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"Would you care to explain to me, Agent Larabee, how an entire SHIELD team was unable to receive updated orders from command until after it was too late, and the mission completed?" Director Black looked sternly at the Team Seven leader, who was standing at attention in the center of her office, tapping her finger against the gleaming mahogany surface of her desk.

"There were…circumstances," Agent Chris Larabee replied lightly, seemingly not too concerned that the Director of SHIELD was looking less than amused by his response.


He nodded. "Yep."

She sat up straighter, thunder in her eyes. "Yep? Do you consider that an appropriate response, Agent Larabee?" Not waiting for an answer, she continued, "I don't think you fully comprehend the gravity of the situation; Deputy Director Fury thinks I should throw the book at you. Only the fact that you lead my best team, and that your mission was successful, is why you're here, being given the opportunity to make a case for yourself and your team, before leaving you to his tender mercies."

"And me and my men appreciate that, ma'am." He tried to look contrite, but failed miserably.

"I'm ready to hear about those circumstances now, agent." Her tone made it clear that this better be good.

"It was all Stark's fault."

Raising an eyebrow, she repeated evenly, "It was all Stark's fault."

"You know him." He shrugged one shoulder. "He even gave me a note." Larabee fought the grin that threatened at the look on her face. "Stark thought it might help." He pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket. "I could read it, if you like."

"Reading is a prerequisite for the job," she replied dryly, holding out her hand. Taking the note, she stifled a sigh as she began to read.

Dear Aunt Charlotte, errrr…Director Black, I take complete responsibility for the breakdown in communications that occurred during our latest mission. Agent Larabee is in no way responsible. Even Jarvis couldn't fix the problem. You can ask him. So don't make the guys peel potatoes, or clean latrines, or whatever it is you secret agent types get up to when there's wrongdoing. After all, you know me, and this is all totally plausible, right?

Love, Tony

She didn't allow herself to smile. Leaning back, she gently swiveled her chair back and forth with one foot, and fixed her team leader with an icy look. "You really are unbelievable, Larabee."

"I've been told that," he replied smugly, adding a belated 'ma'am' for good measure.

"That was not a compliment," she shot back.

"Sounded like one to me." He wasn't standing at attention anymore.

She stood, walking around her desk, perching on the edge, just in front of him. "You think we're done here?" she asked coolly.

He took a step closer. "Sure as hell hope not."

"You demonstrate a lamentable lack of discipline, Agent Larabee." She leaned forward, her hands grasping the edge of the desk.

"It's a failing," he agreed, now standing so close, their legs touched. "Figure you could teach me to do better."

"Is that what you think?" Her breath caught as his hands came to rest either side of hers, his thumbs brushing across her knuckles. Looking up at him, she smiled, her tongue flicking at her upper lip. "I can be very exacting."

"Know that," was all he said before lowering his head to capture her lips with his. He kissed her till neither had any breath left.

Taking a shaky breath, she tilted her head back to look up at him. "What am I going to do with you, Chris?" she asked with fond exasperation, her hands slipping up his chest. "You take crazy chances, you know you do."

He brushed a lock of hair off her face. "Any crazier than being with you?"

"You may have a point," she conceded. "You get results—in the field." She looked at him reprovingly as he snickered. "But one of these days, your creativity in avoiding following orders is going to bite you, and your team."

"I know what I'm doing, Charlotte." He sat on the desk next to her, taking her hand. "My men, they wouldn't follow me if they thought I was taking unnecessary risks."

"They're as crazy as you are, so that isn't very reassuring." She bumped his shoulder with hers. "I'll talk to Nick, tell him your side, Tony's note." She snorted. "But any disciplinary measures will be up to him, Chris. That's the way it has to be—you understand."

"I do." He nodded, squeezing her hand. "So that leaves us with one very important decision," he said teasingly.

"Oh? And what would that be?"

"Your place or mine?"