Title: Still Standing (1/4)
Rating:
PG-13
Fandom:
Criminal Minds
Universe:
Standing (Part 2)
Characters/Pairing:
Rossi/Prentiss
Genre:
Romance/Angst
Summary:
David Rossi has never quite become accustomed to being the damsel in distress. A sticky situation has both him and Emily wondering if they've run out of time.
Author's Note: Betaed by Windy City Dreamer
Warnings:
Some dark imagery

Still Standing

Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for

Dag Hammarskjold

Part One

It's a Thursday morning, and David Rossi is in his kitchen making coffee. He isn't alone.

Emily's there with him, wearing those ridiculous pajamas, which only serve to make him want to push her up against the tabletop and rip them off. In fact, he's fairly sure the only reason she wears them so often is because they turn him on so much. He's considered investigating the possibility of something that shows a little more thigh, but it terrifies the hell out of him to think that there might actually be a market for such thing.

In any case, he's already done enough on the seduction front for the meantime, as evidenced by the exhausted look in her eyes. Truth told, he's feeling a little bit tired himself. He's not as young as he used to be.

Her attitude at his place is something that's getting closer and closer to comfort. The one – and only – time they'd spent the night at her apartment, three of her neighbors had taken it upon themselves to ensure that she wasn't being murdered. At his house, at least, the neighbors are a little further away, and he's lived there long enough for most of them to know that the screaming isn't because he's a closeted serial killer. Still, it had almost been worth it to see the look of disappointment on the face of one of her neighbors when she'd answered his frantic knocks in nothing more than a sheet.

'Did you want to grab lunch with me today?' he asks, wrapping his arms around her from behind as she tips a teaspoon of Splenda into her coffee. He hunches slightly, so that his head rests on her shoulder, and he can press his lips to her neck without too much difficulty.

'I can't,' she says, and he'd like to imagine that it's a mournful tone, but really, it just sounds like she's tired. They've all been tired lately, even if they're not willing to let it show. 'I have a pile of consults up to here.' She makes a gesture at chest height, and he takes the opportunity to let their fingers intertwine.

'Dave,' she says, with the slightest hint of amused impatience. 'I can't get my coffee now.'

'You can't take half an hour for lunch?' he asks, ignoring her plight – she still has the other hand free after all.

'Oh, I don't know. There's this guy at work that might get pretty jealous.' She maneuvers herself to face him, leaving the coffee forgotten on the kitchen counter. Their lips catch in a slow, lingering kiss.

She sighs contentedly, her fingers interlocking behind his neck. 'Really jealous.' They stand there in silence for a few moments, before she adds, 'I love…this.'

It might have sounded like a sudden backpedal to anyone else, but David Rossi has a little experience with human behavior. Emily's relationship experience hasn't exactly been the most conventional. If she ever says it, she'll either blurt it out and then run off before he has a chance to respond, or she'll avoid saying it altogether, for fear of scaring him off.

He's okay with that, though. He doesn't need her to say it.

He already knows.

***

They get in to work together, standing far enough apart that they're not touching, but not so far apart that it looks suspicious. Emily peels off as she reaches her desk, brushing his fingers slightly in a farewell gesture.

Morgan, who's sitting at his desk, clears his throat. She swears internally, because she hadn't noticed him there, and now he'll be nagging her all day.

'What was that?' he demands, no longer paying attention to the case file in his hand. Perhaps that's why office romances are so frowned upon. Because they distract colleagues with the possibility of juicy gossip.

'What was what?' she asks, cringing, because she's not a good liar by any definition of the word. She can selectively tell the truth, when the occasion calls for it, and she can suppress her feelings, but outright lying is something that she's never quite had the chance to perfect.

'That,' he insists. 'You and Rossi.'

She rolls her eyes, laughing. 'Didn't you know? We're having an illicit office affair, with whips and handcuffs and plenty of kinky sex. I think Rossi wants to have a threesome, if you were up for it.'

It makes him double-take, which had been the intention, because he isn't so much worried about what she's hiding as he is about getting the mental image out of his mind. 'Fine,' he shudders. 'Don't tell me. I'll figure it out myself.'

She smiles, because it's mostly true. There are definitely no plans for a threesome and they don't use a whip, but the handcuffs have made a couple of appearances, and they're not beyond kink. She feels a little tingly thinking about it, and makes a mental note to get the handcuffs out again tonight. That, of course, is based on the assumption that she's going to his place again tonight, and she finds herself having a small-scale mental breakdown at the thought that their relationship has reached that point.

She rolls her eyes again, this time at herself.

Great job compartmentalizing there, Prentiss, she thinks. Wonder how much work you'll get done thinking about jumping Rossi's bones all day.

In true BAU tradition, she doesn't get much time to consider her possibilities, because five minutes later, they've got a case.

***

It's a local one; two dead kids out of Arlington. Two kids in five days, which makes it a priority, and they've grabbed their bags, rushed to the elevators no sooner than JJ had concluded the briefing.

Rossi unlocks the doors with a short beep, watching as Emily slides into the passenger's seat, her messenger bag landing to rest just in front of her feet. It's Reid that gets in the back seat, a tangle of limbs, which Rossi is grateful for, because while he's a genius, he can sometimes be a little oblivious to the social things. Things like the fact that two of his co-workers are sleeping together.

If he does know anything, he isn't saying anything. He just flips open the file, and dives into it, the words absorbing themselves into that massive mind of his. Rossi gives a tiny shake of the head, sharing a small smile with Emily.

It's a high urgency case, so the briefing hadn't been much more than an information dump; the names of the boys in question, when they had been found, and the positioning of the bodies. Any discussion is left for the road.

They're professionals; even if they've never seen this particular case before, they've seen ones like it in a dozen different iterations.

'The boys were blindfolded, their bodies posed,' says Reid just minutes later, and Rossi still finds some amount of astonishment in the fact that the kid can really absorb so much information so fast. 'Indicates signs of remorse. There's also some evidence to suggest that they were sexually abused by the unsub.' There's a brief moment of silence, because even though they are professionals, it never – never­ ­– gets any easier. They just get better at hiding it.

By the end of the drive, they've got a few theories, a list of people to talk to, and a determination not to let anyone else die.

***

The atmosphere at the police station is grim. Everyone – including the team – is on edge; there's a lot of pressure to catch his guy and make him pay. When it's kids, it always seems to send everyone into emotional overdrive. Emily can't help but feel that this is going to go very bad, very quickly, and when it does, they're the ones that are going to be blamed.

It's not because the local police are unreasonable, by any means. It's because they're tired, they're frustrated, and they're looking for someone to blame. And if the BAU doesn't deliver the unsub before the next child dies, then it's going to be them on the chopping block.

The detective who greets them is looking a little more tired, a little more frustrated than the rest. She's in her early forties, and she introduces herself as Detective Georgia Lethem. Her voice is sharp, but Emily attributes that to the bodies of two young boys that are lying in the morgue.

The small area that's cordoned off for the case is already in organized chaos. A trio of detectives pore over the strewn case files, empty coffee mugs and half eaten pastries accessorizing the table. Lethem gives a round of introductions, and there's a flurry of movement as things are shifted to make way for the team. Lethem stands there silently, as if waiting for Hotch to dismiss her. It doesn't happen. She gives a small smile, grateful that the FBI is not shutting her out of the investigation.

On Hotch's request, the Detective gives a rundown of the situation; giving the details that hadn't quite made it into the files.

'The parents of both boys are acting…strangely,' she tells them, her brow furrowing. 'We've questioned them, but I think there are a few things that they're still hiding.'

'Could there be a connection between these boys, aside from the victimology?' Morgan wonders aloud. 'If the families know each other, then they could be keeping that quiet.'

'We haven't found any connections, but…'

She trails off, and Hotch nods in understanding. 'We'll have our analyst look into the families.' He tips his head to Morgan, and the profiler pulls out his cell phone, dialing Garcia's number and turning on speaker phone – out of habit, more than anything, Emily thinks.

'Hey, baby girl, I got a favor to ask.'

'Does it involve whipped cream?'

Lethem gives a sound that is halfway between a cough and a laugh. She raises an eyebrow at Morgan, who grins in reply.

'I need you to find any connection between the families of the two victims. Anything they might be hiding from us,' he says it with complete seriousness, because even after all the banter, all the laughs, there are still those two dead kids lying in the morgue.

'I'm on it, hot stuff,' she tells him, and there's an undercurrent of somberness in her voice too; collecting information is one thing, but digging through the lives of people that have just lost their children is another.

'We'll still need to talk to the families,' Hotch tells Lethem, and she nods, understanding. Trained behaviorists will pick up things that the detectives had not.

He splits them up then; he and JJ will talk to the families, Reid and Morgan will go to the morgue, and Emily finds herself being paired off with Rossi to visit the crime scenes. She's not sure if she's imagining the knowing look in Hotch's eyes as he tells her this. She's fairly sure she is, because if he'd known, he would have said something by know, and he certainly would not have been sending them out into the field together.

Emily feels a little guilty about that. She doesn't like lying. In this case, it's more withholding than lying, but it doesn't preclude that nagging feeling of dishonesty. Whichever way she looks at it, she's deceiving – they're deceiving – the rest of the team. She can rationalize it as compartmentalization, but then having a relationship with a superior isn't exactly the best way to keep personal and professional separate. Evidently though, she isn't exactly keeping them as separate as she'd like, because the moment they split off from the rest of the team, Rossi asks her what's wrong.

'Nothing important,' she tells him, and it's not strictly a lie. Nothing relevant would probably be more accurate, because she's kind of terrified to realize just how important this relationship actually is to her.

'Emily…' he starts, and she raises an eyebrow at him. He should know by now not to "Emily" her during work hours.

'I'd rather this wait until we weren't hunting down a child murderer,' she says, with a little more brusqueness than she'd intended – it's not his fault, after all. They'd done this together. 'I'm sorry, I just…It can wait.'

They drive to the first crime scene in relative silence; there's some slight tension, but she wouldn't go as far as calling it an uncomfortable silence. She keeps her head down, re-reading the case files.

The first crime scene is near a school; public enough that the body would be found, and yet private enough that it's evident the unsub isn't trying to taunt them. These killings aren't for the benefit of the authorities, they're for the unsub. Or for the victims, she reminds herself, the thought making her feel slightly nauseous.

They scan the scene, taking in the details. If they can determine why the body had been left here, then they'll have one more piece for the profiling puzzle.

'It's a nice place,' Rossi comments. 'Peaceful. Picturesque.'

'You're not looking for picnic hotspots, are you?'

He gives her a look, but doesn't comment on her quip. 'Our unsub treated the bodies with respect. They're blindfolded, arms crossed over their chests. He doesn't see this as murder.'

'He's laying them to rest,' Emily concludes.

'The question is,' muses Rossi. 'Why?'

***

The "why" is a question that they intend to spend the rest of the day in search of an answer to. Why these boys? Why had the unsub laid them to rest? Is there some connection between them?

They're driving back to the police station when they get the call from Hotch. According to his parents, Michael Summers, their first victim, had been seeing the school counselor. If there's something that might have caused the unsub to single the boy out, then the counselor could know. Hotch and JJ still have to interview the second victim's parents, so it falls to Rossi and Prentiss to talk to the counselor.

A call to the school in question reveals that the counselor – Eric Briscoe – only works Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Rossi executes a rapid u-turn, and they're immediately on their way to Briscoe's apartment.

The counselor gives a slight double-take when he opens the door. He's dressed as if ready to go out; shoes on, backpack slung over one shoulder. He's tall, well built, and yet there's still an air of meekness surrounding him. 'Uh…hi?' He seems a little confused, a little flustered at the presence of FBI agents on his doorstep.

'Eric Briscoe? Agents Rossi and Prentiss, FBI,' Rossi introduces them authoritatively.

Briscoe hesitates. 'I…um…was just….Would you like to come in?'

'We'd just like to ask you a few questions,' Emily tells him in what she hopes is an assuring tone. He gives a tiny shrug, and steps backwards to let them in. It's a small, simply furnished apartment that feels slightly off to Emily, though she can't work out why. Why does seem to be the question of the day.

They sit together on the small two-seater, Briscoe taking to a straight-backed chair behind a desk. He turns the chair towards them, but lets his hand remain at the desk, drumming a beat against the wood.

'This is about Michael Summers,' Rossi starts, and there's immediately a pained look on Briscoe's face.

'Poor kid,' he says softly. 'No-one deserves to go through that at such a young age.'

'Did you know this boy?' Emily asks, passing over the photo of their second victim, Timothy Ford.

'No,' Briscoe says softly, shaking his head. A little louder, he repeats, 'No, I didn't.' He looks towards Rossi, and there's something in his eye that Emily can't quite place.

'Michael was a good kid,' he says. 'He just had some…problems.'

'What kind of problems?' Rossi starts to ask, only his voice is drowned out by the sound of Emily's phone ringing. She excuses herself, noting that Briscoe shifts uncomfortably as she gets up. He's hiding something, she's willing to bet.

'Hey, Hotch,' she greets the Unit Chief after glancing at the Caller I.D.

'Are you with Briscoe now?' he asks.

'Yeah.'

'Timothy Ford's family knows Briscoe. He used to live in the apartment across from theirs.'

Shit.

She lets her gaze wander back towards Briscoe and Rossi, noticing Briscoe looking right back at her. She doesn't need anything more than that. He definitely knows something. And he knows that she knows.

He moves a split second later, his hand going straight to his desk drawers. The element of surprise in his favor, his finger's already on the trigger before her gun's out of her holster. Rossi's quick on the uptake, already on the move, but it's not quick enough to stop that bullet from discharging.

She's never been shot before. She's been beaten up a couple of times, taken a few knocks to the head, and she's gotten in the way of a knife once or twice, but she's never been shot. She feels the slight stinging pain in her shoulder, and the world seems to turn just a little bit fuzzy.

She's aware, but not really aware of Rossi calling her name. Of him grappling with Briscoe. Of her legs falling out from beneath her. Of the numbness that's starting to ripple its way across her entire body. And then, a few seconds later, she's not aware of anything at all.