The characters and situations belong to NBC and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This is for Penn, who said she could use a fic. wink It takes place early in the season.


If they didn't settle down, Frank thought grimly, he was going to walk out there and knock some heads together.

Not really, of course; he wasn't the hands-on type of leader. But a few sharp, well-placed phrases could have much the same effect. It was just that he hated the hang-dog looks he would get afterwards. He wanted his team to be obedient--within reason, anyway--not guilty.

His team. They weren't quite, not yet, but they were on their way. They didn't trust him yet, and that was to be expected, even applauded. Blind trust was no way for a UC agent to behave. They'd lost their previous leader under tragic circumstances, seen all the close-knit relationships and patterns shattered, seen his place taken by someone they didn't know, whose next moves they couldn't predict. If they had trusted him at once, he would have bounced them out--or at the very least sent them back to Basic for remedial training.

Still, if they don't shut up... Jake's voice rose in a shout over the quarreling; he could definitely make himself heard if he wanted to. It dropped, but the silence was complete enough for Frank's sharp ears to pick up the rest of his sentence. Do you want Donovan to hear you?

"Too late," Frank muttered. The closet he'd chosen as his office wasn't exactly soundproof, and their barn of a headquarters made sound carry. He didn't know what they were arguing about, they'd kept their voices low enough, and now he could hear no more than a few sullen murmurs.

On impulse, Frank swung his chair around, being careful to avoid knocking his knees on a filing cabinet. Space was at a premium in his office. Pulling open one of the drawers, he lifted out a handful of file folders, bland and innocuous and labeled only with initials.

The first one happened to be Jake's. Frank flipped it open, paging through it even though he knew most of the information by heart. Jake the chameleon, Jake the rebel, Jake the kid without family besides other underprivileged kids and a handful of overworked clergy. The team had become his family, in a sense, but that was true for all of them, to some extent. After all, so much of their work could not be spoken of, except to one who already knew.

The last pages in the file were handwritten notes, dated not too long ago. The writing was clear and precise, hinting at an ordered, intelligent mind; the notes, never meant to be seen by their subject, detailed a worry that Jake was being tempted. Not to confuse the cover with reality; he was too sharp for that. But to make it real, for the promise of something he'd never had but yearned for--

But he hadn't. Frank closed the file and put it on his desk. Jake had held. He'd faced his trial and come out the other side. Frank knew where he stood with the young agent--he was rebellious, independent, a little wild, but in the end he was trustworthy.

The next file was Alex. Notes here too, but they were colder, more formal, their very crispness telling Frank that the writer had felt either strong dislike for Alex, or a strong attraction, and in ironclad fairness had adhered only to the most professional of facts and speculations. Judging from the fresh pain in the back of Alex's eyes, Frank guessed that the emotion had been the latter.

Where Jake was a chameleon, Alex was a shapeshifter. Give her a role and she transformed into it, becoming criminal or cop, madam or maestro as required, no seams showing. Her range was wider than any other agent he'd ever worked with, and her ability was unquestionable.

But she too had her chinks. An older note in the file, in another hand, breathed the slightest suspicion that Alex had become too deeply involved with one of her marks. Always a risk for any agent, the knowing of a suspect as a whole person, not just as a face and a collection of deeds. There was stress under Alex's voice when she spoke, and whether it was old or new, Frank meant to keep an eye on her. He'd promised.

The next file--Cody. The antithesis of his calm, methodical father, he twitched and joked and pushed his luck--and delivered. Frank knew quite well that Cody baited him because he feared Frank. That would pass in time, as he realized that Frank wasn't going to get rid of him, or take his toys away, or even snap at him very often. And in the meantime, he was still the best there was, delivering data and connections and technology at astonishing speed, providing the lifeblood of information that a UC operation could not run without. He knew which camera or microphone to use, how to install it, and how to interpret the information. And if he ever found out how much his leader admired his abilities...well, he'd probably pass out. And then I'd never hear the end of it.

Monica was the last file. "Profiler" was an inadequate title. She was not only the on-board psychologist, she was a pinch-hitter, flexible, filling in the gaps when they needed another bit player. Her intuition about people was uncanny and essential; she used it as the tool it was, able to cut through to the heart of someone's darkness with direct clarity.

He remembered the look she'd given him when he'd asked for profiles of Alex and Jake--incredulous, almost insulted, but more on her friends' behalf than for herself. Out of all of them, she had accepted Frank the most so far; she was more stable than the others, handling most cases from the safe perch of observation and the dispassionate viewpoint. In a sense, Monica was the center of the team, the calm rationality that balanced Cody's nervous energy and the carefully constructed fantasies of Jake and Alex. She didn't bother to showcase her brilliance, and it made Frank respect her all the more.

Frank sat for a long time, thinking, before replacing the files in their bottom drawer. He didn't lock it; if he couldn't trust his team to stay out of his private files, then he couldn't trust them at all. As he straightened, he realized that the voices in the main room had been gone for some time.

Rising, he went out onto the landing and looked down. Only Alex sat there, idly tapping away at one of Cody's computers. She looked up as he put one hand on the railing.

"They've gone out for Chinese," she said, answering his question before he could speak it. "Or Monica has, and Jake's taking Cody for a walk." The dry humor in her voice was not lost on Frank, and he raised one brow in response. He nodded, turning away, realizing with a touch of bleakness that no one had asked if he was hungry. He didn't expect them to trust him yet, but it would have been nice to be included--it would have told him that they were beginning to accept him as a member of their team.

"Cashew chicken and an eggroll, right?" Alex's voice stopped him, and he turned back to see inquiry on her face. "That's what you always get, so that's what we ordered."

"That's right." He didn't let the smile escape, not yet. It wasn't yet time. "Thank you, Alex." She shrugged a little, her expression neutral. "What were you arguing about earlier?"

"Arguing?" She looked puzzled, and then her face cleared. "Oh, that. Cody wanted pizza." Her tone was unconcerned.

Frank nodded, and retreated to his office, and carefully closed the door before he started to laugh.