~~ Foundations ~~

by TJ


LANGUAGE - Oh, hell, yes! Read, you'll figure it out. . . lol
VIOLENCE - Yes, of the 'remembered' variety, just like in the last story. And although recollection can still seem vivid, I don't think they are too bad. . .

PAIRING - Just what we already know about


PREVIOUS STORIES - #1 - 'Aftermath. . .' #2 - 'First, You Stumble. . .' #3 - 'Then you Fall. . .'

SPOILERS - Just like the last one, it's pretty hard for this one to stand on its own. You really need to read at least the second and third stories before attempting this tale. Reading all three will provide the clearest picture

RECOMMENDATION - For those of you reading the 'Adult' versions of these stories and who might be Ezra fans - my friend Barb has a parallel storyline available at her 'Wind & Rain' Series - they can be found on Blackraptor's Adult Ezra site. Again, they are 'Adult' stories, but tell the tale from Adrian and Ezra's point of view.

SUMMARY - There are many things in this world that need a sturdy foundation to plant themselves, stand firm and even grow. Every relationship, no matter how serious or inconsequential needs those same building blocks. It doesn't matter whether you are friends, colleagues, lovers, or just casual acquaintances, every personal connection we make in life, starts with the same fundamental groundwork that may or may not grow into something more. But how many times do we actually take a moment to figure out how we got where we are, and whom we may have affected along the way. . .

SIZE: Approx 360K


DISCLAIMER - If only wishes did come true. . . Reality is harsh

John Watson and CBS own The Magnificent Seven and all of its characters.
I seek, nor shall receive, profit from this narrative.

I claim All Original Characters as my own.
Please do not use them without my express permission.


WRITER'S NOTES - This story has taken me a great deal of time to research and put together. For those that have been waiting patiently, I thank you, and I do apologize. Real life just hasn't been co-operative at all. . . <<sigh>>

Thank you once again to my betas Antoinette and Marnie. . .

Antoinette - your thoughts on this one really helped me find my way. You're my rock, lady. I can't thank you enough.

Marnie - as always, I love your insight and your unique way of presenting it to me. You are a true friend and trusted friend. Thank you!

Thanks also to Barb. Your collaboration and friendship is the only thing that kept me going through this all. . .



"I can't wait to hear your explanation this time, Agent Larabee!" AD Travis growled as papers flew from his hands and slid across the desk towards a surprised blond. "Better be a damned good one, too! 'Cause personally, I can't imagine anything intimidating enough to actually run her off!"

Josiah's gaze quickly met that of his leader, neither man needing a name to know exactly who Orin was talking about.

A strange part of the profiler had actually expected to see Lansky sitting at her desk this morning, performing her duties as though nothing had happened. The woman had more than enough balls to attempt such a stunt, but given the levels of testosterone in team Seven's offices right now, he was exceedingly pleased that she hadn't showed. What she had done however was becoming increasingly more obvious as the AD continued his disparaging glare.

Given what Chris had been through in the last two days, Sanchez fought a compulsion to jump to the man's defense. His loyalty and over-protectiveness were in high gear and yet, with just one look, Larabee told him to stand down. "That. . . would be my cue to leave," the big man offered instead. Gaining his feet and conveying a parting pleasantry to both supervisors, Josiah exited the office almost as fast as Travis had barged in.

With the door secured firmly behind him, the profiler pursed already tight lips. Orin's words and disposition left little doubt that Chris was now looking at Lansky's resignation and Josiah's consciousness was once again fighting the same battle he'd been struggling with since very early Sunday morning. How had he missed the signs? Better yet, if he ever saw her again, would he be able to trust himself around her?

Venturing over to Kate's desk, the profiler's eyes drifted close as his hand caressed its cold surface. . .

So much had happened since Saturday. Logic might dictate Josiah's role in the outcome of that day and yet, common sense had cleared his conscience of any wrongdoing. Chris had backed that up repeatedly of course. Team Seven's senior agent had told every one of them, over and over, that he was, and always would be, taking full and complete responsibility for what had transpired in Lansky's apartment that fateful night...

"Josiah. . . It's Vin..."

Sanchez had heard the agitation in his young friend's voice immediately, but he spoke calmly and casually when replying. "It's late, Vin. What's up?"

Tanner's fingers gripped his cell phone tightly. His other hand was holding Larabee's to help apply pressure. "I already called Nathan. He's on his way."

"Nathan?" Now completely upright in his bed, the profiler's already heightened senses sprang into overload at the mention of the medic's name. "What's wrong, Vin?"

"Josiah. . . I need you to call everyone. Get them over here right now."

Not wishing to press for the obvious news, Sanchez tried to calm himself in order to transfer some of that composure to his friend. "I'm on it, Vin. What grid?"

There was an agonizing silence and then a raspy voice answered, "Lansky's!" before Tanner hung up.

Settling himself into Kate's chair, the profiler touched every surface he could. Fighting one's own disappointment was never easy, and knowing that Kate had been under his observation for nearly three years. . . It galled Sanchez to acknowledge that he had no clue who this woman really was. Or what. How could anyone spend so much time with another person and not know them? Josiah had already reasoned that the theory wasn't entirely true of course, but too many questions still lingered. As a profiler, he understood the importance of getting inside someone's head. . . of understanding how they reasoned their choices and justified their actions.

Justification meant validation though, and that was the part of this puzzle that really had Josiah working overtime. How could Lansky ever rationalize her actions of two nights ago? What thought process had enabled her to turn so viciously against one of her own?

Tense as he was, nothing had seemed out of the ordinary when Josiah had arrived outside of the housing complex shortly after one am Sunday morning. He'd sent out a '911' page, utilizing text messaging rather than phoning the others. Ezra was hot on his heels as they entered Kate's apartment. The sight that greeted them should have been overwhelming, but both men immediately reacted as their training taught them.

Buck, on the other hand, reacted as expected. . . "What the hell. . .?" he growled, quickly taking in the scene as he came through Lansky's doorway seconds later.

Trying to quiet the rogue, Sanchez then closed the door behind a stunned JD.

"Don't you shush me!" Buck glared at the man before quickly making his way across the living room. "What the hell happened, Nathan?"

As Wilmington knelt beside Larabee's prone body, Jackson related patient status to the rest of team. "Vin stopped most of the bleeding before I got here and I've secured the wound so we can move him."

"Who did this?" Dunne asked quietly.

"Use yer head, kid. . . Y' already know. . ." Tanner's voice punctuated the air slowly. His tone was low and they all recognized the menace in his reply.

Trying his best to ignore the sudden tension in the room, Nathan continued. "We need to get Chris to a hospital. It ain't so much his neck I'm worried about now. He's already in shock from blood loss and I'm pretty sure he's got a concussion. Possible fractures to his hand and ribs, too."

Wilmington had been about to add a succinct and very sarcastic comment to Jackson's description when a blood stained hand rose in the air to quiet the men. A rough voice added command to the motion. "NO hospital!"

"I need ta get you stabilized," Jackson insisted, his focus entirely on the man he now tended.

"NO hospital!" Chris was adamant. His eyes traveled to Tanner and Wilmington to cement the order.

Perception hit home for all of them at that moment. Stubborn was just the beginning when it came to Larabee and they all understood that too well. Yet there was something else in his eyes and, like it or not, Vin couldn't miss the conviction his best friend was implying. "No hospital, Nathan," Tanner reiterated the command. "He means it."

"He always means it," the medic complained. He took a moment to curse under his breath, looking around the room to gage each man's reaction. Eventually, and despite his concern, Jackson allowed some small semblance of understanding to rein in his anger. Slowly, and with a heavy sigh, he relented. "Alright," he agreed, "But we need to get him out of here... Back to the ranch maybe... Someplace where I can keep him warm and flat, and where we can all keep an eye on him."

It took a moment but, scanning the room, the rogue seemingly checked his emotions and once again did what came natural. "Kid," he beckoned.

With his eyes firmly locked on their leader, their youngest agent failed to register the summons.

"JD!" Buck called, a little louder this time.

"Huh?" As his best friend rose beside him, Dunne's glazed eyes drifted lazily to Buck's.

"Chris is gonna be alright, JD," Wilmington reassured, "but I need you to focus."

Slowly recognizing his stunned response, Dunne cleared his throat, his shoulders rolling to relax taut muscles. "What do you need, Buck?" he smiled weakly. "Anything... I'm your man."

"Good, kid," the tall agent tapped his roommate on the shoulders and offered a brief smile. "Go find some blankets. Tear them off her bed if you have to. We need to transport Chris and we need to keep him warm while we do it."

Nodding his understanding, JD took one last look at Larabee before heading down Lansky's short hallway.

"Nathan. . . You and Vin get him ready to move." Turning to the others, Buck continued to hand out orders just as quickly. "Ezra, Josiah, when we're gone, I need you to cover this place with a fine tooth comb. You find me something. . . Anything and everything you can. I want to know what the hell happened here... how that bitch did this."


The shout Chris forced from his lungs made everyone stop in their tracks.

Vin did his best to hold the man as he coughed through the resulting strain on his throat and Nathan fought a losing battle to get Larabee to stay prone, his own voice waning in the struggle.

Jackson's 'stay down' commands weren't permeating the senior agent's brain at that moment. Angry at the designation that had found his ears, Chris fought to sit, grasping at Tanner for support and staring daggers at his oldest friend in the process.

Larabee was hurting. He was dazed, disorientated. . . waging a war to stay conscious as the sights and sounds flew around him. He had no idea how long he'd been here and was only now remembering where here was. It was the same haze that had enveloped him ever since he'd fought his way out of the darkness that first time. Intuition had begged his attention in those first few seconds. . . there was blood and a sluggish hand struggled to keep pressure on his neck. With adrenaline gushing through his veins, instinct had kicked in almost immediately. Uncoordinated and injured fingers had searched desperately to locate an elusive cell phone and when they did, energy and concentration waning, they'd labored to make the call that would bring Vin Tanner to his side.

Strange as it seemed, Chris didn't remember making that call. Drifting in and out of nothingness again and again, confusion had commanded his world until the Texan's familiar voice eventually comforted his disorientation.

Despite not knowing how he had summoned them, Chris felt relieved at the presence of his men. The commotion was still baffling however and his eyes weren't focusing enough for him to follow their movements. Voices came to him more clearly in the confusion and while the words pieced together far too slowly for the blond's liking, the discussion he deciphered pleased him even less. "Don't you ever call her that, Buck!" Larabee ground out angrily.

Wilmington's defenses were immediate and just as biting as those of his oldest friend. "Well pardon me all ta hell," he shot back. "But I ain't the one lyin' on the floor with my throat cut open, Stud. You need to get your priorities straight. She ain't worth it and I intend to prove that to you if it kills me."

"Keep it up, Buck. . . and you might just get that wish!"

"Gentlemen, please!" This was Ezra's time to shine and he knew that as surely as the sun would rise that morning. The southerner had seen too many of these altercations between Larabee and Wilmington and he understood that his 'two cents' would confound them enough to defuse the situation and set priorities where they needed to be focused. "I believe we should leave the disposition of any possible suspect to a more appropriate time, don't you?"

Opening and closing Kate's desk drawers for what seemed the hundredth time, Josiah came back to reality, shaking off the memories of what had transpired in their colleague's apartment. Ezra's words had indeed worked, numbing the stalemate enough for them to transfer Chris to his ranch. Of course, putting emotion aside was something Standish was good at when the situation required it of him and Josiah just hoped that the undercover man was employing all necessary techniques to get through his psychological evaluation this morning.

A part of the profiler was concerned for the southerner's state of mind, but swapping Ezra and Buck's appointment had seemed the only logical thing to do, especially considering the mood Wilmington was still in. Consulting with Nathan late yesterday, Josiah had made the decision and Chris had consented without apparent concern. Looking out for the welfare of their own was priority one in any time of crisis and Sanchez reasoned that this particular situation qualified as good as any. Trouble was, right now no one could agree on who exactly 'their own' consisted of any more...

It was widely known that Buck was at his best when the safety and security of his teammates was concerned. But one could also contend that he was at his worst in the same situation. Wilmington was a passionate man. Any lady of acquaintance would be fortunate to know that for a fact. It was different of course, but Buck was no less zealous about everyone he had ever known or worked with. Staunch in his convictions, the surveillance man was almost obsessive in his possessiveness, especially where his oldest friend was concerned.

"She cut your damn throat, Chris! How the hell can you say that?" The argument had resumed again after Josiah and Ezra had rejoined their companions.

Best at observation, the two men had remained at Lansky's apartment while the others transported Chris back to his ranch. Having Buck drive Larabee's truck had at least given Nathan and Vin a brief respite, but with them in the back for comfort and protection, JD had unfortunately endured most of Wilmington's scathing comments and looks.

"No, no, no," Jackson tried to correct. "It ain't a cut, Buck."

The look Wilmington shot at the medic had Sanchez on the defensive. "I think we all need to calm down," he advised the gathering around Larabee's bed.

With a hand raised in the air, Nathan nodded his agreement, yet he took a moment to point a finger at the rogue. "You need to calm down, Buck. At least try ta listen to what Chris is sayin'."

"She didn't cut my throat, Buck." Swallowing painfully, Chris shifted on the piled up pillows. His eyes closed for a moment as he tried to focus.

Curious as to the clarification, Standish was compelled to speak. "If I may, Mr. Larabee... I find myself in uncharted territory at present and would appreciate a full rendition of events, so that I can understand completely what has transpired."

As best as he could remember them, Chris had slowly worked his way through the circumstances surrounding his injuries. Time and again, he forcefully reiterated the fact that he had provoked Kate into her actions. Buck's objections to the statements were of course, loud.

The obvious question of 'why' was asked. . . silence the only answer given.

Another understandable inquiry was voiced and for some time the 'how' was greeted with equal quiet. When Chris did finally speak however, his words were slow and purposeful, his description of 'in the blink of an eye' adding yet another stillness to the room.

The fact that their most senior and, arguably, most experienced agent, seemed at a loss to explain how quickly and efficiently he had been felled, sparked great concern for Josiah. It was at that moment that he had wiped his slate clean where Lansky was concerned. Right there and then he began anew, taking in any and all information he could gather in his efforts to build a clear and concise profile on someone he now considered a stranger.

Chris was quick to add a supposition to begin Josiah's new files. He insisted that there was hesitation in Kate's eyes. He was adamant, too, that the team, not change their view of Lansky, asking that they at least give her a chance to explain before they hung her out to dry.

With everyone silent again, Vin's words had expressed uncertainty against Larabee's staunch conviction. "She ain't never gonna give details, Chris."

"Finally! Someone agrees with me." Buck took that opportunity to restate the apparent harmony of their misgivings.

It was clear from the looks they exchanged that Wilmington and Tanner weren't happy with their mutual stance though. They found a brief comfort in their joint effort before Larabee took them both down with his next words.

"The first man who lays a hand on her. . . dies!"

Nathan made quick work of shuffling them all out of the bedroom after that. His patient was struggling to stay focused and adding tired, anxious friends to the situation was creating a defensive mood for everyone. They all needed time to absorb what had happened but more importantly, Chris needed time to heal.

Concerned for every member of his team, Jackson prescribed 'down-time' and sent them all in different directions.

Gaining his feet, Josiah made certain to put everything back in place before leaving Kate's desk. According to Chris, 'she'd be back', and no matter how much everyone doubted that conviction, Sanchez wasn't about to be the cause of a problem should Lansky actually dare to show her face.

Quickly stifling his begrudging snicker, the profiler looked around the bullpen. Causing a crisis wasn't going to be any problem at all from what he could see. Everyone within his line of sight was tense and despite Larabee's assurances, they were clearly not on-board with the idea of Lansky showing her face in their office. . . 'Ever again' was Josiah's guess.

As the most mature and perhaps most well rounded member of the group, Sanchez, too, was having a hard time dealing with certain aspects of the situation that had presented itself. He didn't consider himself as apprehensive or guarded as Tanner for example, yet for obvious reasons, there were definitely uncertainties and doubts.

Insecure was perhaps a good way to describe JD over the last two days, and while not discounting his own uneasiness, the profiler was tending to associate the worry more with concern, rather than anxiety.

Like himself, Nathan was troubled for everyone's welfare, both physically and mentally.

Ezra had been aloof all day yesterday, and Buck. . . well, he was still being just plain mean.

The southerner's reaction seemed in line with Josiah's understanding and he reasoned that Standish would eventually busy his mind with conquests of a more pressing nature, summarily discounting his recent 'close' proximity to Kate.

Wilmington however, was another matter entirely. . .

Everyone understood that there was history between Buck and Chris that they would never be permitted to acquaint themselves with, let alone understand. In the years of knowing one another, the two men had gone through their fair share of successes and failures. The tragedy that they shared was also an undeniable connection that made the two old friends fight, for and against one another, with no apparent reason. They might never agree and they might never forgive or forget, but there was one thing for sure. . . they would never abandon their convictions and their dedication to each another. . .

"Make me forget I ever saw that piece of paper, Agent Larabee!"

Along with everyone else in the office, Josiah turned and watched AD Travis storm his way across the bullpen, the double glass doors both parting in his wake. The receptionist at the main desk made a quick exit soon after, leaving team Seven to the inevitable discussion that would surely follow.

Buck made his way towards Chris as Larabee slowly exited his office. Nathan was quick to lend a reassuring arm to their leader when it looked as though he would falter. JD was hesitant but came closer all the same. Vin shook his head and sighed loud enough for all to hear.

"What's on the paper?" Wilmington motioned to the letter his boss had just summarily crumpled.

Looking at the document, Larabee seemed cautious.

"If I could hazard a guess," Sanchez raised a brow. "Her resignation, perhaps?"

"She was here?" JD frowned as he looked from one man to the other.

"Didn't dare show her face though, did she?" Buck taunted smugly.

"Enough!" Larabee snapped, his arm rising gruffly to ward off Nathan's helping gesture. Glaring at his team, the leader slowly shook his head. "I'm not the only one who wants her found now, so you all better get back to those jobs I assigned you."

"He didn't notice the bandage?" Vin asked curiously. He'd seen the mood Travis was in when he'd entered and exited their bullpen. Somehow he couldn't fathom Orin missing a little thing like Nathan's handiwork, so the Texan just had to ask.

Giving dignity to the query wasn't something Chris was willing to do though. "I cut myself shaving, remember!" he shot back pointedly instead. He managed to raise a questioning brow at Tanner before turning back for his office. The slamming of his door made certain they all knew the conversation was over.

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

"What is it, Major?"

William J. MacDonald had known Frank Garrett for a very long time and yet, there was something about the man that still made him nervous, particularly now. The General was never predictable, but that fact applied ten-fold where Kate Lansky was concerned. She'd parted company with their 'union' almost three years ago. That in itself was highly unusual, but to allocate time and resources to keep tabs on her. . . That hadn't sat well with most of the staff, but just like them, Mac did as he was ordered. "Surveillance has her in the building as expected, sir, but we're unable to verify."

Garrett's pen stopped transcribing first. It then rose slowly to trace a lazy path back and forth across dry lips. When the man's chin eventually lifted, a steely cold stare bore accusatory daggers into his subordinate. "Something happened in her apartment Saturday night, Major. She hasn't been back." There was a momentary pause as his eyes narrowed. "Are we sure she hasn't breached?"

Swallowing hard, Mac hesitated a little too long. Truth was. . . he wasn't sure that all their technology could confirm Lansky's whereabouts. Maybe she had discovered their surveillance. . . maybe she hadn't...

"Spit it out, Major," General Garrett insisted as he gained his feet.

"Well, this is Kate, sir. You know we can't be certain of much."

Unclear if the General's smirk was the result of arrogance or pride, MacDonald watched his superior round his large desk, and then come closer. Instinct caused his back to straighten and he waited nervously as the man circled him.

"Ah, but I want you to be certain, Major," Frank Garrett spoke softly from behind his second in command. "I want to know everything there is to know about this incident and I want to know exactly. . . exactly where she is now. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR, Major?"

Mac was at full attention when he acknowledged his orders with a loud, "Yes, sir!" Doing a smart about-face, he then marched out of the room.

As he watched the door close behind his departing subordinate, Major-General Garrett's smile changed to a disgruntled sneer. "Clever, Kate," he whispered into the empty room. "But you're slipping. . . too long away has done you a disservice."

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

"I really hate this," Dunne grumbled as his fingers tapped lightly on his keyboard.

Sanchez was passing the center office at that moment and somewhere in the back of his mind, he suspected that the kid had spoken just so that the profiler would hear him. "Problems, JD?" he inquired, deducing the young man would jump at the chance to talk.

Looking up from his computer, Dunne's relieved expression gave credence to everything the older man had just supposed. "Josiah," he sighed and then paused. A good thirty-seconds passed as the kid hemmed and hawed about asking. Finally, the decision was made, "Sure could use your ear if you've got a minute."

The profiler smiled. "Sure!" With that, he stepped inside the smaller office and secured the door behind him. Pulling Buck's chair around the desks, he seated himself and waited to be addressed.

Several minutes clocked the passage of time as JD contemplated his thoughts and feelings. He tried to begin a conversation once and then shook off the query. A second time he was about to speak but changed his mind.

Sanchez finally decided to intervene. "Ya know. . . Chris isn't the easiest man to work for sometimes," he began casually. "But then again, Buck isn't the most patient man in the world either."

"You got that right," Dunne agreed without hesitation. He was glad to have an ear that understood his dilemma perfectly. He also wasn't above acknowledging that Josiah could read minds if it let him vent some of his frustration.

"Oh?" the profiler raised a brow questioningly. "Which part?"

JD's pursed lips showed momentary hesitation but the need in him was too great, he just had to speak. "Both," he blurted out. "I know the team's supposed to keep up appearances with the Prichard case and stuff, but Chris has got me working contacts in Defense and Buck curses under his breath every time he hears me on the phone or sees the files I'm working on."

Sanchez conveyed his understanding with a nod. "I can see how that can drive a man crazy."

"Damn straight," Dunne said assertively. "I'm not a pawn, Josiah. They can't just put me in the middle and not expect me to get mad."

Observing the confidence with which the kid was now speaking, Josiah changed his tune. "Did Chris give you specifics on what he was looking for?"

Hearing someone else mention Larabee's name made JD pause, his own plight momentarily forgotten. "Do you think he's gonna be alright?" he asked seriously, his face conveying his worry.

Acknowledging the question with a slight nod, the profiler responded, "He's a tough nut to crack, JD. We all know that. Nathan's got his ribs wrapped and is keeping a close eye on him for lingering signs of disorientation and nausea."

"Why couldn't he just stay home and rest?"

Sanchez shrugged this time. "This is Chris Larabee we're talking about, JD. If a bullet can't keep him down, a little thing like a concussion sure won't."

Unsure glances dotted a brief pause before Dunne finally asked a question he'd been dying to pose. "The way he tells it, Josiah. . . Where'd she get a knife so quick? Nothing can happen that fast, can it?"

Pursing his lips, the profiler did his best to be reassuring. "Hopefully that's what you're going to find out for us, JD. You're looking for her military personnel records, right?"

Glancing back to his computer, Dunne disappointedly punched a couple of keys. "Easier said than done," he complained. "The United States defense department encompasses the world's largest collective computer system. Getting security access is a complicated process, even with my contacts and Chris' combined."

Josiah looked slightly puzzled. "But she retired three years ago. . . it shouldn't be that hard."

"That was the first card I played, but some archives aren't fully online. And some of the older records are even harder to access because nothing was computerized when she joined. And since no one can even give me a firm date as to when she enlisted. . ."

Bringing thumb and forefinger to his chin, Sanchez nodded, his mind once again absently logged the lack of solid information.

Lansky had been aloof at the beginning of her tenure with team Seven but they'd slowly worked her out of that shell, or so the profiler had thought. He was trying to remember conversations he'd had with her about 'army life'. In recollection he could see her agreeing with his comments and expanding on one piece of information or another. The observations were usually generalizations though. . .common complaints that most soldiers had back then, about their superiors, equipment, pay or just the mess hall food.

"Well, we'll just keep at it," Josiah said thoughtfully. "Any guesses as to when you'll have some information?"

"Not really," the kid shrugged, a loud sigh followed in short order. "Could be a few hours or a few days. Either way, I don't think Chris is gonna like the wait too much."

Nodding his understanding, the profiler gained his feet and had turned to leave when his attention was once again summoned.

"Josiah. . . I'm glad she did and all," Dunne hesitated, his eyes meeting those of his wisest friend. "But why'd she stop? What set Kate off like that and why'd she stop when she could have killed Chris so easily. . . damn near did?"

Glancing at the floor, Sanchez allowed a deep breath to roll around in his lungs before exhaling loudly. "That, John Dunne, is an excellent question. . . And unless I miss my guess, it's the answer to that very same question that Chris is hanging on to most."

As he watched the big man leave, JD tried to return Josiah's brief smile but curiosity prevented the expression from finding a firm hold. This scenario presented too many variables, all of which were flashing through his mind, and true to his nature, Dunne wouldn't be happy until all of his questions had found reasonable answers.

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

Lunchtime came and went. All of team Seven stayed put during the hour, and with the exception of Nathan, most failed to eat. Jackson had even ventured into Larabee's office in a vain attempt to encourage sustenance, but had been summarily dismissed.

As he had done most of the morning, Sanchez kept watch. His thoughts had been continually mapping events of the past few weeks and days and slowly, he came to believe that the beginnings of a rough profile were dropping into place.

Ezra's return from his psych evaluation had Josiah thinking back to Kate's apartment, and, as he observed a brief restoration of camaraderie between Standish, Tanner and Jackson, another connection was made. . .

"Just exactly what is it that you believe we are expected to find, Mr. Sanchez?"

Looking around Kate's apartment, Josiah shrugged ambiguously. "Buck's orders may have been harsh, Ezra, but he chose well."

"Of that I have no doubt," the undercover man smiled proudly. "Between the two of us, we unquestionably possess more powers of observation than all of our colleagues combined. However, we have both been to Miss Lansky's residence on more than one occasion. . ." Standish paused thoughtfully before continuing. "Is it your intension to rifle belongings we have not had previous access to?"

Considering the suggestion, Josiah responded, shaking his head. "No, I don't think we have that right."

"Even given the circumstances in which we now find ourselves?"

Again, the profiler found himself answering negatively. "My prayers have already been sent and answered, Ezra. Whatever the reason, Chris isn't gone. And I think he made it clear that he really doesn't consider this a crime scene. As hard as it might be to accept that, I think our best call would be to put our emotions aside... And besides, Chris was pretty damn defensive where Kate was concerned."

"Yeeees," Standish contemplated. "I would have to agree, and I do see your point. Best not to encourage intimidation as it were."

"Threats of imminent death would certainly qualify," the profiler acknowledged wittily.

A brow rose cynically but the southerner quickly nodded his consensus before stepping back as Josiah began a slow arc around Lansky's now empty living room. With Larabee on his way to the ranch, the two men were free to explore Kate's apartment unencumbered. Yet somehow, they both seemed to agree that some semblance of decorum was called for.

"Perhaps the 'hands off' approach should be employed in this particular instance, Mr. Sanchez."

Pausing, the profiler studied his friend and then smiled. "Look, but don't touch. . . I like that, Ezra. Good call."

Smiling his thank you to the compliment, Standish then listened to the profiler's direction.

"Why don't you take the bedroom and bathroom? I'll handle the living room, dining room, and kitchen."

Given his recent proximity to Kate, Standish was quick to voice an amended request. "If you don't mind, Mr. Sanchez, I would prefer to avoid Miss Lansky's sleeping quarters. An exchange of venues perhaps."

A knowing smirk crossed the profiler's lips and he made little attempt to hide it. Josiah had spoken without forethought and readily acknowledged that fact with his concurrence. "Been too long since I've been in a woman's bathroom anyway. I should have jumped at the chance when it came my way."

Content with their trade, both men had gone about the business of observing what most people might overlook, although Kate's bathroom had revealed nothing even remotely feminine. Josiah, hardly disappointed, had expected as much. There were a few things though, that he and Ezra were able to note that, on previous occasions, they had failed to see. They had transcribed the particulars to paper and then scrutinized the points all the way back to Larabee's ranch, and well into the next day...

"But she was in the army for, more than twenty years, right?" Dunne countered Sunday morning. He looked around Chris' kitchen and frowned. "Okay, so maybe I'm wrong but don't soldiers get moved around a lot? I can see why she wouldn't want to carry around a lot of knickknacks and stupid little stuff."

Sanchez considered the argument and found himself nodding. "Seems a reasonable assumption. What do you think?"

With Josiah's eyes firmly fixed on him, the reserved Texan found himself forced into a discussion he'd been trying to avoid. He'd felt strangely isolated since rushing into Lansky's apartment and wasn't at all comfortable with the feelings he was dealing with. Finding Chris covered in blood and unconscious on the floor had rocked Tanner to the core. For a minute, he'd actually thought the worst and was driven to rouse his friend, the urgency of his beckoning uncomfortably obvious in his tone. Seeing those pale green eyes flutter open was a godsend, but the anger that had replaced his relief was burning a hole in his soul. "I don't care ta put myself in her position, Josiah," the ex-ranger answered gruffly. He'd done his own fair-share of killing, but he sure as hell knew difference between friend and foe.

Glancing at his coffee, the profiler understood more than he was letting on but a part of him demanded that he draw the sharpshooter from his self-imposed exile. "You have a lot of important observations to contribute, Vin. I, for one, would like to offer you an apology. You made your reservations perfectly clear at that meeting on Thursday, but I don't think any one of us, suspicious or not, could have foreseen this happening."

"I don't want no apologies," Tanner swallowed hard. "Nothin' in my gut said this was gonna happen."

"And you're blaming yourself for that. . .."

Choosing to see the profiler's remark as a question, rather than comment, Vin straightened from his slouched position against the fridge. "No. I ain't blamin' nobody fer nothin'."

"Well I sure as hell am," Wilmington offered from his nook chair.

"This ain't about you, Buck," Jackson scowled. "We all need to make peace with what's happened if we're gonna get through this."

"Make peace," the rogue blurted out. "Like Hell! Ain't no way I'm lettin' this go, Nathan." Eyes narrowing, the surveillance man allowed his gaze to travel around the room, meeting each of his teammate's gazes in turn. "Nobody takes down my friend and gets away unscathed. Not now. . . not ever."

"Aren't you forgetting something?"

All eyes focused on Dunne and the kid did his best to discount Wilmington's angry stare. "You're forgetting that Kate is our friend, too, Buck. . . Now I'm the first to admit," swallowing hard, JD fought his own doubts. "I'm the first to admit that I don't like this one bit, but Chris is alive. He's lying in there and he's hanging on to something none of us witnessed."

"You don't know what you're talkin' about, JD."

"Let the man talk, Buck," Nathan shushed his overbearing teammate.

Clearing his thoughts, Dunne took a moment before continuing. "Maybe you're right, Buck. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about," he answered his best friend directly before looking about at the others. "But I do know Chris seems to believe in a different kind of truth. . . more than just the obvious. Maybe it ain't something we can see, and maybe it is. Maybe we're not opening the right kind of eyes to see it. Maybe. . . Maybe we need to find more friendly eyes to see it with."

Josiah's gentle smile and thoughtful nod had at least made JD feel a little better for his outburst, but it wasn't until much later that Dunne came to terms with what he'd said...

Taking watch over his slumbering leader several hours later, the kid had been joined by a repentant Vin. "How's he doin'?"

"Sleeping just fine," Dunne's quiet tone answered as the sharpshooter handed him a cup of coffee.

Silently skirting another chair from the corner of the room, Vin took up position at his young friend's side. The two men sipped their brew in companionable silence for quite some time before the Texan finally spoke. "Thanks, JD."

"Thanks? What for?"

Confusion visible on Dunne's brow, Tanner smiled. "For settin' me straight this mornin'." His audience still clearly perplexed by his explanation, Vin tried to clarify. "What you said about seein' this all from Chris' point of view, JD. That made a hell of a lot 'a sense."

"It did?"

The Texan smiled again. "Sure did, kid. Chris here. . ." Vin glanced at the man he easily called his best friend, grinning just a little bit before refocusing on their youngest. "He knows something he ain't been able ta tell us yet. Don't know fer sure if he knows he knows, but I'm bettin' when he gets around ta tellin' it, we'd best not be sorry fer somethin' we've done that we can't take back."

"So. . . you aren't mad at Kate then?" Dunne risked the question.

Exhaling loudly, Tanner lowered his head as it shook. "That's a real tough one, kid. 'Cause my gut tells me I've got every right ta be mad as hell at her. My brain knows that, too, and somewhere. . . somehow, I know I'm gonna have ta get 'em both ta make peace."

"Just like Nathan said."

"Yep," Vin agreed as he finally looked back at Dunne. "Nathan's a wise man. . . but don't you go lettin' on that I said so."

With a grin finally gracing his lips, the kid made the motion as he spoke, "Cross my heart. . .."

Outside the door, Josiah quietly edged himself away, cocking his head with pride as he went down the hallway. He was more than pleased that JD had come to such a mature conclusion and then somehow managed to pass that knowledge on to the one person the profiler had reservations about. Vin always kept thoughts and feelings to himself and Sanchez knew that Larabee was one of the few who could get through to the stubborn Texan. Seeing Chris in such a vulnerable position was taking its toll on the entire team and until now, Tanner had been wearing that close to his heart.

"Everything alright down there?" Jackson asked as his best friend came back from the bedroom.

"More than," the profiler smiled. "Chris is still sleeping and JD. . . well, he and Vin have made a few important decisions about who is going to set the mood for the coming days."

Nathan looked on curiously as they settled on either side of the kitchen island. "You mind explainin' that?" the medic finally asked.

A soft snicker displaying his amusement, Josiah laid out the pieces as clearly as he could. "Last night, in Kate's apartment. . . I don't know for sure, Nathan, but there was a part of this puzzle that we all overlooked. I suspect Chris knows what that is, but not on a conscious level. . . not yet!"

"Somethin'. . . he ain't rememberin'?"

Nodding his concurrence, Sanchez continued. "Maybe Vin feels it, too, and this morning. . . it seems that JD made him accept that."

Distracting himself by tapping the fruit bowl, Jackson looked thoughtfully at the profiler before eventually speaking, "This is so hard, Josiah," he admitted, his lips pursing together. "A part of me is angry with Kate. More angry than I've felt in a long time. . . It's like she's betrayed all of us, but mostly. . . Damn it, Josiah... she took more than Chris' convictions last night."

"I know, Nathan." Taking a deep breath, Sanchez exhaled sharply. "But she didn't take what is most important to us. . . to her. She couldn't somehow, and that's what we all have to hang on to. I think. . . that's what Chris is hanging on to."

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

"Orin! How are you?"

Hearing the familiar voice at the other end of his phone inexplicably made the hairs stand up on the back of Travis' neck. Doing his best to hide the foreboding feeling though, the AD responded. "Frank. . .? I'm good. How about you?"

Not much got by General Garrett and he immediately realized that his old friend wasn't pleased to hear from him. "Well, Orin, to tell the truth, I'm having a little bit of a problem."

'Just like Frank' Orin thought to himself. The man was never one for small talk.

Positive he could hear Travis' apprehensive 'Oh?' a wicked grin graced the General's lips. "Yes. . . I was wondering if you could put me in touch with Kate. I know she'll remember how to resolve this matter. Damned inconvenient I know, and I hate to admit that I have to rely on someone else, but you probably know for yourself by now, she's a spitfire. Too damn good at what she does and she never forgets. I miss having her around."

Holding the phone tightly in one hand, the other was fisted and Travis had to make a conscious effort to relax. Somewhere in his subconscious he was remembering the conversation he'd had with Lansky last week. The blonde had done her best to alleviate the worry she perceived, but nonetheless, failed to convincingly deny her connection with Garrett. "And there I thought retirement was a permanent state," the AD tried to be casual. Kate had made it clear during their exchange that she no longer worked for the General and seemed to like it that way.

"Yes, well. . . one of these days you and I will get to find out, Orin, but until that time, I'd appreciate a word with my girl."

The hairs on Travis' neck were warning him once more. Mind racing, he tried to stall. "And there I thought she was mine now," he laughed. "Too bad though, she's running ragged today. My fault entirely, but my new secretary is still learning the ropes." He was lying through his teeth at this point. Adrian Delaney was more than he could have hoped for, but he needed an excuse.

Sitting forward in his big chair, General Garrett eyed Mac. "Are you telling me Kate isn't anywhere in the building, Orin?" he purposely asked that specific question.

Knowing he'd said something he shouldn't have, Travis did his best to recover. "Oh I'm not exactly sure where she is. Could be back by now. But I'll do my best to track her down for you, Frank. Can't promise it'll be today when she gets back to you though."

His free hand motioning for the Major to stay put, Garrett finished up the call. "I understand. . . busy beavers that you are over there. Just give her the message for me, will you? As I said, it's important that she gets back to me as soon as she can."

Exchanging pleasantries, the two old friends each hung up their phones...

Orin Travis spent several seconds staring at the receiver before pursing his lips tightly.

In his own office, General Garrett raised a questioning brow for his subordinate to see clearly. "Did she or did she not leave that building today, Major?"

Mac shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "No, sir!" Glancing at his notes, he summarized, "Her pass cleared through the main security grid at 0742 this morning and there have been no other hits all day."

Frank raised a brow, conveying part of the conversation he'd just had, "Travis said he didn't know if she was back yet. What do you think, Mac?" he seemed almost friendly at that moment. "Is my old friend lying to me?"

"Why would he, sir? It's not as though Kate would ever tell him anything."

"Noooo," Garrett said thoughtfully, "but she's obviously confused. She's in need of our help."

By gaining his feet, Major MacDonald effectively hid the chill that ran down his spine. Offering another, "Yes, sir," as he turned and headed for the door, he secured it firmly before allowing his feelings to be seen. Once too often he'd watched Garrett's obsessive behavior when it came to Lansky. More than most, he'd also witnessed the increasing defiance in her eyes. Three years was a long time to monitor someone and as much as the General had been keeping an eye on Kate, Mac had been doing the same for his superior officer. This whole thing with her office mates was getting out of hand and if gut instincts meant anything, the Major knew that battle lines were about to be drawn. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be around for the ensuing conflict.

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

Now, AD Travis was a personable sort. Not one to be angered mind you, but for the most part, he was straightforward, straight laced, and easy going if things went his way. Cross that line though, and you were liable to find yourself on the receiving end of some very serious clout. Therein lay the basis for the relationships he had with most of his friends.

Orin had known Francis Ulysses Garrett for many, many years and what he didn't know, he had never wanted to. They had similar styles; both knowing exactly what they expected of their respective subordinates and each demanding nothing but the best. That's where the parallels ended though.

There had always been whispers. . . Travis had certainly heard enough of them.

The military's Code of Ethics was what supposedly governed Frank's life. Orin knew of the code but life after his own military stint had seen his career administered by law enforcement protocols. The two bodies of regulation weren't exactly equivalents. Adversaries they weren't either, but the two men had jurisdictions normally so far apart that they rarely had cause to be at odds.

Pacing his office now though, Travis kept glancing at his phone. The call from Garrett still had him edgy and for the first time in his life, Orin was beginning to wish that he knew more about the General's work. . . more about what Kate really did before she came here. . .

"Orin, you old war dog, how the hell are you?"

The newly appointed AD had frowned slightly. "Frank?"

"None other," the jovial voice beamed from the other end of the phone.

Settling himself into the big executive chair in front of his brand new desk, Travis got comfortable. He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard from his old army Buddy and certainly welcomed a break in his current hectic schedule. "It's been. . . how long, Frank? How have you been?"

"Too long, Orin," the General grinned as he, too, got comfortable in his own chair. "I'm good, and you?"

"Good! Still alive, obviously... You. . . still doing all that secret stuff, Frank? Geez, it's been, six, seven years. Still a Brigadier?"

"Got my second star two years ago, Orin. Has it really been that long?"

Travis laughed, his head nodding. "Sounds like," his mood mellowed as the remembrance of Garrett's covert life settled back to his thoughts. The AD couldn't help but ask. "So. . . to what do I owe the pleasure, Frank? You're not one for casual conversation. You must need something important."

"You never were one to beat around the bush, Orin," Garrett laughed. It was something the old friends had in common. "Two things. First, congratulations! I hear tell you've been appointed Assistant Director for the ATF."

Lowering his head just a little, Travis nodded again. "Word spreads fast," he offered a little suspiciously. "The announcement was only made a few hours ago."

"I keep my ear to the ground, Orin, you know that," the General said quickly. "Guess I should be honest with you though."

"Breaking with protocol, Frank?" Travis teased. "That's not like you."

"Still the joker I see," Garrett laughed. "Okay, so yes, I've been keeping tabs. I know you were really appointed a couple of months ago and have been spending your time setting up specialized teams to better get a handle on the bad element out there."

Realizing that the General knew more than he had first let on, the AD scowled, his mood changing instantly. "That was supposed to be hush-hush, Frank."

"I know," Garrett answered matter-of-factly. "But you can't keep secrets from a man who had too many of his own, and besides. . . I have my reasons for checking your operation out."

Now not so comfortable in his chair, Travis sat forward and snatched a pen, hoping the scribbles he could etch would ease his tension. "Go on," he urged, not really knowing if he wanted to understand the rationale his friend was talking about.

"That's the second reason I called, Orin. I do need something and it is important. I need a favor. I've got a good friend who's retiring and needs a job. I'd like to help out if I can."

"Since when do you let them retire, Frank? Aren't you the one who always said, once they sign on with you, they never leave?"

The strangled silence at the other end of the phone was momentary, but all too obvious. "Yes, well. . . This one's a little different, and she'll do good things for you, Orin. I promise."

"She?" It wasn't like women in the military were unusual these days but for those in the know, there were particularly unsettling rumors about Garrett's operation. Travis couldn't imagine a woman being involved with. . . that!

"Yes, she. Kate is. . . was my Admin. Best damn desk jockey a man could ask for. That's why I'm offering you her services, Orin. You name it, she can do it, and ten times better than anyone else you could possibly find, too. I'd stake my life on that."

The AD's brows rose at that statement. Francis Ulysses Garrett would never utter the phrase 'stake my life' unless he was serious about something. "That good, huh?" Orin's interest was peaked, despite his initial reservations.

"Better than good. I've seen my Sergeant take on the Pentagon, no problem. I'm sure she can organize a Federal Building for you."

"Is that so?" Travis was certainly curious. It wasn't like the General to speak so highly of anyone, let alone a clerk.

"So. . . can I send her over for an interview?"

Blinking away his suspicions, the AD took a deep breath. "You obviously know I've been looking for a Senior Administrator, Frank. . ."

"That whole keeping tabs thing, Orin. Forgive an old man his bad habits."

Forgiving Frank his supposed sins was something Travis thought even God would have trouble with. He wasn't going to go there though. "Bad habits are hard to break, right?" he tried lightening the conversation.

"You have no idea."

Travis still wasn't going there, but a thought did cross his mind. "Does this Sergeant have any bad habits, Frank? Something I should know about before she gets here?"

Garrett's laughter was clear over the phone. "You've got a few of them yourself, Orin. Always were too pointed with those questions of yours."

"Keeps me alive," the AD said bluntly.

"You and me both," the laughter died down to a snicker. "As for Kate. . . Well, she has a temper and some colorful language now and then, but I'm sure you've come across that before."

Thinking of a certain newly appointed team leader, Travis sighed. "Once or twice," he acknowledged.


Travis took but a moment to consider his options. Modifying the entire Federal operation in Denver was a huge undertaking. ATF activities hadn't been affected as of yet, but once his new team found their niche, the AD hoped operational tempo would be modified to fit the better working arrangements he was trying to establish.

So much hinged on team Seven being successful and Orin wasn't about to have their accomplishments compromised by an inadequate administrative process. He'd put out a call two months ago. He needed the best of the best and the 'Terms of Service' for the position were long and involved. "Haven't had a suitable applicant as of yet. Certainly no harm in seeing what she can do for me," the AD answered slowly. "Is she local? When could I expect to hear from her?"

"Beginning of the week," Garrett had answered quickly. "Thank you, Orin. This means a lot to me. I know it'll mean a lot to Kate, too. You be sure and take good care of her for me, you hear?"

"Loud and clear, Frank," Travis replied. "No other promises though. You send her over and I'll see what we can do."

"Thank you, Orin. I mean that."

And so ended the conversation that had brought Kate Lansky to the Federal Building. It had been almost three years now and Orin had never regretted hiring the blonde. From the moment they'd met he was more than confident that she could do as good a job as Frank said she could. Her abilities were never in doubt. Her background never really was either. Travis had never had cause to question the credentials Kate had arrived with, nor had he any reason to be wary of the reference Garrett had given him. Until recently. . .

First it had been Frank's almost anxious phone call last week after Lansky had gone home early.

And now. . .

Just how much of an incredible coincidence was it that, of all the days to call looking for Kate, the General would pick the day Travis had found her resignation on his desk?

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

Most of team Seven was hard at work when Chris appeared in his open doorway. Slowly, they set aside their tasks, each in turn taking note of the expression on Larabee's face. The far-away stare was almost painful as he looked intently at Lansky's desk.

The distance reflecting back from his oldest friend's pale green eyes struck Wilmington in particular. He'd seen Chris react this way before. He had no intention of watching the man sink into that same well of despair again. That conviction posed a real problem for Buck though. The circumstances surrounding that long ago tragedy was so different from what had happened now.

There was no comparing the two women. They were like night and day. So completely unlike one another that the rogue still had trouble believing that the man in black could possibly declare his love for both. Closing his eyes at the thought, Wilmington turned slightly, not wanting the others to see his doubt.

'Man in black' he sighed silently. It was the nickname a lot of people had for Chris these days. The color, once worn in homage to his family's memory, had become a second skin, helping Larabee live from day to day. Even as the shadow of heartbreak had begun to lift from his soul though, that protection remained. Buck suspected his oldest friend had grown accustomed somehow. . .

Glancing back at Chris, Wilmington suddenly felt as though he had been kicked in the gut. 'Again' he mused, although he wasn't at all impressed with the thought. They'd known each other for a very long time and yet, whenever he'd tried to help, Larabee, no matter how much he may not have realized it, pushed him away.

Their senior year in high school. . . recruits together and then 'The Teams'. Partners on the force, then best man at his wedding and Godfather to a son who would never grow to manhood. Whenever it was good between them, Buck and Chris were inseparable. When it was bad however, Wilmington was the one who got pushed away. Sarah and Adam's deaths had almost been the end of a lifelong friendship. Many years of practice had taught the rogue to easily accept the crap Larabee threw at him. That changed though, when fists started to do the talking. The words were bad enough. Sharp, pointed accusations and criticism, but add the physical aggression and Buck had known it was time to walk away.

How much he hated that decision was something Larabee and Wilmington had never discussed...

"Tell me we made some progress today," the senior agent spoke. He'd stepped forward a little, hesitated, and then turned to face everyone in the bullpen, his back to Lansky's desk.

Seeing indecision in a lot of faces, Josiah decided to have his say first. "Might not call it progress, Chris, but we know a little more than we did before."

"Examples?" the team leader requested flatly.

Glancing over his shoulder to see if they were alone, Buck noted the absence of their receptionist. "Lansky was a blank page until three years ago," he volunteered. His reasons for digging might not be the same as everyone else's, but the rogue wasn't one to ignore orders.

"How is that possible?" Nathan gave voice to the question they were all thinking.

"Don't know," Wilmington shrugged. "All I know is, before coming here, every single one of her IRS files is exactly the same. According to them, she's so average it's pitiful."

"Ain't the word I'd use," Vin mumbled.

Ignoring the Texan's comment, Larabee glanced at Sanchez. "Birth records?"

"They checked out, Chris," Josiah confirmed. "Going right back to the start was a good idea, but she didn't lie about any of that. Everything she told us matches the documents."

"And the death certificates on her parents?"

The profiler nodded again. "Yeah, those, too. The specifics she told you match what I found at vital statistics."

"Least that's something," Chris sighed.

"Yeah," Josiah nodded. "The information you gave us yesterday has helped Ezra begin constructing a timeline. At least up until she enlisted anyway."

"Where is Ezra?" Larabee frowned as he looked around.

"He left early," Vin offered. "Said he had something he needed to do, and since he did come in early. . ."

Larabee acknowledged the information but quickly moved on, this time looking at Dunne. "Nothing on your end, JD?"

Somewhat embarrassed that a full day's work had resulted in no information whatsoever, the kid pursed his lips. "Not for lack of trying, Chris. I thought having a recruitment date might help so I've been working that angle, but archives couldn't locate a file. No electronic records. Not even an old hardcopy of a personnel dossier. . . Nothing!"

Glancing around the room and then at the wall clock, Larabee nodded slowly. "Alright, boys. It's quitting time. I'll see you all back here at eight sharp. Make sure Ezra keeps working on that timeline, and when he's ready, I want him to be brief everyone on that it. JD," he smiled at the young man, "Keep doing what you do best, alright? No one else can, you remember that."

Dunne smiled at the reassuring words. "Thanks, Chris."

Everyone started to disperse but Jackson had other ideas. "Who's going home with you?" he asked rather pointedly.

"Me," Tanner piped up.

"This ain't necessary, Nathan," the blond complained.

Walking towards his boss, the medic raised a pointing finger. "Yes, sir, it is, and you agreed to my restrictions."

"I didn't agree! You blackmailed me. . . that or the hospital." Larabee protested, "And I'm not going to the hospital."

Nathan grinned. "So you said. Now, let me check you out before Vin takes you home."

"You did that four times today already," the man in black complained again.

"And I'm going to do it one more," he guided their boss towards his office. "Then again tomorrow mornin'," he was saying as the door closed behind them.

"Nathan never gives up," Buck snickered.

"Thank the lord for small mercies," Josiah sighed, his gentle nod and smile finally sending them all on their way for real this time.

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

Tuesday morning dawned in team Seven's bullpen and not surprisingly, very little had changed from the day before. Moods were as expected and the workload had a focus that made most none too happy.

Standing at the coffee room door, leaning against the jamb, Nathan took a good long look around the room. Lansky's desk was once again empty and for that, he had said a small prayer. Apparently though, besides the obvious, Larabee and Travis were doing something to locate the woman in question. What it was, no one was quite sure, but the medic suspected that if their efforts actually produced results. . . things might not be so calm in the coming days.

As for Chris, his door was closed up tight, just like it had been most of yesterday. Jackson couldn't help but be worried about his boss. Physical condition aside, the man was wound up tighter than a rattler about to spring on unsuspecting prey. All Nathan could hope for was that it wasn't one of the team that ended up getting bit.

Sipping down another mouthful of his hot brew, the medic considered the information he needed to share and wondered again, how best to go about settling himself firmly on Larabee's side of this little predicament they had been forced into. Some of team Seven were not going to accept what he had to say as truth, but nonetheless, he suspected it was, and he at least owed Kate the courtesy of making it known.

"Vin get off to his evaluation alright?" Sanchez asked, interrupting his best friend's thoughts.

Blinking away his musings, Jackson nodded, adding, "Ezra gave him a few words of advice."

"Umm. . . and there I thought it was always best to show a man how to use a weapon before you put it in his hands," Josiah reflected.

Raising complimenting brows, the two men smiled at one another.

"Maybe," Nathan sighed, "But Vin's good at seein' what most don't. If we're lucky, between his gut and Ezra's counsel, he'll survive to tell about it."

Cocking his head and shrugging a little, the profiler nodded, "He's in my prayers."

Rounding the corner and noticing the pair, Wilmington asked, "You had a chance to look over that dossier yet, Josiah?" Full of spit and vinegar ever since they'd found Larabee on Lansky's living room floor, Buck's mood hadn't changed.

"Chris gave me some more information," Sanchez answered. "I was just collecting Nathan so we could go over it."

"More personal stuff?" the surveillance man scoffed.

When the profiler nodded slightly, raising an acknowledging brow, Buck pursed his lips and took a deep breath. "Fine! You do whatever Chris wants, and then you give me something to go on from the faxes JD compiled."

"Will do," Josiah smiled, unwilling to make an issue of Wilmington's assertiveness. Before either man could say anything more though, the rogue was already headed across the floor.

"He's sure got a bee in his bonnet," Jackson sighed heavily.

"Thorn in his paw more like it," Sanchez corrected.

Nathan and Josiah shared another snicker as they ventured back to their office.

"So what do you have?" the medic questioned as they entered and then got comfortable at their desks.

Settling hands on two separate file folders, the big man glanced at his friend. "This one is more notes from Chris. I know you told him to rest, Nathan, but he's not following orders."

"Why should now be any different than normal," the medic shrugged. "And the other one?"

"Seems JD worked late last night. One of his contacts located some old files purely by accident and this contains some notes about the information." Holding up a thin dossier, Sanchez pursed his lips slightly. "Not much to go on, but copies of the actual documents have been requested and will hopefully arrive soon."

"Army records?"

"Well, doesn't sound like her actual Pers Doc, but supposedly its some archived documentation nobody bothered to marry up or computerize. Also sounds like they might have overlooked it if JD hadn't pushed a little harder."

Thoughtfully glancing out through the windowed wall, Nathan frowned as he watched Buck leaning over Dunne's shoulder. "Yeah, but being pushed. . . ain't always a good thing."

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

Receiver to his ear, Orin seemed distracted as he listened to the phone ring repeatedly. Being more than a little disappointed that his calls had not been answered yesterday, the AD was trying to think of another way in which to get in contact. "Kate. . ." he began as the answering machine kicked in. "Damn it, woman. . . You pick up if you're there, do you hear me?" After a long enough pause, Travis continued. "Fine. . . Have it your way. That, at least, is your prerogative. Mine. . . we'll I'm exercising it, too. Hell hasn't frozen over yet, my girl. If you think I'm accepting any resignation before then, you better think again." There was another silence as Orin waited to see if anyone was actually listening. "I want you in my office at eight tomorrow morning and if you're not here, I'm calling Frank. Maybe his boys could come in handy after all."

As he set the receiver down heavily on it's cradle, Travis swallowed hard, almost regretting what he'd just said. Pursed lips showed his disappointment and he scrubbed his chin roughly to help chase away his second thoughts. No. . . he wouldn't be calling General Garrett any time soon. That was a bluff, but one Orin felt he needed to chance, especially given the circumstances. Truth be told, this whole thing made him nervous and Travis really hated nervous.

Leaning back in his big chair, the AD was reminded of the first time he'd experience that strange hollow in his gut. . .

Moving in to Denver's Federal Building had been a big change for Orin Travis. His judgeship over, he had thought about early retirement but being old friends with the likes of the Attorney General. . . Well, departing from duty just wasn't his calling. With the ATF Mobile Enforcement Team now established and ready to be put into action, the newly appointed AD had set his sights on infrastructure.

Making sure this first team had adequate support was paramount, and as surprised as he was to hear from Frank Garrett, Orin couldn't help but be interested in what the man was offering. The conversation he'd had with his old army buddy a week and a half before had raised a suspicion or two, especially when the man appeared to know too much. Travis had eventually shrugged off the misgivings though. . . begrudgingly accepting that knowing what no one else did was what Frank did best.

So here he was, ready to meet this 'desk jockey' who came so highly recommended. Maureen, his secretary back then, had buzzed fifteen minutes before the scheduled meeting to let him know his appointment had arrived.

"Prompt," he'd mumbled, mentally checking off a point for his prospective employee.

Making her wait, AD Travis had opened his door at the precise moment his wall clock chimed ten am. He'd long ago grown tired of the damn timepiece, but it had served a purpose in those early days.

"Miss Lansky, I presume."

"Sir," she stood quickly, shoulders squared.

Orin offered a smile, holding out his hand to shake. After a brief moment of confusion, the petite blonde responded in kind, leaving him to wriggle his fingers a little after they were released. "Please, right this way."

Following the motioning arm, Kate had entered the AD's office and waited, at attention, by his desk.

Securing the door, Travis urged his guest to sit and relax as he did the same in his own chair. After getting comfortable, he looked up to find the woman still standing, although now at an 'at-ease' stance. "Good grief," Orin chucked. "I can see the first thing we'll have to teach you is, this is not the army. Sit, woman, sit!"

Realization came slowly, but Kate did as ordered. . . somewhat. It took another round of 'relax, will you' before she allowed her shoulders to stand-down from their stiff pose.

Offers of refreshments were turned down and small talk got Orin nowhere with the blonde. He quickly gave up trying to get to know her and got down to the business at hand. "So. . . Frank tells me you know your way around red tape."

"I don't put up with other people's crap, sir," Kate stated so matter-of-factly it made the AD snicker aloud.

Kate's raised brow sustained Orin's smile. "There could be a lot of crap around her, Miss Lansky. And a lot of people in need of your assistance, should I decide to employ you. Tell me. . . how would you deal with straightening out multiple, potentially conflicting schedules, people coming at you from all directions, all wanting something different. Inexperienced staff needing direction, and team leaders, all having their own priorities, some of whom have proven unruly and difficult in the past, all demanding your attention, possibly all at once?"

If he'd been asked to gage Lansky's reaction to his question, Travis might have had difficulty answering. He was somewhat sure he could see the calculation going on inside the woman's mind, but nothing prepared the AD for the answer he received.

"These people are all. . . adults?" Kate questioned with the slight tilt of her head. Not waiting for an answer, she proceeded to make her position clear. "I don't put up with other people's crap, sir," she repeated. "My staff would learn quickly or be subject to dismissal without reassessment. Priorities always take precedent where scheduling is concerned and, as for your unruly team leaders... they'll need to learn their place under my hand. With respect, I'll presume you can handle showing them the door if they don't comply."

Orin sat for a while, considering the woman who sat before his desk. She was much smaller than he'd pictured. Her dirty blonde locks were cropped close and she wasn't at all dressed up, as one might imagine a potential Personal Assistant or Secretary to be.

There was a lot about Kate he had expected though, and Travis couldn't help but acknowledge those traits. Anyone who survived under Francis Garrett's fist would need to have a certain. . . fortitude. . . determination even. It only made sense that some of those characteristics would be ingrained in a member of the General's staff. Particularly if they came so highly recommended. "How long did you work for Frank, Miss Lansky?"

A crease in the woman's brow was noticeable for mere seconds before her answer came. "My tenure with General Garrett lasted. . . just over twenty years, sir."

Somewhat surprised at the declaration, Orin's next question came instantly. "That's a long time in one place. He obviously pulled strings to keep you. So. . . what made you leave?"

Her face showed no emotion but the AD's gut insisted there was an untold story behind her brief silence. "It was time," Kate replied simply, much to the man's consternation.

Scrubbing his chin, Travis hummed aloud, making his concern clear. "You come highly recommended, Miss Lansky, but I'd be lying if I told you I trusted Frank Garrett implicitly. I don't want to hold that against you but I want you to know where I stand."

Kate didn't hesitate to state her own position either. "If I may, sir. . . You're a wise man. General Garrett should never be trusted. . . The same could be said for anyone who has ever worked for him. I'm here to do a job though, if you want me. That's the only thing you should hold against me."

Pursed lips displayed Orin doubts very clearly. "I appreciate your honesty but. . . Well, there's something else I need to hold against you, Miss Lansky." The AD paused, considering how he wanted to state his concerns. "I like your attitude. . . You could get a lot done around here for me but. . .."

Gaining his feet and rounding the desk, Orin leaned back and studied the woman carefully. "I like your attitude, but I'm betting there's a whole building full of people who wouldn't, Miss Lansky. Your staff. . . They might not be so eager to learn, and their unions. . . well, they wouldn't take too lightly to dismissals without due cause."

"Unions?" Kate looked up questioningly.

"Yes," Orin smirked. "Nasty things, but fortunate or not, the Federal Government is required to negotiate and comply. Your staff would have a higher power, if you. . . pissed them off." Watching curiously as Kate's expression grew serious, the AD continued his speech. "As for those team leaders. . . There are times when a perceived 'lack of respect' comes into play, but I wouldn't be showing any of them the door any time soon. . . Not resulting from any complaint you initiated, anyway."

Travis couldn't conceal his amusement although it was obvious his guest was considerably less entertained. "This isn't the military, Miss Lansky. Your reference clearly stated that you know how to run an efficient and successful administrative center. I'm. . . just not convinced you could produce the same results within a civilian environment. Office assistants, receptionists, secretaries, department heads and Federal Agents alike. . . they all have varying degrees of experience, seniority, familiarity and those all-important contacts. A lot of them can't and won't be bullied."

Lansky took in every word the AD said and then responded quicker than Orin had expected. "I have never bullied anyone under my command, sir. There has always been a grace period. I need time to get to know the strengths and weakness of my staff, just as they need time to get to know what is expected of them." Squaring her shoulders, Kate continued. "Just as I know the value of good workers, sir, I understand the importance of subject matter experts. I would never presume to be insolent, unless addressed in kind first. I follow lawful orders without question. But, as I said, I don't put up with other people's crap. The community housed within this building. . . They may have a different way but they're supposed to be professionals. I suspect that efficiency and results, in any field, demand a certain level or discipline and commitment. That is what I can give you."

To say that Orin was a little taken aback would be an understatement. For many reasons, he'd had his doubts about Frank Garrett's recommendation. The woman herself didn't present the image of professionalism one might expect in a Federal Building and her attitude certainly left something to be desired. And yet. . .

Reading between some very narrow lines, Travis saw a spark of recognition. There was something he liked about this lady and although he couldn't quite put his finger on it, he just might be willing to overlook any perceptible flaws and give her the chance he felt they both needed. After all, this wasn't just any ordinary job she was interviewing for. Federal Law Enforcement operations were being restructured and there was a lot of learning being done on everyone's part. Perhaps Lansky could give his Administrative pool the edge it needed to adapt and excel at meeting the needs of his new team and the ones that would hopefully follow.

All those thoughts running through his mind, the AD was about to broach the tentative job offer when his private phone rang. He looked at it heatedly, pursing his lips in disgust. "Excuse me," he tried to smile at his guest before answering the call. "Travis!"

"Agen. . ."

"No, you. . ."

"Agen. . . No! I will not. . ."

With the caller obviously not allowing the AD to get a proper sentence finished, his anger grew. "You can't do that without. . . Agent. . ."

"I don't care if. . ."

Finally, Travis had had enough and practically yelled into the receiver. "Agent Larabee. . . At present I am in a meeting with my new Senior Administrator. Your problems with the Admin pool will be addressed in priority and until such time, you might be well advised to familiarize your team with the joys of their word processing equipment. I will not approve a personal assistant for you and you are not authorized to requisition additional staff. Do I make myself clear?"

One last 'Good!' ended the conversation and, hanging up rather forcefully, Orin forced a smile to his lips as he once again focused on Lansky. "Now, about that job. . .."

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

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