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Criminal Minds: The Story 1/3

Title: The Story
Author: mingsmommy
Rating: FRAO/NC17
Parings: Prentiss/Rossi
Spoilers: Lauren and in to Season 7 (some spoilers, but not all because I only know the big one)
Author's Notes: A long, long, LONG time ago, smacky30 won me in a fandom charity auction. I can't remember which one...it's been so long it may have been Help Pompei or Stop Atlantis From Sinking or something. She gave me a gorgeous prompt: Prentiss/Rossi and Brandi Carlile's The Story. I have just been suffering from horrendous writer's block. I suck, she's wonderful and this story is nowhere near good enough for her, but she's going to roast me on a stick if I don't post something for her soon.

This would never have seen the light of day if it weren't for microgirl8225 and wojelah. They are wonderful women, amazing cheerleaders and superlative betas. Though all mistakes are mine.



The first postcard arrives two months after Emily’s funeral.

He gets home just as the postman drops the mail in the box by the door. Not that he usually sees his house in daylight on a weekday, but today's a special occasion since Erin Strauss had sent him home early, suspended for a week, the result of some particularly colorful and creative insubordination on his part.

He doesn’t give a flying fuck.

His file already has several notes of censure and a few official reprimands in it to go along with all of the commendations. And it’s not like he’s going to miss a week’s pay anyway. All he uses his money for these days is buying ridiculously expensive Scotch and he’s got enough money in the bank to keep himself in Johnny Walker Blue for the rest of his life. And at the rate he’s been knocking it back lately, that’s saying quite a bit about the health of his bank accounts.

He grabs the envelopes and flyers out of the mailbox and drops them on the table beside his favorite chair before going to pour himself a drink. Self-imposed rules about waiting until after five and two drink limits on weekdays have fallen by the wayside since JJ walked into the hospital waiting room in Boston. He's sober on the job and the rest of the time he drinks as much as he can, as fast as he can. It doesn't stop the pain but it's the only way he knows to shut his brain up. The only way he knows how to sleep anymore is to pass out. And even that doesn't stop the dreams.

Now, he has a week to stay completely pickled with no one to ask him if he wants to talk or give him mournful looks as if he's somehow less entitled to his grief than they are to theirs.
Fuck that.

Maybe, he thinks as he drops two ice cubes in to the glass, it's time to retire again.

But the thought of all of that time stretching out in front of him makes terror blossom in the middle of his chest and he pushes the thought away as the Scotch slides down over the ice.

The first drink is more like a gulp and brings a bit of relief. Not that he can feel the effects yet, but with the smoky tendrils hitting his tongue he knows he's on his way to being able to pass out. He closes his eyes and savors it, not the taste of oak and peat, but the idea he doesn't have to be responsible or civil or conscious any more today.
For a minute, he just breathes and allows himself the comfort.

His second taste is more of a sip, more appropriate to the age and quality of the Scotch. He sighs, relaxes in to his chair and picks up the mail with his free hand. There's not a lot; his fan mail goes to his post office box and he gets most of his bills by e-mail these days. There's a reminder about his annual check-up from his dentist, a thank you note from his niece for her birthday check, and a menu from the new Thai takeout place around the corner.
Then there's a postcard.

It's a glossy picture of the Roman Colosseum at night, a typical tourist postcard from the Eternal City. He flips the card over and sees his name and address printed in careful block letters and an Italian postmark.

That's all.

She's alive.

It's not the first time the thought has occurred to him.

The first time was the night she died. Because JJ didn't say Emily was dead; she said, "She never made it off the table." And Emily had faked her own death before; well, she'd faked Lauren Reynolds' death. She was in danger as long as Ian Doyle was alive, but more than that she thought they...the team...was in danger.

But then he knew all of the stages of grief and there was a reason denial was at the top of the list.

He sets the drink on the table and despite the daylight streaming in through the windows, clicks on the lamp. Almost wishing he had a pair of gloves, he examines the card under the warm yellow light. No trace of writing other than the precisely lettered address. The Italian postmark is slightly smeared, but there was nothing else on the back other than a short description of the Colosseum in English in tiny print at the bottom of the card. He angles the photo side of the card under the light, slowly tilting it one way, then the other, hoping to discern any print or substance trace, but there's nothing. Bringing the card to his face, he rests the heavy paper under his nose and inhales deeply, but, again, nothing.

Momentarily abandoning his chair and the Scotch, he moves to his office where he has a magnifying lamp. Carefully holding the postcard at the corners he tilts it under the light, but there's nothing more than he'd seen with the naked eye and the table lamp. Satisfied he hasn't missed anything else, he moves the card so the writing is under the magnifier. He's sure a handwriting expert could see things he doesn't, but he studies it anyway, seeing only plain block letters, obviously lettered to be as nondescript as possible. He doesn't note any excessive pressure at the start or stop of any of the letters. No telltale marks or loops. A perfectly anonymous postcard of the Roman Colosseum sent from Italy.

"Vatican City and St. Peter's?"

His fingers slid down her arm. "Of course."

"The Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps?" Emily's voice was low and just a little breathy.
Dave snorted, fingers slowly and lightly coming back up her arm. "The first day we were there." He could feel her body starting to tense a little. but in a very good way; he loved the way she responded to every touch.

"Really?" Sliding one of her smooth legs over his hair roughened one, she pressed herself closer to his side. "Most people either do the Vatican or the Colosseum the first day; depending on their devotion to church or history."

"Never made it to the Colosseum," he said, fighting the urge to close his eyes as her thigh brushed against him.

"What?" Emily rolled completely atop him, sounding completely horrified, but feeling very, very wonderful. "How do you go to Rome and not see the Colosseum?" She sounded both affronted and indignant and he couldn't help the smile that lifted his lips as he shrugged.

"Third honeymoon, remember?" The tales of his marriages were slowly being revealed, though he wasn't sure why. They'd agreed to no strings, so it wasn't really a relationship, but somehow it was more than friends with benefits. "I wasn't in charge of the itinerary; my job was to pay for things and carry packages of ridiculously priced shoes."

"But you were in Rome." She sat up, straddling him "And...and you're Italian. Don't tell me you didn't want to see the Colosseum?"

His attention, at this point, was far more focused on her breasts than the memories of the first weeks of the most miserable of his marriages. "I always planned to go back." He reached up and brushed his thumb across her nipple, watching the flesh pebble. "I promise," he said, grabbing her hips and shifting in to a sitting position, "to make the Colosseum my first stop."

"You'd better." He thought her voice was supposed to have some threat to it, but it faded into a moan when his tongue swiped across her nipple, just before he sucked it in to his mouth.

"If you want," he offered when he moved his mouth to the pleasant task of placing small kisses against her chest and the tops of her breasts. "you can give me some positive reinforcement, so I don't forget..."

"Excellent, idea," she agreed, grinding down against him.


The memory overwhelms him; how husky her voice had been, how wet she was when he was inside her, how her hair had brushed against the arm he'd clasped across her back when she arched and rode him to orgasm. The salty taste of the skin between her breasts, the smell of her perfume mixed with the musky smell of sex. He's half hard thinking about it now, and that's the first time he's felt any arousal in months.

No one knew they'd been lovers, if that was, in fact, what they'd been. He's never been very good at defining things without fucking it up or hurting someone; for once it had actually seemed easy to just enjoy something without labels or expectations. They trusted each other, they talked to each other, they fucked each other and he didn't know until she was gone how much it had meant to him.

Briefly, he thinks about going upstairs and coaxing his semi-erection to a full erection and jacking off but there's still the puzzle of the card and, if he's honest, he's afraid half erect will turn in to fully flaccid by the time he gets to the lube. Better to be encouraged by a little wood, than find out he's never going to have an orgasm again.
He thinks about taking the card in to work, turning it over to the labs, but...no. It's a single postcard. He knows what he's thinking, he knows what he's hoping and he knows they'll all think he's lost his mind. If he's honest, there's a part of him that that thinks he just might have. He's not a fool; he knows there's a possibility the card could be from Ian Doyle, trying to rattle the team, trying to draw someone out who might know where Declan is. The choice of a postcard from the Colosseum could be a coincidence, but it seems unlikely.

Dave sits for a long time with the postcard delicately balanced between his fingers. When he finally decides to go back to his Scotch, he carries the card with him. For the first time since Emily's funeral, he goes to sleep instead of passing out.

***

Almost three weeks later, after he drags his sorry ass home at 3 am after 6 days in rural Kentucky chasing a serial rapist, he goes straight for the Scotch. The bottle is in his hand and the tink of two small ice cubes hitting the crystal tumbler haven't faded completely when he spots the corner of the postcard peeking out from the pile of mail where his housekeeper had left it on the table by the bar. Setting the bottle on the bar, he moves to the stack of envelopes and slides the postcard out by the corner.

The photo side of the card shows sun drenched hills rolling down to a village along the edges of the bluest water imaginable; the description says the picturesque town is Bagni di Lucca, located in the Tuscan region of Italy.

"Didn't you ever come close to getting married?"

She snorted and he felt the movement of the air against his bare chest. "Don't you think you've done that enough for both of us?"

"Oh, you are hilarious, Prentiss." Despite his dry tone, he continued to trace small circles on her back, enjoying the softness of her skin and the soothing rhythm. He felt her smile against his skin, but she didn't respond.

They lay quietly for a while and when she finally spoke, her voice was quiet and almost, for Emily at least, hesitant. "Dave, did you ever..."

He waits, fingers moving against the skin of her back, soft enough to soothe, but not so light as to tickle as the silence creeps in and stretches, tightening the moment between them. He was almost expecting her to say something like, "Never mind," but after sometime, she cleared her throat and asked in a rush, "Did you ever fall for a bad guy?"

Squeezing her, he laughed teasingly, but gently. "Considering most of the bad guys are guys, no, I haven't." He placed a kiss atop her head. "But I see how it could happen."

Emily shifted against him, looking up at him through her touseled hair. "Really?" She sounded surprised, whether it's from his lack of censure or his acceptance, he doesn't know.

"Sure," he said, his voice a combination of soft and matter-of-fact. "Part of our job is understanding." He shrugged and pulled her a little closer. "Empathy is natural. If you have a guy with some good qualities, it's not too far of a stretch."

It was quiet between them again, but he was deliberate in his silence, in his stillness. He breathed easily, deliberately generating feelings of peace and acceptance, not letting any tension creep in to his body or his breath. When she finally spoke, it was a relief.

"After 9/11 I was loaned out to the CIA for a special task force in conjunction with Interpol." She rubbed her cheek against him. "Quite the nightmare of interagency cooperation."

Dave gave a little laugh. "I doubt it would happen today, but yeah, that makes sense considering the atmosphere at the time."

"Yeah." Her finger traced a lines across his chest. "I was under cover." He heard her swallow. "Deep cover."

He nodded in understanding; nobody talks about it, but everybody knows it happens. You can't get close to someone without getting close to someone. He knew plenty of agents that had to make hard moral choices to keep their cover intact. And the higher-ups of other agencies were fairly notorious for sending their people in with the expectation of moral lines being blurred. "It happens."

"There were days at a time I would forget I wasn't who I was pretending to be. I'd forget I was me." Emily shifted in his arms, pressing closer. "He was...sweet and romantic. Smart, funny."

His arm tightened around her. "Had to be hard."

Emily took a shaky breath. "It, actually, wasn't. It was so easy to be with him, to be part of that life. The hard part was taking him down."

He didn't know what to say that would offer her any appreciable amount of comfort. "You did your job, Emily. It's what they put you there to do."

"I..." She swallowed. "I didn't want...I offered to get him out, but he wasn't interested."

Sadly, Dave feels a slight sting in the middle of his chest. Bad guy or not, he must have been a hell of a man to make Emily Prentiss risk her cover and her mission like that. "When they get to the level where they attract the attention of the CIA and Interpol? They are true believers, Em. There's nothing you could have done or said." Given all that's been said about her ability to compartmentalize, he wasn't really surprised by the story; though he did find himself feeling sympathy for the choices she had to make.

Shifting against him, she sighed, then gave a slightly strained laugh. "At least I got to go back to Italy." It was a non sequitur and a bumpy one, but he also understood her need to back away from the truth, ugly as it was; so, he helped her out.

"International man of mystery, huh?"

She laughed again, this time a real one. "International man of missiles, more like."

Dave made a noise of agreement. "Gun runners do tend to be world travelers."

The tension was seeping from her body and he wondered if she had felt some compulsion to let him know she had had an affair with someone she had set out to bring down. It made sense; not that he was going to match her lover for lover, but considering their positions, she probably needed to make sure it wasn't a deal breaker.

Lithe and loose, she stretched and settled against him. "I appreciated it more as an adult."
"Rome?"

"Mmmm." She buried her nose against him and inhaled. "Tuscany. He had a villa outside this little town." She yawned widely. "Famous for thermal baths during the Roman empire." She yawned again, her voice fading with every word. "He had a French gardener..."

"The gun business does pay well." His voice was soft and his hands were gentle against her skin.
She slept.


He feels his heart thumping in his chest as he hurries to his office and powers up his computer.
From the minute JJ had said CIA, he'd known who had Emily on the run; he might not have known a name, but he knew the who. Even though she'd first mentioned Doyle when he'd asked if she'd ever come close to marriage, he'd still been surprised by the gimmal rings. He'd even wondered, very briefly, if she was running from Doyle or to him. Maybe, if it hadn't been for Doyle believing his son was dead, maybe he would have taken Lauren back in exchange for Emily's team, Emily's family, being safe.

But when he'd watched the video from the bar and seen Doyle shoot her, Dave felt like he was the one taking bullets to the chest before he'd realized she had to be wearing a vest. The part about Declan had been a surprise; though knowing Emily it shouldn't have been.

Typing his password, he thinks about all the shoot outs and hostage situations he's been in over the years and he doesn't think his pulse has ever been this high. He feels the adrenaline zinging through his blood stream and his browser will not open fast enough.

When he finally gets his cursor in to the search box he makes himself type slowly for accuracy, then he hits enter.

Google returns over a million results. He scrolls past the map and the images and hits enter at the first entry, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bagni di Lucca is a commune of Tuscany, Italy, in the Province of Lucca with a population of c. 6,500.

Bagni di Lucca was known for its thermal springs since the Etruscan and Roman Ages.


He smiles. Genuinely. Without hesitation or reservation.

She's alive.

Rome, okay. Millions of people travel to Rome every year and the Colosseum is one of the most famous landmarks in the world. That really could be a coincidence. But this? This has to be Emily. Even if Doyle was playing with him, how would he know Emily had told him anything about the villa in Tuscany? How would he know Dave would know to associate Bagni di Lucca with Emily?

Then he remembers the Tuscan villa was where Doyle was arrested. That was the last place Ian Doyle saw Lauren Reynolds.

Fuck.

He rubs his hands across over his face. He wants to figure it out, he wants to be smarter than to fall in to a trap set by Ian Doyle, he wants Emily to be alive but he's just so fucking tired and none of it makes sense.

Ian Doyle is a smart man; that's part of the reason he's so dangerous. The main reason he was able to get to Emily was her desire to keep the team safe and safe means in the dark. If they'd been ignorant of Lauren Reynolds, then they were certainly ignorant of the fate of Declan Doyle.

There's a part of him that's tempted to ask the rest of them, Morgan and Reid and Garcia if they've gotten any mysterious postcards. But he knows he won't. If he asks them, then they'll ask him. If they have, then chances are it's Doyle. If they haven't, they're going to think he's lost his mind. Besides, then he'd have to ask Hotch and if he suspects Hotch is covering the fact that Emily is alive, well...best not to think about that.

If it's Doyle, he'll out himself in some other way soon enough. If it isn't Doyle, then the question is who is it? Who could it be? And why were they doing this?

He doesn't have a clue and he's not likely to get one tonight...well, this morning.

Shaking his head at himself, he sheds his jacket and throws it over the desk chair. He stumbles upstairs, kicks off his shoes and falls in to bed.

It isn't until he goes to fix himself a drink the next day he finds the Scotch bottle with loosened cap and the tumbler with a measure of water in the equivalent of two melted ice cubes.
He could have had a drink the night before and he hadn't. And that's a first since Boston.

***
He's aware he's becoming obsessive about the mail.

Mrs. Call, his housekeeper, is starting to give him odd looks when he's home, due, no doubt, to
his insistence that she call him daily with a description of the mail's contents when he's out of town on a case. There is, of course, no way to defend himself or even explain. He does, however, give her a sizeable enough raise that her looks could more easily be interpreted as My aren't you lovably eccentric? rather than Those monsters you deal with have finally driven you 'round the bend and I hesitate to be in the same room with you.

Not that he really cares what she thinks, but he doesn't want or need her mentioning his peculiar interest in the daily mail to anyone.

When the next one arrives, it's a Saturday and he's just gotten in from coaching Jack's soccer team with Hotch. The address side is up with the same innocuous block lettering. He takes a deep breath and flips the card over. A verdant green rolling hillside is pictured in the foreground, and behind it, an overwhelming and breathtaking group of mountain peaks, white snow and gray stone overtaking the sky. Beneath the image, in curling print, the words: Mont Blanc, France.

"That may be the sexiest thing I've ever seen." Dave could hear the teasing in his own voice as Emily passed the cigar back to him, though he wasn't completely exaggerating. The night was warm but the full heat of summer hadn't hit yet, nor had the mosquitoes begun visiting yet and they'd decided to spend some time after dinner on the deck.

She opened her mouth and let the smoke curl out around her head in a blue-gray haze. "You say that now, but you're the one that will have to smell my smoky hair in bed tonight."

"Come here." Carefully placing the cigar in the ashtray on the table beside him, he tugged her down in to the lounge chair with him. "Let me smell it now." He widened his legs a little to allow her to nestle against him.

Laughing, she leaned back and he buried his nose in her hair; it didn't smell like cigar smoke, at least not yet. She smelled of jasmine and honey and something so indefinably Emily he couldn't name it in three lifetimes.

"Just when I think I've plumbed the depths of all of your talents you show me a few more." He placed a kiss on her shoulder.

Emily made a dismissive sound. "Smoking a cigar is hardly a talent."

"No, but looking sexy while you smoke a cigar? That's a talent." He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of her hair sweeping against his cheek. "If I could get you to go hunting with me, I bet you'd look sexy with a shotgun, too."

She snorted. "I have no idea how that could possibly be sexy, but if it turns you on, I'd go hunting with you."

"Sure you would, Prentiss." He hugged her to counteract the derision in his tone.

She leaned back to look at him, giving him a lifted eyebrow. "I would not only go hunting with you, I will dress whatever you manage to shoot."

He felt his own eyebrows lift in surprise. "You've gone from sexy to scary."

Laughing a little, she managed to brush a kiss against his jaw before turning back and lolling her head against him. "You weren't there when I told the team about my grandfather, were you?"

He let his fingers stroke across her stomach. "If I was, I don't remember."

"My grandfather," she began smugly, "retired to the French Alps and lived off the land."

"And several million dollars."

She smacked his thigh lightly. "No, seriously. He had over a hundred acres with this incredible view of Mont Blanc. He had a garden and he foraged and he hunted."

"Sure he did." His tone was deliberately skeptical. He did believe her to a certain extent, but it was always fun to yank Emily's chain.

Prentiss made a frustrated noise and somehow managed to turn around in his lap, knees on either side of him. "I'm not kidding. I used to spend a lot of time at his place. No running water, no electricity. He was the first person to teach me how to handle a gun."
Dave grinned up at her, loving the way her cheeks flushed and her mouth pursed. He couldn't resist one last tweak. "Because the handling of weapons is critical at most debutante balls..."
One of Emily's eyebrows went up and he saw it dawn on her that he was deliberately provoking her. "Well, SSA Rossi, how many other debutantes do you think know how to shoot, gut and dress a wild boar?"

His hands cupped her hips and he savored the feel of her under his palms, the warmth of her skin radiating through her jeans. He smiled as he pulled her down into a kiss. "I have always said you are one of a kind Emily Prentiss."


This...Mont Blanc...couldn't possibly be a coincidence. Either she was alive or Ian Doyle knew much more than they gave him credit for.

He needs answers, but he has no idea where to go to get them. So, he starts the only place he can think of.

Unlike the first time, the second time David Rossi knocks on Penelope Garcia's door, it's not the middle of the night and he's no longer ignorant of the terrifying and awesome force of nature that is Penelope Garcia. He is, however, just as desperate for her help, though he's learned between visits to her door how to ask nicely.

She answers the door, thankfully fully clothed (bright pink blouse and cerulean blue skirt that touches her neon pink toenails). "Rossi?" She sounds surprised, bordering on alarmed, and he really should learn to call before he shows up at people's homes. "Is everyone..."

He holds up a hand. "Fine, everyone's fine." He shoves his hands in his pockets and channels his inner five year old; he always had a sheepish look that would get him out of any trouble with his mama. It had even worked on a couple of his wives when he remembered to use it instead of trying to yell his way through trouble. Hopefully, he hasn't lost his touch.

Judging from the way Garcia's expression softens, he hasn't. "Are you okay?" she asks.
"I-uh--" He hadn't really thought much past showing up at her door and he's not really sure he knows what to say or how to ask.

The truth, or at least as much of it as won't make him sound like an idiot who has lost his grip on reality, seems to be the place to start. "I need some help."

Her eyebrows go up and she angles her body away from the door in clear invitation. "Is it about a case?"

He's shaking his head as he steps in to her living room. "No. Well, yes, but not really."

There's a soft smile on her face that looks almost amused. "That was clear. If by clear, I mean mud-like in my ability to understand the exact nature of your need for help, oh, Preeminent Profiler."

He takes a breath and lets go of his anxiety. This is Penelope Garcia, one of the most unconventional people he's ever met in thirty years of dealing with people from all walks of life. She is not going to judge him for hoping Emily is still alive; the real danger is she might begin to hope, too, and get her soft heart broken all over again. "I need help," he says quietly and seriously. "But it needs to be off the record and under the radar." He gives her a look and his voice is somewhere between apologetic and stern. "Parts of it...the why...are going to be on a need to know basis. And I'll pay you for your time."

She waves a hand airily. "Pish. You will not. This is what friends do, they help each other out." Flapping her hand towards her sofa, she winks at him. "Tell Auntie Penelope what you need."

The way she's speaking is entirely silly and bordering, just a little, on inappropriate and it's exactly what he needs to relax enough to tell her. "Ian Doyle." Garcia's eyes widen and her lower lip trembles just a little and Dave curses himself for spitting it out so baldly. "I know we've been told to...not to pursue it, to leave it to the CIA and Interpol to find him, but I need to know..." What? he thinks to himself. That he's not the one currently sending me anonymous postcards from across Europe? That he didn't know Emily and I were sleeping together? That he hasn't targeted the team to try to find out where Declan is?

Garcia, bless her, doesn't seem to need to know what he needs or why he needs to know it, since she's already reaching for the laptop resting on the coffee table in front of her. "Off the record and under the radar, right?" She presses a few keys and Ian Doyle's face fills the computer screen. "What is it they say? Always follow the money."

Dave is only half listening as he studies the arrogant tilt of Doyle's mouth and thinks about his lips pressing against the base of Emily's throat. Did Lauren Reynolds give the same sigh for Ian Doyle that Dave loved to draw out of Emily? Did Lauren gasp or squawk when Doyle rubbed his beard against the sensitive skin beneath her breasts the way Emily did when Dave did the same? Was he playful with her? Or was he as intense in bed as he was at torture?

Garcia continues clicking, words spilling out of her as she does so, as if she's been waiting to give this report for months. She probably has. "When they took him down in Italy, they froze his bank accounts, of course. Thing is, he had less than ten thousand dollars spread over three separate bank accounts. Not even enough for the monthly upkeep on a house in Boston, an apartment in London and a Tuscan villa." She types furiously for a moment and numbers flow across the screen like water coursing over rocks. "Turns out none of the residences were in his name. So, we can assume he was adept at hiding his money.

"So, you then have to ask yourself, who would an international arms dealer trust enough to hold his money? The answer to that is simple: nobody." Her fingers are flying over the keys and window after window begins popping up, all of them containing numbers in various groupings, some obviously representing dollar amounts, others identifiers or account numbers. "But these days you don't have to trust anybody. All you need is a computer and the internet and any run of the mill international gun runner has access to international banking." A black screen pops up over all the other windows, and numbers begin appearing as though being typed out by an old fashioned tele-type machine. "The two biggest culprits for...well, culprits, to hide their ill-gotten gains are of course, the ever so traditional and conservative, Swiss banking system and the Johnny-come-lately to financial finagling less venerable but equally as sneaky, Cayman Islands."

Garcia grabs for a purple fuzzy pen, as far as he can tell for the express purpose of being able to wave it around wildly as she spews forth information. "Plus, I'm sure he has a few aliases with banks all across Europe, but those would just be, relatively speaking, small potatoes. After---" She takes the first breath he's seen since she first started and she swallows; when she speaks again, it's slower and a little more solemn. "After Emily's funeral...I know they said not to do anything, not to try to track him...but I couldn't just, not, you know?" The look she gives him is wide-eyed and wounded. "I know I can't catch him. And I wouldn't send the team out after him, but...what if...what if he decided Emily had told Hotch or JJ about Declan? Or Reid could figure it out by profiling her? Or she told Morgan while she was on the floor of that warehouse?"

Dave's not sure why she's trying to convince him she hasn't gone against the specific orders Hotch had given them when she so clearly has. Or maybe it's the why of it that has he leaning forward earnestly, hands shaking and mouth defiant. When he looks closely, he sees the pain and loss in her face; then he realizes he doesn't have to look closely at all. It hits him then that he's been selfish, that he's been so wrapped up in his own grief, in his own pain and anger he's let the rest of them grieve without him.

Penelope's eyes are wet and wide and he knows she's trying not to cry. "What if he decides one of you knows something and he decides to come after one of the team?"

These are the same fears he's had despite his logical arguments with himself that Doyle would know the team had been clueless about Declan's existence. The truth is, as little sense as it makes that Ian Doyle would try to hurt the team, it makes even less sense that Emily is somehow alive and sending him postcards from Europe.

But Penelope Garcia has had too many losses in her life and if she needs to watch over them in her own way, he's not going to be the one to rob her of it. Dave reaches out, touching her arm and gives her a small nod.

Garcia sucks in a breath and gives him a shaky smile. "So, I used the intel JJ had given us and traced accounts from the major banks in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands for ones that had been quiet but had activity after his escape from prison."

He feels his brows knit. "You're talking about hacking the Swiss banking system? Those are untraceable."

Cocking an eyebrow at him, she gives his a you dare doubt me? look. "For mere mortals, I'm sure they are."

He can't help it; he laughs.

It sounds odd and rusty and almost painful even to his own ears. But it is a laugh, of sorts. The last time he can remember laughing was wrapped around Emily, lips against her neck, nose buried in her hair. He remembers the way his arm had bounced against her chest as she laughed with him. What were they laughing about? He tries to remember, but he can't recall. It's just a bright memory, the sound of her laugh, the feeling of lightness moving through him, that rare and fleeting feeling that life was fun. Had he known then it would be the last laugh he could remember four months later would he have done anything differently? If he'd known he was going to lose her, that she was going to be killed, he damned sure would have done something different.

Just then, his eyes fall on a photograph on the table beside the sofa. In a frame decorated with hearts and glitter, Garcia, JJ and Emily, arms flung around each other, bright eyes and wide smiles, looking just on the edge of laughter, captured forever in a moment of unapologetic joy.
The laugh is gone and in it's place is a hard knot in the middle of his chest. He's blinking rapidly, swallowing hard and while he's never been ashamed to show his emotions, he doesn't want to cry, not right now. Not here in Penelope Garcia's apartment on a Saturday afternoon with the sun streaming in and bouncing off the purple walls. Not looking at Emily's face, her sparkling eyes and beautiful smile.

Garcia follows his line of sight and her expression opens and softens. "She was beautiful, wasn't she?"

"Yeah." His voice is scratchy and a little shaky and he brings the heel of his hand up to press against the knot just above his sternum.

"I..." Garcia starts, stops, then sighs and holds up a hand. She turns and heads toward the refrigerator in the kitchenette. "My parents were hippies, you know?" She opens the refrigerator, pulls out two bottles of beer, then using a slight swing of her hip, she bumps the refrigerator door closed. "So, I've never been too good at following rules." She hands him a bottle, then settles back on to the sofa as she opens the cap on her own. "Instructions I do okay with. Rules? Not so much." Tilting the neck of her bottle toward him in a salute, she smiles.

"Part of your briefing when you came back to the BAU was probably how all of your team members landed at the BAU, so I'm sure I don't have to convince you that while I don't have a lot of use for Big Brother, I have a healthy respect." She takes a sip, watching as he slowly twists the cap off.

"We probably have that in common," he nods as he brings the bottle to his lips.

"That we do, mon frere." Taking another drink, she gives him a look that is half conspiratorial and half assessing.

Then, she gives a half shrug that says what the Hell? with everything but a voice, and she continues her story. "When George Foyet attacked Hotch and we couldn't find him for a few hours, well, I got a little paranoid. You guys are all the family I've got and I wanted to know that you were okay." Her thumb is worrying the corner of the label on the beer bottle and she's not looking at him. "So. You know, it's one of those things...where you sort of try to decide where the line is between protection and invasions of privacy."

He's not sure what this has to do with Emily or Ian Doyle, but he's had enough conversations with Penelope Garcia to know there is a point, even if it takes her awhile to get there. But she's obviously waiting on some sort of feedback from him. "That's not always an easy line to locate," he allows.

Garcia sneaks a look at him from under her lashes, takes a drink from her beer, then says, "All right." Leaning forward, she places her beer on the table in front of her and starts talking. It's at a normal rate of verbal speed at first, but then the flow of words increases in the word per second category and he has to struggle a little to keep up. "After Hotch was attacked I found myself checking the GPS on everyone's phones every night before I went to bed. Not to be nosy! But just to know everyone was safe. I mean, I wasn't tracking patterns about where anybody was. I just needed to see their little light blinking on my screen and know that everybody was safe and still on the grid. But, I am a computer geek, a tech nerd, and the idea of doing something manually when there could be a faster, easier way? Not in my nature. Well, so, SO, I wrote a program, just for you guys, just for my team, that showed everybody's little blinking red dot. Like I said, not about being nosy or seeing where anybody was spending their evenings. It was just about making sure nobody had been kidnapped and their cellphone tossed in the Potomac." She grabs her beer and takes a gulp.

He's not sure why she's so upset about this or why she thinks he'll be upset. He's aware of the GPS in his phone and the fact that his whereabouts can be tracked at any time. They all know it; it probably happens far more than they're aware of and he's sure it's why Emily had left her phone in her desk drawer. He also knows Penelope Garcia gets enough information overload from her nine to not-so-five job that she does value people's privacy and, if she didn't, she gets enough inside looks on other people's lives she doesn't want more. He's sure her motives are exactly what she says they are; what he doesn't know is why she's telling him. He's trying to be patient, but he's sure the look he gives her doesn't say, "Take your time" as much as it says, "Get to the point."

Nodding, she takes a deep breath and starts talking again. "It wasn't a sophisticated program; any code monkey worth their bananas could have written it. A map that covered the greater metro area and six little red blinkeys for each of you. I didn't even put identifiers on them; as long as there were six of you, it didn't much matter who was where, right?" It seems to be a rhetorical question, since she keeps talking. "I open up the program, count six red dots and then I'm done. It might not mean everyone is safe, but it is a starting point if somebody does go missing." The look she gives him is pained and more than tinged with guilt. "I know it was for my own peace of mind and when it came down to it---" She swallows and her voice drops. "It didn't really matter anyway."

Dave's eyes are burning and his impatience is gone. What does it matter if she ever gets to the point? He's shut himself off from them too long. Aside from the occasional question to Hotch about how he's doing, he's not sure he's done anything to share their grief or let them share his.

Reaching out a hand, he touches Garcia's arm; it's not much, but it's more than he's been able to do for months. It says I'm sorry and It will be all right and I'm here.
She takes in a shaky breath and gives him a wobbly smile. "Anyway. One night, not too long after I've written my handy-dandy program to keep track of my profiling peeps, I only have five dots instead of six. Of course I have a miniature flip out because somebody is off the grid. So, I start pinging you, one at a time. I pinged Hotch first because Foyet was still on the loose, then; his little light blinked at me...stoically, of course. Then I pinged Spencer, because goodness knows, trouble seems to have the boy genius on speed dial; but his little light blinks at me. Emily, JJ, Derek and you all blink back at me."

Suddenly, Dave has a thought about where this might be going and it must show on his face, because Miss Penelope Garcia gives him a sassy eyebrow and the trace of a knowing smile. "Well, as you can imagine, I am a bit confused. So, I ping individually again. Then it occurs to me that two dots appear to be in the same location. To confirm I did some quick alterations to my little program and turned your little red dot to a little blue dot. Then, I lit everyone up again. Do you know what happened?"

He does. "You had four red dots and one purple one?"

Clapping her hands beneath her chin, Garcia gives a small squeal. "Exactly. Top of the class." She tilts her head. "I made myself calm down and told myself you could be out drinking together or somehow one of you could have ended up with the other's phone. I didn't want to get too excited or make any assumptions. But then--"

"You started seeing the purple dot on a fairly regular basis," he supplies calmly. They had been so careful not to give clues, to not give themselves away to the team. The irony of the tech analyst discovering their secret instead of one of the profilers is not lost on him.

"I never told anyone," she says. "It wasn't anybody's business; it wasn't my business, so I tried not to think about it too much."

Rossi gives her a look.

"I said tried," she says somewhat indignantly.

Despite himself, he smiles. "It's okay. We never---well, I never suspected you knew anything. If Emily had any inklings, she kept it to herself."

"I just..." Her eyes are wet again and her lower lip shakes. "I know you miss her. I know you're hurting more than you let anyone know."

He has to swallow against a lump in his throat, but he nods, because underneath the wave of pain is relief that he doesn't have to hide any more, at least in front of one person. "Yeah."

"Finding Doyle isn't going to bring her back, but if knowing where he is helps to keep the rest of you safe? I am all over it." She tilts her beer bottle back and takes a long pull, then sets the nearly empty bottle back on the table. "I know I'm going against direct orders, but I don't care. This is the only weapon I have to make sure everyone is safe and I'm using it."

"I'm not arguing." His tone is gentle. "Do you know where he is?"

"If the money is an accurate GPS, then he's in Alaska." She pulls the laptop close again and taps a few keys. A map pops up with circles and dates on it. "As far as I can tell, he got in to the United States by private jet. Not nearly as easy to get out the same way. Especially after you've killed a federal agent and several other people with government ties."

"I don't know how he got out of Boston, but his next account transfer was in Chicago. Emily was actually posted there before and after her time with Interpol, so I thought he might be looking for Declan there, but it just looked like it was a big city on his way west. Nothing for a couple of weeks, then there was a transfer to a bank in Seattle, then a couple of weeks after that Anchorage." She chews on her lip, briefly. "Alaska is as good of a place as any to go hide out until he can get out of the country. My guess is he'll wait until things are a little quieter, then sail over to Russia; it appears to be a big haven for arms dealers these days."

Rossi raises an eyebrow. "You don't think he'll stay in the States and search for Declan?"

Garcia shakes her head. "He's smart and he's got a lot of resources, but he lost a lot in Boston." Her lips purse. "Not as much as we did, but the loss of so many loyal henchmen didn't do him any good. Also, his forte is torturing information out of people not tracking it down in the less-ouchie way." With her thumb and forefinger, she pushes and holds two keys simultaneously and a window with words and symbols pops up. "My guess is he'll go to professionals to try to track Declan or, you know, track people he can torture to find Declan." Gently she touches the screen and he sees, in the middle of the computer gibberish, Emily's name. "I've got shadow searches out; if anyone searches information on the team, I'll know." Then, she gives him a frankly annoyed look. "Your celebrity makes you a bit of a pain on that score."

"Sorry." And he sincerely is. He doesn't want his fame to be the reason someone slips past Penelope Garcia's guard.

"Eh. I've got a few algorithms in place to counteract your cult figure status." She flicks a hand at him. "And, honestly, at least for right now we're the last ones on his list. I think he knows he's killed the people most likely to know where Declan is."

It's odd to be getting a profile from Penelope Garcia, but if someone is driven by information, then Garcia is the one most likely to understand. "And you're reasonably certain he's in Alaska? Not Europe? Not Italy or France?"

The look she gives him is curious, but she refrains from asking. "If he's not in Alaska, then he's in Russia. It might be easier to cross borders in Europe, but not with the kind of heat he has on him."

Dave feels something loosen in the middle of his chest; the knot he'd felt when he'd seen Emily's face smiling at him from Garcia's coffee table, the knot he'd felt tighten with every step as he'd help carry her coffin to her grave, the knot that's been there since he'd realized she was in trouble. He knows he's probably deluding himself, but he can't seem to care.

"Thank you." His voice is a little scratchy, but she gives him a soft, understanding smile.

"All part of the service," she says and pats his arm.

He stands. "Let me know if he moves, okay?"

Following him to the door, she gives a mock salute. "You'll be my first call."

"Thank you." He gives her a look that can't possibly convey all of the gratitude and relief he feels. "Really, thank you."

"You know, if you ever wanted to talk..." She leaves it hanging.

Leaning forward he places a gentle kiss against her forehead. "You'll be my first call."

She watches him as he moves down the hall and down the stairs. He's almost to the first floor when he hears her door close; he pauses, listening until he hears the snick of the deadbolt, then he moves out of the building and to his car.

He climbs in and sits for a long time, thinking.

While he might be reasonably assured Ian Doyle wasn't personally responsible for the postcards, he doesn't have any more clues to who is sending them. He knows what he hopes, but he also knows it's a foolish hope, bordering on loss-of-touch-with-reality. But then he thinks reality is a bit overrated, especially lately.

Not much of a comfort, but it's enough to keep him going until the next postcard arrives.

***

He's expecting the usual wait of several weeks, but the next one arrives nine days later.

The card is address side up when he pulls it from his mailbox. When he first sees it, he feels the same rush of excitement that he'd felt with the others, the same giddy, anticipatory burst of energy in his chest, the butterflies in his stomach, the sudden need to catch his breath. Then, he flips the card over and sees an aerial view of the spires of a church and the bold print Greetings from Savannah, Georgia.

He blinks.

That's in the states.

Then, nothing.

He thinks, tries to recall, flicks through his memories like a Vegas dealer flicks through a deck of cards but...nothing. No moment between them comes to the surface, no memory of Emily mentioning Savannah in pillow talk or any other memory.

His excitement has turned to disappointment too quickly; the feeling of a balloon expanding in the middle of his chest has changed to a tightness that wasn't there before, the fluttering in his stomach has soured. He frowns and tells himself to think harder.

Sitting in his chair, he takes a deep breath and makes himself clear his mind and think. A thousand different memories roll through his mind, but he honestly can not remember Emily ever mentioning the town of Savannah, Georgia.

He glances at his watch. It's a Tuesday night, barely eight o'clock and Garcia had still been in her lair when he'd left the BAU. So he dials.

"Office of Unlimited Knowledge and Impressive Skill Even for a Goddess, speak to me and cower, mortal."

Dave smiles. Four months ago he probably would have grinned. "Garcia, it's Rossi."

"Hello, o'revered one," Garcia chirps. "How may I serve thee?"

"Off the record and under the radar?" It's a question, but it's a code, too.

He hears something click and a low grade hum on the line and he doesn't know what she's done, but he has the feeling their conversation just got a lot more private.

Her voice is no less energetic, but her tone is much more serious. "I looked today and I found a little more evidence that the subject is still in Alaska."

He feels a little silly, but she's obviously concerned with privacy. "I'm actually looking at the first part of the equation."

"Ah. The red to your blue?" Her query is bright.

"Exactly." He imagines her in her office, gliding from screen to screen, fuzzy capped pens, toys and trolls watching over her genius.

"Give me the deets and I am at your service."

"Could you see if there's any history for Savannah, Georgia?" Then another thought occurs. "If that doesn't turn up anything could you see if the subject has any ties to Savannah?"

"Already in the back of my giant sized brain, my friend. Give me a few and I will call you back." She disconnects without saying goodbye.

It's not until later he realizes he sat still with the phone in his hand until she calls back. But when she calls it's with the news that to the best of her "mind boggling ability" Emily had never been to Savannah, Georgia.

He's almost surprised at how bitter the disappointment is. He'd really thought it was her.

He has a hard time getting to sleep that night and when he does sleep its full of pieces of memory morphed in to twisted dreams of Emily and Ian Doyle and complex, mind boggling reasons why she would send him a postcard from Savannah, Georgia.

Dragging himself to work the next day is a challenge. He feels heavy, his brain foggy, as though he's hung over, when he'd only had a glass and a half of wine. Thankfully all that's required of him is paperwork; considering he's been doing the same paperwork for going on thirty years, it doesn't take a great deal of brainpower.

It's relatively easy to stay at his desk all day, printing out reports from his computer, filling in the narratives by hand and avoid as much human interaction as possible.

"Rough night?" Hotch asks from the door and Dave gives him a weak smile; it feels tight and wrong on his mouth. He feels as if he's shouldering every bad day of the last fifty-five years.

"They all feel rough lately." He's genuinely surprised something so honest comes out of his mouth. It's almost as if the loss of hope makes the grief over Emily's death that much sharper. These past weeks living with the sweet fantasy that she might actually be alive tastes bitter today. That sliver of hope, even though he'd told himself he was a fool the entire time, now must be paid for.

Hotch frowns at him, but it's a look of concern and not censure. "Anything you want to talk about?"

Stabbing his pen back in to its holder, Dave shakes his head in disgust. "Nothing you don't already know."

He expects Aaron's expression to smooth out in understanding; instead, his face draws a little tighter. "Do you need to...I know you know, but the Bureau has plenty of qualified..."

Dave barks out a laugh. "How often did you go to the department shrink when Haley died?"

Very briefly, he sees Hotch's eyes widen and Dave realizes he's tipped his hand. The look is gone as quickly as it came and Hotch's face smoothes to a carefully blank expression as he moves in to Dave's office and, uninvited, sits in one of the chairs in front of the desk. "Not often. The required amount."

Holding up his hands in a gesture that clearly says I don't want to fight, Rossi says, "I've had my mandatory session, as well."

Frowning again, Hotch leans forward. "Dave, everyone is grieving." Rossi feels a knot of rage thicken in his throat, making him clench his teeth. Hotch obviously sees the change in expression as he continues. "I'm not minimizing anything you're going through. We all handle things differently." He gives a slight inclination of his head. "We're all close, but it's foolish to think some of us aren't closer."

"I think," Dave says, slowly, "I don't really want to talk about this right now after all."
"Dave," Hotch counters and Dave can hear the helplessness in his voice along with the desire to help and beneath those two emotions, something else...guilt? Fear?

There's a small part of Dave, the part that's mean and nasty and doesn't give a fuck who he hurts, that wants to tell Hotch that he can go, Dave has already fulfilled his session. But Aaron hasn't done anything to deserve that, not really. It's not his fault that Dave is grieving anew.

He sighs and then, he lies. "I'm fine." He waves a hand. "I didn't sleep well last night and I'm a bear today."

There's still concern on Hotch's face but Dave would almost swear he sees a flash of relief. "You're sure?"

Dave nods. "I'm sure."

Hotch stands and even though Dave is expecting a if you ever need to talk speech, he doesn't get one. Aaron hesitates briefly as he moves through the door, then nods and heads to his own office.

Dave isn't quite sure what that means; he thinks about the possibilities as he packs his briefcase, as he makes his way to the parking garage, as he drives home. There's more going on with Hotch than Dave knows. Maybe he knows more about Emily's time with Doyle, maybe more of her undercover work came out after her death, maybe Hotch had his own repressed feelings for Emily. Dave shakes his head at himself. As he'd told Emily once the job means secrets, things they take to the grave with them and in a unit chief's case, there would be more than most.

But all thoughts of Hotch and what secrets he's carrying cease when he sees the postcard resting atop the mail. A stately church rising against an impossibly blue sky with the preprinted script telling him it's the Cathedral of John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia.

He fumbles his phone out of his pocket and dials Garcia, asking her to please check about Savannah again. This time look for any reference, no matter how slight, to the Cathedral of John the Baptist.

But, the results are the same as the night before. No connection. Not to Emily. Not to Doyle. Not even to the Ambassador.

He wants to howl in frustration.

The other postcards all led him back to Emily. Even if this was Doyle baiting him, why would he do this, send him something that has no connection to Emily?

He spends half the night reading about the cathedral and when the next day dawns, he's pretty sure he could give a Reid-worthy lecture on the church's history and architecture, but he's no closer to finding or remembering a connection to Emily Prentiss.

And that's made all the more frustrating when he comes home to another postcard showing the soaring arches of the interior of a church. The small print on the card assures him he is still looking at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, located in Savannah, Georgia.

He's aware it could be a trap. Hell, it probably is a trap; Garcia's wrong and Doyle isn't in Alaska. Somehow he's figured out Emily and Dave were closer than the others and he's drawing Dave out to see if he knows where Declan is.

Dave really can't bring himself to care.

He pulls out his credit card and books himself a ticket for the next day on the first flight out of Dulles to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

TBC

Comments

mingsmommy
Sep. 9th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
I always love your comments! I am so thrilled you liked it.

Glad to make you happy.