~~ Then You Fall… ~~

by TJ


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

"What the hell happened to you?"

Lansky blinked twice and then coolly looked up at the man who had been standing in front of her desk for far too long. Her heart had skipped a beat when he'd exited his workspace fifteen minutes ago. That same heaviness had returned now that he'd come back.

She had tried to ignore him and kept her face strategically positioned in hopes that he wouldn't notice the scrapes and bruising.

"Jesus, Kate!" Larabee grimaced as he looked down on his assistant's now fully visible appearance. "What happened?"

Internalizing her desire to seek the comfort Chris was obviously expressing, Lansky raised an eyebrow. "This," she motioned to the marks on her face nonchalantly. "Oh, nothing… just a tree that decided to run into me. Nothing serious."

The blond's attention had switched to the material inching up on his lady’s raised arm. He moved quickly, grabbing her wrist and pushing the sleeve higher before she had a chance to react. "A tree, huh?" he sneered, looking first at the bandaged limb, and then into her cool blue eyes. "You wanna try again?"

Retrieving her appendage forcefully from his grasp, Kate reigned in her instinctive aggressive reaction. She wasn't going to allow Chris to provoke her. "Any mishap I may, or may not have had, is none of your concern, Mr. Larabee," she looked at him blankly. "I am here, as expected, and I will do my job as described in my terms of service. I don't believe there is anything within that document that requires me to submit for questioning at your every whim."

The team leader growled silently and forced back his desire to shake some sense into the woman.

He'd also suppressed the part of him that wanted to hold her… make everything right between them, mending any injuries in the process. That wasn't the way Lansky ran her life though and he knew better than to offer a simple hug… no matter how hard he wanted to.

Chris never got his way where this lady was concerned and that quickly made him angry. "Talk to me, damn it," he growled so low that it was barely audible.

Everything he'd thought about in the last few hours came rushing back to his consciousness and Larabee swallowed hard. A strange determination assaulted him in that moment. He felt it rushing to his gut and coursing its way through his veins.

'Not without a fight!' His mind replayed the words and the rest came, almost naturally…

Leaning on the desk, just inches from her face, Chris spoke from his heart. "Alright, forget the injuries for just a second. But getting rid of me… isn't going to be that easy." He watched her eyes carefully for any reaction. "Nothing is easy with me. We all know that. Trouble is… you're one of only a few people who have the guts to tell me to my face… And so help me… deep down, I like it when you do. That's one of the reasons I fell in love with you, Kate, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give you up without a fight."

Except for the blinking of her eyes, the woman's face was still a blank canvas.

Good to his word, Larabee wasn't giving up that easily. Almost seductively, he licked at his lips and then moved them to within inches of her ear. "I love you, Kate… That's never… ever going to change and I don't care anymore, that you don't want to hear it… because I'm going to say it… whenever I feel the need… I don't care what you do… how you do it… or who you do it with… I… am not… going anywhere… and I will not… be pushed away!"

Her stare was still fixed on the column across the room and Lansky didn't blink when Chris straightened his stance. She continued to look past him as he stood there for a moment and then turned for his office, the door closing with a loud bang as he disappeared inside.

Kate felt her eyelids grow heavy, the sudden rush of emotions overwhelming her so-called indestructible defenses. She forced the feelings back though. It took every ounce of determination she could muster but kicking and screaming, her passions were forced into submission.

When her uncaring façade was firmly fixed again, she let her eyes drift up to scan the immediate vicinity. Equally cold blue eyes stared back for a moment before Vin Tanner went back to looking over his report.

Kate could only growl… her unanticipated annoyance with Larabee now growing to encompass his entire team.

'How could he?' she questioned silently. His words filtered back and forth in her mind and she grew angrier. She so didn't want to be here.

Nothing was measuring up to her expectations… Not that she'd come close to hypothesizing any after yesterday's little 'announcement', but…

Lansky's whole world was falling apart all over again…

A glare clearly evident, she shifted a little, giving her a glimpse of Ezra. She couldn't help but scowl. Not that she would ever try to deny Standish his position within Team Seven's ranks but she'd seen his resignation yesterday with her own two eyes. 'What the hell is he doing here?' she wondered as she turned to look at Larabee's closed door.

Her blue pools narrowed even more. 'And you… you acted so… so 'normal' around him'.

She'd observed their interaction just minutes ago, wondering, honestly, what the hell was going on.

Without realizing it, she had made assumptions. At the very least, she'd expected Chris to be intensely pissed with the southerner… hit him even, but… 'Have a pleasant conversation with him? What the fuck?'

And Tanner… 'One way ticket straight to hell, my friend' she again sneered at the closest office enclosure.

Seriously infuriated with the whole damn lot of them, Kate turned back to her computer screen. With a silent huff, she pretended to concentrate on her work.

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

The words on his page were a blur, the southerner only simulating concentration. Concern finally overwhelming him, he glanced up at his teammate. "I believe this would be a reasonable time for to you to… attempt an additional call," he smiled sheepishly.

The profiler sighed as he looked up from the document he was perusing. "Ezra, my friend…" he let the paper drop. "I offered to have you stay while I tried the first time. Then, since you were here, I thought it would be a good time for us to go over this report, and… you agreed. Now, while the second phone call was a reasonable excuse to check to see if the machine was on… well, Ezra, I just don't need your constant reminders about Adrian's whereabouts."

Josiah's tone didn't register as the undercover man set his paper down. "I would not be so insistent if we at least knew her whereabouts, Mr. Sanchez," he replied a little indignantly. "Need I remind you that by providing Miss Delaney refuge, you accepted responsibility for her continued well-being?"

Raising a large hand in the man's face, Sanchez stopped Ezra's intended rant. "You just hold it right there, Mister," he snapped, his tone low but decidedly calm. Edging a little closer to the man on the opposite side of his desk, the profiler continued, "Need I remind you that if you had been a little more cognizant of a woman's sensibilities, she wouldn't be under my roof in the first place."

About to object strenuously, Standish again halted his response, his mouth slightly ajar as Josiah's waving finger occupied the air in front of his face.

"And, further more," the profiler continued rather happily. "You not only bed, another woman… one we all know," he glared, "but you let Adrian…."

Sanchez stopped with a gruff look. He was suddenly reminded that his suspicions were just that, unconfirmed supposition on his part. He had no real idea what had prompted Adrian's outpouring of anger and pain yesterday, and he wasn't about to step into the middle of whatever it was that was going on.

Changing his thought process, the big man pursed his lips, glancing at his watch. "Alright," he conceded with a huff. "One more call to the suite and then we go back to work. No more interruptions, got it?"

Reserved in his response, Standish nodded, a slight smile coming to his lips. He watched intently as Josiah picked up the phone, gave him a scathing look, and then pushed the buttons, dialing Delaney's home number.

After the second ring, the profiler sighed, shaking his head at Standish. He readied to hang up after the third tone when, suddenly, a voice came on the line…


Ezra shifted to the edge of his seat, eyes frantic with excitement and worry.

"Thank heaven! I've been worried about you. Are you alright?"

The southerner watched as Sanchez smiled a little. When he caught the profiler's eyes, he pointed upstairs.

The man thought on the signal for a moment. "You… eh… called in sick this morning. Do you still have that headache?" Josiah rolled his eyes at his own question. After what she'd been through in the last few days, he was surprised she could even articulate. "Could I send anything over? Nathan, perhaps, he could help."

The undercover man was nodding.

"You know he's got good medical advice. He'd be happy to give you some tips about pain relief."

Standish waved for his friend's attention. Once he'd gained it, he made another sign with his hands, this time, tapping his watch before his palms pressed together. His head then moved to rest on his hands as his eyes closed.

Josiah pursed his lips at his teammate. "I… eh… got worried, when you didn't come home last night."

Ezra gave him the thumbs up.

"What happened, Adrian? Where did you go?"

As though on pins and needles, the southerner waited for an answer.

The scowl that erupted on Josiah's face was wrought with concern. "A motel!" he obviously repeated. "What motel? Where? Did you have any problems? How was it?"

By this time Standish was on his feet, his lips pursed tightly together and hands on his hips. He was shaking his head and rolling his eyes, and then, suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks. He turned towards his teammate and motioned him to cover the speaker.

Understanding what Ezra wanted, Josiah did it quickly. "What?" he asked quietly, obviously quite perturbed with the man's continued interruptions.

"Forgive my question, Mr. Sanchez, but she was… somewhat irrational when she departed yesterday. However much it pains me to ask, but… was she accompanied by anyone?" the southerner bit his lip as he inquired, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer.

The profiler's eyes grew wide and he swallowed. He knew what his friend was saying was the truth and he needed to know just how messy this situation was getting. Uncovering the lower end of the phone, he continued his conversation with Delaney. "Adrian… you were… eh… you were alone, weren't you?"

Standish backed up a little when Josiah held the receiver away from his ear. Both men had heard the 'yes', loud and clear.

Scowling as the voice quieted a little, the big man pointed none too politely for Ezra to take his seat. "Adrian, you know I'm just worried about you."

Exchanging wide-eyed looks and pursed lips, the profiler tried to ignore Ezra's furrowed brows. "Have you eaten anything lately, Adrian? …Yes, you know… food. It will increase your blood sugar and make you feel better… You make sure you do now, you hear me?"

A little more reassured with what he was hearing, Josiah sat back in his chair. "That's good… You get as much rest as you need, okay. Sleeping for about twenty hours would do the trick," he smiled, "and I'll see you tomorrow."

Having one last thought, the profile grew serious. "Adrian? You'll be just fine, you hear me… Have a good day now, okay?"

A satisfied smile crept to Josiah's lips. "Bye," he said quietly.

Watching the profiler hang up the phone, Standish had a big grin on his face. He let out a contented sigh, casually picked up his report and then went back to work.

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

More than two hours later, Chris was awaiting Nathan's return. He was pacing in the reception area and keeping a watchful eye as his people tried to go about their business. The admin assistant assigned to the front desk had gladly found others things to occupy her time, which left the man in black to scowl without scaring anyone.

Things amongst his team weren't exactly going well this morning and everyone knew it.

Trying to keep things as normal as they should be, Larabee, synchronizing his actions with Mason and Tierney, had separated the 'Prichard' report into appropriate areas of responsibility. Like the other two team leaders, he'd handed the sections off to his men and was expecting feedback or supplementary information, no later than ten am Friday morning. The district attorney had a meeting scheduled with Travis that afternoon and, in addition to the consolidated brief, all three team leaders wanted to prepare a summary from their contingent's perspective. It made presenting the case for indictment a whole lot easier on the department, and Orin.

The task should have been simple enough, but the man in black was seeing interaction, or lack thereof, that he didn't like.

Sanchez had kept himself busy all morning, and appeared to be relatively unscathed by the agitation around him. The team leader hadn't expected anything less, but, with the exception of Josiah, the other men seemed uncomfortable with Standish in their presence. Of course, the deepening bruise on the southerner's jaw probably has a lot to do with it. The questioning glances Chris had received when each had noticed it, made him uncomfortable, but not as much as when they'd become aware of Lansky's apparent injuries. It irked him to no end to think that they'd even consider him the capable of… that!

Of all the men, JD was probably doing the best job of acting 'normal'. Although trying to follow everyone's lead all at once, invariably had him lost. More than ever, Larabee felt sorry for their youngest member. Life wasn't always 'wonderful' and, too many times, Dunne had had to learn that lesson the hard way.

The senior agent could tell that Wilmington was doing his best to 'overlook' yesterday's 'announced' indiscretion. He'd given Chris the evil eye after seeing Standish, and a curt scowl upon noticing Kate's appearance. Yet, true to his accustomed mannerisms, the rogue seemed to let both situations go and went about his business.

Tanner was a different story all together. The Texan was being his usual cool self... taking time to evaluate and assess everyone and everything around him but, in the process, he was sitting back and giving everyone the cold shoulder. Again, Larabee cursed his inattention to his best friend and his growing concern for Vin's mood.

Feeling the weight of his team's attention, the undercover man was now operating in a protective environment. To them he was ‘conspicuously absent’ the night of the raid, and therefore didn't have much to add to their compilation of information. Knowing the truth of his absence however, Ezra was intentionally staying out of everyone's way today, his door pushed closed and, although not latched, it was a clear sign of his vigilance.

Larabee sighed heavily, his lips pressed tightly together. Thinking on Ezra's whereabouts last Friday night made his eyes automatically track to Kate. He swallowed hard, his head slowly shaking from side to side. Chris couldn't help the 'kick' his gut received each time he thought about the two of them together but he was resolved to fight his elemental need for reprisal. He'd already dealt with Standish as far as he deemed necessary and making his feelings clear to his lady had proven easier than he thought.

Even if they were now all experiencing the fallout from his actions…

Put simply, Lansky was being a bitch.

Chris had never liked that terminology and refrained from degrading women to that standard whenever possible. It wasn't a nice word and the meaning was worse. However, when it fit… it fit!

Huffing, the blond continued his stare. He knew Kate's bad attitude was his fault but he couldn't help his slight on her behavior.

Displaying complete insolence after their little 'chat' this morning, she was now purposely ignoring everyone and everything. It was obvious that she needed to be somewhere else. She'd run as many 'errands' as possible this morning, but seemed to curse every time she came back. That, of course, wasn't sitting well with his men and even more evident, was their desire to have as little contact with her as possible.

His eyes glancing skyward, Larabee silently petitioned for a really long lunch, and then rolled his eyes, his head shaking in frustration.

"Things that bad?" Jackson asked as he studied his boss's expression.

Chris raised an eyebrow. "Nathan," he began, but then decided he'd best not say a word. Having sat down to wait, the man in black stood, and then indicated the quickest path to his office. "Care to join me?"

The medic smiled and nodded. "Lead on," he ushered, and then took a deep breath as Larabee moved ahead of him.

Jackson couldn't help notice the cool way in which Chris sauntered past Lansky's desk. However, not having seen her before he went to his appointment, he offered her a greeting. He stopped in his tracks when she didn't answer. Then, looking closer, his eyes grew wide as he noticed her abrasions. Turning to look questioningly at his leader, he found the man waiting patiently at his door.

Larabee just shrugged at Nathan's look. Then, waving the medic forward, the blond closed the portal behind them.

"What… Chris, what happened to Kate?"

Assuming he could hear an accusatory tone in Jackson's voice, Chris answered with a scowl. "I have no idea, Nathan," he said honestly. "She showed up here looking like that this morning… gave some inane excuse about running into a tree."

The medic frowned. "And her silence…? Has that been going on all morning?" he inquired as Larabee stepped behind his desk and sat down. Accepting the chair Chris pointed to, Jackson made himself comfortable.

The team leader hesitated slightly, his brows rising as he answered. "It’s been… interesting." Sitting forward, he got straight to the subject he wanted to discuss. "Forget that, Nathan… how about you? How'd your evaluation go? Any problems?"

There wasn't much hesitation. “It was good," Jackson responded casually. "Nothing I couldn't handle."

Offering a quick smile, the senior agent was a little more reassured. "You, eh… have any problems with… what happened here yesterday?"

The medic's eyes widened and then bunched up before returning to normal. "Chris… there were no witnesses to that… just the nine people present. I don't know about you, but I reckon it should stay that way."

Larabee nodded his concurrence as Jackson shuffled a little uncomfortably in his chair.

"I didn't say anything to the doc… but I've certainly got an opinion and I'd like to say my piece, if ya don't mind."

Straightening in his seat, the senior agent thought for a moment, his eyes averted. Eventually, his gaze found his friend again. He nodded slowly. "We're a family as much as a team, Nathan. The door is closed. You say what you want and it stays right here."

Jackson considered the response and then quirked a grin. "Alright," he began. "What happened here yesterday… well, a thing like that can be like a cancer, eatin' away at the heart of this team." Nathan hitched forward in his chair and set his forearms on the big desk in front of him. "Chris… you need to do what you do best."

The senior agent was frowning a little and the medic offered a smirk. "Lead us… There's a reason you head this team and… well… I saw the look on your face out there… I'm guessing you've got an opinion on all this and I'm also guessing… we all need to hear it."

Biting at his bottom lip, Larabee's chin dipped for a moment. When he looked back into Jackson's eyes, his mouth was pursed into a small smile, his head nodding slightly. "And here I was worried about you in that shrink's office," he grinned in earnest. "Nathan… You're a very wise man."

The medic's grin broadened as he gained his feet. Offering his hand, he shook vigorously when Larabee responded in kind. "Comes from the company I keep," he cocked his head. "Just doin’ my job, ya know… Healin' what ails us."

Larabee came around his desk again and looked at his friend solemnly. After a moment, he spoke quietly. "Got any other advice you're handing out for free?"

Eyebrows rising again, Jackson glanced at the door and then back at his boss. "Well… the way I see it… you've got two distinct problems… I think you'd best handle them one at a time."

His head nodding ever so slightly, Chris met Nathan's eyes. "A smart man," he offered again, accompanied by another grin. "I just might heed your advice."

"That'll be a first," Nathan threw back sarcastically before quickly heading for the door.

Larabee responded by playfully swiping at the bigger man as he escaped his grasp.

"I'll be waitin' eagerly to hear what you come up with," Jackson added thoughtfully before leaving his boss to consider his words.

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

Buck was not a happy man. He'd spent his entire lunch hour with Edison and Brice and yet even with the three of them working on it, they still couldn't answer the question that had plagued them since the bust went down almost a week ago.

Blueprints in hand, Wilmington stood in the reception area staring at Lansky from across the room. He was remembering Tuesday. He'd asked for her help and she'd spent a lot of time going over the plans… that day, and the next. His continued frustration today had him seriously considering the possibility of asking her for assistance again. The ladies' man had a suspicion that Kate could end his impasse but he didn't know if he was ready to run that gauntlet.

"Is everything all right, Mr. Wilmington?" the secretary asked.

Glancing at the brunette, the tall man's face instantly cracked a smile. "Of course, Darlin'," he stepped closer to her desk. "But just how many times does a man have to tell you… the name's Buck, remember?"

The lady's chin dipped to hide her shy smile. "I remember," she said quietly, then looked back. "I'm just not very good with small talk, I guess. I do just fine greeting and directing people I don’t know, but, well… the rest can be a bit of a challenge for me."

Always thinking on his feet, the rogue continued to grin as he responded to her apparent dilemma. "Darlin', there ain't nothin' you can't do when you put your mind to it. Talkin' to folks around here is easy once you get used to it."

"Oh, I don't know about that," she looked at him apprehensively. "Maybe talking to people like you, but… I don't think I could carry on a conversation with, say… Mr. Larabee."

Wilmington laughed. "Chris can be a grumpy old cuss some days, can't he?"

"He's not in a very good mood today," she sighed. "And Ms. Lansky… I guess she had some kind of accident but I was afraid to ask. It doesn't look like there's anyone here who’s brave enough to talk to her today."

It took Buck a moment but he began to snicker. He thought about the advice he'd just given the secretary and then about how much he wasn't following that same suggestion right now. With a smirk on his face, he tapped the blueprints on the front desk. "Well, I'm about to show you just exactly what I mean by puttin' your mind to somethin', Darlin'. You watch ol' Buck prove how easy it is to talk to folks that don't want to be talked to. If you can do that, you can surely talk to folks that do."

Leaving a curious woman in his wake, the rogue, determination in his step, headed towards Lansky's desk.

When they landed on top of the report she was editing, Kate swiped aside the rolled papers and continued reading without further reaction.

The two hands on her desk didn’t faze her concentration, nor did the puffs of breath blown on her hair.

However, when the rogue leaned down, his arms folded flat on her desk, his head leaning slightly sideways and big deep-blue pools doing their 'puppy dog' impression, Lansky hung her head. "Buck," she looked back and glared. "I know that look… and I am so not in the mood."

Close up, her injuries were distracting but Wilmington forced his mind to stay focused on the business at hand. "Well," he straightened slightly, "I had noticed… just a little."

Kate's eyes were burning a hole in his.

Clearing his throat, the ladies' man stood up and got straight the point. "I know you know," he pointed at the blueprints. "Edison, Brice… me… we've looked."

Letting her emotions talk, Kate sneered. "What makes you think I know where that compartment is?"

The ladies' man slowly cracked a grin. "Compartment?"

Lansky sat back and crossed her arms smugly. "I don't believe you," she shook her head. "The three of you… supposed experts… yet you can't see the alterations made during construction."

He was frowning now and Kate sighed. No matter how much she hated being here right now, there was such a thing as professionalism, and like it or not, she had ample where her old 'job' was concerned. "Buck, you said Prichard was apprehended on the south side of the warehouse, right?"

"Yeah," Wilmington confirmed. "If the dumb ass had waited a little while longer, we'd have been clear of the scene… less cops around. He probably would have walked away untouched."

'Like I want to do right now' she mused.

Mindful of what hurt, Lansky carefully rubbed her eyes and then her forehead. Taking a deep breath, she blew it out forcefully. "Alright," she sat forward again and grabbed the rolled papers. Flattening the blueprints out on the desk between them, she leaned one elbow on a corner while the ladies' man did the same on two others. "So you know where he came out and you know how long he stayed out of sight."

Wilmington was smiling inside. He knew Kate could never walk away from a challenge this important. She had too much personal pride in her work… in her life, to ever let a 'situation' screw things up. He knew he would probably regret goading her into providing answers mind you, but right now the two of them were on the same wavelength. "Yep, but we've searched the south side, we didn't come up with anything. These prints match the building's construction exactly, we double checked everything."

Lansky looked at the rogue from down turned eyes. "And you still missed it," she said quietly, her fingers moving over the drawings until they came to rest.

Studying the area where her hand had stopped, Wilmington frowned. "That's a solid brick wall, Kate," he queried. "There's nothing there."

Letting the papers go, Lansky watched them roll up onto the man's hands. "It's a brick wall, Buck… on those prints… and in the warehouse. Problem is… they aren't in the same place." Ignoring the questioning look on the man's face, Kate lamented, her ire returning quickly. "If you don't mind, I've got work to do. Check it out, or don't… I don't care. Just do your deciding someplace else."

Straightening completely, the rogue picked up his blueprints as Lansky grabbed her report and moved to another part of her desk. He frowned for a moment, amazed yet troubled at how fast her mood had changed.

Pursing his lips, he let his displeasure go and focused on the information Kate had given him. He briefly wondered if what she said could be true… and then questioned as to why she'd been able to spot something he and the other two men had missed.

Thinking about Edison and Brice prompted Buck to look at his watch. He quickly moved off to make a phone call.

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

Larabee watched covertly from his desk as JD gingerly approached Kate and then had a brief discussion with her about the report she'd been looking over for him. With a cautious smile and nod, the young man retrieved his papers and disappeared from view.

Several times over the next fifteen minutes, the woman looked at the clock and fidgeted with her computer. Finally, unable to sit still, she packed up and left. It was only three-thirty and highly unlike Lansky to leave her post early but given the foul mood she was in, not to mention her unexplained injuries, Chris wasn't about to stop her departure… especially since it fit into his plans so nicely.

Waiting only a short while, the senior agent quickly traversed to the front desk and dismissed the receptionist for the day. The woman smiled cordially, but made a hasty retreat from team Seven's work area. Rounding her desk, Larabee walked out into the middle of the bullpen and cleared his throat. "If I can have everyone's attention," he announced in a loud voice.

When the six men had stopped working, all eyes on him, the blond continued. "We are having a meeting. Five minutes… in the boardroom… Everyone."

Chris met their quizzical looks head on before glancing at his watch. Noting the time, he went back to his office and waited…

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

Standing outside the boardroom door, Larabee checked the hall clock. It had been nine whole minutes since he'd called this meeting and he'd spent the entire time trying to figure out what he was going to say.

There were so many things that needed to be said… 'A lot of questions searching for answers' Chris guessed. He sighed, knowing that he wanted… no, needed to keep control… for everyone's sake. There was just no way he could let this gathering become too unruly… Too much hinged on the outcome.

Chin down and eyes closed, the blond took a long deep calming breath. Puffing his cheeks, he let the air sit for several seconds, eventually exhaling at a slow steady rate. Gradually, green reflections opened and focused on the entranceway. Cocking his head from side to side, Larabee cringed as his neck popped loudly.

His impromptu relaxation routine now played out, the senior agent stepped towards the double doors and, after taking one last deep breath, entered the boardroom.

On the other side of the portal, what little conversation there had been, stopped as six uneasy men watched their boss's entrance. All eyes were on him and Chris met their stares confidently. Then, turning quickly, he secured the door before moving to his place at the head of the table.

Apprehensive looks questioning him again as the team leader studied each man carefully...

He wasn't surprised to see Vin sitting furthest from his position. The Texan glanced away before their eyes could meet.

On the opposite side of the table from Tanner, Ezra shrewdly began to scrutinize the cleanliness of the furniture.

On Larabee's immediate left, Jackson seemed to be the only man smiling in the group. Next to Nathan, Josiah looked ready to take notes.

Across the table from Sanchez, Buck was aimlessly doodling while JD sat next to him, stiff in his chair, looking very anxious.

The team leader sighed silently as he looked out over his six friends. He lowered and rubbed his forehead then glanced back, biting his bottom lip. "Well, boys," he eventually began, "guess that line has finally been drawn in the sand."

Chris met their eyes in turn and then dropped his chin again. Gathering his chair, he sat down at the table to join them. "We step across together…" looking at them solemnly, he cocked his head, "or we don't go at all."

The boardroom was silent for a long time before Dunne spoke, the quiver in his voice was clear. "You…" he looked at the man in black nervously and then glanced down at the desk. "You breaking up the team, Chris?" he managed to ask.

Instantly studying his roommate, Wilmington seemed almost ready to cuff the younger man but with a glance at their boss, thought better of it. "That's a stupid thing to say, JD," he admonished instead. "You ain't thinkin' nothin' of the sort… right, Chris?"

The senior agent hadn't missed the wane of confidence in his oldest friend's question.

"Perhaps, you should not be so hard on our young friend, Mr. Wilmington." Without making eye contact with anyone, Standish had spoken before their leader could respond to Buck's question. "The situation within our ranks is… somewhat precarious… wouldn't you say?"

"Well, I reckon you should know," the rogue responded, the bite in his tone was clear.

Nathan's tentative smile had disappeared by now and he could see why Chris had seemed upset earlier. "Just ain't right to presume you know all there is to know, Buck," he said disapprovingly.

"He didn't say he knew everything," JD frowned, automatically defending his best friend.

The profiler sat forward in his chair, "Gentlemen, please," he raised his arms to quiet the pending arguments. This was exactly the kind of behavior he'd been expecting to erupt all day, and now that it had, Sanchez felt some responsibility to control the situation. "I see no reason to drag our personal opinions into this matter. We are at work and should conduct ourselves accordingly."

Wilmington seemed ready to say something but Chris beat him to it. "I'd like to agree with you, Josiah. However…."

Allowing his heavy sigh to be heard this time, Larabee's eyes studied those gathered around the table yet again. Glancing at his watch, he blinked, lips pursing in disapproval. "However, in roughly… seventeen minutes, our work day ends." His gaze refocused and then the senior agent took control of the matter at hand. "And seeing as how our personal situation… my personal situation has a lot to do with this. I don't think we need to worry about keeping it too professional." His eyes momentarily on the profiler, Chris looked back at everyone else, cleared his throat and then smiled. "We can wait, if you want… or we can say everything that needs to be said right now."

The silence was deafening…

Then, slowly, a chair shuffled, several bodies fidgeted, and finally, a calm voice broke the quiet. "Everythin'… that needs ta be said, Chris?"

Larabee glanced at his best friend from downcast eyes. His brows quickly furrowed but eventually, a gentle smile graced the blond's lips. "I know I can count on you for that, Vin."

Cool blue reflections stared at green just as they had done so many times before. "Reckon you ain't gonna like some of what gets said."

"Yeah," JD added quickly and then thought better of saying so much.

Always the perceptive one where his roommate was concerned, Wilmington jumped to Dunne's defense this time. "The kid's right, Chris. Vin, too… There's questions we need answers to."

Larabee raised his arms in mock surrender. Pursing his lips together tight, he nodded once. "A little birdie told me we needed to be honest with each other, Buck, so let’s do just that. The sooner we get everything out in the open, the sooner we get back to work around here."

Things went quiet again but slowly; an incessant noise changed all that.

Dunne's head was hung low; his hands locked tightly together thumping nervously on the table. And, although they'd all noticed the annoying repetitive sound, the team leader took it upon himself to address the kid's agitation. "You got something you want to say, JD?"

Glancing at his boss and then at his best friend, Dunne nodded after Buck gave him a reassuring smile. "Yeah," he replied. He met the blond's stare, but then hesitated.

"It's alright, JD. I said everything, and I meant it," the man in black confirmed supportively.

Dunne licked at his dry lips. He couldn't help his reaction. The question bothered him but he just had to know. "Did you hit Ezra, Chris?"

His eyes closed for just a second before the senior agent slowly began to nod. He wasn't proud of the way he'd reacted last night but he wasn't going to deny his actions either, especially since so much seemed to hinge on the truth. "Yes, JD… I hit him."

The kid hesitated, swallowing the lump in his throat. "You were… fighting over Kate?" he suggested apprehensively.

Larabee's intended reply was interrupted before it even reached his lips.

"That would be an emphatic no, Mr. Dunne!" Standish leaned forward to get a clear view of JD around Buck. "We were not sparring, and especially not 'over' Miss Lansky…." Having said that, the southerner paused to gather his composure. "Mr. Larabee's… deed, was simply a… a well-deserved assault on my person. A single blow… nothing more."

"Well…deserved?" the rogue repeated slowly. Looking at their undercover agent, he raised a single brow. "So you admit it then. You and Kate… you…"

"Buck…" Chris tried to curtail the rogue's barrage.

Ezra halted both men as they glared at one another. "Mr. Larabee, if I may… You said we were here to 'get everything out'," he repeated, somewhat awkwardly.

The man in black begrudgingly nodded his affirmation although he didn't care for the topic of conversation much.

His leader's confirmation received, Ezra continued. "I believe Miss Delaney's… announcement, of yesterday, accomplished that task rather… conspicuously. I would however like the opportunity to… 'have my say', as it were."

Surprised at the southerner's willingness to air the issue, Larabee rethought his position, briskly agreeing that the man should proceed. "Floor's all yours, Ezra." Cocking his head, the blond acknowledged the undercover man with a wave of his hand.

"Thank you," Standish managed a quick smile.

Dipping his chin for mere seconds, Ezra then refocused on Buck. "Yes, Mr. Wilmington… I… Well…" he sighed. "Unfortunately, yes… Whilst it is not something I choose to dwell on… I admit to the dubious distinction of awaking to find myself in Miss Lansky's company. I was… quite shocked, I assure you. Horrified… To say I was appalled at my behavior would be an understatement."

The rogue snickered. "Now that'll boost a gal's confidence level."

"I don't think that's what he meant, Buck," Josiah said pointedly.

Standish raised an eyebrow for the ladies' man and then sent a quick smile Josiah's way. "Mr. Sanchez is of course, correct."

"Doesn't make much sense, Ezra," Nathan looked puzzled. "What you said…." Looking at the southerner, his brows were furrowed. "What do you mean you were shocked? Makes it sounds like you either don't remember… or didn't plan on it, maybe."

Standish pursed his lips. "Your suppositions are both accurate, Mr. Jackson."

Buck snorted outright at that comment. "Both? Sounds to me like you're optin' for all the excuses you can find. Of course… you should be."

The undercover man cleared his throat rather loudly to make his indignation clear. Addressing the medic, he offered pretext for his previous statement. "Both… excuses, as Mr. Wilmington so succinctly puts it, might possibly be explained by the three… perhaps four bottles of alcohol consumed that evening, Mr. Jackson. I believe they would be a plausible justification for my lapse in memory and the… fortuitous nature of the… liaison."

Josiah blinked several times. "Three… or four… full bottles?" he repeated questioningly. Raising a brow, the big man added, "I'd say you're both lucky you didn't end up in the hospital, Ezra."

"Perhaps…." With his green pools closed, two fingers rose to brace the bridge of his nose. Several long seconds passed before Standish was ready to speak again. "Perhaps that would have been the preferable option, Mr. Sanchez…" he looked back at the profiler. "But in answer to your question, yes. As I explained to Mr. Larabee last night… the details are exceedingly insufficient, but I cannot, and will not deny a…'one-night-stand' with Miss Lansky."

Ignoring the abhorrence in Ezra's tone, Wilmington continued his imprudent questions. "And was that little piece of info exchanged before or after Chris popped you one?"

"Buck!" Larabee growled. His temper was growing short and he wanted his oldest friend to know it.

"Now hold on there, Stud," the rogue waved a hand at his boss. "JD here asked the question first and like you said, we's gettin' everythin' out on the table, right?"

Clenching his jaw, the senior agent nodded slowly. Wilmington had the most annoying way of getting to his points but Chris had never hidden from anything he'd ever done… good or bad. Uncomfortable or not, he knew he'd have to let Buck continue. He just hoped the rogue had enough sense to keep it civil. Convictions firmly in place, Larabee nodded his affirmative answer.

"Well, alright then." Turning back to Standish, the ladies' man cocked his head. "Before or after Chris hit you, Ezra?"

Rather indignantly, the southerner took a breath, his brow rising curtly. "After," he answered and then looked across the table at Vin, completely ignoring Buck.

Tanner had refused to hold his office mate's gaze at first but eventually found his eyes drawn back to glance at the man when Standish looked elsewhere.

Deep down, Vin knew he couldn't condemn his friend over a momentary lapse in judgment. They'd all made mistakes and a decision, seemingly brought about by the heavy consumption of alcohol, wasn't anything new for some of these men. Feeling somewhat remorseful for the way he'd been acting all day, the sharpshooter tried to refocus on the discussion at hand.

"Now… Just so I understand this," Josiah appeared to be trying to clarify the points just revealed. "When Adrian came in here yesterday… she… was telling the truth?" he looked from Standish to Larabee and back again.

When both men showed little reaction to his query, the profiler smirked a little. Satisfied that he had his answer; Sanchez pulled his chair up closer to the table, pursing his lips in thought.

The brief silence was broken by another question. "So… just how long ago did all this happen, Ezra?"

The undercover agent rolled his eyes, almost glaring at Buck.

At the head of the table, Chris was ready to flatten his best friend. He seriously wondered how a man could be so supportive at the beginning of the day, and so damn obnoxious ten hours later. Not the slightest bit amused, the blond lowered his head and shook it slowly, dumfounded by Buck's behavior.

Looking to the senior agent for direction, Ezra's head hung low when he saw no signs of assistance coming from their boss. Swallowing what little was left of his pride, the southerner answered the question, his voice quiet and weary. "A mere six days ago, Mr. Wilmington."

It took only seconds for all the pieces to fall into place. "What?" The rogue turned fully to face Standish. "Friday!"

All eyes were now on the undercover agent and he suddenly felt very small.

"You mean… while we were out gettin' shot at… takin' down that bastard Prichard…you were off screwin' around with Kate?"

Buck's eyes suddenly went wide and he quickly stopped his verbal lashing of the southerner. He immediately glanced at Larabee, his ire completely gone and his head dropping to match Ezra's sorrowful pose. "Eh… sorry, Chris," he offered humbly.

Quiet reigned for a while as everyone tried to regain some semblance of composure. The revelation was bad enough. Now that it involved dereliction of duty however, it seemed much worse.

At the far end of the table, Vin had been quietly listening to the conversation. The information, while new, really wasn't that surprising considering the mood Ezra had been in that day. Still though, a deeper concern was rolling around in his gut and he couldn't let that go.

Observing his best friend throughout Ezra's speech, the Texan couldn't help but wonder how far Chris was willing to go where Lansky was concerned, or how far he'd already gone…

Breaking the silence, Tanner spoke quietly. "Ya didn't hear Ezra out, Chris… before ya hit him!"

The statement was so impersonal it stung.

It took a minute before Vin's eyes found Larabee's. "What happened to Kate?"

Nathan responded to that question quicker than the looks shot the sharpshooter's way. "You can't be serious, Vin," he queried directly. Getting no reply, Jackson glanced around the table at his other teammates. Receiving only their non-committal shrugs, the medic frowned, leaning back forcefully in his chair. "You all can't be serious?"

Larabee sighed heavily.

Slowly tapping the table in front of Jackson, Chris smiled reassuringly. "Not their fault, Nathan." Refocusing on the entire room, he continued. "I saw the way you all looked at me this morning." The man in black couldn't deny his annoyance. Truth be told, their assumptions pissed him off severely but that didn't mean he couldn't understand. "Guess the question makes sense when you think about it. You all heard me yell for her yesterday… but then… you all conveniently disappeared."

Shrugging off his little 'dig', Larabee filled in a few more blanks, his blatant sarcasm on full display. "Ezra walking in here this morning, sporting that bruise, just fit right in, didn't it? Makes sense that you’d marry up all that 'evidence' with the… angry drunk you all know and love… Hell, I suppose I might question me, too."

Hearing the tone of his oldest friend's voice, Wilmington hesitated, but then decided he was probably the only man amongst them who could say what he had to. "Chris…."

The senior agent glanced at Buck expectantly.

"I've known you for a lot 'a years, Chris," the rogue spoke seriously. "I never thought I'd hear myself say it… and Lord only knows it ain't in your nature to outright hit a woman. But… well… I can't say it, Chris. I can't honestly say I couldn't see ya hittin' back, if Kate pushed… especially, knowin' the way you two go at it sometimes."

Larabee suddenly found the wood grain of the table very interesting.

Chris hadn't been ready for those particular words and was somewhat embarrassed at his own assumptions. The questioning looks earlier had led him to conclude the worst, not allowing for the possibility that his friends knew him a little better than he gave them credit for. What's more, and as much as he hated to admit it, the blond knew that the rogue's logic was sound. He'd been beyond pissed with Lansky's attitude yesterday. He had gone to her place after eventually leaving work and even gotten out of his truck several times, only to find his way back. However, until this moment, Chris hadn't understood why he couldn't bring himself to confront her.

"We were both… angry… when she stormed out of here last night," he began to recount quietly, his eyes still downcast. "We exchanged words in my office, nothing more. And I never saw her after she left here." Looking at his men, the senior agent offered a brief smile. "Suppose… that might 'a been a good thing…."

Silence settled over the room again, the seven men quietly acknowledging the blatant honesty being unveiled for all to see.

Vin had been sitting quietly, observing. Previous suspicions still nagged at him but steadily overtaking them was the gut feeling that some serious emotions were at play here. A part of him wanted to be happy for Chris, yet his distrust wouldn't be suppressed so easily. He couldn't stop the words when they erupted. "For both yer sakes."

The quiet broken, Larabee's seemingly lost expression turned quickly into a scowl. "For both our sakes?" he repeated questioningly. He was instantly on the defensive, not liking the tone of the Texan's voice. "You mind explaining that, Vin."

Tanner knew he couldn't…

Even before the incident in the garage, the sharpshooter had been trying to come up with a rational explanation. He knew this woman… had known her for almost three years. He was at a loss to explain the strange vibes he'd been getting and had gone to confront her downstairs, about how they pertained to Chris. Maybe he'd been overstepping his bounds and maybe he hadn't… fact was though; it didn't matter anymore.

Vin had come away from that encounter 'knowing'… he just couldn't explain what!

They were called 'gut instincts' for a reason and Tanner knew they'd saved his life on many occasions. Using that logic alone, he saw no rationale in questioning such 'feelings'. With no incentive to dispute, trying to explain had always proved fruitless. He had no idea what made his insight so strong and so right, and now, with so much at stake, Vin knew it would be damn near impossible to rationalize.

"Seems to me there might be a few things you wouldn't mind explaining."

Larabee's confrontational attitude didn't surprise the sharpshooter very much. He looked at his best friend, their eyes not exchanging the words they normally did. They both understood that something was missing. They'd both known it for two weeks, maybe three. Yet, because he cared so much, Tanner was lost. He still didn't know what else to do, so he had chosen to stay aloof.

It took a moment, but Vin responded as unemotionally as he was able, "Could be."

Larabee spied the Texan through a narrowed gaze. He wasn't about to reveal to everyone how distant they'd seemed lately but he did have the strangest feeling that the sharpshooter was leaning towards something he wasn't ready to hear.

The hair on the back of his neck standing up, Chris made a split second decision. Glancing around the room, he paid close attention to the individual expressions. Sitting up straight in his chair again, he continued, his eyes locked back on Tanner. "While Vin's thinking, I'd like to explain a… a little something… a decision I reached today."

All too serious, the man in black lowered his head, one hand rising to massage his brow. When he finally looked back at his men, Wilmington's eyes were the ones he sought out this time. "Except for Buck… none of you knew me when… when Sarah and Adam… were taken away from me… I've carried a lot of guilt over that for a lot 'a years. That bomb… was meant for me… Instead… it took away my only reason for living."

A lowered head and a deep breath later, Larabee was again looking around the table. "I know what… Kate did. You all know now, too. I also have a pretty good idea of why she did it… I'm not buying into her games though… I'd think by now there'd be one thing you all know about me… and that's that I'm as stubborn as they come…."

Without acknowledging their expected reactions, Larabee continued. "You all know I don't give up on anything… but, having my family ripped away… I felt useless… isolated… powerless… It took me a long time, to realize that I had no control over what happened. I've accepted that… now. I've had a lot of help coming to terms with that loss and the truth is… I think I'd still be running if it weren't for Kate."

Chris took another deep breath. "I know you all noticed her… attitude today. I should apologize for that. I think, no… I know that was my fault. See… in a way, Kate provided the means for me to live again. She gave me back what I lost… allowed me to be strong again. I know when she finally puts it all together, she's going to be really pissed."

An impromptu smirk graced the senior agent's lips; his eyes sparkled a little as he looked at his six friends. "Boys, put simply, I have a choice now… I could choose to walk away, or I can choose to stay… I've made my decision, and I think you deserve to hear it straight from the horse's mouth."

A hand ran quickly through his hair before Larabee sat up straight in his chair. "I know she's playing games with me. Her reasons aren't clear but I'm not going to let her win. Her foul mood is because I told her that, straight to her face. I'm not giving up on Kate… on us... I'm not going to lose another woman I love… Not without a fight this time."

The six men took a moment to let their leader's revelation sink in. The decision made so much sense if you knew this team leader on a personal level. The passions that drove Larabee had also sustained him through the worst cruelty life could throw at a man. If he hadn't loved so much, he wouldn't have fallen so hard. A vicious circle to some, but to those that truly understood Chris, they knew he wouldn't have it any other way. Varying reactions slowly became a chorus of agreement. Larabee's decision wasn't that surprising and their gentle nods showed their acceptance.

Dunne understood the message his boss had relayed. The commanding tone left JD with a clear understanding of means and judgment, but the issue of motive was a little cloudy. "Call me stupid, Chris," he finally broke the silence, "but what kind of game is she playing?"

Sobering quickly, the ladies' man answered without thought, beating his best friend to the reply. "It's a real complicated pastime, JD, and as hard as it may be to accept… that there little filly is head over heels in love with her stud."

Wilmington's statement only served to bewilder the kid more. "But… she… with Ezra…."

The rogue's laughter cut Dunne off. "Yep," he nodded his agreement. "Brilliant piece 'a work that. Might 'a even fallen for it myself."

A good portion of the team was now slightly confused.

Glaring at his oldest friend, the senior agent cleared his throat to garner the man's attention, "Eh, Buck… You knew?"

"Hell, yes!"

Seeing Larabee's expression change drastically, the rogue's eyes widened again and he decided it was in his best interest to clarify his meaning. "I mean… no… I mean… Well, I didn't know she'd go that far… I mean…."

The blond's eyebrows quirked as a low rumbling sound emanated from the pit of his stomach.

"Now, Chris… We all know… I mean, well… You just can't hide them kind 'a feelin's… Well, at least not from ol' Buck, here…."

Sanchez had always loved to observe the 'back-peddling' Wilmington did when forced into a corner and now was no exception. He watched the interaction between his teammates with growing curiosity yet finally, it got the better of him and he to say something. "Are you saying… Kate knew what she was doing, Buck? That she did this all on purpose?"

JD scowled, completely perplexed by the additional clarification Josiah put forth. He knew he'd never been in a really deep relationship and he was beginning to suspect that was a good thing. "But… why?" he gingerly inquired.

Nathan's interest had been peaked by the current discussion and he was now willing to put a supposition on the table. "To push Chris away?" he offered questioningly, part query and part statement of fact.

On the opposite side of the table, the southerner let out a sudden gasp. He'd listened carefully to Larabee's revelation and was satisfied in the knowledge that what he'd risked saying last night had not only been heard, but understood as well. Ezra found solace in the decision, too. He wasn't entirely sure if forgiveness would ever be part of the package but hearing his leader's words, he wasn't about to give up on the possibility.

It was the medic's non-committal declaration though, that had the undercover agent thinking about the rest of his conversation with Chris. There was more to what happened between Kate and himself and he was ready to let that information be known. "Yes, Mr. Jackson, that would appear to be the case." Ezra hated to admit that he had been played, to the ultimate disgrace no less, but sometimes one had to let their pride go in order for a lesson to be learned.

Caught off guard, the rogue's eyes flashed on Standish. "Oh, and you figured that out about when?"

Not allowing the aggressive tone to agitate him, Ezra replied matter-of-factly, "Miss Lansky is an extremely talented young lady, Mr. Wilmington."

It took only a moment for the profiler to clear his throat.

All of a sudden, the southerner swallowed hard, realizing what he'd just said. He breathed deep, trying to ignore any possible misinterpretations from his statement.

With his dignity securely intact, Standish continued. "However, inappropriate… there is the possibility that perhaps some good did come of our… interaction… I believe I was afforded the opportunity to observe our friend… in a, less guarded moment. After some consideration… I have concluded that her… deceptive capabilities, rival, or quite possibly, exceed my own."

Considering their undercover agent's statement took a minute but Nathan was the first to query the remarks. "That don't make a lot of sense, Ezra. You've… Well, you learned to turn things off. You were trained for your job. And we all pretty much know you've got… some other reasons for being able to do what you do so well."

Standish sighed. "Indeed, Mr. Jackson… Both my training and my… upbringing, have led to my professional expertise in the matters of stealth and deception. I must admit… I am at a loss to explain why Miss Lansky appears to possess the same skills."

"So… she's been fooling all of us?" the kid asked earnestly.

The southerner nodded. "It would be my hypothesis that Miss Lansky is living a closely guarded existence, Mr. Dunne, at least part of her life anyway. It cannot be easy for her. It is therefore conceivable that the… stress, originating from our liaison… allowed me a brief glimpse of… of a… Well, of something I have never seen before."

"Now that there's a real good description, Ezra."

Slightly indignant at Buck's remark, the undercover agent sighed. "As hard as it might be to comprehend, Mr. Wilmington, I do not believe I have adequate words to describe what I witnessed for mere seconds. A curtain opening and closing, perhaps… It took me until last evening to understand what it truly meant."

Remembering the conversation they'd had yesterday, the team leader queried Ezra's meaning. "That she loves me?"

All eyes landed on Chris, yet Standish shook his head. "No, Mr. Larabee… well, yes, but no… As I said to you last night, another revelation brought me to that conclusion."

Confused by the exchange, Josiah prompted for clarification. "Well share the wealth, brother."

After raised eyebrows asked permission, Ezra smiled at the nod he received in reply. "With Mr. Larabee's approval… I can tell you that Miss Lansky is scared… but of what, I do not know."

Slowly and steadily, the sharpshooter's initial huff became a quiet laugh.

If ever there were a time Larabee wished he could read the Texan, it was now. As with Buck, he was gradually losing his patience with Tanner. "Something you'd care to share, Vin," he asked coldly.

"Yeah, Chris…" the younger man replied. Avoiding the issue was one thing but allowing misleading information to stand was another. "It's just that… well, Kate ain't afraid of nothin'. I'd stake my life on that." Meeting Larabee's glare head on, Tanner's amusement disappeared. "Reckon, my life might be on the line, if I called her on it, too."

Wilmington's snort broke the gaze the two men had fixed. "That's got 'a be the most ridiculous thing I ever heard, Vin. Didn't think I'd ever agree with Ezra on any of this but I got 'a this time. Kate's afraid 'a somethin' all right. My guess would be Chris."

Straightening in his chair, the rogue continued. "She was in the army for Pete's sake, not Special Forces. She wasn't a Ranger, like you, or a SEAL, like us," he indicated first Chris and then himself. "She was a damn clerk, Vin… I bet the only thing she ever killed was some stupid horse fly buzzing round her office."

Larabee frowned at his oldest friend's statement. "She was a soldier, Buck… just like us. You said earlier that you'd be comfortable with her backing you up."

"Yeah, I did," he acknowledged enthusiastically. "I ain't stupid, Chris. I know the woman can take care of herself. You ever seen her in those self defense classes she volunteers at. Hell, I know better than to tangle with that little lady. But, damn it, I ain't afraid that she's gonna kill me. She's scared of gettin' seriously involved on a real emotional level with you and that's all there is to it."

By now Josiah could feel the pain behind his eyes beating a path to his brain. There were clearly some opposing details being presented and even more evident, were the convictions that went along with that knowledge. "Gentleman, if I may…."

When all quieted, the profiler spoke again. "It would appear that everyone has something to say on these issues but is it just me, or do we have some conflicting information here?"

Nathan frowned at his best friend. He knew the big man better than most and he could easily decipher the curiosity in Josiah's tone. "Oh, I don't like the sounds of that… You ain't tryin' ta work a profile here, ya know?"

"Sound like it could be an interesting challenge though," he eyed Jackson, his big toothy grin making an appearance. Looking back at the others, Sanchez licked at his lips. "One I believe I would like to take on. With your permission, of course?"

The team leader was surprised by his lack of disgust. The idea seemed almost natural and as soon as it had been mentioned, he was immediately interested. "You mean… a full work-up, Josiah?"

Rubbing at his chin, Sanchez considered the question intently. Seconds later, he was directing his question to the man most involved. "Answer me honestly, Chris. What you've heard here in the last little while… does any of that information surprise you? Do any of the conclusions drawn, surprise you?"

Larabee thought about the question but it didn't take him long to decide on an answer. Whatever the sharpshooter was getting at, he had no idea. Buck thinking Kate was afraid of him seemed to go along with what Ezra had been saying but not really in the same context. And, honestly, he hadn't really seen any of it before now. Pursing his lips, he nodded. "Yeah… I suppose it does," he replied. "I'm not exactly sure how much stock to put in any of it though."

Josiah's scowl was slight but he was very absorbed by the blond's reaction. "That's interesting," he responded.

Watching the profiler's expression, Larabee's curiosity peaked again. "How so?"

To him, it was obvious, but Sanchez knew he would have to voice it for all hear. He also understood the sensitivity of his message. "Because, Chris, of all of us… you're the one who supposedly knows her best."


The instant comeback wasn't unexpected and Josiah tried to explain his thoughts. "I'm referring to the certainty with which everyone has made their statements, Chris. Ezra shows clear confidence in his information. Vin seems convinced of his, and Buck, well, it would appear that he's still sticking with the same old story about knowing the ladies."

Wilmington was going to protest Josiah's objectification of his talents but was interrupted.

"Almost… like they've all been shown a different face."

Six sets of eye turned to stare at their seventh.

"What?" JD suddenly felt put upon. All the 'discussing' and 'commenting' had him a little confused but sitting back and just listening, he could see the whole picture exactly as Josiah painted it. "I just meant… well, that you're all seeing what you want to see."

Nathan looked at the kid, a smile slowly growing on his lips. He liked the point of view that Dunne was presenting but it occurred to him that there might be another. "Or… what she wants you to see," he added thoughtfully.

The silence was brief…

"Or what she don't want us to see."

Everyone was now focused on Tanner again.

An uneasy quiet settled but was quickly broken as Sanchez shuffled closer to the table. "A single entity… like a building, standing tall and proud for all to see… yet, having four sides… each revealed only to those who look directly at that face."

The analogy wasn't lost on the Texan. His wiry grin appeared as he added his wisdom to the gathering. "Like a big picture puzzle…" With all eyes on him, Vin finished presenting the logic of his comparison, "Reckon we're all workin' on a different piece is all."

Chris was listening. He watched reactions around the table and the agreements made him more anxious with each passing minute. He fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair… things were adding up that he didn't like one little bit. Finally making up his mind, the team leader glanced at Sanchez. "Do you think you can work up a profile on Kate, Josiah?"

Sitting back, the big man considered the request thoughtfully. He was confident in his abilities but yet, worried about the potential of his findings and the impact they might have. "Are you sure you want to go that far, Chris?" he asked earnestly. "This may simply be a misunderstanding… Maybe none of us are so sure of our facts."

Glancing at the other men again, Larabee sucked in his bottom lip as he considered his options. He knew he was looking at a complicated maze. On one side of the coin, this felt so much like such a personal issue. He could probably find a way through to Lansky without any help.

However, on the flip side, Kate had made this more than just their problem when she had, inadvertently or not, involved Standish. This was now a team problem and requesting the assistance of his friends seemed logical. It helped that these men just happen to be the best of the best when they worked as one. "I'm sure," Chris finally acknowledged firmly. Taking a deep breath, he reached just that little bit further with his decision. "Gives us all a joint purpose, don't you think?"

His leader's words hit Jackson first. "Excuse me?" Eyebrows rose curtly as Nathan clued in as to where this was going. "A… joint purpose," he repeated. "Are you proposing to enlist everyone's help, Chris?"

Larabee's didn't hesitate. "If you all wouldn't mind lending your expertise to my…."

Wilmington finished his oldest friend's sentence when he paused. "To your quest for love, Chris?"

The senior agent smiled, cocked his head, but then shook it no. Glancing at the ladies' man, he shrugged a little. "Hopefully, that'll be the ultimate result, Buck, but I get the feeling… Kate could use my help… our help. I'd like to offer her that hand, if I can."

The kid looked puzzled.

It wasn’t like he didn’t understand what Larabee was getting at. Lansky had been a part of their close-knit group for a very long time and they all felt pretty strongly about her association. He'd always thought of her as the ultimate 'tomboy' and knew that most of them never even considered the fact that she was a woman. To them all, she was just a real good friend. That logic wasn't the part Dunne was having problems with though. "You want to help her… by profiling her?" he questioned aloud. "Isn't that like… illegal or something?"

Silent communication ran around the room instantly.

The man in black briskly produced a mischievous smile and Wilmington warmed to it just as quick. "Only if she catches us, JD," he smirked, "but like Chris said, we're experts. She ain't gonna know a thing."

Tanner sighed heavily and all eyes drifted to him. Why he was persisting, Vin didn't know, but he was fast becoming tired of being the odd man out. Like it or not though, he felt it his responsibility to keep the team grounded. "You ain't thinkin' this through much, are ya, Buck?"

The rogue frowned, glancing across the table at Tanner. There were many a time when the sharpshooter's aloof nature drove him crazy and now just happened to be one of them. "What's eatin' at you, Vin?" he snapped. "You've done nothin' but complain this whole damn time. What the hell ain't I thinkin' through enough for your almighty attitude?"

It was almost a defensive reaction for his best friend yet a deeper feeling accompanied his response this time. Dunne calmly interjected his thoughts on the matter. "Maybe it's just me," he said quietly, his gaze drifting to that of the sharpshooter, "but I get the feeling… Kate isn't the only one afraid around here."

The kid's supposition hit too close to home for Vin's liking. His rebuttal was quick, the tilt of his head slight, and his smile barely noticeable. "Best not ta come up short when yer judgin' the unknown, JD. Respectin' goes a long way in comin' out in one piece."

Clearing his throat to head off another confrontation, Josiah responded with his own calm words of wisdom. "Perhaps, if we all work together, gentlemen, we can come to some sort of agreement to… maybe define that unknown?"

Although he agreed with what the profiler was saying, Tanner had been trying to make a point and he knew it was more than relevant. "Then you best be askin' Buck about them blueprints I saw him and Kate goin' over today." Focusing on the rogue, he raised an eyebrow. "You seemed mighty happy when ya left her desk, Buck… even though, yer the… expert."

By now, Chris was vigilant about the information being relayed. A single eyebrow rose as he looked at his oldest friend. "She give you a lead, Buck?"

With all that had gone on between then and now, Wilmington had completely forgotten about Lansky's part in the 'discrepancy' that his colleagues were now out investigating. Hesitating, the surveillance man licked at his lips. "Eh… could be, Chris. Edison and Brice went back to the scene after we met this afternoon. And… like Vin said… I had gut feelin'… I just knew that Kate knew somethin'… I played that hunch."

Quiet for sometime, Standish was now more than intrigued by the conversation. "I'm not sure I understand your meaning, gentleman," he puzzled. "Are you implying that Miss Lansky had something to do with the Prichard case?"

Sending a nervous glance Larabee's way, the rogue shrugged, his fingers rising slightly to convey his loss at how to respond.

The team leader sighed and a hand rose to rub the back of his neck vigorously. "No, Ezra, we're not." Taking another deep breath, Chris sat back in his chair. He'd purposely kept some of Kate's hidden 'talents' confidential but now that didn't seem like such a great idea. "You all remember the Kulinski Case?"

The quizzical look on his face was evident but Dunne nodded, his memory of the case clear. "Yeah," he grinned proudly at his roommate. "When Buck found that shipment of guns and the FBI couldn't."

Eyes focused on the senior agent, Wilmington licked at his lips nervously. When Larabee gave him an approving nod, the surveillance man corrected the story. "Truth is… I didn't find those guns, JD. I… had a little help."

At the end of the table, Tanner leaned forward and spied the ladies' man through narrowed disapproving eyes. Next, his gaze fell on Larabee and he glared in earnest. "And you knew?"

Ignoring the Texan's accusatory tone, the man in black nodded. "Of course I knew, Vin. Everything in this office goes through me, remember?"

Attempting to rein in his displeasure, Tanner sat back in his chair. "Almost everythin'."

Wanting to dispel the confrontational attitudes being displayed by Larabee and Tanner, Nathan chose to direct the conversation elsewhere. "She went down to that site though, didn't she, Buck? She was with you, looking over the place, if I remember right."

More than happy to be sidetracked, Wilmington eagerly replied. "Yeah… After the dogs came up empty, Kate said she knew what to look for but she needed to be on site. It took a few hours of wandering around but she's the one who told me where to find the bunker."

"That's crazy," Dunne blurted out. "How would Kate know where to look?"

"How indeed?" the deep voice of their profiler sounded and all eyes were on him.

Through his quizzical expression, Jackson began to smile. "I know that look… You're enjoyin' this aren't you?"

This was purely about his job now and Sanchez lowered his head to hide his sparkling blue pools. "Nathan, my friend…" looking back at Jackson, the profiler nodded slowly, "you know I love a challenge."

Grinning, the medic replied quickly, "Yep."

"You will attempt to work up a profile on Miss Lansky then?" Standish asked from across the table. He voiced the words but the southerner already knew the answer. All of the information exchanged here this afternoon could only lead to that conclusion.

Looking at his leader, Josiah's eyebrows rose questioningly.

The answer came quickly, the slightly tilt of the blond's head was all the permission Sanchez need to reply to the southerner's query. "I'll need anything else you all can think of but I believe I can come up with something workable based on what we've discussed."

Larabee's expression was a little tense. He was deep in thought; his eyes focused on the kid. "JD," he finally drew Dunne's attention. "You think you can approach your sources at Defense again?"

Surprised at the request, the computer specialist frowned. "You think there's something in her military record she isn't telling us, Chris?"

Glancing at Tanner, the man in black sucked at his bottom lip as his eyes narrowed. He could feel Vin's angst deep in his gut and he knew he was letting his own feelings get in the way of seeing a possibility. There were so many times the sharpshooter's instincts had been right and when push came to shove; Chris owed Vin some recognition. "Just playing a hunch," he replied, his green reflections never leaving blue.

As unspoken as any communication they usually had, the Texan didn't flinch at Larabee's announcement, his only reaction shown in the tiniest of curls to his bottom lip. He took in the gesture, yet felt compelled to add his thoughts. Sitting forward again, Tanner broke their stare for only a second. "Won't be in her file," he said quietly.

Dunne knew he wasn't stupid but some of this was going right over his head. He knew that military types spoke a language all of their own and he sometimes wished he understood it better. "What won't be?"

Transferring his gaze to the kid's questioning eyes, Larabee pursed his lips. He knew what his best friend was getting at and he had to agree. "If Vin is right, everything…."


Wilmington quite often had the feeling of being on the outside when it came to Larabee and Tanner but right now, he understood their code perfectly. He wasn't about to tread that territory without their assistance though. "We'll just have to wait and see what you come up with, Kid," Wilmington suggested. He was trying to ease Dunne's bewilderment and his own uneasiness.

Knowing Buck too well, Chris played off the distraction. "You think you can get in, JD?" he asked again.

It only took a moment of consideration before the computer specialist nodded. "As long as it's regular access, I don't see a problem."

Tanner shrugged and Larabee replied by cocking his head. "Guess that'll have to do for now."

The room went silent once more as the seven men looked at one another.

Having more than enough time to consider the significances, Standish cleared his throat and spoke. "A very interesting meeting you called, Mr. Larabee." He glanced at Chris and then the others. "It would appear that we once again have a single focus. A purpose for stepping across that imaginary line as one entity."

The impact of Ezra's words took Nathan by surprise. "And why do I get the feelin' that Kate just ain't gonna like this one little bit?"

The response came without thought. "What she don't know…" Buck said calmly. His eyes met Jackson's and then dropped away.

Feeling as though he had been brought back more into the fold, Tanner gave his own reply, "Reckon, she best not find out."

"Vin's got a point," the senior agent agreed. He, too, felt more at ease with the outcome of their lengthy discussion. Looking around, he again assumed his leadership role. "This doesn't go beyond this room, everyone got that? Kate has eyes and ears all over this building, so conduct your business carefully. Keep this one inside your offices, with the doors closed."

"You co-ordinatin'?" the rogue asked.

"As per usual," the team leader replied but then hesitated. "I think Josiah needs all new info on this one as well though. His office or mine but both of us knows everything, alright?"

From the end of the table, Vin spoke up. "Reckon it would be best if we all stayed in the loop, Chris. Puzzle pieces have a way of gettin' lost if you ain't workin' on the big picture together."

"Yes," Standish nodded. "I would have to agree, Mr. Larabee. This particular meeting has already proven Mr. Tanner's counsel accurate. I might advise that we heed his suggestion."

"Seven heads are better than one," Buck piped up with a cocky smile.

Ezra raised an amused eyebrow. "A supposition confirmed repeatedly by the accomplishment this contingent has achieved during its tenure."

Several resigned huffs responded to the southerner's long-winded statement but their attention was quickly drawn as Larabee stood.

"Boys… I don't want anyone to lose sight of the facts here. Most importantly, and I hope you all agree on this one… Kate is our friend. And she just happens to be the woman I love. I… get the feeling that… well," he lowered his head for a moment and then glanced back. "Buck said it this morning and I've had all day to think on his words. The changes we've seen in her behavior… all seemed to have started about the time she and I… Well, about the time I made my feelings known. I don't want anything else to change around here, and I want everyone to treat this with the respect it deserves… the respect Kate deserves."

The affirmatives were verbal and visual but Chris got a good feeling from them all.

"If I may," Sanchez caught the senior agent's attention.

When Larabee waved the floor to him and sat back down, Josiah addressed everyone. "If we are all in agreement, I might suggest that sticking with our established routines is paramount."

Seeing no objections, the profiler continued. "Tomorrow is our normal Friday to meet at the Saloon after work and… well, I've already picked up the steaks for the barbecue on Saturday."

"You still want everyone over for that work party, Josiah."

The big man nodded in answer to the kid's question. "That old oak still has to come down, JD, and as much as I like blackberries…."

Ezra sighed, his eyes locked hard on the table in front of him. "Everyone, Mr. Sanchez?"

Puffing his cheeks, Josiah glanced at Larabee and shrugged. He knew exactly where the southerner was going with his line of thought. Getting the four main components of this mess in one place at one time would be a stretch but he was at least willing to try to follow orders. "Chris said to keep everything normal, Ezra. We worked this day out Tuesday… Rain, Adrian, Kate, and us… we all planned to be there. Nothing's changed as far as I'm concerned."

Quietly, JD looked across the table. "And… just how many sharp tools are going to be there, Josiah?" he asked, not really wanting to know the answer.


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

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