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Master of the Game

Standing outside Erin Strauss' office, David Rossi felt strangely indecisive as he watched the regal woman's bent head study an open file spread across her desk. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he was almost hesitant to disrupt the eerie peace she seemed to have reached with the BAU's Alpha Team. But, he'd known Erin for over twenty years. He knew all too well there was very little she did without an ulterior motive.

And yet, it was impossible to deny that she had been instrumental in keeping his team together today. A few well placed phone calls to connections not even she had at her disposal had confirmed his suspicions.

And try as he might, he couldn't find a convincing motivation behind her actions. And that was the very definition of unusual. Erin Strauss never did anything without a reason.

Something was off, he thought grimly. Very off. But damn if he could put his finger on it.

Clearing his throat as he moved into her doorway, he leaned one shoulder against the door frame as he waited for her to lift her eyes.

"What do you want, David?" he heard her ask emotionlessly, not even bothering to look up at him.

"How did you know it was me?" he asked evenly from his position in the doorway.

"No one else would be rude enough to bother me this late in the evening," she replied blandly, finally raising her head and leaning back in her leather chair to meet his gaze. "I thought your team intended to continue their celebration outside the Bureau this evening. Why aren't you with them?" she asked, her grey eyes revealing nothing as they met his.

"I will. Later." Dave shrugged as he ambled inside, closing the door behind him with a soft click. "But first, I wanted to have a private conversation with you."

Smiling faintly, Erin tilted her head. "I'd forgotten just how good you were at sounding ominous. Today is a good day, David. You and the rest of your team took on a Senate sub-committee and won. Go enjoy the victory. They don't happen very often."

"What's your angle, Erin?" Dave asked bluntly, siding one hand into the pocket of his slacks as he faced her as he decided to go on the offensive. "We both know you have one, so spill it."

"I'm sorry?" Erin asked stiffly, her chin lifting as he raised one eyebrow.

"Don't play stupid," Dave snorted, rolling his eyes. "You never could pull off the dumb blonde act," he added as he shook his head. "Your eyes are too intelligent to make it convincing."

"Is that a backhanded compliment?" Erin queried evenly.

"Or an in your face insult, depending on how you choose to look at it," Dave countered, smiling grimly. "Just put your cards on the table, Erin," he ordered shortly.

"There are no cards, David, because there is no game," Erin sighed, lifting a hand to rub an aching temple.

"No," Dave said tersely shaking his head as his eyes narrowed. "Oh, don't get me wrong...you're doing a believable job at playing the role of concerned boss. Hell, you almost fooled me a few weeks while we were watching Doyle's interrogation. And, I've got to hand it to you, you surprised the hell out of me when you backed the team's decision to trade Doyle for the son. You remarkably have resembled an actual living, breathing human being for the last month. But, Erin," Dave said softly, tapping a blunt fingertip against the edge of her desk for emphasis, "we both know that you don't have an altruistic bone in your body. So, what's your endgame here?"

Licking her dry lips as she silently assessed the man in front of her, Erin finally asked, "Is it impossible for you to believe people change, Agent Rossi?"

"People?" Dave shrugged. "Sure. People can change." He nodded toward her. "You? Not so much. See, you aren't people, Erin. You've made it your life's work to become a force of nature. And I find it beyond impossible to believe you've had this radical change of heart regarding my team. Not when you've spent years trying to dismantle it in one way or another."

"I want what is best for the Bureau," Erin replied tightly, crossing her arms over her chest.

"You want what's best for you, and we both know it," Dave countered flatly. "Why the change of heart, Erin? You could have watched this team disintegrate...just as you've wanted for years. And yet, today, you took actions that ensured that we remained intact. Oh, you gave Emily the credit...but I know the truth."

"I don't know what you think you know, David, but..."

"Cut the crap, Erin," Dave demanded on a growl. "You took on the Senator privately. What did you have on him? An affair? A financial scandal? What?"

Cocking her head, she asked mildly, "Does it matter? It worked, did it not?"

It didn't escape him that there was no denial. Jaw clenching as he watched her face, her expression neutral, he shook his head. "It matters to me."

"Why?" Erin asked simply.

"Because you're at your most dangerous when you're playing nice, Strauss," Dave stated plainly. Eyes narrowing, he added, "I know about that little conversation you had with Reid tonight, too. What was that about? Since when do you give a damn about anybody involved with my team?"

"Did you not want the Dr. Reid to rejoin your unit?" she asked evenly, arching one brow as she maintained eye contact.

"That isn't the point, Erin," Dave retorted, slashing a hand through the air. "Of course I did, but..."

"Then you have nothing to complain about," Erin cut him off decisively, her eyes flashing. "Dr. Reid is a valuable asset to your team. I simply encouraged him to remain. Evidently, I was effective. The appropriate response would be gratitude."

"I might have said thank you if I believed that you weren't setting us up to take a hell of a hit, Erin," Dave bit out, his jaw clenching tightly as he watched her expressions for any missed signs.

"I'm only going to say this once more, David. There is no hidden agenda. Not from my corner," she stated strongly, her eyes boring into his.

"So many secrets...from you. From Hotch. Hell, even JJ," he said disgustedly. "Secrets and lies are the Agency's stock and trade, Erin. Not ours."

"My actions have been as transparent as glass, David," Erin said softly, resting her elbows on the edge of her desk blotter. "I'm not required to give you or your team explanations regarding my actions, but I haven't lied to you about them either. I did speak to the Senator privately. If something I said made him reevaluate his decision, so much the better. As for your colleagues, I was as much in the dark as you."

"And, yet, you aren't trying to carve Hotch's balls from his body for your collection," Dave noted suspiciously. "You know Hotch, right? He's that guy you've been trying to eliminate for years now."

"I happen to believe Agent Hotchner's actions regarding this matter, while unorthodox, were effective," Erin replied calmly.

"Okay, now I know you're pulling my leg. Or I'm watching a real life invasion of the body snatchers in progress because I just heard you actually verbalize support of our Unit Chief."

"When I believe someone made the correct decision, I am wont to support them, David," Erin retorted impatiently, her lips pursing tightly.

"Ah, I found a nerve there," Dave said with a grim smile, lifting a finger to gesture toward her, a slight feeling of victory flitting through him. "I briefly saw a glimpse of the woman I knew."

"You mean the one that finds you an irritating, insufferable pain in the ass?" Erin questioned pleasantly, blinking once as she met his inquiring gaze. "Oh, I can assure you that she is still very present and accounted for, Agent Rossi. Now, if there's nothing else," she said, nodding toward the door, effectively dismissing him from her attention.

Raking the poker faced woman with his eyes, Rossi smiled slowly. "Fine. I'll go, Elpheba," he replied sarcastically. "But I'm watching you. You can't keep your broomstick hidden for long. We both know I always find what I'm looking for."

"Cute," Erin smirked, rolling her eyes at his theatrics.

"And accurate," Dave nodded, turning toward the door. "I'll be seeing you soon, Erin," he said, his words a warning and a promise as he closed the door behind him.

And as Rossi slowly walked toward the elevator, his mind worked furiously. Matching wits with Strauss had always been a challenge, but he prided himself on being a master of the game of Truth.

And round one had obviously commenced.

May the best man win.

Finis