Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.
- Arthur Golden
It comes to him in pieces as he looks up at the cloudy sky. The case. The plane. Alaska. It had all exhausted him, and Rossi had unapologetically, somehow, managed to fall asleep in the time it took between takeoff and right now. He has no idea what happened or how he got here. All he knows for sure is, something isn't right.
Somehow, he is in the middle of the woods. It's cold. A steady rain has started to fall, and thunder and lightening boom and flash all around him. Rossi stands and tries to get his bearings. If he can figure out where the hell he is, then maybe he can piece together what happened.
He listens, and hears an unnatural quiet, but for the storm. When he tries to move, Rossi feels a bone-deep ache as if everything inside him has been jerked or crunched.
All at once, other sounds began to register. Raised voices. Screams.
"I'm fine! I'm fine! Where are JJ and Emily?"
Rossi gets up and staggers toward the sound of the noise. He finds what he should have noticed all along. Their little floatplane in pieces. The stink of fuel and flames being doused here and there by the rain.
He goes down a mental checklist, counting off his team. He finds Reid first, as Reid was the one who had spoken. He has a ragged scrap of Derek's tee shirt tied around his forehead as a makeshift bandage. That must mean Derek is around here somewhere. Hopefully safe.
"Are you okay?" Rossi calls.
"Yeah!" Reid replies to be heard over the storm raging and the wreckage groaning. "We have to go help! We've got to find them!"
Rossi blinks. He doesn't think it's wise to point out that right now, he can't find anyone other than Reid. And then, on closer inspection, he sees Hotch, moving slowly away from the plane, as if in a daze.
"Come on, Garcia! Leave it! We gotta go!" Derek calls over the commotion. He is bare-chested and Rossi wonders where the rest of his shirt is. Did it vaporize? Squinting, he notices a piece around Derek's own forearm. Stunned, Rossi recognizes a piece of Derek's shirt wrapped around one of Rossi's hands. He hadn't even noticed he was injured.
Rossi squints in the rain to see her struggling with a carry-on.
"I can't leave this!"
"Yes, you can! And you're gonna have to! This thing's gonna blow. Now stop fighting me on this, woman, and run!" Derek says, giving her a hard shove away from the plane.
Rossi is shocked when he sees her strap the bag to her back and run hard. She doesn't have shoes on. He remembers how she likes her feet to be free on long flights. Absently, he wonders if that's what she has in the bag.
Shaking his head, to clear it, Rossi goes to Reid first. "Go with Penelope!" Thunder cracks above them. "Stay away from the plane and away from each other! Crouch on the ground with your head down! Don't touch each other, and don't move until I come for you!" he instructs. "Derek! Take Hotch with you! Run as hard as you can that way! Spencer will tell you what to do!"
For once, Derek complies without a fight.
Taking a deep breath, Rossi rushes toward the plane - toward the danger and the searing heat. He hasn't seen them from his current position, so he rushes around to the other side of the wreckage.
Streaked with dirt and water, JJ is squatting, her hiking boots digging into the fresh earth. All her muscles are taut. She is pulling on something. No, not something. Someone.
As Rossi comes closer, he can see one of Emily's hands - nails bitten to the quick. He can hear her choking. Screaming in pain.
"I can't get to her. I tried, but the opening... It's not big enough..." JJ is strangely calm, relaying this information. When he encourages her to step away - to get to safety away from the plane - she refuses.
"I promised," she said simply as lightening flashes too close for comfort.
Rossi gets to work, widening the hole where Emily's hand is protruding. It reminds him of digging through rubble after an earthquake. It's hard. Everything's slippery. It's dark. He can't see what he's doing. And his damn hand hasn't stopped throbbing. What the hell is wrong with it, anyway?
"What can we do?" Spencer asks, apparently leading the team back to the burning plane, and away from their best chance at survival.
Rossi doesn't bother to turn. Emily doesn't have time for conversations to happen while she is trapped. He keeps removing debris while JJ keeps Emily talking. Keeps doing what she can to clear away broken pieces of plane. Keeps trying to pull Emily free of the wreckage.
"We need to widen this!" JJ passes along, and just like that, they get to work. Penelope in her black clothes and red gloves. Derek, still naked from the waist up. Hotch, looking stunned and determined, and Spencer determinedly trying to create some type of system so that the plane won't shift and crush their friend.
Just like that, they are a team. United in this one thing. This one effort. The only common goal they ever work for: to save a life. To stay together. But, Rossi knows, they don't do this because it's their job. They do this because they are family. They can no sooner abandon Emily as they could a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter - to an awful fate like this.
Pain slices through his hands but Rossi perseveres. He can see more and more of Emily now. He can see just what he needs to move in order to get her out.
But that will take time, Rossi knows. And he prays that Emily has the time to take.
Rossi is exhausted. His hands are bloody. His body aches and he is drenched by the time they are able to pull Emily free.
Derek gets a hold of her and gives her a firm yank. She screams and it's such an agonized sound that for a moment, Derek stops. But her voice, inside the shell of the plane, is determined.
"Derek...for God's sake...don't stop!"
Then, he does not hesitate. Determination shines in his eyes, as he braces himself for what he needs to do. He plants his feet and drags her out, inch by inch until they can see all of her. Without anything left to fight against, Derek falls backward in the mud.
One of Emily's legs is bloody and badly burned. Her black slacks are melted to her skin. Her face is streaked with gray. She is shaking. Wracked with terrible coughing, but she is out. JJ has, somehow, never let go of her hand.
"It's okay... We've got you... It's okay now..." JJ reassures gently, Emily's head resting in her lap.
The plane groans, and Rossi glances up. For the first time, he registers that they crashed on an incline. In addition to the risk they ran of being too near this thing when it exploded, now they also had to worry about it skidding down its hill and crushing them.
"Move! Now!" he shouts, in a voice that leaves no room for argument.
That's all they have before the plane started its descent. They run hard into the woods - Derek carrying Emily - because right now, the woods are their only option.
And Rossi can do nothing but watch from a distance as their only way out of this mess rolls down the hill and bursts into flame, taking their pilot with it.
He crouches on the ground, praying to a God he believes in more often than he doubts. Prays that this is over soon. Prays that somehow, his team is safe. He counts them off in his head, imagining them taking cover various places. He hopes they remember his direction. Hopes they don't do what feels most natural and lie on the ground - making themselves a larger target for lightening to strike.
He hopes they are brave enough to not huddle together like their instinct would have them do, but instead, ride the storm out alone. Rossi hopes like hell that rescue comes before it is too late.