Two weeks after her phone conversation with Lia, Emily was standing in an LA park not far from Matt's apartment, staring at the pathway in front of her. Her top row of teeth were in her lip as she considered that pathway, and wondered if she could actually do what she was going to try to do.
Her sneakers were laced up, and she'd already stretched. All she had to do was start jogging. But if she started, and had to stop after only a twenty or thirty minutes, would she be able to try again? Or would she be so discouraged that she'd just give up?
Emily shook her head, and started to walk down the path. Then she began jogging. That was okay, she could do that, she'd jogged in her physical therapy classes. She passed trees and picnic tables at a comfortable speed, and runners with MP3 players whizzed by her in both directions. Show-offs, she thought, pressing forward, jealous at their confidence, at their able bodies.
She was comfortable at the speed she was at, but she shouldn't be comfortable. She needed to push herself, if she couldn't do this, what the hell could she do? If she couldn't do this, she'd never be Bureau again. If she couldn't manage to run through this park, she would never feel confident enough to be with Matt again.
To hell with this. Emily forced a burst of speed into her steps, and pushed her body into a run. It wasn't a very fast run, but it was more than a jog. It was the most she'd done since before the accident.
She wasn't just passing trees now, she was speeding by them. At least, that was how it seemed to her; to someone else it might not have been much. To Emily, the wind tossing her hair, and whipping along her cheeks was freedom. Her feet flying, her heart racing, it was more than just moving fast. It meant she wasn't an invalid, she wasn't handicapped, and she could be whole again.
No, she was whole again.
She began to perspire more, and the slick sweat matted her hair to her head. The back of her shirt was damp, and pulling wear it was stuck to her skin. It felt like someone has just removed chains from around her body, and she was suddenly walking without them. Emily obviously wasn't a hundred percent yet, for the first time, she felt like she could get there.
She slowed back to a jog where she'd started off, beside the shady little alcove she and Matt liked to frequent. Emily walked out onto the grass, walking in place a bit to ensure she cooled down before stopping. She sat in the grass, and leaned against their tree, still breathing heavily, brushing her sticky wet hair off her face.
She'd really done it. She ran, and not just for a few minutes. She'd run for almost an hour, and made it around the park. It was hard, but she managed it. Emily smiled, and then laughed.
She felt damn good.
"Em?" Matt walked into his apartment, looking around for her. Work had been a snore today, and he was eager to see her.
"Hey, how was work?" She smiled, walking out of the bedroom, and right into his arms, kissing him passionately.
"Very dull, no cases. I did think up a knew crisis scenario to run you through if you're up for it." He stood with his arms around her, surprised she had pulled away yet.
"Mmm, I don't really feel like mock negotiating now. I had something else in mind," Emily purred into his ear.
It took a minute, but Matt caught on, and his eyes grew enormous when he did.
"Wait, are you ready for that?"
"Yep, I feel like I'm ready for anything right now." She grinned.
"Okay…uh, what did you do today?" Matt frowned in concern. She was behaving more like Emily pre-accident, than the new Emily he'd gotten used to.
"I ran through the park," she said, nonchalantly.
"Good weather for it—wait, you ran? Like ran-ran?"
"Legs were pumping full speed, and I made it all the way through the park."
"Really? That's great, Em!" He pressed his lips to hers, celebrating with a little tonsil hockey.
"Yes, I'm very happy, but as I said, I want try out a different sort of exercise."
"You're sure you're ready for this?"
"I wouldn't suggest it if I wasn't," she assured him.
Matt nodded, and pulled back from her, taking her hand and leading her to the bedroom. Truth be told, he was a little nervous. For one thing, he'd been dreaming about being with her again for years, and well, that's a lot of expectation. For another, Emily hadn't had sex for over three years, which meant he'd have to be very gentle with her, if he didn't want to hurt her. When he wanted her as badly as he did then, that wasn't going to be easy.
They sat on the edge of the bed, barely inches apart, and Matt ran his hand up the back of her tank top. Their kissing was hot and heavy, but their hands were nervous and awkward. Emily felt like she was sixteen again, and didn't know what she was doing. Matt, on the other hand, knew what to do, but was just too nervous and protective of Emily to do it.
After ten minutes of acting like awkward teenagers, Emily had enough, and decided to just go for what she wanted. In one, not entirely smooth move, she pushed him back onto the bed and straddled him. She didn't let Matt recover at all, but kept right on going, working the button on his jeans.
It wasn't long before Matt caught up, and Emily was on her back, writhing as he kissed along her breasts. He moved up toward her neck, placing delicate little kisses along her soft skin, smiling when she made the same small noises she always had. Some things evidently don't change with time. He moved his hand between her legs, and worked her delicately with his fingers, until he was satisfied that she was ready.
He entered her slowly, relieved when she moaned and gasped, but didn't cry out. Matt had been dreaming of making love to her again for years, and it was almost overwhelming for him now. He hadn't been celibate for the three years she was comatose, but with Emily it was different. With Emily, everything had always been different, and it still felt that way. Even climaxing with Emily was different, and the only thing he could figure, corny or no, was that it was love.
They cried out together, and then laid side by side, breathing heavily. Emily's whole body was trembling with the experience. It had only been months since Emily had sex, at least in her mind. The electric tingle in her body knew the truth though, and she wondered if she'd have had that tingle with anyone besides Matt. She didn't think so. She was a little sore now, but god, it had felt so good, the soreness was well worth it. And, if she had any say about it, her body was going to adapt quickly.
"Hey, you okay?" Matt turned on his side, and studied her.
"I'm wonderful," she smiled lazily, turning to face him.
"Glad to hear it, I was afraid I'd hurt you."
"I'm a little sore, but I don't mind." She kissed him deeply, even though they were both still catching their breath.
Matt scooped her into his arms at the exact minute the phone rang, followed by two annoyed sighs. Neither wanted to answer it, but one glance at the caller ID said it was Cheryl.
"I was just on call, I wasn't supposed to be on tonight," Matt groaned to his boss and good friend.
"Hi to you to. You aren't on call, Temple and Binder are taking the call, I just thought you might like to bring Emily along, let her sit in on a negotiation."
"If she's up for it. She won't be negotiating, but I'd like to see how she follows it." Cheryl knew she'd never again have the best team in the Bureau, she couldn't partner them again, but she could still have two of the best negotiators in the Bureau.
"Hang on." Matt covered the phone with a hand, and turned to his curious girlfriend.
"You feel like watching Temple and Binder negotiate?"
"What?" Emily was already biting her lip.
"Cheryl wants to see you at a negotiation scene, you up for it?"
Emily started at him, the wheels in her head already turning, the nerves in her lip not yet objecting to her harsh teeth. Finally, she nodded.
Matt turned back to Cheryl with one question, "where's the scene?"
"Alright we have a twelve year-old girl with a gun on her aunt and uncle. As of now, we don't know what set her off. Her parents died in a car accident when she was eight, and she's been living with her aunt and uncle ever since. LAPD has informed us that there have been complaints from neighbors of yelling and crying, and one of the girl's teachers reported suspicions of child abuse, but couldn't prove anything. We need to talk this child down at any cost. According to our bosses, shooting a child would be bad press." Cheryl rolled her eyes at that. As if they didn't already know that?
"Hey, hey, look who's here." Frank gestured to Matt and Emily, who were approaching the command post.
"They're here to observe, at least Emily is, and Matt…well, they come as a pair." Cheryl said with a half-shrug.
"Cute." Frank grinned. It had been a while since he could be amused and enjoy a chance to tease the couple.
"So, HT's a kid?" Matt asked.
"Yeah, hang on—Temple, Binder, who's primary?" She turned to her team.
"I am," Temple answer, Binder nodding beside him.
"Make contact, and make it gently, this is a little girl," Cheryl instructed, before motioning Matt and Emily a few feet away. She explained the situation, and directed them back toward the command post, turning on the feed so they could all hear.
Emily swallowed and dug her front teeth into her bottom lip. Joe was talking to a young girl, asking her to tell him if her aunt and uncle were alright. They were fine.
Was the gun her uncles? No, her aunt's, she liked to target shoot, her dad taught her how.
Did she really want to kill her aunt and uncle? An outraged no, followed by a proclamation that she didn't want to hurt anyone.
Then why the gun? The young girl went silence.
"Lisa, you have to talk to me. That's how this works, I need to hear your voice," Joe told the girl.
"I don't want to hurt them," she finally said, her voice thick with tears. "I just want them to stop."
"Stop what, Lisa?"
"I just need them to stop, I can't take it anymore!" She full on crying now, near hysterical.
"Stop what, what are they doing, Lisa?"
"Depends on the day. Uncle Kurt likes to use his belt a lot, but some times, it's just easier to use his hand, or toss me around. Aunt May uses pans, especially after they've been on the stove, or a hairbrush." Lisa Meyer sobbed as she spoke, and Emily could almost picture the girl's hand shaking.
"We can make it stop, we can remove you from their care."
"Child's Services has come by, they just say I'm clumsy, and that I lie for attention, that I haven't been right in the head since my parent's died. The people always believe them."
"Well, we know the truth now. You come out of there, we'll make sure your aunt and uncle can't touch you anymore."
"You'll put me in Juvy for a few months, and then they'll send me back."
"Yeah, you might go to Juvy for a while, and they'll start you in counseling, but when they release you, you'll go to a foster home."
"I don't believe you. They'll send me back here."
"Do you know what allocution is, Lisa?" Joe asked, running a hand through his hair. This was turning out to be harder than he expected.
"No, I've never heard of it, but it doesn't sound good," she snifled.
"You allocute when you plea to a crime, and describe your participation in it, you admit guilt."
Lisa didn't comment.
"When you walk out of there, and drop that gun, we book you. You go to kiddie court, and you plea guilty, you get to tell the court all about your crime. It will be on record that your aunt and uncle abuse you."
"So? People have complained about me screaming and crying, and nobody cared. Why would they care what I say? Why would they believe me?"
"Lisa--" Joe started.
"No, I don't want to talk anymore," she insisted, a click leaving a defining silence where their conversation had been.
"Alright Cheryl, I'll admit, preteen girls are not my strong suit," Joe turned to her. Tom Binder agreed with a nod.
"Well, today they have to be. Figure it out." The two men turned back to toward the unimposing little house, without a clue. They each had a daughter, but their girls were much younger. No one ever told them that they had to know twelve year-old girls to be negotiators.
Emily was thinking, nibbling on her lip. When you feel like you've lost all hope, and you're as desperate as a person can be, what do you do? She'd felt hopeless and desperate not that long ago, what got her through? She could barely talk, peed on herself on occasion, had to be fed like a baby…if she'd had the dexterity to use a gun or a knife, or open a bottle of pills, she'd might have ended it. What got her through that hell?
Her mind drifted to the bathtub in the hospital. The water was getting cold, no one was coming to help her out, and she couldn't do it herself. Then there were brown eyes, a warm body, and strong arms holding her and helping her into a robe. Sanctuary. One place were she felt secure and loved, not the miserable mess she knew she was. That was what got her through, and that thought hit her hard.
"Who are her friends?" Emily blurted, startling Matt and Cheryl.
"What's that?" Cheryl asked.
"Her friends—no her best friend. Who's her best friend?" Emily's pulse jumped. The girl was too young for a boyfriend, but she probably still had a best friend.
"Uh, hang on." Cheryl flipped through the information that gotten from her teachers. Abuse, shy, quiet, smart, good student, but nothing on Lisa's friends.
"What school does she attend?" Emily asked, already pulling out her cell.
"PS 243, here the number."
Emily took the paper, and punched the number in, but froze before she hit send.
"What's wrong?" Matt frowned at her.
"I'm not FBI. I can't make the call."
"They don't need to know that. You have a hunch, just play it, I'll take the heat, if there's any."
"Cheryl, I can't—"
"Make the call."
Emily stared at her a moment, and then finally hit send. Cheryl was using that voice, her boss voice, the voice you don't say no to.
"PS 243," a voice answered.
"Hello, I with for the FBI in hostage negotiation, and I'm at the scene with one of your students." So it was technically a lie, but this woman didn't have to know that.
"Lisa Meyer, we heard, you all already called and talked to her teachers," the woman answered.
"Yes, well now I need to talk to her friends, do you know who they are or can you find me someone who does?"
"I don't know, the kids are all long gone for the day, and I don't know if we can give you their names or numbers. Let me put you on hold a minute, what's your name?"
"Alright Agent Lehman, just give me a minute." Muzak blared into her ear before she could correct the woman.
"From this moment on, you're here as a consultant," Cheryl told her, after Emily explained her conversation.
"You think you can swing that with the upper-ups?" Matt asked.
"If Emily helps us get that kid out, I won't have to."
"No pressure then?" Emily smirked.
"Of course not. When is there ever pressure in our work?" Cheryl smiled. Emily almost seemed like herself again.
"So, apparently you're getting better with logic and working out problems," Matt said.
"Well, I kind of cheated this time."
"I was hopeless and desperate not that long ago, but I got through it. I used that."
"Whatever works, Em."
She nodded as a voice replaced the ugly music. "Agent Lehman?"
"Yes?" She answered automatically.
"I'm Trisha Stevens, Lisa's homeroom teacher. Lisa and Tony Juarez are attached at the hip. He's small and skinny for his age, and very smart, the other boys don't really accept him. Lisa doesn't really fit in with most of the other girls, she's…the only word to describe that child is wounded. The other kids don't get that. Lisa and Tony are my misfits, and they seem to live in a world all their own."
"I need to talk to Tony urgently, do you have his home phone number?"
"Yes, I already called his parents, and asked if it was okay. His mother was reluctant, but his father said they'd bring him down to the scene. He should be there soon."
"Thank you, Ms. Stevens, we really appreciate that." Emily was taken aback, she'd have been thrilled just to have a phone conversation with the boy.
"You're welcome, and Agent Lehman? Lisa is a good kid, she just hurts so much all the time. I've tried to talk to her, but she doesn't trust many adults." The teacher sounded stricken.
"I understand, we'll do everything we can to get her out of there," Emily promised, hanging up. She turned to Matt and Cheryl.
"Lisa's best friend is on the way."
"Uh no, I think he might be here." Cheryl nodded behind them, toward a nervous couple, and scared young boy.
"Agent Lehman?" The father called uncertainly.
"I'm not an agent, I'm here as a consultant today," Emily offered shaking his hand.
"Why? Who are you?"
"Oh, then Dr. Lehman, this is Tony, you need to speak with him about Lisa?"
"Yes, are you familiar with Lisa?"
"She's been to our house for dinner many times, she and Tony are very close. She was always a polite little girl."
Emily nodded. "Do you mind if I speak with Tony?"
The man bent down to his son's level. "You tell this woman what she needs to know to help your friend, okay?"
The young boy nodded.
Emily gestured the boy with her, and the parents remained talking with Matt and Cheryl.
"So, can you tell me about Lisa?" He had dark, messy curls on his head, and light brown eyes.
"She's my friend."
"Did you know her aunt and uncle were hurting her?"
"The Gremlocks," he said.
"They're the Gremlocks."
"What's a gremlock?"
"Lisa and I play a fantasy game. We're the Selpeyan, good wizards, and we have to battle the Gremlocks, or we perish. They're mean, ugly beasts, and they fight dirty. We always beat them though. Evil can't beat good, it's a rule." His voice cracked, and his eyes began to tear.
Clearly in his world, the cops don't come to arrest the good wizards. They'd invented a game to help Lisa survive the abuse she took at home, a game where they beat her aunt and uncle, and the abuse stopped. It seemed Lisa was finally trying to make the game real.
"Thank you, Tony." She smiled at him. Her mind was working, for once, it was making the connections it needed to. It had been better lately, not one hundred percent, but still, pretty good.
Emily walked Tony back to his parents, and pulled Matt and Cheryl aside, gesturing Binder, and Temple, who'd just been hung up on again.
"You need to tell Lisa that you're a Selpeyan, that you'll help her defeat the Gremlocks. She has to leave the Gremlocks to you, you and your men can handle them," Emily directed.
"The what? What are you talking about?" Temple was flabbergasted.
"They're characters in the fantasy game she and her friend created to help her cope with the abuse. The Selpeyan are good wizards, the Gremlocks are her aunt and uncle, the evil characters they have to defeat. Tell her you're a, a, a…what do they call it, in games? Different levels?" She waved her hands around trying to think.
"A master?" Matt offered.
"Yes, tell Lisa you're a master Selpeyan, that you can defeat the Gremlocks. If that doesn't do enough, tell her that she's just a junior Selpeyan, that Tony, that's her best friend, needs her."
Temple and Binder looked at Cheryl uneasily. Three years ago, they'd have been on the phone doing it, but three years ago, Emily's brains hadn't been battered. It made them a little uneasy, especially since what she was saying made her sound like a schizophrenic, not a negotiator.
Cheryl stood still, thinking. From Matt, from her doctor, from Terrance, the profiler walking Emily back through her psych classes, but still, right now, she sounded like a lunatic. Cheryl sighed. No matter how badly Emily had been hurt, she'd never exhibited psychosis, and what she was saying made sense, strangely enough.
"Do it," she instructed her negotiators. They nodded still uneasily, and walked back, Temple making the phone call.
"Lisa, it's Joe. Listen, there's something I didn't tell you. Me and my partner, we're master Selpeyans, so are most of the guys out here. You're good, but you're just junior level. Leave this fight to us. We can handle those Gremlocks. You and Tony, you kids need more practice before you battle like this," Joe told her.
"They aren't real, it's just a game."
"I know that, but Lisa, you understand what I'm saying? You've done you're fighting against the Gremlocks, you let us handle them from here. Okay?"
The armed child didn't respond, but he could hear her breathing through the phone line.
"Lisa, Tony needs you. He fought Gremlocks with you, don't let him down now."
More silence. They shot looks at Cheryl and Emily, wondering if they'd made the right call.
"Okay." A small tear filled voice broke through all the tension.
Ten minutes later, the girl walked out in Franks arms, sobbing against his shoulder. She was the only HT he'd ever carried away from the scene, and the only one he'd ever not immediately handcuffed. He put her in the back of a police car, and close the door. LAPD would take her, and process her, and they had the Juvy unit's word that she'd get a social worker and counseling.
They instructed Tony and his parents come with them for additional questioning. Tony's statement would be evidence of abuse, and help ensure that Lisa would never be returned to her aunt and uncle. He clung to his mother and father, but nodded at the friendly detective his agreement to help.
"I'm not sure what the hell I said to that kid, but it worked," Temple told Emily, clearly impressed.
"She needed to hear that you see them as, as much of a threat as she does, and she needed to hear that there was someone out here that cared about her," Emily explained, relieved that her healing shrink skills were working.
"Well, it's LA and hot, who's up for celebratory ice cream?" Matt suggested. Normally he'd say drinks, but some of Emily's meds didn't mix well with alcohol.
"We all have to do paperwork," Cheryl reminded them all, gesturing to everyone except Matt and Emily.
"Right, well, have fun with that," he said, earning glares from Temple and Binder.
He chuckled and took Emily's hand, turning toward the car. They were at least going to celebrate, they certainly had enough reasons to.
"Hey Emily!" Cheryl called.
The redhead turned.
"You did good." They both smiled.
Emily knew it was all about confidence, which she'd been sorely lacking. It started with that run, and the effects of that confidence would eventually be her earning her life back.
I know I've been saying sorry a lot lately, but it's been a hellishly busy few weeks. Consider this very long chapter my plea for forgiveness for not updating for a month. As always thank you for reading, and even if it doesn't seem that way now, reviews do encourage, motivate, and bring joy.