Chapter 1

AN: This is not at all my normal pairing. Heck, I don't even see these two as a pairing normally, and I worry about my sanity writing anything about this woman in general, but I am always up for a challenge. Not only that, I feel I have the most loyal, terrific group of people reading my stuff...I hope you all read...and digest...and mull it over...and then let me know what you think...(Because I ended up loving it!)

Lots of love, Kricket


God, she hated these things—these annual reviews. They made her feel nervous, squirrelly—like a scared little girl afraid of being reprimanded.

She was so far beyond that now.

"Erin, you can come in, now," the cute blonde secretary for Jack Fickler said, with a warm smile that lacked all saccharine.

"Chief Strauss," she said, giving her best chilling glare to the girl. "After eighteen years with the FBI, I think I have earned the use of my title, don't you?"

The cornflower blue eyes of the intern began to blink rapidly. "I...I..."

Erin brushed right past her, not bothering to let the intern—Susanfinish. That girl was disposable to her, like so many of the other people she had met over the years. Jack sure knew how to pick 'em; his tastes rarely changed; they'd only gotten younger over the years...or she was getting older.

There were three other men in the room waiting for her when she entered. That didn't surprise her; women, especially women in positions of power, were few and far between in the FBI. She came from a long line of males in her family that were high ranking officials in the FBI. Her cousin had warned her about it when she'd said she wanted to join the bureau so many years ago...

"Really, Err Bear?" her cousin said when she found out she was a cadet for the FBI. "That place is a sausage fest."

"Sandy, I can handle it," she said with a laugh.

Some days, she wondered…

Fickler stood, stroking his small beard on his rather small, pointed head. She hated that goatee on him. It made him look a little like a devil caricature from a cartoon. She'd expect something like that from Agent Rossi—he was the devil—but the director of the FBI should be clean shaven.

"Erin, welcome."

"Chief Fickler," she said, shaking his extended hand, and then taking her seat.

Jack opened her file, spreading it out in front of him, just like she would've done if she needed to speak with Aaron Hotchner. There were multiple papers in the file, which intensified that nervous feeling she had.

"This year, in case you were unaware, we did a management survey," he began nonchalantly. "We asked agents to rate their supervisors and the confidence they had in their management."

She paled. This wasn't going to be good.

He narrowed his eyes at her. "You received the lowest marks out of any of the Section Chiefs in the bureau, Erin." He sat back, folded his hands on his no longer flat stomach. "Can you explain that?"

"I run a tight ship. I am far stricter than some of my colleagues—"

"—who received far better scores than you…" Chief Morris, one of the other men in the room, said, letting his words trail off as he arched a brow.

She'd never liked Morris.

She turned to look at him. "I have different types of teams than the others have—ones that don't fit under regular protocol. Take the BAU, for example. They—"

"Erin, you come across as pompous, out of touch, arrogant, unapproachable..." Chief Fickler said, looking at the paper. "And in one case, for one person, you came across as—and I quote—downright mean."

She took a deep breath, trying to steady her temper. Obviously they didn't want an explanation.

"What does this mean?" she asked calmly, far more calmly than she was feeling.

Chief Gallagher glared over at her. "What it means, Erin, is this: you represent the FBI. None of those adjectives are things that we want representing us."

"What we want is competent, in touch, grounded, willing to help," Chief Morris added, completely unnecessarily in her book.

"What does this entail for me?" she asked.

Jack smiled, one that was full of saccharine this time. "Erin, we like you. You are a scrapper, came up through the ranks like any of us in here, and yet…you lack personality and charisma."

She stiffened. That made her feel like she was running for a beauty pageant!

"I do what—"

"What you will be doing is getting to know your teams, changing their opinions, and then, hopefully, changing ours," he interrupted, narrowing her eyes. "Or we may need to find permanent placement in an arena where you do no direct supervision."

She sat quietly, getting more angry by the second. She wanted to rip that little beard he kept stroking off his homely face. She wanted to stand up and tell all of them how far she had come, and exactly how hard it had been. They were part of the boys club; she wasn't. No one in there would've taken her seriously years ago if she had been damned Miss FBI!

However…she had no choice. She needed this job, no matter how shitty it could be at times.

"I understand," she gritted out as nicely as she could.

"Other than that," he said, glancing at the rest of the files, "you've stayed in budget and have done an exemplary job." Jack looked up at her. "Keep up the good work there."

Her cheek ticked. "Thank you."

"You may be excused," he said.

She rose, and the other men rose to their feet. She didn't bother shaking their hands before she walked out.

She'd just made it to the elevator, when she heard a voice.

"Chief Strauss, wait!"

Turning, she saw the bubble-headed secretary from before. She was carrying a ream of paper.

She shot the girl a cold eye.

"I know I shouldn't give you these…but I thought they may help you," she said, holding out the pile of papers.

"What are these?" Erin asked haughtily.

"Those are your evals from your peers and the staff you supervise," the girl replied. Her eyes were warm, sad, sympathetic...which only made Erin uncomfortable.

"Why do I want those?"

"Because if you read them, you might understand them…and maybe understand yourself," she said. "I did this because it is hard to be a woman in the FBI. I've wanted field duty for a long time, and I thought I'd never get it…"

Erin watched the girl swallow nervously as she took the papers from her. She should be nervous; this was highly inappropriate behavior!

"I didn't realize you had started in my position until I read these for report," the secretary said softly. "You gave me hope of where I could be someday...so I wanted to give you some hope, too."

A part of Erin's chest began to ache, something long buried and forgotten. She didn't have time for that; she needed to quash that feeling, and pronto.

She put her chin up, feeling the ice coming down her spine again, fortifying her. She boarded the elevator and nodded curtly at the girl.