This was written in the middle of the first season. Most of the characters and situations belong to NBC and other entities, and no infringement is intended in any way. All other characters are my invention, and if you want to mess with them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any. Many thanks to Michelle, who beta-read this for me. Feedback is most appreciated--my address is


All else being equal, Frank would rather have been home in bed.

Exhaustion nagged at his senses, making his eyes burn and his muscles ache, and he had already sent his weary agents home. But there was still work to be done, and he had stayed behind to do it.

The lights in the nest, he reflected underneath a hum of paperwork thoughts, were not exactly soothing--too bright, too fluorescent. They put a sharper edge on his fatigue. Night gleamed outside the unshaded windows. He ignored it, immersing himself in reports.

When the intruder cleared his throat, Frank's head jerked up and his hand moved toward his gun, but his first glimpse of the figure standing just inside his office door made him relax. This one was not a threat.

"Careless," his visitor said, strolling in.

Frank sighed internally. There was no guarding against the approach of this man, and no ignoring him either, as much as the commander might want to do so. "What can I do for you this time?"

His sarcasm went unacknowledged, though Frank knew that the intruder was quite capable of stings of his own. "I like what you've done to the place," the man said, looking around.

Frank went wary. "It wasn't my idea."

Blue eyes shot him a sharp look. "It was theirs?" At Frank's nod, he sighed. "At least they're getting over it."

Frank forbore to comment.

The man frowned, folding his arms over his protective vest. "You're being too hard on Jake," he said finally.

Frank let out his breath and leaned back in his chair. "I have to be. He's reckless, and it's going to get him killed."

The other man did not give an inch. "It's you that's going to get him killed. Keep him on too short a leash, and he'll break out and do something stupid."

"Stupid?" Frank gave a short, humorless laugh. "Sending him in without a complete background was stupid. It left him wide open to those cops, and it was sheer luck that he wasn't found out."

"You can't always do things by the book, g-man," the other taunted. "It worked, didn't it?"

"Yeah, it worked. That time." Frank's momentary anger drained away into his exhaustion. "If we're going to work together he has to give a little. I can't have rogues on my team."

His visitor's mouth tightened, and he paced a few steps, paralleling the edge of Frank's desk. "You're an arrogant SOB," he said. "You walk in and expect them all to fall into line as though nothing happened."

Frank shook his head. "You haven't been paying attention. It's true I stayed apart at first, but they had to get used to me. Staying distant gave them something peripheral to dislike until they were ready to move on." He wondered briefly why he was trying to explain himself to this man, but conceded privately that if anyone had a right to know, his visitor did.

The other man's eyes narrowed, but he was silent for a moment. "So far, so good," he said at last. "You're the best, or they wouldn't have given you the command."

Frank shrugged off the compliment. "Aren't you going to take me to task for snubbing Cody?"

Blue eyes warmed. "Nah. He'll get the picture." The intruder chuckled. "He looks up to you, you know."

Frank tilted his head in acknowledgment. "He's a real asset. And he and Monica together are unmatchable."

The other man nodded. "I don't worry about her." One corner of his mouth turned up. "She knows what to expect from you, and that's enough for her, for now."

Frank nodded, but kept his eyes on the figure across the expanse of the desk. "And Alex?" he finally asked softly.

"Alex," the other man repeated wistfully, bringing up one hand to rub at the back of his neck. "She's not doing too well."

"She's taking another look at her life, she and Jake both," Frank said quietly. "Don't think I'm not aware of it."

The intruder lowered his arm. "And?"

Frank sighed. His visitor would not like his answer. "I'm monitoring the situation."

"Monitoring the--you cold-blooded--"

Frank frowned. "I can't force them to stay! Either of them." When the other man remained silent, he went on. "They have to make their own choices. Keeping them against their better judgment would be disastrous, both for them and for the team. You know that." He rubbed his eyes wearily. "I only hope they make up their minds soon."

The intruder regarded him a long moment, then nodded. "Yeah. I guess you're right."

Frank relaxed a little at the concession. "Any suggestions?"

The visitor shook his head and ran a hand through his short crest of hair. "Nah. Not this time. Except--take care of Alex."

Frank snorted. "Or what?"

"You don't want to know, g-man." The voice was already fainter as the intruder took himself away as silently as he'd come. Frank blinked, unnerved, finally letting his uneasiness show on his face. These nocturnal visits were rare but definitely stressful. And yet--under the same circumstances, he might do the same himself.

"You don't have to ask," he said softly to the empty room. "I'll take care of all of them."

There was no answer, but then Frank didn't expect one. Turning back to his computer, he went on with his work. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could get home to bed.