The little calico kitten sat on the coffee table, licking its flank. The little bell jingled softly with each grooming stroke of its tongue, the sound muffled by its own fur.

Vin sat on the couch, eying Tye quizzically.

"What?" Ezra asked, noticing the Texan's gaze.

"She ain't even dirty. Why's she always doing that?"

"Just because you don't find the need to bathe regularly," Ezra drawled as Vin scowled at him, "don't knock those of us that do." Ezra picked up Tye and leaned back on the couch, placing the kitten on his own chest.

Vin just shook his head at the Southerner. Ezra was engrossed with the little ball of fur, and held her under her arms and looked in her face. He made her dance a little.

Chuckling to himself, Vin got up and headed to the kitchen for another beer. The rest of the guys would be arriving soon, and Vin wanted to have his place on the couch firmly staked before anyone tried to grab it from him, and if he already had a beer when everyone arrived then he wouldn't need to get up and risk losing the prized seat. The hockey game was set to start in about a half an hour. The Bruins and the Avalanche were playing, and a game featuring JD's hometown team was always an interesting scene, especially between JD and Buck.

Halfway to the kitchen, the front door opened and Buck came in with JD in tow. Both were carrying bags of goodies and undoubtedly, more beer.

"Vin, grab one of these will ya?" Buck asked while thrusting one of the bags at the sharpshooter and motioned him towards the kitchen. Buck immediately turned and went for the couch. Right where Vin had been sitting. Dammit.

Ezra smiled at their antics, still holding Tye under her arms and dancing her.

Buck vaulted the arm of the couch and sat heavily on the end cushion. Looking at the southerner, he stopped all movement and had a look of what could only be described as fear on his face. It was instantly replaced with a tentative smile. "Uh, whatcha got there Ez?"

"This," Ezra held up the kitten for emphasis, "is Tye."

"When did you get a kitten?" Buck asked, fishing a beer out of the bag he brought with him to the couch, never taking his eyes off the ball of fluff.

"Ez, you got a kitten?" JD asked as he came out of the kitchen and joined them, smiling at the little thing. He reached out to pet her, his grin enormous.

"This is Tye," Ezra explained to JD, holding her up to be seen better. He then faced her to himself, and said "Tye, this.." he held her towards JD, "is JD, and this…" he swung her around to Buck, who seemed no more comfortable than a moment ago, "is Buck."

"Where did you get her Ezra?" JD asked, taking Tye from him and petting her gently. She rubbed her head into his hand at the touch.

"It was a dark and stormy night…"

"He picked up a stray in an alley Friday," Vin said as he joined them from the kitchen. Ezra snickered, recognizing how Vin had summed up the 'long, drawn out story' he had told him the other day. Vin nudged Buck. "You're in my seat."

Buck nodded absently, still sporting a tentative smile. He rose to his feet and grabbed the bag he had brought into the living room. "I uh, I have to go put the beer in the fridge. You guys want anything?" He walked away as he spoke, not waiting for an answer.

When he was gone, Vin asked in a low voice, "What the hell was that about? He never gives up his seat."

"Did you see the look on his face?" Ezra asked. "Something's bothering him. Maybe he doesn't like cats?"

"Did you tell him Tye was a girl?" Vin asked through a chuckle. "He'd like her then."

JD remained quiet. It did not go unnoticed.

"JD…" Vin started, looking over his shoulder to make sure Buck wasn't around. "Do you know something you're not telling us?"

JD smiled, but kept looking into Tye's tiny face. "I know a lot of things I'm not telling you…"

"JD..." Ezra coaxed.

JD looked towards the kitchen, assuring the coast was clear. "Ok, but you never heard this from me, got it?" JD pointed his finger as he spoke, emphasizing his point.

Both men nodded their agreement.

JD breathed in and out once. Then blurted out, "Buck's afraid of cats."

Vin and Ezra glanced at each other, mouths agape, then started to chuckle. Then they couldn't help it… they started to laugh. They were doing their best to stifle their giggles, clasping hands over their own mouths, but then they would look at each other and lose it.

"Guys, it ain't funny. It's a real phobia," JD tried to argue.

Vin stifled his laugh for a moment, taking Tye from JD and, turning her around to face the computer expert asked, "Yeah, this is fucking scary as hell!" At which point, Ezra lost it again.

JD had to admit, it was pretty funny. It wasn't like being afraid of snakes or spiders or anything like that. Those things had definite 'yuck' factor. Kittens were just, well, cute.

"Oh, we gotta mess with him," Vin said, smirking. Tye now rested on Ezra's lap, having been put down by Vin and moseying back over to her 'Daddy'.

Buck sauntered back into the living room, beer in one hand, bowl of chips in the other. He placed the bowl down on the coffee table and sat in one of the other chairs. It was, in fact, as far away as he could be from the kitten.

Vin smiled and winked conspiratorially at Ezra and JD.

"Hey Buck. You want your seat back?" the sharpshooter asked.

Buck shook his head, taking a swig of his beer. "I'm good Vin."

"Come on Buck, why you way over there?" JD chimed in.

"No reason. Just wanted to sit here." Buck was trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

Ezra was stroking the now-slumbering Tye's head as she sat contentedly on his leg. The kitten purred happily while the southerner was enjoying his friend's torment.

"Buck, you want to hold the kitten?" Ezra asked, using a tone of parental pride to goad the tall man into complying.

"Naw, Ez. Sides, she's sleepin and happy." Buck tipped his bottle up and finished his beer. "I'm empty. Anyone need another?" He got up and headed for the kitchen.

Vin, Ezra and JD all laughed.

"Shit, you weren't kiddin!" Vin said through his laugh.

"That is hilarious," added the southerner.

"Oh, I got an idea!" JD said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his keys. The jingling had the kitten looking up at him with sleepy eyes.

"What's that?" Ezra asked.

JD clicked a button and a tiny red dot appeared. Tye was instantly awake and mesmerized. "Laser pointer," JD clarified unnecessarily.

The wicked smiles of the other two men were perfect mirrors of JD's own expression. Wiggling his hand around and causing the laser dot to dance, JD laughed when Tye leapt off the southerner's lap, causing the undercover agent to wince at the use of her sharp little claws. Tye frantically darted this way and that, trying to catch the elusive dot. The three men laughed at her antics and winced when she ran into the leg of the coffee table and then the glass on the front of the entertainment center with a tiny 'thunk'.

Buck came back in the living room, fresh beer in his hand, looking a little more relaxed than when he had left. Even he couldn't help but laugh at the little critter as she desperately tried to hunt her red-dotted foe.

With a flick of the wrists, JD had the dot land at Buck's booted feet. The kitten came at him like one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Buck startled, but tried to hold his composure. He couldn't.

With a yelp that they would describe later as that of a scared little girl, Buck jumped backwards and tried to run away from the kitten. Tye, for her part, found that the untied bootlace of the tall agent was just too good to be true, even better than the red dot. Buck's fraying hemline also added to the draw of the chase.

And it was on.

JD, Ezra and Vin were laughing so hard their sides hurt as this tiny, one pound ball of fluff chased a terrified, highly trained ATF agent around the back of the couch, over to the dining room table, and out into the kitchen, bell jingling merrily as she pranced. Tye slid to a stop on the tile at the kitchen doorway as Buck darted to the counter by the sink.

Catching his breath and trying to slow his heart down, he called out to his cackling friends in the other room, "Shut up guys, it's not fucking funny!!"

This only caused the howling laughter to increase in volume.

Damn them, thought Buck. JD told them! Well, payback is a bitch, and if I get out of this alive, JDs dead!

Tye sat in the doorway to the kitchen, tail twitching, staring at Buck. Buck was sure this creature would eat him. All its teeth were pointy for Christ's sake! It had razor sharp talons! It was fast and could leap and would try to rip his throat out!

Tye twitched her tail again, and slunk down into a prowling crouch. She began stalking the short distance between herself and her prey: Buck's feet.

The three men in the living room were wiping tears away from their eyes as they piled more or less on top of each other to watch the kitchen doorway and the scene within. Buck looked like a cornered animal. It was almost pitiful. And it would be pitiful if it weren't so damn funny!

"Ezra, can you call it off?" Buck called from the kitchen.

"She's not a dog, Buck. She's a baby kitty…" the southerner said, but began laughing while talking and the three men broke out into hysterics again. Vin fell off the couch, rolling on the floor, gripping his midsection. JD sat in his chair, bent in half, laughing so hard he was silent. Ezra's smile was so big his cheeks were going numb. He, too, was stuck in a fit of silent laughter.

"I didn't want your help anyway!" Buck called from his position. Tye continued to creep up on him. It's a kitten. It won't eat you. It's a baby. Maybe it doesn't like meat.

Tye halted her stalking and wiggled her tiny bum. Oh shit, here it comes, thought Buck. As the kitten pounced, Buck leapt over her and shuffled for the safety of the living room. Snagging the laser pointer from the coffee table where JD had left it, he clicked the button and gave the kitten another target. Tye was distracted and the attack was thwarted.

The three men continued to howl and bark with laughter, all three of them holding their midsections, tears running down their faces, gasping for breath in small hiccups. Tye was happily chasing the laser Buck now controlled as he sent her off down the hall.

Letting go of the button, he turned to the three incapacitated agents who were now starting to reign in their mirth. "You guys are all heart, I tell you. All heart." But he smiled as he said it, his voice laced with humor. He conceded that he must have looked a sight running away from a kitten.

"Damn Buck, that was a graceful leap you did!" Vin laughed.

"You should try out for the ballet," Ezra added.

JD just started laughing again.

Buck looked at his roommate. "Payback's a bitch, kid," he warned, but his tone was humorous.

A soft jingling announced Tye's return. She jumped onto Vin's chest, then used him to vault onto the couch, where she sat with Ezra. Curling herself up, she was dozing again in just minutes.

Ezra turned to Buck, all laughing aside, and said, "Here Buck, hold her."

"Ezra, I think we already figured out I'm not too fond of cats."

"Trust me. Face the fear." He paused, seeing his friend's hesitation. "She's sleeping. I promise she's not vicious."

Buck hesitated, but reluctantly agreed. Taking the small bundle of fur from his friend, he sat down on the couch next to Ezra. Tye shifted in her sleep, looked at Buck, then settled up under Buck's chin next to his neck. She started to purr. Buck's smile lit up and his fears started to subside.

"She's soft," Buck remarked to no one in particular.

Ezra smiled. Buck was still tense, but was starting to relax. "If you want me to remove her Buck, just say so."

"I think she's ok." He craned his neck to try to get a look at her. "She's… cute. I guess." He smiled one of his big, genuine smiles and remarked, "Her little motor's runnin."

Vin laughed wryly. Only Buck. Only Buck could be afraid of cats to the point he would run away from a scrawny little kitten, then be able to hold the object of his fear.

"Where's everybody else?" Vin asked.

"They'll be here soon. Nathan and Josiah both went to grab the Chinese food order, and Chris was finishing something up real quick," JD answered.

"So, why 'Tye'? It's an odd name," Buck commented.

"It was a dark and stormy night," Ezra answered.

After a moment of silence, Buck prodded, "So?"

"That's it. It was a dark and stormy night." Ezra smiled.

*******