Chapter One

"Agent Down!"

The deep battle cry of a fallen comrade...were there any worse words an agent could hear spoken?

She'd heard the words intoned over the years with varying degrees of emotion. A panicked cry transmitted over a radio wire...hysterically yelled in the heat of a shootout by a partner so close that you could call them "brother"...solemnly spoken when there was no hope. Hell, she'd even been forced to pronounce them herself a couple of times during the course of her career.

At the time, she'd thought there could be nothing worse than making that call to arms.

She was wrong.

As it turned out, actually being the agent down was not exactly a walk in the park, either.

It happened in a blink. In the moment it took to inhale a turn her head. Quickly, with only the barest whisper of sound.

One moment, she'd been preparing to address her units and make them aware of her impending Bureau retirement in the banquet hall of the Radisson, impatiently waiting for the dull roar of irritated voices to dissipate...wondering if she should serve red or white wine with the grilled trout for dinner...whether the dry cleaner had been able to get the catsup stain out of her favorite turquoise blouse...the next, she'd heard a familiar deep voice yell, "Gun!" and felt the impact of David Rossi's heavier body slam into her, made even heavier by Aaron Hotchner's body falling into him.

Dimly, she wondered if being hit by a ton of bricks might have been less painful, but she quickly realized that it wasn't the weight shielding her causing that searing ache in her chest so much as the interloping bullet now lodged in her body.

"Erin! Open your damn eyes!" she heard him bark as his hands tamped down tightly on her chest. "Erin!"

Open her eyes? Well, she supposed that could explain the darkness surrounding her. Forcing her eyelids to flutter open took almost more will than she had, but something in the urgency of his tone made her obey his command. Not something she would ever normally do...not with him.

She'd hate for him to think she actually listened to him.

"C'mon, Erin," Dave growled, glancing down at his hands as her blood pulsed around them. "Fight!" he commanded her desperately, the flow of her blood running past his splayed fingers, the red color contrasting obscenely with the crisp white color of her blouse.

"When have we ever done anything else?" she managed to wheeze past the pain, her mouth tasting copper. God, this was bad, she thought wildly, her brain registering just enough to know the score. Didn't that mean the bullet had pierced a lung? Peering up at him, what she saw in his normally hooded gaze worried her more, however. "How bad?" she gasped, the burning pain worsening exponentially as his strong hands pressed harder against the wound.

"You'll be fine," he automatically replied, glancing back down at the bullet hole marring her skin. "Medics?" he growled at Hotch over his shoulder.

"En route, Dave," Hotch replied, pressing the phone against his ear. "You got this?" he asked, looking over Dave's shoulder at the felled Section Chief.

"Go," Dave ordered. "Get this place locked down!" Turning back to Strauss, he frowned down at her. "Who've you pissed off now, Erin? Narrow down my suspect list for me."

"Are you actually trying to pick a fight with me? Now?" she asked weakly, his face wavering in front of her eyes.

Watching her pupils contract, Dave's heart beat faster. "You can't blame me for asking. There're a lot of people that have wanted you dead over the years."

"Like you," she breathed, coughing a little, that simple action sending a new wave of pain through her body.

Eyes darkening, Dave's gaze softened. "Not always. There was a time when you weren't a bitch," he reminded her, as memories of them laughing...loving...flashed through his mind. It hadn't always been bad. When it had been good, it had been heaven.

"And you weren't such an ass either," she returned, the effort of talking costing her, her breaths coming tightly. "I'm cold, David," she whispered as fear began to weave into her thready voice.

"It's the blood loss, Bella," Dave replied gently, easily reverting to the endearment he'd used for her when times had been good, "That's all it is," he soothed, silently willing the blood flow to ebb, mutely making deals with his God to spare her. "You just focus on me."

And dazed by the pain, Erin felt herself begin to drift away.


"Come on, Blondie," David Rossi smirked, weaving around her body in the gymnasium that served as their sparring field. "Focus!" he sneered, dodging her small fist as she attempted to land another blow. "It's called hand to hand combat, Bella!"

Narrowing her eyes on his smug, arrogant face, Erin turned her body suddenly, trying capture him off guard. All she needed was one moment to plant her fist dead center in the middle of that cocky mouth of his.

"Focus, Erin!" Dave goaded her again. "This is the last'd hate to have to carry that prim little ass of yours back to Podunk, wouldn't you?"

Oh, what the hell had possessed her to partner with this infuriating man for drills, she asked herself as they circled each other again. Why was he even in this class? As a prior Marine, couldn't he have opted out? Better yet, why had she ever allowed herself to fall in love with such a smug bastard?

"Oh, well," he grinned, shrugging in front of her as he stood nonchalantly, "I hear they're always hiring secretaries at the Bureau. Maybe you could..."

Finding her opportunity, her fist shot out with the force of a bullet, drilling his nose as her foot swept his feet out from under him. Pinning him effortlessly, she grinned down at him a second later.

Returning her smile, Dave chuckled. "You know, if you wanted me flat on my back, all you had to do was ask nicely."

"I'll leave that to the coeds on the sidelines," Erin shot back, balancing her weight on her heels as she pressed her hand into his chest. "I hear you have quite the following to choose from."

"Is it my fault that they find me irresistible?"

Rolling her eyes, Erin pressed her weight hard into his muscled chest as she leaned forward. "That's just because they don't know you like I do, Dave. I've developed immunity to your bullshit now."

And in the blink of an eye, she suddenly felt herself flipping, shock rolling through her as she landed on her back on the mat. Wincing as her shoulders flexed, she stared up into his dark eyes as he landed on top of her.

"Immunity doesn't mean you're still not vulnerable, now does it?" he asked almost conversationally as he arched one brow, reaching out to pat her cheek in triumph. "Some things are never going to change."