A/N: Thanks to Searider-Falcon for making me think about some different paths the fifth season might have taken, and to both her and Tayryn for their enthusiasm while reading sections as I wrote it. More notes at the end of the story.


Chapter 1

"May I take your briefcase, Miss Babcock?" Niles asked.

CC clutched it closer to her side, and said distractedly, "Oh—no, thank you, Niles."

He looked at her suspiciously, arching an eyebrow. Why was she being polite to him? And what must she be planning? "Very well. Your coat, then?"

"Yes, yes, here, take it," she responded, annoyed, as she fumbled to remove her coat while never losing her grip on the briefcase.

That was more like it. He reached for her coat, and as she strode towards the office, he lifted the coat to his face and let himself inhale once. He briefly closed his eyes, then reached into the closet for a hanger. She never ceased to turn him on, even when—strike that, particularly when she was in a mood.

Since the night two months ago when they had danced together, here in the living room after the awards banquet, Niles had stopped trying to deny that his attraction to the infuriating woman was becoming an ever-present sensation.

Thinking of her briefcase and her refusal to even relinquish it while taking off her coat, Niles wondered again what she might be carrying around in there. Ah well, no need to worry—he'd certainly find out sooner or later, and if he were a betting man… Well. He'd put his money on sooner.

CC Babcock moved to sit down, carefully tucking her briefcase under the green leather couch. Maxwell sat at his desk, poring over an article in the arts section of the Times. He glanced up and greeted CC, who nodded in return. She took a script from the pile on the edge of the desk and uncapped her favorite red pen as she began to read. She was just making her last acerbic notation in the margin when Maxwell stood.

"Well, CC, I'm heading to the theater. Would you like to join me?"

CC looked at the stack of scripts still to read, and shook her head. "You don't particularly need me there today, do you? I'd like to make some more progress on these if I can."

"Certainly; I'm only meeting with the director and the lighting designer to discuss the lasers in Act II," Maxwell responded.

Suppressing a sigh, CC merely nodded and forced a smile. She had already put in her opinion about the ridiculousness of using lasers in the second act of Regardless, but apparently Maxwell was blundering ahead with the plan. Perhaps the lighting designer could talk some sense into him.

"Thanks again, Lily, let's have lunch soon," CC said with a smile as she hung up the phone. The lighting designer just happened to be an old acquaintance from college, and CC was confident that the laser plan would be out by the end of the afternoon. The lengths she had to go to to save Maxwell from himself!

She stood, stretched, and walked towards the kitchen, massaging her eyes. She didn't even see Niles as he dusted the table in the hall outside the office.

As soon as CC disappeared into the living room, Niles moved quickly into the office, scanning the room for her briefcase. With a gesture of triumph, he reached to pull it from under the couch and entered the combination he had memorized ages ago.

Contracts, a script, a box full of new red pens—nothing out of the ordinary there. But the thick manila envelope, somewhat battered, with a return address of MCB, 110 E. 40th St, Suite 101, now that might be of some interest. Niles made a mental note of the address and, hearing what could be a footstep in the hall, he crammed the envelope back into the case. As he did so, an interior pouch gaped open, and he counted three orange prescription bottles before he closed the clasp and slid the briefcase back under the couch.

By the time CC returned to the room, Niles was dusting the bookshelves and planning a reconnaissance mission to 40th between Park and Lex as he pondered what might have been in those bottles and that envelope.