Disclaimer: I don't own anything or anyone in regards to Criminal Minds; the show and its characters belong to a bunch of people who aren't me. I am merely borrowing the characters for my own amusement. Dance puppets, dance.
Author's Notes: I had been having a bad couple of weeks and, as suggested by a friend, I decided to focus my crappy mood into writing. Thus, producing this little piece. Thank you to my fabulous beta, Mingsmommy, who continues to push me as a writer and to LosingInTranslation, who gave this the final shine it needed.
Hunched slightly, Emily watched the thick, puffy snowflakes fall and land gently on the bare tree branches and park benches as she walked. Away from the harsh glow of the street lamps, the moonlight made the ground look as if it were covered by a baby soft, pale blue blanket. As she moved out of the park, the clean, crisp scent of the snow intermingled with the wooden ash effortlessly floating out of the nearby chimneys, giving the air an almost sweet quality.
Burying her hands further into her pockets, her fingers brushed the sharp edges of the photograph. She blew out a sigh, watching the heavy clouds of vapor escape from her mouth and disappear.
When she told Dave she wanted to walk around for a while, Emily failed to tell him that "a while" would actually mean a several hours. She walked aimlessly through the streets of DC as the fresh snow continued to fall.
Pulling her coat more tightly around her, she tried to organize her thoughts, but everything remained jumbled together: the heartache over not seeing Matthew for years only to find out about his death. The lingering anger over the vindictive priest because, even though he would eventually answer to the Italian government, it still felt like the man got away with murder. Mostly though, she could hear the words of Matthew's mother echoing in her head.
He was never troubled until he met you.
Then there was John. He'd called earlier, letting her know he was okay and had been released from the hospital. He asked if she wanted to get together and talk; she could tell by the seriousness in his voice he wanted to not just talk about the exorcisms. She waffled for a moment, because she felt like his apology was twenty-five years too late, and she hated herself for that. After all, they were only teenagers at the time. Emily politely declined, telling him he needed to rest and that she'd call him in a few days. But truthfully, she didn't know if she actually would.
A hard weight started to press on her chest, making Emily increase her pace. Her feet crunched heavily against the snow on the sidewalk. Her eyes burned with unshed tears, and so she kept her head down as she passed other people. She knew how to compartmentalize, but it was hard when she couldn't make anything fit anywhere. Then she remembered Dave's warm, caring eyes from earlier in the evening, and she felt herself start to calm. He'd been incredibly supportive, especially when he brought her coffee. It was the one time in this whole mess that she didn't feel ashamed of herself.
She wandered a little longer before she found herself at an intersection not too far from her brownstone. Emily had to flex her freezing, stiff fingers a few times before pressing the crosswalk button. Bringing her finger to her nose, she wanted to make sure she wasn't still bleeding. Instead, she couldn't feel anything, as her nose, cheeks, and even her ears had gone numb. Standing there, she realized she could no longer ignore the frozen ache in her feet or the snow that clung to the edges of her bangs, indicating she'd been in the cold for far too long.
Walking quickly, she headed back to her place. Nothing made sense still, and all she wanted was a hot meal, crawl into bed, and not come out for at least three days.
She nearly stumbled up the icy steps and her hands shook so horribly, she dropped the keys twice before she finally got them in the lock. Pushing the door open, she moved slowly down the hall. The warm air caused her cold, aching muscles to burn.
When she got to her door, she noticed a white piece of paper tucked behind the plaque displaying her apartment number. She wondered if it was yet another take-out restaurant advertisement. She very nearly crumpled the paper, but for some reason, she thought better of it. Unfolding the white sheet, she found three short lines:
I'll be up late. Come over if you want.
For the first time in days, Emily felt her lips lift in a smile. No pressure, no judgment; it was just a simple invitation. Reading those words, she now wanted to spend those three days huddled in bed with Dave next to her, but part of her didn't know if she could face him outside of work after what she'd shared of her past.
Acting on instinct, she managed to work the key into the dead bolt.
Spreading out a handful of flour down, Dave placed the big ball of sticky dough onto the counter.
"The key to noodle dough is the flour," he told Mudgie, who lay on the tile floor near him. "If you add too much flour, the noodles won't cook right." He continued to knead the dough. "Too little flour and you won't even be able to get the dough off of the counter."
The dog merely snuffled before laying his head down.
Shaking his head, Dave rolled the now dry, pliable dough around. "You might not care now, but it'll be important when I pull the lasagna out of the oven."
Wiping his flour coated hands on the towel tucked into his pants pocket, Dave took a minute to taste the sauce simmering on the stove. A zesty combination of tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and basil rolled around on his tongue, but it still wasn't quite right. He debated for a moment on what it needed, and settled on more basil. He sprinkled more of the spice into the pot.
Cooking, Dave had found, was the perfect way to calm his mind. If he needed to wind down after a tough case or work through some writer's block, he found the best way to distract himself was through the kitchen. It worked out perfectly as he froze many meals to eat when he returned home from an investigation. Through the years he'd manage to perfect braciole and was close to duplicating his mother's steak pizzaiola.
Tonight he'd decided on lasagna, but that had to with it being Emily's favorite. Knowing she wouldn't come over for a while (if she did decide to come to his house at all), he prepared homemade noodles. He also had a bowl full of chocolate chip cookie dough in the refrigerator that would eventually be made into cookies. He'd wanted to test a new pastry recipe, but he knew Emily had an incredible chocolate chip cookie weakness.
After rolling out the dough, he fed it into the old stainless steel pasta press he'd owned for many, many years. The hand crank occasionally stuck, but he still managed to make, the perfect sized noodles, setting them on a rack. As the noodles dried, he read in the living room, pausing every once in a while to listen for movement at the door. It was everything he could do not to call and check on her. Dave knew if he pushed, she would shut down even more.
Later, as he added the noodles to the boiling pot of water, Dave heard a quiet knock on the front door. The dog trotted ahead of him as he walked down the hallway. Looking through the peep hole, he saw Emily standing there. Strange, he thought, because she had a key to the house.
He pulled open the door, and a cold breeze of air scampered into the house. He immediately noticed her bright red nose and cheeks. Emily barely met his eyes as she greeted him with a quiet, "Hi."
The corner of his mouth lifted. "Hey."
As she moved inside, he didn't see her car parked by the now all white sidewalk. "You didn't drive?"
She shook her head. "I took a cab."
He stepped behind her to take her coat. His hand immediately encountered cold, wet wool. As soon as her coat came off, she started to rub her palms up and down her arms.
Standing in front of her, he asked, "How are you?"
"Fine," she replied. "Just a little cold."
"How long were you walking?" He deliberately used a mild tone.
Taking in a deep breath, she pursed her lips in thought. "However long it's been since you left John's minus the time it took for me to get here."
Jesus. She was wandering around in the snow for that long? He had to fight the surge of annoyance, and not give into the lecture that was on the tip of his tongue. It wouldn't accomplish anything but starting argument. Instead of sighing, he just nodded.
With his palm on the small of her back, he led her toward the kitchen. "Are you hungry? I was just putting together a pan of lasagna."
"That's quite a midnight snack."
"I also have a bowl full of cookie dough waiting. Is that more appropriate?"
Her eyebrows rose. "Chocolate chip?"
"You are the cookie fiend," he chuckled. "Yes they are chocolate chip and I have milk to go with it. I know how much you consider cookies without milk a sacrilege."
That would usually earn him a teasing comment back, but Emily remained unusually quiet. Blinking rapidly, she bit her lower lip. Her glassy eyes focused everywhere, but on him. And her hands were clenched so tight, he thought her fingers might snap.
He bent his head to meet her gaze, his brow wrinkling in concern. "Are you okay?"
"Fine." But the crack in her voice belied her answer. "I just…I'm…it's been a long night."
He brushed his thumb over her knuckles in an effort to relax the muscles; her skin still felt cool to the touch. "Did you want something else? I have chocolate ice cream in the freezer."
"No," she swallowed heavily. "Cookies are great."
Gently, he placed his hands on her shoulders. "Do you want a shower? Maybe get into some fresh clothes?"
Emily rolled her eyes. "Jeez, Dave I don't smell that bad."
Now he really smiled. If she fought back and rolled her eyes, he didn't have to worry about her too much. Though all of that worry hadn't been completely alleviated; there was still a bit of bleakness hiding in her eyes.
"But you still smell," he smirked. "Go on up stairs; there are clean towels in the bathroom."
She huffed, but headed up to the master bathroom. Something still bothered Dave as he watched her slow movements up the creaking stairs. She was probably still thinking about her friends. Hopefully having a real meal and good night's sleep would help her. He just needed to make sure not to say anything that would jeopardize accomplishing both tasks.
He set back to work in the kitchen, draining the steaming pot. The noodles came out thick and perfectly tender. He layered the pan with noodles, sauce, meat, and a mixture of cheeses. After placing the pan in the oven, he brought out the plates and wine glasses. It was then he remembered Emily didn't have any clean clothes in the house. Dave walked up to his bedroom to find her something to wear. Not that he needed to bring her clothes; she had no problem helping herself to his shirts. As much as he grumbled about her stealing them, he thought she looked a hell of a lot better in his clothes than he did.
Pausing in his perusal of the closet, he noticed the absence of the water running from the master bathroom. She couldn't be done already. Rather he heard a scratching sound against the wood door. Turning, he found Mudgie pawing at the door, whining softly. Listening closely, he frowned as he heard the unmistakable sound of Emily crying.
He gently pushed the dog aside, and slowly cracked opened the door. Dave saw Emily sitting on the toilet seat, weeping. His chest constricted painfully while he watched her. Bent over slightly, her eyes stayed closed as tears slipped down her cheeks. She hadn't so much as removed her shoes.
Inevitable argument be damned, he went into the bathroom, Mudgie hot on his heels. The dog nudged her knee while Dave crouched down in front of her.
"Hey, hey," he said soothingly, placing his hands on top of her thighs. "Are you all right?"
Her head snapped up and she immediately wiped away at her cheeks. "Dave," she cleared her throat, "What are you doing up here?"
"I was just looking for some clothes for you to wear." He tilted his head in concern. "What's going on?"
Shaking her head, she gave him a watery snort. "Nothing…it's stupid."
"That's quite a reaction for nothing," he told her, squeezing her hands. He stared at her red rimmed eyes, silently asking her again to share what was bothering her.
The pressure on his knees started to bother him, but he didn't want to get up just yet. After several minutes of silence, Emily took a shuddering breath.
"It's just…" she started before she sniffled. "You made me chocolate chip cookies." Her voice wobbled.
His worried frown turned into one of great confusion. Three marriages had taught Dave women would sometimes give the least expected answer as to why they cried. But that didn't mean he'd figured out how to react to those responses.
Licking his lips, he contemplated on how to approach the best reply. Finally, he decided to try something light. "Of course I made chocolate chip cookies. My mother would come all the way from Chicago and slap me with her wooden spoon if she knew I had cookies that weren't homemade or didn't come from a bakery."
That at least earned him a slight chuckle. "That's not what I meant." He waited patiently again for her to clarify. She dipped her head enough to let her dark hair fall, blocking her face. His thumbs ran calming circles over the tops of her trembling hands. Bringing her shoulders up, she finally spoke, "When I was growing up everyone always told me I was lucky to live in so many different countries, but the truth was I hated moving." Emily closed her eyes. "Every time I finally made friends and found a place in school, my mother would get a new post, and we'd be on our way." In a small voice, she added, "And I'd have to start all over again.
"My mother worked a lot, but she made sure she was always around for our first night in a new place." Pausing, Emily took a deep breath. "And every one of those nights, she always, always made lemon-coconut bars for me." She shook her head, grunting. "My mother could actually bake rather well, but we never had anything else on those first nights."
It was the second time Dave had to bite back a sigh. Emily hated coconut; he found that out at the Christmas party the first year they met. Garcia had baked an assortment of treats for the team, including chocolate cookies topped with coconut shavings. He'd watched Emily discreetly frown at those particular cookies as she loaded her plate. When they started seeing each other later, she told him eating coconut was like eating sunscreen.
It frustrated the hell out of him that anyone close to Emily didn't even know some of the most basic things about her. The day after they returned from Fredericksburg, a large chocolate chip cookie accompanied her cup of coffee at the office in the morning. And the first time they'd stayed at her apartment, he'd teased her about the few crumbs on her couch. He even mused that he would find cookies crumbs in her bed; he didn't, of course, but he continued to joke with her that he did.
Still balancing on the hard tile with his knees, Dave leaned forward and pulled her into his arms. She buried her face into the crook of his neck, her nose cool against his skin. He rested his head on top of her hair, his hands stroking up and down the stiff, tense muscles in her back. His back protested against the awkward position, but a little bit of pain was worth feeling Emily as she began to relax.
Several moments later, she pulled back just enough so their foreheads still touched. Her eyes appeared a little brighter. "Thank you," she whispered with a genuine smile.
Her smile did all kinds of wonderful things to his insides. He'd keep her stocked in chocolate chip cookies for a long time just so she would smile like that. "You're welcome."
He moved to brush his nose against hers once then twice. Her smile widened even more, and she returned the gesture.
Closing her eyes, she asked, "How much more time on the lasagna?"
"There's still a bit of time." He sighed. "Em?"
"Yeah?" She breathed.
"You still kind of smell."
Her lids lifted slowly. He smirked as she narrowed her eyes, mock scowling at him. "Your tactfulness is so comforting, Dave."
"Any way I can help, tesora."
As soon as he moved back, Mudgie took the opportunity to throw his paws in her lap and lick her face. Gently pushing him back, she laughed, a delightful sound that echoed off the bathroom walls.
Grabbing the dog's collar, Dave led him out. He grinned to the sound of running water. Mudgie, though didn't move much further. He immediately flopped down outside the closed door.
"You just have to show me up, don't you?" Dave deadpanned as he rubbed the dog's ears affectionately.
Later, as he pulled the lasagna out and put a pan of cookies in, he wondered if he'd ever have hot water again when he finally heard the stairs creak. Emily, followed closely by Mudgie, met him in the kitchen as he fixed their plates. Her hair was pulled back in a sleek, wet ponytail, and she wore a pair of his blue flannel pajamas and his thick socks covered her feet. The sleeves went well past her wrists and the ends of the pant legs dragged on the floor, but she'd never looked more adorable.
Pulling the cork out of the wine, he offhandedly commented, "You know my pajama collection is slowly depleting."
"There's still a pair of ratty sweat pants at the bottom of the drawer for you."
They sat at the table, and ate in companionable silence. He watched her dig eagerly into the food. He'd been worried that she hadn't eaten much, if anything, over the last few days.
When she returned to her chair after she got her third helping, he did a poor job of hiding his grin.
She raised an eyebrow. "What?"
He sipped his glass of wine. "I didn't say anything."
Pursing her lips, she told him in a matter-of-fact tone, "I'm just making sure there aren't too many leftovers."
"Yeah," he nodded. "Can't have any food in the house when we return from a case." Dave had to take a big bite of lasagna to keep from outright laughing at her mock frown.
She finished the last bite of food with a contented sigh. Stacking the plates, he rose to his feet and kissed the top of her head, his lips encountering her damp hair. "You go ahead upstairs; I'll be up in little bit." Before she could open her mouth, he amended, "With cookies."
Smacking a kiss on his cheek, Emily went back to his room, Mudgie's tags jingling behind her. Dave finished baking the cookies while he cleaned the dishes. The baked aroma of sweet vanilla dough filled the house with its comforting scent. While the last batch of cookies cooled, he shut off the lights and locked up. He then loaded a plate with several of the freshly baked treats and poured two large glasses of ice cold milk. He managed to balance the plate on top of one of the glasses as he slowly walked up stairs.
In his bed, he discovered Emily under the covers with Mudgie lying beside her, his head in her lap. She stroked the dog's coarse fur and massaged his ears.
His mouth fell open. "What is this?"
At the sound of Dave's loud voice in quiet room, Mudgie immediately hopped off the bed.
Huffing, her hand fell to the mattress. "You scared him."
Shaking his head in exasperation, Dave peered over the mattress where the dog now lay by her side of the bed. "You have replaced me with each other." To which she only laughed.
He held up the glasses with the plate. "I brought dessert."
"Thank you." Leaning over, she stole a cookie, not bothering to take the balanced plate or a glass. Taking a bite, her eyes closed briefly in absolute bliss, and a surge of warmth coursed through his veins.
Clearing his throat, he raised an eyebrow.
She swallowed, her eyes widening in mock surprise. "Oh! You wanted help."
"It would be appreciated."
Taking the plate, she set it in the middle of the bed, and took one of the glasses of milk to set on the nightstand on her side. Dave placed the reamianing glass down on the other nightstand before heading to the bathroom.
Once he changed into his own pajamas, he joined Emily in bed, noticing the cookie pile had already depleted significantly.
Dipping a cookie in the milk, she carefully brought it to her mouth so as not to cause a mess. "I thought you'd be afraid of having cookie crumbs all over your one million thread count sheets."
He shook his head. "I've gotten used to sleeping in crumbs after being in your bed."
Emily elbowed his bicep. "When have you ever found cookie crumbs in my bed?"
Before he could even open his mouth, she nudged him again. Putting on his glasses, he retrieved the copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from the drawer of his nightstand. She settled against his side, her head on his shoulder. She continued to eat, and he pretended not to gaze over the pages to check for crumbs. As they read in silence, his fingers slipped under her shirt and he stroked her soft, soft skin, reveling in the feeling of her warm weight as she sank into him.
He sighed contently. Truthfully, Dave didn't think she'd come over. He assumed Emily would want to go straight home after walking, and he wouldn't see or hear from her until she appeared at the office. The fact that she trusted him enough to come over after everything meant a lot to him.
And he liked taking care of her…even if she was stubborn and pushed herself to the limit
He'd only turned about four pages before he heard small snore come from his shoulder. Looking down, he found Emily's eyes closed and her deep, even breathing filled his ears.
He put his glasses and book back, rousing Emily in the process. She lifted herself off his shoulder enough so he could turn off the lamp.
Dave lay on his back, while Emily went to settle her head under his chin. Before she could do so, he caught her lips in a long, slow kiss. He concentrated on nothing but the chocolate, sugary taste of her mouth, the smooth strands of her hair beneath his fingertips, and the sweet vanilla scent of her skin.
When he pulled back, she blinked her large, confused eyes at him in the peaceful darkness.
"Thank you, Emily," was all he offered as they curled around each other and fell asleep.