Written for the third anniversary of the "Drinking and Fighting" list, based on a word picture by Charlotte. This vignette will likely end up as part of a larger piece someday.

Thank God It's Friday. That's what the idiot on the morning drive radio show said. Not just once, but over and over with a cheerfulness that had Buck wanting to kill something, preferably overly chipper morning deejays. Instead, he tuned out the radio sounds and watched the headlights sweep down the road, watched Chris's white knuckle grip on the steering wheel, made eerie from the green glow of the dash instruments as they sped into Denver and the office.

The day wasn't starting well, which shouldn't have been a surprise. The past two weeks hadn't gone well, and this day was one more to add to the list. It wasn't yet five in the morning, and here they were on the road. The minute the phone rang in the night, he knew it wouldn't be good, and it wasn't. The bosses, in their ivory tower wisdom wanted complete reports and debriefings, in person no less, and they wanted them at eight o'clock sharp.

No explanation why the only warning of this was one middle of the night phone call, simply a quick relaying of the fact that Chris's presence would be required as soon as he arrived at the office. Idly, Buck wondered how much trouble Assistant Director Travis's secretary could be in for passing the information of the impending ambush.

By the dash clock, they pulled into the garage at 5:17 AM. Chris wanted some time to gather the paperwork, to try and anticipate the questions the top floor desk jockeys would ask and to formulate answers that could somehow mitigate the disaster that had been the last fourteen days.

As they made their way up to Team Seven's offices corridors were empty, most office lights were out. Maybe none of the other teams got the phone call. Odd. Or maybe they did and weren't worried. That would be even odder. Buck shook his head. No sense worrying on what he couldn't control. Chris was already holed up in his office, his desk strewn with folders.

Buck was watching the latest pot of coffee finish brewing when Ezra arrived. He checked his watch, looked at Ezra, checked his watch again. "Six o'clock? Kind of early for you."

Ezra didn't smile. "Not if the idiots pretending to supervise this place are looking for a scapegoat." He picked up his mug and filled it, walking away without another word and straight into Chris's office. Buck smiled at Ezra's back. Yeah, with this op on the line, it wasn't the least bit surprising to see Ezra here. Also not surprising was the call to him to join them in the office. He filled his own mug and one for Chris and went, taking a chair in the corner, knowing his role was to listen and confirm their memories as they picked apart each of the last fourteen days.

One at a time the rest of the team arrived, mumbled a greeting and dragged a chair into Chris's small office to sit and listen to Chris and Ezra dissecting the results of six months planning and four teams involvement in two weeks of what should have been magnificently successful arrests and seizures.

A few minutes before eight, Ezra closed his mouth and his eyes and rubbed his temples. At the same time, Chris leaned back and rubbed the base of his skull, then leaned forward, slamming his fist on his desk. "Dammitall to hell!"

"Indeed," Ezra agreed quietly. "It would be the only possible explanation."

Buck leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "Chris?"

The full weight of Chris's responsibility in this op, both assigned and assumed, was in his eyes when he looked at Buck. That, along with the dark smudges of exhaustion gave him a look that hit Buck hard in the gut. "A leak," Chris said. "From the beginning of the op, to set us up to believe we were getting the big shots."

Murmurs of agreement filled the room. It was the only plausible reason things had gone so badly.

Chris stood up and stretched, the cracking of his spine audible. He speared Ezra with a look. "This wasn't your fault."

Shaking his head, Ezra looked up at Chris. "The plan was mine."

"Doesn't matter," Chris interrupted, "I agreed to it, I pushed it to Travis. Responsibility is mine." With a look that swept the room, Chris included the rest of the team. "It'll be up to me to handle the directors."

Potential arguments were halted when the phone rang. Chris smiled grimly as he reached for it. "That'll be my invitation to the inquisition." He answered, listened for a moment, looked up at the group gathered in his office and nodded. "I'll be right up," he told the caller, and hung up the phone. "That's it," he said, "conference room on fourteen. I figure this'll take most of the day." He slipped on his suit jacket and straightened his tie. "You boys keep out of trouble today, okay?"

"I'll keep 'em in line for you," Buck told him with forced cheeriness. He wondered idly if the fact that the fourteenth floor was actually the thirteenth mattered. Superstition could be such a bitch sometimes.

Chris looked back at him and nodded, hesitating a moment before turning and striding out to the elevators.

"Well, shit."

"Yeah, kid," Buck said as he put a hand on J.D.'s shoulder. "I think that about covers things."

One by one, chairs were removed from Chris's office and places were taken at desks. From what Buck could see, not much actual work was being done, but for today that didn't matter. All that mattered was that if anyone cared to look, the appearance of normalcy was there to be seen.

Buck spent the morning considering what he'd heard from Ezra and Chris in their analysis of the op. A lot of it wasn't news, but their compiling of the evidence put it all more clearly for him. Bits and pieces that on their own meant little, when added together led them right to the unavoidable. The op had been compromised from the beginning. He wondered if Chris would drop that tidbit to the directors or hold it back until he had the hard evidence to prove it. Probably the latter. Or maybe if the directors were paying attention, they'd see the pattern on their own. He snorted and mumbled to himself, "Not too likely."

A little before lunchtime, Buck went out and got sandwiches for himself and Chris. He figured they'd break for lunch, and he also figured Chris wouldn't be wanting company, so he left the sandwich wrapped in its white paper on Chris's desk. Shortly after noon, his figuring was confirmed as Chris came in, went directly to his office and closed the door behind him. Forty-five minutes later, Chris came out carrying more file folders. Nothing was said, but as he left, he paused by Buck and put a hand on his shoulder. You're welcome, Buck thought back to him.

The afternoon was worse than the morning, waiting for the directors to finish their post-mortem on the op, waiting to find out if the post-mortem included Chris. He knew that was unlikely; ops went bad all the time and team leaders kept their jobs. Somehow, though, this one felt different. Too much had gone wrong for 'them,' the men in expensive suits on the upper floors, to let it go easily. He looked around the bull-pen and from the looks on each of his team-mate's faces, he knew they were thinking the same thing. J.D. was leaning forward toward his computer screen, in fierce concentration as he typed. Nathan was leaning back with a frown, a sheaf of papers in his hands. Josiah was making notes longhand in his journal. Vin was standing, staring down at the top sheet in a pile of blueprints. Ezra worked alternately on papers and his computer screen. None of them looked happy.

A few minutes after five, Chris came back into the team offices, the sheaf of folders under his arm, his tie pulled loose and the top button of his shirt undone. He looked exhausted. No, more than exhausted. Frustrated, angry, tense. And exhausted.

"Done for today?" Buck asked quietly.

"Yeah," Chris answered, not stopping on his way into his office. Buck heard the file open and close as Chris put away the folders.

Standing up, Buck intercepted Chris as he came out of his office. "Keys," he said as he held out his hand. Chris handed them over without an argument. "Sunday?" Chris looked up at him, hesitating briefly before nodding.

"Boys," Buck addressed the rest of the team, "kickoff Sunday is at two." Nods and murmurs answered him. "Now get out of here and stop thinking about things." He didn't wait for an answer to that, just turned and put a hand on Chris's back to push him toward the elevators.

The drive home was silent, much as the drive in had been, except that this time Buck drove and Chris was the one staring out the window. He knew Chris wouldn't talk about the inquest unless he asked, and he wasn't going to ask. Not tonight.

As he pulled the truck up in front of the house, Chris was out before the engine was stopped, heading purposefully up the porch steps. Buck shook his head, knowing that walk. Heading Chris off had to wait, though, there were animals in the barn. Slipping the car keys in his pocket, Buck jogged to the barn, pulled down hay for each of the horses and gave them a quick scratch on the forehead. That would keep them till morning.

From the barn, the quickest way into the house was through the kitchen. Inside, he found exactly what he expected. Chris was standing at the counter, a tumbler in his left hand, a bottle of whiskey in his right, his jacket and tie in an unruly pile on the kitchen table. Buck calculated he was on his second drink. Not too bad, all things considered. He eased forward, reaching out to take the bottle, but Chris pulled back with a low growl. So that's how it was going to be. He wasn't going to let Chris put him off, so he took hold of the bottle and summoned his 'goddammit' voice. "Larabee." It was said slow and deep and with intensity. Chris glanced up and let go of the bottle. Buck set it on the counter, then took the tumbler from Chris's other hand and put it beside the bottle. "Come on." This more gentle but no less intense as he led Chris to the living room.

"Sit." Buck pointed to the ottoman in front of the big leather armchair. Chris sat. Buck eased into the armchair, sitting on the edge of the seat, his knees spread, leaning forward, close enough to touch Chris. He started on Chris's shoulders and the back of his neck, pressing and kneading, trying to work the worst of the knots out. It wasn't working. If anything, the tension was getting worse.

"Okay, boy," he said softly, "turn around." Chris turned to face him, his knees between Buck's spread legs. He took Chris's head in his hands, using his thumbs to make slow circles on Chris's temples. That did seem to help some. But Buck knew what they both really needed.

"Come here." He pulled Chris forward until he went to his knees in front of Buck. Guiding Chris's head to his left shoulder, Buck held him there until Chris gave in, leaning forward into Buck's chest. "That's it," Buck whispered. Once again he started rubbing Chris's shoulders and neck, working until each muscle relaxed then moving to the next. As he worked, he talked. "You know it ain't all up to you. Nobody expects you to take all of this on yourself. Nobody except you, that is."

"People got hurt," Chris said into Buck's shoulder. "We got fooled like a bunch of damn amateurs."

"Ezra's going to be fine. Just a bruised rib and concussion." Buck kept touching and rubbing, working his way across the edge of each shoulder blade and down each vertebra.

"Not just Ezra. That kid from Team 12."

Buck chuckled. "The kid who tripped over the curb?" Chris stiffened in his arms. "Yeah, I know it could have been way worse. Relax now." Chris did, leaning back in, and Buck went back to work on his spine. When he got to Chris's lower back, he was sure he heard purring coming from deep inside Chris's chest. Perfect. Carefully, he leaned back into the armchair, taking Chris with him, holding him in place against his chest.

"You," Buck whispered to Chris, "are the best damn leader in the whole A, T, fuckin' F, you got it?"

"I got it," Chris said, burrowing his arms around Buck. "Don't mean it ain't --"

"Uh uh," Buck interrupted him. "It ain't is right. Ain't your fault if people mess up. Ain't your fault that somebody talked. You can't control it all, no matter how hard you try."

"I ... I know." Buck knew how hard that admission came and he simply held on to Chris, taking his turn at being the rock and letting Chris lean on him.