Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made
A/N: Refers briefly to my story "Bless You" and EssieJane2's story "Unsupervised". If you haven't read hers yet, it's a good introduction to this one and a fun read.
Chris Larabee exited the elevator on the floor of the federal building that housed his team's offices. He had been trapped in a budget meeting all day, having to explain why Team Seven needed more money than many of the others in the bureau. Office politics wasn't Chris' strong point . . . he hated all the hoops and games that seemed to go along with such things and was about to blow a gasket, the vein in his forehead throbbing in warning.
Judge Travis had also been present, and recognizing the signs of an impending explosion, the older man had finally pointed out Team Seven's high arrest and conviction record and flatly told the budget committee that since his top team was one of the most effective in the agency, to just give them the money and reap the rewards instead of hounding his lead agent. The assistant director had then added his fairly impressive glare to Larabee's imposing one, and the recipients of the twin stares had caved before Chris had to shoot somebody.
His heels tapped a staccato tattoo on the tiled floor as he headed wearily for the bullpen that currently housed the rest of his team. One hand held an expensive black leather briefcase that his undercover agent had gotten him for just such occasions, the well-dressed figure reminding him that ‘appearances were everything' as he handed the stylish gift over. The other arm was carrying some things the judge had given him, but the long fingers had still managed to loosen the silver brocade tie he wore with a slightly darker solid silk shirt. Tailored ebony dress pants and a matching jacket covered his long legs and strained across his broad shoulders, black leather slip-on shoes with a discreet silver bar resting on his feet instead of the dark cowboy boots he often wore. Even Ezra had been unable to find fault with the blond's attire, remarking that Larabee could look like he stepped off of the cover of GQ when he so desired. Of course, Standish had also added that it was a shame that the SAC didn't want to more often!
As he got closer to the door, the lean form slowed down warily. The other six members of the team had been alone all day, with little except paperwork to occupy them. That was a dangerous combination. Tanner, Standish, and Wilmington were all three prone to practical jokes and Vin and Buck, along with JD Dunne also got bored easily. Filling out reports . . . in triplicate usually . . . was guaranteed to make them want to find some distractions.
It was the kind of distractions that Chris was worried about. He'd come in before to find the ceiling tiles of the bullpen looking like a cave of wooden stalactites where they'd had contests to see who could get a pencil to stick the longest; paper wads all over the floor where they'd been playing trash can basketball and deliberately started missing just to add to the fun; and holes in the wall where they'd been wrestling and various elbows and knees had missed human contact and hit the paneling; etc. And that was just from a few hours alone. God knew what damage they'd been able to inflict with almost a whole eight hours at their disposal! He just hoped that Josiah and Nathan had been a calming influence…
Squaring his shoulders, the blond reached to open the door and then paused just inside. Hazel eyes that were currently an icy green shade took in the tableau in front of him, while sculpted lips pursed in an unidentifiable expression.
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner, sharpshooter extraordinaire, stood next to his desk with his bare chest glistening damply in the fluorescent lights. The sniper's slender build was somewhat deceptive since muscles now rippled across his shoulders and pecs, while bronzed skin trailed down over washboard abs and disappeared into the waist of the faded jeans he wore. The denim was splotched with wet spots and bare feet peeked out from under the hems of the legs. His brown leather motorcycle boots and socks were currently sitting on his desk in front of a portable fan, the vamps dark with moisture. One hand brushed the shoulder-length hair back as the sky blue eyes looked up and the attractive mouth gave his boss a sheepish grin.
Before Chris could say anything, his attention was drawn to the amazing sight of his normally impeccably dressed undercover agent. Ezra was just stomping in from the break room with what looked suspiciously like a tablecloth wrapped around his slim waist. Black western boots covered his feet instead of the Italian loafers that he'd been sporting that morning, and his service weapon was strapped around his waist over the tablecloth. Like Tanner, muscles that were seldom seen under the designer suits rippled impressively as he moved, the lights giving his skin an almost glowing effect. The talented fingers of one hand held his wet Egyptian cotton shirt while the other carried the matching emerald and pale green paisley silk tie. His poker face was in place, but the green eyes were sparkling with something that Larabee couldn't quite decipher. It looked like a cross between a desire to commit murder and an intense effort not to laugh out loud. Seeing Chris, Standish just came to a quick halt like a deer caught in a car's headlights.
Sucking on his teeth in contemplation, Chris' gaze moved to see what shape the rest of the men were in. A small frown creased his brow when he saw that Buck was holding some paper towels with ice in them to what appeared to be a sizable lump on the side of his head. Nathan was waving two fingers in front of the ladies' man and asking what day it was to make sure the tall brunet wasn't concussed apparently. At least Wilmington was fully dressed as far as Chris could tell, though the sapphire blue shirt was open a bit further than normal and what looked like drops of blood stained one side of the collar, while the tanned skin visible in the opening appeared a bit moist.
When he swung his gaze to JD, it was to discover that the electronics tech had one tennis shoe off and his left leg propped up on the corner of his rather untidy desk. The ankle looked swollen and Josiah was just putting the pillow that he normally kept on his own chair under Dunne's foot. The back of the profiler's shirt was wet and the tail was hanging loose, and his usually neat salt-and-pepper waves were a little disheveled and looked almost sticky.
When Chris took a closer look at Jackson, it was to find that the medic was discreetly holding his own ribs with the hand that wasn't busy with Buck. What looked like tangled threads where the shirt had been ripped stuck out around his long fingers.
Further examination revealed that the floor near Vin and Ezra's desks was wet, a mop lying abandoned nearby. A plastic two-liter soda bottle was resting forlornly in a corner, while Buck's desk was somewhat out of place and JD's trash can was on its side with wadded papers and discarded mail scattered across that part of the floor. A new hole about six feet high was visible in the wall behind Wilmington, and the brunet's commendation plaque that had hung there was now face-down on the ground. A bit of fabric was stuck to the corner of Josiah's five-foot bookcase and various volumes and magazines were now stuffed on the shelves in haphazard fashion, unlike the normal neat arrangement. And over all were drops of liquid that still dripped occasionally to the floor tiles, making unbelievably loud ‘plop' sounds as they echoed in the sudden silence that had overtaken the room at Larabee's entrance.
Looking around one more time, eyes moving in a slow sweep of the whole room, the blond finally found his voice.
"What the hell happened here??"
His voice wasn't that loud, but the somewhat strident tone caused Wilmington to wince and shut his eyes, Vin to lower his gaze and duck his head, and Ezra to expand his ‘deer in the headlights' posture to his whole body, which was frozen with one foot in front of the other. The A/C vent was blowing the corner of his rather scant covering around, but he didn't want to risk drawing any extra attention to himself by grabbing for it. Much better to let one of the others move or speak first . . . this was going to be embarrassing enough as it was without having to start off the chaotic explanation.
When no one answered right away, Chris skewered each man with a green laser beam. All any of them did was flinch, fidget, or grimace uncomfortably. JD was usually the easiest to break when he wanted information, but Vin looked the most guilty so Larabee started with him, moving to stand in front of the bare-chested sniper so that Tanner was trapped between him and the desk that he had one hip resting against.
"Vin? You wanna tell me what this is about? It looks like all hell broke loose."
The sniper swallowed at the alarmingly soft question. Chris was more scary when he was quiet than he was when he yelled. Picking a spot on Larabee's shoulder to look at instead of his friend's face, Vin finally answered.
"Just went t' get a Coke, Cowboy."
Chris' mouth fell open in disbelief. One hand sat the briefcase down, careful to avoid the wet spot on the floor, and swept around in a shallow arc.
"All this happened because you went to get a soda??"
The sandy head nodded. "Yep."
Larabee's fingers now came up to pinch the bridge of his nose as he let out a sigh. Sometimes getting something out of Tanner was like pulling teeth . . . a slow, arduous process. He had a feeling he was gonna need some ibuprofen . . . or a drink . . . when this was done.
"Start at the beginning Vin." The piercing gaze lit on each one again. "Then I'll get to the rest of you, so be planning what you want to say carefully . . . I've had a long day already."
Now resolutely meeting his friend's eyes, Vin started again, one hand absently swiping at a stray droplet that was trailing down his chest with abandon.
"Well, I guess the beginnin' is when we ordered pizza for lunch, and they were givin' free sodas if ya ordered three or more larges. We ordered six, so we got two bottles. We drank one with the pizzas, but didn't open the other."
Pausing, Vin shifted a bit uncomfortably. He wasn't that much of a talker, and usually he and Chris didn't need that many words to understand each other, but he knew this was going to take some explaining that he'd have to do out loud.
"Alright, you ordered pizza and got free Cokes. How does that pertain to what I see here?" Again the sweep of one hand to encompass the otherwise quiet room as Chris waited for the rest of the story.
"I got thirsty again about a quarter of an hour ago. Went to get the second bottle. Buck wanted some too, so I just brought it out here since we all have cups on our desks."
One of Chris' toes started tapping lightly and the attractive figure ran his tongue over his front teeth even as he rubbed the spot on his temple that was starting to throb.
"Still doesn't tell me why you and Ezra are barely decent and Buck, JD, and Nathan are hurt . . . ."
"I'm gettin' to that part, keep your shirt on."
"I've got mine on." The soft tones now had a bit of a growl to them that Vin recognized, so he hurried on with the story.
"Ok, ok! Anyway, I brought the bottle out and was standin' here at my desk t' open it. Only I didn't know the delivery guy had dropped it on the way up . . . ."
Chris' hazel eyes closed. Alright, he thought he could see where this was going.
Vin confirmed his theory with his next words.
"I was talkin' to Ez while I was twistin' the cap off. When I got it almost open, it bubbled up and blew the top off, soda flyin' everywhere."
"Including all over both you and Ezra I presume . . . ."
The sniper nodded vigorously, a couple of drops of moisture sailing off of his hair and landing perilously close to Larabee's silk shirt.
"Yep! Looked like one of them geysers in Yellowstone or somethin' the way it just kept shootin' out more and more Coke. It soaked my shirt and splashed on my jeans, then dripped all over my boots, with more of it sprayin' all around this side of the room."
JD interjected with a laugh then.
"You should have heard Ez! He was cussing Vin and the soda bottle in at least three languages while he was trying to find something to protect his thousand dollar suit."
Buck opened his eyes and gave a softer than usual chuckle in deference to the pounding drums that were playing in his head.
"Too bad he threw away that rain poncho he had when you and Vin had the cold so bad that time, Pard! As it was, he just got his crocodile briefcase soaked too when he tried to use it as an umbrella."
Emerald eyes skewering him from a few feet away only made the ladies' man snicker more.
"My entire wardrobe for the day was ruined Mr. Wilmington. I do not consider that somethin' to laugh about!"
The undercover agent, who wasn't very covered at the moment, regained the use of his limbs and resumed his path to his desk. There he pulled out some emergency supplies and began to dab carefully at his tie. The shirt he threw to Vin, with the admonition to the sniper to drape it over his chair in front of the fan so that it could dry now that he'd cleaned it the best he could under the circumstances.
Chris' gaze followed the motion and then moved back to the shorter form who appeared unconcerned that he was standing in the federal building in nothing but a tablecloth.
"I take it the Coke got everything you had on wet." The words were more a statement than a question. While Standish wasn't shy, he wasn't one to parade around in a scrap of linen normally either, so it had to be bad for him to look the way he did now.
The gambler's eyebrows raised almost to his hairline even as he skewered the sharpshooter with a disgruntled glare.
"Indeed, Mr. Larabee. While the pernicious liquid only splattered Mr. Tanner's jeans and soaked his shirt and boots, it seems I was in the prime target zone when our esteemed sniper turned the spewin' end in my direction to avoid drownin' himself. It sprayed from my neck to my feet as our ‘friend' there waved it up and down in an attempt to avoid soilin' his own clothin' any more. Everything I had on was soppin' wet by the time he was done. I even had to get the extra pair of boots that I keep in my locker in order not to wade through the small lake that was beginnin' to cover the floor. My second thought . . . my first being to kill Mr. Tanner . . . was to strip as quickly as possible and try to salvage what I could." The southerner's drawl became more pronounced as he finished his aggrieved recital of events.
Larabee raised his own eyebrow.
"So under the tablecloth is . . . ?"
"A refreshin' breeze," answered the undercover agent rather acerbically as he went back to trying to get the cola stain out of his neckwear.
Chris nodded silently as he absorbed the information he'd gathered so far. It still didn't explain everything though. Turning to Buck, he asked the next question.
"So what happened to the rest of you?"
Wilmington lowered the now disintegrating paper towels since the ice had all melted and rested his arm on his knee.
"Well, ya see Stud, when Vin realized that the Coke had all spewed out and that he'd soaked himself and Ez and that Ez was pretty pissed, he threw the bottle into the corner and yanked off his shirt and boots. Doin' like Ezra, he carried ‘em in to clean ‘em up and then when he was done, he came back and set the boots up to dry and got the mop to try to clean up the mess."
"And?" Chris encouraged when Buck paused.
Vin spoke up then.
"I realized that I was just movin' the puddle around, so I leaned the mop against Buck's desk to go get some paper towels . . . ."
Wilmington took the story back up.
"I had the same idea, but I didn't realize he'd rested the mop on my desk."
JD piped up next.
"When Buck got up, he turned to say something to me and didn't see the mop. He tripped over it and fell into the wall."
"Ya know that panelin' ain't much, so when I landed against it, I hit my head pretty hard. Busted right through and left a hole. Ruckus knocked the damn plaque off too."
Nathan took up the story then.
"Josiah jumped up to check on Buck about the same time JD did. Josiah kicked the plaque out of his way, sending it right under the kid's feet. JD twisted his ankle when the wood slid out from under him and sent him sprawlin'."
Sanchez continued the tale a bit sheepishly.
"When the commendation slid out from under JD, it knocked over his wastebasket. I got my foot tangled in it and fell, sliding along the floor on my back right through the soda Vin had tried to mop up. Nathan had made it to check on Buck by then, and he was between Buck's desk and mine."
Now it was the profiler who paused in chagrin and Buck who took the story back up.
"My desk stopped Josiah's slide. Nate was helpin' me, so Josiah pulled himself up and hobbled over to give the Kid a hand. When JD tried to put his weight on his ankle, it buckled. He fell into Josiah, who lost his balance and hit Nathan."
The medic had finished with the ladies' man and turned to give Larabee a rueful grimace.
"When Josiah bumped me, it sent me into his bookcase, makin' everything fly off, and I smacked my ribs on the corner and tore my shirt."
Before Chris could say anything, he held up one hand in a placating gesture. "Don't think I cracked any, just bruised ‘em some. And JD twisted his ankle, but it ain't broken. Buck'll have a headache for a while and be bruised, but he ain't concussed and only has a small cut to the skin that bled a mite. He got a little woozy and sweaty right at first, but seems alright now. I'll keep an eye on him, just t' be safe. Josiah will probably have a few bruises and need a hot bath t' soak out the stiffness, but nothin's broken. And Vin and Ez just need a good shower t' wash off the sticky pop they're covered with, and t' get ‘em somethin' else to wear."
Chris stood quietly and took that all in. Nathan was usually as much of a worry-wart as he was when one of them was hurt, so if the medic wasn't demanding anyone go to the ER, then hopefully it was as he said. Since everyone was relatively okay, the mental image of the chain of events that played through his head made the blond's lips quirk up at one corner and had him wishing he'd had a camera set up so that he could see the sequence of events for himself.
"Alright. I'll take Nathan at his word for now. But you're all coming to the ranch. You're not trustworthy enough to leave alone!"
He suddenly remembered the pile of shirts that he had carried in. Mouth curving up in a genuine grin now, he started handing them out.
"Judge Travis had these made and gave them to me this afternoon after the meeting. I was a little offended at first, but after hearing this, I think he might be right . . . ."
Each man held up the tee that they were given. Printed on the front were the words "In my defense, I was left unsupervised."* Six pairs of lips slowly tilted up to match their leader's.
Chris gave a smirk as he stuffed the black shirt the judge had given him in his briefcase. The hazel gaze again circled the room.
"After what happened today, you may never be left unsupervised again!"
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*Borrowed from a short story by EssieJane2 called "Unsupervised". It's a fun read!