~~ First, You Stumble… ~~

by TJ

RATING – R for implied sexual situations and language.

WARNING – implied sexual situations and language.



SERIES - Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

PREVIOUS STORIES – Story #1 - Aftermath…

SPOILERS – Reading the first story and how much it took to get this couple together will give you some valuable insight into a complex relationship. If you don't have the time or interest, however, this story can stand alone. Just know that at least the beginning of it won't necessarily make much sense…

SUMMARY – Some relationships were just meant to be, but that doesn't mean they come easy. Especially when the players have issues to deal with and each other's pasts to face.

SIZE Approx 215K


DISCLAIMER – If only wishes did come true… Reality is harsh

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

I claim All Original Characters as my own.
Please, DO NOT use them without my express permission.


WRITER’S NOTES – Funny how things just seem to come together sometimes!

I want to thank Sunni again for her terrific 'Birthday Story' that inspired 'Kate' to finally admit her desire for Chris. Without that little push, none of this would exist.

I also really want to thank my dear friend, Barb, for allowing me to merge my musings into her 'Wind and Rain' universe. My 'Kate' and her 'Adrian' may not always see eye to eye, but their 'real life' counterparts do!

As for this story… I'm bringing my timeline forward enough to mesh with Barb’s 'present day'… it's easier to play together that way! Thanks again to her, for the occasional use of her dialogue and scenes she's already played out in her stories… It's hard to avoid these things when your characters are in the same world but playing in a different timeline. Hence, my coming into the present… lol

As always, a great big thank you to my ever-vigilant Betas. Antoinette, you've been such a great friend to me and you always have such wonderful insight. Marnie, your comments crack me up sometimes, but they make me think as well. Thank you, ladies, this story wouldn't be the same without your wonderful help.



DEDICATION – I don't normally do this, but there is an exception for every rule and this one, made rightly so…

Tragically, a wonderful friend, Sunni, passed from our lives recently. She, and the baby she carried, were taken long before their time. The drunk driver that hit their vehicle head-on will never know what he took from us, but I honor her memory by remembering the happiness she brought to so many lives within this fandom.

As I mentioned above, Sunni wrote a birthday story for me and I've transformed that wonderful tale into this series of stories. She was thrilled that I've managed to build so much out of her beginnings, and she truly loved this couple together.

I will miss my friend Sunni very much, but I will continue to write Chris and Kate, just as she would want me to. Through them, a little of Sunni will always be with us.

A lot of Sunni will always be in my heart…

Rest well, Lady…



~~ First, You Stumble… ~~

Securing her door, Kate turned to face her empty apartment. It was late and she wished Chris could have stayed the night. Their dinner and lovemaking hadn't been planned but she was glad for the distraction.

Today had been no picnic.

Not that many days ever were around the Federal Building.

The last two, in particular, had been especially crazy. 'Larabee could have picked a better week to get cozy' she sighed, venturing to the sofa. Her new 'relationship' with the ATF team leader was less than seven days old and already causing distractions at work.

This week, she couldn't afford the time.

On top of the regular grind, there was the stress of having to rearrange all those work schedules. Then, of course, she was trying to keep the 'great Wilmington plan' from exploding in their faces. Not that she wouldn't mind seeing the rogue's never-ending smirk wiped from existence. The man had been wearing his 'I know what you've been doing grin' since yesterday.

That day hadn't gone well at all.

Not that she'd expected any less, mind you… not after her Sunday morning surprise.

Remembering JD and Buck as they burst into Larabee's bedroom made her snicker. She could see the humor in it now, but their 'Chris rescue' wasn't so funny when she and their team leader were 'accidentally' caught naked in bed together. In a rather compromising position, too...

Lansky had known that the other members of Team Seven would find out about her 'relationship' with Larabee soon enough. She just hadn't expected any of them to join the couple in his bedroom.

She'd purposely avoided Wilmington and Dunne when they came back from the fishing hole later that day. The pair made a point of keeping their activities confined to the barn. 'Not daring to show their faces', Kate had teased.

Brushing down the horses and letting them loose in the corral, the twosome also kept their good-byes to a minimum, waving to Chris as they headed down the drive.

Joining Larabee on the porch, Kate huffed loudly. "You know it's going to take Buck all of five minutes to let everyone know what they saw this morning."

"Yep," the blond replied. "If he hasn't already got to his cell phone."

And so, Monday morning had rolled around.

It was quiet at first. Being in the office early was always a blessing in disguise, but that day it seemed so much better. 'No one around to make comments' she'd mused.

Double-checking Travis' report with a fresh pair of eyes, Kate printed out a final copy and headed upstairs to brief him on its contents.

Team Seven's offices were a buzz of activity when she finally returned and, as expected, the looks she received were right across the board. Some people followed JD's lead and avoided her gaze.

Somewhere, deep inside the recesses of her consciousness, the woman actually felt sorry for young Mr. Dunne.

Then, of course there were those who gave her a quick look, grinned, and promptly turned away… presumably to 'talk behind her back' she mused jokingly.

It was Vin's reaction that threw her though. He gave her that unmistakable Tanner smile… the one that lit up his whole face and made his dimples show. When Kate met his eyes, the sharpshooter's tongue protruded slowly to suck in his bottom lip. He nodded knowingly, and then casually returned to his work.

She still hadn't figured that one out…

Soon afterward, the infamous ladies' man showed his face. Coming out of the break room and spotting the blonde behind her desk, he gave her his wicked 'honey' smile.

The rogue's whole demeanor actually made Kate think that he was proud of the situation he'd walked in on.

Several minutes later he appeared beside her, a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. "Can I offer you some refreshment on such a lovely mornin'?" he spewed out in his notably 'smooth' tone.

Peering at him from the corner of her eyes, the woman's jaw set as her head turned to glare suspiciously. "Good morning, Buck."

Grinning from ear to ear, Wilmington nodded, "And a mighty fine mornin' is it, too, don't you think, Miss Kate?"

Motioning her thanks and a place for the rogue to set the mug down, the lady turned her chair as he leaned across her. Looking up directly into his eyes, she smiled sweetly, the hint of a threat, barely readable. "Don't be too nice to me, Buck. Not a damn thing has changed. You got that?"

Her quiet words didn't seem to faze the man. "Well, I ain't so sure about that," he smirked. As Kate stood up, the ladies man backed up slightly to allow the ascent.

Crossing her arms curtly over her chest, Lansky's stern expression reassured the rogue that things would remain exactly on par with the way they always had been. "I am!" she uttered firmly.

Wilmington sucked back and reloaded. Eyebrows rose quickly and a visible 'swallow' was followed, almost immediately, by a frown. "You… seem pretty sure of that, Darlin'," he tried smugly to regain the upper hand.

Kate's politeness seemed to disappear, although she hadn't moved a muscle. "Buck!" she almost seethed.

A hesitant, "Yeah?" was the man's response as he tried to maintain his smile.

"Don't call me Darling," she glared. One final unpleasant look and Kate took up her seat again, turning her back on the rogue.

Not sure exactly what to think of their exchange, Wilmington decided he'd best leave it alone for now. He didn't see how things hadn't changed, but considering this was Kate Lansky, he'd give her the benefit of the doubt. With a quiet huff, he started for his desk.

"Buck!" the woman spat out before he'd taken two steps.

Eyes darted, wondering what he'd done now. The tall agent slowly turned, "Kate?"

Smiling too sweetly, the petite blonde cocked her head. "Thanks for the coffee, Buck."

Wilmington could almost hear the mocking tone of her voice. Clearing his throat, he copied her 'sweet' smile and returned to his work.

The rest of the day went fairly smoothly. An up-date from Agent Standish had everyone's attention for a while but things settled down after that.

AD Travis had dropped down to the seventh floor with a stack of paperwork for Kate to 'see to'. With a reserved 'huff' on his departure, she'd slowly waded through the pile, promising herself to find a replacement secretary for the man, ASAP!

Snuggling her housecoat over cold feet, Kate sighed again as she thought about how complicated things had become today.

After a late night instant messenger conversation with the present love of Ezra's life, Buck had come up with a way to complete his 'plan'. He worked fast that morning, informing his 'co-conspirators'.

The additional persuasion from Sharon and Lori had helped 'convince' Kate to 'go along' with the scheme. Six people knew so far and apparently, most of them thought 'the plan' would work.

Kate was reserving judgment!

Of course, like Wilmington, Lori and Sharon had ulterior motives. After meeting those few times when Delaney was in Denver, all three had maintained contact with Ezra's long-distance lover via the computer. They'd all become close friends. Consequently, a select group had been plotting for several weeks at how to get the sweethearts together. It was only now that Adrian had quit her job, that they'd found a way to complete their 'grand plan'.

When the women had joined JD, Vin, and Buck in insisting that 'the plan' would succeed, Kate had been hard pressed to deny her contribution. She'd met Adrian, too. Had several good conversations with her, in fact, especially during the self-defense classes she'd helped teach. Standish deserved to be as happy as anyone else, and since this 'plan' only required her to only run minimal interference, Lansky had agreed. She just hoped Orin Travis didn't find out.

Compared to the morning whispering session, Tuesday afternoon was reasonably quiet, with the exception of one restless sharpshooter. Desiree Masters flitted around the office packing most of her thing away and Vin fidgeted the whole time. Des would be saying her final good-byes after work on Thursday, and Tanner still wasn't sure how he felt.

Sharon began preparing for her trip, too. That just caused more tension for the Texan.

Lansky knew that Vin and Sharon had been friends for a while. Desiree's temp position seemed to have put a damper on 'things that might have been', but now both women were leaving and Tanner's emotions were obvious confused.

Thankfully, Sharon would be back in a week, and Kate was fairly confident that Vin would survive the ordeal.

So would she.

The adjustments to cover Sharon's schedule were only temporary and didn't require that much of a 'fix'. Replacing Miss Masters was fairly easy as well. They'd been expecting her departure, so Kate was reasonably ready to settle someone else into her position.

Covering the loss of AD Travis' secretary was proving to be a major problem area though. She'd been searching for a permanent replacement up until now. Wilmington's 'grand plan' called for her to keep rotating assistants without letting them, or Travis, know why. Having already assigned a woman for tomorrow morning, Kate made sure that Buck knew it was up to him to provide 'just cause' for each secretary's departure. Justification in place, she would run interference with Orin.

Not a difficult task, really, especially considering the fact that the AD hadn't yet found anyone he was completely happy with. He liked things done in a particular way and could be ornery at times.

'Not unlike the men he's chosen to lead his ATF teams', Lansky smiled. The thought of Larabee made her eyes close involuntarily as she drew in a soothing breath.

In her mind's eye, she could see the man; naked as the day he was born, laid out on her bed again… waiting.

The blond's lean, muscular body seemed to call to her… beckoning.

Kate's eyes shot open and she let out a loud huff. Shaking the wanton thoughts from her mind, she switched off the adjustable lamp and headed for the bedroom.

Sleep would come… if she lay there long enough.

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

Angie Feldman was sitting outside of AD Travis' office the next morning. As per Kate's instructions, she concentrated on taking care of all the backlogged phone messages before moving on to the paperwork.

It took until 10:15 to deal with the automated answering service and then take care of anything that needed immediate attention. The redhead got up to stretch and was just pouring herself some coffee when the elevator bell sounded.

"Well, hello there, Darlin'," Wilmington oozed as he stepped out of the car.

Miss Feldman couldn't help the smirk that crossed her lips. The surveillance man for Team Seven was a charmer, no arguing that point. She'd only been working at the Federal Building for a few months and her first 'lesson' from Debbie, in Administration, had been on how to avoid being 'beguiled' by certain men in the building. Buck was one of them.

The ladies' man had engaged her in a few conversations since her arrival, all none-too subtle as he tried to work his 'magic'. Angie enjoyed his 'honey' but wasn't interested in being stuck to the hive. "Good morning, Buck," she smiled.

The rogue sidled up to the little alcove that housed the coffeepot and necessities, "Well, it is now," he grinned.

Feldman shook her head softly as she stirred the creamer into her cup. "What brings you up here?"

Following Angie back to the reception desk, Wilmington offered the file he had under his arm. "AD Travis called down looking for this."

The woman took note as she reseated herself. "I haven't seen him today," she adjusted her position, "But I'll let him know you're here." Reaching for the call button, she was surprised when the tall agent stopped her.

"Oh, no, Darlin', don't you go troublin' yourself," he gently took her hand from the buzzer and kissed it. "I'll just go knock, and take it right in."

With a gentle cock of her head, Angie smiled her agreement and watched as Wilmington did just that. She didn't hear Mr. Travis respond to the knock, but she giggled at the grin Buck put on his face as he entered the private office.

Ten minutes passed and she was busy typing a report when the rogue reappeared.

Angie frowned, "Something wrong?" she noticed straight away that his happy-go-lucky smile was gone.

Deep in thought, the ladies' man looked up, apparently surprised by the woman's presence. "Oh… oh yeah… It's just…"

The redhead wasn't used to seeing Wilmington so off-key and distant. "What's wrong, Buck? Is there something I can do to help?" she offered, moving to his side.

"Would you?" Wilmington smiled cordially.

Angie was a very giving person; everyone in the building knew that. If you needed help and she could do anything to assist… "Mr. Travis read over my report, but… well, he wants the rest of the information… and it just ain't ready yet," the ladies' man sounded quite exasperated.

Buck paused as Feldman clearly hung on his every word. "Why not?" she prodded.

Obviously flustered, the rogue looked forlorn as he scowled. "Well, you know… Vin ain't no good at paperwork and JD… well, JD is… JD."

Angie understood completely. Mr. Tanner's sentences were poorly constructed and if you could read the writing, you sometimes had to interrupt what he meant, taking the work back for him to verify. Mr. Dunne, on the other hand, had a strong tendency to put absolutely every single detail in his reports that he could remember, and in a lot of cases, added his own conclusions and suppositions. "How many reports are we talking about?" the woman asked, her desire to help taking over.

"Four," Wilmington sighed. "And he needs them by the end of the day."

Angie was about to say something when the rogue interrupted.

"Oh, but that's too much to ask," he sidestepped towards the elevator. "I know you must have all sorts of other work to catch up on and… and well, Kate will be expecting results."

As she slowly followed him to the elevator, it became increasingly obvious how miserable this daunting task was making the man. Buck's shoulders slumped as he called for the car to come. Apparently defeated, he set his head against the wall, and sighed heavily. Angie couldn't help but feel sorry for the normally cheerful Wilmington. "I'll do whatever needs to be done, Buck."

"No," the rogue started to complain before she cut him off.

"I won't hear it, Buck. You bring me whatever has to be transcribed and I'll type it up."

"But, it’s so much," he tried again.

Once more Feldman interrupted the tall agent. "Buck Wilmington," her jaw was set and her eye scrunched. "Mr. Travis needs these reports and currently, I'm his assistant. I expect to see someone back here in five minutes with everything that needs doing. Do I make myself clear?"

His eyebrows rose in shock and the ladies' man gaped at Angie for a moment. "I… I don't know what to say," he stuttered.

As the elevator doors opened, the redhead smiled. "Don't say anything," she pushed him into the car. "Just go get what needs to be done so I can get started."

"You’re the best, Darlin'," she heard him say as the doors closed. Shaking her head in disbelief, Feldman huffed as she turned back to her desk. "Bet he tells that to every woman he meets," she snickered.

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

As the ladies' man stepped off the elevator on the seventh floor, Dunne accosted him. Vin followed the two men as JD pushed Buck into an out-of-the-way corner.

"Well?" the kid demanded.

The brilliant grin on Wilmington's lips told the other men all they needed to know.

"We are so going to pay for this when Travis finds out," Dunne muttered as he glanced around.

"Kate's taking care of that, right?" Tanner questioned apprehensively.

"You should 'a seen me, boys," Buck continued to smirk. "Ol' Ezra would be proud of my little ruse."

Vin and JD both cuffed the rogue at the same time.

Dunne started to pace in small circles. "You sure this is gonna work, Buck?" he shook his head. "You sure this is all worth it?"

With his calm Wilmington demeanor in full play, Buck reached over to his young roommate and put an arm around his shoulder, pulling him close. "We're doin' this for the good of the team, JD. You know as well as I do, that Ezra's just been miserable lately. Havin' a long distance love affair just ain't workin' for the man. Hell, he practically hugged Chris when this deep cover assignment came up."

Dunne couldn't help but agree, remembering how the southerner had praised the job, calling it a 'much needed distraction from his current abysmal existence'.

"Don't mean that lyin' to everybody is right though," Tanner offered his opinion.

Buck smiled at the Texan. "I'm gonna agree with ya there, Vin, but Adrian Delaney ain't just gonna up and move... not just 'cause the man of her dreams wants her here. And you know as well as I do that Ezra's got too much pride to beg her to come."

"Yeah, but, Buck… Travis is gonna get pissed at Kate if she can't keep a secretary up there to help him," Dunne frowned. "And then she's gonna get mad at us for talking her into this 'grand plan' of yours!"

Vin huffed. "And I ain't stickin' around for that!" he grumbled, disillusion showing telltale signs.

Buck rolled his eyes, cocking his head and shaking it gently. "Look, nothin's gonna go wrong with the plan. Kate's on our side and we all know she can handle Travis, and whatever else comes down the pipe."

Tanner's gaze narrowed as he looked at Wilmington suspiciously. "Did you tell her the whole plan, Buck, or just what you figured she needed to know?"

The kid glanced at Vin and caught on to what he was saying. The rogue had a habit of not telling everyone everything and it usually got them in trouble, one way or another. "Yeah," he added. "Like Vin said, I don't want any part of Kate Lansky when she's out for blood."

With a resounding twitch of his mustache, the ladies' man scowled, straightening his stance. "Now don't you boys worry about Kate. I got that one covered."

Vin couldn't help the vision that came to his mind. His expression was all mischief as he spoke. "Covered?" he smirked. "Just like you had her covered when you busted in on her and Chris on Sunday?"

JD's cheeks flushed as he rolled his eyes. Inching closer to the ladies' man he nudged him with his elbow. "Thought you said you weren't gonna tell nobody?"

Pursed lips showed the rogue's exasperation. "I didn't!" he retorted forcefully.

"Then how'd Vin know?" Dunne shot back.

Wilmington fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment. Frowning, he sent a wide-eyed glare at Tanner before focusing on the kid. "He asked how we knew… I just… answered his question, is all."

JD's annoyance shone through clearly as parted lips blew out his breath forcefully.

"Don't worry, kid," the sharpshooter grinned. "I ain't gonna hold it against ya," he tapped the younger man's shoulder. "Just gonna remind Chris about it once in a while, is all!"

Dunne was still shaking his head in disbelief when a fellow agent walked passed, furrowing his brow at the 'gathering' hiding in the corner.

All three men sent back forced smiles.

"Are we done with this?" Tanner questioned, obviously uncomfortable.

The rogue rubbed his chin. "Getting' there," he glanced at Dunne. "You got them reports for Angie to work on, JD?"

"Yeah, Buck," the young man replied. "Mine are really long, just like you wanted."


Tanner nodded towards the kid. "JD's got 'em. Up ta my usual standard."

Wilmington signaled his approval.

"That's it then?" Dunne started to move off before Buck stopped him.

"One more thing, boy."

Vin sighed audibly and JD shook his head.

"More of your 'grand plan', Buck?"

Wilmington's pursed his lips at his cohorts. "You two gonna let me explain?"

Sucking in his bottom lip, the sharpshooter offered Wilmington an 'evil eye'. "This better be good."

The rogue smirked, readying to convince his teammates again that this plan would work. "Look… me, Lori and Sharon have been chatting with Adrian on instant messenger for a while now, right?"

"Buck, you told us that, and you also told us that she quit her job," the Texan added. "That's why we got 'a sabotage Travis' secretaries."

"Yeah," the tall agent continued, "If we can get Adrian here, she can prove to Travis that she's perfect for the job and then she and Ezra can live happily ever after."

JD's eyes narrowed. "How do you know she can handle the job, Buck?" he edged a little closer. "We're putting a lot of faith in your assumptions."

"Not to mention, our butts," Tanner added.

A thought suddenly occurred to Dunne. "And I thought you just said she weren't the type to just up and move down here?"

Displeased with the doubt he was reading, Wilmington sighed, nodded, and then cocked his head. "Well… yeah… but, well, ya see…"

Tanner interrupted, "Here it comes!"

Dunne agreed with Vin's assessment, his head shaking slowly. "What did you do, Buck?"

'Ain't done anythin' yet," the rogue answered quickly. "But, I'm gonna need a little help on that one."

The sharpshooter couldn't help but laugh quietly at his teammate. Wilmington was always up to something and somehow, Vin always managed to be 'in on it'. "Suppose we've come this far," he huffed.

"What do you need?" the kid sighed.

"Money," the ladies' man grinned. " Plane fare from Vancouver, Canada, to Denver, Colorado, to be more precise. I need it by tomorrow."

As the rogue stood there smiling, two disbelieving mouths gapped open, both men suddenly feeling the desire to jump ship.

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

Kate had always referred to Wednesday's as 'hump day'. Being the middle of the workweek it seemed to fit the description. Today, however it was becoming more and more appropriate. If they could just make it through today, then Buck's great and wonderful plan might just succeed.

But they had to get to the end of the day first…

Angie Feldman smiled sweetly at AD Travis as he went into his office. Completely unaware that he'd been away all morning, she was happy to finally see her new boss. That enthusiasm soon faded as he returned fifteen minutes later, wanting to know why his mid-week report wasn't on his desk as per usual.

Angie's eyes grew wide as she realized she'd neglected to follow her instruction from Kate in favor of helping out Wilmington, Tanner, and Dunne. 'I was typing some reports for Buck', didn't lend itself well to Travis' ears either, especially since Orin had no idea what the redhead was babbling about. Knowing nothing about the 'Wilmington Brief' she was referring to, the AD was soon on the phone to Lansky, blowing off steam.

Down on the seventh floor, Kate had the receiver to her headset held away from her ear as Travis complained loudly about being away for a few hours and coming back to a disaster in the making. Demanding his report in ten minutes and a new secretary tomorrow, he didn't wait for an affirmative answer and hung up.

Lansky growled as she ripped off the headset and sent it flying across her desk. The look she shot in Wilmington's direction had those in its path diving for cover. Tanner suddenly became extremely interested in something in his office and JD grabbed a handful of files and headed to the reception area.

Buck plastered a huge grin on his face as Kate marched towards him. Swallowing hard, he stuttered a pleasant greeting as she arrived at his desk. "Beautiful… eh… afternoon… ain't it?"

"It was," Lansky leaned over the surveillance man. "Until Orin Travis took my head off."

"Well, I… it… still can be," the rogue kept smiling.

"What the hell did you do to Feldman?" the woman growled, trying to remain as quiet as possible, yet forcefully getting her anger across. "I told you yesterday that she had to at least get the 'Sit Rep' done for this afternoon."

The ladies' man cringed as he remembered the conversation. He tried to maintain his smile, knowing deep down that he was in up to his neck and sinking fast. "Darlin', I plum forgot."

"DON'T call me, darling," Kate straightened and glared as her blood pressure rose a notch. "Buck… remind me again, WHY I'm helping you?" she seethed.

Seeing his oldest friend come out of his office, Wilmington hoped that Lansky's raised voice was the reason and prayed that Larabee was about to come to his rescue. He smiled again, refocusing on the woman. "Kate, I'm sorry… honest, Dar... honest, I really did forget. We've been so wrapped up in this… and it should all be over by next week. I promise."

"Is there a problem here?" Chris asked with his commanding presence in full play.

The rogue instantly recognized the 'rock' that was butting up against a 'hard place' and immediately tried to escape being caught in between. "Umm, nope," he squeezed passed Lansky as he got to his feet. "I was just… just explainin' somethin' to Kate here," he inched his way to the end of the desk, finally free of the caged-in position. "Explainin' that a little… thing, is gonna get fixed right quick."

Larabee's ears perked as he watched the woman track Wilmington with her fierce stare. "Thing?" he questioned stepping between the ladies' man and his assistant.

"Oh, yeah," the tall agent continued. "Just a little, situation is all. Nothin' for you to worry about, Chris. There are so many more… important things, for you to see to. No need for you to worry about this. Like I just said. It's all gonna go away real soon."

"Is that right?" Larabee followed as Buck retreated slowly backwards.

"Yep," the rogue forced a big smile. "And… and I'm just on my way out now to see to it," he glanced around for Tanner and Dunne. Not seeing who he was searching for he refocused on his oldest friend. "It'll all be over real quick like. No more prob… eh, no more… need for things to be fixed."

Back at Wilmington's desk, Kate stood with her hands on her hips, trying not to grin. She hadn't needed Larabee to interfere but he sure did make an imposing figure when he wanted to.

Watching as he matched Buck, step for step, backward towards the coffee room, Lansky couldn't help the overpowering images that came to her mind. The thoughts and ideas were sexually charged and had no place in her head at this particular point in time.

Clearing her throat loudly, Kate left Chris to his subordinate and quickly returned to her desk. "Not good," she cussed as she sat down. Being caught short by Orin was bad enough, but letting Larabee's presence distract her from the situation was worse. The rule about 'no flirting' at work was going to have to include her subconscious… but just how did one accomplish such a feat with a stud like that around?

Frustrated, Kate shook her head hard, trying again to dislodge her wanton thoughts. Clicking an icon on the computer, she hastily brought up the report Travis was waiting for and began to type.

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

Two o'clock came and went and there was still no sign of Buck. Standing in his doorway, Larabee frowned as he watched his assistant work. He could tell she was irritated and he felt a sudden urge to find out what Wilmington's cryptic explanation really meant. Maybe if he knew more, he could relieve some of the pressure and make Kate her normal sociable self.

Raised eyebrows were quickly concealed as Chris realized what he'd just thought. "JD," he called concentrating on his new 'mission' rather than Lansky's friendliness.

At his computer console across the room, Dunne looked up and saw his boss motion for him to follow before disappearing inside his room. The young agent frowned, sighed, saved what he was working on, and stood. Retrieving a notepad and pen, he headed for Larabee's office.

"Hey, Cowboy," Vin slid in beside JD as they entered the small room together.

The blond glanced up and scowled. "Thought you were consulting with Mason," he questioned the sharpshooter.

"Had him send the fragments to forensics," Tanner replied matter-of-factly.

Chris suddenly seemed interested, "Oh?"

Settling into one of the two big chairs that sat in front of the team leader's desk, Vin reacted coolly. "Yeah… Think it may be the same gun used in that shooting Team Four is looking into."

"What makes you think that?" Larabee frowned.

The Texan's eyebrows creased, "Same caliber… same distortion on the exit wound."

Larabee sucked on his bottom lip. "You sure?"

Vin nodded slowly. "Need the lab boys to confirm… but, pretty much. Soft tip… don't see that very often."

"Soft tip," Dunne repeated with interest. "Was there enough left to ID?"

"Yeah, kid," Tanner acknowledged with a glance over his shoulder. "That's another reason why I think it may be the same gun."

"Fragments the same size and shape?" Chris added.

Again, Vin nodded. "Pretty much."

With a resolute frown, Chris took a deep breath, putting pieces together in his head. "If Mason can tie the gun to Tierney's case, that means the Prichard Ring just got a whole lot more diversified." The man in black sat back thoughtfully in his chair, rocking it slowly. "Teams Four and Five are gonna have their hands full if this pans out."

Dunne smiled appreciatively as he stepped closer, "You got all that from looking at a bullet, Vin?"

Tanner shrugged. "The fragments and the coroner's photos pretty much told the story, JD… but only when you put them t'gether. I only made the match 'cause I saw the brief Team Five sent out."

"Good work, Vin," Larabee smiled.

Getting to his feet, the sharpshooter looked somewhat embarrassed, "Weren't nothin'."

"Nothing except good investigation techniques and a keen eye."

Vin grinned at his boss. "That I got," a finger tapped his temple before finding his belt loops again. "Hey, mind if I take JD with me. Mason needs some IT help down on five."

Matching Tanner's smile and without thinking, Chris signaled his agreement and watched contentedly as his two junior agents made their way out of his office. He couldn't help but be proud of the accomplishments his team managed to rack up. They were all good at what they did, and most of the other teams took advantage of their expertise from time to time.

With all that on his mind, Larabee suddenly realized that he'd called JD into his office for a reason. He huffed, realizing that the two men had gone and they were the only ones who might know what Wilmington was up to. 'So much for brownie points,' he mused, going back to his paperwork.

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

Thursday morning was reasonably calm compared to the previous few days. Kate did her best to remain buried in paperwork, while Buck kept out of sight.

It was roughly eleven o'clock when the new assistant Kate sent up to thirteen, came down complaining that AD Travis didn't 'like her' anymore. Lansky looked around for Wilmington, wondering what he'd done to the flighty young woman to get her so upset so fast.

Lansky sighed, knowing this was all part of the rogue's 'plan'. She reassigned the brunette, encouraging her not to take the ordeal too seriously and assuring the young woman that she would refrain from marking the incident on her record.

Needing to find at least one more replacement secretary, the blonde headed down to her 'other' office on the third floor. For the most part, she had handed over the daily operations and maintenance of Administration Services to her capable assistant. Kate still held ultimate responsibility for the entire department, but knew that Debbie was proficient with all manner of government correspondence. Ms Montgomery was great with the computer system, too.

"Hi, Deb," Lansky smiled as she walked passed the counter and entered the records room.

Montgomery returned the greeting, slightly curious as to why her boss had come downstairs.

Five minutes ticked by before Debbie's inquisitiveness got the best of her. She glanced up again to see personnel files being rifled through. Rising from the chair, Montgomery ventured into the smaller office and closed the door. "Let me guess," she smiled as she leaned against the desk, "someone pissed you off."

Kate looked up and grinned before opening the next filing cabinet and thumbing the folders contained within. "Not exactly," she replied. Finding one of the files she was searching for, the blonde pulled it out and began to peruse the information. "You know Miss Vance better than I do," Lansky turned to look at Debbie, "No special skills, right?"

"Sonya?" Montgomery questioned. Seeing the slight nod, she pursed her lips in thought. A nonchalant shrug preceded her recollection. "She does the work assigned to her. No real strengths though. Why?"

Kate closed the file and dropped it on the open draw. "I think she'll do," she smiled.

"All that info's in the personnel database," Montgomery offered.

"Yeah, I know," Lansky acknowledged. "But, I was never here, Deb. I never looked at these files, and the assignments to Travis’ office, aren't happening… Okay?"

Watching as her boss headed for the door, Debbie frowned. "Do I want to know what this is all about?" she queried.

Kate stopped, hand resting firmly on the doorknob. She looked back at her colleague and smirked, "Nope."

Watching her boss depart, Montgomery frowned slightly before her expression brightened. Collecting up the stray personnel file Lansky had been looking at, she slipping it back into alphabetical order, wondering all the while 'what Kate was up to'.

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

As the end of the day approached, people started dropping by to say their good-byes to Desiree Masters.

Kate wasn't paying much attention. She was once again 'double-hatted' and Travis had a priority that he needed first thing in the morning. She was expecting him down at the end of the day to collect the brief.

Concerned for his best friend, Chris had been watching Vin's reaction from his doorway. Tanner seemed to be smiling and joking as people obviously referred to him and Des, yet Larabee sensed the confusion in the man.

They had a connection and everyone knew it. No one questioned their 'best friends' status, not even Buck. Their bond, however, went way beyond simple friendship.

Larabee felt for the sharpshooter, knowing in his own heart that Vin was concealing a deeper ache than he was showing. On different levels, Chris sensed all that bothered Tanner; right down to the 'trapped' feeling he was trying so desperately to hide right now.

There weren't many that could deny the connection. The two men were soul mates. End of story!

As easily as he considered his bond with the Texan, the blond's mind drifted to the woman who sat working diligently at her desk. 'Another enigma,' he mused silently.

Lansky had long been the other pillar that held his sometimes shaky existence together. As much as Vin provided the bricks and stones, Kate somehow provided the cement and glue. She'd never given him an inch when it counted most and constantly reminded him of his place in the grand scheme of things.

Chris had no doubt that she, too, was his soul mate, just on a completely different plane of existence… and especially now.

Smiling gently at the sobering recognition, Larabee wandered slowly towards her desk. Standing there for quite some time before he spoke. "You got someone in mind to help out with the data encryption?"

Lansky knew the man in black was behind her. She'd known it for a quite a while, smelling him, sensing his presence. It drove her to distraction, although you'd never guess that her mind was someplace else as her fingers worked away.

A thought had crossed Kate's mind as she considered his residency behind her. He liked to stand at the back of a room. Always did when someone else was the center of attention. It was just his way.

Or was there an ulterior motive at work?

She quietly wondered how long he'd really had her seduction in his brain... carefully masterminding her eventual capitulation.

Ah, but hell and damnation… did any of that matter now?

Those first few days and nights had solidified their new relationship. They were lovers… perhaps not their souls, but certainly, their bodies were one.

Surely, the rest would come… eventually.

No matter how long it took, Kate was willing to try.

"Of course," she answered Larabee's question. "What's the matter? Don't you trust me?"

Strong hands caressed her shoulders as she straightened in the chair. Chris leaned down to settle his lips to her earlobe. "With my life," he whispered. His musings of a moment ago were suddenly at the forefront of his mind again. "What say we, celebrate, our one week anniversary?" he offered. The blond was hoping she'd take him up on the invitation.

Instantly aware that they'd brought their teasing into the office environment yet again, Kate snapped back to reality. She hid the smirk that had brightened her face. "Mr. Larabee!" she voiced her displeasure. Removing his grip from her body she stood, turned, and scowled at him. "Come on, Chris," she lowered her voice. "I've told you before, we can't do this at work."

Despite the seriousness of her words, the team leader could see the sparkle in her eyes. "Well, I wasn't talking about repeating last Thursday on the office floor," he grinned playfully.

Glancing around to gauge the vicinity of eavesdroppers, Lansky tried to leash her temper, hopefully finding the right balance between lover and friend. A part of her wanted to take the blond up on his offer though, here and now on the floor. The rational, more serious side needed to come to terms and deal with its more impulsive self. There was no room for error here; Kate wasn't about to repeat past mistakes. "I'm trying to be serious without losing my cool," she replied. "We can't be distracting each other here. Too much depends on clear thinking. Cases could be blown because someone wasn't concentrating on their job. Lives could be put at risk."

For a moment, Larabee paused. He knew all too clearly that what Kate was saying was true… but he'd caught the inflection in her voice at the last sentence. She was right, but maybe for the wrong reasons. Thinking better of pursuing their current dialogue, he smiled cautiously. "Conversation for another century?" he questioned her.

Lansky pursed he lips. 'Caught with my hand in the cookie jar', she thought. It was exactly how she felt at that moment.

She'd always known Larabee knew her too well, but now she was beginning to suspect that there wasn't much he was going to let her get away with. "Conversation… for another century," she repeated slowly, knowing full well that this was a 'code' they'd be putting to good use in the days and weeks ahead; when things needed to be said, yet neither was willing to talk.

Come hell or high water, there was just no stopping the passage of time though, and as per their 'deal', all topics would all eventually be covered.

Chris watched her expression carefully, trying to judge the temperament of the woman he cared for deeply, yet hadn't begun to figure out. He liked the challenge though. Living dangerously was something he'd gotten used to after his family was murdered. He liked the wild side; even being at a distance from everyone was comforting sometimes. Finding someone who wasn't going to try to reel him back to safe ground was comforting, too. He had little doubt that Kate had stood at the edge of her own precipice a few times but at each other's side, Larabee felt they could handle any adversity.

He just need to convince the stubborn, hardheaded…

"I'm heading home," Lansky offered as she turned.

A quick glance at the clock confirmed the time and Larabee watched as his lady started to log out of her computer. "Come out to the ranch?" he suggested quietly.

The shake of her head wasn't something Chris wanted to see.

"Can't do it," Kate replied. "I'm meeting Ms. Price, in about an hour," she glanced at her watch, "to discuss her new position."

"Oh," the blond acknowledged. Disappointed at the turn of events, Larabee wasn't about to give up that easily. "Afterwards, maybe? You could drive out then… or I could come to your place."

Lansky had felt the sexual tension rising between them and was grasping at straws trying to find an excuse that would work. The team leader's persistence wasn't helping matters though. She, too, wanted to 'get together' but that wasn't possible right now and she wasn't about to explain why. With a resounding sigh, she begged off. "We could be late," she offered. "How about we celebrate in three weeks? That Thursday will mark a whole month."

Larabee's head lowered slightly and he glanced back at her through downcast eyes. His question was playfully, yet pointedly honest. "Think we'll make it that far?"

Kate's head dropped. With eyes closed tight, she took in a deep calming breath. Cocking her chin to peer at the man in black, a weak smile appeared. "If we're lucky," she said slowly.

Piling a stack of files into her outbox, she reached for the mouse and told her computer to complete its 'shut down' command. Turning to face the blond again, the woman met his stare before bending down to retrieve her pack from under the desk. Standing, she looked back into his green eyes and half-smiled. "If you've got the patience to let me be me."

Chris matched her gentle smile and followed her with his gaze as she departed. He hadn't missed her subtle hint. He wasn't about to push, but he wasn't going to roll over at her every whim either. Resigned to continue his persistence, the team leader headed back to his office to close up for the day.

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

Arriving at her usual early time Friday morning, Lansky frowned when she saw Larabee's office light already on. Nudging the door open, she grew concerned, seeing papers strewn all over his desk and a half empty cup of cold coffee. "Been here a while," she muttered to herself.

The ring of her phone brought Kate back to her desk. Answering, the color slowly faded from her face as she listened intently to the directions Travis and Larabee were giving through Orin's loud speaker.

By the time Chris came back down stairs, Lansky was busy behind her desk. She immediately sensed Larabee's urgency as he started barking commands at his team, causing apparent chaos. Buck, Vin, and JD seemed to go into panic mode when their leader ordered them upstairs for a meeting with Travis. The three men arguing amongst themselves for a few moments before Tanner and Dunne appeared to 'convince' the rogue they were 'having nothing to do' with whatever was going on.

With a resigned huff and eyes wide, Wilmington plastered a big grin on his face and sidled up to Josiah.

Lansky took notice because of the raised voices that suddenly hushed. She became even more curious when the profiler's arms started flailing and pointing.

Sanchez then proceeded to give Vin and JD an earful before grabbing his coat and stomping out the door.

Busy in his office, Chris missed the whole exchange. Emerging minutes later, he frowned at Kate, her attention on three of his team. "Travis is waiting for that brief. Why aren't you working on it?"

Ever so casual in her reaction, the blonde slowly turned her head and raised one eyebrow. "I heard what the two of you said earlier. I obey my orders, and Orin said by ten thirty. That gives me plenty of time." Turning completely in her chair, Lansky got up and smiled gently at the team leader. "Come on, Chris. I know it's Ezra. I know it's important," she reassured. "We all want him back in one piece."

Letting out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, Larabee managed to return Kate's smile. "Sorry," he offered, his chin bowing briefly. "I didn't mean to snap."

The woman shook her head gently. "I know… and you didn't." Stepping closer, she leaned in to talk to him quietly. "Maybe more than anyone here, I understand how much you care about every one of these men. Don't you ever apologize for that, Chris. They are your family now and you have every right to be worried."

There was a pause as they two looked into each other's eyes.

"Besides," Lansky continued. "I know how much you hate joint ventures… especially when they're not supposed to be joint."

Larabee pursed his lips in acknowledgement. "If Standish gets hurt because some asshole didn't read his inter-office communiqués, there'll be hell to pay."

The blonde stifled her laughter. Pissing off Chris Larabee wasn't a good idea at any point in time, but where the safety and security of his men were concerned… well, 'their life insurance policies better be up-to-date' she thought. "Go on," the woman suggested. "Send those three upstairs before Travis has your ass in a sling."

Humor suddenly returned to him and the man in black nodded. Crossing to where his three team members were, he didn't notice Kate settle back to her transcribing. "Listen up, boys."

Wilmington interrupted, "What's this all about, Chris? We've all got things we should be working on."

With raised hands signaling 'stop', Larabee tried not to glare. "Put it all on the back burner, Buck." He looked at the three men, concern obvious in his eyes.

Tanner's hands went for his pockets. "What is it, cowboy?"

"We're listening, Chris," the kid added.

Licking his lips, Larabee gave them a quick explanation. "We don't know who or how yet, but someone from DEA has been working the same case as Standish, from a different angle, obviously."

Wilmington shuffled. "Shit!"

"Do they know about Ezra?"

The team leader shook his head. "Near as we can figure, no. Travis just got wind of this yesterday and has been up most of the night trying to get to the right people."

Vin scowled, "We've got time though, right?"

"It doesn't look like it," Larabee growled, angry at the foul-up, not his men. "If we can get you in before the DEA does their take-down then maybe everyone will come out without a scratch."

Anxiety riddled his voice as Buck spoke. "Travis working on that, too?"

The blonde nodded. "Yeah. Head on upstairs now and he'll brief you. I'll be up in a bit."

"You got it, Chris," JD replied confidently.

Larabee smiled at Tanner as the man slapped him across the shoulder. "Hang in there, Chris," Vin offered as he followed Wilmington and Dunne out the door.

Their eye contact conveyed the words neither man would dare speak.

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

The morning went from bad to worse without any help from anyone.

The seventh floor was busy with activity just before ten o'clock. The AD's report all ready, Kate was taking a few minutes to visit with Bonnie. A hastily made decision had seen the woman jump at the opportunity for early retirement instead of heading off for a vacation. It was clearly something not many would pass up, and Bonnie was no exception.

Happy for her friend, yet sad to see her leave, Kate gave Bonnie a big hug and offered a small wrapped package as Lori and Sharon joined them.

"You're giving her a present when she's deserting us," Sharon complained happily.

"Well," Lansky smiled. "She did manage to put up with me over the years, and in my book, that deserves a reward."

Lori giggled. "Yep. We all deserve medals for that!"

"Ha, ha," Kate mocked anger. The smirk disappeared as her phone rang and her eyes rolled. "Back to the grindstone," she sighed. Touching Bonnie's arm she smiled again, "Have a good trip back east. Stay in touch."

Nodding as her friend departed, Bonnie huddled with Sharon and Lori as she unwrapped her gift.

At her desk, Lansky took the call and scribbled notes as she nodded at the voice on the other end of the line. Scowling as she hung up, the blonde quickly sat down at her console and started searching for a file.

Several minutes passed as she worked diligently, combining the new information with the brief already prepared. Suddenly, an angry voice interrupted her thought process. "Where are they?"

Startled, Kate looked up to see Adrian Delaney standing in front of her desk. The brunette's eyes flared red and Lansky's 'self-defense' instincts went into high gear. In the process of running her 'Fight or Flight' training options through her mind, the blonde spotted Sanchez a few feet away. He was standing taut, seemingly calm, yet obviously seething.

Something clicked inside Kate's head.

Buck, Vin, and JD's reaction this morning… Josiah's apparent anger at that time… Delaney's unexpected arrival and now her angry inquiry.

With all too quick realization, Lansky put it all together. Buck's 'grand plan' was now blowing up in everyone's faces. She silently cussed the rogue, glancing in Sharon and Lori's direction, wondering what exactly they knew.

Looking up into the hazel eyes, Kate could see clearly the anger the woman felt. Lingering behind, barely concealed, was hurt, too. It was obvious that Wilmington hadn't told anyone the whole truth about what he'd been masterminding, let alone Adrian. She'd probably been expecting to walk in today and surprise Ezra just like she'd done in the Saloon, so many months ago.

Not wanting to persist with the lies that she'd regrettably been a part of, Lansky answered Delaney honestly. “They’re in Travis’ office, in a meeting.” she said calmly.

The brunette nodded and was about to leave when a voice stopped her.

“Adrian… I’m heading to Travis’ office for the meeting as well, why don’t I show you the way?”

Kate's head bowed as she watched Chris gently steered the furious woman towards the door. For a moment, she was awed. Obviously, he'd overheard, seen all four women's reactions, and spotted Josiah's protective stance behind Delaney. In as quick a time as she, Larabee had come to the same conclusions. They were both trained to 'think on their feet' and both did it extremely well.

Sending one last accusatory look towards the four women, Adrian had them wondering what they hell they'd gotten into.

Chris' waved Josiah off when the profiler tried to follow and he begrudgingly went to sit at his desk as the three visiting ladies bid Kate a hasty goodbye.

Lansky's tried to smile as they left, her eyes tracking back watching Nathan as he went to join Sanchez in the small office space they shared. Placing one elbow on the desk, the blonde's forehead settled to her open palm and she massaged her brow. "What else can go wrong?" she muttered aloud.

Barely an hour passed before the answer came waltzing in the door…

Her staff at lunch and most of the team up on thirteen with Travis, Kate instinctively looked up when the door to the main office opened. To her utter shock and amazement, in walked Ezra Standish, looking a little worse for wear and one arm bound in a sling. The undercover man glanced in her direction, offering a brief smile before seeking out his teammates.

At her desk, Lansky frowned, 'what the hell is going on?' she wondered. There'd been no up-dates from the southerner recently and from everything that had gone across her desk this morning, she knew for a fact that, from Travis on down, everyone still believed Ezra was 'under'.

Up on the thirteenth floor, Chris had finally gone into Orin's office after sending three of his team to meet their fate. Advising Buck, JD, and Vin to 'take their lumps', Larabee had sent them into the large boardroom, leaving them for Delaney to deal with and given her demeanor, the man in black had no doubt she would.

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

Time ticked by slowly as Lansky eyed Standish through the glass of his office enclosure. He'd settled there after exchanging words with Josiah and Nathan, and now the two men were perched just outside his door, seemingly holding a vigil. Clearly, they were watching and wondering as the southerner typed away.

Ezra wasn't himself and they'd all noticed.

A sudden outburst from Standish had them all on their feet.

Kate could have sworn he yelled 'Where is she?' and a sudden wave of dread hit her as the irate undercover man left his computer and headed in her direction.

Ezra stalked into Larabee's office, his usual pleasantries long gone. Not finding the man he was looking for, the southerner turned on Kate. “Where is he…? The Son of a bitch… where is everyone?”

Not waiting for an answer from a slightly perturbed Lansky, the undercover man turned to his teammates. “Josiah, Nathan, where the hell is Chris?” involuntarily his unbound hand flew in the air as he headed for the door.

Nathan's 'where are you going?' query was answered over his shoulder as Ezra left the bullpen. Realizing what he'd just said, Jackson and Sanchez scurried after their teammate, but weren't in time to catch the elevator door before it closed. They quickly rushed back inside the office, grabbing for the phone

Hearing that Standish was headed for Travis' office, Kate's eyes rolled as she slumped back into her chair. All of a sudden, she was glad she hadn't agreed to work up on thirteen today. Her mind reeled from the reality of it all…

Adrian Delaney was up there, probably tearing a strip off Buck, Vin, and JD, so wide they'd never sit down again. She was pissed at them all and had good reason to be. And now, on top of all that anger, the man she'd come to see, who wasn't there, and wasn't supposed to be there, was actually there, madder than hell himself for some reason, and heading upstairs to join the party.

An open palm finding her forehead again, Kate cringed inside, knowing that the secretary she'd assigned last night would probably be oblivious to the chaos around her. Francis Welk wasn't the smartest woman on the planet.

The more time passed, the more Lansky was regretting her part in Wilmington's 'great plan'. Today was just her reward for all the sins she'd committed and when Miss Welk came into the office, almost in tears, Kate knew, beyond a doubt, that judgement day had finally arrived.

Through her restrained sobs, Francis told her boss how Miss Delaney had 'dismissed' her and the poor woman wasn't even sure why.

Slightly confused, but even more determined NOT to go up to thirteen to find out what was going on, the blonde sent Welk home, returning to her own work, yet, suspecting she'd get nothing done.

A short while later voices had the assistant turning her chair to see Wilmington, Tanner, and Dunne being accosted by Josiah and Nathan. From the reactions, it didn't take a genius to realize that the five men where exchanging bits and pieces of this whole mess they were all in.

A phone call distracted Lansky, but she tracked the group with her eyes, watching carefully as they obviously bickered about details and explanations. As Kate took off her headset, Jackson was picking up his receiver; the others still busy talking amongst themselves.

Orders from AD Travis confirmed what the blonde either, already knew, or had suspected. The brief she'd worked so hard on, wasn't needed anymore because an undercover DEA agent had called in a bust from his department. Standish, unknowingly working a different angle on the same covert assignment, was obviously no longer in danger and that being the case; there was no longer a reason to send anyone else 'under' to pull him 'out'.

Kate also understood something else very clearly; Chris Larabee was going to be pissed about more than one aspect of the goings-on today.

A phone slamming down across the room drew the blonde from her musings. Jackson's uncharacteristic language had the other men gathering around him quickly, clearly sensing something was wrong. More curses went back and forth, and Lansky sat back in her chair to ponder. A smirk creased her lips as she continued to watch. Almost as a collective entity, the five men headed for the doors.

The fun didn't stop there though.

Kate couldn't hear a word that occurred outside the large glass double doors. What she did see, however, were five men stopped dead in their tracks by their Team Leader. Words were exchanged, one or two arms flailing to accent their insistence. The woman smiled as she recognized Larabee take charge, pointing out directions as the elevator doors closed to encompass the six men as one.

Glancing at the clock, Kate sighed heavily. There were still a few more hours to go before she could head home for the day. One thing was for certain though… after today, she would be glad to hide away from the world.

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

The phone rang five times before the machine picked it up.

Twenty minutes later there were several more reverberating tones and then a buzzing sound indicating the tape had kicked in again. The stream of foul words and innuendoes made Kate smile as she stood and listened.

Rubbing her wet hair again, she slung the towel over her shoulder and hit the speakerphone button. "Is that right," she grinned. "Sounds pretty bad to me. I'm thinking I'd best not listen to you after all. Gosh!" she feigned shock. "What would happen to me if I did show up?"

"So, I was right," Larabee's voice sounded from the box. "You were ignoring me."

"Oh, like I could ever do that!" she smirked sarcastically.

A short pause had her listening intently.


Lansky smiled instantly. "The run was good… The shower was much better."

At the other end of the line, Chris cleared his throat. "But what I got a hankering for is best."

"After all those accusations," Kate smirked. "You expect me to bend to your every whim?"

"Nah… just most of 'em."

The woman's eyes rolled as she ruffled her hair. "Larabee, you're impossible… but you already know that!"

"I've been told."

"More than once," Lansky added.

The chuckled was pleasant. "So, when should I expect you?"

Looking at the wall clock, Kate huffed. "Got a few errands to do before I take Sharon to the airport… Let's just say, when I get there."

"Not good enough," came the insistent reply.

The woman's eyes narrowed as she reached towards the machine. "Have to be," she said before hitting the receiver button, effectively ending the call.

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

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