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Hiding Secrets in Plain Sight

Pushing a strand of hair behind her ears with an impatient hand as she strode purposefully down the long corridor leading toward the Behavioral Analysis Unit's headquarters, Erin Strauss silently seethed.

Why? Why did this jackass of an agent always manage to find new ways to get under her skin? He'd made defying her his primary life mission, using every opportunity he got to demonstrate just how extraneous she was to him.

But tonight, whether he realized it or not, he'd crossed a line.

Damn him, why did he have to deliberately put himself in an unsub's crosshairs every chance he got? Was the rush of adrenaline really worth risking his damned life?

Shoving open the glass door, she stepped into the empty bullpen, the desks all empty now. Of course, the bastard would wait until the crisis was completely over to call her. Naturally, he would ignore the fact that she should have been the first call that had been made tonight. Why wouldn't he flout convention and procedure?

David Rossi had spent years picking and choosing which rules and regulations to follow. Why would tonight be any different?

Pressing her lips together, she looked up at the loft offices. Hell, even Aaron's lights were darkened. The only person remaining was him.

The better for the showdown that she was certain was coming.

She climbed the metal stair steps leading to his office quickly, her sneakered feet sure as she felt her agitation growing. Not bothering to knock on his closed door, she pushed it open and slammed it behind her.

Raising an eyebrow as she stepped in front of his desk, her hands braced on her hips, David Rossi cocked his head. "Something you want, Erin?" he drawled, casually dropping the pen he'd been using to make case notes with to the blotter on his desk.

"Shut up," Erin ground out, her eyes flashing dangerously as she met his unconcerned gaze. "Just shut up, David. What the hell were you thinking tonight?" she bit out, her body vibrating with tension as her nails buried in the skin on her palms. "Did you really offer to trade yourself to that unsub tonight?"

Snorting, Dave rolled his eyes. "You got this place bugged or something? A situation came up; I handled it."

"That simple, was it, David?" Strauss bit out, seething as he lied to her face. And while that very act shouldn't have surprise her, his talent for prevarication as well known as his profiling skills, she found herself wanting to shake him until some modicum of sense returned to his obviously empty head.

"That simple, Erin," he returned derisively.

"You know, with all the practice you've had, one would think you would lie more convincingly," Erin returned, her voice low.

Her darkening eyes told him she was nearing the end of her patience and he smiled. "When have I ever bothered lying to you, Erin? I don't care enough about what you think to make the effort."

"Clearly," Erin snorted. "That's the first completely true thing you've said to me in months. Honestly, David, it appears as though you've got some kind of death wish recently. First you almost get shot by an unsub while working with Andy Swann's unit and now this? What the hell has gotten into you lately?" she asked in exasperation as she shook her head.

"Since when do you give a damn?" Dave snapped, annoyed by her assessment. "Cases are still getting closed and the team is still gaining you accolades from above, aren't they? Eye on the big prize, right, Erin?"

"You know, this team of yours has been through hell, David. Don't you think losing another team member after what just happened with Emily is something any of them could handle? I thought you'd gotten past the point where you needed to act like the Lone Ranger," she snorted as she frowned, gesturing helplessly. "I thought you'd finally grown up after all these years."

"Jesus, Erin!" Dave exclaimed angrily, slamming his palm against his desk, "in case you missed it, I kinda wrote the book on hostage negotiation. Several of them. Who else would you have expected to take lead on this last case? I did what I had to do to get the job done. I got results, didn't I? What's really going on here? Feigning concern for my continued well-being...hell, for any of my team's well-being...isn't something you particularly excel at doing?" he noted, his eyes narrowing on her now flushed face.

"That isn't true and you know it," she said softly, stiffening as his cold appraisal of her personality hit her like a glass of ice water in the face. "I am not the heartless bitch you paint me to be."

"Surprisingly, the you of late isn't," he admitted reluctantly. "You're downright human lately, Erin," he mused. "You dying or something?"

"No such luck," Erin said snidely, rolling her eyes as she leaned her hip against his desk. "Sorry to burst your bubble." Silent a moment, Erin whispered, "You should have called me, David. If anybody was going to be used as leverage, it should have been me."

Exhaling a long breath as they stared at each other, Dave murmured, "That wouldn't have happened. As much as it pains me to admit this, you're too important to the Bureau."

"And you aren't?" Erin laughed hollowly.

"I don't have a family. The rest of you do. When I take a risk, I only risk myself. The rest of you..."

"That doesn't give you the right to play Russian roulette with your life," Erin denied, relaxing slightly, his motives suddenly becoming a bit clearer. "Whether you want to see it or not, David, I've changed."

"I've noticed," Dave acknowledged as he nodded. Tilting his head, he added, his tone almost quizzical, "What I can't figure out is why?"

"Why is it so important to you?" Erin groaned. "Do you have to look every gift horse in the mouth?"

"It's like a puzzle that's missing a piece, Erin. It irritates me." Dave shrugged, leaning back in his chair to look her over. Narrowing his eyes, he noticed how she was dressed. Well fitting jeans clung to her still well toned legs. She wore an old Redskins sweatshirt and her hair was hastily swept back in a low ponytail. "And since when do you come in to work without one of those thousand dollar outfits you prefer, Erin?"

"It's eleven o'clock on a Saturday night, Rossi. I don't live in my Prada, you know," Erin huffed, cheeks reddening slightly as she felt his warm gaze roving over her body.

"Coulda fooled me." He yawned, then his eyes narrowed as he focused. Was that spit up on her sweatshirt? Meeting her eyes again, he tilted his head. "You were invited to dinner the other night with the team. You didn't show."

"Ahhh...yes, the team bonding exercise. I thought it was best if I passed on that."

"You're part of the team, aren't you? The head of it, as you like to constantly remind me," Dave reminded her with a grim smile, unable to resist the opportunity.

"Looking for a reason to have a food fight with me, were you, David?" Strauss asked perceptively.

"I could say no, but we'd both know I was lying," Dave returned smoothly, grinning as he propped his feet on the edge of his trashcan.

"That's what I thought," Erin said with a roll of her eyes. "I received your message and sent Aaron my regrets. Something unforeseen came up."

"Like?" Dave prodded.

"None of your business," Erin retorted flatly, ignoring his penetrating gaze as she dropped her eyes to his desk. "My personal life is none of your concern."

"It is when it affects how you are here," Dave countered easily. "The team has spent years guarding their backs lest you stick a knife in one of us. Did your really expect me to accept that you've turned over a new leaf so easily, Erin."

"You have a suspicious mind, Rossi," Erin muttered, rolling her shoulders in a futile attempt to release the tension that had appeared.

"It's in the job description."

"Look, just do me a favor, Rossi. Before you decide to go rogue and try to save the world single handedly again, have somebody on that team of yours call me please. Calls from the Bureau director that the Federal Building suffered a breach of security with agents on my watch in the middle of the night isn't something I want to become a habit," she ordered, pushing away from his desk and turning toward his door.

"Leaving already?" he asked derisively, shaking his head as he watched her retreat. "But I do so love these little chats of ours, Erin," Dave mocked.

Glaring over her shoulder at the infuriating man, she shook her head. "I don't," she lied.

"Now look who's lying," he chided, reaching for his pen once again. "Run away, Little Girl," he taunted, watching her back stiffen as he used his nickname for her of eons ago. "Sooner or later I'll find out your secret."

And as Erin closed the door behind her, that was exactly what she was afraid of.

Finis