~~ Foundations ~~

by TJ

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

For team Seven, there was a strange sense of enthusiasm as they gathered for their usual End of Week meeting. Watching them however, Kate just wasn't feeling it. Nathan smiling at her was bad enough, but Buck had actually waved and winked before heading down the short hallway. Larabee, too, offered a raised hand, but the cheerful sense she read in his expression made Lansky sneer. She so wished she could be a fly on the wall right now. Or that she'd at least had smarts enough to plant 'a bug' in the conference room. Since neither option was valid, she sighed heavily shaking her head. "What the hell are they up to?" she voiced to the now empty bullpen. . .

"Are we, eh. . . meeting later at The Saloon?" Dunne asked as Larabee finally came into the conference room and closed the door.

"I think some serious down-time should be highly recommended," Buck offered, looking hopefully at his oldest friend as the man took up his position at the head of the table. "What do you think, Stud?"

Deferring the question to their medic, Chris asked, "Nathan?" as he brought his chair in, sat, and then opened his notebook.

Taking a deep breath, Jackson smiled, adding a nod for good measure. "Highly recommended might be the words I'd use, too, Chris, but let's not stay long. I want to meet up with Rain when she gets off shift, and you still need your rest."

"That's darn right cruel if you ask me," Buck scowled. "You get a hot date and we get, what - an early night?"

"But a discerning suggestion after such an exhaustive week," Ezra offered with a smile at Jackson.

"Exhaustive?" JD scowled. "Since when? All we did was sit around looking for stuff."

Standish was clearly amused by the kid's interpretation. "Physically demanding tasks can be equally challenging, don't you think?"

Dunne looked at the southerner as though he'd lost his mind.

Deciding he should rescue JD from the confusion he was obviously in, Chris tried to hide his smile by clearing his throat and directing his attention to their profiler. "So, Josiah, did all this sitting around get us anywhere?"

Grinning at the still perplexed Dunne, the big man, too, switched gears and sat forward, "Well, Chris, first off, just so you know, Orin was reasonably happy with the stuff we complied on the Prichard case this week. I say reasonably, because I think you're right, he did seem a little distracted when I was up there earlier. I also agree - the distraction has something to do with Kate. I think he has information to offer about her but, just like some of the stuff we've been remembering, probably doesn't know it. Either way, I'm gonna need more time with him."

"He didn't want to talk then?"

"Not, really," Josiah offered with a shrug. "We all know Travis has always been protective of Kate. Not that she's ever needed it mind you. And he knows that as much as we do, but right now he seems - well, defensive almost. No, he didn't want to talk. Maybe it was that whole resignation business. Maybe it was something else. I haven't figured it out, but give me some time and I will."

"Fair enough," the senior agent nodded as he completed the note he was scribing. "And. . . second?"

"Second," Sanchez repeated, allowing an auditable sigh to precede his words. "Well, I'll just say it plain and let JD fill in the rest," he indicated their youngest agent. "The eh, Crypto guys. . . they drew a blank with Kate's cipher."

"They gave up?" Chris scowled, redirecting his attention to Dunne.

"Didn't exactly have a choice," the kid answered, adding his own heavy sigh to Josiah's. Sitting back in his chair, his arms rose in the air to show his exasperation and he tossed his pen back to the desk. "They got nothing on their own and decide to try another source for more possible Key options. When they went outside the ATF grid to search, they got spiked within minutes. Ed Beckingsdale was just a quick. I knew he was protective of his department, Chris, but holy shit. . .." Swallowing hard, Dunne sat forward again, nervously searching out his pen. "Someone out there is very, very good at this, and they do not want their codes broken. And, well. . . it gets worse."

"Worse?" Larabee glared.

"Yeah," JD confirmed with pursed lips. "In order to back-trace random code queries within government nets that quickly. . . whoever these guys are, they'd have to be on an internal feed. Which basically means, either they are us, or. . . the government has a serious security breach somewhere."

Suddenly confused and a little edgy all at the same time, the senior agent asked, "Why am I just hearing about this now? Ed is a pro at this stuff. If he suspected half of what you just said, JD, he'd have us all on alert."

"Yep" the kid confirmed. "But, well. . .."

"Well?" Larabee quirked a brow. "Well, what?" he asked, knowing instinctively that something was coming, whether he was prepared for it or not.

When Dunne met his boss's eyes and shrugged, the blond's shoulder's slumped. "You. . . didn't tell him, did you?"

"No," JD shook his head vigorously. "I. . . I'd given Kate's code directly to Charlie White and Al Choo. I don't blame them. They gave me up to Beckingsdale as soon as the spike shut down the grid, and. . . well, I thought he was gonna have me arrested, but eh, he eh. . . well, he of course wanted to know where I got the code in the first place, so he could, you know, file a report with head office and stuff. . .."

Increasingly more troubled, the senior agent didn't want to listen to the silence that had settled, so he prompted, "And?"

"And, well. . . I. . . I told him I made the whole thing up, and. . . and now he wants me to request a transfer."

"Out of Denver?" Chris asked quickly.

"No," Buck smirked. "Downstairs - so JD can give them a hand. No worries though, I already told them outright, he ours, and they can't have him. You should have seen the look on Ed's face."

"So. . ." Larabee seemed to tentatively relax, "No report to head office?"

Pursing his lips, Dunne shook his head, "He was real pissed, Chris, but he said he could explain away the spike and keep it under his hat if I eh, promised to enlighten him on my algorithms and Key. And. . . if I promised to never use his department as a playground again."

Shaking his head in disbelief, Larabee solicited, "So, we've. . . averted the crisis?"

"At least until Ed tries to collect on JD's promise, or comes lookin' for that transfer," Wilmington answered, ending his sentence with a big grin.

The sequence of events just described had happened a little over two hours ago and Ezra had been giving the details some serious consideration. And, as a Federal Agent, he felt obligated to voice a concern he hadn't been able to get off his mind since, "Forgive me for asking, Chris," he said, offering a brief smile at the man as their eyes met. "But, your confidence in Miss Lansky. . . does it extend to the security of our nation? After all, if what Mr. Dunne is saying is true, and these codes did not originate within US assets. . .."

Risking his job, his life, or the lives of his friends was one thing. Any implications beyond that, the senior agent hadn't even considered until right now. Despite that fact however, Chris still believed and quickly asserted that fact. "Your concern is dually noted, Ezra," he answered formally as he scribbled on his note pad. Then, before returning his gaze the profiler, he offered the southerner a brief nod, telling him candidly, that his concerns had truly been heard.

With his eyes now once again focused on Sanchez, Larabee breathed a heavy sigh. "It's really hard to believe this," he said quietly. "That this has all been going on right under our noses. . . for three years." Rubbing his brow, he then squared his shoulders. "Is there anything else, Josiah? Maybe something a little less. . . troublesome in nature this time."

"Well, only if you don't want to discuss Kate anymore," Sanchez replied, offering his customary big toothy grin.

Silence again. . .

Quickly realizing that Larabee was no longer is a good mood, the profiler's façade instantly turned serious, "Okay, so, back to the topic at hand - Kate. . .." Reaching for the files he had in front of him, Josiah thumbed a paper or two before bringing one to the top. Scanning it hastily, he began, "Well, I think I'd probably call it atypical, as well as troublesome, but from what I've been able to deduce from the limited information we've obtained this week, there was at least one point in her life where our Miss Lansky appears to have been highly vulnerable, especially to your run of the mill - coercive persuasion."

There was a brief silence and several strange looks before a "Huh?" sounded loud and clear.

With most, including Larabee, looking at him questioningly, Josiah presented his big toothy grin again and then tried to clarify his statement. "Put simply, gentlemen, twenty-five or so years ago, Kate was the perfect candidate for indoctrination."

The reactions were instantaneous. Around the table the questions flew all at once.

"But, she couldn't have been more than a kid!"


"What about the Army?"

"What indoctrination?"

"Please, please," the profiler called for calm as his hands rose to quiet the responses.

"Let the man speak," Larabee instructed before staring at Sanchez hard. "Information is good, Josiah," he said. "It would be better though, if it made sense."

Clearing his throat, Josiah once again attempted to clarify his meaning. "I'm not saying I know exactly what happened to Kate, Chris. But what I am saying is, whoever recruited her - and I use that term lightly - did it when she was most vulnerable." With silence around the table, the profiler read from his notes. "I've put together everything you told me and everything we've been able to verify to this point. It's not much, but it was enough to establish a solid foundation for whatever it is we are dealing with."

After taking a breath, Sanchez continued, "The timeline Ezra's been constructing has been invaluable. Everything she told you about herself - her childhood, her parents - we confirmed it all. She didn't lie. Unfortunately for her though, the sequence of events leading up to her disappearance was too good to be true - for the wrong people."

"What disappearance?" Larabee frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Josiah sat back now, relaxing a little as he took his notes with him and continued to read. "Her parents had one very important thing in common, Chris. They were orphans."

"Ain't nothin' so unusual about that," Vin defended as he, too, sat back in his chair.

"Perhaps, not alone," Standish answered, setting his pen down. "But having both parents who themselves had no parentage, provides for offspring with no family connection of any kind."

Across the table, Nathan commented thoughtfully, his brow knitting, "No one to care about you?"

"What about friends though?"

"Being a base brat is a hard life, JD," Sanchez took back the thread. "Normal friendships are usually deep. In this type of situation however, you learn to make friends quickly, but you also learn to let go just as quick."

"Her Dad was in the service then?"

"Yeah, Buck," Chris acknowledged. "She's. . . never really said much, but I do know that's why she joined. She really didn't know any other life."

"And her Mom?"

Again Chris answered his oldest friend's question. "All I really got about her is that they weren't overly close. I guess she was always more of a tomboy growing up, but then. . . Well, both her parents died in a car accident. At least, that's what she told me."

Nathan spoke this time. "As I said earlier in the week, Chris, I did verify that just like you asked. Not that they did much in-depth forensics all those odd years ago, but the state police briefly investigated and did conclude that the crash was an accident. From what I was able to dig up, I see no reason to dispute their findings."

The timeframe they were talking about had Dunne curious. He wasn't more than a babe himself, and wondered, "How old was she?"

Josiah flipped a page and then answered, "Barely eighteen," before taking a deep breath. "Six months later she had managed to graduate high school and quickly found herself in basic training." With a small huff of laughter and the obvious smile that went with it, the profiler continued, almost proud of the information he was reciting. "Even back then she was the determined sort. Looks as though she was topping her class. In fact, she was actually getting higher scores on both academic and training requirements than most of the male classes running concurrently that year."

"Male classes?"

Josiah couldn't help but smile at the kid's question. He himself had been part of the segregated training programs back in the day. During the seventies there was still a lot of it going on. Not only were some black and white candidates still trained separately, but men and women were, too. "Yes, JD," he nodded. "Different standards depending on your gender."

The kid couldn't help his curiosity. "So, the higher marks weren't really better then?"

Again the profiler smiled. "Actually there were, if they'd been compared side by side. Back in those days though, no one would have dared weigh them against one another."

"But you did?" came the quiet question.

Sanchez smiled at Vin. "It seems, even before she dropped off the radar, she was out-performing all her peers."

"That's the second time you said that, Josiah," Chris said as he moved his chair closer to the table. "What do you mean - disappeared?"

Fully upright at the table again, the profiler set down his notes and pulled out another folder. Opening it, he began to paraphrase, "At eighteen years young, Kate Lansky was invisible as far as any possible friends and family were concerned. Add to that a promising record of service excellence, one that any recruit would be proud to call his own, and you have the perfect candidate for. . ."

After a moment of silence, it was Chris who growled out his conclusion, "Someone!"

Each man came to terms with his own acknowledgement in the moments that ensured. Each understanding that perhaps, as Chris had said more than once, Kate really did need their help. . .

Allowing his tongue to wet his bottom lip, Josiah sighed, "And whoever that someone was, Chris, they know how to manipulate service records."

Looking at Sanchez, Larabee frowned.

It was all the big man needed to finish his statement. "JD got a hold of information from her recruit course. Near as we can determine, it's never been married up with her pers docs, but we still don't have those, so we can't be sure."


"But," the profiler sighed, "According to the information we found, Kate Lansky went AWOL on her final field Ex. She never graduated basic."

"What?" accompanied several surprised looks.

"Unofficially, that's what this stuff is indicating, Buck," Dunne shrugged.

Scrubbing his chin, Chris was still stuck on something else the profiler had said, "What do you mean manipulate?" he asked, looking intently at the man.

Pursing his lips tightly, Sanchez lowered his paper and his chin before glancing at their youngest agent. "JD did some extrapolation based on the date estimates Ezra worked up. Completely by chance, he came up with a few isolated copies of some dailies one of the DS filed with the course officer. Remember, these are copies. It looks like all of the originals have been pulled. And from what we can tell, the same goes for any recruit file that may have ever existed on Kate."

"So the drill sergeant backed up all his daily reports?" Nathan suggested.

"Yeah," JD acknowledged before looking at Chris. "And without them - well, I've found nothing else so far to go on, so this guy may have just saved our bacon."

"Just too bad, he didn't save Kate's," the senior agent responded thoughtfully.

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

Finally okayed by Nathan to be by himself, Larabee sat on his porch later that evening almost wishing he wasn't so alone. Vin had offered to come out and stay of course, and Chris knew he'd be at the chores tomorrow morning without so much as being asked, but for some reason, he'd declined. He wasn't sure why, he just had.

Perhaps it was the fact that he hadn't been alone since. . . Rubbing his neck, Chris caught the now healing scab, and winced. The injury didn't hurt. The memory of that moment in time stung still, but there was something. . . else.

The far-off howl of a coyote returned Larabee to the present and he pursed his lips tightly. He was frustrated. Annoyance caused not just from the lack of pertinent information at work, but some. . . thing, some memory, some filmy, hazy flash of imagery that his head couldn't clear enough for his brain to comprehend.

Nathan said his memory would come back to him eventually. Last night, Josiah had gone to great lengths to explain the protective powers of the mind and how it would reveal all, only when, or if, Chris were ready to handle and understand the missing message. Soothsaying wasn't exactly Larabee's style, but he'd appeased the man with a smile of thanks just the same.

With a heavy sigh, Chris got to his feet and wandered to the edge of his deck, looking out into the darkness. There was a definite chill in the air. Fitting for this time of year perhaps, but more than that, he felt an absence. A longing that was calm now, but never left him...

'Wonder what's she doing right now', he silently questioned?

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

Standing out on her balcony, Kate frowned, rolling her shoulders against a sudden wind gust. It wasn't like her to feel the cold. The whole idea didn't sit well with her at all and, with one last glance out into the night, she retreated into the warmth of her apartment, closing the sliding glass door firmly behind her.

Reaching for her tumbler as she went around the dining room table, Lansky sipped at the amber liquid, looked at it with disdain, and then sipped some more. It wasn't helping. She'd poured the whiskey in hopes of chasing away the antsy feeling she had. She was fidgety. Every time she sat, that lasted all of seconds. If she tried to do something - watch TV, work on her computer, read - nothing could still her enough, quell her agitation long enough for her to calm. It was driving her nuts!

As a latent chill caused another curl of her shoulders, Kate growled, "Get a grip, Lansky!" before chugging the last of her drink. Setting down the glass, she quickly assumed 'the position'. Push-ups would have to do for now. However many it took, or she collapsed. It didn't matter the outcome at this point. Just that something would have to exhaust her body so completely, or her non-stop thinking would drive her mad before the night was over.

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

"Been a while since I saw anythin' lookin' that miserable," Tanner greeted as Larabee finally answered his doorbell.

Allowing his arm to drop to his side as his eyes rolled, Chris left the open portal in his wake and turned towards the kitchen. It was too damned early for Vin's sarcasm and besides, with only sleep pants on, the morning air was sending a chill through his bones.

Securing the door and grinning from ear to ear as he followed the still-groggy man into his house, the sharpshooter asked, "Rough night, pard?"

"That's. . . the bit where you're supposed to sleep, right?" the blond answered as he flipped the switch on his coffee maker and then stood there staring at it.

Snickering to himself, Vin set a box of donuts on the counter and cocked his head, "Well, if it makes you feel any better. I'd say Kate didn't sleep much either."

With the coffee now starting to brew, Larabee turned just his head and frowned at the Texan. "And you know this, how?"

"Saw her headin' into the park as I drove by," Tanner answered as he took hold of a barstool and sat. "She weren't takin' it slow neither. Ya know, like when she's runnin' off frustration."

Chris listened intently as he closed in on his best friend's location and, growing even more curious, asked, "You, eh. . . sound like you know what you're talking about, Vin. More observations?"

Vin was decidedly nonchalant with his answer. "The woman's a creature of habit, Chris. We both know that. Most of 'em ingrained somethin' powerful but, that ain't news either."


"And, you're the only one I know who can get under her skin. . . enough to make her run like that anyway," Vin concluded with a wiry grin.

Spying the Texan through narrowed eyes, Larabee cocked his head thoughtfully. "She suspects something?"

Tanner shrugged. "You know her better than any of us, pard. I'm just tellin' you what I saw. Hardly even light out there now, and this was probably half hour ago. Maybe. . . you should keep each other awake, together next time."

Again Chris raised an inquisitive brow. "I thought I knew her better, Vin. Your insight though. . . can't help be curious of it."

Scratching the back of his head, Tanner sighed. "Your call was a good one, Chris. Now, more than ever, we've all got somethin' to contribute where Kate is concerned. You and her though. . . you're tied together, and there ain't nothin' for it but to. . ." With the pregnant pause, the Texan looked at Larabee and shrugged, "You know. . .."

"Advice on my love life now?" the blond quirked a brow, "Will wonders never cease?"

Somewhat embarrassed by his best friend's declaration, Tanner grabbed at the donut box and flipped the lid. "Your sad excuse for coffee ready yet?" he asked, their conversation changing to something more palatable for the young man.

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

The rest of Saturday for Chris and Vin was spent doing chores at the ranch and then enjoying one another's company over dinner. Vin headed home late that night, exhausted, but happy, as usual, and Chris hit his pillow, finally able to get some much-needed sleep.

Sunday though, Larabee awoke to an onslaught of questions his unconscious mind was now forcing his consciousness to hear. He knew he'd never get any work done and quickly headed out for a daylong ride in the hills. The air was cool as he rode and a misty rain accompanied him until the afternoon arrived. By himself though, the setting and atmosphere of his ride gave him pause to mull over the information Josiah and JD had imparted during their meeting last thing on Friday. . .

Out here, Chris was alone. But, he was here by choice. He was also mature, worldly if he wanted to think of himself in those terms. He understood too well how things worked and, despite the occasional differing opinion at work, he followed the rules. He followed them in his day-to-day existence, too. He acknowledged the law and recognized the significance of 'the norm' - earn your money, pay your taxes and your bills, put a roof over you head and keep your nose clean. . . life in a nutshell, right?

Life. . . The definitions of that word shouldn't be as wide and varying as they were and the very idea made Larabee huff with disgust.

If Josiah's profile was anything close to right, which it normally was, what kind of 'life' had Kate really lived in the twenty or so years before they'd met? Was she subjected to one she didn't choose? And okay, so a lot of people never had the opportunity to actually choose a better life. They just went with the flow and made the best of what came along, but. . . The majority of those people never dropped off the grid.

Who had the power to make someone disappear?

In Larabee's line of work there were a lot of people who had that kind of menacing, ugly power, but most of their unfortunate victims never came back. And the few that did. . . they weren't gregarious productive players in any organization as prestigious as the United States Army.

And what about 'the norm'. . . Did Kate Lansky really have any concept of what that meant to most? She certainly seemed to, but, was it genuine knowledge, imparted by loving parents, teachers, guardians, and caregivers, or was it merely learned or forced behavior, conveyed in some strange classroom environment so that she could put on airs and pretend.

The whole idea of Lansky dropping off the face of the earth made Larabee want to hit something and he was glad there were no walls around to bare witness to his frustration. Was that truly what it felt like to be alone? Abducted, subjugated. . .

Josiah hadn't speculated on aim, methods, reason, or logical outcome. . . but twenty-five years ago. . . when she was so young and vulnerable. . .

Larabee's many assumptions left a bad taste in his mouth. The increasingly present idea that this, whatever 'this' was, was something someone had intentionally done to Kate was even more maddening. And then there was JD's supposition that 'they' were internal. . . As Ezra so keenly pointed out, one actually had to hope that they weren't some foreign power, but what possibilities did that leave? Some sort of homegrown covert organization. . . was that better? And who? Were these really US citizens subjecting their own to. . .?

The entire range of questions came and went in Larabee's mind as he rode. The Why led to Who, and then, just exactly What were 'they' accomplishing? Where did all of this take place, and How? Was there really public - American - money involved in funding whatever organization his team was hypothesizing?

Was it such a crazy idea?

And what about the outcome. . . the results of such an insane hypothesis? Exactly who, or perhaps what. . . was Kate Lansky?

And. . . did it really matter?

The question gave rise to a resounding huff. For Chris the answer was easy, it didn't matter. Not to him. He loved Kate, and no matter how screwed up things might appear, nothing else truly mattered.

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

"I don't get it, Buck," Dunne sighed. "It's like, eight fifteen. Since when does Chris call a meeting this early on a Monday morning? We're usually sitting around drinking coffee."

"Heck, for most of the day," Wilmington added with a chuckle. Looking from his roommate to the empty desk outside of Larabee's door, he then cocked his head. "But did you notice, JD? Kate's not here yet."

"After last Wednesday, Buck, her desk is the first place I look."

Seeing the pursed lips and hands set firmly on Dunne's hips, the rogue offered a gently smile. "Things have changed since then, kid. She's not the enemy anymore, remember?"

"Buck. . . I never thought I'd hear you say that," JD shook his head. "I'm glad you changed your mind and all, but," he was saying as he relaxed and then grabbed at his notebook and moved towards the open doorway.

"But what?" Wilmington prompted as he followed suit and then tracked his young friend as they moved into the bullpen headed for the conference room.

It seemed as though Dunne wasn't going to answer at first, but then, "But then, who is?" he asked looking at the rogue as they walked. "Something like this doesn't just happen without someone being to blame. If it isn't Kate, then who is it?"

"Damn fine question, kid," Buck said with a slap to JD's shoulder. "Maybe we should ask Chris at this here meetin'. Since he's so fired up and rarin' to go and all."

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

Wilmington and Dunne didn't get a chance to pose their query to their boss. The senior agent was indeed fired up and raring to go, and as jovial as they'd seen him in weeks. All smiles as all the members of team Seven came into the room, Chris was asking each how their weekend had gone and if they were ready for another week of work.

"Good," Larabee smiled as Nathan answered his questions with positive responses. "Because I have a new assignment for you, of sorts anyway." The inquisitive looks made Chris continue without too much of a pause. "No, my initial direction remains the same. Discovering everything and anything about Kate is our primary goal here, but I want to diverge that intent just a little and see if we can't find some answers to the questions left on the table Friday."

"Is that what kept you awake?" Vin asked quietly.

With a smile sent in Tanner's direction, Larabee clarified, "I. . . did a lot of thinking this weekend," he answered the man, and then refocused on the rest of the team. "As Vin points out, I didn't sleep very well Friday, but he kept me busy most of Saturday, which improved the situation. On Sunday however, well, I just got mad." Looking at Sanchez, he cocked his head, "At nineteen, Josiah, most of us are still wet behind the ears. Cocky, impressionable. . . I can't even imagine how I would react. . . How Kate would have. . . the things that went through my mind. . ." There was suddenly a chill in the air as Larabee dipped his chin and sucked in a very deep breath. "I need to know," he finally said as his head came back up. "Call it morbid curiosity, or, or. . . something. Whatever happened to Kate, I need to know."

Despite the lingering silence left in the wake of the blond's suppositions, Tanner's sullen voice eventually punctuated the air, "She ain't never gonna give details, Chris."

Looking at his best friend, Larabee nodded confidently. "I know, Vin. You said it before and now, more than ever, I believe it. All the more reason for us to come up with something concrete, don't you think?"

"And if nothing materializes?" the southerner asked from the other end of the table. With everyone's focus now on him, Standish cleared his throat. "I feel it pertinent to point out, Mr. Larabee, that we can theorize all we want. However, without solid proof or at least relevant testimony. . .."

When Ezra left his statement open-ended, Nathan felt his two cents needed to be added. "And what if Vin's right, Chris? Or worse. What if she doesn't remember?" Shifting in his chair, the medic continued. "The mind has a way of protecting itself against things it can't process. There are lots of documented cases of these defense mechanisms completely blocking things out so a person can survive their ordeal."

Frowning at the idea, JD questioned that assumption. "I don't think that makes a whole lot of sense, Nathan. Kate's. . . she's always been proud of who she is, and her career. When she first got here she was trying to do things the army way, you remember. Ordering everyone around, reorganizing stuff everywhere."

"That she was," Buck chuckled. "I think we cured her of that pretty quick though."

"Mr. Larabee made significant contributions to that particular cause if I recall correctly," Standish added with a curt grin.

Seeing the raised brow Chris was sending Ezra's way, Josiah figured he'd take the conversation back, "I might suggest that we don't take any of our ideas too far until we know the truth. There's no reason to doubt she was in the army," he said. "As JD points out, she's made it very clear that she's proud of the career she had. And right now, the only data we have to the contrary merely indicates that she didn't necessarily follow the normal training protocols. Doesn't mean she wasn't trained properly. And as for what she was trained for. . . I don't think we should jump to any conclusion. There has to be proof somewhere. Proof of service to this country. . . proof of everything. I'm sure we'll find it if we keep digging."

The statement left most of the team nodding, but Ezra had suddenly remembered something and was fighting with himself as to whether to mention it or not.

It wasn't hard and most quickly noticed their friend's sudden agitation. True to form, Buck asked. "You got ants in those fancy pants, Ezra?"

Larabee raised a brow at his undercover man's sudden restlessness. "Spit it out, Ezra. Anything you've got to say is fair game. You should know that by now."

Eyeing his boss, Standish squared his shoulders before clearing his throat. "All right, Chris," he began, the use of a given name indicating to all that whatever it was the southerner had to say, was important. "Forgive me for asking, but. . ." he said somewhat timidly, "The scar Kate bears. Is it not the proof you seek? Or, am I wrong?"

Recognition for Larabee was instantaneous and that had Jackson wondering what he'd missed. The man's previous upbeat mood was suddenly gone, replaced now by a more serious expression. As Chris lowered his head though, Nathan wisely chose not to comment. Instead, he contemplated the fact that he believed he knew everything there was to know about team Seven's scars, broken bones, bumps, and bruises. Up until now, he had thought he knew Kate just as well.

Believing he still owed Standish for everything the man had endured at Lansky's hand, Chris eventually offered him a small smile. "No, Ezra, you're right. It is," he said bluntly. Rubbing his chin, he then cocked his head. "Thanks, I'd forgotten." Looking around the table, Chris, understandably, filled everyone in. "Those, eh. . . damn tank tees Kate always wears... I've always hated the look but she likes them. I guess I never really gave it much thought after I got used to them." With a heavy sigh, he continued. "Turns out, she's got her reasons for wearing them. She's, eh. . ." gesturing up and down the left side of his body, Chris spelled out that reason, "She's got this real nasty scar tissue all down her side." Looking at his profiler, he then added, "Proof, Josiah. It's a bad burn. She was with the Pennsylvania 14th in '91 when that Iraqi SCUD got through coalition defenses." Now looking back at Ezra, he finished up by saying, "That scar reminds her, every day, of her service to this country."

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

"What's the matter, Nathan?" Josiah asked curiously. His best friend had been sitting quietly through most of the lunchtime conversations and Sanchez wasn't the only one who'd noticed.

"Yes, Mr. Jackson. . . Do tell?"

Looking up blankly into the eyes of his companions, the medic suddenly realized that he'd been miles away.

"You all right, Nathan?" Tanner asked, true concern in his tone.

"Umm. . . oh, yeah," Jackson cleared his throat, sitting up straighter in his chair. "I was just thinkin' is all."

"About Kate's scar?" Dunne asked inquisitively. "I know I am." Looking at Standish, he then asked, "Is it big, Ezra?"

The southerner quickly sighed. "My, eh. . . knowledge is, as you know, most unfortunate, Mr. Dunne, and I therefore don't regard it a subject for conversation. However, I will answer simply - yes. I hope that will suffice."

With a small huff, the medic shook his head, "Ya know, JD, I probably wasn't thinkin' about it in the same terms as you, but. . ." Looking at Standish, he practically pouted, "If it's that big. I sure am curious how I could miss something so, obvious. How could she hide it from us all this time?"

"Clearly, she is most adept at concealing it, Nathan," Ezra consoled. "My aim however, was merely to remind Chris of its presence. I believe Miss Lansky would not wish it a topic of discussion."

"Guess we should respect that," Vin said plainly, shaking his head all the while. What form of reverence the lady deserved, he just wasn't sure about right now, but figuring it out was becoming more and more complicated the more they discovered.

"Ya know what though," JD put in. "Even that doesn't make sense. If she's so proud, why hide it?"

"Yeah," Wilmington agreed. "Maybe she just made it up."

Josiah was shaking his head at the comment. "I don't think so. You heard what Chris said - she was pretty emotional when she told him, and she's revealed more to him than any of us. Doesn't sound to me like something a person just dreams up. And besides, if the scar tissue is that extensive, there has to be a pretty solid reason behind it."

Pursing his lips, the rogue shrugged. "Well, maybe. . . but if Chris is right, it won't matter anyway. There's more proof out there. He said we keep lookin' for it. And with what I said the other day, about things Kate's said and done over the last three years. It'll all add up in due course."

"Actually, I've been thinkin' about that, too, Buck," Nathan offered, shifting in his chair. "What you said about rememberin' things that really don't make sense when you think about them again in a different light. Ya know, considerin' what we know about Kate now and all."

"A new lead?" Sanchez asked curiously.

"I'm not sure," the medic shrugged. Sitting forward, he then asked, "Maybe just confirmation of what we know already, but. . . do you remember the Summerland/Elstone bust year before last. . . the one that went wrong?"

"Went wrong?" Vin chimed in with huffed laughter. Leaning on the table, he quirked a brow, "Hell, Nathan, IA was all over us for months."

"How could we forget that one? The whole thing was a mess from the start," JD said rather flatly. "I still can't believe Internal Affairs was ready to bust up the team just because Kate took part. And really, she didn't! She was just - there. Not like it was our fault either! We were out of time. Chris didn't have a choice."

"He told them that, JD. More than once," Buck confirmed. "And so did Travis. Even if he didn't know what we were up to, he still covered for us. And you know how much flak Chris took from him after it was all over."

"That DB was a real blessin'," the medic said quietly.

Snickering to himself when he realized that he now had everyone's attention, Jackson continued his train of thought. "Not that I normally think of dead bodies that way, but in this case, sort of. . . At least it took the focus off us not followin' procedure."

"Oh, sure," Buck huffed. "Instead, IA tried to pin a murder wrap on us. Such a better choice ya know."

Restraining his amusement, Standish asked, "I am curious, Mr. Jackson. . . Which one of the two indictments were you reflecting on? Miss Lansky and her adeptness at so quickly replacing our injured undercover agent, or the disposition of the late Mr. Elstone?"

Nathan met Ezra's curious stare, and then, after a moment's pause, answered, "I'm thinkin', given recent 'events' that maybe they're one and the same."

"But. . ." JD started his sentence, and then thought better of it.

Seeing that Dunne wasn't going to continue, Jackson did. "The coroner's findings were inconclusive and just gave IA more reason to scrutinize us. The conclusions never really did make much sense though. I remember Chris made me double check the report several times, and at one point, I even inspected the body."

"The way Elstone bought it. . . " Vin said thoughtfully before looking around the table at his coworkers. "Did kind 'a always stick in my mind."

"But," Wilmington raised a brow, "We were all too busy tryin' to dig ourselves out of the hole to think on it much."

The five men were silently considering that all too familiar pattern when the profiler gave them something else to mull over. "Strange choice of 'weapon'," he said, matching his best friend's pose on their table. "Maybe that woman was looking for revenge, and maybe not. All the investigation really did say was that it was either a lucky shot on her part or, that one of us 'trained marksman' took matters into our own hands."

"The suggestion of motive was considerably weaker than the District Attorney cared for," Ezra smiled. "Enough to terminate the absurd accusations anyway."

"Yeah, like that was hard," Buck laughed. "What kind 'a federal agent brings a nail gun to a bust?"

There was a moment of silence but Josiah quickly ended that again. Looking at Standish, he asked, "What about Kate's part in all this, Ezra? I remember you saying she did a bang-up job."

"Can't forget that," Tanner mumbled before Standish could reply. "Demur and obedient ain't exactly her style," he then added with a playful wink.

"As she has recently proven," the southerner answered, returning the lighthearted gesture with a smile. Then, turning to Josiah, he replied, "But yes, in answer to your question, Mr. Sanchez, she was most adept at not raising suspicions. I escorted her to the meeting and she performed extremely well given her all-too-brief knowledge of the circumstances. Her reactions were most appropriate, even after Elstone made it quite clear that he wanted her as part of the deal."

"It was Summerland who didn't like the idea much, right?" Nathan asked quietly.

"Yep," Wilmington spat out. "He ain't Mother Teresa either, but Elstone was far worse. It takes a real sick man to demand that kind of compensation, just because he lowered his price."

Looking at the rogue, JD couldn't help his comment. "Arms and human trafficking are a nasty mix any way you look at it, Buck."

"I'd have to agree," came the response from the doorway.

Six men turned to see their leader enter. "Not exactly lunchtime conversation though," Larabee said curiously as he took up a chair.

"Travis happy with the info we sent him?" Vin queried in reply.

Offering a curt nod, Chris wasn't about to be distracted from what he'd partly overheard. "Yep, Vin, more than, but right now I'm more interested in this conversation. Why are you talking about Tom Summerland? I know we eventually got the bastard, but. . .?"

"Actually, Mr. Larabee," Standish answered, "We were discussing his affiliation with Samuel Elstone during our first operation, and the man's untimely demise"

"Untimely!" the senior agent repeated rather indignantly. "Couldn't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned, but. . . " Looking around the table, Larabee frowned. "Is someone from IA bringing that in-custody death charge up again? He wasn't technically ours yet so they can shove it. . .."

Before Chris could continue his intended rant, Ezra jumped in, "No, Mr. Larabee, the matter was settled quite some time ago. Internal Affairs acknowledged that they had no solid ground for their accusation. We had neither made the arrest, nor read our quarry his rights, however. . . that wasn't exactly the focus of our discussion."

Larabee looked at Standish inquisitively. "Then. . . what is?"

Presenting his broad toothy grin, Josiah answered simply, "Kate."

Despite Larabee's raised brow, Nathan, who had started this particular conversation, took it upon himself to continue his thought process, "IA called Elstone's death murder, remember?"

JD was the first to counter, "Yeah, but we know they were grabbing at straws," he offered. "All the witness testimony was the same. Elstone was alone with the girls in the backroom."

"Inspecting his merchandise," Buck huffed indignantly.

Ignoring the rogue, Josiah voiced, "But they did challenge that testimony."

"Of course they did," Buck practically sneered. "The statements defended our position and shifted the focus back to how much of a pig the man really was."

"It worked," Nathan offered, "And the supervisory justice department investigators pressed their point. The other viable suspect had more motive. She was pissed with Elstone for assaultin' her little sister."

"What exactly went down?" Chris asked looking around the table. "We. . . heard the scuffle and screams over Kate's wire."

"And moved in as a result," Vin added from across the table.

"I was oblivious at the time," Ezra offered nonchalantly. "In the middle of my negotiations with Summerland when you all appeared."

"Which is exactly why we had to let the man go," Chris scoffed. "We didn't have enough for the DA to make any charges stick." Looking at Wilmington, he then asked, "Us busting in screwed the case, we know that, but you bee-lined it to the backroom, Buck. What exactly did you find?"

"Seemed simple enough," the surveillance man answered. "Elstone was dead. There was lots of spatter, includin' on the ladies." A shrug saw him continue, "Includin' Kate. I remember checkin' her out first. She was fine and I was. . . relieved."

"We all were," JD added. "She wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. If she'd got hurt. . ."

"Nathan," Chris asked, getting the medic's attention. "Tell me again. . . forensically, what exactly went down."

"I have to admit," Jackson shook his head. "The nail gun theory is the only one that made sense, at the time anyway. Severed femoral ruptures often create high-velocity spatter. The vein's deep and carries a lot of blood, typical for a primary blood source, which in this case is for the leg."

"At the time, huh?" Josiah asked with a smile. "We all know something has changed since then"

Pursing his lips, Jackson shifted in his chair, trying to get comfortable. It was a feat he'd been failing at miserably since connecting this particular set of dots. "Yeah, Saturday night," he finally answered. "Which is why I've been thinkin' about this. What we saw in Kate's apartment was pretty much identical."

It was Dunne who frowned first. "There wasn't any spatter in her apartment."

"But there was a single puncture wound," Buck countered, looking at the medic all the while.

Looking from Wilmington to Larabee, Jackson signaled with his eyes alone, what information he intended to reveal. Seeing no objection, he spoke. "I've already had this discussion with Chris," he said slowly. "I believe he was attacked with a knife. What kind, I have no idea. Some sort of Commando dagger, a Wilkinson's maybe, or an M1888 bayonet style blade, or even a Marine Stiletto, it's something long and thin anyway. Not issue though and certainly not common."

Seeing the contemplation around the table, Jackson continued, "With the right trainin', it takes a fraction of a second to insert a blade and make a simple movement, enough to severe an artery. That's exactly what didn't make sense about Elstone's death though. A nail gun to puncture, fine, but the tear at the end ensured Elstone was practically dead before he hit the ground. He bled-out in minutes, maybe even seconds. I'm bettin' even my best tourniquet wouldn't have made a difference."

"The coroner suggested an explanation though." Josiah remembered.

"Yeah," Nathan confirmed. "Movement of the nail gun during firing. It was the only thing that made sense. Some young girl half Elstone's size, sees her opportunity for revenge and hastily takes it."

"She sure didn't deny it, did she?" Dunne sighed. "She was happy to take credit."

"With her torn dress, it made the self-defense angle easy to believe," Vin added quietly.

"The DA declined to press charges and the incident was quietly filed away," Ezra concluded. "Most convenient, it would seem," he added with a raised brow, "Perhaps. . . for Ms. Lansky."

"As usual," Wilmington huffed.

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

Dunne had slammed the phone down before thinking and was now faced with several pairs of questioning eyes. "What?" he yelled. "Can't a fella be pissed around here without being persecuted?"

"More red tape, kid?" Vin asked from the main workstation in the center of the room.

"Put your nose where it don't belong, JD," Lansky quipped as she walked by, "And you quickly get it bit off."

"Had much experience with that, Kate?" Sanchez asked as he appeared from the break room.

Just getting comfortable at her desk, the blonde raised a brow. Seconds ago, she'd made an instantaneous decision, now she needed to see if she could make it pan out and confirm suspicions she'd solidified yesterday. "Actually, yes, Josiah," she smiled. "But I learned quickly how to deal with the Pentagon. And take it from me, JD just doesn't have the needed touch."

"How did. . .?" Dunne stuttered out before catching himself.

'Gotcha!' Kate thought to herself. As expected though, nothing showed in her expression.

Larabee had been very specific about maintaining their ruse, but Standish knew he was about to defy that order. His gut was suddenly knotting, and that always meant he should listen to it. "Then you are aware of our investigation?" he asked blatantly, a curt smile curling the corners of his lips.

It would have taken a great deal of distraction for Kate not to notice the looks Ezra's question had drawn. The directness had surprised her as much as the rest, and yet, she wasn't used to being called out. "Is that what you're calling it?" she snickered. Confirming her suspicions was one thing. Having a direct conversation about them was quite another. With a gentle shake of her head, she scoffed, "Take my advice, boys," she offered. "Quit now, while you're ahead. Poor JD can't handle that much disappointment."

Watching the blonde turn her attentions to the stack of files she'd just brought to her desk, the five men exchanged curious looks. Either Kate had an extremely cool head on her shoulders, or they were missing something very important.

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

"She's no dumb bunny," Buck scoffed shaking his head. "She's probably known since she got back. We should 'a known tryin' to keep it quiet was a waste of time."

"Not necessarily," Ezra speculated from his chair, "There was a definite air of agitation exhibited last week. One that was decidedly lacking today."

Lansky had left right at four o'clock, and no sooner had the double doors closed behind her, that Larabee had found his office overflowing with his team.

"She was too cool, Chris," Vin confirmed. "Ezra called her bluff and she never flinched once."

Acting against direct orders usually meant some sort of disciplinary action, and Standish and Larabee had clashed more times than either could count. However, for all his apparent insubordination, the undercover man normally had a reason. Good or bad, Chris needed to hear him out. "And you knew she wouldn't, right?" he asked Ezra directly.

"I had a hunch," the southerner replied, cocking his head and offering a grin.

From behind the chair, Tanner briefly set a hand on his office mate's shoulder. "Them hunches is what's kept you alive this long, Ezra," he said with a wink. Then, looking back at Larabee, he rounded the chairs and sat on the arm of the one Dunne was occupying. "My hunch tells me we need a different angle on this now, Chris. So, how about it. . . is there another trail we can follow?"

His eyes searching around the room, Chris eventually had to lower them, shaking his head as he did so. "This morning I thought we had a purpose," he said, slowly beating one fist against his desk. Looking back at his men, he then appeared to get angry, "Why is this so damn hard? What the hell is so difficult about finding out a little bit of information? And since when does twenty-five years of military service just get lost? There has to be something somewhere."

"It's frustrating," Dunne answered from his chair. "That's what started this in the first place, Chris. I feel like I'm wasting my time and, I guess I. . . I couldn't hide it from Kate anymore."

"It's not your fault, JD," the senior agent consoled. "Frustration appears to be the name of the game where Lansky is concerned."

"Makes you a perfect match then, don't it?" Buck chuckled from behind everyone.

The sparkle in his oldest friend's eyes might normally have made Larabee's flare red. This time, however, the blond's seemed to glaze over, his mind momentarily lost to the conversation.

"I recognize that look," Nathan grinned, glancing back at Josiah.

"The inner workings of Miss Lansky's eventually dethroning perhaps?" Ezra questioned with a gentle grin.

Larabee's office was silent for almost a minute before the man suddenly refocused and then looked straight at his profiler. "Maybe you can hide twenty-five years of someone's life, but. . . you shouldn't be able to hide their death, right?"

Frowning, Josiah raised a brow. "Well, eh, I'm sure you've noticed by now, Chris, but, she, isn't dead."

"No," the senior agent answered with a sly grin, "But he is."

"He? Buck repeated. "He who? There was another 'he' in her life?"

"And he's dead?" Vin said quietly. "Why don't I like the sounds of that?"

"I told you about him, Josiah," Larabee said, suddenly very upbeat about the information he was relaying. "The guy she was with years ago."

"You mentioned you knew of only one other man in her life but, you never said much else about him."

Looking at his profiler hard, the senior agent asked. "Is it worth following up? I mean, he died with the 14th... there can't be any way to hide that, can there?"

Shaking his head, Josiah voiced, "I wouldn't think so. But, then again, I didn't think there was any way to hide Kate's records either."

"How much do you know about this guy, Chris?" Wilmington questioned, suddenly very attentive. The fact that this stranger had been involved with Kate and ended up dead had him very concerned but, more than that, just like the rest of them, he knew they were seemingly grabbing at straws. Anything they could grasp that might help JD in any way was worth asking about.

"A name, Buck. Rank. He was a SEAL like us, but re-upped in EOD and died in the same SCUD attack that injured Kate."

"EOD is bombs, right?" JD whispered to Vin.

Containing his amusement, the Texan nodded. "Army bomb squad, kid. Explosives Ordnance Disposal. Them guys are nuts."

Frowning, the kid quirked a brow. "No more than Rangers and SEALs as far as I'm concerned," he replied. "You're all a little nuts if you ask me."

Wilmington was outwardly amused with his roommate's interpretation of their old occupations, but, slapping the kid on the shoulder, he refocused on Larabee. "I was posted to Fort Gillem for full ordnance training, Chris, but he could have gone through Great Lakes as well. Either way, they should have records."

"Coronado should, too," the senior agent acknowledged. "No one gets on the teams without becoming really familiar with that place."

"Ain't that the truth," Buck cocked his head. Suddenly growing serious again, he then asked, "So, what's this fella's name? Can't look if we don't know."

"She's. . . always called him Cole," Larabee pondered, his fingers momentarily pawing at his chin. "I know he was a sergeant, but. . . Bryant? Cole?" Looking up at his men, he eventually shrugged. "I thought she said Sergeant Bryant once, but I could be wrong. Check out the full range of spellings and pronunciations on the names Cole and Bryant, see what you can come up with. Date of death, February 25th, 1991. Shouldn't be too hard."

"Yeah," Buck laughed, "Where have I heard that before?"

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

Kate was definitely observing team Seven on Tuesday morning. As Josiah watched her watching them, he wondered what was going through her mind. Was she contemplating their actions and devising a plan of her own? Was she plotting total destruction or did she have a much more subtle idea in mind? Getting rid of seven bodies couldn't be that much of a task for someone so accomplished.

Realizing where his thoughts had taken him, the profiler huffed, grabbing for his coffee cup and swallowing down some of the brew to shake himself back to reality.

'Now there's an interesting twist' he thought. Where did you draw the line between reality and fantasy with someone like Kate? Defining 'someone like Kate' actually meant knowing the truth, and the truth was, they didn't really have the truth about her to begin with.

"JD was right to be frustrated," Josiah sighed.

"How's that?" Jackson queried from his desk as he looked across at his office mate.

Cup half poised, Sanchez narrowed his eyes as he slowly set his coffee down. "Nathan. . .?"

No question came at the end of what was obviously the beginning of a question and the medic snickered. Sometimes he really had to wonder about the inner workings of his best friend. He surely was complex. Which was a good thing in their line of work. Especially from the profiling aspect of the job, but still. . . "Yes, Josiah," he smiled.

Brought back to the present again, Sanchez said quickly, "Tell me what you really think she is, Nathan? Say it, please," he almost pleaded. "I need someone to actually say what. . ." With a heavy sigh, he resigned himself to finishing his sentence. "To say out loud, what we're all thinking."

"In some respects, Josiah, that ain't as tough as you might think," Nathan answered as he leaned back in his chair and threw his pen back to the desk. "In other ways, it is. Yeah, I do think we're all thinkin' the same thing. But defining what that truly means. . . that's somethin' entirely different. Those few little bits of paper you've got there," he indicated the small folder Sanchez had been pondering all morning. "They don't do anythin' to help, so you might as well put them away."

Nodding his agreement, the profiler closed his file and sat back in his chair as Jackson had done. "But say it, Nathan," he urged again. "Maybe hearing someone say she's a hired killer, an assassin, maybe that will help me get inside her head."

Laughing quietly to himself, the medic sucked at his bottom lip. "All right, Josiah," he said quietly. "Kate Lansky is a trained killer, hidin' from her past as a lowly clerk in a federal building. She's done some terrible things in her life. Things she doesn't want anyone to know about, but she slipped up last weekend. Somethin' triggered a reaction in her that she'd thought long gone, and now she's back peddling. Tryin' to make it all go away. But it won't of course, which is just goin' to make it all worse."

A long moment of silence passed between the two men. Josiah was simply staring, and Nathan suddenly felt very uncomfortable. "What?" he asked. "Too much information?"

Letting a small laugh escape, Sanchez gently shook his head. "No, Nathan, not too much. More than I expected perhaps, but. . . not too much."

Then, allowing his eyes to wander back to Lansky's desk, Sanchez watched her for a moment, busily typing at her desk as though she didn't have a care in the world. "Does make me wonder though. . . if that's how you define Kate. How does she define making it all worse?"

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

Lansky was annoyed.

Larabee's thinking place had worked surprisingly well on Sunday and, in any other circumstance, Kate might relay that information and thank him for imparting his wisdom, but. . . coming in here early this morning to find Chris and Vin smiling knowingly at her, blew that idea right out of the water. God, they were annoying!

And then, all morning long the men of team Seven had been working and keeping a watchful eye as well. The observation she'd expected, the workload, she hadn't.

Confirming her suspicions yesterday was a good thing. She at least knew what these men were up to now, but she had suspected they would quit looking for something they just weren't going to be permitted to find. But there they were, still busily digging. It made her nervous. . . and annoyed.

Of all the times for remote access to be blocked. . .

She'd left early yesterday to get home and set up her satellite relay but, try as she might, it wasn't working. Had MacDonald's crew actually found her backdoor?

No, she'd concluded. . .

Just like her, Garrett's organization had safeguards and protocols in place and Kate had checked out the pathways extensively. Little had changed in the complex dampening system they utilized as added security for their firewall. Maybe her encryptions were off, or maybe there was just something in the digital comm link. It had been a while since she'd even thought about hacking this system, but her memory wasn't that bad. Too many years of ingraining and practice didn't just get washed away from three years of inactivity. If the feed was bad, then she'd simply try hardwire access, but. . .

Looking at the wall clock again, Kate's eyes narrowed menacingly. It was twenty minutes before lunch break was officially over, and Dunne was still busily chatting the profiler's ear off.

JD had gone to Josiah just before lunch and it was obvious he had a problem he wanted to talk about. The two men had headed for the conference room as the others were slowly leaving for their break, but no sooner had the bullpen finally emptied, they had come out all smiles. Listening in on their conversation wasn't half the concern. Checking out this information was.

There had been many times over the years when Kate wished JD would stop talking and now was most certainly one of them. She needed to verify her suspicions. It could possibly dictate life or death and Kate was desperate to be able to provide a forewarning if she could. She would also certainly reinforce her 'give it up, boys' suggestion if things hadn't progressed that far, but. . . checking it all out took time damn it! And she didn't need someone waltzing around when she did it. Why couldn't they have eaten their lunch some place else?

Exasperated and considering her options, Lansky suddenly looked up to see the profiler waving at her. "We're just headed down to the cafeteria, Kate," he said. "Want us to bring you anything?"

'Cyanide' she thought, but smiled instead and happily answered, "No thanks, Josiah. I'm good."

She'd have to be, not to get caught at this. . .

Looking at the clock as the glass doors closed, Kate wondered if she had enough time and then, deciding she did, quickly started typing. As her fingers flew, she cursed time and again. It had been too long since she'd used this backdoor. The encryptions hadn't changed though, which was a good thing, but hacking someone else's algorithms had never been a forte. She was glad for last night's attempts. They would most certainly help and, hopefully, speed her progress.

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

"No, there's nothing in the public archive, Buck. That was the first place I looked this morning," JD said quietly. Glancing over his shoulder, he noted that Lansky didn't appear to be watching and then looked back at his companions. "Then I switched to Pentagon records, but without a firm name. . . hundreds of people have showed up on the search parameters I've input. I tried cross-referencing with the D.O.D. but - well I hate to say this, but a lot of people died that day."

"The names Buck gave you didn't help?" Vin asked plainly.

"Nope," their computer expert sighed as he looked at Wilmington. "Chris gave us two names. Buck came up with several different variations and I tried them all. Nothing!"

Having remained quiet throughout Dunne's tirade and the ensuing conversation, Ezra now spoke, "Might I see the list, JD?" he asked, before putting out a hand to receive the slip of paper the kid retrieved. Studying it carefully, he eventually smiled. "Might I have this for a moment?"

"Go for it," Dunne shrugged. "I don't think the three of us have more to add."

"You think you do, Ezra?" Vin asked from his chair.

Looking cautiously at the Texan, Standish slowly nodded. "Taking into consideration, Josiah's counsel, and my own. . . intimate knowledge of the lady, I do believe I have developed a somewhat unique insight."

"If you're plannin' on tellin' Chris, Ezra, I don't think I'd be puttin' it quite like that."

Allowing Wilmington's remark to roll off his shoulders, Standish offered nothing but a look and then smiled at Dunne. "In the words of MacArthur, Gentleman, I shall return."

Watching Standish leave, Buck snickered. Sending a glance at the other two men, he asked, "And how many years did that take?"

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

Wandering his command center, Major-General Francis Ulysses Garrett looked the epitome of military distinction. The hands clasped behind his back, squared his shoulders just so, portraying the finest qualities of bearing and authority. His demeanor conveyed self-assurance and conviction, and his uniform signified prestige and influence unequaled. It was obvious that it meant something very special to Garrett to be decked out in his best dress. It meant more to the people who worked for him. There was an expectation present in the room right now, and no one or nothing could ever take that away.

"Sir," Major MacDonald snapped to attention as the General entered his glass-enclosed office space overlooking the command center. "I wasn't expecting you."

"Evening, Mac" Garrett responded, waving the man to a relaxed posture. "Just needed to stretch my legs. I'm not here for anything special." Turning his attention to the papers strewn all over his subordinate's desk, he then asked, "Everything up to snuff?"

"Yes, sir, " MacDonald responded, and then quickly reached for a report. "Actually, we just received a flash communiqué from Rife and Upton. They've completed and are extracting, probably as we speak."

"Their objective?"

"As ordered, sir, incapacitation achieved. It's only been about an hour, but I'm sure the news will filter to Congress eventually."

"And won't they have fun with that," Garrett chuckled. "Speed would be proud."

The General's reference, usually only mentioned at times of extreme confidence, had a tendency to make MacDonald very nervous. . .

'Speed', or J. Edgar Hoover as most of the world knew him, had been a formidable man in his time. He was not always trusted, or entrusted, and ultimately, proved both precautions made rightly so. Hoover amassed so many files and so much 'dirt' over the years that even today, certain officials were still covering up evidence and plots. Throughout those final years though, so many people had been so focused on the man himself, they had completely ignored his young protégé. . .

"You, eh. . . learned from the best," Mac offered with a curt smile at the end of his sentence.

Acknowledging the response, Garrett replied, "That I did," with a wink, and then turned his attentions to the command center staff as he looked out over them from the glass enclosure. "Anything else to report? How is our new recruit handling his training? What about the other Ops, and. . . any further abnormalities to report on Lansky?"

Except for their intercept last Friday, it had been several days since Kate had come up in their daily conversations and MacDonald quickly realized this was the real reason for the General's visit. Taking the cue from his boss though, he decided sidling up to the information would be the best course of action. "In house, everything is progressing according to schedule with the new enlistee, sir. We. . . did have a slight breach of protocol with Beta recon today though. They were conducting unscheduled perimeter sweeps and reported several infringements of the animal variety. One of which they eh, decided would make an exotic BBQ selection."

Garrett turned just his head to glance at his subordinate. The rise of his brow indicated his inquisitiveness about the issue.

"Sergeant-Major Emmerson has. . . taken the opportunity to, reinforce a little discipline," Mac grinned. "And to reacquaint all of the men with acceptable environmental and concealment policies. He has also asked if you would care to sample the green iguana. 1900 hours at the BBQ pit. They will of course, adjust the time, if you require."

With a glance at the bank of clocks, indicating several times zones of the world, Garrett shook his head. "1900 is fine," he answered without turning.

"I'll let him know," MacDonald responded as he retrieved several papers from a folder he had just opened. "Now, operationally, we have received confirmation that Couzelis arrived in Gaza. About six hours ago," he added, looking at the same bank of wall clocks. "He is already functional and expects contact within 48 hours. Martini is, eh. . . still 'fishing' in India, and Brookes is enroute back home. We gave him some leave, traveling through Tenerife, so as not to raise suspicions."

"Make sure redeployment orders reach Afghanistan before he gets back here," Garrett said casually. "I don't want anyone at Eggers wondering where he went."

"Standard diversionary protocols will be employed, sir," Mac acknowledged as he shuffled his papers back into their spots and opened another file. "As for Sergeant Lansky," he said as he turned to face the General. "We have nothing further to report, sir. As determined Friday, trace indicates the code breach originated from a terminal inside the ATF encryption center. Not that they could anyway, but they have made no other attempts at decoding. Team Seven's vain efforts at record retrieval is still suspected as the cause of the breach - something they accidentally found, but Sgt Lansky still has 'blocks' in place on all her regular terminals, so we can't confirm their activity in her absence." Taking a breath, the Major made one final scan of his page, "As for Kate herself, she has returned to her normal schedule."

"Weekend activities?"

"Nothing much out of the ordinary, sir," Mac shrugged. "Power levels in her apartment varied between Friday and Saturday nights, which corresponds with increased physical activity timings, however, Sunday she was calmer."

"Interesting observation, Mac," Garrett responded as he turned to face the man. "Why do you say that?"

"Sunday?" MacDonald asked as he set his paper back in his folder. Seeing the affirming nod, he then answered, "Well, sir, the Sat recon tracked her to a park bench and she didn't move for hours."

A brow rose and eventually gave way to another nod, "Feeding the birds," Garrett muttered before returning his attention to the Major. "You said satellite, Mac, what's wrong with the GPS?"

"Oh, eh, nothing, sir," MacDonald grimaced, "It's just. . . well, eh, she went out without her cell."

Rising a curt brow, the General huffed. "Kate contravening procedure, I am used to. . . but not that particular one. . .." There was a long silence as Garrett scrubbed his chin roughly and then turned away.

The General took a long moment to think, his eyes scanning the room below but his mind completely oblivious to the goings on. Finally though, he looked back at the Major and, asked, "And what about Larabee and his crew, Mac? What have our prized ATF team been up to lately?"

"Well, sir," MacDonald began as he retrieved yet another folder. After arching a curious brow, he then continued, "Eyes and ears confirmed a reduction in activity today. Their tech. . . still made a couple of calls to the Pentagon but. . . nothing came up on voice indicating any reference to Kate."

"We're still using electronics trace, Major?"

"Yes, sir," Mac said hesitantly. "You didn't advise any change, so. . ."

Hearing the uncertainty in his subordinate's voice, Garrett huffed, waving away the insecurity, "Yes, yes, Mac, I know. Kate isn't an operational priority, I accept that. When we have her back though, that will change." With a glance at his second in command, the General offered, "Keep up the good work, Mac," and a brief smile.

Watching his boss leave, Major MacDonald allowed a heavy sigh to escape his lungs when he knew the man was out of earshot. He hated being put on the spot. Worse yet, he hated being put on the spot about Kate Lansky. Garrett had a decidedly unhealthy perspective of the woman. . . almost an infatuation, and someday, someone would have to grow some and confront him.

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

It took three knocks before she answered.

As she looked into his eyes, the expressions on her face were of disappointment and amazement, "What the hell are you doing here?"

Relaxing his slouch against the wall, Larabee's huffed laughter started his reply as he practically pushed his way past Kate. He then voiced, "Returning to the scene of the crime," to complete the thought. God! That was the last thing on his mind right now, but he knew he needed to say something to get her blood boiling. His certainly was. . .

Kate wasn't looking at Chris. Staring down the long outer hallway of her apartment block, she had thoughts of leaving him to it. Whatever it was? But that just wouldn't do. She wasn't about to run from a challenge. . .. especially his challenge.

Closing the door, Lansky turned to face the blond. Words eluded her however, as he quickly grabbed her, raised her from the floor, forcefully planted her torso against the wall and then, planted a dangerously powerful kiss on her lips.

Emotions swirled inside Lansky's head. Surprisingly though, the idea of fight. . . or flight for that matter, were somehow not among them. Wrapping her legs around Larabee's waist, she raised her arms to run teasing fingers through his hair. The grip, eventually strengthened, until she extracted his lips from hers.

Panting, their hearts racing, the lovers simply looked at one another. . .

Eventually, "What are you doing, Chris?"

Larabee searched her eyes. He knew she knew the answer, but it wasn't like her to back away from an invitation this blatant. Hell, it was practically the foundation of what their relationship was really built on. . . going with the flow when the urge hit. Whether that be a war of words, or a heated battle of another kind. . . it really didn't matter. It was the reason he loved her the way he did and there was just no use in denying it. Lansky took what she wanted, and so could he... "I'm hungry, Kate," he whispered, fighting just a little against the grip that still held him firmly.

As Larabee attempted his persistent quest, lips performing a dangerous ballet, Lansky did the same - toying with him, and the idea of indulging. She sure as hell could use a little release. She'd spent too much of her life living on this particular edge and had forgotten the tension that lifestyle created. This man was the source of her stress though. . . The balls he had to waltz in here and practically demand a sexual liaison. "You're horny!" she whispered back as he nibbled in the crook of her neck.

Slowly moving just his head back, Chris allowed his green eyes to search deep into her blue. "You say that. . . like it's a bad thing," he said seductively. Then, without any hesitation, he pulled them off the wall and carried Kate towards her waiting bed.

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

Lansky's consciousness suddenly jerked awake.

As years of practice ensured her body remained unmoving, Kate took her bearings. Sleep had escaped her in the past several days, and it took a long moment to convince herself that she'd actually given in to slumber. Of course, lying on her side with a man's arms wrapped around her was reason enough to relax, but she also couldn't help chastising herself for his presence. What the hell was she thinking?

She hadn't been thinking of course. That burning desire Larabee ignited in her soul had accepted the challenge given it - and here they were. Ten short days ago the devil inside of her had almost ended this man's life. . .


Balling her eyes up tight, Kate tried not to move as she reprimanded herself for trying to disguise the truth. . . Blaming her actions on anyone else would never change what really happened. She had almost ended Chris' life - and yet here he was, in her bed!

"You wanna tell me about it?"

Her eyes had sprung open at his question, but now closed again as Lansky sucked at her bottom lip. Damn Larabee all to hell anyway! They were so in-sync with one another. It galled her to acknowledge that someone knew her this well, and while it was a strange sense of pride that came to her first, she quickly forced that reaction away. "Why are you here, Chris?"

Her soft tone imparted a strange disappointment and Chris frowned, unsure of his reply. "I was. . . hungry, remember?" he offered, hoping for a foot in the door.

Kate huffed. "Horny - yeah, I remember."

"You weren't so bad yourself,' the blond grinned, playfully pulling her just a little bit closer.

A small tussle ensued as Lansky tried to free herself from Larabee's grasp. She wasn't seriously fighting however and he ended atop her small body, their eyes goading one another as he stretched her hands high above her head. Lack of fight was one thing, but seeing the lack of playfulness in her eyes, Chris was again hesitant. "I'm sorry, Kate," he whispered. Adding a gentle smile for good measure, he pecked at her lips and then released his grasp, lifting his full weight from her body in the process. "Why am I here?" he repeated, smiling again. "I keep coming back to those three little words, Kate. . . And yes, I remember you don't want to hear them, but this time I've got three more to add. I love you, Kate, and I trust you. . . more than you can ever know."

Lansky pushed about then and he allowed the movement, rolling to his side of the bed. The couple seemed to sit in unison, she practically staring daggers and he, innocently shrugging off the glare. "Funny how love and trust go hand in hand like that, don't you think?" Chris said before she looked away. "This past week, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Nathan suggested it first, and I. . . I didn't get it right away. Ironic really. . . but then something else happened just last night to solidify my belief in you. Me being 'hungry'. . . well that was just an excuse to test my theory, but eh. . . I think it was a good one."

It was obvious that Chris was pleased. Kate just wasn't feeling it right now though. One hand rose to knead her brow as she brought her legs up, almost mimicking the fetal position. "Test your theory?" she repeated disbelievingly. "Have you completely lost you mind, Larabee? You have to be completely nuts!" Turning just her head to stare long and hard at the man, she gently shook it. "You are unbelievable!" As arms folded around her knees, the woman sighed heavily. "I almost killed you last Saturday night, Chris, and you. . . come waltzing back? Returning to the scene of the crime, remember? You, what. . . came for seconds, is that it?" There was a momentary pause as Kate tried hard to calm herself. "Don't you get it? You're in danger every time you're around me. You have to stay away."

"In danger?" Larabee questioned.

It was a stretch, Chris had to admit that, but he'd been in such an upbeat mood right up until this moment. The revelation last night. . . the feeling of control that he hadn't felt in a long time. Last night. . .

Oh yeah. . . he'd been riding a wave last night, but now he was wearing a frown. On the surface, he could hear that same brand of boasting and bragging that had facilitated last Saturday, but underneath - hidden in the underlying tone of her exasperation, Chris sensed for the first time that his lady was truly being honest. "Why am I in danger, Kate?"

Suddenly realizing that she'd slipped up, Lansky quickly lowered her chin. She'd always known letting Larabee get inside her head was a dangerous thing - for both of them. She couldn't protect him if too much information leaked out. How could she be this stupid? Silently chastising herself again, Kate returned to a tried and true path. "You're really asking me that?" she answered indignantly. "After last weekend, you can really sit there and ask me that?"

Larabee's gut was screaming at him now. She'd severed eye contact and was right back into those overtones of boasting and bravado. Last Saturday he had over-reacted, but he still wasn't about to let her get away with it. This time, he decided to try a calmer approach. "Yes, I can sit here and ask you that," he retorted, "Because I am sitting here, in your bed. We made love in this bed last night and need I remind you, last weekend did not exist in this bed last night. Don't you dare try to hide again, Kate, because I'm not buying it anymore. I'm done running. I don't care about your demons or your past, do you hear me?"

Her body tensing, Lansky heard the challenge in his words but her mind didn't want to comprehend. She knew what was happening and fought to control the blind urges she'd been afraid of all this time. She and Chris were as close as they could ever come to the truth between them, but there was a truth much more important, that he could never know. He could never hope to defeat the power that had taught her such evil and nourished her for over twenty some years of her life. She knew that fact so well that it burned a hole in her heart. Right next to the hole another man had left once. Right next to the one Larabee was destined to leave.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Kate, too, tried to remain calm. On one level she was being so unfair to Chris, and she did know that. Admitting it though. . .

As her chin rose, Lansky took in Larabee's cool green eyes and gentle smile, and her heart dropped. He was risking so much by being here. She had called his bluff and he had bounced back from death, and now. . . he was sitting in her bed. He was right. . . all those horrible images from last weekend hadn't stood between them last night. Nothing could have. They had simply been two people madly, passionately in love, making love as passionately as they always had.

"I remember what I saw. . ." Buck had told her once. "And that kind 'a play. . . well, it takes a lot of trust. . . and love. Some things were just meant to go together, Kate. Bread and butter. . . coffee and donuts. . . pizza and beer. . . You and Chris."

Watching Kate's eyes glaze, Chris was inexplicably reminded of something. . .

"It would be my hypothesis that Miss Lansky is living a closely guarded existence. . . 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."

It was stupid to think that Kate had chosen Ezra for a sexual liaison on purpose, but. . . would anyone else have been able to see what he had?

"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."

The concept of 'mere seconds' was something Chris was now all-too familiar with, but that wasn't what his mind was focusing on.

"That she loves me?" he had asked.

Ezra had shaken his head. "No, Mr. Larabee. . . well, yes, but no. . . As I said to you last night, another revelation brought me to that conclusion. Miss Lansky is scared. . . but of what, I do not know."

There was a chance here and Chris felt it was now or never. Moving across the bed, he took that chance, wrapping his arms gently around the woman he loved. His words were quiet and calming as he offered his olive branch. "I hate this, Kate. I hate that we can't just talk it out and I hate seeing you hurting this way. I wish you would give me some credit for that at least. . . Look, I know I didn't understand at first but last night I realized what I'd been missing all this time. It's you. . . you're the one who deserves the real credit."

Lansky had relaxed in his arms but Larabee's statement made her pull away. "Credit?" she repeated irritably as she got off the bed. "You are blind, aren't you?" she scoffed. "You realized. . . what, Chris? That all the things I can take credit for in my life are. . ." As her voice softened, Kate finished her sentence, "Are hideous and reprehensible. Seriously, you need to realize that!" With one last disbelieving confused look, she threw her arms in the air, shook her head, and then walked to her bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

"Not all of them, Kate," Chris said quietly to the empty room.

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

The couple had dressed and was preparing to depart for the federal building when Lansky had instinctively slipped into the bedroom to acquire the item she never left her apartment without. She'd stared at the pouch blankly, actually second-guessing the need to put it on, but, as though in a trance, had complied with the compulsion nonetheless. Now, still mesmerized by her barely recognizable reflection, she blinked back to full awareness as arms slipped around her waist.

"What'd you forget?" Larabee asked innocently.

Turning in her man's arms, Kate easily allowed her head to rest on his chest as she pulled air deep into her lungs. The shower had helped calmed her some. The fact that they'd spoken few words since then had helped immensely, but it pissed her off that there were times when she and Chris couldn't be in the same room together without exchanging harsh words. Why couldn't they just talk like other couples did? "I. . . I don't know if I can do this anymore, Chris," she said honestly. The whole suggestion of them still being a couple was beyond ridiculous and, almost as if the will to live had been drained from her, the confusion she felt was quickly becoming an overwhelming force.

"Sure you can," the blond reassured. "Where's all that bravado when you need it, huh?"

Shaking her head, Kate turned away again. "You're unbelievable, do you know that?" she asked, but the idyllic image reflecting back at her suddenly made her realized just how screwed up her existence really was. They could be so good together, her and Chris, if only. . .

It took a moment for the idea of normalcy in Larabee's arms to be banished from her consciousness, and when it was, Lansky huffed. "You act like this is some kind of joke," she said, still trying to remain calm. "Surely you can't think you and me - we're all good now, just because we. . . had a little romp." An audible sigh escaped her lungs as she continued. "Damn you, Larabee. Don't you get it? You. . . you can't be seen with me."

With the mirror in front of them, Chris could see Kate roll and then close her eyes. He could see her ball her face up tight, as though she were chastising herself her forgetfulness, and he was once again curious and confused. "Seen, Kate? Who is going to see us? What is it you're afraid of? Is someone tailing you, is that it?"

For the second time in as many hours, Lansky was furious with herself. She couldn't help it, but that was no excuse. She was putting Larabee in danger every second he was with her, but more than that, she was now putting him in danger every time she opened her mouth. How could she be so stupid? How could she let him get under her skin like that? "You need to get out of here, Chris," she warned without turning.

This time the feeling was unmistakable and Larabee wasn't going to let her get away so easily. He wanted an explanation and he had a suspicion he just might get it if he stood his ground, "I'm not going anywhere until you talk to me, Kate."

"You don't understand," she said almost despondently. There was a long pause before she continued, her voice sounding fragile, "I can't have a weakness."

It took a moment for that ideology to sink into Larabee's brain, but when it did, his frustration grew. If Lansky considered him her weakness, her Achilles heel. . . then just how was he to figure out a way to ask questions without crossing this line, imaginary or otherwise, that seemed to exist between them.

And yet, Kate was talking to him. This could only be a good thing as far as he was concerned, but in another respect, answering his questions seemed to be a bad thing for her. If he could only figure out what was pertinent information, and how to get to it, he'd be home free. Before he could do that however, Lansky decided to ask a question of her own. . .

"What did Nathan say?" she inquired quietly.


Kate turned this time, her face a strange kaleidoscope of emotion as she looked up into his eyes. "Earlier you said, you didn't get it. . . that you didn't understand what it meant but Nathan, made you believe. What did he say to you, Chris?"

Larabee didn't need to be reminded of the conversation he'd had in his office with Jackson last week. The words had been on his mind since then and he'd constantly played the meaning, interrupting and re-interrupting until it had become clear. "He said you couldn't do it, Kate," Chris smiled reassuringly. "Nathan dissected the forensics and filled in the blanks I was missing. He figured out exactly what happened when you attacked me." Taking a deep breath before continuing, he persisted with his gentle tone. "I admit I wasn't sure about his conclusions at first, but. . . well, the more I thought about it, the more I considered how much it must have meant to you to fight like that."

The frown came first, but then Kate voiced her confusion, "Fight?"

Stuck with the profoundness of Lansky's words, Chris completely overlooked the uncertainty in her eyes. "Yeah, I think I reacted the same way when he said I fought back. I didn't know because I couldn't remember much."

"But. . ." Lansky started to say. She still looked puzzled as she continued, "I don't understand, Chris. What do you mean?"

"You. . . couldn't do it," Larabee repeated, still not understanding the source of her bewilderment.

The couple simply stared at one another as Chris tried to puzzle out the mystery reflecting back in Kate's eyes. Suddenly though, her confusion made its mark, and realization hit Larabee like a ton of bricks. All this time he had been searching for the truth and here it had been staring him in the face all along. Whether it was the emotional roller coaster she appeared to be on this morning, or something else, it really didn't matter. He'd wanted to have this conversation for days, but considering he'd never even considered this scenario, it was a good thing he hadn't. Now though. . . "You - you don't remember any of it. . . do you?" he asked in amazement.

Lansky replied as though in some sort of dream, her voice distant and unfeeling. "I remember, I was. . . mad at you for bringing me home," she said quietly. "And that I was trying to make you leave and you were arguing about my locks and then. . . and then I. . ." Making full eye contact, Kate suddenly seemed lost and her voice wavered, "And then, the next thing I recall is. . . you were bleeding, my knife. . . It was. . . happening all over again."

A multitude of thoughts ran though Larabee's mind as he watched Lansky turn and fold her arms closely about her chest, seemingly fighting something, yet seemingly in need of protection as well. It was silly really, but the image of a lost child came to mind, and Chris felt he had no choice but to question that representation until his thoughts from Sunday filter back into his head. She had been so young and vulnerable when this - whatever this was - had happened to her. She was probably used to feeling alone - no one to turn to at times like this.

Imagining the worst scenarios didn't do much to help Chris comprehend, but it actually made him feel even guiltier than he had before. "It's my fault, Kate," he offered. He wanted to hold her but he wasn't sure of his approach. Instead, he watched her in the mirror, and smiled. "I was stupid, Kate," he said sucking in his bottom lip. "I. . . lost my temper. You'd been annoying all day. You were goading and bragging and. . . I was. . . tired of it I guess. I. . . just wanted to prove to you that you're just like anyone else."

"What. . .?" Kate looked up and their eyes met in the mirror. She seemed to be searching the recesses of her brain, "You did something, didn't you?" she stated, almost accusingly but not quite pointed. There was a moment and then she suddenly looked so sad, "Ah, Chris. . .. I'm not just like everyone else. Don't you get that? Don't you understand? I was trying to tell you the truth but you've never listened. Never. . . now, it could be too late."

Larabee didn't know who appeared more disappointed by her declaration but as he watched, her head hung low, and he suddenly felt guilty again for the role he'd played in this whole mess. Frustration was a common theme where Lansky was concerned, and he'd let it get to him. . . and yet, now he wasn't the only one paying the price. "I tried to pull my gun on you, Kate," he admitted quietly.

A strange, almost eerie silence, settled between them as she watched him in the mirror.

"Nathan. . . well, he didn't know how to describe what happened, but he said something inside of you intended to kill me that night, Kate. But, that you stopped it. You stopped yourself from doing what someone trained you to do. I believe that's true, Kate. But I also believe in you. I believe. . . you found the strength to fight it once, you can do it again."

As Lansky slowly began to shake her head, she almost severed eye contact with him and Larabee knew he had to finish this before he lost her concentration completely. "There was something else that's been bothering me since this all happened, Kate. I know now that Nathan was right, but for more than the reasons he said. Ya see, I remembered something yesterday. I'd been trying to put it together in my head for days. Vin, Josiah. . . they said it would come, and last night it did. I was driving home, Kate, and my cell phone rang."

Slowly regaining her eye contact with his reflection, Lansky seemed to hang on Larabee's every word. "You didn't just stop that knife from finding its mark, Kate," he smiled. "But you made sure Vin would get here in time. You called him, didn't you? You stayed with me until he was almost on top of you, didn't you? Didn't you. . .?"

Chris didn't need a verbal response to confirm his suspicions. Kate really did love him. All the proof he ever needed was in the single tear that ran down her cheek.

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




To Be Continued in



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