a/n: After reading the wonderful post-season two fics written over the last few months, I decided I wanted to play, too! As with most of my projects in life, something always comes along to thwart my endeavors. So, I know that if I start this fic, with the intention of having it finished before a new season starts, USA will officially announce a third season and the premiere will air shortly after that announcement, thus preventing my story's 'big finish'. Why should this be spared the foiling that typically finds me, right? …Okay, so cross your fingers that my plan doesn't back fire. I started watching FL at Borderline, and have only seen bits of previous episodes. I have very, very little knowledge of season one, so please go easy on me if my facts are a little screwy. In the meantime, please enjoy.

A Little Strategy, A Lot Of Foreplay, And Absolutely No Negotiation

Chapter One

The hot water poured out of the showerhead and rolled over Ben Grogan's back, easing the chilled ache in his muscles. He had not been properly dressed for his morning jog, the brisk October weather having slipped his mind; the needled tingle in his fingers and ears noticed halfway through is route. It was one of several things Ben had recently overlooked, victim of a distracted state of mind; a state he thoroughly blamed on his partner, Kate Reed. He and the beautiful brunette not only shared office space, but an apartment building as well, their respective domiciles next to one another. Kate also occupied the better portion of his thoughts. Ben was sure having Kate on the other side of the wall would be interesting, albeit welcomed, amusement. Goaded by his curiosity, getting Kate into the apartment became a challenge from which he could not back down. With a little piece of unused paper, Ben nudged the ball and sat back to watch the direction of future events ripen.

"She needs a guy," Leo stated, barging into Ben's office. Ben looked up from his papers, eyebrows raised.

"I know she does," he agreed. "But she should really get rid of Justin first." Ben flipped his pen between his fingers.

"Not that kind of guy." Leo took a breath and rolled his eyes. "Okay, that kind of guy, but that's not what I meant." He took a seat across the desk from Ben, face serious and pleading as he balanced on the front of the chair's cushion. "Kate is driving me nuts. She's looked at I don't know how many apartments, in person and on-line, and she's still whining that she has no options." Ben leaned back in his chair, tapping his pen on the desks' blotter. "I'm getting so sick of making appointments for her to see these places," Leo complained.

"And you're telling me all of this because…"

"Because you know a guy."

"But you said Kate didn't want a guy."

"I know what I said, and Kate doesn't want a guy," Leo defended. "She needs a guy. Leo," he said, pointing at himself as he sat back and slumped in the chair. "Leo wants a guy," he pouted.

"Interesting," Ben nodded slowly. "What does she like?"

"Oh, you know, warm, homey…buoyant," Leo answered. Ben smirked.

"All right, all right." Ben sat up, snatching a piece of scrap paper. "Here's my guy's number," he said as he scribbled on the paper. "I happen to know there is an apartment available in this building." He handed the paper to Leo. "Kate won't be able to refuse this one." Leo smiled and stood.

"Thanks, Ben. I owe you one for this." Ben waved a dismissive hand.

"No, no," he smiled. "Believe me when I say the pleasure is all mine."

And, it was. Never had Ben been more amused as when Kate discovered they were neighbors.

"Hey…Neighbor."

Kate turned slowly to her left, willing what she heard to be her imagination. Her eyes settled on Ben, her mouth forming a small 'o' of disbelief. He stood from his hunched position over the railing and turned to face Kate. She watched a soft smile form across his lips as he lifted his glass, taking a drink of the amber liquid inside.

"Uh, hi…N-neighbor?" she questioned.

"Neighbor, noun," Ben explained smugly. "Somebody who lives next door or close to somebody else. Hello, somebody, you," he said pointing to Kate, "who lives next door to somebody else." Ben put his hand up to his chest. "Me." He slipped his hand into his pocket as he leaned a hip against the railing. "So you used my guy after all," Ben smiled proudly. "How 'bout them apples?"

"You…" Kate pointed an accusing finger at Ben. She took two steps towards him then looked down at the railing blocking her path. Letting out a groan of frustration, she narrowed her eyes. "Hallway," she demanded. "Now." Ben watched Kate stalk back into her apartment. He decided to take his time in entering his own, knowing the longer he let her fume, the more fun her blow-up would be for him. When he finally reached and opened his front door, he found her pacing furiously in the hallway. "You," Kate continued, pouncing on Ben as he closed the door behind him. "You…you, you." She pushed her finger into his chest, punctuating each utterance of the pronoun.

"Yes," he said slowly. "It is indeed me." As Kate unrelentingly poked at him, Ben turned, reversing their positions. He gingerly walked backwards towards her apartment.

"Oh, don't get cute with me," she warned.

"You think I'm cute?"

"I'm pretty sure I told you I didn't need your help in finding an apartment."

"You may have sa—"

"And, you went behind my back! You gave Justin the number for your guy."

"I gave Leo the number," he corrected, backing into Kate's apartment. He tried with great effort to keep his face straight, silently enjoying her ranting as she inched towards him. Riling Kate could only be described as excruciating delight.

"I don't really care," she said, waving away his words. "You planned this somehow. Set this up," she accused. "This is all some…twisted plot coming from that childish little brain of yours, isn't it?"

"Well, as much as I appreciate the sentiment, Katie…I think you give me too much credit."

"Why, Ben? Why couldn't you just stay out of what wasn't your business?" With that question, Kate cleared the threshold. Once she was no longer obstructing the door's path, Ben reached over her shoulder, pushing the door so it closed with a loud thud. Before Kate could react, he placed his hands on her arms, just below the elbows, and softly forced her backwards and against the door.

"I just thought you would like the apartment, Kate." Ben leaned his forearms on the door to either side of her shoulders, his eyes catching hers. "You do…like…the apartment." He made a point of dropping his gaze to her mouth. "Don't you…Katie?" Ben felt guilty about relishing in Kate's displeasure, but only briefly.

After subduing Kate with the well-placed detainment, Ben had offered his services in helping her move. She politely turned down the proposal, stating the two big boxes in the middle of the apartment contained what she owned, the little not destroyed when her boat exploded. He stayed out of Kate's way for the rest of the weekend, letting her settle into her new lodgings and assert a bit of the independence for which she was looking.

Ben stood at the foot of his bed, chin lifted as his fingers expertly knotted the deep purple tie around his neck. He folded the collar of his shirt over the silky fabric and pulled his black suit coat off the bed. Making his way through the apartment to the closet by the front door, he pulled the coat over his shoulders, secured the top button and made sure his pocket square was in its rightful place. The previous week, when he'd forgotten to stuff the fabric swatch in his pocket, he endured a daylong razzing from Kate. Every time he left his office, Kate slithered in. And, each time, Ben returned to find two or three neatly folded pieces of paper resting on his desk, each colored by a different marker. Some sported patterns, some were solidly colored. A note accompanied the first batch, suggesting he pick one pleated piece of paper to fill his pocket and keep the rest for the next time he was a fashion derelict.

Ben thought the joke funny, at first, but when the count of the faux pocket squares hit thirteen, he let his annoyance show.

"Hey!" Ben stood in his doorway, shouting across the area between his and Kate's offices. She looked up from her desk, meeting his eyes with raised eyebrows. He stalked across the carpet and into her office, leaning the heels of his hands on the edge of her desk. "Did it ever occur to you that Reed and Reed would not have been in danger of going under if someone around here did more than break out the Crayola markers?" Kate bit her bottom lip in an attempt to hold her smile.

"Whatever do you mean, Benedict?" Ben smiled slyly.

"Be nice to me, Katherine, or I will steal all of your green jelly beans. They are, after all, my favorite." He reached to the left for the small bowl of candy sitting on Kate's desk. She jumped from her chair, snatching the bowl before Ben could reach it.

"They're my favorite, too," she said, eyes narrowed.

"I know."

"Well, I bought them so I get to eat them," she defied. Ben stood and straightened his tie.

"No more pocket squares."

Ben folded his black trench coat over his arm and picked up his brief case. After locking the door, he started the twelve-foot journey to Kate's apartment. Sunday, before turning in for the night, he sent Kate a text message, nicely demanding she accept a ride to work in the morning. She hesitated with her acceptance until the third text when she realized he wasn't giving a choice. Tuesday, he rebutted any excuse she made to brush off his gentlemanly offer. Ben smiled. Dragging Kate from her apartment to his car proved to be a most effective method. As Ben neared her door, his smile dropped. The door was open, a good four inches separating it from the frame. He approached cautiously, noting only silence from within.

"Knock, knock," he said as he slowly entered. "Kate?" he called, softly closing the door behind him.

"Ben? I'm in the kitchen!" He wandered in, following the sound of the chipper voice. He spotted Kate at the counter, her back to him.

"Why do I smell brownies?" he asked curiously.

"Because I made brownies," Kate answered, turning towards him. Ben laid his coat and brief case on the end of the counter's peninsula and moved to her side.

"It's seven-fifteen in the morning, Kate." As he settled into the 'v' of the counter top, his eyes wandered over the brownie pan and the mixing bowl, nearly empty of its chocolate frosting.

"Yeah," she agreed, placing the last glop of frosting on the brownies.

"Okay, I'll play." Ben stood straight and clasped his hands behind his back as he cleared his throat. "Kate, why, at seven-fifteen in the morning, are you making brownies?" Kate shrugged.

"I couldn't sleep."

"Of course," Ben mumbled to himself.

"And," she started with a proud smile, "I cleaned the apartment."

"You cleaned the apartment yesterday morning while you couldn't sleep." Ben frowned.

"Mm-hmm." Kate turned to Ben, holding the frosting-covered spatula between them. "Want some?"

"Maybe later," he said, crinkling his nose. She focused her attention on the spatula, gathering some of the frosting on her finger.

"I can't promise there will be any left over for later," she said absently. Ben watched Kate slip her finger into her mouth, lips closing around the digit as she licked off the frosting. Her motion was innocent, but his mind took it as everything but.

"I'll take my chances," he responded, voice tightly controlled. Kate shifted her weight to lean against the counter. "You left your door open," Ben stated, trying to concentrate on something other than the treatment the chocolate frosting was receiving.

"For you," she nodded. "I didn't think we needed another display of yesterday morning when you forced me to your car. The neighbors will get the wrong impression," she smiled. Kate reached to the back of the counter for her coffee mug.

"Here's a thought." Ben grabbed the mug.

"Ben!" Kate shoved the spatula into the mixing bowl. "Give that back!"

"Maybe, because I could be wrong," he started, maneuvering the mug around Kate's grabby hands. "If you took out the coffee IV drip, maybe you would sleep better." He tipped the mug to his mouth and took a drink of the strongly caffeinated beverage. "No more for today," Ben said as he set the mug on the countertop behind him. Kate scowled and tried to reach around him. He lightly snatched her wrists and turned their bodies until her back was against the counter. Taking a step closer, he solidified his body as her restraint. "First of all, don't leave your door open; that's just asking for trouble. Second, no more coffee; try it and see how it goes. And third…" Ben released a wrist and brought his finger up to Kate's mouth. Gently, he wiped the smudge of frosting from the middle of her bottom lip and held his finger for her to see. "Save some for me." He licked the frosting from his finger, thoroughly enjoying the blush that crept across Kate's face. "Can we go to work now? Or do you have other bakery items to frost?" he asked softly.

"Uh…we can go."

"Stellar."

bate

"Kate." Leo stood in front of Kate's office, smile wide as he removed his coat, folding it over his arm. "How lovely to see you-"

"Shut up, Leo," she growled from behind her desk, weary of his approach through the doorway.

"For the third day-"

"Shut up, Leo." Kate slammed her pen on her desk.

"In a row…" Leo paused, smiled intact through Kate's angry stare. "On time," he finished quickly.

"I said shut up!"

"Hell must have frozen over," Leo chuckled. Ben walked into the office, stopping at Leo's side.

"Hell froze over?" Ben thoughtfully tapped a finger over his lips. "Oh, all of the things I finally get," he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Leo clapped his hands, laughing as Ben listed his winnings. "A kiss from Malory Johnson. A date with Corina Madison. The ability to fly." Ben looked at Leo. "A World Series win for the Cubs."

"Ugh! Get out!" Kate yelled.

"What crawled under her chair?" Ben asked.

"She's on time again today," Leo answered. "It's like a…a…a Christmas Miracle!" Ben eyed Kate, a devilish grin playing across his face.

"He doesn't know?" he asked pointing to Leo.

"Shut up, Ben."

"Know what?"

"You didn't tell him?"

"Shut up, Ben!" Ben turned to Leo.

"Kate and I are-" Kate lunged over her desk, trinkets clattering to the floor, her hands seeking to cover Ben's mouth. Leo jumped back a step and watched, entertained, as the two fought for control of the other. Kate put up the expected good fight, but Ben won, dodging Kate's attempts to slap him before slipping behind her to claim his dominance. She struggled as he wrapped his arms around her body and his hands around her wrists; his hold almost like that of a straightjacket.

"Wow, Kate." Leo shook his head. "This little secret of yours must really be something." Leo studied Ben who smiled as he rested his chin on Kate's shoulder.

"I've been giving Kate a ride to work. Katie and I," he started, tightening his arms slightly, "are neighbors." Kate lifted her knee and forcefully landed her heel on top of Ben's foot. "Ow! Hey!" Ben pulled away, leaning against the desk to take the weight off his foot. Kate turned towards him. "That was completely uncalled for, Kate." She fixed the strands of hair that were hanging in her face and stuck out her tongue.

"You and Kate are neighbors?" Kate looked at Leo, his smile gone. "So the apartment you're leasing is…?" Leo looked to Ben. "And the apartment you recommended is…?" The two nodded simultaneously. "Oh, my life has become so much more complicated," he muttered as he left the office.

"Oh, Katie, I've heard of love taps, but this is a little much, don't you think?" Ben said, carefully standing. "I didn't peg you as the sadistic type."

"Shut it," Kate ordered, making her way back to the chair behind her desk. "Why are you in my office anyway?"

"Lauren has a client for us."

"For us," Kate repeated skeptically.

"For us. Would I lie to you about that?" Before Kate could answer, Lauren walked into the office.

"Good morning, Kate," she smiled, elbows bent, fingers delicately laced. Kate's shoulders dropped. "Ben, did you have a chance to talk with Kate about the new client?"