The characters and situations in this story belong to Jeff Davis, The Mark Gordon Co., CBS, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: through From Childhood's Hour.
My entry into this fandom is entirely due to Mingsmommy and Smacky30, so this fic is dedicated to both of those gracious ladies. Also, Smacky beta'd most of this thing on no notice, for which I am very grateful! *grin*
Note: I am not familiar enough with the area to choose an appropriate park, so Lilybrook is my own invention, drawing heavily on Brookside Gardens (which fans of my earlier work may recognize).
She was trying on one of her new acquisitions, just to see how the low boots worked with her date slacks, when her cell chimed. Emily sighed, made one last turn in front of the mirror, and walked across her bedroom to answer her insistent phone.
"Please don't say it's a call-in," she muttered as she picked up the device. On-call meant twenty-four-seven availability, of course, but it was a gorgeous Saturday and they'd just got back from a successful case, and she simply wasn't in the mood. "Pleeeease, J.J., not today - "
But it wasn't her friend's smile beaming up at her from the phone's screen; it was Rossi's face instead, caught in a slightly goofy moment of amusement that she'd taken ruthless advantage of with the cell's camera. Slightly puzzled - it was rare to hear from him off-hours - Emily answered the call. "Hey, Rossi."
She was not expecting the tautness of the voice that replied. "Prentiss. Are you free this afternoon?"
His tone made her smile fade. "I can be." She shifted from foot to foot, absently feeling out the boots. "What's up?"
Rossi sighed harshly. "I need…I need an ear, I guess."
Emily's brows went up. "I've got two of them." She did not ask him what had happened, but it was pretty easy to deduce. I guess the date didn't go so well after all.
"Can you meet me? Say at Lilybrook Park?"
The choice of location made her blink, but Emily didn't hesitate. "Forty-five minutes, and you're buying the coffee."
Thirty-nine minutes later she crossed the green expanse of the Lilybrook lawn, still lush despite the crisp autumn air, and sat down on the wooden bench already claimed by Rossi. He handed her a coffee cup without looking at her, gaze apparently fixed on the far side of the park's wide koi pond. "Thanks for coming."
Emily leaned back, draping one arm over the back of the bench, and sipped the fragrant brew; by now they all had each other's coffee preferences by heart, and she knew his own cup contained the dark roast he loved, just as she was confident he'd remembered she took her milk soy. "And now you're having second thoughts."
Rossi's snort was half a laugh, and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and holding his cup loosely with both hands. "We know each other entirely too well."
Emily grinned a little, and took another swallow. "Thems the breaks."
She could see the curl of his smirk even from the side, but he said nothing, and neither did Emily, allowing the silence to stretch. It really was a beautiful day, the best autumn could offer and far too rare; the sun was warm and the temperature cool, and a gentle wind kept the air fresh and ruffled the surface of the koi pond. Plenty of people were enjoying the park, but the bench Rossi had picked sat by itself away from the paths, giving them an oasis of privacy. Emily had no doubt that he'd chosen it deliberately.
"I don't know where to start," he said at last, still looking across the water.
Emily stretched out her legs and crossed them at the ankles, admiring the dark red of the boots' leather, and kept her voice gentle. "You and Carolyn didn't hit it off after all?"
His laugh was without humor this time. "Have you ever had one of those conversations where it turns out you and the other person really weren't talking about the same thing at all?"
"Yup." The coffee was very good, but cooling fast.
Rossi nodded, and sat up, wiping his palms on his thighs. He was as natty as ever, she saw, but he looked dragged out, as if he hadn't slept much. Or at all. In the back of her mind, a small irrational anger began to grow, directed at his ex.
He blew out an explosive breath, and finally turned to face her, and her spine stiffened at the agony in his eyes. "I'm about to betray a confidence," he said quietly. "But I don't have time to work this out on my own."
Emily didn't look away, or hesitate. "How can I help?"
Rossi licked his lips, the cup apparently forgotten in his hand. "Carolyn…wasn't interested in a relationship, exactly." He hesitated, and Emily restrained her impatience; it wasn't like him to dance around a subject. "At least not the kind I was thinking of."
Emily kept her voice dry. "Is she pregnant?"
Rossi sputtered a surprised laugh, and she smiled behind the rim of her cup. "Hardly. No…" The humor drained away, revealing again the dreadful pain. "She's dying."
The bottom dropped out of Emily's stomach, and she reacted on instinct, sitting up and reaching for his hand. "Oh, no. Dave, I'm so sorry."
The wrap of his warm, slightly rough fingers around hers she expected; his continued grip she did not. In fact, the clasp was too tight, as if her hand was an unexpected lifeline, and he was staring over her shoulder, gaze far away again. "It's ALS. The symptoms are just setting in, but…but she has reason to think it will…progress. Rapidly." He swallowed.
On some level, she wanted to hug him, but their relationship had never included that kind of gesture; Emily settled for keeping her own grip steady. "That's heartbreaking."
Rossi looked back at her, one corner of his mouth twitching slightly. "Yes. But it's not why I asked you to meet me."
Emily tilted her head, wondering if he was ever going to get to the point, but said nothing, and after a moment he drew in air and went on. "She…wants me, when the time comes, to help her die."
Her first reaction was outrage. The idea of putting that kind of burden on someone offended Emily deeply. They're not even a couple any more - haven't been for years!
But she kept a rein on her temper, and thought past it. It's a gesture of trust, she pointed out to herself. And need. Rossi had never had much to say about his ex-wives as individuals, but of the few comments he'd made, those about his first had always been complimentary.
"I…don't know what to say," Emily admitted after a moment. "For one thing, that could get you into a hell of a lot of trouble - "
Rossi shook his head tiredly, gesturing with his cup. "Never mind the legalities, they're not an issue, at least for the purposes of this discussion." He smiled briefly, wryly. "One of the benefits of money is a really good lawyer."
A lawyer wouldn't do him much good with the Bureau, but Emily reminded herself that Rossi worked because he chose to, not because he had to. "Well." She tried to organize her thoughts, but the first thing that came out of her mouth was "Doesn't she have anyone else who could help her?"
"Not this way." His thumb was rubbing the back of her hand, but she didn't think he was aware of the gesture.
Emily took a controlled breath and told herself to treat this like a case. "It's not a reasonable request. For her to make of you, I mean."
His expression was briefly the amused condescension he used when he was feeling like an adult to the rest of the team's children. It annoyed her. "Life isn't fair."
"Says the man who works for the Justice Department." She almost shook off his hand.
"Touché." And she couldn't do it, couldn't let him go, not with the pain and - now she saw it - the grief, so starkly written on his face. Emily sighed.
"I guess the question is whether you can stand to do it." She set her cup aside and surrounded his hand with both of hers. "Because I can see her asking for help, but not at the expense of your…"
She wasn't sure what word to use. Life was too encompassing, sanity too melodramatic; the one that rose to her lips was awkward, but fitting. "…Soul."
His arched brow was an acknowledgment of all the term's meanings. "I made her a promise, a long time ago." His voice went bitter. "But, God's honest truth, I'm not sure I'm capable of keeping it. It's not as though I kept any of the others."
"You were different then," Emily said, then shook her own head. Are you really trying to encourage him? In what world is this a good idea? It wasn't as if she had any firm opinion on the issue of human euthanasia, but in the abstract was one thing; helping someone kill themselves was quite another.
She could see that the moral question was up to him. It was the fact of Rossi having to make the choice that turned her stomach.
His other hand settled on top of hers, oddly reassuring even as she tried to give him comfort. "I'm not sure there is a good answer here," he began.
"There definitely isn't," Emily growled, which made his smile flicker briefly.
"What would you do?" Rossi shrugged, looking abashed at her affronted stare. "Hypothetically."
She was tempted to snap Nothing back at him, but it was an honest question, if no more fair than Carolyn's request. But she had a hard time thinking of someone who'd make it of her, someone close enough to beg such a terrible favor.
It's pretty sad, actually. All her friends from her old life were dead, or underground; and she couldn't imagine J.J. or Garcia turning to her in this kind of extremity. Her mother…perhaps.
Emily tried to picture it, standing over the Ambassador's bed as her mother cut ties to life, but the image wouldn't jell. She flipped the concept around; in pain, with no out, could she herself make such a request?
I've done pain. I know what it's like.
"I'd turn them down," she said at last. "I think. It just doesn't feel right."
His mouth curled up again, more sad than amused. "I'm not surprised, actually. You're a fighter, Emily. Even when it's hopeless, you don't give up."
"Neither do you," she pointed out. "You didn't keep that bracelet all those years for nothing."
"True again." Rossi looked down at their hands.
Emily sighed. "Rossi, I can't answer this question for you. You and Carolyn have a relationship that goes back decades." She let her fingers tighten. Underneath all the concern and anger, the lizard part of her backbrain was reflecting on how good his grasp felt, and how being this close to him brought her a hint of his scent, but she pushed it aside. She'd always found him attractive, but this was no time for instincts. "It has to be your choice."
He nodded, almost absently, and said nothing for a moment. Emily looked down herself; her hands were all but covered by one of Rossi's, though hers were not small, and it occurred to her that in some ways it was typical of the man - that even in seeking comfort, he tried to give it as well, whether consciously or not.
When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper. "I was so eager to get back together with her. Make promises again. Could I do that, but not keep this one?"
The question didn't seem to be directed at her. Rossi's head was bent, as if Carolyn's request were an actual weight, and Emily bit her lip. Nothing she could think of seemed appropriate, or even remotely useful.
But then, it didn't seem as if she needed to say anything. For a while they just sat, hands still joined, the breeze tickling strands of her hair and the sun warming the nape of her neck. The world was green and gold around them, and the day had never heard of death, or impossible choices.
At last Rossi straightened. He still looked strained and stricken, but without the terrible edge of before. "That's what it comes down to, I guess," he said, his voice steadier, but again Emily thought that he was at least half speaking to himself. "That's what it is."
His gaze came back from the distance and focused on her face, and his hands squeezed hers gently. "Thank you."
Emily gave him a small smile. "I'm glad I could help." She didn't feel as if she'd done much, but it was hardly the first time she'd been someone's sounding board.
She let him go as he rose. Rossi picked up his coffee cup and looked down at her. "I owe you one, Emily."
"What else are friends for?" She shook her head at him. "Do what you need to. I'll…be thinking of both of you." She had to force the last sentence out, it suddenly felt too intimate, but Rossi didn't seem to notice.
"Yeah." His attempt at a smile faltered, and he sighed. "I'll see you Monday."
"Hopefully," Emily replied dryly, and watched him walk away across the lawn, back the way she'd come. He tossed his cup at a trash can as he passed, then stooped for it as it bounced off the rim and fell to the ground, and she felt her lips twitch, but the momentary amusement dissolved as he deposited the cup and vanished into the parking lot. Poor David. Poor Carolyn…
She wasn't the devout type, hadn't been for years, but Emily let a half-formed prayer fly upward, a wordless plea for the two of them. She was used to death and the destruction of lives, but it still seemed an injustice every time, and doubly so now.
I wonder what his choice will be.
There was nothing to keep her, but the day was still gorgeous, and she didn't feel like leaving just yet. Sighing, Emily turned her face up towards the sun, and closed her eyes.