They were watching “Fire Walk With Me”—Rossi was a deeply devoted “Twin Peaks” fan—when there was a knock on the door. Emily started to rise but subsided when Rossi laid a hand on her arm and headed for the door himself.
Garcia was on the other side, a cat carrier full of meowing black fur in her hands.
“Sergio!” Emily cried delightedly, springing up from the couch.
“He wanted his mommy,” Garcia said with a smile, setting the carrier down and unzipping the front flap to release the cat. “So I figured I’d bring him over. I hope I’m not interrupting anything …” She gave Rossi a sly smile and a wink.
Emily was busy cooing over her cat so Rossi sidled over to Garcia’s side. “What exactly did you think you’d be interrupting?”
“Oh, you know, maybe a little ‘physical therapy.’”
Rossi snickered. “Really, Penelope? That sounds like something Morgan would say. Spending a little too much time with him?”
“I can never get enough time with that sweet man,” Garcia replied, grinning. “But no, I came up with that on my own, no help needed. I probably read too much fic that’s NSFW.” At Rossi’s perplexed look, she clarified, “Not Safe For Work. Smut. Porn. The Internet generation’s equivalent of trashy romance novels. They usually have lines and euphemisms like that one … the clever ones, anyway.”
“We obviously need to find you more to do if you’ve got time to read that garbage,” Rossi teased. Pointing toward the kitchen, he asked, “Do you want some dinner? There are leftovers.”
“Oh, no, I ate all ready with Kevin. And he’s in the car right now, actually … we’re going out for ice cream. I just wanted to make sure the happy family was promptly reunited.”
Emily glanced up at her friend, all smiles. “Thanks, Garcia! I missed him like crazy.”
“And, believe me, he missed you too. I think a few of his toys are still under my sofa … I’ll bring them by tomorrow.” She headed for the door. “Call if you need anything, okay?”
“We will,” Rossi said with a smile, seeing as Emily was again distracted by her purring cat. “Have a good night, Garcia. Say hey to Kevin for me.”
At the sound of the door closing, Emily glanced up again. “Oh, did she leave?”
Rossi laughed heartily. “You really did miss that cat, didn’t you?” He extended his hand to the feline, who deigned to sniff at Rossi before flouncing off toward the kitchen where he began meowing plaintively.
“Oh, gosh, his food,” Emily exclaimed. She rose, wincing a little, and headed into the kitchen. “All right, you little reprobate. I’m coming.”
Rossi trailed her, noticing the way she ever so slightly hunched over her injury, an instinct to protect a vulnerable area. She apparently realized she was doing it, too, because she straightened her torso and continued on her way to the kitchen, only to return to the same posture when she reached a little too high for Sergio’s food and tweaked a sore muscle. It made him so incredibly sad to see vibrant, lithe Emily having to consider her movements and measure her range of motion that he found himself having to blink hard to clear the tell-tale sting of tears from his eyes.
Emily caught sight of his face and looked startled. “Dave, what is it?”
“Nothing,” he replied, turning to rummage in a cupboard where he knew he’d seen microwave popcorn, hoping to hide his expression until he got it under better control. “How about some popcorn for the movie?”
“Whatever you want,” she replied. She came up behind him and laid a hand on his back. “Dave, that’s not a nothing face. What’s the matter?”
“We should have gotten to you sooner. God, Em, if we had only managed to put it together faster.” Rossi turned toward her and the anguish on his face nearly took her breath away. “It’s like a stab in the gut to see you like this.” Realizing what he’d just said, he winced. “God, that was a HORRIBLE choice of words.”
Emily laughed, winced because laughing hurt, laughed again with her hand braced against her ribcage and finally leaned against the counter, trying to giggle in short, shallow bursts. “The best part is that I know you didn’t mean it to come out that way. It just happened.”
She brushed her hair out of her eyes once the giggles were under control and blinked up at his sober face. “Oh, Rossi, come on, if I can laugh about it, you can too. It HAPPENED to me and I’m amused.”
She straightened, crossed to him, and with no hesitation wrapped her arms around him.
“You have got to stop blaming yourself for my mistake,” she insisted, holding on to him with as much strength as she could muster. “I’m the one who went rogue, I’m the one who covered my tracks, making it nearly impossible for you to find me, and I’m the one who went in against Doyle with no back-up and no real plan. It’s my fault I got hurt, not yours. I can’t stand seeing you beating yourself up over this.”
She loosened her embrace and stepped back so she could see his face when he replied.
“I’m not … oh, hell, I don’t know, maybe I AM blaming myself. Don’t get me wrong, I blame you too … but I just can’t get past that feeling of wishing I could have been there to stop it.”
“You couldn’t have stopped it,” Emily said patiently. “That particular snowball was rolling downhill long before you were ever in the picture, Dave. No one could have stopped it; not you, not Hotch, and not Morgan who, I know, feels just as guilty as you do because he didn’t come in sooner with his guns blazing. Getting in the middle of all of this with Ian Doyle would just have gotten you hurt, too, or killed. And believe it or not, that really ISN’T our job, no matter how often we seem to get into scrapes that make it seem that way.”
Rossi sighed and raked a hand through his hair. “It scared me, Emily. All of it. But what scared me most was the idea of not having you here anymore.”
“But I AM here,” she replied. “Look at me, Dave. I’m right here. And I’m fine.”
“You’re in so much pain that you’re hunching when you walk!” he burst out. “You’ve got a scar where that bastard branded you!”
“Okay, well … I’m not totally fine …” The lame attempt at humor only made Rossi look more upset. Emily sighed. “Dave … I don’t know what I can say. There’s just … there’s nothing that’s going to make this any better.”
Rossi blew out a long breath and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I know. Come on, let’s sit back down; I just need a minute or two to get my thoughts together.” He made his way back to the couch, tipped his head back against the cushions, and shut his eyes.
He was surprised but not at all unhappy to feel Emily’s hand against his cheek. They had been doing a lot of touching lately (though it felt as if it was largely him fighting the urge to touch her) but the warmth of Emily’s palm nearly overwhelmed him.
“You look so tired,” she said, concern coloring her voice. “How much are you sleeping?”
He elected not to lie about something so trivial. “Four, maybe five hours a night. I’m having trouble falling asleep.”
“Because you’ve got other things on your mind?” she asked, obviously trying to ask without really asking if she was the source of his sleeplessness.
“Sure, we’ll go with that.” He rolled his head toward the sound of her voice and opened his eyes. “I can’t sleep without knowing you’re okay.”
“Ah. So that’s why the nightly phone calls,” she said softly. “I was wondering if it was something like that.”
He dropped his eyes, a little ashamed to be indulging in something so silly, but brought them back up to her when she said, very firmly, “Dave. It’s sweet. I like it. Thank you.” Her fingers found his and squeezed. “And not just for the phone calls. For the extra motivation at PT …”
“You mean ‘bullying,’” he teased, echoing her words from that morning.
“I mean motivating,” she replied, smiling. “I know that you only want me to get better. It’s hard to remember that when you’re forcing me to walk and do crunches but I know that’s ultimately the goal … and you’re doing it not because you’re a sadistic slave driver but because you care about me.”
“Emmy, I do care,” he said, grasping her hand and peering intently at her. “I can’t tell you how much.”
She leaned over and kissed his forehead. Her lips were warm and soft. “I’m getting a pretty good idea of how much.” She gave him a fond smile. “Let’s finish this movie and then get to bed. You’re staying in my guest room.” When he started to object she firmly cut him off. “There is NO WAY you’re driving 45 minutes home when you’re this tired. You’re staying with me.”
Rossi tossed off a salute and a wink. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Sure. As long as you promise to make use of that heating pad like Heather instructed.”
Emily gave him an exasperated smile. “It’s always got to be a battle with you, doesn’t it?”
“You say battle, I say compromise.” He rose. “I’ll get the popcorn going.”
Ten minutes later they were settled on the couch, Emily stretched out full length with a heating pad on her aching torso, her legs in Rossi’s lap, popcorn in easy reach. Emily gave Rossi a bright smile.
“You may be a sadist slave-driver, Rossi, but you’re a damn sexy sadist slave-driver.”
Rossi laughed and squeezed her hand. “It’s one of my goals in life.”
“Glad to hear it.” He hit the play button on the remote and “Fire Walk With Me” resumed. “Better rest up now … I’m going to make you do PT right here in the living room tomorrow.”
“Promises, promises,” Emily replied, raising an eyebrow, turning her attention back to the screen.