DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it from time to time. Dance Monkeys! Dance!
RATING: T - Teen
SPOILERS: Sometime Post S06XE18 - Lauren
WORD COUNT: 5176
SUMMARY: A series of mysterious packages has David Rossi questioning his skills as an investigator.
A/N: The idea popped into my head and just wouldn't let me go until it was done. I hope you enjoy it.
REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.
Morgan watched as one of the mailroom flunkies stood nervously at the open door to Rossi's office. Rossi wasn't there, and it looked like the kid was confused about what to do.
"Hey, kid… Rossi's out in the field. Just leave it on his chair," Morgan called out to him.
The kid turned in the direction of his voice and then looked back at the office again, completely unsure of himself. Shaking his head, Morgan got up and crossed the bullpen floor, before taking the steps to the gallery, two at a time. "What is it?"
"Um, well, sir, um Special Agen-… Oh, I mean SSA Morgan… Um, well, it's a package for SSA Rossi and there's a signature voucher and I can't go back to the mailroom without, um…his signature?" Morgan actually thought the kid might really come unglued, right there in front of him.
"It's all right, youngster. I'm authorized to sign for the package." He smiled, hoping to put the kid at ease.
Timidly, the younger man handed Morgan the signature pad. Placing his thumb over the print reader, he signed the line as it appeared over the "Approved" message on the screen.
"Um, thanks?" He took back the pad, handed Morgan the package and quick timed it out of the BAU.
Seaver had watched the entire exchange with amused interest. "Special delivery?"
"I guess so." Morgan chuckled at the whole thing and began to examine the package for heft and any tell-tale markings on the box. "It's a bottle of something." He rolled his eyes as he contemplated the contents of the package. "Knowing Rossi, it's probably something very expensive."
"Most likely imported, as well." Reid chimed in on the analysis. "My first guess would be wine, because his whisky of choice is actually local. Is there a postmark or address on the packing?"
Morgan gave the box a closer examination and discovered there was actually nothing on the box at all. Not even an address label. "Well, that's strange."
Penelope chose that moment to bring a folder to Rossi's office. "It's not strange at all… Reid is constantly wearing two different color socks. I'm just glad he's stopped wearing two different shoes. He always walks funny when he does that."
Morgan laughed at her joke, which wasn't so much a joke, as an observation. This was confirmed when Reid reached down to pull up his pant legs, showing one solid tan and one blue argyle sock. Reid blushed at having been busted and when Penelope re-emerged from Rossi's office she nearly shrieked, "Oooooo! Is that another mystery package?"
She grabbed the box from Morgan's hands and quickly searched it for a label. "O. M. G.! It totally is! This is sooooooo cool! David Rossi has a secret admirer!"
"Baby Girl, what are you talking about?" Morgan was at a loss.
"Ummm, 'bout a month ago, Rossi started getting these random packages. They just show up in the mailroom. Nobody knows where they come from, or how they get to the mailroom. But they just appear in the scanned packages, so they know they've cleared security and everything. Just a simple piece of FBI stationary directing the package to Rossi's office." She held up the package and shook it in the air for all to see. "Mailroom started making him sign for these little beauties after he raised a stink about their origin."
Seaver tried to join the analysis, "What about prints, or-"
"No prints, no trace of any kind. These bad boys must have been simonized and sterilized before they arrive in the mailroom, 'cause there's not even a SPECK of evidence on them at all." Penelope turned back into the office and ceremoniously placed the package in the center of Rossi's desk blotter.
"And Rossi's got no clue at all?" Morgan asked.
"Nope, nada, nothing. He's totally clueless, and for a guy like Rossi, it's pretty much killing him." She smiled and turned toward Hotch's office.
Morgan called out to stop her, "So, what's in these packages?"
Penelope stopped dead, spun and put a finger to her temple; striking the pose of a thinker. "The Great Carnac the Magnificent says… No clue. Rossi ain't sharing."
Seated at his desk, staring intently at the innocuous package resting in the center of his desk, David Rossi might as well have been contemplating the meaning of life for all the good he's been able to do finding out the source of his mystery gifts. There were six, in total, so far. And the only thing connecting them all…was him.
Red silk handkerchiefs were in the first package. He managed to trace them back to a French milliner. Upon receiving the information about the source, he instantly recognized it as one he stumbled upon once on a book tour. He had always wanted to go back to get some more, but had trouble remembering anything about the shop other than its description. He couldn't even recall which town he had been in when he found it, but he could describe the shop, right down the antique silver Mezuzah in the doorpost. However, when questioned, the shop's owner could not recall who had purchased the handkerchiefs, because they were a popular item, and he was a half-deaf myopic old man.
The case of Fattoria Montecchio extra virgin olive oil was next, and still something of a shock for him. Probably the finest olive oil in all of Tuscany; hand-picked, farm-milled and stored in earthenware jars until it's transferred into the dark green glass bottles which are the trademark of really great olio. The shock was two-fold, one being the cost associated with such a thing (sometimes reaching fourty dollars a bottle in the states) and two being that the sender would have to know that he absolutely adored the stuff and had been keeping a bottle of it to use sparingly in his kitchen for years. But once again, the order itself was completely untraceable; Fattoria Montecchio was carried by retailers all over the globe.
The next package was far more mundane, containing only programs and a poster from the Pamplona Bull Ring and a book on the Festival of San Fermin. He was certain the print lab would be able to turn up something on the contents of that package, given the nature of the items, but there was not a single print. It was almost as though they were taken straight from a press and no human hand had ever touched them. When the lab declared the contents void of any trace, he quickly leafed through the book, and then settled down to spend the weekend reading one of his favorite novels, The Sun Also Rises. As he was about to finish the book, he suddenly realized the meaning of the package, and he was certain that whoever was sending them, had studied him very well.
The Herbes de'Provence were a total waste. He would have loved to use them, because the scent told him they were very high quality, but by the time the kids in the lab got done with the package, he was left with nothing but an evidence bag of loose, highly irradiated weeds.
The dried arrangement of Edelweiss was probably the most confusing package he had received, so far. Not being someone accustomed to receiving flowers at all, it seemed to go completely against the grain with the other packages where each one related to a specific detail in his life. Rossi decided to refer to the fuzzy white alpine flowers as the red herring in the mix.
But tonight, sitting there in his office, staring at the unwrapped bottle of House of Hine Triomphe Cognac, David Rossi was totally dumbfounded. He could count on one hand, with fingers to spare, the people who knew that he usually kept a bottle of the very expensive, Queen's own Cognac to enjoy a single snifter whenever he completed a book. He actually kept it in a secret compartment in his library just to be sure no one else had a chance to enjoy it. He kept the Hennessey out in the open for guests and casual drinks, but the Triomphe was special.
J.J. listened as Rossi went through the list with the team (leaving out the bit about the Cognac he told her and Hotch about beforehand). Morgan was still shaking his head when Rossi was done. "It just doesn't make any sense, Rossi. Fancy olive oil, bull fighting junk, red hankies, spices and a bunch of dried flowers?" Always the one to try for a joke, J.J. wasn't surprised when Morgan attempted levity. "Are you sure it's not just some lovesick guy in the mailroom?" The others merely groaned at Morgan's question.
Garcia rolled her eyes at Morgan's flippant theory. "Oh please, like any self-respecting gay man would send something as off the wall an alpine flower treatment to an Italian stallion like Rossi." Everyone laughed at Garcia's comment.
"Actually, Edelweiss has a long tradition in the Alpine countries of Austria and Switzerland. It has widely been considered as a sign of bravery and a test of worth for young men to climb the tallest peaks in order to obtain a bouquet of Edelweiss for their intended." Spencer could always be counted on to bring an obscure reference of legend or folklore to the conversation. "It was a means with which to woo their mates in a show of bravado, by bringing something beautiful and rare to them. Kind of like a test of their love for the other."
They bantered back and forth like that for more than an hour, no one really coming up with anything useful. Hotch thanked J.J. for sitting in on the meeting and hoped that she might be able to turn up something through her connections in the State Department. As she got up to leave the briefing room, J.J. watched Rossi, noting that he had been oddly quiet since Spencer's little courtship tradition lecture.
On the phone with the Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs as she signed out at the front desk, J.J. nodded at the guards and then made her way out the door. Still on the phone when he reached the open air, J.J. dug into the front of her briefcase and found another cellphone. She flipped it open and began typing out a message as she continued to deal with the Deputy Secretary.
It never occurred to her that working for the State Department would involve more butt wiping at work than she ever encountered as a mother, but there she was cleaning up two messes at the same time. The first one was easy. The Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs was nothing short of a media whore, and she just had to do her best to limit his camera time, or incur the wrath of her boss. At present, she was trying to convince him that the constitutional discussion taking place among several African nations was of far greater significance than another disastrous appearance on Meet the Press.
The second mess… Well, that was going to take a lot more of her attention than she wanted to admit. The first thing on her agenda was dealing with those damn packages. As if on cue, her second cellphone chirped back with the response she was hoping for. Now she just had to get rid of the media whore before the call came through. "No, Mr. Deputy Secretary, I don't think this is a good time for you to appear on national television, for a talk show, in which you will discuss your achievements in helping spread democracy while other people are actually working to bring democracy to African nations… Because actions speak louder than sound bites, sir… If you actually DID something, the cameras would come looking for you, instead of the other way around, sir."
She was relieved when the pompous windbag finally got a clue. "Yes, sir… I'll be sure the plane is ready when you get there." Hanging up the phone, J.J. looked around to make sure no one was near her in the parking lot. A nervous habit, perhaps, but a necessary one as well.
No sooner did she close the door to her car, than her second cellphone began to vibrate with a call. Without standing on formalities, she answered the call, "What, are you trying to screw this up?"
Something had been eating at him ever since the meeting with the team to discuss his apparent secret admirer. He was having trouble pinpointing exactly what it was, but whatever it was just didn't sit right with him. But Rossi did what he always did when he was struggling with a particularly troublesome dilemma; he cooked.
He hadn't made his Nonna's cioppino in quite a while, and since it was his favorite comfort food, and that crate of olive oil was just sitting there in his kitchen going to waste, it just seemed like the logical course of action. There was something about a good cioppino that helped to settle his mind and warm his soul, and he was pretty sure there was some kind of Italian luck or magic in the unique blend of tastes in that seafood stew. Whatever it was, he liked it, and he especially liked to share it, which is why he was making a little more than he would need. While he wasn't sure how Jack would react to it, Hotch would enjoy a nice pot of cioppino.
Stirring the steaming pot, Dave breathed in the aromas and closed his eyes for a moment, transporting himself back to his grandmother's kitchen. Bay leaves and fresh basil always made him think of her, but the rich smell of great olive oil was really doing a number on his memories tonight. So many of his favorite memories could be tied to the kitchen and good food. Memories of friends and family alike flooded his thoughts as the kitchen filled with the scent of the cioppino. Old and new, here and gone, many of the people in his life had sat down to share a bowl with him, but it was the ones who were gone that occupied his mind tonight. One in particular, anyway.
The last time he made cioppino was for Prentiss. She was having a rough week and he wanted to do something that would help to take her mind off it, and given her time in Italy, he knew she appreciated the food better than most. After half a bowl of his Nonna's cioppino (and a couple glasses of wine), he had gotten her to tell him what was bothering her. It seemed that her father was forced to cancel a visit because of something her mother was doing and she was not happy about it.
He tried to make the best out of it, and Dave had to admit that he probably got more out of the dinner than Emily did. She rarely opened up to anyone, and never completely, but Dave actually respected her for that. With so many people flooding the internet with the intimate details of their every move and thought, it was refreshing to talk to someone who had turned holding back into an art form. In fact, Dave saw Emily as a challenge. Drawing her out of those carefully constructed walls had become his life's mission. Sadly, it seemed to have been a failed mission.
That thought only deepened his melancholy the likes of which even his Nonna's stew couldn't lift. What he really needed to lift his spirits was a little of those other spirits still sitting in the lab at Quantico. He would have to console himself with the inferior bottle of Cognac sitting in his liquor cabinet instead.
Normally an after dinner drink, Dave decided tonight was special. Today, the great detective and profiler was a total failure. He couldn't think of a single soul capable of putting all those pieces of his life together in order to send him such a varied array of packages. Then again, he also hadn't been able to see that Prentiss was in trouble before she paid the ultimate price. And his interrogation skills were obviously lacking when he didn't get what he needed from Fahey, or from Prentiss, in order to stop the chain of events which devastated his entire team. David Rossi was currently batting zero, and he deserved a good drink.
He poured the golden liquid into the antique snifter and hoped it would do something to warm that cold spot forming in his heart. Swirling it around in the glass to allow it some air, Dave was still trying to figure out exactly what was eating at the back of his mind. There was something about the meeting today that triggered a thought, but he had yet to deduce what it was.
Walking absently back to the kitchen, snifter in one hand, bottle of Hennessy in the other, he was stopped by the ringing of his doorbell. He stared at the door for a moment, wondering what had happened to his gate alarm, but he approached the door, none the less. A quick look at the security camera told him who was waiting on the other side, but even then he was a little surprised.
Tucking the bottle under his other arm, Dave reached out to open the door. And there stood Jennifer Jareau, leaning one hand on the doorjamb, the other resting impatiently on her hip. She immediately noticed the bottle under his arm and the glass in his hand when she said, "I sure hope you've got one of those for me." Her tired smile told Dave that she was only half kidding.
"To what do I owe this honor…" he glanced at his watch, "…at this hour?"
She met his question with an almost shy smile, and Dave knew something was up. "Would you believe it's only a social call?"
Knowing her appearance was anything but social, his brow began to climb to the middle of his forehead as she stepped into the foyer. The gears began working in his mind. "No…" He closed the door once she was safely inside. "No, I wouldn't believe that at all."
J.J. chuffed at his reply and rolled her eyes. "I guess that works, too. I've had about all the small talk I can stand for today, anyway."
"I suppose that makes us even." The gears were rolling along nicely now. An unannounced appearance by J.J. on his doorstep helped to make those gears snap into place. "Because I've had about all I can take with mystery arrivals."
Nodding her head and tightening her lips into a fine line, Dave's guess was given weight. J.J. knew something about his special deliveries, and that something probably wasn't good. "Yeah, kind of a mess, isn't it?"
"Why don't you tell me?" The profiler was back, in rare form, as he tried to catalog her body language, but it was all for naught.
"Why don't you share a little of whatever smells so great in there, and let's see if we can't clean up this mess together?" Rossi stared at her for a few moments, the stony unreadable expression playing over his face, before he nodded and directed her into the kitchen.
The Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful places in all of Rome, but on a warm Friday evening it's completely packed. However, one block off of the piazza is the peaceful and calm Italy she always loved.
The Ponte e Parione wasn't much as far as restaurants go in Italy, but it was still her favorite. A few tables outside with a single umbrella to shade the midday sun and a simple stretch of iron fencing with some clay flower boxes hanging from them were typical for many eateries throughout Rome. Angelo always seated her in the same corner of the patio where she always sat.
Rome was probably not the wisest of places for her to rest a while, but everywhere she went seemed to be crawling with people associated with Ian's world. She spotted one of his trigger men in a trattoria at the end of her week in Tuscany. In Pamplona there was a maid in her hotel she recognized as having worked for Ian. In Berne, she was afraid that every financial transaction she made would be monitored by one of Ian's network of accountants and bankers. At least in Rome she had the advantage, Rome was her city, and she knew it better than most anyone. The hardest part about being in Rome was not being herself.
Her hair was only a small part of the changes Emily had made to avoid detection during her exile. It was more than short, it was practically shaved, but she liked the freedom it gave her. She also liked that it made wearing those wigs a whole lot easier. She had also changed her wardrobe from modest but fitting suits with sweaters and scarves galore to frilly dresses and short skirts with lots of leg. Everyone was too busy looking at her legs to ever notice her face. The only modesty she showed anymore was in her sudden fascination with turtleneck tops. As her hand consciously reached up to make certain the collar of her shirt was at her neck, she cursed Ian under her breath once again.
The waiter brought her cappuccino and pastry, disrupting her thoughts for a few moments. Looking down at the La Sfogliatella sitting on her plate, she wondered if she would ever be able to finish one again. Her recovery had been slow, thanks to all her moving around, and her appetite had yet to return. As a girl, she could recall eating three of these rich desserts before starting to get sick, but now she would be lucky to finish half the pastry.
As she reached for the cappuccino, the phone in her purse began to chirp. There were actually two phones in her purse, but the one displaying a new message could only be from one person. And the message she found on there made it perfectly clear that person was not happy.
"He knows. The State Dept Pony Express is closed."
The message could not have been anymore clear. She closed up the phone and put her napkin over the plate, which immediately brought the waiter to her table. She assured him her untouched pastry had nothing to do with the food or the service then she left her money on the table and tucked her purse under her arm before leaving the restaurant.
The message left her feeling even more lost than before. Her conversation with J.J. had been difficult, but necessary. She knew sending the packages was a bad idea, and she tried to stop herself every time, but it never seemed to work.
She had grown used to having people to lean on, and being totally on her own once again left her with a strong desire to connect to someone. J.J. and Hotch were far too big a risk. They had families, and besides, Ian would naturally look more closely at them to try and find her. Spencer was too honest and emotional to handle the information, and she was afraid it would hurt him more than anything else. Derrick was far too pig-headed to let her be and to respect the need for her exile; he would try to fix it. Garcia would hate her for the deception, and while she would be able to get over it (if the exile could ever end), keeping her away would be impossible if she knew. Seaver was a non-issue, and that left Rossi. Rossi could handle the information, and she had wanted him told from the beginning, but the powers that be felt differently.
Rossi had been her go to guy for some time. He seemed to have this knack for spotting when she was going through a rough spot, and he was always there with a few words of wisdom, or a container of cioppino to chase the demons away. Walking through the crowds of people in the Piazza Navona, ever watchful for a wrong move or a familiar face, she made her way back to the little flat she had rented as she thought about her motives for sending Rossi those packages.
First and foremost, she sent them because she knew they were things that only he would enjoy. She knew how much he loved to cook, and after taking a tour of the estate where the olive oil was produced, she just couldn't help herself. Finding those red handkerchiefs was a stroke of luck, and she hoped it was the same millinery Rossi had mentioned when they talked about them at the last FBI PR event they had both been forced to attend. From there it just snowballed, and everywhere she went there were things that reminded her of him, and of the times they had shared. Her other motives were less clear, but it was obvious to her that she needed to deal with them before this mess got everyone in a lot of trouble.
Looking over her shoulder as she rounded the corner leading her out of the piazza and down a side street, Emily was careful to check for any followers. Even without Ian's people looking for her, the city of Rome was far from safe, especially for a woman walking alone at night. Stopping in an alcove to check one last time for anyone following her, she leaned against the sandstone entryway and sighed. She was just so tired of running, of hiding from Ian and from herself.
Once she was sure she wasn't being followed, Emily pushed away from the wall and went on her way. Careful to take an indirect route, she walked along another street before turning again and picking her way to an empty alley. Her modest building was around the corner from the end of the alley, and she was anxious to get back there. She hadn't gotten a decent night's sleep since long before her stint in the hospital, and all of it was really starting to show.
She just wanted to take a long hot shower in her own place, not have to look over her shoulder every five seconds, and to be able to trust someone, anyone again. But more than anything else, she wanted her life back; she wanted to be Emily Prentiss again. She wanted to dread visits from her mother, to tease Spencer, gossip with Garcia, needle Derrick, and intellectually spar with Rossi. She also wanted to watch Rossi work to make Hotch have to hide his smile at the whole thing. It was always so much fun to watch Rossi get under people's skin like that, and she missed it more than she cared to acknowledge.
Going in through the side door, she doubled back to make sure there was no one out in front of the building looking for her, before she quietly slipped up the stairs. Once inside her flat she quickly locked and bolted the door, sliding the security chain into place as she leaned her forehead against the smooth wood with a heaving sigh. She was so tired of the whole damn thing. She just wanted to melt into someone's embrace and have them tell her it was all going to be all right. She wanted it all to be a dream, but instead it was a living, waking nightmare, where she was the target and hiding was the best thing she could do to keep them all safe.
She kicked off her shoes as she walked to the window to draw the curtains. The soft night breeze would be nice to air out the flat, but the safety of the dark curtains blocking all of the light from the street held a stronger appeal. With the heavy curtains securely in place, Emily finally turned on a solitary lamp. The room was spartan and devoid of anything personal to mark it as hers. The walls were bare, the furniture came with the flat, and there wasn't a single feminine touch in the room. A bed in the corner, a chaise near the bathroom and the semblance of kitchenette in the far corner, all added up to a far cry from what she normally called home. Even her apartment in grad school was bigger than the space she now called home.
At least, she was calling it home this week.
The constant moving around was beginning to take its toll. Even jumping around the country with the team wasn't as disruptive as moving her entire, yet meager life whenever she felt fear begin to set in again. She had always thought working alone was what she wanted, but being completely cut off from everyone and everything, with only her own wits to keep her alive had proved far less appealing in the stark reality of current life.
She tried to calm her nerves with a shower, but the barely warm water that trickled from the pipes wasn't enough to wash away her cares and woes. Toweling the water from her hair, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was losing all her color and her cheeks didn't have any fullness to them. Emily knew she had lost weight, but it was really starting to show in her features. She chuffed and decided that it was just one more thing to help hide her identity. Self-consciously her hand dropped down to her breast, and she felt the unnaturally smooth flesh there. The physical pain of the brand was gone, and the lasers did a decent job of hiding it from the casual glance, but she would always know it was there. She would always feel it there.
Deciding her hair was dry enough, she tossed the towel into the hamper with the rest of her clothes and softly padded over to the bed. It was still fairly early, but she was simply exhausted. She quietly slipped between the covers and settled her head upon the pillow. Facing the door, she opened the night stand and took the gun from inside, resting it just below the pillow on the bed, with her hand covering it. Not only was there no one there to hold her, there was no one there to watch the door. Sleep would come, but only in fleeting moments.
She just wanted one night with someone to watch over her. Someone who would make her feel safe, allow her the freedom to breathe, to tell her funny stories, to make her laugh again. And as her eyelids began to grow impossibly heavy, she knew what the other reasons were behind sending the packages to Rossi, and the realization that it was all too late drove a tear from her eye as it closed.