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J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington D.C.
November 2009

It wasn't specified, but then, with profilers, it never needed to be.

Nikki worked off the timetable that Falkner, half-asleep and yet all-profiler, gave her – worked the timetable till it screamed and broke – and yet, and yet, she was still back in the WTF bullpen for the following weekend, striding in and hammering out the report for the previous case on her computer. Chaz and Brady and Todd and Worth were all witness to Nikki Lau waltzing into the the office at her regular time as if business were normal, the rattling of her keyboard on the subject of the Natchez serial killer a calm counterpoint to the normal – for suitably broad values of normal – sounds of the WTF area.

Stephen Reyes poked his head out of his office door after forty-five minutes. “Agent Lau?”

The ears of the other four agents in the bullpen pricked up, or drew back, depending on your view of human body language. They knew it was never “Agent” unless it was a Serious Conversation, and, as Lau herself had demonstrated to Worth, way back when on her first LA gamma hunt, if Mom or Dad were using the serious voices, it spelled trouble for one of the team.

Wonder Woman didn't turn a hair, as usual. “Sir?”

“Would you spare a moment in my office?”

It's all polite phraseology and semantics, but then, this is Stephen Reyes. 'Could you' would have implied an opportunity to refuse, which cannot happen, ever. Lau is well aware that, the Anomaly aside, she could well have been talking to the Unit Chief of the BAU, and is careful to modulate her responses appropriately.

“Certainly, sir,” she says, all brisk efficiency and the swish of her skirt as she stands. The few steps to the office door are accomplished with minimal fuss, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to see here.

“Close the door,” says Reyes. Lau complies, the click of the door shutting out the regular sounds of the bullpen and leaving her alone.

The silence between her and Reyes is like a slowly building wall. She waits for him to speak, because he asked for her presence in his office. To presume to speak first is -

“Nikki.”

She reacts to the break in her train of thought and the disruption of how she thought this meeting would go by not reacting at all. Bulletproof.

Wonder Woman.

"How are you doing?"

"Fine, sir."

He gives her a measured look, not threatening, just evaluating. She knows what he's looking for, he knows that she knows, and this is the game that profilers play with each other, because there's no other way. Masters of their own body language and faces, they give nothing away to each other. The silence stretches, pulled taut by the lack of questions from one side of the desk and the lack of volunteered information from the other.

Reyes is the first to break the silence. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you."

"Do you feel able to continue?"

A question from Stephen Reyes in an evaluatory capacity, with no clearly defined subject?

Game on, bossman.

"I feel ready to return to work and finish the paperwork from the Natchez case, barring an unforeseen manifestation. I should have that ready to file sometime later this afternoon after lunch. I'm going to the range tomorrow morning as well, I haven't done any shooting for the last week."

"No, I wouldn't think so," Reyes murmurs. "How are your family dealing with this?"

She smiles, briefly. It's got an echo of the wistful about it, blended with the start of a grimace. "Career Air Force," she reminds him. "Stoic is the Lau family's middle name. Mom nearly came apart at the funeral, but she held it together."

"And your brothers?"

"Being ordered around by someone is what they've grown up with. It's just Mom doing it now, but then, it was always her doing it anyway. They'll be fine. It's just the adjustment to knowing that he's gone is going to take a little time."

"Very well. I'd like to see the report when you've finished it, please." He offers her a small smile.

Evaluation over. As with most things to do with Stephen Reyes, you won't know if you've passed or failed for as long as he wishes you to remain ignorant. She turns on one foot, passes through the door and sees Chaz and Todd duck back to their desks. There's the rattle of a keyboard being viciously attacked from Falkner's office, which means that the only two people not in the bullpen at this precise moment in time are Brady and Worth. She can hear a clatter of mugs from the kitchenette, and she remembers that there's no coffee on her desk. She wends her way through the arrangement of desks and steps into the kitchenette, past Brady and says, "I think I passed."

Brady lifts one eyebrow at her. "Back to work interview?"

Worth snorts. "Of course you did. If Reyes didn't think you should be back at work, you'd have been out of here so fast you'd have burned a groove between here and your place." Her voice softens. "I'm sorry about your dad."

There's a hand on her shoulder that could only be Brady's and she's grateful for the small contact. She remembers now that Daphs lost her mother at a young age, and probably has pretty good idea of what she's going through.

"Thank you," she says. "I'm still trying to square it. You know, we do interviews with relatives and victims and UNSUBs, but right now, I have a greater appreciation for how they're feeling. That sense of knowing that someone who was always there is never coming home again." She stops, takes a slow breath, and reaches for the coffeepot. Brady intercepts her hand and places a nearly full mug in it. She turns to him, a thought suddenly occurring to her. "What happened last weekend? You weren't very specific on the phone."

"Oh," says Brady. There's a look of resignation on his face, like he was hoping to not have this conversation at this point in time. He'd phoned her on the Monday, asking how she was, and she'd caught background noise of another person moving around the room, a hitch in his voice throughout the conversation. "That. Well. I took Daphne's advice."

Worth, on the way out of the kitchenette with three mugs in hand, wheels sharply and glances up at him. The coffee slops about, but doesn't escape the mugs. Lau's pretty sure she knows where this is going. "You told them?"

"Both at the same time," says Brady.

"How did they respond?" asks Worth.

An indelicate snort frames the answer. "About as well as expected. Mom shut down, which left Dad to do the yelling. Boy, did he yell."

"So what now?" asks Worth. "Are you still talking to them?"

"They're my parents," he says. "I'll always talk to them. I just don't know yet if the reverse is true. I guess I'll find out tomorrow night. They've had a a week to stew and process it."

It's a reversal of the role from a couple of minutes ago, but her hand is on his arm, and Worth is staring at him, an unreadable expression on her face. She mutters something at him, and returns to the bullpen, where a cry of "Caffeine Goddess!!!" heralds her arrival at Chaz's desk.

Brady's grinning at whatever it was that Worth said. "John Wayne," he says to Lau's questioning look. "That was her advice. 'Never apologise, never explain.'"

"And now you have to call them tomorrow night," says Lau.

"Yeah," he sighs. "Not the best phone call I want to be making."

"It'll be fine," she says. "Listen, next weekend, let's have a night in. You and me, beer and pizza. There will be garlic bread and dips and talking like uncivilized adults. Plan?"

"Plan," he says, smiling.

They return to the bullpen and their desks, and the job at hand.
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