Spoilers: Lauren (forget everything else)
Author's Notes: A long, long, LONG time ago, smacky30 won me in a fandom charity auction. She gave me a gorgeous prompt: Prentiss/Rossi and Brandi Carlile's The Story. I am ASHAMED (really, honestly ashamed) at how long it's taken me to write/update/finish this story (I've been working on it for over a year and a half).
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank microgirl8225 and wojelah for holding my hand through this; I have been by turns a slacker and a demanding diva. They are wonderful women, amazing cheerleaders and superlative betas. Though all mistakes are mine because I WILL mess with things until I post.
The Story Chapter 1
The Story Chapter 2
She won't let him come with her to the airport. "Couples attract attention."
"We've been out as a couple all weekend," he argues, and they have; Emily had insisted every place they go be crowded with tourists to make blending in easier. They'd walked River Street and she'd helped him pick out several bright and shiny baubles for Garcia, though he does decline to elaborate on why everything he's purchasing is purple. Penelope may not know why she's getting the gifts, but the idea of it makes them both smile.
"Couples attract attention at airports," she clarifies, dropping a hairbrush into a bag that he's not sure is an oversized purse or an undersized travel bag. "Couples don't attract attention at tourist spots."
He suspects her reluctance to allow him to accompany her has more to do with her not wanting him to know her final destination rather than attracting attention. She's been more than firm on that score; she won't say where she lives or what name she is living under. He's trying to remain grateful, but the situation is challenging. "When will I be able to see you again?" He swallows the bitterness he feels when he remembers he'd been determined a few days ago never to let her out of his sight again.
Emily sighs and pushes her hair behind her ear. "I'm not sure."
Rossi shakes his head, trying not to telegraph the unbelievable frustration he's feeling.
Stuffing a t-shirt and a compact umbrella into the bag, Emily frowns at him. "Look, if you can't handle this---"
That is about all the nonsense he has patience for, evidently. "What? You'll go back to being dead?"
Turning, she gives him such a look of hurt and frustration, his aggravation deflates. He holds up both hands in surrender. "I'm sorry." Moving toward her, he grabs her hand. "I'm sorry. Really. I just can't---" He stops, breathes in and tugs her close. "I don't want to go back to a life without you."
Her whole face softens and she leans into him.
"It's not forever," she murmurs, hair brushing his chin, breath against his neck.
He sighs, wanting to argue that anything more than a day is too long. Instead, he bends his head and kisses her forehead. "I know."
They don't speak much after that, but they touch: her hand brushes his arm as he's untangling two pairs of jeans hastily discarded the night before, his palm cups her hip as she caps the toothpaste and drops it into a travel bag, her fingers glance over his back as he reaches for his jacket. There are a hundred little kisses pressed to cheeks, foreheads, fingers in the space of an hour.
Finally, they're both packed, her bags to the left of the door, his to the right.
They sit on the bed, side by side, fingers entwined, thighs pressing against each other. They're so quiet he can hear her breathe and when she looks at her watch he can hear her sigh. "I have to go."
She stands, moves to the door and slings the bag over her shoulders. When she turns, she seems startled that he's followed her. "Dave," she exhales his name and he feels his stomach clench, but even he has to admit that's better than the constant feeling of his heart breaking.
Emily reaches up and kisses him, hard and deep. He tastes her and tests her and breathes her in and tells himself remember, remember. All too soon she breaks away. "Wait at least two hours before you head to the airport," she admonishes him and he knows if he were to look whatever flight she's leaving on would be departing in the next hour and forty-five minutes.
"Okay," he says tonelessly.
The door opens and she's ready to step out into the hall and he's locking every emotion he has down. He doesn't know how to do this.
Standing with the door open, he watches her and he feels desperately greedy, hurriedly trying to memorize the fall of her hair, the length of her neck, the curve of her shoulder blades against the rigid plane of her back. Turning suddenly, Emily flings herself at him and he catches her close; he doesn't try to kiss her, he just holds her. She feels so slight against him and it takes everything he has to let her go when she steps back again. Her sunglasses are already in place, but he has no trouble telling that this parting is just as hard for her as it is for him. There's no comfort in that, but at least he's not alone.
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper and presses it into his hand. "No more than once a week and you have to use an internet cafe or the library. If you use some place with free wi-fi don't go to the same place twice." She gives him what he guesses is supposed to be a severe look, but he's trying to catch up, trying to decipher what she means. "I'm serious, Rossi. No names. No more than once a week." He looks down at the slip of paper in his hand and sees an innocuous e-mail address along with the log-in information for the account printed in those same non-descript blocks his postcards had been addressed in. When he looks back, she's gone.
He could step out into the hall and watch her go, he supposes, but he doesn't know how he could do that and not snatch her back. Instead, he seats himself back on the bed, closes his eyes, letting the lingering smell of jasmine soothe him until his allotted two hours have passed.
He doesn't recall ever being less happy about going home.
"He's an extremely organized sexual sadist, probably white between the ages of thirty and forty-five, relatively affluent, intelligent. Possibly married with a wife and children."
"Look at the newbie go!" Morgan is stretched out in his chair at the round table, but still somehow manages to bump JJ's shoulder playfully as he swings his chair in a slow arc.
Color stains JJ's cheeks, but she lifts her chin and inclines her head before she bumps his shoulder in return. "Hey, I learned from the best." It's her first week back; after a complex move of recommendations and paperwork shuffling, she's on the team as a profiler instead of a media liaison. It had been his suggestion, but now he finds himself turning things over in his head and he's wondering how much she knows about Emily's faked death. He and Emily had carefully skirted the issue the remainder of their weekend, but considering the pieces of the puzzle, someone with connections at the State Department would be in the best position to fake a death and create a new life for Emily in Europe.
Of course, the Ambassador is not lacking in connections either; still, he finds himself watching JJ with an appraising eye when she's not looking. He keeps thinking about Emily worrying that Doyle would set his sights on Henry and then about how she'd backpedaled when questioned. He thinks about JJ's solemn face when she'd walked into the surgical waiting room, how in retrospect, it resembled her press conference face, the one she always put on when she was going to be spinning a story for the media and the public. In the end, he doesn't suppose it matters who made what arrangements, but he watches all the same.
Morgan turns to Hotch. "So, are we gonna go?"
"We haven't been invited in yet." He looks up from the file he's scribbling in, face serious as always. "At this point they're just asking for a consult. Right now the unsub appears to have a fairly long cooling-off period. If they find another body, Denver PD will be forced to ask us in."
"Ugh," Garcia shudders. "Colorado is way too pretty and peaceful to have a serial killer running around."
"Emily saved my life in Colorado," Reid says wistfully. Garcia reaches out and pats Reid's shoulder, and Morgan looks at him with a sad shake of the head. Hotch looks back to his files and JJ reaches down to adjust the strap of her shoe, but not before Dave sees the brief flicker of guilt on both their faces. Hotch continues to study his file and JJ sits up and takes a sip of water from the sweating bottle in front of her. They're both looking anywhere but at each other or Reid.
The amount and intensity of the rage that suddenly surges in Dave's chest surprises him. He almost stands and storms out, but that would give away too much. So he sits in his chair, holding his tongue, not aware until much later that his teeth and jaw hurt from clenching.
Eventually the meeting breaks up: Hotch heads to another budget meeting, Morgan follows Garcia to her lair, asking her to work some sort of cyber magic on his behalf and JJ departs with Spencer trailing behind, spewing facts at her about brain development in children Henry's age.
Dave just sits, reaching for calm, reaching for reason. He knows why they did it, he knows it was the best way to keep Emily safe, he knows he's transferring his anger to the two of them, even though he knows they did the right thing. And the Hell of it is, he can't even let them know he's mad; he's not sure how he's going to pull that one off. There isn’t anyone as good as he is at a poker face in an interview (maybe one or two as good as, but better, no.). But in life? In relationships? Dave doesn't think he knows how Better learn, he thinks, but his inner voice sounds suspiciously like Emily.
Which is how he ends up at the public library on a Wednesday night, carefully tapping out the information from the paper Emily had given him. There's a single message in the inbox from a seemingly anonymous e-mail address. The e-mail is dated the day they left Savannah, the subject line is blank, but the entire message is a single sentence You didn't wait a week, did you? He gives a quiet laugh and sends a one word reply, No.
As he's composing another e-mail, something a little longer, filled with details about his days and the team where he's trying to find a way to be intimate without being personal, a reply pops in to the inbox. Still. You did better than I thought you would.
He grins, abandons his longer e-mail and responds. I was under strict orders.
In less than two minutes there's a new reply. Not like you to actually almost follow orders.
Rossi snorts and types. Give me some credit. I'm improving with age.
That you are.
He can almost hear the sass and innuendo in her voice in those three words and he's grinning like the lovesick fool he knows he is as he pecks out, Flatterer. How are you?
It occurs to him this is more like the instant messaging than e-mailing, but he's sure she’d worry about the security of that kind of connection.. While he might want more contact with her, he's not going to do anything to jeopardize her safety or cause her to be anxious about her safety, so he's not going to suggest more than she's willing to give.
The responding e-mail is slower this time and he wonders again where she is- a big city, a small village, holed up in a one room apartment in Paris or sipping espresso at a cafe on the streets of Rome. He checks his watch and realizes wherever she is in Europe, it's the middle of the night. He puts her at home then, wherever home is; he imagines her in a small bedroom, sitting up in a small bed with her computer on her lap, hair brushing across her shoulders as she studies the screen, fingers clicking across the keys.
I miss you.
He feels a sharp pinch in the middle of his chest at the words, and though he knows he shouldn't he taps out what's in his heart.
I miss you, too.
Though he knows what the answer is before the e-mail wings its way to her, he's still disappointed in the response.
I can't. It's too dangerous.
He frowns at the computer screen.
Let me come to you, then.
The intonation of her next words are as clear as if she's right next to him.
You know that's just as dangerous.
Growling at the computer only earns him a look from the teenage girl at the computer table next to his, but he's fairly confident Emily can feel it through however many miles and wires and cyber connections when he replies, If you're worried for yourself, that's one thing. But if you're trying to protect me, I'd rather take the chance and be happy.
There's an infinite amount of unspoken exasperation in the amount of time it takes for the next e-mail to appear in the inbox.
One person in danger means everyone is in danger.
The temptation to argue is strong, but he breathes through it. Still, he's less than gracious in his concession.
There's an even longer pause before her response arrives.
Are you free the first weekend of next month?
Despite his pique, he perks up at that question.
I am. What did you have in mind?
Her reply appears on his screen almost instantaneously.
How do you feel about tropical locales?
Quirking his eyebrow at the computer and types: I am all for them, especially if the company is the same as my last weekend away.
There's another pause, before the next e-mail arrives.
Keep an eye on your mail.
My plane is boarding.
The image he'd had of her in a small apartment shatters and scatters inside his head.
Sighing, he types out the missive he'd originally intended; an update on life in DC and at the BAU without using any names. He ends it without hesitation, Love, but then realizes with some frustration he can't use his name. Still, he leaves the "love," figuring they could both use all of that they could get.
He presses send, then rereads each e-mail in their exchange several times. When the quiet admonition comes over the intercom that the library will be closing in fifteen minutes, Dave does what he doesn't want to do and deletes the exchanges, then clears the internet history. He's sure there are other things he should do that would make it more secure, but he doesn't know what they are, much less how to do them, so this will have to do.
On the drive home, he turns the whole situation over in his mind, trying to think of a way to bring Emily home and make sure she and the team are safe. It's frustrating as fuck to realize there really is no way, other than a bullet between Ian Doyle's eyes, and apparently the powers that make these decisions -- whomever or whatever they are -- don't don't want that to happen. That goes against every instinct Dave's ever had since he played his first game of cops and robbers at the age of three. The Bad guys are supposed to lose, the good guys are supposed to see to it, not let them run loose to see what other bad guys they are going to do business with.
So, Emily can't come home yet, okay. He hates it, but he gets it. But that doesn't mean he can't go be with her. As long as they plan it carefully, go slowly, he could make a very public show of retiring or taking an extended leave of absence. People would buy it, just like they would buy he wanted to spend his retirement or leave of absence traveling. He could even say he’s doing research for another book. He makes a mental note to start wearing Emily down when he e-mails her next week.
But there's only a brief e-mail from her the next week.
Traveling away from e-mail. Can you plan to travel on the first? Love.
Dave has to remind himself to be grateful he's in touch with her at all rather than being angry and frustrated that their contact is so brief. It's something he has to remind himself almost daily at work, as well; it's a fight to not let every bit of his frustration and anger ooze out toward Hotch and JJ. As it stands, he's aware of the wall he's put up between them. Aaron, to his credit, seems to know not to try to bridge the distance. Whether that's from guilt or fear, Dave doesn't know; he only knows it's the only way he can still look at Hotch, much less work with him.
Tamping down his disappointment and impatience, he types out a long e-mail filled with very little information, but the feeling of how much he misses her infused in every word, every phrase, every sentence. He rereads it several times, making sure he hasn't given away too many details, in case someone is watching him, though Garcia seems to think no one is. He tells her he misses her and he'll see her on the first, though he has no idea where they'll be meeting. He signs the e-mail Love and hits send.
The postcard arrives on the twenty-eighth.
Senor Frog's, Playa del Carmen
He grins. If she wants touristy, that's going to do it.
On the first, he's walking in to the bar in Mexico and this time he's dressed the part in a panama hat and the gaudiest Tommy Bahama shirt he'd been able to find. There's never been anything more beautiful than the smile she gives him when he joins her at the table in the corner.
It's like a dream, like a fantasy spending the weekend walking along the blue water with the light sting of the surf against their ankles, making love at all hours with the beach breeze stirring the gauzy draperies of their hotel room, dancing in a darkened corner of the beach bar at their resort as he sings along, slightly off key, with the slow love song playing as the night stretches out across the sand. He gathers the moments like a miser, memorizing the way she looks with sand under her feet and the stars over her head, the curve of her shoulder under his hand, the taste of her neck, the smell of her hair.
He can't talk her into a bikini; she's too conscious of her scar. But he remains grateful and kisses it every opportunity he gets, hushing her protests with his lips against her skin.
The next month they spend a weekend in Las Vegas, playing blackjack and the slot machines. He tries teaching Emily baccarat, then loses very badly to her at strip poker back in their room. He's completely naked and pouting, the epitome of a sore loser when she shimmies her panties out from under her skirt and straddles him. Later, still naked, but not feeling at all like a loser, he pulls her close, fingers slipping under the shirt she's wearing, his shirt, and reading her skin.
It's South Beach the next month, but they miss most of the glamorous nightlife, sticking to their hotel room. But he's far happier watching her eat Ben and Jerry's Late Night Snack in bed. "Who puts chocolate on potato chips?" he mock grumbles, fascinated with the rapturous expression on her face as her lips close over the creamy treat. "For that matter, who puts potato chips in ice cream?"
She closes her eyes in an expression of rapture and gives a low moan, before swallowing. He watches her swallow and feels his cock twitch.
"Rossi." She digs in the carton with the spoon. "Try it."
He eyes the proffered glob of ice cream and the tiny trace of caramel at the corner of Emily's mouth. "All right," he says, taking the spoon and feeding it to her, then diving in for a kiss immediately after. "Mmmm," he hums, licking the wayward caramel. "S'good."
"Told you," she gasps as his ice cream-cold lips touch her warm neck.
The melting ice cream makes an unholy mess of the sheets, but all of the big hotels have 24-hour housekeeping and he lets Emily hide in the bathroom while the two women change the sheets. He's sure they've seen worse, but he still tips them generously when they leave.
They're supposed to meet in San Francisco the first weekend of the following month, but he has to e-mail her to tell her he won't make it when the team is called to catch a serial arsonist in Philadelphia. They try for San Francisco again the next month, but word comes that Ian Doyle is on the move. Garcia lets him know Doyle has left Alaska the same day Emily hears it from Clyde, who tells her not to travel until they get another lock on Doyle's location.
It's another month before they're able to meet on Saint Lucia.
Despite the blue skies and bluer water, Emily is tense and distracted.
Garcia says Doyle only stayed in Russia two weeks. He appears to have regrouped and is back in business, as he and several business associates have crossed the border into Kazakhastan. Penelope has been cycling rapidly, hurtling from frenetic tracking to frustrated despair and back again. When Dave presses her, she tearfully confesses she can't keep constant track of Ian Doyle.
Dave wonders if Emily's mood is a reflection of the same frustration or if there are other, more pressing, more dangerous, things on her mind. He does his best to coax her out of her head and whatever has her so distracted, but he's not sure how successful he is. Even though he sees her make the effort, he has the sense there's something he doesn't know. While they walk on the beach, dine by the ocean and dance in the sand he feels a reserve that hasn't been there before. He struggles to put his finger on it, to put a name to it, then he'll blink and it'll be gone and she's Emily, there in his arms, smiling at him, laughing with him.
He loves it here, he loves her here. They drink fruity tropical concoctions and he tastes the salt of the ocean on her skin, the sweet pineapple on her lips. He feels romantic and he's doing his best to be light and charming, though he'd originally had plans to begin wearing her down about joining her wherever she lives. But the unexpected tension riding her shoulders and the extra minute it takes her to relax into his embrace make him decide to back-burner that plan.
When they make love the night before they're supposed to leave, she clings and grasps. There's something needy and a little desperate in her touch that hasn't been there before. Dave soothes her, with words, with kisses, with his hands, his lips, his tongue. He's as gentle as he can be as he takes her up and up, expecting her to relax into it, but she just gets more tense. When she finally lets go and lets herself come, it's like watching a mirror shatter and fall and it's nothing, it's something, it's everything for him to let himself shatter and fall to earth with her.
He wraps her up, skin on skin, arms around her body, his legs tangling with hers, so close a beam of light couldn't find its way between them. He whispers nonsensical things against her hair, into her neck, lets the words of comfort and love slide over her skin and press against the dark.
When he opens his eyes the next morning, he's unprepared for the sight of Emily, already dressed, zipping her bag. He frowns and looks out the window; the sun isn't even fully up yet. He'd actually thought both of their flights were mid-afternoon. "Morning," he says, probably a little too sharp, but he likes surprises even less these days than he ever has.
Emily turns around without meeting his eyes and he curses himself; he's missed it, whatever it is that's put that look of pain and guilt on her face. He braces himself for whatever fight they're about to have and moves to a sitting position.
"We can't do this anymore."
He'd been shot once, a long time ago; he'd been wearing a vest, but the impact of the bullet had knocked him on his ass, robbed him of his breath, felt like a giant redwood was being jammed into his solar plexus.
This feels worse.
"What?" He knows what she said; knows the meaning of each of the five words, both singularly and in that particular arrangement, so he doesn't really need for her to repeat any of the words or the statement. What he means by that particular inquiry is What do you think is going on here that you can make that announcement and think I will abide by your decision?
And though he suspects she knows what he means, she repeats it anyway. "We can't do this anymore." Finally, she looks up at him, meets his eyes (hers so sad and serious), "We can't see each other while Ian Doyle is out there. It's too much risk."
"That's it?" He can hear the incredulity and fury in his own voice and he doesn't bother to tell himself to calm down.
"That's all there is." Her voice is flat, the statement is simple. She slides the strap of her bag over over her shoulder.
He is pissed.
"You don't get to just make these decisions." He shoves a hand through his hair.
"Yes," she says carefully. "Yes, I do. The whole purpose of this---" she makes a gesture in the air, as if there's no word that fits the situation she finds herself in and she's hoping to find one hovering in the air somewhere just above and to the right of her temple, "---is to keep everyone safe, then these trips are endangering that."
He gives a brief thought to being naked, but it doesn't stop him from tossing back the covers and surging to his feet. "Bullshit. If you really felt that way, then you wouldn't have let me know in the first place."
Her spine straightens and her stance widens, it's the same one he's seen her use in the field and at the range and he manages to brace himself before she fires, words instead of bullets. "That was a mistake."
There are a thousand things he wants to respond with, ranging from "Fuck you" to "Don't be ridiculous" but she's already at the door.
"Emily..." His voice is sharp and strangled, something between rage and terror.
She pauses for half a second, but doesn't turn around. "I love you." But her tone is cold.
And then she's gone.
Even he's not self-assured enough to chase her through the hotel naked, so he searches for his jeans, finally finding them on the far side of the room, and shoves his legs into them, cursing when he pinches a bit of wayward skin with the zipper, but he doesn't stop to nurse his wounds. He grabs a t-shirt, pulling it over his head as he bolts out of the room.
There's a housekeeper quietly sweeping the parquet hall and another with a cart collecting room service trays, but no Emily. He runs for the elevator, but the doors are closed and he can't tell where it is in its journey, so he heads down the stairs, bare feet slapping against the textured concrete, descending four flights faster than he's ever chased an unsub, emerging into the quiet lobby breathing hard. He sees her dark head disappear into a cab out in the hotel driveway and he pushes towards the front doors, but the cab is accelerating away as he breaks into the morning air.
The doorman looks at him inquiringly, but there are no other waiting cabs and he has no doubt that if this was her plan from the beginning, then, he knows by the time he retrieved his wallet and his shoes and managed to get to the airport, she would already be airborne.
He snarls a violent curse at the tropical morning and slowly heads back to his room.
He walks to the elevator slowly, pauses before deliberately pushing the button for their--his--floor. The elevator ride is ponderous and when he finally disembarks, he moves like the slow creep of winter down the hall. It takes a minute to remember he doesn't have his key and he has to ask the housekeeper to let him into the room. She gives him an odd look, but doesn't say anything as she opens the door for him.
Dave stands in the middle of the room, lips pursed and fists clenched so tightly his knuckles begin to hurt. Heaving a large exhale, he unclenches his fists and wiggles his fingers. He reminds himself to keep breathing and sits on the bed. There's no sense to be made of his jumbled thoughts, so after an hour of staring into space, he shakes himself, gets up, and takes a long, hot shower, letting the water wash over him and ground him. He's not in any particular hurry as he dresses and begins packing with measured deliberation.
He makes it to the airport well in advance of his flight, but there are no earlier departures, so he simply sits and waits, brain deliberately switched off, all the coming and goings around him neutral, meaningless white noise. When he finally boards the plane, he purposefully ignores the woman in the seat beside his. He's aware his mother is likely spinning in her grave at how rude he's being, but he can't relate to another human being and not remember what happened this morning, how Emily had looked, what she had said, how she had sounded.
It's a direct flight and by some miracle, there's no traffic to speak of so it's still light when he gets home. He's methodical as he unpacks: jeans and underwear in the hamper, shirts in the bag to go to the cleaners. He leaves his toiletries in his bag and repacks. He's always made it a habit to repack his go bag as soon as he gets home, a lesson he learned early on at the BAU. At least once a year they get called out on a case when they've just gotten home. When he's repacked, he takes the bag downstairs and puts it in the backseat of the car, ready and waiting for the next call out.
Then he pulls a garbage bag from under the kitchen sink. He starts at the cabinet where he keeps the coffee, reaching in the back for the bag of mocha java beans that were Emily's favorite. He'd held on to them after her funeral, long after they would be considered fresh, just because it was Emily and the more things he had of hers...well, he hadn't ever analyzed it. As the coffee hits the bottom of the bag, he hears the spill and skitter of several beans escaping their bag. The next cabinet holds the crystal and slides his hands past heavy cut highball glasses and hefty water goblets to two delicate long stems, made from some of the thinnest glass he's ever seen. She'd brought them with an expensive bottle of red as a gift the first time she'd come to dinner. He hears them shatter against each other as they drop to the bottom of the bag.
The gourmet chocolate in the back of the pantry is next. There are just a few pieces left; she'd said it was her guilty pleasure. He grits his teeth against the memory of the chocolate in her hand, how she'd let it soften against the heat of her palm, then drew circles around her own nipples with the melting chocolate. The broken glass in the bottom of the bag tinkles as he tosses the handful of foil wrapped candy in.
Next, he moves to the bookshelves in the Great Room. A well worn paperback copy of Cat's Cradle and a hardback edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe land inside the garbage bag with a thunk. Three paperback science fiction novels by the same author follow the Vonnegut and Adams. He throws in an entire notepad with scribbles in Emily's handwriting that appears to be part of a recipe for a Bailey's Irish Cream Cheesecake on the top sheet.
Going to the end table, he slides open the drawer and pulls out a bottle of red nail polish; even though she'd always kept her fingernails short and she'd even been chewing on them before everything went down with Ian Doyle, he has many fond memories of Emily sitting on the couch in various contortions with a pinched look of concentration on her face as she'd painted her toenails.
There are no photographs of the two of them, framed or otherwise. There isn't even a single one of her; a concession he supposes to the fact that even before everyone thought she'd died, they had been sharing the secret of them. But all of the time between her funeral and meeting her in Savannah he'd treated all of the little things she'd left behind as treasures, the archeological findings of her presence in his life. He'd left everything where she'd left it the last time she was here and in the months following her death, when he would see one, he would remember all over again the little moments that made up their lives together.
Systematically, he goes through the downstairs tossing items into the garbage bag: an empty CD case, an emery board, the jacket hanging in the coat closet, an expensive pen she'd given him before they even became lovers.
Then he moves upstairs, jerking open "her" drawer in his dresser. Even though he knows everything had been put away clean, the scent of her wafts up from the sleep pants, tank tops and lone pair of socks and nearly knocks him over. He turns his head, takes a deep breath and lets the feeling of being surrounded by her pass. Then, gritting his teeth, he scoops everything from the drawer and drops them unceremoniously into the bag. The red silk tie from his closet follows as he tamps down on the memory of her wearing the tie, and nothing else, to bed.
Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred. If there is a memory associated with any particular item, hers or his, it goes in the bag. He feels merciless as he takes each item from it'splace and throws it away. As he moves into the Master Bath he's moving on auto-pilot, grabbing and tossing, grabbing and tossing, barely noticing what each item is, just that it's hers, until his hand closes around the glass of a cosmetic bottle.
The cool weight of the frosted glass against the skin of his palm makes him look down and he stops. It's a half empty bottle of facial moisturizer and he remembers standing in this room, mornings and nights, getting ready for the day or getting ready for bed, talking to her as she did the same. How many times had he seen the way she'd carefully placed the goop on her fingers, then slowly massaged it into the skin of her face and neck, all while talking to him about how Hotch was doing, if Han had, in fact, shot first, about the moral implications of waterboarding, or if she really had seen Erin Strauss checking out Derek Morgan's ass.
He's not sure how it happened, but he finds himself on the floor of the bathroom, clutching the bottle in his hand.
It's only the sounds of his choking gasps bouncing off the shower tiles that lets him know he's crying.
"Fuck it," he growls behind a sob, but he can't seem to make himself let go of the bottle.
The tears fade eventually and still he sits on the bathroom floor, revolving the bottle slowly in his hand: front to side to back to side to front.
Things had always come so easily to him; he thinks of his mother shaking her head in fond exasperation. Lucky in everything but love, my Davey. Truth is, though he's been smart, made some good choices and has a few skills, he has had more than his fair share of good fortune. But he's not sure luck or the lack of it has anything to do with the failure of his marriages or every other relationship. That, he knows has more to do with making poor choices coupled with selfishness and ego. But nothing had ever felt more like good luck than the morning he'd first awakened with Emily Prentiss in his arms. The day he'd found out she was alive? That was like winning a lottery he didn't know he'd bought a ticket for. Every minute he's spent with her has been a gift and he won't, simply can't, accept, that this is how it ends.
The cold from the tile floor is seeping through the denim of his jeans and his right hip is starting to protest the extended sojourn on the floor, but he doesn't move; he just holds the bottle in his hand and thinks.
When the light has diminished and the room is made up of shadows and darkness, the sound of his cellphone's ring moves him from his fugue. Slowly, he reaches into his pocket and glances at the screen. A phantom of a smile touches his mouth when he sees who the caller is. Pushing the Answer button, he brings the phone to his ear.
"Oh, Rossi, good. Good." Garcia sounds a little rattled. "Can we...I don't know how to...look...are you busy? Can we meet somewhere? For a cup of coffee or a beer or something?"
"Sure," he says, a little slow, a little puzzled. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong? No. Well, no, not really, but..." He can practically hear her searching for the right word. "A couple of things with the subject have changed...like he's back here...I mean here, here and...and...someone else is looking for him. Someone you know."
Neither of those is a real surprise. If Doyle got any kind of a lead on where Declan is, he'd be back in the States in a minute. And if Derek Morgan hasn't been looking for Ian Doyle this whole time, then Dave is willing to turn in his credentials. "Tonight?"
"Yes, please," she says, sounding relieved.
"You name the place," he says genially. "But can you look something up for me?"
Evidently just agreeing to meet is enough to have Garcia feeling more Garcia-like, since her next words are back to their usual perky hyperbole. "Absolutely, oh best of the best! You have but to name it; I live to serve."
"It's a little red research." He grips the bottle in his hand, squeezing it as though he were squeezing Emily's fingers. "Hopefully, the last piece you'll ever have to do."
For the second time in an hour, Dave allows himself a break. There's a rock, or maybe it would be considered a boulder, that is more than adequate to rest his backside on, so he drops his pack and sits.
He's willing to bet he's in better shape than the vast majority of fifty-five year old men; chasing unsubs and trying to hold his own in the company of Derek Morgan and Aaron Hotchner have seen to that. Also, he's been an avid sportsman for the majority of his adult life: hunting, fishing, golf. Hell, he's still a force to be reckoned with on the softball field when they're home long enough to participate in the Bureau's league.
But he's having trouble catching his breath at the moment and all he's doing is walking.
True, he's walking up a mountain and the altitude is quite a bit different than what he's used to in northern Virginia or, for that matter, what he’s experienced when he’s been in the Rockies. Still, he's a little put out that a little thing like the atmosphere is impacting him at all. He wants to get where he's going and having to go slower was not in his plan.
He'd grumble about it, but there's no one around to listen. He snorts to himself as he removes his pullover and uses the sleeves to tie it around his waist. Though it's cooler here than at home, the sun and the walking have warmed him enough that he's comfortable in his shirt.
It's a beautiful day, but he hasn't seen any other hikers for the last forty minutes and no cars at all, even though the path runs beside the road. But it's not the most populated area, so that's not really surprising.
When he feels sufficiently rested, he looks at his notes and the map he'd brought, English translations scribble along the French printing, and nods to himself. It shouldn't be too much further. Less than an hour, probably. He takes a deep breath and pushes himself off the rock and steps back on the path.
Thirty-eight minutes later he sees the pyramid of rocks and stones he'd been told to look for. The gate is just beyond that; it’s old but sturdy, metal bands and wooden beams reinforcing each other. There are two chains with large padlocks adorning the gate and a weathered metal sign that reads Aucune Intrusion. One lock, the one linking the chain around the gate's post to the fence post, is ancient, pocked with rust and dented; the other, locking the gate's hasp and catch mechanism, is much newer, speckled with dirt but not weathered.
He studies the track beyond the gate; it's rutted, mostly dirt with a sparse scattering of gravel. Whatever vehicle was used beyond the gate would either have to have one hell of a suspension system or none at all.
The gate is far too high to easily climb, and the fence on either side is topped by barbed wire. But he's come prepared.
He sets his pack down and unzips the front pocket, taking out a small cloth roll. Pulling the tie, he unfurls the cloth, revealing the set of picks he's owned since he was a teenager and he and Ray Finnegan were on their way to becoming pretty decent criminals. Thank God for the judge that gave David Rossi the choice between the military or jail time, he thinks; the Marines were probably the only thing that kept him from fully falling into that life.
The need for warrants aside, the ability to pick a lock without detection has helped him more than once in his time with the Bureau. It's a useful skill and even rusty, he's pretty good at it. The new lock clicks open in less than a minute. The older lock is a little sticky and takes almost three minutes. If he had a can of WD-40, it would be a lot quicker, he thinks, but there's no real hurry. There's no one around to wonder what he's up to but he wants this part to be over.
Before he moves the chains he stands back and takes a picture with his phone; there's no point in advertising that anything has been tampered with. Once the chains are unhooked the gate swings open easily, with not even the smallest squeak, despite the age of the hinges. It does take awhile to maneuver the chains and locks just so, working and adjusting, inch by inch, coaxing the chains and scraping his knuckles and wrist in the narrow gaps between the posts and the gate.
When he feels reasonably confident that things are back as he found them, he shoulders his pack and begins the final leg of his journey. He doesn't walk on the track, but beside it; he doesn't want to take the chance of leaving any footprints.
Twenty minutes later, a weathered cabin comes into view. His first instinct is to increase his speed, but he makes himself stop and pull out his binoculars, surveying the cabin and the two structures beyond. The smallest building is what appears to be some sort of shed and beyond that is a barn. There is no sign of life or movement, but he waits for a long time just to be sure.
Of course, there's no way to be one hundred percent sure. How many times has he had to learn that over the past six months?
But, when he's as sure as he can reasonably be, he resumes his journey toward the cabin, albeit a little slower and more cautiously this time. Still, there's no shout questioning his identity or his intent, no crack of a gunshot nor any other indication that anyone has seen his approach.
He makes it to the porch of the cabin without incident and knocks on the door. There's no answer, but he hadn't really expected there to be. He tries the door handle but, of course, that was futile. He studies the locks; they're relatively recently installed, high quality. Not impossible to pick, but damned near. Shrugging his pack off his shoulders, he walks the length of the porch, studying the cabin and the front window. The caulk around the window frame is fresh, not a few hours old fresh, but much fresher than one would expect on an uninhabited fifty-year-old cabin. Dave gives an experimental tap and, hearing a solid thunk, knows it is bullet-proof and not susceptible to a glass cutter.
Snorting a little, he mumbles "Figures" to himself and hops down off the end of the porch. With long strides, he rounds the exterior of the cabin, noting the same new-looking windows on the right side and the rear. At the back of the cabin is a plot of land marked out by stacked stones with overturned earth, but other than some overgrown thyme along the garden wall, there’s no visible plant life that he can see. There is no back door to the cabin and the left side is taken up primarily by a large chimney.
The barn is locked up nearly as tight as the cabin and what he had originally taken as a shed is actually an outhouse. Neither is likely to house a spare key, he knows.
Sighing, he moves back around front and climbs back onto the porch, bending over, studying the locks. The knob should be no problem but the deadbolt is going to be a marathon. An hour later, he's kneeling, his pullover providing at least a little cushioning between the weathered boards of the porch and his very sore knees, as he turns the picks inside the lock, closing his eyes to feel each tumbler and groove.
About an hour and a half in, he takes a break, wiping his sweating forehead against the arm of his t-shirt. He leaves his picks braced in the lock, holding his place amongst the workings so he doesn't lose the progress he's made when he comes back. He sits with his back to the cabin wall and looks out over the gently rolling land, sipping the last of his water.
It's very pretty here. Beautiful, really. He definitely sees the appeal. Of course, he has a cabin just outside of Little Creek-it’s hardly a mountain meadow, but certainly closer than his current surroundings to the urban settings of the world's capitals. He could definitely imagine living out a full life here.
The sun is moving toward the horizon, so he stops his nature study and heaves his aching self back up and over to the door. Picking one of these things on his knees was a bastard, picking one of these on his knees while trying to hold a flashlight would be a nightmare.
It turns out he does need the flashlight for the last set of tumblers, but since he spends most of the time "feeling" his way rather than looking, it's not too important that the light be steady, so angled in his mouth works just fine.
When everything finally clicks, he stands on tense legs and takes a breath, pressing his back against the edge of the cabin wall to the left of the cabin door. A booby-trap is not out of the question.
With painful and deliberate slowness he turns the knob, listening intently for any noise, a click or a hum, anything that might indicate something out of the ordinary, but he hears nothing. The tension in the knob feels normal, but that doesn't mean there's not something rigged to it. Still, he's not going to make any progress standing outside with his back against the wall; he pushes inward and steps further aside.
There's nothing. No explosion, no gunshot, no whizzing of knives or arrows, no drop of wood. Nothing.
His knees go weak and he slumps against the wall. Dave breathes in deeply and listens to his heart thump. He hadn't realized exactly how tense he had been until now. He breathes through the release of adrenaline, breathes through the shakes, breathes through the hammering heart and when he feels something close to normal, he walks through the cabin door.
Everything looks strange in the circle of his too-bright flashlight. He uses the light to locate two lanterns. He leaves an old-fashioned kerosene alone for the time being and uses the other, a modern camping lantern with a halogen bulb powered by batteries. While it's not bright enough to illuminate everything, it gives him a good view of the interior.
The cabin is essentially one large room; the wall with the chimney is all stone and has both a fireplace and a potbellied stove. There's a bed in the far corner of that wall, positioned, no doubt, to absorb the greatest heat from the radiant stones in the winter. He lets the light sweep over the rest of the room: a dresser with a wash bowl, a worn leather armchair, an aged sofa, several bookcases (overflowing), a butter churn, a table and two ladder-back chairs. He takes a few cautious steps inside, but eventually determines everything is safe. Time to explore more in the morning.
When he brings his pack in from the porch, the flashlight gleams on something metal under the kitchen table and he sees the staple and hasp of a door in the floor. Probably a root cellar, but he's not going to even think about looking down there until the sun is up tomorrow. For now he makes sure the staple is in place over the hasp and shoves the straight end of the fireplace poker through as a security measure.
He helps himself to a bottle of water he finds on the kitchen counter and pulls a protein bar and some beef jerky from his pack. He throws himself in the leather armchair and consumes his dinner as he studies the interior in a more leisurely fashion. The furnishings are obviously old, but sturdy. There's a mix of camping and survival gear around the room, an odd mix of the antique and ultra-modern; while some of it looks as if it predates the cabin, other items look like they came from the newest edition of a camping catalog. But there's very little in between.
It's a little earlier than he'd usually consider calling it a day. but jet lag and his hike have gotten the better of him. And it's not like there's a lot to keep him entertained at the moment. He bolts the door, kicks off his shoes and eases himself onto the bed; he's surprised at just how comfortable the mattress is. He's spent a lot of the last thirty years on a lot of different hotel mattresses, so he's sure he could sleep anywhere, but it's nice to find such a good one when he hadn't expected it.
Turning his head on the pillow, he inhales. The linen is freshly laundered with no lingering scent of the bed's last occupant. For the first time since Penelope Garcia slid a piece of fuschia notepaper with her purple looping script across a Starbuck's table to him, Dave doubts himself. Understandable, his innerprofiler reassures; he'd been making plans and doing research and preparing for the trip. He's been going on a hunch and determination since that moment; there hasn't been time for doubt. But here, in the utter silence of the cabin on a mountain on a continent different from the one he woke up on two days ago, he lets it flood over him.
There is evidence, he reasons. Could be a coincidence, the voice of doubt taunts.
He breathes deeply.
"I'll give it a week," he says aloud.
And he sleeps
It's late afternoon on the fourth day when he hears the distinctive rush and growl of a motorcycle coming up the track.
He’d seen several in the village closest to the cabin and a few on the mountain road leading up to the cabin, mostly the steady chuff of Peugeots along with the occasional scream of a Ducati. This, he thinks, drawing from his limited experience, is one of the latter.
He wants to leap off the sofa, but makes himself stay where he is, stretched out against the ancient leather, book in his hands. He hears the crunch of sturdy footwear on the path to the door, a sure tread on the step outside, then a pause and a low creak of someone taking a cautious step onto the porch.
When a leather-clad, helmeted figure bursts through the door, gun in hand, he thinks maybe he should have hit the floor instead of staying on the sofa.
Somehow, despite the hammering in his chest, he manages to sound relatively cool as he holds up the cookbook he'd been studying. "Just brushing up on my zupa di pesce."
Slowly, the gun lowers and is placed on the table. The helmet comes off and Emily is blowing out an explosive breath. "Damnit, Rossi, I could have shot you." She throws the helmet, none too gently, into the armchair and barks, "I almost shot you."
Dave swings his legs off the sofa so he's in a sitting position. "That would have been a very bad ending to a pretty good plan." He tries to sound unconcerned, but his heart is beating so hard he can't tell how he sounds. It's not almost being shot; that's happened to him plenty of times before. Also, he's aware of Emily's skill with a firearm and her reaction time; she might be worried she would have shot him, but he isn't.
What does have his heart thumping and his breathing so loud he can hear it is, simply, Emily.
Emily, standing there in blue jeans and black leather, looking every bit as though she might be reconsidering whether to shoot him or not. Emily, who, less than two weeks ago, told him she couldn't see him anymore. Emily, who everyone thinks is dead. Emily, who essentially walked out on him, twice.
Emily, who he loves more than he ever thought it possible to love anyone.
Emily, who, evidently, is not in tune with his thoughts or feelings at all at the moment, as she seems to be on a tirade of epic proportions, cheeks flushed, eyes snapping.
"Rossi, what the hell?" The look she gives him is a combination of acid and steel and he doesn't give a flying fuck. He just crosses his arms and decides to take it on the chin until she calms down.
"Pretty. Good. Plan.” Each slow, succinct word drips with quiet venom. “You think me almost shooting you is a pretty good plan? Then do I have a great plan for you." The level of her voice and the cadence of her words are both rising. She throws her arms in the air and her hair whips across her face with the force of her movements. "Goddamnit, Dave.” She’s looking as if she’s trying to stop herself from hitting him. “You couldn't just leave it alone could you? You have to have the last word, don't you?"
Her lips are tight and her eyes are narrow as she swings around and spews rage at him. "You could have been killed. By me or Doyle. You could have lead them straight to me." Emily makes a noise that is somewhere between a shout and a groan.; then, she releases a breath and pushes back her hair with one hand. "You hard-headed, egotistical, stubborn asshole. What is wrong with you? Seriously. What the fuck is wrong with you?"
He's had a lot of time to think all of the same things, even ask himself the same questions, though, admittedly with fewer swear words. And he only has one answer. "I love you."
Emily's eyes close as though she's felt a sudden wave of pain and her shoulders slump. It takes a minute, but she shakes her head and opens her eyes to look at him. When she speaks, the rage is gone from her voice but it is quietly tinged with sadness. "Dave. Love is not magic."
"I know that." Finally, he stands and takes a step toward her. "I know it's not magic, but, Jesus, Emily, it's still a miracle."
A look he's not sure how to interpret spasms across her face and then she shakes her head again. "Dave..."
"Listen," he says quickly, taking a step forward. "Just listen. I know you think you're doing what's best for me, trying to keep me safe. But. Emily, you can't just keep making these decisions about us without me."
For a second she looks simultaneously stricken and stunned. "Dave." She clears her throat and tries again. "Dave. I'm not trying to be cruel, but what makes this time any different? What makes this relationship worth risking your life for when the others weren't worth risking a book tour for?"
That is cruel. And true of his last two marriages, but he's not going to let her sidetrack him into anger. Instead, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the bottle of moisturizer he had found in his bathroom the night he had tried to purge his home of her presence.
She looks down at the bottle, then up at his face, then back to the bottle. "Moisturizer? A twenty dollar bottle of moisturizer caused you to risk your life, fly to France and hike up a mountain to my grandfather's cabin where I might or might not show up?" Shaking her head, she loops her hair behind her ear. "Rossi, I assure you Europe has adequate skin care products to meet my needs." It's her best you are such a moron drawl that he can't help but smile. "Why would you put yourself in the line of fire to bring me a bottle of moisturizer?"
He feels the cool glass in his palm and he looks at her face; he remembers what she looked like the day he'd walked back into the BAU. "These last months you've been so concerned about your scars and I've tried to tell you I don't care about them. And I don't; other than hating the pain you had to go through. What I realized I do care about are your wrinkles."
"What?" Her tone is incredulous and edging toward anger again. He takes one last step toward her and folds the bottle into her hands, holding it there with both of his.
"I want to know where every one of the lines on your face comes from; the tiny ones you have now and the ones you're going to have in five years, ten years, twenty years." He pulls her into his arms; her body is still tight but her face has eased from angry and shocked to soft and questioning. "Whether it's the worry lines from Ian Doyle or the laugh lines from Penelope Garcia. I want it all. Everything that makes you who you are, that's what I want to know, that's what's going to keep me in."
"You idiot." She sounds a little breathless, as if she doesn't know whether to be exasperated or tender.
Dave has never been one to leave anything to chance. "This situation is fucked up. I know that. It's dangerous. I know that, too." He rests his forehead against hers and even gives her a little smile, even though he's never been more serious. "I am all in and you are not shutting me out. If you run again, I will find you again and I will be much louder and more obvious about tracking you down."
Emily looks at him, really, looks at him. Dave sees her own pain along with doubt and weariness. She wants, he can see that. She wants him but she wants him to be safe. She wants to be with him, but she doesn’t trust the universe or God or whatever it is she believes in to let it happen.
He lets her look; he lets her see. He lets her see how serious he is; he lets her see his own doubt and fear and beyond that, he lets her see him and his love for her. There’s a moment when he sees her see it; that he isn’t going away, that he knows the risks and he’s willing to take them. Her eyes begin to shine and her lip quivers, just a little.
"You would, too." Her expression is grave, but her tone is full of fondness and hope. "You know I can't come home."
He nods. "Yeah, I know. And I won't put you in danger by insisting on being with you here. But you're not shaking me off, Emily." He meets her eyes with a serious look of his own. "Never again."
Her eyes are wide and maybe a little wet when she nods and then he feels her begin to soften in his arms. "You're still a hard-headed, egotistical, stubborn asshole."
There's no arguing that. "You forgot fussy and anal retentive."
Emily barks out a laugh and lets herself melt completely against him. "I love you."
Dave presses a kiss against her hair. "And that's what gives this story a happy ending."
Lyrics The Story
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you
I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules
But baby I broke them all for you
Because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel like a million bucks
I was made for you
You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
And all of my friends who think that I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No, they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what
I've been through like you do
And I was made for you...
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you