[3x15 – A Higher Power]
"There is a house built out of stone
Wooden floors, walls and windowsills
Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust
This is a place where I don't feel alone
This is a place where I feel at home
And I built a home
-To Build a Home, The Cinematic Orchestra-
"Remember, 3:00 Prentiss. Don't be late," Derek turned back and said as they walked through the parking deck on that late Friday night.
"Ummm, I am never late. You on the other hand…" Emily began.
"Oh very funny…" Derek smirked at her incredibly true comment.
"But seriously, aren't you going to tell me where we're going?" Emily asked for at least the twentieth time.
"You'll find out when we get there." Derek said laughing.
"Fine," Emily said, still brooding as her mind worked overtime to figure out exactly what her partner had planned.
And of course, the next day, Emily was ready on time – in fact, she was ready early with anticipation of Morgan's surprise so she paced the floor of her apartment until he picked her up. And Morgan of course, was fifteen minutes late. "I'm so sorry," he began. "Traffic was a nightmare."
"It's okay! But I was beginning to think you were going to stand me up." Emily joked.
"Never," Derek said with a wink. "I'll always come through for you Princess." He added seriously. Emily gave him a grateful smile and they rode along under the cloudy, grey sky to the mystery location.
They pulled into an old but distinguished looking neighborhood that Emily had never been to before. She was still confused but remained silent, trusting Morgan completely. They passed a few side streets until they finally turned onto one and continued driving. As they approached the end of the street, Emily looked up to see a beautiful, Charleston style home sitting in the center of the cul-de-sac. It wasn't lit up like the rest of the houses but still stood tall and beautiful amongst them. It was yellow with black shutters and a huge wrap-around porch. There were full-grown oaks surrounding the house – and the one in the front yard even had a tree swing. Ivy had grown up along the porch columns and up the sides of the house, making it look like a house out of a magical children's story.
Derek pulled into the driveway and turned to Emily as he began to speak, "Well, here it is. My latest project."
"It's beautiful," Emily said truthfully.
"Yes, it is beautiful." Derek replied, looking her straight in the eyes. "But it needs a lot of work. I've fixed up most of the outside but it needs a lot of attention on the inside."
They alighted from his SUV and began to walk up the steps onto the wide, two-story front porch. "The previous owners were mixed up in some sort of international crime ring – seriously, it's like I can't get away from criminals," he laughed, "Anyway… so apparently they secretly left the country and left this place to rot. Eventually it became run-down so I bought it for a steal to fix up and sell again."
Emily smiled at him, "I think it's going to be wonderful when you finish it. I love the peaceful setting, the porch, the architecture but more than anything, I absolutely love cul-de-sacs."
"Somehow I just knew you did," Derek winked, remembering a comment Emily had made about the very same thing on a case when they visited a family who lived in a lovely house on a cul-de-sac. "So, this is the big surprise. I knew you said that you wanted to see my properties after I told you about them. So how would you like to help me work on the inside? I promise it helps after a long, stressful case… And, I'll even throw in your favorite Chinese dinner." Derek smiled.
"Well you had me sold with just working on it with you but since you offered me dinner, I am not turning it down." Emily replied laughingly. She was truly thrilled that Derek had brought her here. In all honesty, she had no idea how to renovate a house – she had never done anything like this - but spending time with her partner, who was quickly becoming one of her closest friends, was all she really wanted to do. "But no matter what, I will take a turn on that tree swing at some point." Emily said pointing into the yard.
"Of course, Princess." Derek smiled. "But first, you have to see the inside." He said as he escorted her through the large front door. And just as she had said, the house was beautiful. He took her on the whole tour: the cozy living room complete with bay windows and a fireplace, the massive kitchen, up the grand staircase and into the master bedroom with an adjoining sitting room opening to a back, second story covered porch overlooking the back yard – Emily instantly thought it would be a perfect place to waste dozens of hours with a cup of coffee, a book and a snuggie.
They made their way through the other bedrooms, the office and the rest of the house until they finally ended up back in the foyer. "So what are we working on today?" Emily asked impatiently.
"I have two projects we can work on. First, we need to paint the entry way and fix the staircase. Or we can start with tearing down the wall connecting the kitchen and dining room. What do you want to do first?
"Is that even a question?" Emily said. "Definitely the wall."
"Definitely," Morgan agreed with a chuckle. He led her to the wall, his tools awaiting them. He gave her gloves, protective goggles and finally, a sledgehammer that she seemed far too excited to get her hands on. "Is this really a good idea?" he remarked sarcastically.
"Excuse me Agent Morgan," Emily retorted with equal sarcasm as she placed her hand on her hip. "You trust me to run around with you carrying a gun but this scares you!?" The two partners laughed and began to work.
Derek first told Emily where to aim the hammer's head but after a few close calls with his hand, he decided to show her rather than simply point and possibly have to take a trip to the emergency room. He made his way behind her, reaching his arms around her and placing his hands over her own – both of them ignoring the shockwave they both felt from the other's touch. "Okay," he began. "Now, think of all of the stress, all of the hatred you feel towards the UnSubs we go after. You're making something better – something they can't, something they refuse to do. I always like to think I'm doing it for the victim we couldn't save or even for the one we could. Take a deep breath. And never take your eyes off of where you want to hit. Are you ready?" he asked, gently tightening his grip on her hands.
Emily's mind was not on a recent case but on the one that had come to define her own life. She thought of Doyle's heartlessness, she thought of how sometimes when she felt like everything was finally falling into place in her life, he would appear again in her nightmares – breaking down all the barriers she had built. But then she thought of Declan, and the good she had been able to bring to his life – realizing he was just like the houses Derek worked on – realizing just how similar she was to her partner, and appreciating him even more. So now, she was ready to swing. She took a deep breath, "Ready," she said, as she exhaled.
With Derek's lead, they pulled their arms upwards in a perfect, simultaneous motion, and swung down at the wall as hard as they could, breaking through the barriers of the wall, and also, some of their own. This time, Derek stepped away to let Emily do it on her own – leaving them both feeling rather cold - but she did it again, perfectly.
"That was great, Em. Just like a pro." Morgan said with pride as he looked on.
"You were right, it does feel good." Emily admitted, her worries melting away with every hit – but she wondered if it was because of the work she was doing or who she was doing it with.
They worked hard for two hours, removing the wall together. They talked and laughed the whole time and Emily realized she hadn't smiled that much in what felt like years. And this was exactly what she needed. They cleaned the debris of the demolished wall and were both ready to keep working.
"What can we do next?" Emily asked excitedly, surprised at how much fun she was having uncharacteristically doing manually labor.
"Well, would you like to prime this hallway while I finish fixing the staircase railing?" Derek pointed up the staircase in the entryway.
"You mean I don't get to tear down another wall? What a let down!" she joked.
"Maybe next time Princess," Derek smiled.
"I will hold you to that promise. But sure! Just show me the primer and the brushes and put me to work!"
So they began to work. Emily stood on the steps of the stairs priming the wall above where Derek was fixing the banister. And they talked more – joking as they flicked paint on each other, laughing, and talking about all of their favorite things – they were learning more and more about each other with moments like these. So the more time they spent with each other, the more they found themselves wanting more time like this – more time together.
"Almost done," Derek announced prompting Emily to turn around, about to tell him she had already finished when her back brushed against one of the last posts in the railing that held an exposed nail. It ripped her shirt and scratched her skin, eliciting a tiny "Ouch!" to escape Emily's mouth.
Derek jumped into action, instantly at her side asking her if she was alright as he placed a soothing hand to her now slightly exposed, scratched back. "I'm okay, it just startled me. It didn't really hurt. I'm fine," Emily assured a worried looking Morgan. "I can't say the same for my shirt though." She added, holding up the ripped fabric.
"Well, I'm pretty sure it was long gone before that," Derek smiled pointing to the multiple paint splatters on her shirt.
"Very funny," she replied, but still looking down at her ruined shirt.
"Hey, I know!" Derek said as an idea popped into his head and he ran outside under the thunderclouds to his car. Emily followed him as far as the porch. He was back in front of her almost instantly, a bundle of gray fabric in his hands. "Here," he said as he held up one of his FBI training t-shirts from his go-bag. "You can wear this if you want."
"This is perfect," Emily exclaimed. "Thank you."
"Anytime." Derek replied.
Emily went to change into the shirt that was two sizes too big. But she didn't care because it was much better than her ripped one, and also smelled absolutely intoxicating. When she returned, Derek was cleaning up the tools in the entryway. "I think we can call it quits for the day." Even though Emily agreed they had done quite enough work for the evening, she wasn't exactly ready to leave the house – or Morgan for that matter - even though she would never admit it. "But the Chinese food will be here in 15 minutes." Derek said, practically reading her mind.
"Then that gives me just enough time to try out that tree swing," Emily said cheerfully.
The two made their way outside to the front yard and Emily mounted the swing while Derek leaned against the old tree. She was high in the air when he began to speak, "So when did tough, no-nonsense Emily Prentiss become such a swing master?" Derek asked.
"I have always loved swinging. We had a tree swing just like this at my grandfather's house in France, out by the lake. I used to play on it for hours – just swinging or reading or singing, terribly I might add. I never really got to play much as a child, but when I was out there, I felt like the world just stopped. Everything was so peaceful.. I didn't have a care in the world. I guess it was just being alone with my thoughts - it was really one of my only escapes other than books. That was when I actually felt like a kid. What about you?" Emily asked.
"Well, for me, football was always my escape I guess. I was really angry about my father's death as a kid – football was a way for me to channel that anger into something productive rather than destructive. It was the one thing that was absolutely mine when I was a kid, and it never really left me – it got me through college."
"You always think childhood should be this wonderful time in your life – a time when you have not a care in the world but every kid needs an escape. Childhood is a difficult thing." Emily added softly.
"But it helps make us the people we are today." Derek said with a smile that Emily returned whole-heartedly.
They stayed like that for at least ten minutes, still talking about their childhoods – learning more and more about each other, not realizing the clouds above their heads had become black as night. To their surprise, thunder began to shake the ground and lightning began to illuminate the landscape. But before they could even register the sudden change in the weather, a downpour of rain fell from the sky, soaking their bodies. Emily suddenly jumped from the swing, Derek reaching out to make sure she had found her balance and they ran through the rain onto the porch – laughing all the way.
As they attempted to shake off the rain droplets from their body, a car pulled into the driveway and a teenager jumped out of the still running car, running towards the porch holding their dinner. "Just in time," Derek said, reaching for his wallet.
"Oh, I'll go get my wallet." Emily said as she put out her hand.
"No way. This was my treat remember?" Derek smiled as he paid for the food and tipped the boy who ran back to his car.
"Thank you," Emily said genuinely.
Derek and Emily made their way to the porch swing and began to eat their dinner, the thunderstorm playing as the soundtrack to their conversation – never running out of interesting topics to discuss together. The rain was still coming down hard and they were protected by the porch, but not from the chill. Emily shivered once, pulling her legs up in front of her to block the cold. "You are not getting this shirt back," she said. "It's too comfy."
But her chill did not go unnoticed. Derek went to grab an old blanket he had planned to use to protect some of the hardwood flooring as he drilled above it, but to him, this was a much more important need. He handed her the blanket that she wrapped around her shoulders. "Thank you," she said, snuggling tight into the fabric. "For all of this. It was wonderful, really. I see why you do it now."
"Thank you for coming. I've always worked on these projects alone but it's finally nice to share it with someone."
"You mean you don't bring all of the ladies here?" Emily mocked.
"No," Derek replied seriously. "You're the only one."
"Oh," Emily said, shocked and flattered Derek would share something so personal with her.
"You're the only one who understands… who understands why I feel like I need to do this. I mean Garcia would never get her hands dirty. And can you imagine Reid trying to tear down a wall?" They both laughed at the image that appeared in their minds. "But I know how these cases affect you – the way they affect me. So I knew I could trust you with this." Derek said sincerely as he looked into her eyes. "I knew you would understand why I love doing this. I can do something to make the world better even when I'm not doing my job. I can find a nice but struggling family who needs a home and I can give them that fresh start that they need."
"You really are a good guy, Derek. The family who gets this house will be luckier than they know. Thank you, really. Thank you for letting me share it with you." Emily replied.
"So does that mean you want to do it again?" Derek asked with a grin.
"You tell me the day and I'll be here." Emily smiled. "As long as there is a wall to demolish, that is." She added with a wink.
And she did do it again – all the time. Derek had let her into one of the most personal parts of his life but he didn't mind. He was happy he could finally share this with someone who understood – who understood him and why he had to do it. Emily found her own outlet in the projects – time with one of her now closest friends and a way to forget the horrors they saw on a daily basis.
Months later, Derek sold the house below asking price to a single mother and her three children who's father had died in the military. Emily teared up at the sadness of their last time there but also at the happiness she felt in being able to bring joy to this family. But Derek insisted she help him pick out the next house and the cycle continued. But most importantly, their relationship grew stronger with every moment they spent together.
"Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go."
― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye