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Strength

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Author's Note 1: This is an alternate ending for "Lauren"-- a BETTER ending, IMHO-- in which Emily is saved by the team and is recovering from her attack by Ian Doyle.

***

“Emily’s downstairs at PT,” the nurse responded, giving Garcia a smile. “The last one in-house before we discharge her. Her gentleman friend went down with her.”

“Gentleman friend?” Morgan echoed.

“Yeah, dark haired, Italian, gorgeous.”

“Rossi,” Garcia said, grinning. “Couldn’t be anyone else.”

“Hey!” Morgan protested. “I’m dark haired and gorgeous!”

“But so not Italian,” Garcia replied. “Come on, let’s go check on her.”

“Rossi’s spending an awful lot of time here,” Morgan said as they got into the elevator. “You think there’s something going on?”

Garcia shrugged. “Nothing that she’s told me about. I think he feels a little guilty. You know, about not getting to her sooner.” She gave Derek a sad smile. “Kind of like you, my love. Don’t think I can’t see it.”

Derek sighed and leaned against the wall. “If I’d been a minute sooner …”

“And if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas,” Garcia interrupted. “It happened, Derek. You can’t torture yourself over it.”

They headed down the hall, following the signs for the PT rooms. There was a wheelchair parked outside a door midway down the corridor. Morgan peeked inside and saw Emily, Rossi, and an auburn-haired woman in scrubs behind a plate glass window.

“Looks like we’re in the right place.” He ushered Garcia in ahead of him.

The room was filled with equipment—weight machines, free weights, treadmills, barres, exercise balls, and gym mats. Several exam tables and chiropractic chairs were set up against the back wall. A plate glass window separated Garcia and Morgan from the gym itself—the better, apparently, for doctors to stand and observe their patients without crowding or intimidating them. They could hear the conversation inside the room clearly—either the glass was incredibly thin or the room had been miked.

Emily was just getting off an exercise ball with the help of her therapist. She looked tired but pleased with herself.

“Good job, Emily, I’m seeing some real improvement,” the therapist said. She glanced over at Rossi. “She tells me you’ve been encouraging her to walk.”

“I don’t think I said encouraging,” Emily responded. “I think I said bullying.”

Rossi grinned. “You say bullying, I say motivating.”

“Whatever you’re doing, you have my permission to keep it up,” the therapist replied, to which Rossi beamed and Emily scowled. “Emily, let’s get you down on the mat and do some core strengthening. It won’t hurt as much to walk or sit up straight once you get a few more sessions under your belt.”

“I hate this,” Emily complained, lowering herself slowly to the mat. “I feel old and feeble.”

“You’re not feeble,” the therapist replied matter-of-factly. “You’re recovering from an injury that caused a lot of damage to your core muscles. It’s going to take time to come back from that.”

She crossed to a cabinet and pulled out a stretchy blue resistance band.

“You know the drill. Lie on your back like you’re planning on doing crunches. Grab your end of the band and use it to pull yourself up to sitting then lower yourself back down. Let your arms do the work, not your abs—I don’t want you injuring yourself any more than you all ready are. I just want to keep those muscles used to that movement. When you’ve healed more, you’ll rely on the band less and less to sit up.”

Emily nodded and took hold of one end of the blue resistance band. Her therapist knelt at her feet, holding the other end of the band.

“Whenever you’re ready, give me a set of five. Go at your own pace.”

It may have looked easy but to someone who’d just had major abdominal surgery, it obviously wasn’t. Emily bit down on her lower lip as she worked her way through a set, struggling to keep her breathing even. Rossi watched without comment, though he sometimes leaned forward as if he wanted to touch her arm.

Emily lay back on the mat, color slowly returning to her pale face. “I used to be able to do a hundred crunches without breaking a sweat,” she said, her voice torn by pain. “Now I can’t even do a set of five with a resistance band without feeling like I’m going to have a heart attack.”

“You’re doing FINE,” her therapist reminded her patiently, handing Emily a hand towel. “Just remember to—” She broke off as her phone vibrated on her hip. “I’m sorry.” She checked the display. “It’s my son’s school. Let me take this. I’ll be right back. Agent Rossi, if you want to help her do another set of five, you’re more than welcome to.”

“Oh, Heather, don’t say that!” Emily moaned at the therapist’s back. “Now he’s going to make me do it!”

Rossi grinned. “This isn’t quite what I had in mind when I played doctor as a kid but it’ll do.” He picked up the resistance band and held it out to Emily. “You ready?”

“No,” Emily replied flatly.

“Sure you are,” Rossi responded cheerfully. “Just think—the sooner you get these done, the sooner you can re-qualify to get back on the team.”

He’d hit her weak spot. Emily rolled her eyes and shot him a dirty look. “I hate you sometimes, you know that, right?”

“I know,” he said. “And it just makes you want to try harder to show you can outdo me.”

“What an ego,” Emily said with a faint laugh. “You think this is all about you?” She grabbed the end of the resistance band and wrapped her fingers around it so tightly they turned white. “No wonder you have so much trouble getting a date.” She pulled herself up, hiding a wince behind a fierce scowl. “One.”

“And why I have three ex wives,” Rossi added, grinning. “They couldn’t stand my ego either. Carolyn said the way my head swelled when my book hit the top of the New York Times Nonfiction list reminded her of a Macy’s Parade balloon.” He nodded in approval as Emily completed a second crunch. “Two. Good job.”

“I’d believe that,” Emily ground out, hauling herself up for a third time. “I bet you’re one of those guys who practice his autograph for hours on end.”

Rossi laughed. “Took forever to get the “R” just right in my last name. Four.”

“And your personal library is made up of all your own books.” Emily clenched her teeth through crunches five, six, and seven. On the eighth she gasped out a breath and grabbed hold of Rossi’s forearms. “I can’t do any more.”

“Sure you can. Two more and you’ll be at ten and we’ll call it a day.”

“I can’t. Seriously.”

“You can. You said you couldn’t walk down the hall on Monday and you did it today without even breaking a sweat. I know you’ve got it in you.”

Emily hunched over and shut her eyes, obviously fighting off a wave of pain. “Dave,” she gasped, her voice frantic and a little afraid. “I’m going to pass out if I try to finish that set.”

Rossi’s demeanor changed instantly. “Okay. No problem. Lie back.” He moved to her side and helped her lower herself to the mat. “Don’t tense up,” he instructed, squeezing her shoulders. “Just breathe into it. I know it hurts.” He ran his fingers gently up and down her arm. Garcia and Morgan could see even from where they were that Emily was trembling. “I didn’t mean to push you, Emmy. I’m sorry.”

Morgan turned to Garcia and mouthed, “Emmy?”

“—just want you to get better. If I’m a little too gung-ho about this, it’s because I want you back with us.”

“You just like watching me suffer,” Emily whispered, a smile twisting her lips. “Sadist.”

“I like watching you fight,” Rossi responded. He was still stroking her arm. “But I don’t like seeing you in pain.”

Emily twined her fingers with his. “There’s nothing I can do about the pain. But I’ll try harder to fight. For you.” She laughed softly, winced. “See? It IS all about you.”

Rossi smoothed her hair back from her forehead. “No, Emmy. Make it about you.” He played his thumb across her cheekbone. “How are you feeling? Less dizzy?”

Heather re-entered the room then. “Sorry! Kid crisis. No big deal.” She kneeled on the mat beside Emily and took her pulse. “Did Secret Agent Man work you too hard?”

Emily shook her head. “Just hard enough. I started feeling dizzy though, so he helped me lie down.”

Heather nodded. “It’s probably wise to stop then. Let me get you some water.”

Emily gave Rossi a considering look then said, “No, I’ll try to do another set.”

“Not on my account,” Rossi said quickly. “No way. If you’re feeling like you’re done, then be done.”

“I need to try,” she said. “I need to fight.” Her eyes held his on the last word.

Heather looked pleased, but still a bit concerned. “Are you sure?”

Emily nodded. “I need to know I can do this.” She looked at Heather. “Do you mind if Dave works this set with me?”

“Not at all. I’ll go get you that water.”

“You want me, the sadist slave driver, to do another set with you?” Rossi joked. “Seriously?”

“To keep me focused.”

He nodded, all joking gone, and kneeled down with the resistance band in his hands. “Ready?”

Emily bit her lip, nodded, and grabbed her end of the band. “Yeah.”

It was hard for her, Garcia and Morgan could see that. Pain and strain were clear on her face as she fought to gain back control of the weakened muscles in her abdomen. But she soldiered through, eyes locked on a spot on the wall just over Rossi’s shoulder.

He, in turn, kept his eyes on her face, counting each rep with her. When she worked herself up to sitting for the fifth and final time, he caught her hands in his and held on to keep her sitting upright.

“I’ve got you,” he assured her, helping her lean back against the wall. He laid his palm on her flushed cheek. “You did great.”

“I feel like I just ran the Yellow Brick Road,” Emily muttered, taking a pull from the bottle of water Heather handed her. “Thanks.”

“I’d save skipping and dancing with scarecrows, tin men, and lions until you’re a bit more agile, Emily,” Heather advised, sitting down next to her and taking her pulse.

Rossi and Emily both laughed. Heather looked perplexed. “Did I miss something?”

“The Yellow Brick Road’s an obstacle course at the FBI Academy,” Rossi replied, grinning at the physical therapist. “Six point one miles long with three ropes, six walls, and 28 obstacles. But now I’m never going to be able to run it again without imagining Judy Garland skipping alongside of me.”

“I’m worried I’m never going to be able to run it again, period,” Emily breathed, taking a long pull on the water bottle.

“You will,” Rossi responded promptly. “I know you will, even if you have to fight every inch of the way to do it.”

“He’s right,” Heather agreed. “You’re making great progress, Emily, even if you don’t feel like you are. Trust me, doing all those reps today helped a lot. You’ll be sore tomorrow but it’ll be worth it.”

“When am I not sore?” Emily sighed ruefully.

“I’ll tell Angeline to give you some prescription strength ibuprofen to keep the worst of it at bay. Use a heating pad when you get home.” She stood and stretched. “Our hour’s up. I’ll go get your wheelchair.”

Garcia grabbed a startled Derek by the arm and yanked him forcibly into the hallway as the therapist came toward the door. Morgan allowed himself to be propelled down the hall and into a nearby alcove before he gave Garcia a look that was half amused and half exasperated.

“Woman, you are some kind of crazy! What was that for?”

“I didn’t want her to think we’d been eavesdropping.”

“We were eavesdropping,” Morgan replied matter-of-factly.

“Well, she doesn’t need to KNOW it.” She peeked around the corner and said, “Okay, we’ll do a slow count of ten and then walk toward the PT room. We should meet them when they’re on their way to the elevator.”

Morgan stifled a laugh and watched, amused, as Garcia counted to ten then strolled out into the hallway just in time to cross paths with Rossi, who was pushing Emily in a wheelchair.

“Hey!” Garcia bugled cheerfully. “We were just coming to see you! You look great!” She leaned down to give Emily a careful hug. “How are you feeling?”

“Like Humpty Dumpty after he’d been put back together again,” Emily replied, rubbing gingerly at her midsection.

“So… scrambled,” Morgan replied, coming up behind Garcia.

“You don’t hear me disagreeing.” Emily managed to raise her arms high enough to return first Garcia’s hug, then Morgan’s. “They’re discharging me shortly … or so the rumor goes.”

“Back to your place, then?” Garcia asked.

“Yep. Assuming all the food in my fridge that’s gone bad over the last ten days hasn’t sprouted legs and arms and tried to take over the apartment complex.”

“Now there’s a mental picture,” Morgan said, laughing.

“You can relax on that count,” Garcia said. “When I went to go pick up Sergio, I watered your plants and cleaned out the fridge.”

Emily stared at her friend, amazed. “You thought to do that in the middle of all of this? What would I do without you?”

“You’d be a lonely, sad, pathetic excuse for a human being,” Garcia replied, reaching down to squeeze Emily’s hand. She looked at Rossi who, up to this point, had been silently pushing Emily’s wheelchair. “And how are you, Superfly?”

Rossi snorted inelegantly and pushed the wheelchair into the waiting elevator. “Superfly? When did I get that title?”

“Oh, you’ve always been Superfly … I’ve just had to bite my tongue to keep from saying it.”

“How come Rossi gets to be Superfly?” Morgan asked with mock indignation. “Women think I’m gorgeous, too.”

“I’m gonna start calling you Marty McFly if you don’t stop fishing for compliments, my sexy bit of dark chocolate,” Garcia responded, prompting laughter from both Emily and Rossi.

“Do you know how much I miss you guys?” Emily asked, giggling as the elevator stopped and Rossi pushed her toward her room.

“So terribly, terribly much,” Garcia replied cheekily. She sobered when she watched Rossi help Emily out of the wheelchair and back onto the bed. “Are you sure you’re okay to go home? You look like you’re in pain.”

“That’s going to be pretty standard for awhile,” Emily replied, laying her head back against a stack of pillows. “I’ll be fine.”

“You want one of us to come over and hang out tonight?” Morgan asked. “We can stream a movie, get some pizza?”

“Rossi’s volunteered to hang around for a bit,” she said nonchalantly. “But thanks.”

“I’m sure he did,” Garcia responded, exchanging knowing looks with Morgan. “I’m sure he did.”

***

“Just a few more steps and we’re there,” Rossi coaxed, hands hovering just over Emily’s shoulders to brace her if she needed it.

The walk up to her third floor apartment was something he hadn’t taken into consideration, but Emily tackled it the same way she tackled everything else … head on and with no complaints. He could tell she was flagging by the time they hit the second floor landing, but she’d gritted her teeth, grabbed the hand-railing and kept climbing.

“I’ll have to mention to Heather I have built-in PT right here in my building.” Emily climbed the last step and breathlessly gave a little laugh. “Ha-ha, no more stairs!” She leaned against the wall to rest for a moment. “Have I mentioned that I feel old and feeble?”

“Repeatedly,” Rossi assured her, moving in front of her so that he could see her face. “But you took those stairs like a champ.”

Emily blew out a breath. “I’ll have to go by the office and ask for a key to the service elevator. I’ll never be able to make those stairs with groceries with the way I feel now.”

“Who says you’d have to? You know any of us would be more than happy to help you with chores and errands till you start feeling stronger.”

“I know and I appreciate it. But I have to start doing things on my own, Rossi, and not wait for you guys to come rescue me.”

“It isn’t rescue if we want to do it.”

“You want to do my errands and chores? What, you don’t have enough on your plate all ready?” Emily straightened and started down the hall toward her doorway.

“I want to help YOU,” Rossi clarified, fighting the urge to put a supportive arm around her waist. “I care about you, Emily, in case that hasn’t become clear in the last few weeks.”

Emily was quiet, though Rossi couldn’t tell whether it was because she was concentrating on getting to her door or because she didn’t know how to respond.

Leave it for now, he thought. Just leave it alone. Let her get settled and feeling secure again before you bring it up a second time.

So he watched her wander around her apartment, tentatively, as if she wasn’t sure she belonged there anymore, touching surfaces Garcia had carefully dusted, the plants she’d watered, the mail she’d neatly stacked, and didn’t push his previous line of thought. As she got reacquainted with her space, he took her go-bag and several of the vases of flowers she’d been sent during her convalescence back into the bedroom.

It wasn’t at all what he’d pictured for Emily. He always figured she’d jazz up a room with vivid colors and cushy pillows, pictures of all of her travels, souvenirs from exotic places. But her room was bare of decoration, almost coldly sterile. Maybe she’d packed things away when Doyle began to threaten her. Maybe she’d thought of running. He hoped so, because he didn’t like the alternative—that Emily had so little else in her life that a motel room looked cheerier and more nicely decorated.

“Rossi?” Emily called. He set her go-bag on the bed and hurried back down the hall to the living room.

“Yes, m’lady?”

She smiled. “You feel like a movie? Or TV? I bet my DVR’s full of shows by now.”

“Whatever you want.” He watched her make her way unsteadily toward the cabinet that held the entertainment center and root for the remotes. For all her fire, she had a long way to go until she was even close to recovered. “Sit down, okay?”

She shot him an impatient look. “I’m fine,” she said, with just enough edge to let him know he was being too overprotective. “I didn’t come back to my place just to get out of one bed and into another. I ‘m sick of resting. I can rest when I’m dead.”

With major effort, he bit back the retort on the tip of his tongue—the one that involved pointing out that she’d coded twice in the ambulance on the way to the hospital a mere ten days ago—and just said, “Fine. Whatever you want.”

Emily turned toward him and her eyes softened. “I’m sorry. I know I sound like a major league bitch. I’m just sick of feeling so weak and tired. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

“And I’m sorry if I’m being overprotective. It hasn’t been the easiest ten days, watching you come back from the edge like you have.” He stepped toward her. “I wasn’t lying before—I like watching you fight to get better. But I hate that you have to. I wouldn’t wish that kind of injury on anyone.”

Emily nodded ruefully, rubbing absently at the discolored patch of skin under her collarbone where a plastic surgeon had removed Doyle’s brand. “I’m tired of trying to be strong.”

“You don’t have to be,” Rossi assured her. He steered her gently to the couch and she sank onto it willingly, swinging her legs up with a tired sigh. “Just relax.”

She laid her head back against the cushions and closed her eyes. He gave in to the impulse he’d been fighting for days now and laid his lips against her forehead. “Relax,” he repeated, a whisper against her skin. “Let me help you be strong

***

Emily fell asleep on the couch in the middle of their marathon of fantastically corny “Star Trek: The Original Series” episodes, so Dave took the opportunity to leave her napping and start cooking the dinner he’d planned.

Garcia had made good on her promise to stock Emily’s kitchen with the items he’d requested the previous day. He’d even made her swear that she’d adhere to very specific brands and she hadn’t disappointed—all of the sauce, pasta, cheese, and spices he needed for working magic were in the cupboards.

As he began grating fresh Parmesan, he let his eyes wander around the kitchen--his hands could do the familiar task easily enough. On the counter separating the kitchen work area with the breakfast nook was a spiral bound notebook with thick, tough covers that had several colored pencils sticking out from between the pages. Curiosity aroused—who knew Emily was an artist?—he wiped his fingers on a dishtowel, gave the sauce simmering on the stovetop a stir, and surreptitiously checked the living room. Emily was still sound asleep on the couch.

He nudged open the sketchbook to the page where the colored pencils lay and took in the drawing. It was an Irish claddagh, a symbol he’d learned about from Carolyn. Heart, hands, crown—love, friendship, loyalty. A sign of love and fidelity, the claddagh was sometimes used as a wedding band. This claddagh, however, was on fire and melting down the page amidst a corona of bluish-purple flames. Written in a neat circle around the flaming claddagh were the words: “There are people who understand shadows. The fire-born understand. The fire-born know where shadows come from and why they are. Only the fire-born can understand blue. ”

On the next page was another claddagh, this one exploding under the heat of flame, pieces disintegrating in a fireball. The words this time were from a song that had been popular several years back-- Rossi remembered Morgan subjecting him to it on the way to a scene one day. “Just gonna stand here and watch me burn? It’s all right because I like the way it hurts. Just gonna stand there and hear me cry? It’s all right because I love the way you lie.”

The rest was the fairly standard sketchbook fare—landscapes, portraits, doodles. Rossi found his teammates in its pages several times and was both amused and strangely aroused by the fact that he found his own face and hands—his signet ring is a dead give-away-- there more often than the others.  

“Your sauce is boiling over.” Emily’s sleepy voice came from behind him.

Rossi set the sketchbook back on the counter and turned back to the stove, trying to keep from blushing. “No harm done,” he said, stirring and adding in some garlic, not ready to look at her until he’d determined whether she was angry at his snooping.

“You always go looking through your friend’s belongings?” she asked, her voice amused.

“Only when they aren’t likely to catch me.” He turned the sauce down lower and pulled out a stock pot to boil water for the pasta. “I thought you were sleeping.”

“Turned over and pulled my stitches,” she said matter-of-factly. “No feeling quite like that one for waking you up.”

Rossi winced. “You okay?”

“I’ll take some Advil and be fine.” She took the pills out of the cabinet closest to the sink and hunted in the fridge for a bottle of water.

“Sure you don’t want a Percocet?”

“Not if I want to have a coherent thought in my head for the rest of the night.” She swallowed the pills, chased them with water, and circled around the work area to one of the high ladder-backed chairs in the breakfast nook. Perching on the chair, she flipped through the sketchbook.

“A little too angst-ridden teenager, I’ll admit,” she said, picking up a blue pencil to fill in more of the flame on the first claddagh. “But sometimes life really is a cliché. You can’t tell me this whole adventure of mine hasn’t sounded like some really bad spy novel or TV soap opera.”

Rossi laughed. “It’s definitely had its moments, yes.”

“Sometimes I look at my life and I can’t believe that it’s mine, you know? We go through more in one month on this job than some people do in a life time. There’s no opportunity to live a quiet life, not when we’re out chasing unsubs and terrorists and being shot, stabbed, stalked, or bombed.” She gestured at the kitchen and the preparations for dinner. “This is one of the most normal evenings I can remember having… ever! What does that say about the life we lead? And what does it say about me that I can’t relax enough to enjoy it?”

Rossi studied her as he began browning Italian sausage. “It says you’re still dealing with the events of the last few months. Anyone would be. You’ve been on your guard for so long it’s hard to turn it off.”

“If it had been any other unsub stalking me, I could have handled it,” Emily said. “But because it was Ian, because I had a history with him, no matter how playacted and scripted that history was, I let my emotions get involved. And it almost got my killed.”

“So there WAS more to you going after Doyle than just trying to protect us?”

“Yes,” she admitted simply. She turned back to the page in the sketchbook with the melting claddagh and read the lyrics surrounding it aloud, “There are people who understand shadows. The fire-born understand. The fire-born know where shadows come from and why they are.” She let the pages fall shut. “I understood him-- on some level, at least. And he understood me. And that’s what hurt the most, you know—that he’d use what he knew about me against me. And I’m sure it hurt him when I did the same. We’re fire-born. We understand each other.”

Rossi studied her. “He really got under your skin, didn’t he?”

“Yeah. With a 12 inch sharpened table leg,” she replied sardonically.

Rossi winced. “That was a really unfortunate turn of phrase. Sorry. What I meant was—“

“I know what you meant, Dave. And yes, he got to me. Of course he did. The same way there are unsolved cases and unsubs that get to you.” She sighed. “Let’s hope that the ‘getting to you’ is never as literal as mine was.” She lightly rubbed her fingers over her abdomen, where Rossi could make out the shape of the large square of gauze bandaging covering the mostly healed wound and the neat stitches holding it together.

“If there was any way that it could have been me, Emily …”

“No.” Her voice was sharp. “Don’t say that. I wouldn’t want this for you. And you shouldn’t want it for yourself.” She met his eyes. “This will be a reminder of how stupid I was to go after him in the first place. Every time I look in the mirror, I’ll remember my mistake.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little too hard on yourself?” he chided gently. “You did what you thought was necessary at the time. And you did it to protect us. Give yourself a little credit for being willing to take one for the team, so to speak.”

He poured the cooked pasta into a colander to drain the water and tossed it with olive oil and crushed garlic. “You are an amazing woman, Emily Prentiss, for so many reasons. You’re courageous as hell, you’re smart, you’re funny, you’re beautiful.” He jerked his head toward the sketchbook. “You’re one hell of a talented artist. Ease up on yourself a bit. Let it go—if not permanently then just for now. Have dinner with me. Watch TV or a movie with me. Enjoy being out of the hospital.”

He crossed to the counter separating the kitchen from the breakfast nook and leaned across to cup Emily’s cheek. “Enjoy being with me as much as I enjoy being with you.”

He felt Emily’s face stretch into a smile under his palm. “You’re a smooth talker, Dave Rossi. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“I’ve been told it’s one of my more charming qualities.” He brushed his thumb over her cheekbone and then let his hand drop. “I’m a hell of a cook, too.”

“So I’ve heard.” Emily stood and made her way into the kitchen, slowly but surely. “Let me set the table and get out some wine so we can put it to the test.”

Dave watched her move around, pulling out silverware and plates, and felt a sense of contentment wash over him. “Emily?”

“Yeah?” She set the silverware onto the counter with a clatter and began hunting for matching napkins and placemats.

“Did I mention earlier that I think you’re sexy as hell?”

Emily turned to meet his gaze, a blush staining her cheeks. “No, you didn’t.”

“You are. And I do. You okay with that?”

Emily grinned. The blush on her cheeks made her look healthier and, to Dave’s mind, even more beautiful. “Yeah. I’m okay with that.”

 TO BE CONTINUED ...

Chapter Text

Part 2:

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.”

“Good. Popcorn?”

“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.”

“You succeeded.”

“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.

END