IMPORTANT NOTE! If you have read this chapter I'm sorry for reposting. The chapter itself has not changed, but I wanted to note that this is the last chapter. I had promised an epilogue but have a major case of writers block, so I am now marking it as complete. A continual thank you for reading, reviewing and adding this story to favorites! Hope you enjoyed the story!
Emily breathed out to fight the ache in her lungs. She would not cease the constant cycle of motion despite the burn and steadily pushed forward. Her shoes pounded across the ground in time to the fast paced music that blared in her ears. Her determined mind was clear of all thoughts except one, and that was to run. She brought her left arm up to take a glance to her running watch and felt a wave of disappointment that her pace had slowed. She welcomed the new burn in her legs as she increased her foot turn over to make up for the time and distance lost by slowing down.
The moment her physical therapist had mentioned she could try running she had made a point to get up early everyday. Emily was determined to push her limits until she passed them. She needed it to help keep her head clear and give her the feeling she was making progress. With the continual flux of new goals the weeks passed faster and the light at the end of the tunnel became more of a tangible objective.
Emily tried to ignore the tightening that began to grip her lungs and she made one last push to get her legs to move faster. No matter how trained she was to recover her breath the lingering effects of the smoke inhalation made themselves known. It was not long before she could not avoid the lack of oxygen she was bringing in. Emily was forced to slow to a fast walk and ran a hand over her head in frustration and defeat. With each painful breath she slowly gained control and the pounding in her chest slowly retreated.
The doctor had warned her that she might continue to have some issues for up to a year. She thought she could decrease that time by forcing her lungs to work harder and conquer the remaining obstacle, but it was proving to be quite the challenge.
As she turned the block that led to her apartment she tucked a few stray strands of hair behind her ear in an attempt to keep the faint breeze from swirling them into her face. The music had become an annoyance and she paused her iPod before she pulled the ear buds out and let them dangle from her shirt. She slowed her pace when she caught sight of a familiar form standing with his back to her and a phone pressed against his ear.
She shook her head but had gotten used to the unannounced visits. When she first got home her first instinct was to fight them as she felt the need to heal to a point she didn't feel helpless, but everyone made it clear from the beginning they were not about to let her deal with her recovery alone. Each one of them gave a degree of support that in their own way helped her more than she would ever be able to express. The journey was far from over but knowing they were there made every step that much easier, and she appreciated that she still had them in her life.
When she was a few feet away she made her presence known, "Morgan?"
He spun quickly at her voice and brought his phone down ending the call.
"What are you doing here so early?" She asked.
"I didn't want you changing your mind and sneaking off without me."
"You could've called." She commented as she moved around him to enter the building.
"That's what I was doing, actually." He said as he followed her lead into the building's lobby.
She paused and squinted at him in curiosity and then pulled her phone from a small pocket in the back of her running pants. She saw the four missed calls and looked back to Derek, "Sorry, guess I was concentrating, I didn't notice my phone."
"Well you can't let that happen anymore."
He smiled at her defensive tone. "Now that you are starting back today, you can't ignore our calls anymore."
"Oh right, funny." She whispered and forced a smile then turned abruptly to climb the stairs to her apartment.
She kept a few paces ahead of Derek but after unlocking the door she held it open to allow him access inside. As she moved down the hall she pointed to her kitchen.
"Make some coffee for yourself, I'm going to get in the shower and get ready."
"Sounds good." He said as he turned away from her to enter the kitchen.
She watched him disappear then quickly slipped into her room and shut the door. Her hand lingered on the wood briefly before she snapped herself out of her daze and moved into the bathroom to start the shower. The small room began to steam slightly as the water warmed up and she stared at herself in the fogging mirror. To her surprise the dark circles that had surrounded her eyes for so long had actually reduced. She had accepted then to just always be there. The small scar on her neck had faded some but like all of her scars held strong reminders that life was a fragile thing. She ran her finger across the raised surface and wanted to continue to cling to the fact she had survived and hoped in the end it had made her stronger.
Emily pushed herself off the counter to turn away from her reflection and climbed into the shower. She stood for a moment and let the hot water pound onto her back then leaned her head back into the downpour and closed her eyes. She tried to allow herself to relax, but it remained an impossible feat, and wondered if it was something she could ever do. She reminded herself that she was going back to work, and couldn't think of a better reason to let the small things go.
Her continual doubt and insecurities repeatedly resurfaced no matter how hard she pushed them down. She could allow herself to be weak for a moment but knew the second the shower was turned off she had to regain her strength. Emily quickly washed away the salt and grim from the unsuccessful run and let the lingering doubts drain with the water.
When she finally emerged and entered the kitchen Derek was at the sink washing out his cup. He set it out to dry and he turned his head when he caught sight of her.
"You ready?" she asked.
He wiped his hand on the dishtowel and smiled to her, "Yup, are you?"
"More than you know." She responded under her breath as she grabbed her bag and keys.
Emily set her pen down and closed the file in front of her with a sigh. She had paused from the menial task to refocus but was pulled from her own thoughts when she felt the weight of a hand run across the top edge of her chair. She tilted her head back to acknowledge the visitor and smiled up to Morgan who had stopped himself between her and Spencer's desk.
"Prentiss, " he smiled down to her, "everything okay?"
She nodded not realizing her frustrated sigh was louder than she intended to be.
"Of course." She answered and followed his movements as he reached down to Spencer's desk and grabbed a pen.
He spoke and scribbled in the file he held, "you know Prentiss it's nice to walk in here and see you at your desk."
"I'm sure it will pass." She said with a chuckle.
"Ouch. Give me a break huh?"
"Never going to happen, " she teased and shuffled the paper work in front of her into a another file. "I give it another week before you're eating your words. Especially when I'm going out on the cases."
"I highly doubt that. How much longer you think?"
She just shrugged and continued to organize her desk. "Who knows, three more weeks maybe, it's up to the doctor and physical therapist."
Derek nodded his understanding and was about to speak when her desk phone rang and she apologized as she lifted the receiver to answer. She barely spoke more than two words and as she hung up she pushed her chair back to stand.
"Hotch?" Derek asked.
"Yep." She answered and grabbed the files from her desk and moved around it to climb the few stairs that led to Hotch's office. When she reached the door she knocked gently to announce her presence.
Aaron looked up from his own paperwork and smiled to the agent. "Prentiss, come in."
"Sir," She acknowledged him back and with long strides closed the gap to his desk and extended the file over for him to grab. "I just finished the last ones."
"Thanks." He said and set them to the side, then looked back to her in a curious silence.
"You wanted to speak to me," she encouraged and tilted her head in confusion to his expression.
When he didn't answer right away she adjusted her stance to steady herself. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, of course not." He answered then gestured his hand towards the chairs that sat in front of his desk. "Would you mind having a seat?"
She obliged and moved around to it and hesitantly sat. Her eyes never left his and tried to anticipate what he was going to say. She knew since she was back she was being closely watched by everyone, whether they would admit it or not. There had been two cases and she helped the best she could with Garcia but she felt so disconnected, and tried not to feel useless. She attempted to cover her insecurities with diligence, but she knew she could only fool everyone for so long, and without a case she felt even less productive.
"I wanted to check in and see how things are going." He started.
"Good." She half lied and tried to sit up straighter, but every muscle in her back was tense and was already as rigid as it would get.
"Okay," Aaron said with slight disbelief, but quickly moved on, "I received your final Psych evaluation today."
"This doesn't mean anything to me." He said and slid the file to the side of the desk.
He then clasped his hands together and spoke softly, "I think I know you a little better than to take into account anything you said to a therapist. Especially since you know how to talk circles around them."
"Has my performance been lacking?" She asked with a hint of suspicion, but in the back of her mind was expecting it to be blatantly obvious.
Before he could answer she continued quickly and added some sarcasm to mask her insecurities, "I think I'm following orders like a good patient."
Aaron shook his head at her underlying tone. "I understand that it's hard to be held back when you want to just jump right back into what you're used to. You just can't be out in the field, and there is a reason the doctor has not cleared you."
"I get that. I just feel more than ready, and it's not just because I want to, I know I'd be cleared. Not being able to get an appointment with my Orthopedist that isn't over a month away is frustrating. I even have Garcia on it."
"You know you don't have to be out there to be an asset to the team. You have nothing to prove here."
"I know that."
Aaron leaned back and arched his brow as he stared dead into her eyes. "Do you really?"
"I do." She said bluntly and returned his stare, but there was a truth and revelation to hear and to say the words out loud.
"Just take the time to fully heal, okay?" Aaron pressed in an almost pleading tone.
"Not that I have a choice." She huffed and looked away for the first time.
"That's true, so why don't you take the rest of the day off?"
Emily suddenly felt herself get defensive again and shot back. "Sir, the last thing I need is time off."
Aaron threw is hand up to calm the fiery agent. "I know that. I'm not giving you any special privilege here. It's been a long week and I'm going to let everyone go home early too."
"Oh, well then, okay." She smiled letting the irritation vanish and rose from the chair.
Aaron spoke up suddenly before she reached the door, "Prentiss, if I haven't said it, its good to have you back."
Emily tapped her hand on the frame of the doorway and smiled widely back to him, "you can say that to me when that doctor's note is on your desk."
He returned the smile but shook his head at the expected retort.
Emily left the office with a new focus, and welcomed it. She didn't hesitate to pull her coat from her chair and wrap it around herself.
Derek looked up from the file he was reading. "Where are you headed?"
"Hotch is letting us off."
"Really?" Reid's voice cracked in excitement.
"Really," she answered with a wink.
"We should all get some food," JJ suggested as she joined the circle of agents.
"Yeah," Derek agreed and looked over to the brunette. "You in?"
She smiled but shook her head, "no thanks. I think I'm going to hit the range before I go home."
They all remained silent at first slightly disappointed in her decision, but had grown accustom to her preference for training and accepted that it was something she needed to do.
"See you Monday then." JJ said as she watched Emily sling her bag around her shoulder.
"Yep, have fun guys." Emily replied as she moved away from the group.
Derek approached Emily and smiled at the serious look of concentration she had as she released the bullets from the chamber and hit her desired target. He had seen her throughout the time she was off and almost everyday of the three weeks she had actually been back, but he really he had not fully taken her in. He was just appreciative that she was there. There was nothing spectacular about her outfit, she wore jeans and a fitted light blue tee shirt, but what he noticed the most was how physically fit she was.
When her magazine was empty she released it and dropped her arm to set her Glock down to reload. She caught sight of Derek as he approached and acknowledged him with a look that was clear that she knew he would end up there.
He nodded to her and brought his bag he had over his shoulder down to his side. "Damn Prentiss you were serious when you said you've been taking the strengthening serious!"
"Why would I lie about something like that?" She replied without looking up from pushing the new bullets into place.
Derek shrugged but didn't take his eyes from Emily's defined arm muscles. She caught his stares and laughed.
She then playfully bent her arm and flexed her bicep. "Come on Princess take a feel."
Derek smiled and dropped his head at her taunt, but she continued to tease, "don't be scared I know you want to!"
"You're really something else you know that Prentiss."
She let out another laugh and relaxed her arm before she turned to finish reloading.
"You scared now?"
Morgan took a step back in disbelief. "Of what?"
"Oh, I don't know, me maybe?" Emily asked with a raised brow and slightly tilting her head to face him.
"Please, you wish."
Emily set the magazine down and finally turned herself to face the dark agent. "That's all you have for a comeback?"
He mimicked her stance and tried unsuccessfully to hold a straight face. "You sure are feisty today. Why don't we put your money where your mouth is."
"Name it." She smirked and crossed her arms.
"A friendly game of poker." He replied and smoothly and pulled a deck of cards from his duffle bag.
Emily grinned at him but didn't back down, "you're on. What do I get when I win?"
"Wow you sure are cocky. How about dinner for best hand?"
"Sure, but I'm not sure you can afford L'Auberge Chez Francois."
"What?" He asked in confusion at her perfect French accent.
"Exactly." She chuckled and returned her focus to her task on the table.
Morgan disregarded the last statement and picked up the staple gun he brought and walked down range to attach the cards to the five targets. When he finished he raised his arms to show his accomplishment behind him.
"Seven shots, the best five cards win." He called out as he rejoined Emily.
After loading their weapons both agents placed their earplugs in and set up side by side at the ready. Morgan put his fingers up to direct the count. When he threw his hand down on the third count they both drew and in a rapid succession the shots echoed around them. When the final shot was taken, and the lingering sound wave dissipated, the two holstered their guns and moved to see who had the best hand.
They walked down in quiet anticipation, and both agents quickly found their cards. They knew which were theirs by the size of hole put into the thin paper.
Derek called out to Emily as he pulled his last card down, "so what do you have?"
She only shrugged and turned away from him and swiftly headed back to the table.
Derek trotted to catch up to her. "Its okay that you didn't get anything. You don't have to worry I'm not a big fine dining guy anyway."
He didn't hesitate to set down his three of a kind.
"Impressive hand." She commented then one by one set down her five cards.
Derek's eyes grew wide when she strategically set the last one down. "Damn girl, how did you get a flush?"
She leaned back and tilted her head in surprise. "I think you forget I'm the only person to have ever beaten our Vegas born genius."
"Yeah but," he stuttered and looked down range again but decided not to argue.
Emily held her smile and began to pull all the cards into a small pile. Derek suddenly grew quiet and just stared at the brunette.
She felt his stare and set the cards down the smile quickly fading from her face. "I knew there was another reason you came here."
"What does that mean?" He accused.
"You tell me." She quickly countered.
He paused then gave voice to his concern. "Do you think maybe you're pushing yourself too hard? Too soon?"
Emily leaned against the table as if to hold her up from his words. "Too hard and too soon, really? Where have you been the last four months?"
"I mean the strengthening," he spoke calmly and pointed to the space around them, "coming here every chance you get, and I saw your name on the list for the next four tactical training classes."
"I don't see a problem." Emily said and pushed herself back up and tried to keep an even tone to not show her irritation to his questioning. "The only thing I can control right now is to focus on healing and getting stronger so I can come back to the one thing that make any sense to me."
Derek shook his head at her as if not completely satisfied with her explanation. "I guess I just worry that you may be overdoing it."
"This coming from a man that does 1000 sit ups a couple times a day."
"Come on Prentiss you know I just want to make sure you're okay. I don't want you to think you have to over prepare to come back."
Emily threw her hands up in frustration. "Is that even possible in what we do? We never know what we will walk into. That's the reason we prepare."
Derek remained quiet but shrugged his response, he knew she was right. She did appreciate the concern, and she had to get used to it not fleeting as fast as she would like. Morgan's questioning her made it clear that it would resurface again when she would actually be back one hundred percent.
She calmed herself and tried to reassure her partner. "Look Morgan you can be worried if I'm isolating myself and not working to come back. I would actually see this as a good thing."
"Okay, I guess it's just hard to tell if you are really in a good head space."
"Yeah?" She asked and replaced her earplug. She turned back to the targets down the range. Derek quickly followed suit, but slightly confused to what she was doing.
She unholstered her gun and rose to take aim at the target. He watched in curiosity as she hit the target one expert shot at a time. The first couple created two holes towards the top right next to each other, and then she continued to add five more in a low arch. When she finished she lowered her gun and and kept her head forward but held a smug look. He let out a laugh as he took in the happy face she created on the head of the silhouette.
He lowered his head as he continued to laugh and had to take in a few breaths to regain himself before he managed to look over to her. When he lifted his head he was met by her dark eyes and beaming smile, and they held the bright light that had been missing for so long.
"Good enough?" She asked.
"More than good enough."
"Move on. It's just a chapter in the past, but don't close the book. Just turn the page." Author unknown
Hope you enjoyed the chapter and story!
I'd love to hear what you think of the story! Review button and I will wait patiently! The button may be more patient than me though. ;)