Four years ago today, Matt Flannery disappeared without a trace, literally. The best people in the FBI and LAPD searched for him for weeks, coming up empty again and again. His partner, and steady girlfriend, searched for him longer, broken-hearted and unable to accept that he could just vanish. He left no trail behind, nothing for them to follow, and no reason for them to hope they'd find him, or that if they did, he'd even be alive. The Bureau gave up the intense search a month in, needing to devote their resources to the wealth of other crimes in their jurisdiction. They relented completely after six months, finally able to declare him dead; normally that might have taken longer, but there was a Chinese organized crime syndicate that wanted him dead. Six months with no word, and the FBI assumed they got their wish, or rather, made it happen.
Today, Cheryl Carrera couldn't seem to focus on her work, as her eyes wandered either to the window, lost in thoughts of her friend, or the empty blue chair in the cubicle that used to hold the best crisis negotiation team in the country. Today it held neither of the pair, only Emily's third new partner over the last five years, who assumed that his partner was sick. She wasn't. She was undoubtedly hibernating in her apartment, which once upon a time was his, then theirs, fighting the pain that came with this day every year. After he'd disappeared, Emily had purposely taken the red chair, saving his spot for a return she hoped inevitable. After they declared him dead, she claimed the blue chair as her own, needing to be close to him, and unwilling to see anyone else in his spot.
Not that Cheryl had let her in the field at all for almost a year, knowing the redhead was not handling things as well as she had everyone else believing. The first six months Emily did paperwork, taught her classes, and searched relentlessly for her lover. At first she'd looked scared, worried, almost panicked at points, but as time passed she began to look tired, worn down, and by the time he was legally declared dead, she looked pale, depressed, and was very quiet, almost a ghost. When Cheryl called her into her office to break the news, Emily at first only nodded, and rose shakily from her seat, turning toward the door. Before she got out the door, Cheryl asked if she was alright, told her to take the day off, and then the negotiator crumbled, sliding to the floor, tears streaming from her eyes. Cheryl called Lia in, and went to sit beside her friend, and the two tried in vain to comfort her.
"Hey Cheryl, have you heard from her?" Lia poked her head in, worry in her eyes and voice; the her she spoke of was a given.
"No, she hasn't called. We'll go over after work." They had done the same last few years, after she didn't show up for work.
"Do you think it will ever get easier for her?" Four years was a long time to mourn.
"Today? Maybe in another twenty years…" Emily had dated during the last couple years, but nothing particularly significant, and nothing that compared to Matt.
"I worry about her Cheryl."
"So do I, but I think it's getting better. You can't blame her for avoiding the office today." The job was how they met, how she found him, and also why he was taken away; it had to be the last place she wanted to go.
Emily Lehman was curled in the bed that used to be her lover's, but no longer smelled like him; a bed she'd hadn't had another man in yet. It was their apartment, she couldn't bring herself to welcome another man in there with her yet—the guilt would have consumed her. She knew after four years she should be able to handle this day better, but she just couldn't. She'd given more of herself to Matt Flannery than she had any other man, and he died with it still in his grasp. And today, the missing piece ached like an old war wound, throbbing in the cold, signaling snow to come. Instead her wound signaled rain, torrents of hot salty rain washing down her cheeks, turning her eyes puffy and red.
In six months she would meet up with Conner Flannery, Matt's father, leave flowers at his grave with the empty coffin buried below, and spend the day discussing the man they both loved. But, today was her personal hell, and always would be. No one would ever quite understand, or be able to fully empathize with her on this day. As soon as she woke up, a darkness descended upon, before she was even consciously aware of the loss this day represented. Her body knew, sensed his absence in a very literal way. Today, 7:45 in the morning was the last time she'd seen his beautiful face, touched him, and heard his voice. For her, today was really when he died.
She'd gotten pretty close to Conner over the months Matt was missing, as they used each other to stay close to him. The older man seemed please by the woman his son chose to keep by his side, and even confided that it would have been nice to have her as a daughter-in-law. Conner fantasized about grandchildren, a family not so broken, and his younger son being able to overcome the tragedy of loosing his mother. He sensed in Emily, that maybe Matt had started working his way there. He asked her to help with the funeral arrangements, and together they picked a day and an empty casket to bury. Her stomach had been churning and aching all day, and she couldn't handle looking at the gravestones, imagining his name engraved on them. They managed to see five before she ran off, and vomited in a bush, tears of loss streaming down her face.
On the first anniversary of his disappearance, she'd left her phone, gun, and badge at home, taking only her keys before disappearing for the day. She'd bounced around places they'd been together, that reminded her of him, that made him feel just a little closer to him, a little less empty. She returned back to her apartment late that night to both her landline and cell screaming that she had messages, and Lia and Cheryl passed out on her couch. After calling Frank and Duff, to stop the search, they'd reamed her out for a good long while, explaining that she'd scared the hell out of all of them, disappearing on that day of all days. She apologized, but didn't really care; she hurt too much.
The second anniversary she simply stayed in bed, crying for much of the day, aching to feel him beside her. Emily had actually been dating someone when the third anniversary came along, and he stopped by work to surprise her that day, but she wasn't there. He found her at her apartment, in bed, eyes red, but dry at that point, having cried over another man. She did her best to explain to him why she was such a mess, and why she couldn't be with him that day. He took it in stride, but broken up with her at lunch the next day, explaining that he was unwilling to compete with a ghost. She figured he was also unwilling to deal with somebody so broken; she couldn't really blame him.
It was four-thirty, and she'd only crawled out of bed a couple of hours ago when her stomach began to protest so painfully and loudly that she had no choice, except to feed it. Her eyes were dry, and while the gurgling and churning stopped, a dull ache remained, and she had soon made her way back to her bed. Any other day, she could handle, including his funeral and the day they declared him dead. But, four years ago today was the first day of her life without him, and the last day she'd woken up in his arms.
He hadn't gone to work that day, still on leave after a negotiation with the Chinese crime syndicate that took his life. It had been a very difficult one, in which Matt went inside to talk to the HT, who spilled his organization's secrets, unwittingly marking Matt for death. Matt listened to him for hours, as he poured out his soul, unwilling to live with the things he'd done. His hostages sat nervously, unable to hear the man's pained whispers. After eleven hours of this, he asked Matt to go sit with the rest of the hostages, and Matt obliged, given little choice by the weapon inches from his chest. Then a shot rang out, scaring the hell out of everyone outside; their HT had put the gun in his own mouth. Matt took it hard, blaming himself for being unable to save the twenty-three year-old. Cheryl put him on leave, pending a psych evaluation saying he wasn't too damaged to be in the field.
After an uneventful day at the office, Emily had come home to an empty apartment; Matt's gun, badge, phone, wallet, and keys were all still there, and she became worried. By three a.m. she was on the verge of full blown panic, and Lia was walking with an arm around her as she paced. Frank and Duff were scouting every place they knew Matt had ever been, Cheryl was constantly on the phone, begging for help. None of them slept that night, or the next two, only taking short catnaps whenever time allowed. They were all at the office when they should have been, but instead of another day at the CNU, they were organizing a joint FBI-LAPD task force. After their last negotiation everyone was thinking the same thing—the Chinese crime syndicate had abducted him, and by now Matt was either dead or being tortured into revealing what the HT had told him, what the FBI knew about them. Nobody said it in front of Emily though.
After a week the US Attorney's had gathered enough evidence, based on what he had told them to arrest half a dozen people involved in the syndicate. They pressed, cajoled, threatened, and tried to manipulate them into revealing Matt's whereabouts. The attorney's stopped abruptly after eight hours, with nothing to show, and their only explanation, that no one was talking. Two folded on people higher in the chain of command. The syndicate was torn apart, two dozen arrests followed, six deals were cut by the time Matt was declared dead, and fifteen were convicted 14 months after he went missing. He was hailed as a fallen hero by the press, and the FBI and LAPD had a drink to him. Emily still ached.
The other three were the boss and his two top people, and the attorneys couldn't even indict them. They went on to rebuild the syndicate, until a year ago. They were indicted together, their trial started three months ago, and the jury was sent to deliberate six days ago. They came back with guilty verdicts three days ago, and sentencing was yesterday morning. Life in prison for all three, no possibility for parole.
At a quarter to five, she crawled out of bed again, made a cup of tea, and sat on the couch, dark blue photo album on her lap. The color was faded, the corners were worn, and the edges of the pages had yellowed slightly; it was twenty-nine years old. He'd gotten it as a Christmas gift when he was ten, his mother having carefully set the first five pages of pictures inside. It was the kind that looked more like a scrapbook, that you stuck the pictures on with the tiny triangle stickers on the corners. He ignored it for two years, but after she died, he spent the next twenty-three filling it with just as much care as she'd taken. Some of the pictures had changed over the years: old girlfriends were pulled out, old friends were moved around, new ones found their way in, several pages testified to the enormity of their relationship, and only two pages were left when he died.
He'd showed it to her before, but the first time she'd seen it without him, two months after he disappeared, she sobbed for hours flipping through it. Today she held it in her hands with an iron grip, as if it would vanish as its owner had. She hoped it could bring her some comfort and sweet memories, but her breathing caught before she even opened it. She knew what she'd see, had memorized the pictures over the years, but didn't know if she could look at them without dissolving into tears. She inhaled deeply once, and pulled the book open, smiling instantly, fingers tracing the pictures. The first page had only two pictures; one was taken seconds after he was born, blood and goop covering the screaming baby, and the other was a month later, a tiny infant boy sleeping soundly in dog pajamas.
No tears, so she continued turning the pages, watching the love of her life grow in still images. A grinning, drooling baby, to a beautiful dark-haired toddler, a happy little boy with many teeth missing at once, no doubt taken by the tooth fairy, a boy that liked to think he was older than he was, shooting tough looks at the camera, a teenager with a sadness in his eyes, to a young man who loved the adrenaline rush of fast cars and tense, dangerous situations. Her breath started to catch again, as he began to take shape into the man she knew and still loved, and she paused at a picture of Matt, Frank, and Duff at a bar, red paint splotches on all three, but practically recoloring Matt's clothing. It was obvious he lost.
A tear ran down her cheek at his cocky smile, and she wiped it away, breathed again and flipped the page, determined to get through the album without crying. Matt with Cheryl at some formal FBI function; they'd gone together, neither finding dates and settling for each other's company. The whole night they'd rolled their eyes at their coworkers' comments and teasing, gave up insisting it wasn't romantic midway through, and agreed to never go to anything together again. Below it was a photo of he and Emily at a similar function before they got involved, and together for the same reason. Emily had still been new to the group at that point, so they'd spared her the teasing, but Matt avoided the men's room all night, knowing they'd follow him in and give him hell.
A few more tears tracked down her face, but again she wiped them away and turned the page. More pictures of them together; her chocked sob was covered by a knock on the door, and she shut the photo album, glad for the distraction. She didn't even bother with the peephole, she knew who it would be, they always came around this time.
Lia didn't say a word, just looked at her friends wet, red eyes, and wrapped her arms around her. She let go after a couple of minutes, and walked inside, while Cheryl embraced Emily tightly, feeling the red-head small hiccups against her, as she struggled to breath through her tears. The two had grown much closer since Matt disappeared, as Cheryl had been the next closest to Matt, and took his death badly.
"How was work today?" Emily asked them, wiping her face dry.
"The usual, but more dour. Frank and Duff didn't come up to the CNU all day, and spent the afternoon pounding each other with paintballs. Nobody talked much today, they'll all knew what day it was, except your partner." Most people had mourned Matt and moved on, but Emily's absence always marked this day, a reminder that he wasn't there, and that she was still in such pain. It was heartbreaking to know that she would be sobbing in her apartment, and hard to enjoy work with that thought.
"Yeah, Eric was blissfully ignorant, didn't even seem to notice how quiet it was today." Lia added.
"He's good for that," Emily agreed bitterly. No partner matched up to Matt, but this guy missed so much in the HT's words, it was hard to believe he was actually certified to negotiate. Cheryl was actively looking for a replacement.
"So I have a two pound bar of chocolate, and I heard there is a new movie premiering tonight on Lifetime, you interested?" Lia held up a thick, heavy bar of chocolate at the dubious expressions on her companions faces.
"What's this new movie about?" Cheryl looked doubtful, but if there ever was a channel to find a chickflick, Lifetime was it.
"Uh, Margie said this female fertility doctor can't get pregnant herself, her husband left her a year earlier because of that. Her clinic gets a new doctor and in comes the handsome stranger, and of course they create a miracle." It sounded terrible when Margie, self-confessed Lifetime-fiend described it, but that only meant it would have them pissing themselves with laughter, the perfect tonic for the day.
"That sounds perfect," Emily grinned, shaking her head, as she plopped on the couch, pulling the photo album on her lap so they could sit.
"Matt's?" Cheryl had seen it before, one of the rare times Matt had opened up to her during their years as partners.
"Yeah, he's got a picture in here of the FBI formal you two went to together." She flipped through to the picture, pointing it out.
"That's right, Duff told me they tortured you and Matt that night," Lia grinned at the photo.
"Oh god yes, the last time I go to any function with a coworker…I have that picture too, I think Frank took it."
"He took the one below it too…oh you have to see this one picture…" Emily flipped to the front of the album with enthusiasm, to a picture of four year-old Matt dressed as a lion, his excited grin too innocent to be fierce.
"His mother made that costume, didn't she?" Cheryl asked, squinting, recalling a late night conversation at work, where they were so tired and bored they talked about anything and everything.
"Yeah, it's great isn't it?" Emily let her eyes wander to a picture beside it with Matt on a bike with training wheels, his mother beside him, holding the handlebars.
"Do you believe in heaven?" She suddenly asked.
Lia nodded, "I do, I think there has to be somewhere we go when we die, where we get a second chance to see the people we love."
Emily turned to Cheryl, who looked less convinced. "I don't know, I think so, I certainly want to…I don't know, it's so abstract…"
"If there is a heaven, Matt's up there with his mother. He missed her a lot, and lost so much time he should have had with her, he'll be happy getting that chance with her…I could…I could live with that." Even as she spoke the words, her eyes issued a light drizzle, betraying her; she couldn't live with it quite yet, but soon. She found something positive in his death, it was a good move forward.
Cheryl squeezed Emily's hand, and Lia broke a large piece of chocolate from the bar, and held it out to her. Emily laughed, eyes glistening, but took the chocolate, biting a piece off with her teeth and chewing. It was dark chocolate, and every bit as bitter and sweet as her memories of Matt.
"Okay, let's get that movie on before I start sobbing, I've had enough of that." She picked the remote up from the coffee table and clicked the TV on, flipping until she hit the right channel.
Two hours later, an empty Hershey's wrapper was crumpled on the coffee table, a couple was gazing lovingly at what they'd dubbed their 'Love Miracle' on the TV screen, and three women were sitting on the couch, stomachs churning with regret over the amount of chocolate they consumed. They were all giggling hysterically, as they took turns pointing out the poor acting, worse chemistry, cheesy lines, multitude of clichés, and sheer corniness of the movie.
"That was so bad, Lia," Cheryl told her, catching her breath.
"That's got to be a record for Lifetime, I didn't know they could put that much cheese into one movie."
"I didn't know that I could eat that much chocolate." Emily made a face as her stomach tried to settle. "By the way, when are you going to let Duff get you pregnant?"
The look of shock on Lia's face sent Cheryl into another fit of laughter, but Emily continued to look at her seriously; they'd been married for two years.
"Oh I don't know, he wants kids soon, but I don't know if I'm ready."
"I know he wants them soon, he whines to Frank, and Frank whines to Cheryl and me." Duff wanted desperately to have a baby with Lia, but the Intelligence Analyst was happy with the way things were between them.
"Get one of those practice baby dolls that cry and pee and spit up, that will set him back a few months," Cheryl promised, smiling at the image of the HRT agent trying to care for one of the dolls.
"I don't know, maybe we should just do it. They always say you're never ready until you do it right?" She looked hopefully at them.
"That's what they say, but Lia, do you actually want a kid?" Emily was all too happy to have something else to focus on, even for a little while.
"Yes, of course, I just don't know if I want one right now."
"Well, even if you got pregnant tomorrow, you'll have about ten months to get used to the idea."
Lia cocked her head to the side curiously, "I didn't think of that. You know, I like that."
"Oh yeah?" Cheryl watched her expression change to excitement.
"Yes, I do. I want to start trying." She smiled happily at her friends, her fears of immediate motherhood eased.
"Congratulations. That baby is going to be very lucky." Emily raised her glass of water in a toast, (she stopped keeping alcohol in the house four years ago, too afraid she'd drown herself in a bottle) and the three clinked their glasses together. The TV interrupted their discussion with a frightening announcement—they were replaying the movie after the next commercial break.
"Do you want us to hang around a bit longer? Maybe find another bad movie?" Lia asked softly.
"No, I'm okay. Thanks for coming by, it helped a lot." She hugged Lia again, walking toward the door.
"Anytime sweetie. I'll see you both tomorrow, I'm going to go get pregnant!" She laughed as she walked out the door.
"We just made Duff a very happy man." Emily commented, as she plopped back down next to Cheryl, who was now holding a picture.
"Good, then we made Frank very happy too." There was a short silence when Cheryl picked back up the conversation. "This can't go over big with dates."
Emily took the picture of herself and Matt, he was wrapped around her, head resting on her shoulder, her arms folded around his. "I wouldn't know, the only guys I've had here since Matt died were Frank and Duff."
"You've never invited a guy back to your apartment?"
Emily shook her head, "it's always being painted or fumigated, and I have a lot of cousins that come to visit, constantly crashing on my couch." She offered the excuses she gave guys who asked about her apartment, which Cheryl knew were bullshit, before offering the real one. "I can't do it Cheryl, I can't have another guy in our apartment."
"Maybe you should move then, Emily, so you can move on. You need to let Matt go." She told her gently.
"I don't want to let him go." She finally admitted it aloud, to more than just herself. "You don't find that twice."
"You don't know that, you might fall in love again."
Emily shrugged. "Not like that. Matt was the one, it's as simple as that."
"Yeah, I know. I just thought I'd try."
"Thanks, and don't stop, okay?" One day maybe she would listen.
"I won't…Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, except for a little stomach ache from the chocolate, I'm fine." The two women walked to the door, and Cheryl hugged her again before leaving, feeling for the first time, that maybe Emily really was okay.
Emily closed the door and slid the chain in place, before crawling back to the couch, and pulling the photo album back into her lap, picking up where she left off. She smiled now at a set of pictures from a mall photo booth.
An hour later, she was disturbed by another knock at the door; she'd moved to a bunch of envelopes of pictures they'd taken, and never put anywhere. Resting the pile in her hands on the sofa, she again ignored the peephole, figuring it would be Frank, and yanked the door open. Her eyes widened, before she blinked repeatedly, looked up and down the hallway, and shut the door on her visitor, leaving it unlocked as she made her way shakily to the couch. It couldn't be, it wasn't possible, she must be dreaming. She pinched herself, and winced as her visitor opened the door, walked over to her. So, not dreaming. Great, that meant she was hallucinating.
"Emily?" This was certainly not the reception Matt expected, though he hadn't really known what to expect.
Her hallucination just spoke, oh god. "Yes?" She answered meekly.
"Uh, do you have anyone back there?" He pointed uncomfortably to the bedroom, after four years, it wouldn't surprise him if she'd moved on.
"What? Of course not," she bit at him. She held her head, unable to comprehend what was going on.
"Oh…are you okay?" This really wasn't going as planned, he'd hoped to sweep her off her feet, but she looked more like she was battling a migraine.
Her head snapped toward him and she looked at him incredulously. "Am I okay? Are you serious? After four years? I thought you were dead! Where the hell have you been!"
Clearly, he wasn't a hallucination.
"Okay, just calm down a minute and I'll explain, then maybe you won't hate me." He eased down beside her, as her eyes softened. She didn't hate him, but she wasn't about to say that, and let him off the hook just yet.
"After the thing with the Chinese syndicate, Organized Crime started getting word from snitches that they were floating a contract on me, seeing who would bite and do it. They told the higher-ups, who contacted the U.S. Marshals to see what they could do in the way of witness protection. They came while you were at work, gave me ten minutes to throw some clothes in a suitcase, and dragged me out of town. I've had three different names, and lived in seven states in four years. But, it's over, they're all in prison now. I'm free to come home."
"They didn't tell anyone you were alive? Not the FBI, not Cheryl?"
"No, they wanted everyone to believe I was dead, so the syndicate would think somebody did the contract, and not try to find me."
She nodded slowly, head still swimming. He was alive. The man she'd been mourning in agony for, for four years, was actually alive, and two inches away from her.
"We buried you three and a half years ago," she said quietly.
"I'm so sorry Em. I wanted to see you so badly, to tell you I was alive, but I wasn't allowed." He picked up her hand, willing her to tear her gaze from the carpet and look at him.
She did, and he almost regretted it, seeing the pain he'd caused. "You're here for good now?" She couldn't handle loosing him twice.
"Yeah, they're all in prison now. I'm safe, and I'm yours if you still want me, and please say you do, because I've been dreaming about holding you again for four years."
She threw her arms around him, dams bursting and tears pouring out. "I love you," she whispered against his shoulder. As much as she wanted to be angry and yell at him some more, she had just gotten a second chance with the man she loved, and wasn't about to throw that away.
"I love you too, and I missed you like crazy." He held her tightly, kissing her head and neck, burying his face in her hair. They stayed, holding each other like that for a long time, enjoying what they never thought they could again.
Long after her tears had dried, and her mind had caught up, Emily pulled back from him. She captured his lips and kissed him deeply, nuzzling him, and whispering close to his ear. "Make love to me, Matt."
Not needing a second invitation, he picked her up, and walked the familiar path to the bedroom, laying her gently on the bed. He kissed her lips long and passionately, moving then to her neck, feeling her body jump excitedly under his touch. In very little time they were both down to their underwear, and made a simultaneous decision to slow down a bit. Her hands roamed his body greedily, wanting to touch every inch of him. He was kissing her neck when she slid her hand in his boxers and cupped him, and he accidentally bit her, in his excitement and surprise. He kissed down her body and along the edge of her panties, at first trying to pull them off with his teeth, but loosing his patience, and sliding them down with his hand instead. He worked his fingers inside her, waiting to hear her breath catch, and then he met her lips with his own, and began to gently slid himself in. When she released her breath, he began to thrust, feeling her grip around him tighten, and their kisses became more frantic with his pace.
As they neared climax, tears pricked Emily's eyes, and she held on to Matt tighter, completely overwrought with emotion. He was alarmed at first by her tears, afraid he'd hurt her, but then she kissed him and it was so full of love, he knew what her tears meant then. Satisfied moans escaped both their mouths as they hit climax together, and they collapsed still tangled around each other. Their bodies quivered as they eased from their state of complete euphoria. Matt pulled Emily half on top him, and kissed her again, very gently, trying to convey his own emotions. She settled against him, tears still slowly dripping from her eyes, unable to contain everything she was feeling at the moment. Matt kissed her forehead, a few of his own stray tears landing in her hair. He rubbed her arm, trying to soothe her, and pulled the sheet and blanket over them. He felt her gaze and looked down into her frightened, watery gaze with concern.
"Please don't leave me again," she whispered pleadingly, her fear clear.
"Never again." He kissed her again, before pulling her even closer and melding their bodies together. It wasn't long before they began to drift to sleep, secure for the moment, wrapped in each other.
Emily woke up when it normally would have been time for her to get ready for work. No way was she going into the office today, they would have to survive without her. She looked at the man sleeping beside her, hardly able to contain the grin plastered on her face. He was really alive, really laying naked beside her, it wasn't all a tortuously sweet dream. She laid for a long while watching him, before deciding she was too excited, with energy to burn that could be better used foraging for breakfast.
After a shower and changing, she scribbled a note, and grabbed her purse and keys, and set out in search of decent bagels. That was one of the few things she missed about the East Coast, they had the best bagels in the world, especially, in and around New York City. LA's weren't bad, though, and they'd make a fine breakfast for that morning, especially with lox and cream cheese. Matt's favorite was everything bagel, garlic included, with veggie cream cheese, and plenty of slivers of the salmony fish. She preferred garlic bagels, veggie cream cheese, and a moderate helping of lox, even if Matt insisted on teasing about her breath. Of course, it didn't stop him kissing her.
Twenty minutes later, bagels, cream cheese, and lox in one hand, Emily hit speed dial with the other hand, as she headed back to her apartment. She'd have to inform Cheryl she wouldn't be coming in to work for about a week, lots of lost time to make up for. The phone rang a few times before Cheryl picked up, probably just getting into her office for the morning.
"Yes?" She sounded stressed, definitely just getting into work.
"Emily, you running late?"
"No, I'm not coming in today, or for the next week or so." Indestructible smile on her face, Emily waited for her supervisor, and close friend, to begin the third degree.
"Oh, why's that?" Supervisor tone.
"He's not dead Cheryl." She allowed it to sink in, but Cheryl offered no comment. "They put him in protective custody for the last four years, wanted everyone to think he's dead. But, the last few were just convicted, it's over, and he's back."
"And, you came by this information how?" Cheryl wasn't hiding her exasperation. It had taken so long to get Emily to accept that he was gone, and she was getting so much better, what happened to set her back so far?
"He came home last night, and he's there now." Emily's irritation was showing now, why didn't Cheryl believe her?
"He's in my apartment, in my bed right now, well, he might be showering by now, but regardless he's in the apartment."
"Emily…" Worried friend tone.
"Come by my apartment and see him, I'm sure he'll be happy to see you."
"Okay, I'm going to get Lia and head over there now."
"Good, you might as well invite the guys, I got bagels." Her happy mood refused to bend to the cynicism of others.
"We'll be there." Cheryl hung up, heart heavy with dread. She wanted to believe Emily, and look forward to seeing Matt alive, but something told her not to trust this, probably her own fear of disappointment, or having to mourn him all over again. Once was hard enough.
Emily continued on the last block to her apartment, and was nearly whistling on the elevator. God, she was pretty sure she'd never felt this good, this happy in her life. Once in her apartment, she dropped the bag of food on the counter, and headed for the bedroom, wondering oddly, if he had any clothes with him to change into. There was no one in the bedroom. And, the bathroom door was opening, revealing it's lack of habitation. Refusing to succumb to the panic rising in her throat, Emily carefully winded her way through the apartment, checking every room and closest, not that he'd be hiding in a closest. Matt was nowhere to be found, in fact there was no sign that he'd ever been in the apartment.
Emily fell into the couch, and sat still and silent, until a knock startled her out of the nightmare she felt she was in. She jumped for it, praying it was Matt, grinning stupidly that he didn't have the keys anymore. Instead, her four closest friends stood at the door.
"Where is he?" Frank asked, looking as if he was about to jump out of his skin.
"What do you mean, I thought-" Cheryl put a hand up to silence him, seeing the deadened look that had returned to Emily's eyes.
"Emily, what's wrong?" She asked patiently, walking the negotiator over to sit on the couch, her entourage following her in.
"I got back, and he's…he's not here."
"Did you find a note or something?" Be positive, play along for now, Cheryl told herself.
"No, not a damn thing."
"You know, it's possible he just went out to get some clothes or a toothbrush or something."
"And not leave a note?" Her tone was heavy and impatient.
"Emily, are you sure…are you sure, you didn't dream him coming home?" She asked tentatively.
"I…I…I don't know." She shook her head, wondering if it was really all some elaborate trick her mind played on her. "I would have sworn an hour ago that I didn't."
"He was here last night, I yelled at him for disappearing, he apologized, he held me. I can still feel his arms around me. We had sex, I couldn't have imagined that…could I?" She felt lost and confused, and her eyes and voice reflected both emotions perfectly.
"I don't know Emily, you tell me. Did it feel real?" Cheryl grabbed her hand, and squeezed it.
"Yes, god yes. It definitely feels like I had sex last night," she confided, and the two went quiet for some time.
"Okay. I have to be at work, but I'm giving Lia the day off, she'll stay here with you. If he came home last night Emily, he'll come home again." Cheryl squeezed her hand again, gave her a hug, and rose to leave, motioning the guys to come with her.
"We'll come back after work." Emily nodded solemnly, her mood plummeting after her bout of euphoria.
The next day, Cheryl plunked down tiredly in her office, swirling her coffee around with the red stirrer. Today, she had to tell her best negotiator she was being taken off field work, effective immediately, and for the foreseeable future. Then she had to tell her, a shrink, that she wanted her to begin seeing that FBI shrink again. Emily would be pissed, and petulant, like she had the last time they had that conversation, shortly after Matt disappeared. Except then Emily's state of mind wasn't as bad; she wasn't hallucinating Matt being back in her life. That was what really scared Cheryl, that her friend might be loosing her sanity.
"Hey, nothing happened after I left last night right?" Lia popped into her boss's office. She left Emily's apartment the night before around eight, after spending the bulk of the day sitting with her, waiting for a man she didn't believe was coming.
"Nope. I only stayed an hour longer though. She promised me she'd be fine, and into work today." Cheryl took a sip of her coffee, nearly spitting it out, when she tasted vanilla. Nuts she would tolerate, vanilla, she couldn't.
"Who's screwing with the coffee again?" She demanded of her subordinates, sticking her head out of her office momentarily.
"I got this new vanilla flavored variety, isn't it great?" Eric held up the bag proudly. God, she really had to replace him.
"No flavored coffee Millbrook, it's supposed to keep us awake and focused, not taste like candy!" She informed him, walking back into her office.
"Don't you think you're a little anal about the coffee?" Lia asked, mouth twitched in a half smile.
"No, I don't, thanks. It's nine-thirty, where's Emily?" She asked studying the candy flavored crap in her cup, debating if she should suck it up and drink it, or pour the whole batch down the drain.
"She probably waited up for him all night, I wouldn't be surprised if she was late."
"Right, well we have work to do. Did I tell you that the Secretary of Defense wants to steal you away?" The politician had been shopping around for the best IA people in the business, and Lia's name apparently popped up several times.
"No, you didn't mention that, but I'm happy here." Her closest friends and husband were in LA, why would she want to leave for the dreary climate of Washington D.C. to be the Intelligence bitch to some politician?
"I told them I wasn't letting you go without a fight. My boss wasn't so impressed, something about cooperation among different government agencies." She shrugged.
"I appreciate that, and so will Duff. I can't imagine us anywhere, except LA." Though it was flattering if nothing else.
Two hours later, they were beginning to get nervous, because Emily still hadn't shown up, and wasn't answering her phones to boot. Cheryl was busily pacing her office, and pounding the speed dial button on her phone over and over again. Lia was observing her nervously from the chair she'd been in earlier that morning, and debating if she should mention what was nagging at her mind.
"You look like you need to say something." Cheryl's statement caught her off guard.
"Either that or your constipated." Friends could say that sort of thing to each other, and no one would be offended.
"I was just thinking, wondering, sort of considering if, if Emily…"
"Good god, Lia, spit it out already." Her nerves were shot, no way could she be patient or polite right then.
"You don't think, after yesterday, she uh, she might try to hurt herself…do you?" The very idea of Emily considering suicide was unnerving, but maybe Lia wasn't far off base, at least that was what immediately hit Cheryl at her statement.
"I don't know. Shit." She hurriedly dialed another number.
"Yes ma'am?" Frank apparently looked at his caller ID before answering.
"I need you and Duff in a car, lights and sirens, breaking land speed records to Emily's apartment. Now. No time for questions." She barked, pacing again as she spoke.
"On our way." Frank hung up, grabbed Duff, and made for his SUV, turning on his lights and sirens before pulling onto the road, and bumping the car steadily up to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, taking all the emptier streets. He didn't know what the urgency was, but wasn't about to question Cheryl, not when it came to Emily.
Cheryl paced in her office even faster, trying to will images of the suicides she'd seen from her mind. Why didn't she think of it sooner? Obviously, Emily was in a horrendously bad place right then, why hadn't it occurred to her? Why had she left her alone last night? She closed her eyes against the images of torn bloody wrists, dark holes that left skulls shattered and dripping red, wide-open eyes, and foaming mouths from pills, angry red ligature marks stretching around and ringing a neck perfectly.
Lia just breathed in and out, staring unseeing at the floor, forcing herself not to think about the possibilities and just wait for the guys to call. Two days ago, she would have scoffed if anybody suggested the negotiator was unstable enough to hurt herself (how wonderful euphemisms are), but after yesterday, it became clear that Emily's grip on reality was slipping, and fast.
Frank slid to a stop in front of Emily's building, Duff calling Cheryl as they climbed out of the SUV. They flashed their badges at the doorman, and bypassed the elevators for the stairwell, charging full speed up five floors worth of stairs. They flew down the hallway, just as Cheryl was explaining her fears to Duff, who gained an extra burst of speed after. His fist met the door first, once, twice, four times, and called her name, as he explained finally to Frank why they were there. Frank's eyes grew wide, and he gestured to Duff to back up, before ramming his heavily muscled body into the door.
It took four tries, but the door flew open, spraying splinters of wood here and there. The two men charged in, one making for the bedroom, the other the bathroom, terrified of what they could find, both calling her name. Frank was always at home in bedrooms, being the lady's man he was, but for the first time, he was scared of what could wait for him. He was met with a clean, if unmade bed, not the blood-soaked horror he'd imagined, and breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Duff was still in the bathroom, holding the shower curtain back with one hand, unmoving, staring at something.
"Duff?" Frank questioned tentatively from the hall.
"It's wet, she showered when she got up." He heard his friend sigh in relief.
"Bedroom's clear." Duff nodded and relayed the information to Cheryl.
"She's not home," Cheryl breathed on the other end of the phone line.
"Then where the hell is she?" Lia wondered, calmed slightly but still worried.
It was a damn good question.
Two days later Emily still hadn't shown up to work, in fact there was no sign of her. Her phone, gun, badge, wallet and keys were still in the apartment, car was still parked in the building's lot. She had made no contact with them, but they were keeping surveillance on her apartment around the clock. Her picture made it's way to every police precinct in the city, and every radio car in the surrounding area. The circumstances of her disappearance were feeling disturbingly familiar to the four friends, the similarities to Matt's disappearance four years ago were eerie.
"Your mail ma'am." One of the kids from the mailroom brought a rubber-banded stack of mail to her desk.
"Thanks." She told him more out of habit, than gratitude, there was no cheer left in her the last four days.
She flipped through the lame FBI notices and event invitations, until she landed on a letter with familiar handwriting. Emily's handwriting. She tore it open, making a mess of the envelope, but not caring.
I didn't imagine it, he came home. But, they took him away again, after the son of the Chinese mob boss took over, he still isn't safe. This time he told them to invite me to go along, and I did without a second thought. By the time you get this, we'll be hidden safe somewhere, and unable to contact you. Matt misses everyone and home, and I know I will too, but for the chance to be together, there is no debate. I can't tell you how much your friendship meant to me these past years, you and Lia kept me from self-destructing, and for that I will always be grateful. Tell her I wish I could be around to see her children when they come, and tell the guys Matt hasn't played paintball in four years and insists he's going through withdrawal. And, just so you know I'm not delusional, I stuck some pictures in here. Thank you for your friendship, you are more like a sister.
Cheryl stared open mouthed and unbelieving at the letter, before looking at the strip of pictures that fell into her hand. It was from on of those photo booths you can find in any mall, and showed the red-head cuddled up to a man with thick black hair that she thought she'd never see again. Sure, they could have been old photos from when he was still alive, but she knew they weren't. She picked up her desk phone, still staring at the pictures in shock, wondering how to inform their small circle about this development.
In a very generic small town, in a very generic part of New England, two people were settling into their new life. Rosalyn and Ethan Houston, pronounced How-Stun, as on the East Coast, not Hew-Stun like Texas. They were moving into a small neo-colonial home, and its only betrayal as a relocation house was the built-in and well-hidden security system. In a week Rosalyn would begin teaching psychology courses at the local community college, and Ethan would start putting the skills he honed through what was only a hobby up till then, to use working on classic cars. It was something he'd learned from his father as a kid, and the reason he had to buy a new Mustang when he saw the similarities it held to the original King of Muscle cars. Of course, he didn't expect to have to shoot at it, and watch it get torched. That was painful.
In the meantime, the couple was wrapped around each other, joined at the lips, ignoring the box of china the US Marshals were kind enough to supply them with. They were supposed to be getting settled into their new home, making it look like the world's most normal couple lived there. But, when you haven't seen your lover in four years, everything takes a back seat to holding them in your arms, and kissing them until neither of you can breathe. They had a conflicted attitude toward their situation; both loved being crisis negotiators, there was just nothing else like it for them, but how long could they do that for? The excitement, the raw adrenaline, staying up two or three days in a row, then burning up the excess adrenaline making love after it's all over? It's a fantasy life they would have been happy to live the next twenty years, but domestic bliss had its perks.
There would be no worrying about the other one being in danger, no crazy hours (an emergency lecture or fender replacement?), and the chance to just slow down and grow together. Could they make it without the adrenaline? The crazy rush the made them even more hungry for each other? They had few doubts, because they had something most couples don't, experience living a life without each other. This was a second chance at a life together for them, and they were less likely to squander it, and more likely to try harder to work things out than couples who didn't know what it felt like to loose each other. They could do it. And, Emily realized with a small smile, maybe Lia wouldn't be the only one trying to get pregnant in the next couple of years. That was another luxury they had, as a normal, down to Earth couple: a family.
"What are you smiling about?" Matt whispered, grinning himself.
"We've been sentenced to a domestic life with a white picket fence, two car garage, embroidered pillows, and everything but the dog, and I can't wait for it to begin." As a joke, the US Marshals had actually given the couple a set of pillows embroidered with proverbs.
So, due to the holiday break, I'm at my parent's house, with internet access and time to spare, which means major updates until Christmas! As always, thanks for reading, and please review!