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"I can't believe," he said quietly, "I let Astrid talk me into this." His befuddlement was, as ever, quite touching.

Of course, Olivia probably would've felt more sympathy if she hadn't been the one encouraging Astrid before the auction. Neither of them approved of hazing rituals, generally...but in this specific case? Lincoln as the new kid on the block, the auction block of the FBI's Fall Gathering? The opportunity to sit back and watch was just too delicious.

"It's only one fundraiser event of many, and you're one of seven agents. You'll do great." She smiled at him, leaned in to pat his hand (warm to the touch and surprisingly rough for a guy so neat-looking). "It's for a good cause, the Boston Children's --"

"So Astrid told me. About twelve times. There were brochures and bullet-points, Olivia." Lincoln gave her that wide-eyed gaze. "It was either yes, or she'd have brought out the flip-charts." Now his expression was much closer to the one she'd successfully identified as Lincoln fucking with her, just a little, courtesy of a certain monster fungus episode.

She suspected her smile had just gotten a lot wider. So had the gap in the curtain, though; Aisha was already poking her head around, one eyebrow raised and tapping her ballpoint pen against her clipboard with the full auction volunteer line-up. "Ready, Agent Lee?"

"As I'll ever be," he murmured, shooting Olivia a last look that was equal parts resigned and amused. 

Olivia considered giving him a thumbs-up too dorky a gesture on top of everything else.

"That means not at all, Olivia!" he stage-whispered at her before stumbling out. She kept smiling all the way from the backstage area to the auditorium where a surprisingly large number of female FBI employees had gathered, agents and assistants and, it seemed, everybody else too. 

Astrid raised one eyebrow. "You missed the rules about choosing whether we want a servant for a day or a date for one night, and other minutiae. More importantly, did you know Lincoln can play the harp?" She sounded impressed, and well, Olivia was too. Olivia had seen the high school marching band snapshots of a teenage Astrid with a lot of hair, a flute in her hand, and laughter in her eyes, but she herself had never learned a musical instrument. Must be nice, to be able to play.

Up there, Lincoln was clearly keeping himself from fidgeting on his too-high chair between Agents Baranski and Da Silva. He was hard to compare to Da Silva, who used to play football for Louisiana State (and was a chess master), but he had got Baranski and the rest of them beat, if you liked your men fair-skinned and fine-boned and little nerdy.

So, ladies, this is Agent Lee, who can play the harp and will gladly either take you to Shakespeare on the Common or take your trash out! Can I hear a first b--

"Fifty!" 

Olivia nodded to herself. The head assistant in Counter-terrorism, Nadia, was fittingly fast. Pencil skirts and, through her thirty years with the Boston field office, more connections than old Ed, or so the water-cooler talk suggested. Probably not a bad idea for Lincoln; she'd love Macbeth, presumably.

"One-hundred!" A mellow voice, Juanita from Cyber Crimes, who had once helped the Fringe team during the case of the video that liquefied brains. She was a solid agent. 

"Hundred-and-fifty!" By her raised hand Olivia found the besuited figure of Agent Clarice Sheppard, who always got the butt-end of Silence of the Lambs jokes...but who was, here, obviously hell-bent on getting Lincoln. Good for her.

"Two hundred!" A new, a third voice; was that Special Agent in Charge Wilson? Flattering, although Olivia would bet this was not the way Lincoln had envisioned in getting his superior's attention. 

"Three-hundred -- and fifty more!" Olivia didn't know the agent who called that last sum, but the tall and formidable woman was definitely an agent.

"Four hundred!" Agent Sheppard again, who obviously had deep pockets, or maybe a crush on Lincoln. Did she even know him? Lincoln hung around the lab with them more often than not these days, after all.

Their host's voice cut through the commotion: "Do I hear four-hundred? Four-hundred the first, Four-hundred the second --"

Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Astrid glancing at her speculatively. But mostly, Olivia was looking at the stage, at Lincoln, who wore an expression she hadn't seen on him before -- not fear or anxiety, not at all. He looked almost expectant.

"Five-hundred!" Olivia called, and it wasn't as if she didn't know what she was doing. She did; she'd just reconsidered and decided on a new course immediately. Astrid was looking down at the floor, and was that a smirk on her lips?

In any case, five-hundred it was; the applause was respectful, same for the thank-you speech The look Olivia received from Agent Sheppard while collecting her prize was less so. 

"Hey," Lincoln said, and he looked at her as if there weren't a hundred people in the room around them. "That's a lot of money you owe the FBI there, partner."

"I don't spend a lot of money, and I like children." Olivia said, studying the texture of the wall behind him intently. Both were true; plus kids were always great. Kids were easy to understand.

"Like Ella. Like Aaron." 

"Exactly." She felt almost relieved. "Come on, let's go." It was just an impulse to put her hand on his back and steer him out, away from the rest; she could ignore it. 

"So," he said and stopped in his tracks when the quiet darkness of the backstage exit hallway had successfully swallowed them. His voice was deceptively soft. "You've heard the concept. Am I to be your date or your servant?" 

Olivia carefully, slowly stepped close enough to catch a whiff of his aftershave, his very own scent underneath. Lincoln didn't move away, not at all, and the corners of his mouth lifted, subtly. He was waiting for her decision, inviting it. Inviting her. And suddenly, this wasn't so hard.

"Who says I have to choose?"