~~ First, You Stumble… ~~

by TJ

Chris was perched at his door late Wednesday, watching as Standish gruffly collected his belongings and headed for the exit.

The team leader glared.

Just an hour earlier, Ezra had handed in a comprehensive report. It wasn't up to the southerner's usual standard, but Larabee was pleased, nonetheless. Now… if only he could figure out how to take the edge off his undercover agent's demeanor, the blond would be happy.

"He's got you worried, huh?"

Refocusing to find Lansky at his side, Chris cocked his head. "Something's got to give," he replied. "He's wound up tighter than a rattle snake ready to strike and I don't want anyone in the way when he does."

Glancing over her shoulder to the big double doors, Kate sighed heavily. "Good analogy." Finding the man's green eyes again, she looked concerned. "You talked to him yet?"

Larabee shook his head. "No," he let out a long-winded huff. "Two separate cases going on and everyone's been so busy… I've got to make time though," he admitted. "Before something happens he's gonna regret."

The woman nodded, genuinely concerned. There wasn't a single member of this tight-knit group that she didn't worry about. Like it or not, Buck had been right yesterday when she'd growled at him.

Watching her expression soften, Chris smiled. "I know you care, Kate… I can see it in your eyes."

'Damn!' Clamping down on unguarded emotions, Lansky straightened and broadened her shoulders. "Well, keep it under your hat, cowboy, or I'm gonna have to nail it on your head."

Larabee grinned. "You planning on playing rough tomorrow night?"

Glancing around to judge to location of prying ears, the blonde frowned at him. "Keep your voice down, Chris," she scowled playfully, "Or you'll be celebrating this thing on your own."

"It's not a THING," he gruffed, "And you're looking forward to it as much as I am."

Looking rather nonchalant, Kate shook her head from side to side. "As long as you remember one rule," she advised.

Larabee frowned.

Turning for her desk, the woman smirked. "No biting," she laughed, walking away.

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

Thursday, everyone was busy on the Prichard case. They weren't primaries on this one, but Team Seven was making damn sure they got a piece of it. Everything was running smoothly until Standish showed up.

Mornings found the southerner particularly edgy and this one was no exception. Being late didn't help his mood either. As Ezra stormed into the bullpen, Wilmington and Tanner exchanged a wide-eyed look.

Kate was beginning to suspect the two had had enough of their teammate's moodiness. On her way to deliver a confidential folder, Lansky was headed to the elevator. Glancing back over her shoulder as she went through the glass doors, she watched the two friends confer, endorsing her suspicions.

In the hallway, she was about to push the call button when someone beat her to it. The warm breath on the back of her neck made her grin. "Just a few more hours, Larabee… surely you can wait that long."

"Don't bet on it," he followed her into the car as the doors opened.

Turning to push the floor indicator she wanted, Kate had to reach around Chris to do so. "Do you have a purpose for being here?" she huffed.

"On my way to see Mason," the blond answered with a grin. "Hadn't planned on company to keep me warm though."

The woman's eyebrows rose and a mischievous look appeared in her smile. "Well, let's get it over with… right here and now," she suggested. "That way I'm free to watch all my favorite shows on TV tonight."

Chris folded his arm indignantly. "You? Watch TV? And all night long, ta boot? That'll be the day," he shook his head.

"Always a first time," she offered as the bell signaled her arrival.

As she stepped passed him to exit, Larabee grabbed Kate's arm. "Did you bring an overnight bag?" he cooed.

Glancing from the restraint to his eyes, the woman answered softly. "In my van."

Nodding slowly, the agent sucked in his bottom lip. "Come hell or high water, I'm out 'a here at four… give me a good half-hour head start… all right?"

Curiosity written all over her face, Kate nodded slowly. "Alright, " she agreed as he let her go. Stepping out of the car, she watched his sparkling green eyes as the doors closed to separate them. "What are you up to, Larabee?" she mumbled before turning for Travis' office.

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

Having caught a lot of traffic through town, the drive outside city limits proved much more refreshing, and Kate was fairly relaxed as she pulled up to the ranch. Parking in the designated area on the other side of the barn, she grabbed her duffel bag and sauntered over to the house.

In the kitchen, Chris positioned himself behind the counter as the knock sounded at the door. "Come in," he yelled. "It's open."

The wonderful aroma drew Lansky straight to its source. Entering the kitchen, she eyed the blond. "Nice shirt," she complimented the long sleeved black silk garment. "Nice apron, too," she snickered.

Larabee looked down at himself before sneering at her. The full, blue and white checkered apron kept more than the food from soiling his outfit. He wasn't about to let her see him yet. "Why don't you go get out of those clothes," he suggested. "I, eh… laid a, little something out on the bed for you."

"Oh?" her eyebrows rose quizzically.

"Yeah," he smirked. "Go on," he cocked his head down the hallway.

Glaring playfully at the mischievous grin, Lansky cautiously did as she was told. Standing at the bedroom door, she slowly pushed it open, her eyes traveling quickly to the bed. Tossing her tote over by his dresser, she walked lazily to stand in front of the garments. Crossing her arms, Kate looked at it sternly. Disgruntled, she yelled, "It's RED!" over her shoulder.

From down the hall came his nonchalant reply, "And black."

The blond huffed. "This is a bad joke, Larabee," she called out. " You have to be kidding."

"Humor me!"

Miffed with his answer, Lansky glared as she studied the outfit again.

Lying on the bed was the most decadent thing that she'd ever seen… a waterfall of silk and lace shimmering in the soft light of the bedroom.

Gingerly picking up the creation by one miniscule strap, she held it at arm's length. Rotating it slowly, she noted barely enough material to cover her behind. "This is a very bad joke," she mumbled.

The upper portion of the garment was reasonably firm, forming a bra-type bodice covered in an intricate, delicately designed pattern of ebony and crimson lace. The midnight shades faded gradually, giving way to the flowing scarlet silk of skirt. At the hem, the black reappeared as smoothly as it had paled; the braided decoration led flawlessly into a fringe of elegant tassels.

Looking beyond the piece she held, Kate's gaze drifted down to the accompanying garment, still spread out on the bed. In color, it was completely opposite to that which she held. The black silk seemed to shimmer, and for a moment, the material captivated the blond.

Blinking away the mystic of fantasy, Lansky scowled.

Part of her cursed Larabee for having the audacity to presume she would wear this… this thing!

Part of her was intrigued by the uninhibited sexual allure of the apparel.

Glancing mischievously over her shoulder again, the woman turned, stalked slowly to the door, and closed it quietly. Never one to back down from a challenge, she approached the red and black monstrosity, a hand drifting gingerly to her chin as she smiled impishly.

Stripping off her clothes, the blonde headed for a quick shower.

Toweling down ten minutes later, she laughed gently at the soft whispers of hair on her legs and underarms. "Oh, well," she shrugged. "He's never complained before." Ruffling her locks, she ventured back into the bedroom and stood defiantly in front of the outfit, glaring in trepidation.

Resigned to her fate, Kate let out a deep sigh and picked up the silk material. Unhooking the catches at the back, she slipped it over her head and snuggled into the bodice. Satisfied that it was positioned correctly, she reached around and refastened the three hook-and-eye catches. The rest of the silk slid over her body in a sensuous whisper as the woman leaned forward to seat her breasts properly in the cups of the bodice.

Lansky's breath caught. 'God! That felt good'

Confused and slightly annoyed by her mixed feelings, Kate sighed. It was strange to admit that the material enlivened her senses and she was almost saddened that she's never taken the time to feel its softness next to her skin before, yet, she was cautious to fend off any attachments that might form.

Ever present was that portion of her consciousness that protected against every conceivable weakness... it rarely allowed room for doubt.

Hands feathering the crimson material down as far as it would go, the woman scowled. 'He's going to pay for this' she promised silently. Roughly grabbing the accompanying midnight wrap, she slipped it over her shoulders and tied the sash loosely around her waist.

Rounding the bed to step in front of the mirror, Lansky hardly recognized the woman glaring back at her and that just annoyed her even more. 'He wouldn't dare' she answered the thought that came to her. If Chris were trying to change her into something, she wasn't… "He better think again," she snorted.

Eyes narrowed, ready for confrontation, Kate stalked out of the bedroom and headed down the hallway. Passing the dining room, she stopped dead in her tracks. Truly shocked at the seductive allure of the room, she stepped back, turned, and entered to look around.

The large space was aglow. A multitude of burning wax peppered the room to adorn it in the soft bask of candlelight. Soft instrumental music played in the background; the tempo and volume perfect for a sensual mood. The fine china and crystal spread on the table, sparkled, the two place settings beside one another on the curve of the oval table. Between the chairs, an ice bucket lingered, the unmistakable rim of a Champagne bottle peered out of the crystallized water.

"You like it?"

The question came as his arms slipped around her waist, his lips dropping to nuzzle at the sensitive arch of her neck. Kate was caught off-guard, her eyes fluttered closed and her knees instantly grew weak. "Damn you," she hissed after a moment.

As he nipped his way down her shoulder and underneath the silk of her wrap, the blond grinned mischievously. "I'll take that as a yes!"

Groaning as she freed herself from his lips, Lansky turned, eyeing the man who'd obviously worked hard on this little 'celebration'. She was about to voice her complaint against the clothes he'd chosen for her, when she noticed what he was, or rather, was not wearing. "Where are your pants?" she frowned suspiciously at the bare legs coming out from below the checkered pattern. "What have you got on under that apron, Larabee?"

Chris held her struggling arms at bay as she tried to remove the blue and white fabric from around his waist.

"I asked you a question," she smirked. Reaching for the loop that encircled his neck, the woman tried to bring it over the man's head.

Tousling and laughing playfully with each other, the couple found themselves back in the hallway and suddenly out of breath. Larabee held Kate's arms over her head, sufficiently pinning her against the far wall. Lips feathering over hers, he spoke seductively. "Do we want to play… or eat?" he teased.

Raising a knee between his legs, Lansky smirked when he pulled back from the quickly movement.

"Not nice," he seethed.

"No… you're not." Pulling at the restraining limbs on hers, the blonde remained forceful but the seductive overtones were in constant attendance. "What's on the menu?" she asked quietly, pecking at his lips, eyes downcast.

His body held her firmly but Chris allowed their arms to drift down. Taking her fingers between his, he finally assaulted her mouth, the kiss as searing and wanton as any they'd ever shared. "First… or second course?" he mumbled when they broke for air.

When their lips joined again, Kate forced her hands free, bringing them up quickly to take his head. Fingers on his cheeks and temples, she pushed him back after a moment, gasping for breath. Gazing into his lustful green eyes, she smiled. "You serving with that damn apron on… or do I get to see your outfit?"

Larabee laughed quietly. "You don't like?"

Still holding his mouth at bay, the woman raised one eyebrow. "Thought we settled that already."

Remembrance sparking in his eyes, Chris shook his head gently. "I was asking about the dining room before," he clarified.

As she relaxed her arms to encircle his neck, Lansky nodded her understanding. "Oh, I see," she feigned displeasure. "So, it had nothing to do with these… clothes…" her eyebrows rose as she motioned to herself, "or the body in them?"

Larabee pretended to be thinking long and hard, his eyes sent skyward, his bottom lip sucked up in contemplation. "Now, let me see…."

She slapped him on the shoulder before another word could escape his lips.

Instantly reacting, Chris reached down and scooped Kate in to his arms. The giggles, shrieks, and playful cuffing didn't deter the man from his quest. Even her 'what do you think you're doing' didn't get answered as Larabee found the sofa and threw her down, landing on top of the splayed form.

"Get off me, you jerk!"

He had her pinned again. His knees on the floor, his upper body completely over hers. Still fighting with wayward limbs, he finally subdued her. "Jerk, huh?"

Lansky sneered playfully. "And proving me right at this very moment," she struggled.

Chris was about to answer her accusation when a buzzer sounds from across the hall. All motion slowed before finally stopping.

Piercing blue eyes met satin green.

There was a moment of silence before she spoke. "The dinner bell?"

The man in black smiled, laughing as his head came to rest on her chin. "I could just turn off the oven," he offered, gazing back at her.

As his weight shifted and his arms relaxed their grip, Kate scooted up on the sofa, finally ending up in a sitting position. Larabee had moved with her. His lower body still on the floor, his arms lay on either side of her hips, his head at her chest. "That's not very fair," she said in all honesty. Rubbing a palm across his cheek tenderly, her tongue wrapped itself around her bottom lip for a moment before she spoke. "You've obviously worked hard on this night, Chris. Let's not waste it."

He felt her insistent reach and, leaning up to meet the kiss she offered, the blond made it last. Smiling as they parted, he stood, offering her a hand up.

Lansky accepted graciously, their fingers still locked as he led her to the kitchen. "Smells so good," she said slowly. Releasing his hands as Larabee moved to the other side of the breakfast counter, she watched carefully as he checked the oven.

Turning back to face Kate, Chris offered her a sly smirk. "Why don't you go back to the dining room while I serve this up properly," he suggested.

"I can help."

He smiled again, but the twinkle in his eyes gave her an answer. "Okay, okay," she conceded. Giving him one last lustful look before disappearing down the hall, Lansky waited patiently for her man to come.

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

A plate in each hand, Larabee stepped into the dining room ten minutes later. She was studying the tiny cars preserved so carefully behind the glass of the display case and had her back to him. He paused for a moment, the serenity of the scene capturing his imagination, the softness of her shape incredibly pleasing in the lingerie he'd chosen so carefully.

She hadn't heard him come in, but the rustling of the ice finally drew her attention. Kate turned slowly, the sight of Chris Larabee making her mouth inch open in amazement.

The apron was gone.

'Holy shit'

It took a moment before she could move, but when she could, Lansky swallowed hard. Venturing to his side, she looked him up and down.


Oh, the apron was gone, all right!

The black silk shirt was unbuttoned, the sleeves rolled partially, stopping at the elbow. Slipping one hand under the material, Kate turned Chris bodily by the waist. Her lips curled mischievously as she looked down at his lower body. "I don't believe it," she hissed, her voice so playful and yet, heavy with passion.

Larabee smirked right back at her. "What's the matter?" he asked so matter-of-factly it stung. "You act like you've never seen my jeans before…."

Her eyes darted to his, but the curse on her lips slowly gave way to a sly smile. "You ever wear these to the office and I'll die."

"Is that right?"

Stepping back, Kate's pursed lips slowly let out a deep appreciative breath as her brows raised, then lowered. Staring hard at the black silk, mock-jean-pattern boxers, the woman shook her head slowly. "Well, except for the loose fit, they look exactly like those damn skin-tight things you wear every single frigging day," she smirked. "Where the hell did you get them? And please don't tell me you had them specially made."

Chris licked his slips slowly. Obviously exceedingly amused with her reaction, he looked more than a little cocky when he spoke. "Have to look in all the right places, when you have something specific in mind. What's the matter?" he stepped closer and ran his hands around her waist. "You don't like?"

Inwardly, Lansky swallowed hard. There was something to be said for handsome, but 'Damn' if sexual attraction wasn't ruling her thoughts right now… Pulling away indignantly, she tried hard to hide her desire. "The food's getting cold," she motioned to the table. "Let's eat."

Curious at her reaction, Chris didn't want to pursue just yet. He took her chair as she shoved it backwards, then backed off when she glared at the offer to push it in. Snickering softly, he sat down beside her and poured the champagne.

Eyeing the bottle, the woman huffed. "And you picked that stuff on purpose I suppose?" She spoke as he filled their glasses and his frown begged for an explanation. "Damn bubbles go right to my head," she sneered. "Give me a good bottle of hooch any day."

The slight cock of his head showed Larabee's agreement. "Amen, to that," he added. Setting the carafe back in the ice bucket, he lifted his glass in a toast. "But tradition dictates we celebrate with this," he clinked his crystal with hers as she picked it up. "We'll do the bottle justice and break out the Jack later."

"Amen, to that," she smirked.

Glasses still held at eye level, Larabee's smile faded as he spoke quietly. "Here's to us, Kate," his goblet rose and lowered as he silently toasted her. "A month ago… well, so I wasn't so smooth in telling you what I wanted. Seems… you wanted it, too, though," he glanced down at the table coyly before returning his gaze to hers. "Seems to works!" he continued. "We fit well together, you and me… We've got places to go and things to do. We're far from being done… I'm up for the ride, how about you?"

Lansky's eyes had drifted as he talked, her focus settled on his lips, as though reading each syllable of the declaration. She heard the words as well, of course, and for a minute, she was stunned, her silence broken only by the internal conflict of her thoughts.

Yet, his question deserved an answer.

Blue reflections lazily drifted to find their green companions, the woman stared for just a moment. "Ain't much on promises, Chris. Too hard on a body… when they have to be broken… you know that."

The statement of fact was both given, and acknowledged, by sight alone.

"Places to go and… things to do," she thought for a second, the tilt of her chin clear. "Okay," she grinned softly. "I like adventure. Just… let's not do it all on horseback, all right? Damn cattle-pony is a pain in the ass."

Larabee chuckled, remember the string of foul words after her dismount on Sunday. "That's my girl," he offered as their glasses clinked again.

Her expression was serious all of a sudden. "I don't come with ownership papers, Larabee," she shot back. "You remember that, and we'll get along fine."

"Just a choke chain and leash, huh?" he laughed.

Her reactive glare softened and, tossing back the champagne, Lansky coughed and spluttered as it hit the back of her throat. "Goddamn… son-of-a…."

Restraining his chuckles, Chris swallowed some of his drink and set the glass aside. Tapping her back lightly as she patted her chest, he looked concerned as she fought for breath. "You alright?"

"Oh… yeah!" she coughed out the words. "Damn bubbles just went down the wrong way, is all."

"Well, as long as you're okay," he retrieved his arm, picking up his knife and fork. "I'm gonna dig in before this gets cold."

Clearing her throat one last time, Kate smiled and nodded her concurrence to the suggestion.

The couple leisurely enjoyed the meal Chris had fixed. The large, tender slices of roast beef went very well with the gravy and mashed potatoes he'd prepared as accompaniment. On one side of the plate sat peas and carrots, while on the other, a double helping of sautéed mushrooms and onions.

Clearing her plate, Kate set the cutlery in the center. Answering his 'seconds?' with a frown, she politely informed the blond that she was 'more than full'. Larabee acknowledged her words with a contented smile.

His plate clean as well, Chris emptied the last of the champagne into her glass. Tipping the bottle upside-down, he placed it back in the ice bucket. "Fire's going in the living room," he offered. "Why don't you go relax while I clean up?"

Eyebrows rising lazily, Lansky considered the words for a moment and smiled mischievously. "Hope you don't expect an argument?"

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

Completing his 'clean-up' and turning everything off, Larabee had secured the door, and set the alarm. Standing at the entrance to the large room, he watched the flames flicker, the glimmer casting shadows across the darkened room. He wandered in quietly, surveying the blonde head for signs of movement. Rounding the sofa, he couldn't help but grin.

Relaxing, as ordered, Kate was perched on the corner cushion, one elbow resting comfortably on the arm of the couch, the hand holding a whiskey glass. Her eyes were closed as the fingers of her other fist twirled idle circles around the rim of the tumbler.

Glancing at the floor, Chris paused for a moment, unsure if he wanted to disturb the beautiful scene. Looking back, he licked at his lips before clearing his throat. "Traded the bubbles for burn, huh?"

As her eyes wavered open, Kate smiled, peeking down at the glass. "Burn? Hell, no," she replied sluggishly. "Finished that other stuff hours ago. Just got thirsty, is all."

"Hours ago," Larabee repeated with a quizzical frown. He'd only been in the other room for fifteen, twenty minutes, tops.

"Damn straight!" the woman sipped at her glass.

Nodding as his lips pursed, the man in black, sighed. "Okay, remind me not to buy Champagne next time."

'Next time?" Kate looked up at the man thoughtfully.

The corners of Larabee's mouth curled in the tiniest of smiles. "We're allowed to have as many anniversaries as we want, you know."

Suddenly locked in a passionate, almost challenging stare, the air in the room warmed considerably as the couple's fiery scowls did battle.

The whole idea of 'commemorating' anything was uncomfortable and Lansky tried to steer the conversation elsewhere. "Well, you have to at least promise to keep cooking," she offered at a whisper. "And… wearing those clothes." With him standing as he was, back to the fire, the blonde could see the flames illuminating the black silk of his matching shirt and boxers. The light accentuated every, single, solitary reason she had for loving his body.

"They come as a matched set," Chris broke her silence, wandering towards her. "If I have to wear mine… then you're obliged to be clothed accordingly."

Setting her glass on the side table, Kate sat forward. Her fingers made contact with his knees and sheepishly meandered higher. "Does the rule book say anything about… staying dressed?" she gazed up at him.

The lovemaking that ensued was vastly different than any they'd shared thus far. The passion Kate allowed herself was mystifying and Chris reveled in the offereing, their satisfaction ten-fold that of any attained previously.

Energy spent, and with arms encircling broad shoulders, Kate found her head latched to Larabee's hot sweaty shoulder, her mouth hung open as lips, and tongue relished the salty reward of his fever. Eyes forced themselves to open and her heartbeat gradually slowed with her breathing.

Chris held his woman safe in his arms, one hand clasped around her waist, while the other held masses of blonde locks in tense fingers. Recognizing the strong hold he had on her head, he began a soft massage on her scalp as his heart and lungs eased their excessive rate.

Autonomic functions slowly returned to normal, and with one last deep breath, Lansky slowly sat up.

Her chin was down when Larabee reacted to her movements. His tired eyes focused as he smiled. "Hey," he coaxed.

Slowly her head rose to meet his stare and a soft smirk replied to his greeting.

Blowing an insistent breath from his lungs, Chris caressed her shoulders. "What say we… head to bed? A little sleep, maybe?"

Without a care in the world, Kate could only nod her agreement. "Not sure I can make it that far," she informed him.

Grinning, Larabee pulled her to his shoulder. "Hang on tight, Babe… I got ya."

Her quizzical expression grew as the blond set his feet to the floor and inched their combined bodies forward on the sofa. Knowing instinctively what he was about to attempt, Lansky wrapped her legs around his hips, holding onto his shoulders with her arms.

Rocking himself to a standing position, Chris held his lover securely as she leaned back slightly to look at him. "You okay?"

Amused and slightly embarrassed, Kate nodded, her chin burying in his shoulder as Larabee headed for the bedroom. "I'm okay," she whispered as they disappeared down the hall.

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

Standing at the bedroom door, Chris watched indignantly as Lansky tossed yesterday's work clothes into her duffel bag. The fact that she was pissed with him hadn't escaped notice… his reward for suggesting that they snuggle a while longer and go to work late.

Larabee knew that she understood the importance of 'downtime'. He reasoned that her military training had left her with the wisdom of 'take it when you can'. Yet, for the life of him, Chris couldn't understand why Kate wouldn't choose to 'take it' with him when the chance arose; especially with what they'd shared last night and again in the wee hours of the morning.

Trying to chase away the disagreement that had come with the pre-dawn light, Chris attempted to lighten their moods. "Guess you could have brought clothes for work, instead of your sweats," he offered. "That way we could've taken one car to work and come straight back here tonight. Get an early start on the weekend."

Zipping her bag, Lansky threw it over her shoulder and spun around to stare at his grinning face. "You had one night," she said casually. "Are you saying it wasn't enough?"

The blond's eyebrows knitted. "We," he replied. "We…." Moving into the room, he wore a scowl. "Damn it, Kate, we just shared something very special. How can you act so casual?" his voice grew quiet. "This 'affair', as you like to call it, is a two way street… And yes, I'd have to say one night isn't enough." Moving up close to his lover, Chris slid his arms around her waist and whispered, "It may never be enough."

The woman listened to the inflection in Larabee's voice. It lowered so subtly when he'd spoken that last sentence. The words murmured, and so seductive that it was hard to concentrate.

Yet, she needed to…

Swallowing her doubt, Lansky quickly rekindled what was left of her resolve. "So… maybe next weekend I'll stay for two nights."

Larabee's eyes closed against her nonchalant answer, his head cocking to one side, his lips bunched up tight in anger. A moment passed in silence as he fought against his combative tendencies. It was just so damned hard when your discussion partner was being indifferent about things you considered important.

Sufficiently calmed, Chris looked down into her blue eyes, his lips leaning down to feather hers. "Every night would be better," he said quietly.

It took a few seconds for Kate to react, but when she did, it was with a quiet Chris knew wasn't real. "It's only been a month, Chris," she turned, pushing him aside as she answered. "Sleeping together is easy, remember?"

The blond sucked in his bottom lip. He nodded slowly as his eyes narrowed. "I remember," he scowled. "Sex is easy... How could I forget that, 'oh, so memorable' quote?" he spat back sarcastically. "I also remember the 'no strings attached' clause you forced on me."

"Forced?" she stopped at the door

"Yes, forced," he answered before she could say any more.

Kate huffed loudly. "I was honest with you, Chris. I told you we weren't ready for anything… serious."

"We?" he replied, head shaking and a finger rising to point. "No, Kate, you said you weren't ready… I've already told you how I feel."

Her eyes betrayed the anger in her voice as she looked away. There was a moment of silence as she gathered her thoughts. "We both agreed to each other's terms, Chris." Looking back, she glared. "Don't you dare renege on that or so help me, it'll be over so fast, it'll make your head spin."

She did this so easily!

It just took a few wrong words from her and his blood began to boil. How they'd even managed a month mystified Chris in that moment, yet for some reason he wasn't getting overtly angry. He replayed her threat in his mind and gradually, a smile curled his lips. "Good at running away, aren't you? Don't have the guts to stand up an fight like a…"

As though played out in slow motion, the woman's eyes blinked and a blatant smirk grew on her face. "A man, Chris…? Is that what you were going to say?" Knowing his temper was there somewhere, Kate continued to push. "Maybe you should try being one yourself sometimes!"

Slowly, Larabee felt his control slipping away.

The clench in his jaw didn't go unnoticed, but Lansky had something to say and, come hell or high water, she was going to say it. "I didn't fight you last weekend, Chris. You mentioned, Sarah, just like you've done a thousand times before. You asked about Cole and I told you what I could. At least I gave you that much. I don't intentionally run away from the issue. Not like you do!"

"Me?" the man in black looked at her, anger mounting. "I've never run away from anything in my life."

Kate didn't even attempt to stifle her snicker. "Hah! That's a laugh," she answered. "Especially coming from a man who quit the force and buried his head in a bottle." Realizing instantly that she'd crossed that imaginary line, the woman watched as Larabee's gaze clouded, finally averting. "Sorry, Chris," she offered, only slightly abashed by her brazen words. "But the truth hurts sometimes. Running away doesn't solve anything."

Larabee's laughter halted her exit from the bedroom and Lansky looked back at the man in black. "Something funny?" she sneered.

A hand quickly rising to flex over his eyes, the fingers traveled over the blond head to grasp at his scalp. "Yeah," Chris answered as he pushed past Kate and headed down the hallway. Knowing she was trailing, he continued. "You and me… we're a hoot."

The woman couldn't stop the angry frown that formed as she followed him into the kitchen.

Turning, Larabee huffed as he recognized the query in her expression. "Pretty funny, don't you think? We can see the fault in each other's argument, but not in our own."

Tucking the duffel bag over her shoulder again, Kate assumed a relaxed pose all of a sudden. 'If you only knew' she chastised. Her head cocked in thought and seconds ticked by, blue eyes staring at cool green, a gentle smile on both sets of lips.

Chris was tired of this game!

One minute they were acting like any other couple, smiling, loving… and the next thing he knew, she'd be brushing him off as though they barely knew each other.

Breaking the stalemate, he turned.

Reaching for the closest drawer, the blond opened it and retrieved something. Closing the slider, none too quietly, his gaze returned to the woman as he slipped a key across the counter. "There!" he spoke strongly. "Now you can make your own schedule."

Lansky's eyes took in the object before she refocused on the man in black. "What's that supposed to be, Chris?" she questioned matter-of-factly. "The key to your home… or your heart?"

There was a challenge in her words again, but Larabee wasn't prepared for the answer she gave when he met her provocation head-on.

'Maybe both' Chris had answered in a whisper.

Those words shouldn't have incited such a reaction… should they?

Her words shot back at him with such fury, he was stilled stunned… Her answer left him hollow and that emptiness just deepened as he watched her storm out of his house promising 'not in this lifetime'.

Larabee stood and stared at that key. Part of him was trying to figure out how such a simple offering could have so many absurd connotations. Another piece of his consciousness was wondering why the hell Kate had stormed off… not waiting for an answer… His remaining thoughts were trying to wrap themselves around the truth in her words.

"Both…? Hah...! That's the most ludicrous thing I've heard come out of your mouth yet! Chris Larabee doesn't have a home anymore. He lives within four walls, yes, but they stopped being his home the day his family was killed… Sad thing is, he just doesn't realize it."

The blond had tried to object at that point…

"Ah… let me finish!" her hand waved.

"You're so right, Chris. You don't see the fault in your own argument. You don't see her standing between us." Kate continued through the changing expressions on his face. "You can't give me what you don't have, Chris," she flicked the key back at him. "You lost your home, and your heart that day. She's always had it. She still does. Sarah Larabee will own you till the day you die."

There was a pause as beleaguered green eyes stared into resilient blue.

"I'll never begrudge either of you that, Chris. She captured your heart and she… she deserved your love… I can't compete with that. I don't want to. I'd never try."

Lansky turned away, her head the only thing to look back. "I've listened to your stories, Chris. Long before we were lovers, we were friends... Maybe, our friendship was too close." There was another pause as she licked at her lips. "I know how much you loved Sarah… you've told me that… many, many times. And like any good friend would, I listened… Maybe too well." She half turned to face him again. "You can't offer me what you don't own, Chris. You'll never own them again… or me… not in this life time."

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

"I hope it is not your plan to finish this bottle, Senorita," Miss Recillos questioned the woman in the darkened booth. Lansky had been there since opening at 11:30 and the pretty Mexican was beginning to worry.

"Half empty… or half full," the blonde looked at her friend. "What do you think, Inez?"

"I think you need to go home, Kate," the manager smiled. "Sleep off the drink and some of your anger with it."

Sitting up sharply, Lansky grinned. "I'm not angry," she insisted forcefully. Throwing back another swig, she grabbed her bottle and poured some more of the rye into her empty glass. "And I'm nowhere near as drunk as I need to be," she added, raising the tumbler for another shot.

Leaving Chris at the house before he'd had a chance to stop her, she'd used the drive home to take out some of her frustration. Almost exploding into her apartment, she'd stalked to the bedroom, stripped and taken a very long and very cold shower. The ice water melted her anger somewhat but the images it brought forth were worse.

Too many times, they'd haunted her, and when the macabre memories were too much… this is exactly how she chased them away… freezing them into silence.

Irritated that the 'cure' was worse than the 'pain', Lansky had dressed, paying particular attention to the ever-present 'key' pouch as she snapped it around her waist. A moment of hesitation had her considering leaving it at home. It wasn't safe in her hands with her mind on edge…

She was proud of herself for showing such restraint, nevertheless… took it anyway. She never left home without it!

The office was chaotic. Things were heating up with the Prichard case and the team reacting accordingly. Larabee had come in a half-hour late, and his worried look quickly turned to a glare as she'd met his resilience with equal volatility.

Then Standish had shown up, setting his teammates off with his attitude and mood. Chris had tried to calm his reaction, but he'd barked orders, first at the men, and then at Lansky.

That was the last straw…

As his office door slammed, Kate had closed out her programs and set the computer to 'shut-down' mode. Grabbing her backpack, she'd left, relatively unnoticed. Heading for Orin's office, she made her excuses and 'went home for the day', leaving Travis and Delaney both frowning.

That was some three hours ago, and as far as the blonde was concerned, they could all go to hell!

Inez watched the brown liquid disappear down Kate's throat and she shook her head gently. "Can I get something for you to eat, at least?" she offered, knowing full well that the woman wouldn't be deterred from the whiskey.

"Sure," Lansky smiled, filling her glass once more. "Bring me your finest," she settled back into the confines of the inviting enclosure.

The longer she sat, the cozier it became.

It was approaching four o'clock when the blonde spotted a familiar face as he appeared to 'storm' into The Saloon. Heading straight for the bar, the man planted himself firmly on a stool and ordered.

From her secluded hideaway, Kate watched as Inez talked to him for a while, eventually leaving the man to the bottle he was fast consuming. She frowned; wondering if his troubles were new… or the morning's mood, come back to dwell.

The blonde huffed, "Hell have no fury." Her smile was wicked.

Grabbing her half-empty bottle, Kate poured some more rye into her glass. She'd started this second jug and was determined to finish it before finding her way home.

Continuing with her 'people watching', Lansky smiled when a young couple came into the bar some time later, obviously getting off work and ready for a 'hot' Friday night on the town. She poured another drink as they disappeared into a booth, hidden from prying eyes, as it were.

Taking a deep breath as she rolled the glass in her hands, the blonde's eyes drifted to the man at the bar once more. She stared for a while, following his glass as it moved up to his lips, then slowly came down. Unconsciously, she matched his movements, her own tumbler lingering at moistened lips, as his did the same.

Suddenly cognizant of where her brazen thoughts had drifted, Lansky choked on the last drops in her whiskey. Sitting up, she coughed out the annoyance before picking up a handful of pretzels. Refilling the glass, her gaze once more drifted to the bar.

Sucking on the length of each pretzel stick, Kate removed all the salt before munching the baked treat. She no longer recognized her behavior as she studied the agent, curious about his apparent gruff responses to Inez's attentions and distracted by the alluring sexual energy he was emitting.

Lansky's thoughts drifted to her attraction to primitive tendencies some men displayed. She was far from being a 'delicate flower' and liked the idea of her 'bed partners' being able to match her attitude and fortitude, head to head.

As the last of the bottle emptied into her glass, Kate's eyes were again glued to the man and his barstool. His bottle more than half emptied in the hour or so he'd been there, Lansky figured it was time to talk. Swallowing the last of her rye, she found the end of her table and pulled herself to a standing position.

The room spun for a moment, her eyes closing involuntarily to stop the contents of her stomach from seeking a fast exit. A few deep breaths later, she blinked, eyes finding the agent and the empty seat beside him. Steadying herself, Kate took those first few cautious steps that would send her to his side.

Sliding on to the empty barstool, apparently unnoticed, she grabbed the bottle adjacent to his arm. She smiled sweetly as he turned, obviously readying to snatch it back.

With recognition visible in his familiar green eyes, the man backed off, silently permitting her presence.



Continues in Then, You Fall . . .


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