?"

"Yeah," the woman nodded, "followed by Nathan and Josiah. It was that or desk duty. Can't fit seven guys into five days, ya know." Thumbing the form to look at it, she scowled. "Well, that means you'll have to go last. Easiest thing to do is swap you and Vin around… Leave Buck on Monday and Ezra Wednesday."

"Tanner hates these things."

Kate snickered quietly, dropping her chin. Glancing back, she shook her head, eyebrows raised questioningly. "He's not the only one."

Seeing the blonde's amusement, Larabee's attitude began to mellow with the soft tone of her voice. "True," he finally agreed, a small smirk curling his lips. There was a long moment where the two just stared, and then, barely at a whisper, he continued, "but I don't need no high-paid, over-educated, Freud Wannabe to tell me I'm crazy… You remind me… every day."

Lansky's head dipped again and without thought, she glanced at Chris from downcast eyes. "Lucky you," she answered in the same soft seductive tone.

The couple was silent, simply watching one another.

Slowing realizing where their conversation had gone, Kate pursed her lips. Tilting her chin, she tried to recover her composure but was interrupted as Larabee recognized her hesitation.

"You know, that little Chinese place down on York Street does great take-out."

The woman's eyes closed and she sighed. "We had dinner last night, Chris," she tried to remind him.

"No dessert though," came his quick reply.

Looking back at the blond, Kate didn't know what to do. As much as she tried to deny it, the desire was there. His voice was more than inviting and she was having a hard time hiding that fact. "You know you're not supposed to be bringing this to the office," she turned from his eyes, trying to conceal her own.

Larabee followed his heart, as always. Leaning close to her ear, he spoke for her alone. "I'm tired, stressed, cranky… missing you… I'll bring it anywhere I want… if it gets me what I need."

The woman refused to turn; knowing her smile would give her away. "Always about what you need, isn't it, Chris?"

"Good thing it's the same as what need you then… isn't it?"

Observing the subtle dance from his resting position on the couch, Sanchez smiled as Kate pushed Larabee away, telling him to 'get back to work'. Cocking his head, Josiah got to his feet and wandered back to his office, thankful that Chris was being 'seen to' by someone else who could do the job.

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

An exasperated Wilmington tapped on his boss's door shortly after lunch was over.

"Yeah," the senior agent looked up as his oldest friend wandered in and sat on the edge of his desk.

"Chris…" the surveillance man sighed, "I've been looking at those blueprints for the last three days and I'll be damned if I can figure out how Prichard got out of the warehouse undetected."

Tossing his pen down, Larabee leaned back in his chair, his hands moving up to paw through his blond locks. "You've been over them with Edison and Brice?" he asked, referring to Buck's counterparts on Team's Four and Five.

"Yep," the rogue answered quickly. "After we did up our reports on Saturday, we started in on it. Spent time together yesterday, and this morning as well… still nothing!"

His hands settling back to his lap, the man in black frowned. "Only so many ways to get out of a building, Buck."

"Like I don't know that," the surveillance man replied rather bluntly. "Look, Chris, this one's got us stumped, and I was thinkin'…."

Larabee broke the long silence. "Yes?" He asked the question, already knowing what his oldest friend was about to say.

"Well, you remember when we couldn't find that shipment of guns that Marcus Kulinski brought into the country?"

Holding up a hand, the senior agent motioned Wilmington to stop. "I remember, Buck. You…" he looked at the man seriously, so many doubts from the last few days came jumping back into his head. "You ever find out how she knew where to look?"

The rogue shook his head. "You know her, Chris. She wouldn't tell me… just said it was a fluke and joked about havin' a sixth sense sometimes."

The man in black was not amused. "You know… Travis told me afterwards that even the FBI couldn't figure out how we found that stash."

"You said... Even had to bring in their sonar gadget thingy to pinpoint the entrance to the bunker."

Leaning forward, Chris picked up his pen and twirled it in his fingers. He pursed his lips, scrutinizing the ladies' man for a long moment.

"What are you thinkin' about, Stud?" Wilmington finally asked.

Still considering the maze of questions Lansky had left in his brain lately, the senior agents tossed his pen aside, clearly irritated by the lack of answers. "She really said it was a fluke?"

Buck frowned, putting away his own uneasiness about Kate's behavior lately. "Chris, we went over this months ago. She said it was a sixth sense… a fluke, a lucky guess. Hell, I can't remember…" Wilmington looked at his oldest friend seriously. "What? Now you're thinkin' somethin' else is goin' on with Kate? Oh man, maybe you really are startin' ta lose it, old buddy."

Realizing how irrational all of this might sound, Larabee thought better of voicing his opinions. "Yeah, I guess," he muttered. Shaking away his suspicions, he looked at the surveillance man and nodded. "Alright… If you figure Kate can help, then fill her in."

"Good…" the rogue got to his feet but was interrupted before he could continue.

"But I want to know the minute she finds anything, you got that?"

Scowling at his old friend, Buck nodded. "She may not, ya know." Their eyes met and the rogue saw something he couldn't identify.

"She will," Chris insisted. "I’d stake my life on it."

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

It was just past three o'clock when Kate wandered to Larabee's office door and knocked on the frame. "Everything alright with the schedule?" she asked when he looked up.

The man in black nodded, tossing his pen to the desk and leaning back in his chair. "Did you tell them to meet in the boardroom at three?"

"Passed that already," Lansky grinned. "That's why I'm here."

Double-checking his watch, the senior agent cussed, got to his feet and then rounded his big oak table. "Come with me," he half-asked, half-suggested as he stopped in front of the blonde.

"Afraid they're going to have the same reaction you did?" Kate smirked.

The expression on Larabee's face grew serious, "You know some of them will," he answered as a hand rose to softly caress the woman's cheek. "But I didn't think I needed an excuse… to have you at my side."

Instant uncertainty flashed in Kate's mind, yet she quelled the flare in her eyes, closing them as she took his hand. Clenching his palm within her fist and drawing it between them, she dipped her chin as she gently set her forehead to the agent's chest. "Damn you, Larabee…" she complained quietly, "can't you just lay off me for one minute?"

With his left hand held securely in her grasp, Chris brought his other up to cup the back of her neck. Kissing the top of her lowered head, he sighed. "Let me in, Kate," the voice was barely a whisper, "there isn't a thing in this world you can't tell me."

Within the confines of his hold, Lansky was fighting to maintain control. She wanted to snap at him, tell him he didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but her heart ached, too. There was a small portion of her soul that wanted desperately to tell this man what she had never told another… the burden she carried each time she looked into this man's loving eyes. "There are things I can't tell you, Chris," she answered instead.

Observing as she pulled away and severed all contact, the man in black frowned when she spoke.

"You know what I mean," the blonde groused as her mood suddenly changed. "All that 'Eyes Only' stuff I got to see when I was in."

Something in her wording forced Larabee to smile insincerely.

"Come on," Kate turned for the door. "The boys will be wondering what we're doing in here."

The senior agent followed yet, inexplicably, he felt as though he was in a dream. His mind was trying to grasp at information long forgotten and Lansky was up to her old tricks again, of that, Chris was sure. 'Damn' he cursed silently. He knew there was too much going on for him to stop and think about her statement and that's exactly what she was counting on.

And yet…

"Was just comin' ta track ya down," Tanner complained as Larabee entered the boardroom, his assistant closing the door behind them.

"Did it for you, Vin," Kate smiled as she took up a seat at the other end of the big table.

"Bet it weren't that difficult either," Wilmington snickered. "Kind 'a like a bee findin' a rose."

Dunne scowled. “Shouldn’t that be the other way around?” he eyed his roommate questioningly.

Nathan laughed quietly while Sanchez shook his head.

The sharpshooter looked at Buck and without batting an eyelid, replied, "Nope… both hurt ya when yer least expectin’ it."

Apparently uninterested in their musings, the undercover man spoke without looking up from his notebook, “Very well said, Mr. Tanner.”

The other six men looked at their seventh with varying degrees of amusement and Lansky’s eyebrows rose cynically.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Larabee took control of the snickers. Once he had everyone’s attention, the blond joined his men at the table and took his seat.

Furthest from the senior agent, Jackson leaned forward in his chair, his hands meeting on the surface in front of him. “Another case, Chris?”

Responding with only a shake of his head, Larabee took a deep breath, studying his men as they looked at him intently.

Sanchez sensed how uncomfortable his leader appeared and tried to ease whatever the man’s message was. “Say what needs to be said, Chris. We can handle it.”

The man in black acknowledged the profiler with a cocky grin. Licking at his lips, he sighed, finally resigned to ‘spit it out’. “Josiah’s right,” he looked around the room. “This morning I received orders from Travis,” he held up his hand when Buck tried to interrupt. “Not orders for a new case,” he clarified, “but directions pertaining to our ‘active’ status.”

“Why don’t I like the sound ‘a that?” Tanner asked.

The blond met his best friend’s eyes and pursed his lips. “Didn’t figure you would, Vin.” Returning his focus to the room at large, Larabee continued. “Between now and next Friday, each of us has to attend a four-hour session with a department shrink.”

“What?” Wilmington complained loudly.

“Four hours?” JD repeated.

Seeing the calmest of his agents quietly slump back in their chairs, the blond nodded his thanks to Jackson and Sanchez. He’d expected these two men to handle the news reasonably well and they were indeed, setting the example to follow.

The sharpshooter was sitting silently in his seat; his eyes focused on something on the far wall.

“Vin?” Larabee called to the man closest to him.

The stern look Tanner shot the older man made Chris react. “We don’t have much choice, Vin,” he tried to reassure. “It’s been two years. Got ‘a do it. A psychological evaluation or a desk… your choice.”

“Some choice,” the rogue announced with a huff.

“Can’t we put it off?” the kid asked as he looked at his boss.

Referring the question to Lansky with an arm motion, Chris sat back in his chair and listened to Kate’s explanation.

Lansky cleared her throat and scooted forward to the table. “Afraid this one smells remarkably like ‘payback’ fellas,” she announced with a huff. "Trouble is, Delaney did her homework and there is no way out of it.” Looking at the disgruntled seven, the woman continued. “Like Chris said, come next Friday, your two years are up and Travis can revoke your active status.”

“Ain’t nothin’ you can do about it?”

Looking Tanner squarely in the eye, Kate shrugged. “Rules are rules, Vin… normally I might be able to stretch them a little…”

“But Miss Delaney is the AD’s assistant now and, as I would expect, has his complete attention.”

Buck looked across the table and smiled at the undercover agent. “Seems to me… she can have quite the affect on a man’s demeanor,” he commented coyly.

Nodding, Ezra smiled. “Yes, Mr. Wilmington, she certainly can.”

Hearing the tone the southerner used when referring to Adrian made Lansky uncomfortable. She shifted in her chair and Standish sent a raised eyebrow in her direction.

“A formidable opponent,” he grinned at the blonde. “I hope she does not continue to be so.”

Kate simply looked the southerner in the eye. “No ‘opponents’ here, Ezra,” she smiled sweetly. “Everyone in this building works together as a team, or, at least… we’re supposed to.”

Tension suddenly enveloped the room and Josiah shifted uneasily. “I believe Adrian has our best interests at heart,” he offered after a long silence. “If this had been overlooked, we could have found ourselves in the middle of a case and suddenly sidelined.”

Finally shifting his gaze from Lansky’s eyes, Standish replied, “An astute observation, Mr. Sanchez,” he remarked before going back to his notes.

“Maybe it’s best we get this over with,” Nathan added. “Some things are just better when they’re done.”


Pursing his lips at Tanner’s reaction, Wilmington turned to Chris. “These things all booked?”

“Yeah,” Larabee nodded. “Kate’s got the timetable made up. JD, you’re first. Eight till twelve tomorrow morning?” he glanced at the woman to confirm his statement.

“Yes,” Lansky answered. “Since all of the appointments are required to be four hours, I pressed the Psyche department and got them to juggle some things around. You’re all scheduled in for the next seven days… JD tomorrow, followed by Josiah on Thursday and Nathan on Friday. Next week, Buck is up first, followed by Vin, Ezra and finally, Chris.”

The men eyed each other and exchanged a few words before the blonde interrupted again. “Oh, and I forgot,” she waited until she had everyone’s attention again. “Doctor Cyrus is no longer with the department. The new guy is James Reed.”

“Oh that’s just great,” Buck announced. “Another new shrink to tell us we’re all crazy.”

Josiah and Nathan exchanged coy grins.

“How come I got ‘a go first?” Dunne mumbled. He swatted Wilmington as the tall rogue punched his shoulder playfully.

“Junior man always pulls the first eval,” Kate replied. There wasn’t anything regulation about the practice but it was something all the teams did… almost like a good luck charm.

“Yeah, Junior,” the surveillance man teased.

Attempting to break up the foray and the snickers, Larabee called an end to the meeting and, one by one, Team Seven filtered out of the room, quiet conversation littering their departure.

Looking down the long table to where Lansky still sat, Chris cocked his head. “That went better than I expected.”

“Yep,” she agreed. “Vin could do without it, but I think he’ll manage.”

“He’s been a little off lately,” the senior agent commented, sitting back in his chair. "I was watching Standish, too. Buck told me earlier that he's done some apologizing for the way he's been acting over the last couple of weeks, talked to everyone but Tanner by the sounds of it."

"You, too?"

"Nah," he smiled. "Probably figures he didn't do too much to piss me off, I'm not gonna press about him ignoring his pager on Friday. Orin tore a strip off his hide and put him on notice. I just hope he can hold it together for the shrink."

Kate had taken note of the sharpshooter's behavior but she wasn’t about to add fuel to Larabee’s burning curiosity, especially knowing that she was the cause of Vin's uneasiness. If any of these men could be considered a worthy adversary, it was the Texan, and Kate just wasn’t going there. “Probably just all that attention the Prichard case drew on him," she commented casually. "You know Vin hates being in the limelight.”

Lansky wasn't about to comment regarding Ezra!

The man in black nodded slowly. Even without knowing the man better than most, Chris had to agree strongly. Tanner hated to be the center of attention.

Turning his thoughts back to the blonde, the man smiled and decided to change the subject. “Day’s almost done,” he mentioned casually. “Can we, eh… maybe get together tonight?”

Looking at her watch, Lansky tried to act laid-back. “Didn’t we already have this discussion?”

Larabee smiled. “Yeah…” he said quietly, “but I don’t think I got an answer about dessert.”

From downcast eyes, Kate shook her head and glared playfully. “I’d definitely want dinner first.”

Surprised at her positive response, Chris went with the flow of the conversation. “How about we go home together? Stop by your place so you can collect some clothes. Then I’m taking you for Chinese, just like I said.”


Watching the querying smirk, the blond continued. “Yep. Afterwards, we can stop at that little café on the city limits for some of Donna’s homemade peach cobbler.”

“With ice cream?

Laughing quietly, Chris nodded again. “If you want.” Intrigued that she would consider the evening he had planned, the man in black sat forward and eyed his lady. “So… how does that sound?”

Sitting up straight in her chair, Kate put her hands together and twirled her thumbs aimlessly. Finally looking back into his smiling green eyes, she nodded. “No promises, Chris…” she said seriously, but the corner of her lip curled as she continued, “but I’ll go along with the plan… as long as I get ice cream."

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

The engine stopped as Chris turned his key and removed it from the ignition. Sitting for a moment, he shifted slightly and looked at the woman beside him. She'd been quiet all through their coffee and dessert and he could sense some apprehension. "Ready?" he asked.

Lansky's chin rose slowly to meet the man's eyes and she hesitated. For all the right reasons, she wanted to be here. She felt so deeply for the blond and loved the time they spent together.

Before last month, it had always been their complicated friendship, their long talks, or simply, the times she'd spent snuggled to his shoulder because he needed to hold on to something tangible… something real. But did she really qualify…

There had also been the times when big, strong, tough, senior agent, former SEAL, and ex-cop Larabee, fell apart.

Those were tough times for them both, yet their two years together, for all of the challenges and hurt, and fights, and the smiles, had brought them here.


They had left behind all of those unspoken boundaries. Kate wanted to be in his arms, to feel his weight upon her body, his breath in her mind.

She wanted… pure and simply.

Recent doubts she’d been hearing in her mind really couldn’t hold a candle to the feelings in her heart. And when she looked at Chris during quiet times, like this, it was her heart that commanded her soul to thrived…

It made her angry to think about the times when her head bullied its way into the mix and shut everything else out. Accepting the fact that her training and her pain had a significant roll in her life… in her very survival… didn't make those facts any easier to live with. A part of her consciousness would always be on guard to protect the fragile creature that still breathed somewhere inside her.

The part that yearned to be loved…


Blinking to refocus, Kate managed a gentle smile.

Larabee's hand snaked a path across the seat and took up her fingers. "Why is it I feel like a teenager, parked outside my girlfriend's home, wanting to do things young men shouldn't… before she runs away?"

The woman's chin dipped solemnly. "We're not teenager anymore, Chris," she teased. "Far from it."

Instantly, the agent was across the seat and pulling her into his arms. They struggled playfully and he managed to find her lips in the foray. Rough at first, the kiss softened as the 'fight' dissipated. After a long moment, the blond pulled away slightly and looked deep into her eyes. "There's a lot to be said for age," he whispered. "I know a lot more than I did way back then… Ways to pleasure," he arched his brows, "and this, not-so-young body, appreciates the pleasures of taking its time."

Pushing him from her torso, Kate breathed a heavy sigh. "Well, I'm not your girlfriend, Larabee," the pursed lips sent home her message and Chris grinned. "And as for the wanting to do things…."

There it was again. The man in black could clearly see the hesitation in her face and suddenly, he had second thoughts about bringing Lansky back to his home. The words that came from his lips were spoken straight from the heart with no thoughts to cloud their meaning. "Kate…" he drew her gaze to his with a single finger. "I want you… not just for all the physical reasons… but for all the right reasons."

Slowly, her eyes closed and she turned away.

Inwardly exasperated with her response, Larabee held it together on the outside. Silently watching her reflection in the passenger window, he allowed her the time she needed to respond.

For all the 'normal' turmoil that flowed through her brain where Chris was concerned, something else was weighing heavily tonight. As she gazed out at the blackness surrounding them, Lansky felt the pure honestly in his message. Yet, acknowledging her blatant disregard for his feelings, she was haunted by the events of four short nights ago.

Once more, Kate's mind and heart did battle but the green eyes that stared back at her weren't Larabee's this time. Instead, Standish was prominent in her thoughts. Her eyes closed against the onslaught of images and she angrily chased the man from her mind. The southerner wasn't the one she wanted to be with… the one she needed.

What had passed between them in the early hours of Saturday morning was wrong… A mistake, as Ezra so pointedly put it. She'd said it then and no matter how true the words really were, 'just sex' took on a whole new meaning when participants were involved in other relationships.

As much as she hated to admit it, Kate was involved with Chris, perhaps on a level that she could never admit, but it was there, just the same. She had betrayed everything that he stood for, every conviction that she knew he believed in. Then, to make matters worse, she had acted like it meant nothing. That part of her that denied him, had truly reigned supreme, again.

They were so alike it wasn’t funny. In another lifetime, Lansky knew that she and Standish were meant to meet. She'd seen the anguish in his eyes, although he hid it so masterfully, as did she. Two peas in a pod… yet, Kate had him beat hands down. She'd never learned the word 'fold'

Swallowing hard, Lansky forced all of her doubt away and concentrated on the man she was with now. She had betrayed him, but couldn't think about it in those terms. She had to keep her mask on… her protection. Larabee was the one who saw her without it and, even more now, than ever before, she'd have to fight harder to keep it in place around him.

Glancing back at Chris, she lowered her eyes, accepting that she would give to him what he desired. Perhaps, just maybe… she could forgive herself in the act and redeem what little self-esteem she had left. Reaching for the handle, the woman opened the door, climbed from the truck and then closed it behind her. Rounding the hood, she waited for him to get out.

Contemplation was never one of his strong points but as he exited the vehicle, Larabee couldn't help observe the expression the woman wore. "I can still take you home," he offered as she looked up into his eyes and smiled.

With the shake of her head, the man in black matched her grin and slammed the door shut. As she stepped away from him, towards the house, he took her hand, giving her a reassuring glance when she frowned.

Silently, they walked the path past the barn, crossing the driveway to enter the ranch house. Larabee secured the door and, neither of them needing light; they kicked off respective boots, tossing their coats to the back of his nearby couch. With one last glance and a smile, he headed for his room.

Standing in the darkness, Kate felt at home. She drew so much security from the black of night and there was very little she couldn't accomplish within its realm. Yet, gazing down the hallway to the small flicker of light that his bedside lamp emitted, she suddenly felt scared.

Chris was waiting for her there…

Seemingly out of the blue, a soft snicker escaped her lips. Lansky was amused at the thoughts crossing her mind. She closed her eyes, her chin dipping for just a moment. 'Larabee… surrounded by light' she mused. Just how contradictory was that?

So many people in this world saw him as 'dark'. The man in black… a heart with no soul… a man hardened by the world, uncaring and just plain mean.

How little these people knew of Chris…

With darkness as her ever-present companion, the man in black should naturally be Kate's friend... but she knew better. She had recognized the light in this man's spirit long ago, but she also knew how much he wanted to draw her into the circle of warmth that surrounded him.

Truth be told, it wasn't Larabee that scared her now, it was the brightness burning within him. The unwavering heart that believed so strongly that good would eventually prevail, and that things, no matter how dire, would inevitably be all right.

This was the light that she had reawakened for Chris, and now, he so desperately wanted to share it with her.

A small part of her wanted to experience it with him…

If it could just find the strength to be heard…

The heavy breath that preceded her movement was almost audible. She wanted this and she would show him that, almost as though her life depended on that fact. Step by step, she walked towards the open bedroom door and when she entered, he was already resting under the blankets.

His gaze slowly traced her curves, desire clearly visible in his eyes. "Thought maybe you'd decided to crash on the couch," he grinned.

Pushing away all the random thoughts in her brain, Lansky cocked her head, her mind focusing only on him. "Thought about it," she joked. "Then I remembered what was waiting for me in here… That gorgeous smile of yours… your 'weathered' wisdom, and your hard… muscles."

"Good combination," Larabee grinned. Slowly, his hand rose to beckon her.

Her happy expression mellowing, Kate took a long moment to stare into his eyes. "Turn off the light," she finally whispered, the true meaning of her request hidden once more, in the shadows.

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

Morning came early at the Larabee ranch and for so many reasons; all Chris wanted to do was spend the day in bed… just staring at the peaceful creature that lay at his side.

He smiled just thinking about it.

The man in black was probably the only person in the world who would describe Kate Lansky that way.

Lying on his stomach, head cocked to one side and resting on his folded arms, he just watched. She lay in exactly the same position, her face towards him, and the blond knew instinctively that she was really asleep.

Last night had started as a battle of wills. She was hesitant, even after they were naked in each other's arms, and for the first time in their brief intimate relationship, she had tried to give of her body, not wanting to 'feel' the act as he partook.

Chris wasn't having any of it though.

There had been times when Sarah had given her body to him when he needed it… she, too busy in her mind to enjoy their coupling, or just too tired. It was always loving, but never the same as when his wife was truly involved.

Last night, however, Larabee had felt this woman's feelings shut down as she made the offer. Sitting there in the dark, his legs drawn up and his back to Lansky, the blond had grown quiet.

"Why are you even here, Kate?" he had whispered, the disappointment was clear in his tone.

There was a long pause, and then her answer, "I thought this is what you wanted."

There had been another long silence.

"Well… guess I should go sleep on the couch after all." The curt response came as she folded back the covers and tried to get out of bed.

His hand on her wrist had stopped her for a moment but Chris was unprepared for the movement that freed her from his grasp. As she reached the door, he caught up with her and slammed it shut, pinning her against the wood, his naked flesh in hard contact with hers.

"I want you, Kate," he growled. Yet, the harshness of his voice trailed off quickly as he continued. His eyes looked down as she offered no resistance but would not meet his stare. "I want all of you. Your body, your heart… your soul."

After a long moment and no sign of a response, he grew forceful once more, yet only to get his point across. "Goddamn it, Kate, let me in."

Hands rising from her sides to slip between their bodies, Lansky pushed him away, finally looking up into his eyes when he only gave her a little space. She studied him carefully, almost as if judging him worthy of an answer, then, after dipping her chin, she spoke, regaining his stare as the words came. "My body is yours… as per our agreement."

Her matter-of-fact tone made Chris seethe inside.

"My heart…?"

Even in the darkness, Larabee could see the smirk on her lips.

"Well, let's just say, I'm not so sure it exists."

The blond frowned slightly but she paid little attention to the questioning look.

"And as for my soul," the laugh was very audible this time. "See, there in lies the problem, Chris, because I know that doesn't exist."

Not knowing how to respond to such a statement, the man continued to stare, gently shaking his head.

"Hey, one out of three ain't bad," she offered sarcastically as she tried to force herself free again.

Larabee wasn't about to let her run away and pushed her against the door once more. For a moment, he could have sworn he heard her growl, her fists clenching in his hands as he held her. "Let me in," he repeated.

"Let me go, Chris," she relaxed in his arms.

"Not on your life."

Resting her head gently on his chest, she slowly shook it from side to side. "You have that wrong, Larabee," she whispered. "The only life at stake here is yours… now let me go."

Still holding her wrists tight, Larabee stepped back a little and gazed into her eyes. Something in the way she looked at him told Chris he should be afraid, yet he refused to accept that. "I don't care what you threaten me with," he replied quietly and calmly. "I am not giving up on us… not now… not ever….” His final words were barely a whisper, " I can't."

The fire in her mind was extinguished in an instant.

This was the Larabee she was afraid of… the man so raw and honest with his emotions that he cut straight to the heart she swore she didn't possess. It hurt too much to let him in, and yet, with a few soft words, he barged his way inside and she had no defenses left in tact.

Hiding her face from his persistent gaze, Lansky knew she couldn't fight this man on her usual level.

Oh she could take him down in the blink of an eye… any of these men she called friend for that matter, but she hated that part of her and kept it a bay. Keeping them on the outside had always been easy, until recently. The feelings she consistently denied for Chris were there, too real and too reminiscent of the only other time in her life when a man had found her heart… then shattered it into a million pieces.

Larabee wasn't Cole. She knew the difference on a conscious level, but the dread she held wouldn't allow logic a chance. Terror and love should never be mixed in a man's eyes. Not like that…

Never again, like that!

Hiding her face from Chris, Kate tried to calm her worst fears.

How could she ever justify her decisions to this man?

If she tried to explain, he would only make the usual assumptions. He might profess his love, say he would never leave… never abandon her for the wiles of another or simply grow tired of her. Perhaps, Larabee would think that they could work through any conflicts their careers might present, or cross those inevitable roadblocks that two people encounter when they become 'a couple'.

All of those 'normal' obstacles meant nothing though… and trying to act normal had only ended her here, in this dilemma with Larabee.

She needed to deny it all…

As quietly as he had spoken, Kate replied, her own heartfelt emotions barely kept in check. "I never make threats, Chris… only promises." She pushed away again and this time, the man let her go. A quick glance confirmed that he had turned to watch her and slowly, she went back to the bed and climbing in. Pulling the sheets around her torso, she held them as a child clings tightly to a security blanket. "There is no us to give up on… can't you see that?"

Staring at his form in the darkness, she really didn't expect a response. Bowing her head, she took a long moment to collect her thoughts. "Two years ago… you were angry, lost, and alone. Drinking yourself into an early grave, Chris, and I wasn't about to stand by and let that happen."

Larabee slowly edged closer, eventually crawling into the bed at her side. He carefully tucked the covers around them both, but refrained from touching her. "So… I was right," he whispered after a moment of thought, " you do care." The blond was desperately hoping he could push her enough that she might tell him something he would understand.

"I… care," her voice hitched for a second before resuming its low flat tone. "But I have no heart or soul to offer you, Chris. I can't reciprocate, don't you get it?"

The honesty of her words stung, yet the man was trying frantically to put the statements together with others she'd made just a few short days ago. 'Yes, that's it,' he acknowledge to himself as he remember Friday morning. "Then we really are perfect for each other," he smiled. "After all, you said I lost my heart the day Sarah died. I'd say we belong together."

Lansky turned to him, pure malice in her eyes. "We don't belong together! You… may have lost your way for a while, Chris… but there is a light that shines from your heart that can never be extinguished."

The man smiled inwardly. "So, you lied to me then?"

"What?" Kate frowned.

"You lied to me," the blond repeated. "You said you could never love me because I can't offer you what I don't have. You said I would never own my heart again… not in this life time."

Turning away, Lansky tried to recall her words. "I never said that," she insisted.

"Ooh, yes you did," Chris said in a biting tone. "You see, I remember very clearly. You threw those words in my face and you stormed out the door leaving me all the time in the world to think about exactly what you said."

"We don't belong together," Lansky snapped in desperation. Fighting with words was never easy when emotions got in the way.

"Quit running, Kate. All these words games you play… all the smoke and mirrors you throw in my path every time I get close. It's not going to work anymore, do you hear me? I'm coming in and you can't stop me… but you knew that already, didn't you…or you wouldn't be fighting this hard."

There was so much truth in his words that she could barely muster a response and when she finally did, all the woman could say was "No." She could deny until she was blue in the face, but it didn't mean a thing. A very real part of Lansky wanted Chris more than life itself… and as maddening as it was, she could never deny that fact.

Sensing her inner turmoil, Larabee took a chance. "I don't care," he spoke quietly as he covered the small distance between them and took her in his arms. Lifting her eyes to meet his, he smiled and kissed her gently. "I don't care what you're hiding. I don't care about what you did in the past and I don't care how much you insist you don't. I know you love me, Kate… maybe even as much as I love you."

Her hand was at his lips instantly, but it was too late to stop the words from erupting. The internal struggle pained her beyond comprehension and Lansky searched his eyes for the slightest sign of doubt or regret.

She found none… and in that fact, her non-existent heart began to beat in time with his.

Chris kissed her again, the hand between them falling away to wrap tightly around his shoulders. After that, there were few words.

Kate let him in… let him see the woman who could give her all and never regret.

They made love long into the night and held each other like never before.

Lansky awoke slowly to the glimmers of first light and to a grin she hoped wouldn't be permanently fixed on the man's face. She knew why he was smiling. He could almost call it a victory dance if he were standing and prancing around. For all the resistance that she had thrown in his face, Larabee had found his way inside the maze of her life…

'Heaven help us both' she mused. It was both a prayer and a curse.


Eyes lifting from his smile to focus on his pale green reflections, Kate answered as she had always done, "Hey."

There was a long moment where they both simply stared.


"Don't, Chris," this time her hand had stopped his words. She knew he would try to revisit last night's conversation in the light of day and the blonde wasn't having any of it. As the palm released his mouth, she sat up on her forearms and gruffly turned her head. "I'm mad at you, alright?" she stared at the headboard and sighed. "You broke your promise and I can't trust you."

"Oh?" he countered. Taking a moment to think, he continued, trying to lighten the mood but still wanting to talk. "I'm the one who should be mad. Did you, or did you not threaten me last night?"

Her head went down and there was a long pause. Kate had no wish to rehash her attempts to frighten Larabee away. "I… warned you, Chris… nothing more."

"Then maybe neither of us can be trusted," he answered quickly.

Turning to stare into his eyes, she frowned, her words barely a whisper as they emerged without thought. "You have no idea…"

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

"You're quiet," Larabee glanced at Kate as they entered the city limits and pulled up to a red light.

The drive in had been nice. Subdued contemplation was definitely called for after their romp in the shower that morning. Lansky had been aggressive as they got out of bed, yet, afterwards, Chris was left with the feeling that somehow, she'd been holding back, but on what level, he wasn't sure.

"Just watching the scenery," she answered casually as they pulled away from the stop.

The man frowned…

A few minutes passed before he spoke again. He'd wanted to ask, and now seemed the perfect time. "What did you mean…? When you said, I had no idea?"

None too subtle in her answer, Lansky pretended not to know what he was talking about. She scowled as she glanced at him, "What do you mean?"

Chris studied her carefully as she turned away again. He was a damn good ATF agent and investigator. He'd questioned the best of the best when it came to deception, or so he thought. This woman… the woman he loved… was confusing the hell out of him.

He'd always thought Lansky had spoken the truth when they discussed things… everything… but the last few weeks had led him to believe otherwise. He'd learned to question Kate and, to a degree, that made him uncomfortable. Yet, the more he pushed, the more he was willing to, and even more, he wanted the truth, no matter the cost.

Was it the emotional involvement that made him so confused? Well, if there was one thing he'd learned in the past few days, it was to keep pushing, even when she seemed nonchalant about things. "I know a threat when I hear one, Kate, and you adding your 'you have no idea' on top of it… Exactly what did you mean?" he asked a little more forcefully this time.

The turn of her head was so casual, the gentle smile spoke of a 'not a care in the world' attitude. "Oh come on now, Chris… I was joking. Geez, I would've thought you knew me better by now."

The man in black met her eyes as he pulled up to the next light. "So would I," he said in a low dark tone.

The frowned was sharp. "Just what the hell is that suppose to mean?"

Keeping his focus on the road as they started again, Larabee took a deep purposeful breath. One thing he had learned was that Kate's language deteriorated rapidly when she was on edge. "Just what I said," he replied. "See, that's the difference between you and me. I always mean exactly what I say… Somehow, I get the feeling you've been hiding from me from the very beginning."

The statement was truer than Larabee knew, but there was no way Lansky would ever admit it. "Hiding?" she turned around fully in the seat to face him. "That's funny, Chris… You know more about me than anyone alive."

In his mind, the blond was keeping close track of the exact words she was using. She had left him a lot to think about on Friday and he'd spent the weekend thinking about her remarks… and his.

It had become clear that Lansky was very good at concealing information. Maybe even better than Standish, but Larabee was no longer in the mood to care. He hated it when people weren't up-front with him, as Ezra well knew. "No matter how hard you try, Kate," he said calmly, "you're not pushing me away."

Concealing her annoyance behind the huffed laughter, Kate sneered. "You are so conceited, you now that?" the woman turned back to look out the window. "I'm with you because I like you, nothing more."

Chris wasn't buying her uncaring answer this time. "That's it," he nodded, "you keep on trying to hide all your feelings and all your secrets, whatever they may be. Maybe if I ignore all the bravado and innuendoes long enough, you'll finally really talk to me."

Folding her arms across her chest, Kate snickered again. "Don't hold your breath," she forced a curt smile as she glanced at him.

"That advice goes both ways," the blond shot back.

Seeing her turn towards the window again, Chris mentally chalked a point for himself on his 'scoreboard'. He'd lost once, and he was more determined than ever not to lose another woman that he loved.

Ten minutes later, they cleared security in the underground parking garage and stopped in Larabee's assigned spot. Not waiting for him, Kate slammed the truck door and headed for the elevator.

Catching up to her before the door closed, the blond smiled sweetly at the unimpressed look on her face.

The design of this and all Federal Buildings had the lower level elevators stopping on the ground floor. Everyone was required to have their identification scanned, declare their weapons and clear the metal detectors before entering the main office areas. It was a routine that everyone knew and hardly even noticed anymore, but as Chris deposited his badge, gun, and keys in the tray, he caught himself frowning.

Collecting his property on the other side of the security arch, he turned to see a satisfied look on Lansky's face as her ID card scanned through security and she happily followed him. Watching the green light on the metal detector, Larabee focused his attention on the security guard that collected Kate's backpack and ran it through the X-ray machine.

"Is something wrong, Agent Larabee?" the young guard asked as she picked up Lansky's bag and turned to see the man in black frowning as he studied her monitor.

Snapping himself out of the momentary daze, Chris smiled politely. "No," he answered as he shook his head, "just never paid much attention before."

Unable to find an appropriate response to the reply, the young woman just smiled as she handed back the pack and wished them both a 'good day'.

Riding the elevator to the Seventh floor, Larabee looked at Kate questioningly. "No keys today?" he suddenly asked his companion.

"What?" the blonde frowned.

Pointing to her backpack, Chris started adding things up. "No keys in there," he remembered the monitor of the x-rayed bag. "You put your key pouch on this morning, but you didn't set off the metal detector as you went through."

Listening to Larabee's pointed questions, Kate instantly became incensed. She scowled as she shuffled and twisted, covertly concealing her movements. "What is this, twenty questions? Since when do you care if I have my keys or not?"

Running his hand across his eyes, the man in black tracked the digits across his scalp as he tried to add things up in mind. "I've never seen you without that pouch," he countered thoughtfully.

Cocking her head to one side, Lansky raised an eyebrow and smiled casually. "See, I knew you never look at me when we have sex."

Sneering playfully, Chris swallowed a little. Apprehensively, he pushed on, "Answer my question, Kate."

The disgruntled look was harsh. "What question? Where are my keys?" she put down her pack angrily and reached around behind her. Making every obvious movement she possibly could, the woman fumbled for a second and then produced a small ring with two keys on it. "There, are you satisfied… one for my apartment, and one for my car. Jesus, Chris… you know I hate carrying shit around in my pockets and I wouldn't be caught dead with a purse."

For a moment, the agent was about to concede the point and apologize, but he suddenly realized that she'd avoided the obvious query. "You're good," he stated so matter-of-factly it stung. "You almost had me, but… that still doesn't answer my damn question! How did you get the keys through security?"

As the elevator door opened on their floor, Lansky picked up her backpack and glared at the man. "I think you need to take your suspicions to Travis, Chris. I'm sure he'll find them as fascinating and annoying as I do…." Stepping out of the car, she turned as the man followed her. "For whatever it’s worth… the keys went through in a tray, same as they always do… but I'll be damned if I'm going to stand here and be accused of smuggling me 'oh-so-dangerous' key ring into this building." Slinging her satchel over one shoulder, Kate shot Larabee a smug glare for good measure as she left.

Growing increasingly frustrated, Larabee stood in the hallway and watched Kate as she entered the bullpen. 'That was really dumb' he chastised silently. He'd let his suspicions get the better of him without thinking things through. Lansky was smart, and although he hadn't seen her remove her keys downstairs, there was the very real possibility that he had missed her taking them out.

'And replace them?' the question popped into his head instantly.

Almost growling at the way his mind was thinking lately, the blond shook his head angrily. Lansky's curt defensive language told him he was on to something yet, she was right. Her keys certainly weren't considered a dangerous weapon.

Resigned to the fact that he'd get no answers stumbling around in the dark, Larabee tried to set aside his personal problems and concentrate on work.

Clearing his thoughts as he entered the bullpen, he sighed as he remembered the missing Prichard report. The DA was hounding Travis for a consolidated summary and, along with Mason and Tierney, Chris was supposed to prepare a brief for Orin to present on Friday. Feeling his displeasure mounting again, the man in black glanced skyward and huffed loudly. The AD's new secretary wasn't providing him any answers as to when the document would be ready and actually seemed to be putting up roadblocks just to piss him off.

As Kate had so clearly pointed out at yesterday's meeting, the psyche evaluations that they were now being subjected to, were, mostly likely, Delaney's idea of 'payback' for Team Seven's involvement in bringing her to Denver. One would think she'd be grateful for the new job, but…

Thinking over the apparent dilemma between Ezra and Adrian, Larabee huffed. 'Alright', he mused, 'so, maybe things haven't gone as planned, but that's no reason to…'

Realizing he was trying to justify an improbable chain of events, Chris growled as he entered his office. There were two women he needed to get control of today and he was hoping things would turn in his favor.

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

For all intents and purposes, Nathan and Josiah looked to be working. Their desks facing each other in their shared office, they were apparently both going over reports and preparing notes. Suddenly, the older man casually tossed his papers aside and sat back in his chair with a huff.

Looking at his friend curiously, the medic sighed, "Okay, what's eating you?"

His eyes looking out around the bullpen, Sanchez finally refocused on the other man. "You get the feeling something just isn't right, Nathan?"

Jackson could only smile as his chin dipped. Looking back at Josiah, he too, deposited his work on the desk and leaned back in his chair. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

Looking at the smirk reflecting back at him, the profiler matched the toothy expression. "You noticed, too, huh?"

Nathan turned in his swivel chair to look out at the bullpen. "Kind 'a hard not to," he teased as Sanchez matched his pose. "Ezra's still all riled up about Adrian movin' out on him. Buck's over there pacin' 'cause JD's in doin' his psyche eval. Vin ain't talkin’ ta no one about what's eatin' him, and every time Chris sends another uppity message to AD Travis about that missin' Prichard report… Well, Kate does try to run interference."

Josiah considered the long list that Jackson had just rattled off. "You, eh… You think Kate regrets being info'd on all his outgoing correspondence?"

The medic cocked his head. "About now, I think Kate regrets ever takin’ this job."

Josiah frowned, turning to look directly at his friend. "More than we know, Nathan… more than we know."

Raising a hand to give his lips in a tight squeeze, the younger man scowled, eventually relaxing his grip and returning his hand to folded arms. "Why is it… I think you know more than you're sayin'?"

The profiler smirked. "Wish I did, my friend," he straightened in his chair. "I've been watching, and waiting… but, well… let's just say I'm more determined than ever to get everyone over to my place Saturday."

Jackson nodded. "So you do have ulterior motives."

"Nope," Josiah denied emphatically as he returned to his desk. "My yard needs a good seeing to. When that tree came down in the spring, it took out part of the fence… didn't miss the house by much either." Watching the younger man turn to his workspace as well, the profiler continued. "Today's a perfect example, Nathan. Sun's shining now, but by three they’re predicting a storm will roll in. I want that other old oak on the ground long before the winter storms really hit. Getting the blackberry bushes under control would be good, too."

After careful consideration of his friend's words, the medic licked at his bottom lip. "Sounds like valid excuses to me."

Sanchez frowned and cocked his head yet, as the two men held each other's stare, they both began to smile. "I thought so," the big man chuckled, picking up his report and returning to work once more.


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

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