Unfortunately, when a member of the team fell during a pursuit, the rest of the team had to keep pushing forward. They couldn’t let their unsub get away over something as silly as tripping over a piece of debris. No one gave a second thought to passing one of their own by, leaving them to catch back up, until they didn’t. Until everyone turned around long minutes later and their teammate was still on the ground. Unmoving.
Then, time stood still.
They had just gotten off an eleven-day case in upstate New York. It had been grueling and long days of wading through crime scenes that were utter bloodbaths. Aaron Hotchner had sent the rest of the team straight home; twelve plus hour days were showing their wear. He had pulled a few all nighters himself plus even more time in his room once they’d all gone back to the hotel. He wasn’t entirely sure at this point if any of them were safe to drive. A knock at his door had him looking up from his desk.
“I thought you said everyone needed to go home?”
He smiled at his long-time friend, occasionally he wondered how the older man could keep up with the much younger team of agents. “I will be. I just needed to drop these files and get some others. Why are you here?”
“I needed to pick up my manuscript. I left it here before.”
Hotch nodded and watched Dave saunter away. He returned to his task and then headed home.
The phone had rung much too early. Hotch sighed as he realized four hours was all the sleep he was getting. He really felt bad about having to call his team and wake them up. He’d requested all their files be sent straight to the jet, it would prolong when everyone needed to meet.
Finally he made the calls, waking the very unhappy members of his team. He couldn’t blame them.
The flight to Illinois had been too short to get more sleep. He shared with the team that they all had a full week off once they got back. He’d made a deal.
Hotch sat across from Dave at the back and tried to chat. The older man shrugged when he missed a couple words as they talked, saying he was tired, was struggling with the lack of sleep. Hotch told him it was no big deal, he could man the station and wait till his body adjusted.
The day wore on. Fatigue and heat weren’t a good mix and it was leaving them all more than a little snappish and tense. JJ had caused a LEO to take off in tears over a statement the young man had made to an unknown person who turned out to be a reporter. Emily and Morgan had stopped her from actually pursuing the man to inflict a further tongue lashing.
Reid found Hotch standing in the hall staring at his phone. The screen had long gone black, he couldn’t even remember why he had it out. “Hotch?”
He looked at his subordinate silently.
“I think you should make Rossi go back to the hotel. He’s having a hard time in there.”
“Forgetting his line of thought, forgetting a word, he’s done it a couple times.”
Hotch shook his head. “We all need to go. We can’t work like this.” He tucked his phone away and gathered his team to the room. “We’re heading to the hotel. Gather what we need for tonight, we’ll meet at seven.”
Emily looked at her watch, it was barely six in the evening, “A.M.?”
He turned back and nodded. “I’m going to go talk to the Chief, I’ll be right back.” He walked to the other end of the building and found the chief and explained their situation. He explained that they simply needed one night in order to be able to function. The Chief understood and promised to call only if it was supremely urgent.
When Hotch returned, everyone was waiting; he motioned for them to head out.
Morning found them all much more relaxed and awake, ready to face the case at hand. Rossi assured Hotch he was fine and ready to work. The sleep did him good.
As they arrived at the station, the Chief stepped out in a rush and said there was a lead. They may have spotted a guy fitting the description. The team rushed to their vehicles and followed the squad cars, lights and sirens going.
They ended up in a foot pursuit with the unsub along a wide trail. The space was clear save for the odd root poking through the dirt, occasionally causing someone to stumble. Everyone was pressing forward, the sense of urgency filling the air. The locals who knew this trail were in front with the BAU acting as backup. No one stopped or thought anything of it when Rossi tripped and fell.
The locals had the unsub in custody. The BAU team was standing, firearms tucked away, catching their breath. Hotch looked around as he always did, accounting for his team. “Where’s Dave?”
Everyone looked around and shrugged.
“I don’t think I’ve seen his since he tripped just before the clearing.” Morgan answered.
Hotch glanced at the others to see if anyone had seen his since. When everyone shook their heads, he turned and started jogging back up the trail, the others following close behind. A dozen yards up the trail lay David Rossi. Hotch froze for a split second.
The others rushed forward to check on him. JJ found a pulse as Morgan rolled the older man over onto his back. “Rossi?”
His eyes cracked open slightly and he attempted to speak.
Reid’s eyes widened and he took his friend’s hands in his and asked if he could squeeze them. The younger man rushed back to their leader. “We need an ambulance. Tell them he’ll need TPA.”
Spencer was already turning back when Hotch asked. “What?”
“TPA. I need to see if anyone has aspirin.”
Hotch dialed for the ambulance and passed on the message. The person on the other end asked if the patient was on any treatments for stroke prevention and Hotch hated admitting he didn’t know.
Emily appeared, running back up the trail, Hotch hadn’t even seen her leave, waving something in her hand before passing it to the young genius.
Spencer leaned in and said something to the man on the ground before maneuvering the pills under his tongue.
It seemed like forever before the paramedics appeared with a backboard to take their teammate away. Spencer followed along, exchanging information as they went.
The remainder of the team stared silently at where Rossi had been on the ground.
Suddenly Morgan broke the silence. “I’ll drive.”
The sun was setting when the doctor finally appeared. “For David Rossi?” He paused when everyone stood and then flipped the page in the file, “I have Aaron Hotchner listed in the medical file?”
“That’s me.” Hotch stepped forward. “You can tell all of us though.”
“Mister Rossi has had a massive stroke. His scans showed this isn’t the first event, there were possibly signs and no one even realized.”
The doctor nodded. “Headaches, weakness, confusion, vision issues, balance issues. Or nothing at all.” He glanced around the group. “He’s still not responsive, we’re working to see how the clot that caused it will react to medicine or if further intervention will need done.” He focused now directly on the agent who was listed in the file. “I need you to come with me, I will go over the options in more detail and you will have to choose what course of action we take.”
“Will he be okay?” JJ asked.
The doctor frowned. “Right now, it’s a waiting game.”
Hotch wasn’t sure what to do. “He really can’t speak for himself?”
The doctor shook his head. “We believe some stroke patients remain aware throughout treatment, but no, he is unable to speak for himself in any form right now.”
“What can we expect?” Emily asked.
“Assuming the best, he could experience within six months in recovery, in therapies and such, that is when the biggest gains are generally made. And then obviously the worst case is…” He trailed off.
Hotch rubbed his face, trying to process everything. “Can I see him?”
The doctor nodded. “Don’t’ expect him to be able to respond, even if he looks awake. Talk to him, it’s important that he hears someone he knows at a time like this.” The pair began to walk down the hall. “How long have you known Mister Rossi?”
“Close to twenty years.”
“Then if we need them later, you could help me with some cognitive assessments?”
Stepping up to the bed where his friend slept, Hotch asked. “When can he be transported back to DC?”
“We’ll be able to give you a better answer to that tomorrow. For now, he can’t be moved safely. He has to be stable for a flight like that.”
“Can I stay here with him? I know they others will want to sit with him during visiting hours, but overnight? Can I stay here?”
The doctor gave him a sad smile. “I don’t see why not.”
Aaron sat in the dark room and stared at the still form of his long-time friend. After reviewing everything, plus some time to get Reid to help him understand the small details of it, he’d agreed to see what changes happened in twenty-four hours. So for the next day, doctors would do everything they could to get Dave through it. After that, he’d have more hard decisions to make.
“Well, Dave, you’re here for a few days, so might as well make the best of it.” He reached out and took the still hand. “I never thought I’d actually have to make a decision whether to just let you go or not.” A tear dripped down his cheek. “When I saw you on the ground, I thought the worst, though maybe in a way if you had died instantly you wouldn’t be suffering. If you’re suffering.” He let out a deep sigh. “The doctor says you won’t be able to go in the field anymore, guess your retirement will stick this time.” He was determined to think good thoughts. Dave would be coming home.
The next morning, the team paraded through the room, sitting with their still teammate, talking to him. Each one carefully tried to help shore up Hotch’s emotions and his reserves with what he was facing. Emily and JJ hadn’t hesitated to wrap their boss in a tight hug and let him know they weren’t leaving Illinois until Rossi did. None of them.
“You need some sleep.” Emily patted his arm and started to move away, hoping he would follow. “I know you barely slept at all all night.”
“What if something happens?” Hotch balked.
“We’ll leave Reid and JJ. Between them, they will keep you informed and will ask all the right questions for you. You know they will.”
Hotch woke from his nap slightly refreshed, instantly checking his phone for messages. Failing to find any, he texted Spencer for an update.
No change. But the doctor wanted to speak with him.
His heart sank.
Aaron listened as the doctor explained the lack of change, lack of response to treatment.
“We need to decide if we carry on or stop. We can force his body to remain alive indefinitely, but the odds of any meaningful recovery are going to get slimmer and slimmer. At this point the ventilator is breathing for him and there is a significant reduction in brain activity. The clot is dissolving properly, but I’m afraid that it won’t be enough.”
Tears sprang to his eyes as he choked up. “Can I… Can I sit with him a bit before I decide?”
The doctor nodded. “Just let a nurse know and she’ll page me.”
“Thanks.” He shuffled into the room and sank down on the side of the bed, taking his friend’s hands. “You’ve made it twenty-four hours, but you’re far from out of the woods.” He leaned forward, running both hands through his hair before taking Dave’s hands again. “They want me to sign paperwork to stop treatments, Dave. I have to decide whether we fight this or let you go.” When he sat back up, there were tears in his eyes. “I don’t know how to make a choice like that.”
Gathering himself slightly, Hotch cleared his throat. “Everyone has decided to stay with you here until we have a final answer one way or the other. I haven’t told them yet, though, what’s at stake. I feel like I want to protect them for just a little while longer.” Hotch frowned, unsure if he would be able to decide what Dave would have wanted on his own.
It wasn’t fair that they were going through this.
Having finally made his decision, Hotch headed to the waiting room and told the others. The doctor had agreed to hold off until everyone had said their goodbyes and Morgan had gotten Garcia to find a flight to join them as fast as possible.
He knew his friend would have wanted to go out with dignity, so when the last person had stepped out, he joined the doctor and other staff behind the closed door and waited as machines were turned off.
The doctor watched the utter despair on the agent’s face as the last machine told them their patient was gone. This had always been the hardest part of his job. He escorted the nurses out as the tall man wrapped himself around the prone one and sobbed.