~~ First, You Stumble… ~~

by TJ

It was almost noon by the time Larabee and his lady made it out of the bedroom, but considering they'd christened a few other rooms before finally making it to that one around 3 am, their late rising seemed valid.

Cursing the hour, Larabee prepared some eggs and toast and headed out to the barn to free the horses into the corral and muck the stalls. Kate stayed behind, climbing into his large jetted tub and soaking for over forty-five minutes.

Finally rousing from her half-conscious state, the blonde completed her washing and climbed out of the bath. She dressed, ate, and then wandered outside.

Chris was working on his sixth enclosure when Lansky sauntered in. He stopped, admiring her lines and smiling at the contentment in her expression. "Hey," he murmured as an arm closed casually around his waist.

Reaching up to kiss the man in black, she reveled in his touch, enjoying the tickles as he ran his face through her still damp hair.

"Enjoy your soak?" he inquired, relaxing his hold on her torso.

"Ah hah!" she grinned. "Now I'm ready for some work. What can I do?"

"Nothing," Chris leaned down again and kissed her forehead. Her scowl had him patting her behind and directing her off to the side. "Either sit yourself over there and watch or go outside and enjoy the fresh air. I've got four more to go after this… and other ideas for expending your energy," he smirked

"I have lots of energy, thank you very much," Lansky pouted. "But if you insist… I'll just be over here," she slowly backed up. "Watching you sweat… putting all those gorgeous muscle to good use."

The lustful glint in Larabee eye was almost enough to bring Kate back. "Keep that up," he answered, "and I won't get anything done."

Jumping up on a hay bale, the blonde smiled mischievously. "I'll be good… promise."

Chris took up his pitchfork again, cocking his head, "Saving the bad for later, I hope?" grinning, he waggled his eyebrows.

Kate watched happily as Larabee went back to work. She was right in her assumptions. This was his barn, and it was obvious that Chris took responsibility for it. He refused to do the job without giving it his full attention and one by one, he completed his tasks, cleaning out three more stalls.

The air in the barn was getting rather warm as the afternoon sun shone in the side doors. Even dozing, Lansky had noticed that the blond's efforts had slowed some and couldn't help see the sweat pooling on his skin. "You want some cool water?" she asked as she slid to the dirt floor.

Resting his forearm on the end of his pitchfork, Chris forced out a breath. "That would be nice."


He smiled, adding a quick nod and a 'please'.

"Come sit down," she indicated the newly vacated hay bale. "I'll be right back."

As he watched Kate saunter out the big barn doors, Larabee found his smile and decided to take her up on her offer. Resting on the dried grass, he leaned back, relaxing, and closing his eyes. He drew in a deep breath, happy, contented and knowing full well that he had a certain lady to thank for his mood. Yes, they'd played hard last night, but they'd awoken in each other's arms and Chris couldn't think of a better way to start his day.

Her soft curves still on his mind; the blond sat up and swiped his brow on a turned up cuff. The sleeve came unraveled as he did so and he cursed the material, attempting to re-roll it. Annoyed that the arm wouldn't stay folded, he gave up, finally deciding to take the shirt off instead.

.Two glasses in one hand and a pitcher of ice water in the other, Lansky stopped dead in her tracks, an appreciative whistle escaping her lips as she viewed Larabee's half-naked, hot, and glistening physique.

Instinctively, the blond grinned, turning to see the glint in her eye. "Like you haven't seen it before," he teased.

Kate arrived beside him, her eyes downcast as they slowly tracked up his body. "Guilty as charged," she leered. "But this is how I like it."

Raising an eyebrow, Larabee was still smiling. "Oh?"

His legs hung over the hay bales, the woman forced her body between his knees. "Yep," she licked at her lips, "All sweaty… hot and salty."

Chris took the water jug from her hands, "I'll agree with the hot," he mused. "This'll help cool me down."

As he tried to retrieve a glass from her fingers, Kate pulled them out of his reach. "Ta hell, with cooling you down," she growled. "I think the temperature needs to go up a few notches… don't you?"

Her mouth was only inches away from his at this point, and Larabee was seriously considered her offer. Most of his Saturday chores were done and the horses were outside, fed, watered, and enjoying the fresh air. As his mouth zoned in on hers, he hesitated, finally just pecking at her lips. "Two more stalls," he advised, taking a glass from her hand. "Then we can play some more."

It was Kate's turn to pout this time. She sat down beside him and watched intently as Chris downed a glass of water without stopping, then poured a second. Holding her glass out, she smiled coyly as he filled her container, too. "Thank you."

They shared some small talk as Larabee's second helping was consumed. Watching the horses in the corral, Chris suggested they do some riding tomorrow and Lansky paused. "Been a long time," she eventually responded to his curious look. "Last time I fell off… don't think I ever climbed back on."

The answer reminded Larabee of all the things he didn't know about his new lady. He resolved to fix that little problem, saying her first horseback riding lesson would be tomorrow.

"Oh, I know how to ride," she said seductively, jumping down from the bales.

They exchanged a knowing look before Chris went back to work.

As Larabee neared completion on the second to last stall, Kate stood quietly watching. Her eyes were glued to his muscular frame as he worked the pitchfork and rake. When the cleaning was done, he walked to the haystack and retrieved a bale. Lansky's eyes glowed with desire as he lifted the weight onto his shoulder and carried it back to the cubicle.

An image flashed in her mind… for a moment she saw herself being lifted by his strong arms…

Unknowingly, Kate had clutched the bales beside her. Loose straw now filtered between her fingers and the blonde smiled deviously, rolling it in her palms. Her gaze drifted skyward and came to rest on the hayloft far above.

Busy spreading fresh material on the dirt floor, Larabee didn't notice his lady disappear from view.

Quietly, Lansky walked toward the ladder; Chris' shirt tucked in her hand. Without any difficulty, she climbed into the loft, glancing at the blond to make sure he hadn't noticed.

As Larabee moved on to the final stall, his back was turned completely and Kate took the opportunity to haul the ladder up, storing it safely on the ledge. Confident she was secure on her perch; she stepped back out of sight and began to disrobe.

Putting her garments down on top of the strewn hay, Lansky slipped into Chris' shirt. She took in the man's scent, and, smiling, settled on top of her clothing. Sitting close to the edge, Kate spied her man, his upper body a prime example of masculinity at its best.

Broad shoulders stood proud and strong, defining the image she knew. His firm arms were adorned with muscle that bulged in all the right places and his back was lean and slender as it disappeared into his waistband.

'Damn!' she hissed, silently wishing for his touch as she watched Chris pause, his torso straightening to stretch his back.

The last stall finally cleaned, Chris turned to the remainder of the hay bale, pulling it apart with his bare hands. The brawn in his display was evident, his chest heaving and the straw complying with his every whim.

High above, Lansky's breath quickened at the masculine spectacle.

Grabbing his rake, Larabee paused. For a moment he thought he'd heard a whimper, but he shook off the idea, deciding it was his imagination at work.

The gentle curve on Kate's lips vanished as she licked at them. His display was doing as much for her as his hands usually did.

The strong moan was audible this time and Larabee wasn't a man you could fool twice. He turned, looking for the source of the delectable sound. He searched the barn with his eyes and then stalked towards the hay. He frowned, not finding what he had expected.

Confused and bothered by the distraction, he returned to inspect his work one last time, before gathering his tools. Crossing to the other side of the building, he hung each implement in place then reached to gather his shirt.

He paused. Then, finally hearing the subdued laughter, Chris instantly focused on the loft high above. He smiled at the blue reflections, noticing the sparkle, his clothing, and the naked flesh below. "What ya doing up there?" he asked coyly.

Kate didn't answer. She shrugged, her head tilting from one side to the other. Leaning forward, she gave Larabee an enticing view.

"Looks to me like you could… use a little company," Chris sauntered to the area directly below her.

From her leaning position, Lansky stood slowly. His shirt undone except for the last button, it hung temptingly over one shoulder. "Ya think?" the woman asked.

Larabee watched for a moment, his tongue protruding slightly. Unconsciously, he stepped towards the ladder.

When he arrived at the ladder's usual location, a hand reached out to seize it. Grabbing thin air, Chris sidestepped, again grasping to secure the rungs in his fingers. Annoyed that he couldn't locate the object of his search, the blond finally took his eyes from Lansky's body.

Larabee looked back and forth before realization came to him. Hands traveling to lean hips, his eyes drifted skyward and he scowled. "Where's the damn ladder, Kate?"

A hand moving up quickly to touch her chest. "Ladder?" she questioned so innocently it made his blood rage. "Why, Chris… I don't know what you're talking about."

The man in black pursed his lips, the 'yeah, right!' written all over his face. For a moment, he considered leaving the 'wench' to satisfy her own needs, but he quickly recognized he didn't want to leave her alone.

Larabee was hot, and tired, yet he wanted for nothing but her….

"Didn't anyone ever tell you it ain't nice to tease?" he muttered, glancing around. Venturing to the haystack, he looked at its height and location, quickly deciding it wouldn't do.

Watching Chris as he tested out the possibility of using the paddock rails to climb up, Lansky replied bashfully. "Oh, I'm not teasing…."

"Yeah?" Larabee glanced up, his eyebrows raising with the inflection of his voice. "Then you won't mind a bit if I come up?"

Thinking the blond might strip right then and there, Kate smiled wickedly. Her grin quickly became a frown as Larabee smirked, stalked below the ledge, and apparently disappeared out the big barn doors.

She waited for a moment, thinking Chris might return with something to aid in his climb. When he didn't appear, Lansky huffed.

Clearly disappointed, she voiced her annoyance with another loud huff.

That's when she heard it. The squeak of what sounded like metal on metal. Curious, Kate moved towards the noise, carefully swinging open the loft doors. Her eyes flared panic when she realized what Larabee was doing.

One story below, Chris had untied the bale ropes from their hook and was straightening the rigging. He looked up when the loft doors swung open and gleamed. "I'm hot and bothered, Kate… and you're making me work too hard for what I want. Now, I'm gonna come get it!"

When he jumped in the air and latched on to the rope, Lansky knew he was serious. She'd seen that look in his eye before… a dangerous hunger that meant he was out to get what he desired most and she, more than likely, was going to enjoy it far too much.

Intent on continuing their little game, Kate bolted from view.

Seeing the woman disappear, Chris increased his pace. "Don't run," he called up tauntingly. "You're just gonna make things worse."

Inside, Lansky was trying hard not to listen, as well as fighting to get the long ladder over the ledge. Bringing it up had been easy, but she was sparring with gravity in a hurry to get it down and she didn't need to lose her grip. She smiled, hearing Larabee grunt. She easily recognized the hunger she had for him right now.

In the next few seconds, all hell broke loose in the loft. Chris reached the second floor, kicking off the wall to swing himself to the planking. Lansky secured the ladder firmly in place, her eyes darting between the rungs and a fast-approaching tiger.

Turning her body around quickly, she stepped down, only to be hauled back again.

Larabee growled, obviously hoping the vocal enunciation would assist him stopping the blonde's escape. The fury of her ascent sent the couple sprawling backwards into the hay, but the 'fight' was far from over.

Kate landed on the man in black, her eyes merry and mischievous, she quickly tried to pull away.

Chris wasn't entertaining any idea of Lansky eluding his advances. He grabbed at her arms even as she fought him, the two scrapping for dominance.

Bigger, stronger and obviously more intent at his purpose, the blond grappled with Kate's wayward limbs, finally getting the upper hand. He pulled her sideways, pushing her to the floor and landing securely on her back. Spread-eagle on her likewise frame, Larabee whispered in her ear. "Told you not to run."

Ever playful, their lovemaking was intense, full of passion, energy, and desire. Eventually, the couple found themselves hot, sweaty, and lying on the blankets on a pile of hay. Resting his head on her shoulder, Larabee closed his eyes. "Damn!" he sighed. "Maybe we need to come out to the barn more often."

Lansky's huffed laughter made his body shake. "Animal lust?" she frowned. "Don't let Buck hear you say that."

Lifting his head, Chris pecked at her lips, a forearm landing over his eyes. A minute passed before he answered. "Animal lust is a lot different than his 'Animal Magnetism'," he chuckled. "Not sure if Buck would go this far."

Breathing deeply still, Kate agreed. "Yep! Guess we're unique in our… appetites?" she emphasized the question on the last word.

"That's for sure," Larabee joined her in jovial attitude. "Hell, Sarah would never even consider…" Chris stopped mid-sentence, realizing all too quickly that he'd unwittingly voiced his comparison aloud.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the loft as Kate stared blankly at the barn roof. Larabee lifted his arm slightly, peering at his lover and regretting his tongue's existence. For so long he'd been able to speak his mind with her, and now, here he was, wishing he couldn't speak at all.

Biting his lip, Chris cussed silently. 'Don't think like that, idiot. You'd have never discovered your common ground if you hadn't talked to her' he chastised. He was about to speak, when she beat him to it.

"Sarah didn't like to play rough then?" Sitting up, Lansky turned slightly so that he couldn't see her face. She knew her immediate reaction was anger, yet the emotion was clearly fed by endorphins, and a heartbeat so fast it still drowned her senses. Nevertheless, her reaction was overpowering.

Silently, she cursed the ghost that stood between them, yet again.

Assuming his own upright position, Larabee turned to face her. Her shoulder wasn't what he wanted to see though. Visibly disappointed he swallowed hard. "No," he answered slowly. Wondering how far this talk should go, his eyes searched skyward, seemingly looking for strength. He spoke honestly as he looked back at Lansky. "She was nothing like you, Kate," he said quietly. "You know that by now. I've told you enough times."

The woman sat silently, her head nodding in agreement. 'You sure have' she admonished. Without acknowledging the imaginary ring of protection that now guarded her, Kate allowed her anger to invade her thoughts. 'Nothing like being reminded you're a replacement'

Chris had been hoping for a verbal response and her silence left him feeling anxious. A wave of panic assaulted his senses and he spoke again without forethought. "What about your… friend?" he asked, trying to find another avenue for the conversation.

"What?" Kate turned abruptly, her annoyance very evident. "We do a little screwing around and all you can think about is Sarah… and you expect me to be thinking about Cole?"

Closing his eyes briefly against the sudden sting, all Larabee desperately wanted to do was deny the accusation. He had no desire to carry that discussion any further though. Sarah was the last thing on his mind as they'd made love. Her name had slipped out innocently… casual conversation, as it were.

Instead of going there, Chris tried to focus on Kate's words. "You never told me his name before," he said quietly.

Bringing her legs up, Lansky huddled, her chin resting on her knees. The anger she'd felt moments ago vanished in an instant. She recalled the dark blue eyes. The sandy brown hair that Sergeant Bryant always kept trimmed so short, it barely existed. "Never asked," she said flatly.

Assuming the same position as his lover, Chris tried to speak calmly. "I'm asking now."

It took a moment for Lansky to answer. The courage to bring forth his memories was always fleeting.

Larabee had heard before how Cole had professed his love for Kate and how she had denied that affection. They were lovers for more than a year, but in all that time, the woman never allowed herself to be more than the man's companion. That simple fact left more questions in Chris' mind than it answered.

Like himself, Bryant had been a SEAL, but demolitions expert for his team. After an injury had forced him out of the teams, he'd retrained in munitions and re-upped to finish his twenty in Bomb Disposal. From her description it sounded like he, too, was rough around the edges, but when he was with Lansky, that apparently all went away.

After the experience they'd just shared, that fact made Larabee frown.

As she dressed and prepared to leave the loft, Kate looked back at the blond, offering a gentle smile. "I'm glad I never let him in, Chris," she said, looking away. "I got him killed… but if I'd let him in, I would have died, too."

Larabee spoke quickly as she started to climb down the ladder. "You didn't get him killed, Kate."

Her eyes barely above the floor level, Lansky looked back at him sternly. "Doesn't much matter… does it, Chris?" Glancing away for a second, she took a deep breath and refocused. "Either way, I'm not haunted by his ghost."

Larabee frowned as she dipped out of sight. He stayed in the loft for a while; seriously contemplating how the afternoon had turned out.

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

The morning had been somewhat uneventful… with the possible exception of Ezra's occasional outbursts. Larabee was growing increasingly concerned about his undercover agent, and if anyone knew anything about the man's current mood, they weren't sharing.

Securing their 'targets' from the bust, the senior agent had delegated Standish to do the follow-up from his own case. Aside from his mood, the fact that the southerner had been 'under' when Vin's information about Prichard became known almost predetermined his assignment. During his week off, he'd missed the preliminary info about Teams Four and Five combining their cases as well and, given his current disposition, Larabee was happy to keep him on the 'outside' right now.

Reflection wasn't something Chris took a lot of time to do, but given the happenings of the past few weeks the man in black was doing just that. Standing at his office door, Larabee was surveying his colleagues as they moved about… all of them.

His eyes came to rest on Kate at that moment, his thoughts still uneasy about 'ghosts' from their pasts.

Deep down, Chris felt they were both 'haunted', in many ways. He'd found comfort in talking to this woman over the last two years, yet he cursed his self-centered ways. Had he known how closely their histories mirrored each other, he may not have been so blatant with his thoughts and feelings.

And where would that have left him?

'Catch twenty-two' he cursed again. He couldn't image his world without Lansky in it and if he'd never have opened up to her…

His mind replayed their weekend and what happened in the barn... that unbelievable fever, and then his 'slip-up'. He hadn't meant to bring up Sarah, but he also hadn't expected Kate to talk about her deceased lover. There was just something in her eyes when she spoke of the man's death.

The conversation was all too brief, and Larabee hadn't wanted to push. On the surface, the subject was summarily dropped, yet Chris wasn't convinced it was forgotten. That evening had been quiet, their talk light, and their lovemaking tempered. Somehow, he'd felt distant although they were never apart.

Waking to a new day, the couple set out for a day of riding. The 'lesson' took them out to a beautiful meadow where they stopped to eat their picnic lunch. Soon finding themselves in each other's arms, their lovemaking was energetic… fresh air and warm sun adding to the vigor of their act.

A shadow of doubt had flickered in Larabee's mind as he watched her readying to leave. Unlike their sexual interludes of previous weekends, there appeared no lasting satisfaction in the pleasure.

Sharing dinner before Lansky departed; their goodbye kiss seemed a little too aloof for Chris' liking. That thought and his previous doubts had left him to toss and turn all night long.

So, here it was Monday at the Federal Building. Kate was rarely quiet at work, yet she hadn't spoken a word to him that morning and was entirely too quiet, now…

"No, Mr. Tanner, I certainly DO NOT need your help!"

Larabee looked up to see Standish glaring at Vin as he all but pushed the sharpshooter from their shared office space. Shutting the door abruptly, Ezra appeared to return to his desk, slumping in his chair.

Chris was on the move before the portal closed. "What the hell was that all about?" he demanded of the gathering men. The blond wasn't much of a referee when it came to his team's internal strife. He mostly left them alone to sort things out, but given his own mood today, he really wasn't prepared for anything but a straight answer.

Wilmington was running a hand through his hair, "Beats me, stud," he sighed. "He was cranky last week, but I'm guessin' he got up on the wrong side of the world this mornin'. It's gettin' worse as the afternoon drags on."

Jackson and Sanchez exchanged a concerned look.

Nathan and Rain had stopped by Josiah's on the weekend and inadvertently discovered that Adrian Delaney was now occupying the profiler's basement suite. The medic hadn't voiced his concerns then, but knew that he'd have to corner his best friend now. Ezra's mood was growing steadily worse and Jackson was assuming that his, no-longer long-distance lover, was the cause. Having her close, but not close enough was clearly driving the man insane.

"Could he still be having an adverse reactions to those meds the hospital gave him, Nathan?"

Caught off-guard by the senior agent's question, Jackson's eyebrows rose. "Oh, eh… no, Chris. It's been too long."

"Damn!" Larabee barked at Wilmington. "We need to concentrate on helping the other teams match up their evidence this week. We have to stay focused and review the data as it comes out. I don't care how you do it, Buck," looking at the other men, he included them as well, "but find out what Ezra's problem is and get it solved… now!"

As their leader turned and walked away, JD frowned thoughtfully. "Is it me… or is Chris in a bad mood?" Seeing the quizzical looks on his four comrades, JD shrugged. "More than usual, I mean. What's with that?"

Hearing Larabee's door slam shut, Sanchez looked at the kid, his eyebrows raised questioningly. "It's a sign," he offered before walking away.

"A sign?" Dunne repeated as he looked from face to face.

Vin shrugged and headed for the coffee room.

Nathan cocked his head and followed Josiah back to their office.

Left standing looking at the rogue, JD was inquisitive as the tall man set an arm around his shoulder and started in on what was sure to be a long-winded explanation. One, the younger man was convinced, wouldn't leave him understanding anymore than he already did.

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

It was almost quitting time when Tanner spotted the profiler working over by the sofas. Most of the men used this quiet corner of their bullpen to relax, although officially, the area was for reviewing surveillance tapes and other video evidence.

Was it their fault that two large couches accompanied the three big worktables?

Sauntering over to join Sanchez, the sharpshooter stopped short and waited to be noticed.

More than a minute passed before Josiah spoke without looking up from his paperwork. "Something you need, Vin?" Finally glancing at his friend, the big man offered a smile.

Tanner shrugged, stepping over to sit beside his friend. He took a quick peek at the dossier Sanchez was holding, "Anythin'?"

Josiah sighed heavily. Closing the folder, he threw it to the table surface and slumped back into the cozy warmth of the furniture. "It's slow going, but I'm getting a feel for Prichard. This organization he's got set up seems to grow every day… but thanks to you," he tapped the Texan's knee, "we've almost got him nabbed."

Vin looked embarrassed, shying away from the compliment. "Just doin' my job," he offered. "Weren't nothin'."

"Training or not, it takes a keen eye to spot similarities in bullet fragments like that. Isn't even our case. Mason's giving you full credit and Tierney's backing him on that."

Tanner was looking off in the distance by now, accepting flattery was never one of his strong points. "Just hope they can make a clean bust," he cocked his head to look at Sanchez. "Any word on when it's goin' down?"

The gentle shake of Josiah's head was a disappointing answer.

"Sounds like their man on the inside is gettin' a mite edgy."

This time, the profiler nodded. "They just need a few more days," he looked at the sharpshooter sideways. "Let's pray nothing happens between now and then."

"Yep." Joining Sanchez in his relaxed position, Tanner seemed thoughtful as he looked about the office. Fingers locked, his thumbs ran circles around each other. Minutes passed like hours and the two sat and watched the goings on, yet both were fully aware of the other's scrutiny.

Never one to beat around the proverbial bush, Josiah finally spoke. "What's on your mind, Vin?"

Glancing at the profiler, Tanner offered the tiniest of grins. "Kind 'a makes a man thankful he ain't attached," he offered casually.

Josiah frowned as he tried to decipher his friend's code. "As in love interest?" he finally questioned.

"Yep," came the thoughtful reply.

Josiah smiled. Vin was always known for the subtle truths in his simple statements. Unplanned witnesses to the 'happenings' occurring within their ranks, the profiler had to agree with Tanner's assessment. "Love can make a man do crazy things," he observed.

Still looking at the edge of the table, the Texan huffed. "Seen that. Can't say as I get all this anger though. Doors slammin', foul language run amuck, and bitin' peoples’ heads off when they ain't got no clue."

Sanchez had the feeling he knew whom the sharpshooter was referring to but he also felt there was more to the man's comments. "You talking about someone in particular, Vin?"

Tanner smiled. Looking the older man straight in the eye, he cocked his head. "Standish comes ta mind straight off."


The Texan nodded. "He's been all fired up about Adrian since the day they met. Hell, what we did may not 'a been right by all accounts, but if ol' Ezra loves her that much, how come he ain't tellin' her that? He's wastin' all his energy in bein' mad, when he could be puttin' it ta much better use."

Josiah shook his head. His eyes closed as he took in a deep breath and his expression was mellow. "My friend," he began. "Truer words have never been spoken. But… sometimes a man gets so blinded by his own pride, he forgets the things most important to him."

Tanner took a moment to contemplate the words before he spoke. "You meanin' ta say that Ezra ain't seein' nothin' but his own truths?"

It wasn't exactly what Josiah meant, but it was close enough. Even he wasn't privy to all that had gone on between Delaney and Standish, but one thing was for sure, quiet understanding conversation it wasn't.

"What about Chris?"

The sharpshooter's question caught Sanchez off guard. "I don't follow," he scowled.

"Him and Kate," he looked at the profiler again. "They's mad, too."

Josiah laughed. "Nothing new in that."

"Ain't the same," Vin shot back quickly.

Sitting forward, Sanchez nodded, his hands resting on his knees. "No, Vin, it's not… but it'll pass."

The Texan sat up, too, looking long and hard at his friend. "Ain't so sure on that."

Josiah studied the blue eyes that had his locked. He saw the conviction and he licked at his lips. "Chris say something to you?"

Tanner shook his head.

"Not Kate?"

Vin's lips bunched up tight before he spoke. "She don't talk ta nobody about her gut."

Again, the profiler thought he knew what the younger man was saying. "Something changed?"

The gentle nod of the Texan's head evolved as he stood. Looking back at Sanchez, he bowed his head quickly. "Somethin'," he repeated. "Not sure what though."

Feeling how uncomfortable the topic was making the sharpshooter, the big man grinned. "Best you and me stay single for a while then," he offered.

Tanner returned the jovial expression. He nodded thoughtfully for a moment before gaining his feet. Bidding the profiler 'a good evening', and sauntered away as casually as he'd approached.

Pondering Vin's words, Sanchez pursed lips as he glanced over in Kate's direction. 'As if Standish and Delaney aren't enough' he thought.

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


The bellow from Larabee's office had the blonde rolling her eyes. "Coming," she answered, her brows rising skyward, her lips pursed tightly as she grabbed her notebook.

"Close the door!"

Doing as instructed, Lansky waltzed over to one of the big chairs and slumped into it. "Isn't bad enough that my Tuesday starts out with Travis at my desk," she complained. "Now you have to be barking as well."

Looking at the woman smugly, the man in black managed a small smile. "That was this morning. I was hoping you'd had enough time to put the brief together he was looking for."


Chris frowned. "Then why don't I have it on my desk?" he queried, attitude in full display.

Sitting forward in her chair, the blonde scowled. "Get over yourself, Larabee. He's the BIG boss… not you. You'll get it once it's got his seal of approval."

The senior agent sat back in his chair, arms folded lightly across his stomach as the thumbs twirling. Chris had a mischievous look on his face. The edginess of yesterday appeared to be gone and he was glad Lansky was actually talking to him today. He'd missed their sparring. "He's got his own secretary again," Larabee pointed out. "How come you're still doing his errands?"

Narrowing her eyes, Kate huffed her displeasure. "Delaney's no more a secretary than I am!" she shot back. The man's smug response just seemed to fuel the flame. "She's more than capable, but Orin doesn't want to overwhelm her all at once… besides, I prepped the docs for Vin's prelims… It's not right to bring someone else in on a case in progress."

The team leader nodded. "Two cases, actually," he corrected. "But, you're right…

Luck was on our side when Vin spotted the similarities. Mason and Tierney have their teams working around the clock." Looking at his assistant, Chris offered her a genuine smile. "Having someone who understands this shit when she puts it together… helps a whole lot."

Kate's blue eyes never left his green ones. Neither person blinked, almost daring the other to show the effects of the spoken sentiment.

The compliment was offered in all honesty. Too many times, Chris had seen people taken for granted and, sometimes just as often, he'd let Lansky's attitude chase his thanks away. Her performance was always without reproach, other sometimes; it just went above and beyond…

The praise didn't escape Kate's notice, but she was practiced in the art of taking flattery gracefully. Her yearly assessments in the military had always been 'glowing' but she never let it go to her head. Quite the opposite, actually… she brushed away most positive endorsement with a standard reply 'Just doing my job!' It was the truth, except for one minor detail. Lansky's dedication to excellence could never be challenged in anything she did.

Stalemate called silently, Chris glanced down at his desk as he sat forward again. "So… I'm… eh, looking forward to Thursday. We're still on, right?"

The woman's eyes narrowed. "Tell me you didn't call me in here to discuss sex?"

Larabee grinned. "I was asking the whereabouts of my brief," he confirmed. "Got that answer, now… am I gonna get another?"

Shaking her head lightly, Kate stood up. "You're unbelievable."

"That good, huh?"

The woman's eyes rolled again. "Yeah, we're on," she glared. "And I'll make sure I show you what unbelievable is."

The cocky expression on the team leader's face was so very annoying. "That should make our anniversary a memorable one."

"Ha!" she headed for the door. "It's a month, Chris… don't make it sound like a lifetime."

The man in black scowled a little, telling her to 'wait' as she turned the doorknob. Venturing to her side, his hands took hers as he looked deep into her eyes. His voice was incredibly low when he spoke. "For me, Kate, it's a second chance at a lifetime."

Nearly dropping the notebook from between her fingers, Lansky almost allowed his kiss. At the last second however, she turned her head. "Not here, Chris," she whispered. Swallowing hard, she looked back into his eyes.

Inwardly, Larabee frowned at the lack of expression in her reflection. On the outside however, he just stared.

A soft smile grew on her lips before Kate slipped around him and left.

As the door closed behind her, Lansky took in a deep breath, her blue pools closing involuntarily. With her head lowered, her eyes opened slowly and she suddenly felt confused.

The feeling of being watched was clear in her mind.

It took a moment for their eyes to meet and Kate suddenly became uncomfortable.

Across the room, Vin Tanner's glacier blue reflections were staring directly at her, his expression hard, and just as cold.

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

"Ain't gonna let ya do it!"

The parking garage was relatively safe, but still no place to be surprised. Attention drawn from the key ring she'd been fumbling with, in the blink of an eye, Lansky's other hand had shot to the small of her back. The overreaction was instantaneous, recognition almost as quick. Cautiously, the woman 'stood-down', "Jesus, Vin… Fuck!" the adrenaline spoke first. "You're the only man I know who can sneak up on me like that! Damn you!"

Leaning against her vehicle, Tanner was frozen, shocked that his instincts were suddenly on alert. He was perceiving a threat and, unable to ascertain from where, his questioning eyes were locked hard on someone he thought he knew.

In the blink of an eye, the flashes of movement were strangely familiar and without a doubt, deadly in their intent. Yet, what had he just witnessed?

For a moment, Kate had vanished... in her place, stood danger. That idea so totally shocked the Texan that he couldn't respond to her remarks.

It was against his better judgement to be here anyway. Interfering in other people business just wasn't his style, but something about the way TJ carried herself lately was eating at him. It seemed the closer she got to Chris; the more bad vibes she was giving off, and Vin needed to know why.

Unspoken confusion ruled the moment. They stood, enveloped by one another's cold stare.

Consciously slowing his wildly beating heart, Vin staved off urges he felt didn't belong. Swallowing hard and gathering his thoughts, the sharpshooter concentrated, deciding to pursue his original intent. "Ain't gonna let ya do it," he repeated slowly.

Kate's tongue darted out to curl around her bottom lip before she sucked it in. It had taken only an instant for her to recognize the advantage. She'd trained for it years ago, but once ingrained… it never went away.

These were her friends though, and she tried desperately to force those instincts into submission. "What, exactly is it, you think you know, Tanner?" the words were too harsh. Still aggressive in her stance, she held position, yet, behind her back; fingers carefully released their charge back to its pouch. In the open, the other hand clicked on the key fob, unlocking the door to her van.

The sharpshooter hadn't missed the derogatory tone with which she'd spat out his last name. He was uneasy and it bothered him, but what annoyed him more was not having a clue why.

Careful not to give away his wariness, Vin forced himself to play it cool. "Ain't right… Hurtin' someone… just to save ya own soul," he turned his body to meet hers head on. Glancing quickly at the concrete beneath their feet, Tanner looked back, a soft, yet menacing grin adorned his lips.

Mirrored reflections held one another at bay with equal resolve. Endless seconds passed as they simply stared, each determined to decipher unwritten code.

With a deep calming breath, Kate finally spoke, "Good advice," she offered, her voice barely audible.

Reacting to her more normal composure, the Texan nodded slightly, acknowledging receipt of his message.

As he turned to walk away, the woman spoke again. "Maybe you should tell him the same."

Vin stopped, his eyes closed for a moment, yet, he held his ground. 'Maybe I should tell him more than that!' he thought bluntly.

She saw him pause, and almost wished he'd turned on her, but as the sharpshooter departed, Lansky's glare was cold. 'What the hell does he think he knows…? Who the hell does he think he is… warning me off like that?'

She was confused about her feelings for Larabee, and this just made things worse. Kate didn't need Vin's interference, and she certainly didn't need him knowing…

Shaking off the damnable thought, the woman narrowed her glare at the distant figure. The hard stare gave way to a huff before she stepped towards her car.

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

Wilmington closed the dossier and set it on the desk. Rubbing his eyes, he sighed heavily before glancing around the bullpen. Kate was relaxing on the sofa, but otherwise, the office was empty. The admin staff was downstairs in the cafeteria. Ezra was out getting food, probably growling at some poor waitress, and with the exception of JD, the rest of the boys were in a briefing.

Travis had called the lunch meeting with the majority of the three teams.

Buck, along with the other two surveillance specialists, was going over blueprints and site reports independently.

JD and his counterparts were down in the main computer lab, checking the necessary hardware links and software applications for the joint sting.

Leaving the file folder on his desk, the rogue went to the coffee room and poured himself a fresh cup. Grabbing a leftover donut from that morning, he wandered over towards the couches and stood looking at the blonde.

Lansky had been proofing the latest notes for Travis when she looked up to see the ladies' man as he munched away. "Isn't that stale?" she asked, trying to hide the threatening smirk.

"Nah," the tall agent grinned. "Middle's still soft." Motioning to the spot beside her, Buck's eyebrows rose coyly. "May I?"

Although perusing paperwork, Kate was officially at lunch.

For the most part, she enjoyed her relationship with each of these men. Annoying or not, they were her friends and much like the 'army life' she'd left behind, they joked around with innuendoes and rough talk, but their mutual tolerance was familiar, always appreciated and more than welcome.

Tapping the cushion beside her, she indicated her approval for him to sit. Wilmington was always good for a little distraction and after the last few days, the woman sure could use it. Setting her paperwork aside, she smiled cordially. "Those blueprints any good?" she tilted her chin towards the large work desk.

Buck shook his head back and forth nonchalantly, "Tierney's crew are pretty sure that's where Prichard is gonna be in the next week or so. The layout looks good for a take-down."

Lansky was always interested in the team's operations. It brought back memories sometimes, and truthfully, if she hadn't chosen the military as a career, law enforcement would have probably come next. She understood what dedication to duty meant and she knew, too well, the dangers involved in both careers. Being with Team Seven as long as she had, she'd also seen all the men through many injuries, minor and major. "Any idea when it'll go down?"

Slowly, Wilmington shifted his body to face the blonde. He'd heard that inflection in her words before and it always bothered him. Maybe not everyone would pick up on her worry, but he sure could. He smiled for a moment before glancing down at her hands. With a frustrated sigh, he scooped up the closest palm and gazed back into her sparkling blue eyes. "You'll never admit it, will ya?"

As the rogue adjusted his big hand around hers, holding the fist tightly between their bodies, the woman stared at the bond and then the serious face beyond. 'Stupid' she chastised herself. Kate knew better than to let her guard down around Buck and although she hated to admit it, trying to fool him now would be a lost cause. "You know I can't," she said gruffly.

He didn't hesitate. They'd had this conversation before and her answer never changed. "Why, Darlin'?" the man queried. "We've been friends for a long time. You know we'll be right there for ya if anythin' ever went down, that you can't handle."

'There's nothing I can't handle, you idiot… Interfering… annoying… God! You have no fucking idea…'

Clearing her throat, the woman tried to take her hand back. "Let go, Buck," she insisted when he wouldn't release her. One second they were having a normal conversation and the next, Wilmington was fulfilling his unspoken duty as benefactor of Team Seven and their 'inner circle'… "Let go!"

Relinquishing his hold as she pulled harder, the ladies' man frowned as her walls went up. He knew the signs. Years of experience as Larabee's closest friend had taught him well. Then this petite blonde had come into their lives. She'd easily been welcomed as one of their own and they'd formed uncanny bonds, the reasons for which, were still a mystery to Wilmington… but they were there. Somewhat frustrated, the man huffed loudly, "You're as stubborn and pigheaded as he is. You know that, don't ya?"

'Damn you, Buck' Lansky glared at the rogue. 'You have no idea!'

"Yeah, and that, too," he pointed to her eyes. "I swear the two of you could set off a nuke just by staring at it." When it was obvious that his comment wasn't breaking through her façade, the agent shook his head in exasperation. "Kate," he paused, always searching for words when it came to talking seriously to this woman. "Ain't one of us ever… EVER gonna abandon you if somethin' goes down."

"Don't talk like that!" she blurted out before he could finish the thought.

"I will," the tall agent spat back, "cause shit happens. It's a fact of life, Darlin', especially in this business. You've been here long enough… seen it up close… But none of that is gonna change the fact that you got friends. Friends who ain't gonna get the wool pulled over their eyes like you've managed to do with so many others."

Swallowing the feelings welling in her throat, Kate looked at the man, her jaw clenching as her eyes narrowed. "Anyone ever tell you you're a pain in the ass, Wilmington?"

Knowing he'd made his point, the ladies' man grinned from ear to ear. "All the time, Darlin'… ain't you lucky?"

Her huff was resounding, and her tone let him know that she was miffed. "Just cause I, might… care, what happens to your saggy behinds, doesn't mean I have to bullshit with you about my feelings. God! I hope you're not expecting me to sit here and blubber like a baby, just 'cause one of you might get hurt."

It took but a fraction of a second for the serious expression to appear on the man's face. He thought long and hard before speaking, the idea clearly flashing in his eyes. "Ain't never seen you do that, Kate… Do you ever let it out?" the rogue asked in a whispered tone. "Even with Chris?"

Blue eyes searching for a place to focus, Lansky cleared her throat again. "Don't, Buck…" she growled. "Let it be! My business is my own, you got that!"

He'd received his answer, but Wilmington wasn't happy. "You got ‘a let him in sometime, Darlin'. Only way you're ever gonna survive lovin' each other."

Kate looked all too serious as she glared again. "Who said anything about… loving?"

Licking at his lips, Buck smiled, his words too solemn for the moment. "I remember what I saw a few weeks back… and that kind 'a 'play'… well, it takes a lot of trust… and love."

Lansky turned to face him head on. She didn't look pleased.

"Some things were just meant to go together, Kate. Bread and butter… coffee and donuts… pizza and beer…"

There was a pause…

"You and Chris."

Listening to his voice deepen and soften as he listed off the complimenting pairs, Lansky steadily became incensed.

When she finally spoke, her tone was low, yet, for Wilmington, it bore little threat. He knew this reaction too well. It probably scared more sensible folks, but when did he ever qualify as one of them…

"I don't really care what you think you know… Or what you think you saw, Buck. But I'm telling you here and now, I'm NOT butter for his bread… and I won't be spread, you got that!"

"Ooh," he reacted as though hit in the gut. Straightening with a chuckle, he continued playing right through the deepening mood. "And there I was thinkin' you'd have to be the butter, Darlin'," he smirked. "Seems ta me…" tapping his temple lightly he nodded, "Yep… I'm sure I saw some spreadin' goin' on."

'Son-of-a…' No matter how much she hated to admit it, Kate had lost this battle of wits. She didn't have the fortitude to play this 'kind' of nice… not against a master like Buck, anyway. Her game was deception, and when faced with the blatancy of truth…

Slowly shaking her head, the blonde glared. Wilmington's innuendo was pointed and given her disposition; she couldn't help but hit back. "Oh, really?" her tone was suddenly quizzical. "And were you, planning on doing any of that… in the near future, Buck?" she asked calmly. "Because, I know of a quick… and very painful remedy, that could… put an end, to those plans."

There was a time to push and a time to lay low. Wilmington's smile gradually disappeared when he realized 'playtime' was over. He cleared his throat and scowled. "Well, I… I."

Gaining her feet, Kate smiled far too sweetly before her expression disappeared all together. "I've put my life on the line for lesser men, Buck. I'd do it for you in a heartbeat… For any of you… but don't push… don't."

As she stepped over his long legs, the rogue's eyes followed her. Sure… they all felt deeply for one another and when push came to shove, no one screwed with their family. Team Seven was the core, but there were others included in that tight knit group. Within that framework, a few more… They all cared, yet, rarely spoke of it.

At first, Wilmington acknowledged that Kate's declaration meant something important. He nodded his agreement, silently accepting to let it be… at least, for now. But watching the blonde wander towards her desk, the ladies' man hesitated… 'What the hell did I just miss?' he wondered.

"Oh, and Buck," Lansky turned casually as though nothing had just happened. She waited for his eyebrows to raise questioningly. "Don't call me Darling!"

Wilmington's quizzical expression vanished, replaced instantly by his whimsical charm. "And just like that," he muttered, "she's back!"

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

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