Strong Safety (5x19)
[5x19 – Rite of Passage]
"People protect what they love."
Jacques Yves Cousteau
Emily's ear had never hurt so badly. She had tried to push through the pain, but it was proving to be increasingly more difficult as the day wore on.
The team was wrapping up the case, getting prepared to fly out. They were all at the police station working, but Morgan was anything but focused. He was supposed to be filing the preliminary interviews but his gaze always found its way over to his partner across the room.
Every time she would touch her ear delicately or made a pained face, he would wince as guilt washing over him. He knew he shouldn't feel that way but it didn't change a thing. He thought back to that moment in the desert after Emily had yelled at him.
Derek turned back to look in the direction Emily had gone and he saw that she was leaning up against the car, holding a hand over her ear, trying to look tough but the pain on her face betrayed her.
"Go on…" Rossi gestured to him. "I believe you've got a lot of groveling to do."
"He was shooting at us! I was protecting her and she has the audacity to get mad at me!?"
Rossi nodded his head in agreement, but his pointed look told Derek that he had better walk over to his partner, and fast.
Derek walked towards Prentiss, frustration evident on his face and in his mannerisms. But the moment he saw the pain on her face, his anger evaporated and was instantly replaced with the worry he felt only moments ago when the unsub was so dangerously close to killing her.
"Emily," he said softly as he moved to stand in front of her. "I am so sorry. What can I do?"
"No, It's not your fault. I shouldn't have gotten angry with you. You were just protecting us. I'm the one who is sorry,"
"But I could have warned you…"
"You were right though. A maniac shooting at us kind of was a bit of a warning," she smirked and began to laugh; only to wince again and reach up for her ear once more.
"Em, you've got to get that looked at."
"No Morgan. I'm fine. I'll be fine. Come on, let's go help Rossi and Hotch," Emily said as she began to walk away; as always, trying to hide the pain she was in. Derek simply shook his head as he followed close behind, his worry for his partner ever-present as his guilt grew.
But as Derek looked onto his partner now, he knew she was anything but fine. So he stood up and made his way over to where she was working. "Prentiss," he said softly to get her attention.
"Hi," she said as she turned to face him, putting on a smile so she could continue to try to hide her pain.
"You really need to get that looked at."
"Morgan, I told you, I'm fine."
"No you're not. I've been watching you, I know it still hurts," he said, earning a roll of the eyes from her – because she knew that more than anyone else, she couldn't hide the truth from him. "Em…" he continued. "It's my fault this happened so please just let me take you to the doctor… Just so they can take a look! Please…?"
She looked up into his pleading face, knowing her outburst in the desert had brought on the guilt that was killing Derek inside, so she knew she couldn't argue with him anymore. "Alright," she conceded. "But as long as you promise to stop worrying and blaming yourself once the doctor says that I am fine!"
"Maybe… only if he says your fine," Derek countered. "But I'll never stop worrying about you Princess," he added with a wink.
So Derek told Hotch he was taking Prentiss to the doctor to have the damage to her eardrum checked. Naturally, their unit chief was not at all surprised at the agent's concern for his partner, so he gave them his blessing.
However, despite Emily's insistence that she was all right, the report from the doctor soon informed her that her eardrum was more damaged than she thought. Looking on with concern, Morgan was in the room with her when the doctor began to give his diagnosis. "You were very luck Agent Prentiss. Your eardrum is not ruptured. However, it has suffered trauma as a result of the gunshot. I will prescribe you pain medication as well as ear drops you need to administer three to four times a day for a week so it can heal. Oh, and no swimming or flying for at least 48 hours."
"No flying?" Emily exclaimed in protest. "But my team and I are flying back to D.C. this afternoon and I have to be on that plane."
"Well unless you want a completely ruptured eardrum that can only be cured through surgery, I suggest you stay very low to the ground for the next two days," he replied.
Before Emily could protest further, Derek put out a hand for the doctor to shake and cut her off. "She will, Doctor. I'll make sure of that. Thank you very much for your help."
The two men shook hands while Prentiss merely sat on the exam room table with a look of disdain. Doctor Miller made his way out of the room and Derek turned to Emily. "Don't," she commanded before he could speak.
"Don't what?" he responded.
"Don't say 'I told you so,'" she replied as she stood up and made her way out the door. He simply smiled and ran off to catch up with her.
The agents picked up Emily's medicine, much to her chagrin. But Derek wouldn't let her do anything but follow the doctor's orders. When they arrived at the police station, the team was still swamped, working on files and forms to fill out before they could fly out. Hotch had just finished consulting with JJ when Morgan approached him, Emily close behind. "Hotch," he said, getting his attention.
"Morgan, Prentiss," he acknowledged him. "What did the doctor say?"
"Well he thinks that…" Emily began but was cut off by Morgan.
"Emily's eardrum is damaged. She can't fly for at least 48 hours."
"I'll be fine!" she protested in a frustrated tone. "I have medicine and it's a short flight."
"Emily you cannot be serious!" Morgan exclaimed as he turned to look at her with disbelief.
"I agree with Morgan," Hotch added. "I know how painful ear injuries can be, you need to do as the doctor orders." Emily huffed in defeat but allowed him to continue. "Look it's only Wednesday. So just stay here until you can fly back over the weekend – I'll put you on medical leave."
But Hotch wasn't finished. He knew he couldn't have Emily stay alone simply because she was injured. He knew a logical choice to stay with her would be JJ, but from the look of concern on Morgan's face and knowing the history of the partners, Hotch knew there was only one agent that should be chosen to stay with Emily. "Morgan can stay as well. The service for the fallen officers is tomorrow evening, and FBI presence will be important to show our respect and support. You should both be there."
Prentiss naturally had no choice in the matter. So seeing as the two partners were staying, they offered to finish the paperwork so the team could go ahead and fly out since it was getting late in the evening but not before JJ booked Morgan and Prentiss an early morning flight for Saturday.
They worked for a bit longer but soon determined the files could wait and went to a small diner to eat before returning to their rooms at the hotel for a well-deserved night's rest.
"So I'll see you in the morning?" Emily asked Derek who had walked her to her room in the hotel.
"Yep, I'll even bring the coffee," he smiled.
"Good, I'm going to need it."
"Is there anything else you need? Is your ear still bothering you? Did you take your medicine?"
"Morgan. Stop. I'm fine. I took my medicine and used the drops twice already."
"Good," he breathed out in relief.
"Would you stop worrying? This is what got us into this mess you know," she chided him.
"Well I personally consider it a vacation despite what you think. And no, I will never stop worrying."
Emily couldn't help but smile at her thankfulness of his concern for her. "Then thank you," she conceded gracefully. "I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight Derek."
The next day was spent finishing paperwork for the case and helping the police department prepare for the memorial service. Both agents were extremely busy but Morgan still made time to check on Prentiss and the pain of her ear every chance he got. Sometimes, he would bring her coffee or water along with her medicine or drops, hovering over her until she took them. Normally Emily didn't like being babied but she knew Derek still harbored guilt over her condition. Though she despised being injured, it was always her partner who cared for her, so she relished in his comforting attentiveness to her, though she wasn't surprised by it in the least.
The memorial service was a moving one and the two FBI agents were honored to be there to show their support. Many of the police officers and the families of the victims showed their thanks to them as well, making Emily realize that despite the pain, it was important for she and Derek to be there.
Derek was escorting Emily out of the church when one of the deputies Morgan had been working with that day, walked up to them and began to speak. "Agent Prentiss, Agent Morgan. I wanted to thank you for coming to the service, it means a lot to our force, and I know the sheriff would have appreciated it as well."
"Well we appreciate your service to your town and I know the sheriff did as well. They are lucky to have you all," Derek responded.
"Listen, I know you said you weren't flying out until Saturday. The paperwork is finished so I was wondering if I could invite you both to the high school football game going on tomorrow night. It's a pretty big rivalry so I know there will be a good turnout. You'll have something to do since almost everyone in town will be there and I know Agent Morgan mentioned he had played football. My son is on the team and I'm sure he would love to meet you."
Derek hesitated, more than thrilled about the prospect of a real high school football game – something he hadn't attended in a long time; but he worried Prentiss might not want to go so he knew he should ask her first. Yet, she surprised him when he instantly answered the deputy. "I would love to go! I've actually never been to one before. And you did promise to teach me about football Morgan," Emily said as she smiled at the memory of the small moment they had shared on the difficult case.
Derek and Emily had gone to investigate and Derek took down the suspect with rather impressive force, explaining to Emily that he had "played a little strong safety in college." Emily, ever the book nerd, had no idea what he meant. So later that day when the partners took a coffee break, Emily asked her partner about his comment earlier.
"So you want to know what makes me so good at protecting you?" he winked.
"Oh please," Emily grinned, thinking of her thankfulness at the way her partner always protected her no matter what. Derek proceeded to explain what his role was on the college football team but Emily was only full of questions that eventually began to confuse even Derek.
"You know what?" he finally responded. "I could always tell you but I think I'm just going to have to show you. One day Princess, you and I are going to a football game. So when it's time for the Superbowl, you'll be an expert."
"Wait, what's the Superbowl again?" Emily laughed jokingly at which Derek returned a smile and a shake of the head.
"What would you do without me? Come on," he finally laughed as he led her out the door of the coffee shop with his hand resting lightly on her back.
"Are you sure you want to go?" Derek asked.
"Of course! It will be fun!" she replied before turning to Deputy Jones. "We'd love to go."
"Great, well the game starts at 7:00 at the school fields. It's down Route 9. Just go two miles past the diner and it will be on your right." They said their goodbyes for now and Emily and Derek made their way back into their SUV.
"We don't have to go just because I like football." Derek began.
"Morgan," Emily began.
"But what about your ear? You shouldn't be around loud crowds while it's still healing."
"Oh stop worrying. I've got the medicine; I'll be fine. And I want to go, really. After all, I need to know why you're so good at protecting me," she smiled, winning the argument.
"Fine," Derek grinned as he conceded. "You'll be Superbowl ready in no time."
So after finishing the FBI consultation paperwork, Morgan and Prentiss went back to their hotel to change, then stopped off for a quick dinner and were soon on their way to the football game. Derek pulled into a space in the parking lot. "Emily, wait," he said, to catch her before she stepped out of the car. She turned to look at him a watched him reach into his pocket. He pulled out his hands and revealed two small earplugs.
"Morgan," she said in a chiding tone.
"Emily," he equaled her tone. "You have to be careful and obey the doctor's orders. I bought these when we stopped to get gas earlier. Promise me, if it starts to hurt, you'll use them?"
She glared at him with annoyance, but the clear look of worry on his face that met her gaze instantly made her agree to his request, because she knew how much he cared for her – especially how much he wanted to protect her. "Fine, if it hurts," she smiled, taking the earplugs from him, earning a satisfied smile in return.
The agents alighted the car and made their way into the stadium. Emily spotted Deputy Andy Jones who ran over to them. "I'm so glad you could make it," he greeted them cheerfully. "My wife and I have seats in the stands so you can sit with us if you wish."
"That would be great!" Morgan responded. They followed Andy to his seats where a lovely blonde woman was sitting. Andy introduced her as his wife Caroline. The four hit it off immediately, talking animatedly until the beginning of the game and even throughout it. The couple pointed out their son Thomas, a junior, who was number fifty-four on the team – an excellent starting, wide receiver who was obviously one of the team's star players.
The three football fans all took turns explaining the game to Emily who by the second half, was cheering as loudly and as knowledgably as the rest of them. She had completely forgotten the pain in her ear while trying to remember the last time she had this much fun… but when she thought about it, she realized that it was the last time she had spent with Derek outside of work – not that she was surprised in the least. She looked over at her partner and smiled slightly.
Every so often throughout the game, Morgan would lean over and whisper into Emily's ear – asking if she was all right, if she needed anything, if she was cold – to which she would always reply "No," with a grin and a tone that really said, "I'm fine, stop worrying."
But near the end of the third quarter, Derek couldn't help but notice the increase of the chill in the air after the sun had set and the way Emily brought up her hands to wrap around her body. As if simply a reflex and without a second thought, he took off his coat and moved to wrap it around his partner's body as he moved his hands up and down her arms to warm her.
"Thank you," she said quietly as she turned to look at him.
"Always," he replied, both of them smiling at the word that had quickly come to define their relationship – because it was true, they were always there for each other – no matter what.
The game finally ended with the home team winning which elicited loud cheers from the fans throughout the stands – including Emily and Derek. Knowing Thomas would want to meet Derek, the four adults made their way down to the field to wait for the young player to finish with his team and his friends.
The field had clearly relatively quickly and Thomas finally made his way over to his parents and the FBI agents. Thomas was ecstatic, to say the least, at meeting Derek – filling him with questions about playing college football. Morgan became just as excited as he relived his younger years playing football. After much talk, all three of the boys began throwing the ball around allowing Derek to show Thomas different moves he could use, and also subconsciously allow him to show off for Emily.
Andy, Derek and Thomas had made their way to the middle of the field to practice their own football moves while Emily and Caroline took their seats at the bottom of the bleachers, knowing the men wouldn't be leaving the field anytime soon. They didn't mind of course. Emily had genuinely enjoyed talking with Caroline throughout the game, and was excited at the prospect of getting to know her more.
It was Caroline who spoke first. "So, how long have you been with the FBI?"
"Almost four years," Emily replied.
"Have you and Agent Morgan been partners for that long as well?"
"Yes, well we've worked together since I started. We all work as a team but I'm partnered with him the most," she explained.
"And how long have you two been together?" Caroline asked with a twinkle in her eye.
"I'm sorry, what?" Emily asked, naively ignorant of Caroline's implication.
"Together… You know, dating… Wait you are dating right?" Caroline asked with confusion.
"No…" Emily laughed nervously, embarrassed as she realized it was something she had thought about… and not just once.
"Oh I'm so sorry. It's just that you two seemed so much closer than friends; especially because you stayed behind together. I just assumed…" Caroline apologized, clearly embarrassed at her assumption.
"No, no. It's all right. I understand," Emily responded, laughing it off. "All of us work together so often, we're just like a family. We've all grown close. But Morgan and I are just partners."
"Of course. As partners, you protect each other all the time. Not to mention the amount of time you spend together. I guess that's why I assumed you were together, you are both so comfortable with one another."
"Yes, we are," Emily smiled as she looked out onto the field at her partner, running around like a five year old boy, laughing and smiling. She thought deeper and soon spoke, "Honestly, Derek is my best friend. He's the first person I ever trusted on the team, and I know he'll always have my back."
"You're lucky to have each other. Partners – true partners – share a bond that no one else can understand. So is that why he stayed with you? Did he volunteer to stay behind with you because he felt guilty for not protecting you?" Caroline asked with a pointed gaze.
Emily turned to look at her quizzically, "How did you know?"
Caroline simply smiled and continued. "Andy and I were partners on the police force before we were married. That's where we met. And I guess… well I guess the rest is history as they say. I was a newbie, fresh out of the police academy. I grew up here so I knew I wanted to stay because of how much this town has always had trouble. I joined the force. I so was nervous," she laughed, "but not even a month into the job, they took me off desk duty and partnered me with Andy. He had grown up in Florida but came here for school and never wanted to leave.
It was new for both of us; we had to get to know each other. We talked, had similar interests, and pretty soon, we became inseparable. I trusted him with my life but also with my secrets. We would be on patrol and our shift would end but we would just stay there and talk for hours and hours. We started seeing each other outside of work. Andy was my best friend. He still is. But then, we told ourselves that we were just friends, close because of the bond we shared through our job, but we couldn't lie to ourselves for long.
One day, Andy got shot when we responded to a robbery in town. So when I was sitting by him lying in that hospital bed, I realized that the thought of losing him was the most terrifying thing I could ever imagine and I knew I had to tell him. But he beat me to it, he woke up a few hours later and the first thing he did was kiss me. We got married eight months later and well… here we are now," Caroline smiled.
"Wow," Emily breathed. "That's beautiful."
"I think so too," she grinned. "I'm sure you wanted to hear our entire life story," she joked. "But when I saw the two of you, it just reminded me so much of me and Andy."
"No, I'm glad you told me that story. Really," Emily said, her mind reeling with confusing thoughts.
"It's obvious you care about each other. I know I don't know you both very well, but I do know the bond a partner shares with another and the closeness it creates when you really trust that person. You two have it. It's clear as day. Just think on it," Caroline winked and turned her attention to the boys running towards them, obviously done with their football game.
Emily turned to smile at them but her mind was racing along with the speed of her heart. At first, she thought Caroline had been crazy to assume she and Derek were a couple. But everything she said was true. They were closer than anyone on the team. Sure she shared a bond with the girls. Derek was close with Reid and he had a close friendship with Garcia. But out of all of those relationships, Derek and Emily spent the most time together outside of work; and when she thought about it, the most time together at work.
She trusted him more than anyone and so she had shared more than she ever had with him than she had with anyone else. And he was the one person she had come close to telling about Doyle, more times than she could count. Emily also knew how they felt when the other was hurt – they would rather face anything than the prospect of losing one another. Soon, she didn't know if she was describing her relationship with Derek or the relationship Andy and Caroline shared – because she knew deep down, Caroline was right.
As she tried to sort through her thoughts, she was brought out of her musing to say goodbyes to the family that had been so nice to the agents on their extended stay. She hugged them all, saving Caroline for last. "Thank you for the talk," she began.
"Anytime," Caroline smiled and began to whisper. "But think about what I said. Just be true to yourself. Don't let your fears or even rules dictate what you really want in life," she winked.
Emily was about to protest out of nervousness but the family had already started to walk toward their car. "Did you have fun tonight, Princess?" Derek asked Emily as he threw an arm around her shoulders on their way to the car.
"Yes," Emily responded, mind still on Caroline's last words. "Did you?"
"Yeah! It made me realize how much I miss it, you know? But I don't miss the injuries. I think I'm going to be sore for a week. I'm getting to old for this," he laughed. "What were you and Caroline talking about?"
"Oh nothing really," Emily tried to brush it off.
"Come on now," Derek prodded. "You were talking about something!"
"Well, she just told me how she and Andy met. They were partners on the police force before they got married," Emily said quickly, trying to play off the subject.
"Oh," Derek said. "That's interesting. How did that come up?"
"Well…" Emily said, trying to avoid the inevitable. "She thought we were dating," she laughed nervously.
"Oh," Derek exclaimed.
"Yeah," Emily laughed, still embarrassed. "Silly right?"
"Yeah… absolutely," Derek responded, trying to joke as his mind began racing to thoughts of dating Emily that had seemed to creep into his brain more and more lately.
The agents brushed off the obviously uncomfortable subject with more talk of football, but both of their minds were really on the topic of discussion from earlier. "I think Thomas has got a great future ahead of him. And I'm going to make a call to a college coach I know – we played football together in school. Hopefully he can help Thomas out."
"That's great," Emily said. "So you showed him your stellar protective moves?" she joked.
"You know it!" he laughed. "I feel like I got some practice in myself. I've got to keep in shape if I'm going to keep you safe, you know."
"Well I am honored," Emily began with a grin.
"You should be," he replied. "You've got your very own strong safety right here to always keep you safe." Derek gestured at himself.
"And break down doors when needed," she winked.
"Precisely," he laughed; and the partners got into the car.
Their flight took off the next day right after lunch. The two agents sat side-by-side in the plane seats. Derek had of course insisted Emily take the window, knowing it was her favorite. The plane was preparing for take-off when Morgan reached over and squeezed her hand. "You took your medicine, right?" he asked full of worry.
"Yes mother," she responded with a smile. "I'll be fine."
"Okay," he said, nervousness still clear on his face and in his voice. "Well if it hurts, and I mean at all, let me know. Promise?"
"I promise," she smiled at his concern, trying to will her mind not to go back to Caroline's assumption, but it was too late.
So the plane took off, Derek continually checked on Emily who still insisted she was fine, but he checked nevertheless. Finally, her medicine got the best of her and Emily fell asleep against the window. Morgan pulled out the magazine in front of him and about fifteen minutes later, he noticed a weight on his shoulder. He looked over and saw his partner had shifted in her sleep and unconsciously rested against him.
He looked down at her sleeping form and didn't dare move for fear of waking her, and selfishly, causing her to move away from him. She stayed that way for quite a while longer and soon, the flight attendant came around with her drink cart. "Sir, would you like water or a soda?" she began with a whisper as she noticed the sleeping woman.
"No, I'm fine. Thank you," he smiled as he whispered.
"Would your girlfriend like anything when she wakes up?" she asked.
Derek simply smiled, thinking back to the conversation he had shared with Emily on the field the night before. "Sure," he smiled. "I know she'd love a diet coke."
The stewardess handed him the drink and moved on her way with a smile. Derek looked over at Emily, smiling himself at the thought of the attendant's words. He knew it could be true, but FBI rules along with their stubborn fears didn't bode well for the possibility. Before he could think on it further though, Emily stirred, eyes opening to see her partner smiling down at her.
"Have a nice nap, Princess?" he grinned.
Emily sat up, rather quickly after noticing her placement. "I didn't realize I was so tired," she yawned.
"Well we'll be back soon," Derek responded. "Here," he said as he held up the drink for her.
"You didn't have to do that," she smiled, thought still grateful for his thoughtfulness.
"I knew it was your favorite," he replied.
"Always," he smiled.