CRIMINAL MINDS FANVENTION

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THE DEREK MORGAN CHRONICLES   PRESENTS THE CRIMINAL MINDS FANVENTION SATURDAY MAY 14, 2016 12-5PM SAN DIEGO CONVENTI...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Duty Calls

As Derek struggles to put the past behind him another tragedy strikes close to home. Will this be the moment that breaks him or will he begin to understand that there are just some things that are beyond his control.

FBI Headquarters/Gym, Quantico, VA –Saturday morning
The loud blast and piercing pain ringing in his ears would drastically change the course of his day. This wasn’t how his day was supposed to end or begin. He only wanted to stretch his worn and neglected muscles and work on forgetting about the last few months of his life. He wanted some semblance of peace but peace was once again delayed for another space and time. He stood motionless, not sure of what to make of the past few minutes; splattered with blood, stained with the death that he had tried so hard to prevent. Five steps, just five steps he had calculated and indeed he’d been correct but it didn’t matter because he was still standing in the middle of the room bloody and a witness to the senseless suicide of Erin Strauss.

She had come there to kill him and even though it was against her will she had been on a mission to end his life. Now her body lay zipped in a black bag stamped, “Coroner” five steps away. All around him crime scene investigators, police and FBI agents worked the room collecting evidence in plastic bags and taking pictures while he simply stood there trying to explain what had just happened. He could see Hotch enter the room and pause to exam the scene and him and then as if in slow motion he made his way over stopping inside of his personal space and still he stood motionless staring somewhere beyond the moment, beyond reality, beyond sanity.

“Morgan! What happened?”

Morgan tried speaking but nothing came from his mouth although his lips were moving.

“Morgan, are you okay?”

Somewhere in his mind he was laughing hysterically; how could he be okay? He was standing here in the middle of the gym covered in Strauss’ blood. He’d calculated the steps…five! Five steps…he’d counted them from his gym bag to her hand! Five steps and he was correct but he still could not stop what had happened. His mind kept laughing how could anything be okay?

“I’m fine, Hotch.”

Morgan shook his head trying to erase the sight of Erin Strauss with that cold blank calm stare pulling the trigger and killing herself with the bullet that had been meant for him. She couldn’t do it even though she had been ordered to kill him, but she wasn’t a killer so there he was alive and now a witness to her death.

“I just need to take a shower. The CSI’s are finished with me so I’m going to take a shower…” he continued.

“Morgan…” Hotch interrupted.

“I’m fine, really.”

Suddenly the door burst open and the familiar sound of click clacking heels rushed through the room. Morgan slowly looked up trying to search his mind for a way to convince her that he was okay.

“Oh my god! Derek, Derek, are you okay? “ Panic in her voice.

She wanted to grab him, to hold him but blood was everywhere and he held his hands up and out to prevent her from getting too close.

“Baby Girl, I’m okay!” He said calmly.

“But…but you’re covered in blood…what…”

Tears spilled from her eyes onto her pale skin as she searched him up and down looking for the source of the blood and wondering why he was still standing if he was bleeding.

“It’s not mine.”

“What?”

“The blood. It’s not mine. I’m going to take a shower. It’s going to be okay. I’ll meet you back at the office, okay.”

JJ had joined them now staring in shock at the sight before her. Morgan without looking back at his friends walked away and headed to the showers. Garcia, JJ and Hotch watched as he left them standing speechless.
****************

No matter how much he scrubbed he still saw the blood on his face, his neck, his arms, and his hands. He knew that he’d successfully rubbed if off minutes ago but no matter how hot the water was or how hard he’d scrubbed, he could see the bright crimson sticky blood on his skin; even worse he could feel it. He remembered it feeling oddly warm after it had splattered all over him and all he could feel was relief that it wasn’t his blood. He felt guilty; the bullet was meant for him. Sykes had had a back up plan in place way before he’d even met him.  Strauss didn’t even see it coming.

Coroner’s Office – Late Morning –
Rossi stood alone staring down on her cold corpse.  They had plans for dinner later and he’d made reservations at her favorite restaurant. They were both happy that he had decided to give her another chance. He wanted to touch her just to confirm that she was really dead but instead he kept his hands in his pockets.

***************************
Rossi couldn’t believe that she was dead. She’d gone through so much. She had conquered so many of her demons and fought to recover from her drinking problem and get her life back. Her children were back in her life and even though her drinking had destroyed her marriage she and her ex-husband were now on good terms. She was perceived as a hard heartless crusty dictator but he had known from the beginning that was not the true Erin Strauss. Oh, they had their differences and had butt heads on numerous occasions but he had managed to chisel through the tough exterior and find a soft, warm and caring woman. He secretly believed that their relationship had helped her to relax her hard-nosed adversarial stance with his team. Now, just when things seemed to be turning around for her it all suddenly ended in a flash of her service revolver.

Rossi wasn’t sure how he would react when he saw Morgan. He knew it wasn’t his fault; he had done everything he could to stop her but…He knew Morgan and he knew that Morgan would blame himself; just like he blamed himself for Emily’s “death.” There were very few times that Morgan failed. He was one of the best agents he’d ever worked with and he put his life on the line every day defending those who couldn’t defend themselves and even though he’d been struggling with his own demons lately, Rossi knew that he’d trust him with his life any day. Still, he couldn’t help wondering if just maybe he could have tried harder, been faster or said something, anything to prevent Erin’s death. Rossi knew that his grief was interfering with his rational thinking. Morgan was more than a co-worker he was his friend, family. Erin had gone from his boss and advisary to his lover and it was hard for him to make sense of everything that had led to her death.

The Coroner quietly entered the room and respectfully kept her distance allowing Rossi time to complete his visit. She’d seen dead bodies on a daily basis but it was always difficult when it was another law enforcement brother or sister.  Dr. Amanda Perkins had learned over the last fifteen years to be unaffected by death but this one was sad because she knew the woman who lay lifeless on her table and it would pain her to be able to quickly complete her report: “Erin Strauss, 57 year old female; cause of death, suicide.”

As she approached the table, Rossi looked into the familiar eyes and nodded and as he turned to leave he heard those gut wrenching words, words he’d uttered countless times to the grieving families of the slain innocent victims of evil.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

These were words meant to bring comfort and perhaps even closure. Now as they were being uttered for him he realized that they brought neither.

BAU Headquarters Conference Room –
The team minus Morgan and Rossi were seated silently around the table. Hotch stood before them briefing them on the details of the morning.  He wasn’t sure how they would react to Strauss’ death and Morgan’s role in it.  The Internal Affairs office was already involved and they all would be called in to talk about their relationship with Strauss and Morgan’s relationship with Strauss and his recent state of mind. He knew that the team would do all they could to protect him and his privacy.  They all knew that no matter what he was going through it absolutely did not affect his ability to get the job done. He wasn’t going to allow his personal issues to put his team in jeopardy and he’d sacrifice his well-being and even his life if it meant keeping his family safe. None of that would matter now the Internal Affaires office would do all they could to assign blame to what had happened even if there was no blame. Like so many others, they were always looking for a reason to shut the BAU down and re-assign them all to other branches of the bureau.

Internal Affairs - later
Gordon Martinson had been assigned the Strauss case. He’d admired her since meeting her during his first days in the bureau. He’d even tried getting assigned to work with her but had failed. To say that he was irritated for being overlooked was an understatement. He envied the other agents in the BAU for having what he wanted. Those agents represented an elite highly trained and specialized group of agents and he wanted desperately to be a part of the “set apart”. Now, he had the chance to bring one of them down and prove that he was just as good if not better than any of them were.

Martinson hated Morgan most of all; he was the total package, smart, strong, fearless and damn near indestructible. He’d been hand picked from the beginning of his career with the bureau to be a part of the BAU. It was going to be his personal mission to end his career and prove that he had what it took to single-handedly shut down the Behavioral Analysis Unit.

Morgan hated waiting and he knew making him wait was all a part of the IA’s strategy. He also knew that he was being watched, profiled, which he thought was rather amusing. He knew it was all a part of an antiquated game that the bureau’s most hated department played that would never work on a profiler.

Agent Martinson, a slightly over weight slightly balding obviously frustrated man entered the room propelled through the door by a sense of confidence and exhilaration; feelings that he hadn’t experienced in quite a while. He relished in the moment as he slowly walked toward the agent sitting patiently at the table. He slammed the file that he had carried in with him on the table for affect. He became slightly annoyed when Morgan only reacted with a calm smile.

“Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan thanks for coming by.”

“I don’t think I had much of a choice.”

Martinson was now smiling as he took a seat across from Morgan. Without saying anything further he began to thumb through the file in front of him. Then without looking up:

“You killed her didn’t you?” Martinson said calmly.

“What?”

“You killed her and now you want us to believe that it was a suicide.”

“Have you lost your mind? No! I didn’t kill her!”

“How did you feel about Erin Strauss?”

“I didn’t feel anything about Erin Strauss.”

“She recently picked you for an undercover assignment against the Verdano Cartel, isn’t that right?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“Five agents before you lost their lives trying to bring down Verdano.”

“Something like that.”

“You were nearly killed if I’m correct.”

“I was shot in the arm, nothing serious.”

“But your cover was blown which could have resulted in your death had your team not arrived in time to save your life…”

“Look, I’m not sure what you’re fishing for, Agent, but I did not kill Strauss.” Morgan said interrupting.

Martinson was becoming frustrated at not being able to shake the agent. He was good, damn good. Whatever the case, he wasn’t going to rest until he proved that he’d killed Strauss.

“This is now an official investigation and I promise you Agent Morgan that if I find out that you killed her, I’ll make sure you spend the rest of your days rotting in a cell with the rest of the killers you’ve brought to justice!”

Morgan shook his head as a slanted smirk crossed his face. Suddenly bored and through with the nonsense, he stood and leaned across the table.

“Give it your best shot, agent.”

Morgan left the room as Martinson remained seated at the table seething and with a renewed determination to win at all cost.

BAU Headquarters - Office of David Rossi –
David Rossi dreaded making the call to Erin’s children. He had gotten to know them over the last several months and they had accepted him as someone special in their mother’s life. He had been careful not to force himself on them nor did he flaunt his relationship with their mother in their faces. The police had already made the official notification but he wanted to offer his support and condolences.

A knock on the door interrupted him. He looked up as Morgan stuck his head in the door.

“Dave can we talk?” He said softly.

Morgan entered without waiting for permission and closed the door.

“Derek now’s not a good time I was just about to call Erin’s children.”

“I didn’t want to disturb you; I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about Erin.”

“Look Derek I know you would have stopped her if you could.”

“I didn’t think she would do that. She had the gun pointed at me…”

Dave saw the pain in his friend’s eyes but his own grief made it difficult to offer words of comfort; he wanted to but all he could think about was her and how she looked on that cold steel table with half of her face missing. All he could think about were her children seeing the sight of their mother disfigured and still, skin ashy and graying and wondering what to do as they made arrangements to say goodbye. No, Dave had no words, no words at all.

“Erin’s death was a tragedy and right now I have to make a call that I’ve been dreading ever since this all happened, so if you’ll excuse me…”

“Of course, I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

Morgan backed out of the office. What did he expect? Dave and Erin had been lovers for a while, hiding it from the rest of them for months now. They’d all figured it out last year when Garcia and Reid had seen them both leaving a downtown hotel. Out of respect no one had mentioned it to either of them.  Morgan knew that he’d have to allow Rossi the time he needed to come to terms with her death.

The BAU team had learned that very seldom was there time to grieve, to heal and to forget. Just when they thought they’d seen it all something else would happen. Death had hit up close and personal and yet evil and another case lurked just beyond the next phone call.  This was the life they all had chosen but that fact didn’t make it any easier to deal with the reality of personal tragedy and hardship.

The familiar announcement via text messages and knocks on office doors summoned the team to the conference room and back to work. One by one they filed in, silent, and weighted with the morning’s incident. Morgan took the seat next to Penelope who was the first to arrive. She watched him intently trying to gage his mood and worrying about how this latest tragedy would affect him.

Derek sat and immediately grabbed her hand, kissing the back of it lightly and shooting a tender glance her way reading her mind and signaling to her that he was okay. The new case would allow him a reason to not think about Strauss, Rossi and what was sure to be a nasty complicated inquiry by the IA who was out to get him and the team. He was going to be the focus but the entire team was the target but for now the case had to be his top priority.

Santa Fe, New Mexico Police Department – Evening
Three women had been killed in the last three weeks. Their bodies had been found in their homes in upscale New Mexico neighborhoods. Detective Marc Hubert had requested the help of the BAU.  Hubert had met Rossi several years ago when he had attended a symposium in Oregon on Serial Killers; Rossi had been the guest speaker.

Detective Hubert’s face lit up with a relieved smile as Rossi, followed by the team entered the quiet precinct.  The two men shook hands and Hubert quickly ushered them toward a large room that he’d set up just for them.

“Thanks for getting here so quickly”

“Thanks for calling us in.” Rossi said taking his seat.

“In the last three weeks, three women have been found stabbed to death in their homes. It took me a minute to realize what I had here because the first victim was strangled and then stabbed post-mortem.” Hubert began.

“What makes you believe the first victim is connected to the other two.” Hotch asked.

Hubert began passing around folders with crime scene photos inside.

“The killer took the women’s wedding rings and any photos of the women and their husbands that were displayed throughout the homes.” Hubert answered.

The team slowly looked over the case files silently. Hubert watched each one of them as if he could see the wheels spinning inside their heads.

“There’s a lot of rage here; there’s no remorse and it looks like he took his time.” Reid added.

“The first woman was meant to be the only victim. She knew her killer.” Morgan began. “The other women were killed because the UNSUB enjoyed the first kill.”

“Are you thinking that the first kill triggered the UNSUB’s killing instincts?” Hotch asked.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Morgan answered.

“Yes, I think he’s right.” Alex added. “Look at the pictures. He strangled her first then after she was dead he stabbed her. He didn’t truly enjoy the kill until he stabbed her multiple times.”

“He got a sexual release from the stabbing. “ Reid added.

“He wanted more so he kept finding more victims that reminded him of the original victim.” Rossi said.

“Okay, so what do we do now?” Hubert asked.

“We start digging. We need to find out who hated our first victim enough to kill her.” Hotch added.

“I’ll call Garcia.” Morgan offered.

BAU Headquarters – a while later
“Hey Baby Boy, what can I do you for?” Garcia smiled into the call.

“Hey Baby Girl, I need you to do some digging for me.” Morgan started.

“I’d dig to China if you wanted me to.”

“Yeah, I know you would but right now all I need is to see what you can find out about our three victims. We think the first was the only intended victim until the UNSUB realized that he enjoyed the killing, the stabbing specifically.”

“Creepy! Like he got off stabbing them?”

“Something like that.”

Morgan hated having to draw her into the depravity and ugliness of their cases. 

“Listen, I need to find out if these ladies had anything in common; friends, family groups, affiliations, anything.” He added.

“I’ll hit you back in a flash, my Sweet.”

“Thanks Garcia.”

Garcia went to work typing, hunting and doing what only Garcia could do. She was the best at finding things that had been buried deep in cyberspace. After a few minutes, she was able to discover that none of the three women knew each other nor did they have any connection whatsoever except that they had similar physical characteristics, blonde, physically fit and they were extremely attractive women in their early forties.

The first victim, Anastasia Cargo, 44 had recently admitted to having an affair with her trainer. According to her husband Marco, she’d broken off the affair in hopes of saving her marriage. Marco had a history of domestic violence so of course he was on the top of the BAU’s list of suspects.

Santa Fe Police Department – later
Morgan and Rossi were interrogating Marco Cargo. Rossi was irritated that Hotch had insisted that he and Derek partner on dealing with Cargo. He wanted some distance from Morgan until he was able to get a grip on his emotions. He knew Derek was as much a victim as Strauss was but still he was clearly struggling. Hotch knew that his two agents needed to settle any animosity between them. The team could not function without it. Their lives depended on it.

“So, it must have really pissed you off when your wife admitted to cheating on you.” Rossi started playing the bad cop.

“What do you think?” Cargo responded angrily.

Morgan stood silently at the door watching Cargo’s reactions to Rossi’s questions.

“Did she start looking else where because you couldn’t satisfy her? Is that why you stabbed her thirteen times? Did that get you off?”

“Shut up! I didn’t kill my wife!”

“It felt good didn’t it? Better than sex! It felt so good that you had to kill those other women the same way!”

“You son-of-a-“

Cargo jumped up and sprung at Rossi who narrowly dodge away from his grasp. Before he could go after Rossi again Morgan rushed Cargo pulling him away and slamming him down in his chair. Rossi looked at Derek in surprise not expecting such a violent reaction from Cargo.

“Sit down or I’ll handcuff your ass to the table!” Morgan shouted.

Cargo breathing hard and glaringly staring at Rossi struggled to regain his composure. After he calmed down Morgan released him and this time stood directly behind him.

“I loved my wife. I wouldn’t kill her, I couldn’t.”

“Then explain the five domestic disturbance calls to the police in the last six months. Reports say that your wife called reporting that you physically attacked and threatened her.” Rossi inquired.

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Look, Mr. Cargo, it’s not looking good for you right now. If you didn’t kill your wife then you need to start talking right now and convince us you’re telling the truth.” Morgan said playing the good cop.

“We argued, okay, a lot. She would throw things, break things and she’d hit me with anything she could get her hands on.”

“Come on Marco, you expect us to believe that a man your size was being hit by a woman weighing a buck fifty at the most?” Rossi smirked.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I have scars to prove it. Look, I was raised to respect women. I would never lay a hand on Anastasia.”

“Okay, then why the domestic disturbance calls?” Morgan asked.

“She would kick my ass and then she’d call the police and tell them I hit her! That’s what got her off, Agent Rossi!”

FBI Headquarters – Quantico, Virginia - Sunday morning
Gordon Martinson was a determined man willing to sacrifice his Sunday to investigate the death of Erin Strauss. Most of the other federal employees were home with their families or else where enjoying their precious time off.  The only other persons were the security guards stationed in the front lobby and Penelope Garcia who was in her lair working a case that had the rest of her team stuck in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Right now, Gordon was not a happy camper as he reviewed the gymnasium security footage. He’d played it at least twenty times looking for something anything to use against Morgan. The film told the story in undisputable living color. Morgan had not killed Strauss.  Why in the hell did they put security cameras in the gym? If nothing else the Bureau loved security cameras.”  He thought to himself. His proverbial smoking gun had suddenly transformed into a kid’s water pistol.  Gordon leaned back in his chair and began daydreaming about what could have been.  “How wonderful it would be if that little security footage didn’t exist.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico Police Department – Afternoon
The team were still chasing leads that led no where; Marco Cargo, the husband of the first victim had seemed a likely suspect until they had checked his story and found that he’d had numerous hospital visits during his marriage that had always been explained away as accidents. Since it was rare that men reported being victims of domestic violence none of the caregivers suspected anything.

“40 percent of all victims of domestic violence are men which totally contradicts the popular belief that most victims are women. You don’t hear about it because most often the male victim is ignored by police and there are very few safe havens for men to escape to.” Reid spouted off.

“What about the boyfriend? He could have been pissed off for being dumped by our first victim.” Morgan added.

“I had Garcia check and he has a solid alibi for the time period that all of the victims were killed.” Said Alex.

“So we’re back to square one.”  JJ sighed frustrated.

“Wait a minute Crime Fighters.” Garcia interrupted. “It looks like our victims did have something in common.”

“What did you find Garcia?” Hotch asked.

“I ran a history of credit card spending and each woman was a regular at the Neon Cactus which is an upscale coffee house downtown.”

“Okay, so we need a list of all employees…” Morgan added.

“…Oh Sugar I’m well ahead of you.” Garcia interrupted.

“Of course you are, Baby.” Morgan responded smiling.

“The owners and all the employees check out but there is something that may peak your interests.”

“What Garcia?” Rossi asked.

“It looks like our girls weren’t the only regulars. A Michael Stone was also there on the same days as each of our victims. He has a record a mile long and spent time in the state pen for assault with a deadly weapon, rape and petty theft.”

“And we know we don’t have to ask the next question, do we?” JJ said confidently.

“You got it my blonde beauty. His address is on your tablets as we speak.”

“Thanks Garcia.” Hotch nearly smiled as he shot a glance at Rossi.

“No problem. Garcia out.”

Again Hotch sent Morgan and Rossi out together to pick up Michael Stone.  Rossi quickly headed to the SUV as Morgan trailed behind him. Morgan’s phone rang and he felt a sense of relief when he saw Garcia’s face flash across the screen.

“Hello my Sweet. How are you?” She waited holding her breath.

“I’m fine Baby Girl. Stop worrying.” He reassured her.

“Ask me to walk on water, that would be a helluva lot easier, Hot Stuff. How’s Rossi doing?”

“Quiet. I think he blames me for Strauss’ death.”

“They were close, they had a thing.” She said softly.

“Yeah I know. He’s hurting I get it. I can’t imagine how I would feel if something happened to you…”

“Nothing is going to happen to me.” She could hear the pain and guilt in his voice. “

“Give him time. He has to grieve and that takes time. You know that better than anyone.” She added.

He knew she was right. He took a deep breath and exhaled. He thought to himself how he’d give anything to be back in Quantico but duty called and he had to push through and solve this case.

“I gotta go Rossi’s waiting for me outside.”

“Be safe my Love.”

“Penelope.”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Home of Michael Stone – a few minutes later
Like their last time out, the ride to Michael Stone’s house was quiet. Both men were hurting and preoccupied. Rossi regretted not telling Strauss that he loved her. They had both decided to take things slow. He was willing to delay those words and she had too. It didn’t matter though because they had already fallen hard for each other. He kept seeing her on the Coroner’s table and kept replaying his call to her children. He imagined Morgan trying to keep Erin from pulling the trigger and coming up short as she ended her life right before his eyes. He wanted to say something to him because he knew that his friend would be haunted by guilt. He also knew that Morgan would be convinced that he blamed him for her death.

Morgan and Rossi approached the house; it was dark and quiet and no one answered their knock or the doorbell. Morgan shot a look at Rossi just as he kicked the door in. Still no sound was heard as they split up and began searching the cold damp cluttered home. 

Rossi rummaged through the drawers in the bedroom while Morgan searched the kitchen. Stumbling on a loose floorboard in the back corner of the room, he called out for Morgan to join him.  Just as Morgan approached, Rossi was retrieving an old cigar box that had been hidden and he opened it to find women’s wedding and engagement rings. He also found shredded wedding pictures under the floor as well. They’d found their UNSUB and it looked like his killing had started long before Anastasia Cargo. They had been wrong in thinking she was their first yet still there was something about her that stood out from the other two recent victims.

“We were wrong Rossi. Anastasia wasn’t the first victim. There must be thirty rings here.”

“So why the change in M.O. from the other two?” Rossi asked.

“He knew her maybe? Or he wasn’t getting the same satisfaction from his original method of killing?” Morgan guessed.

“We need to find the other victims and see how he killed them. My guess is he raped and strangled them.”

“I’ll call Hotch.” Morgan offered.

The two headed for the door as Morgan called Hotch.

“Hotch, he’s not here.” Morgan said into the phone.  “He’s definitely our UNSUB; he kept trophies…there’s at least thirty wedding rings he had hidden in the floorboards of his bedroom.”

“Then Anastasia wasn’t the first.”

“Rossi and I think he strangled her and became frustrated because it didn’t give him the sexual release he needed so out of anger he started stabbing her even after he had already killed her. When he got the release he wanted that became his new killing method.”

“Exactly.”

“He’s probably already found his next victim. Get back to the precinct as soon as you can.” Hotch ordered.

The ride back to the precinct wasn’t as quiet as before; nothing like a break in a case to thaw the chill in the air. Morgan and Rossi were fully engaged and for a brief moment Strauss’ death was not on the forefront of their minds.

FBI Headquarters Office of Agent Martinson –
The coroner’s report had listed the cause of death as suicide by gunshot wound to the head. Martinson refused to accept this defeat. The security footage was the nail in his revenge coffin and he was not having it. He knew that he could easily build a case against Morgan or any of his team members for that matter; Strauss’s drinking problem had been discovered by Morgan and her sending him undercover against one of the deadliest Drug lord’s alive could easily be seen as an act of payback. It would be so easy to plant doubt in the minds of his superiors and set the groundwork for destroying Agent Morgan’s career and the BAU.  Martinson was desperate, and he was tired of being overlooked and disregarded. He was just as good as those pampered, over-paid prima donnas and he was going to prove it if it was the last thing he ever did.  So, he sat contemplating his next move; pressing play and watching the footage for the umpteenth time, he wondered if he had the guts and determination to do what had to be done, then as he watched Strauss pull the trigger he uttered to himself, “Security footage? What security footage?” Then suddenly the screen was covered with snowy static as a wide satisfied grin crossed the face of Agent Gordon Martinson.

Santa Fe, New Mexico Airport – Monday Morning
The team was headed home; they had closed the case and arrested Michael Stone for the deaths of the three New Mexico women. Afterwards the evidence would be used to pursue the other suspected victims. Morgan and Rossi had managed to work together to do what they did best, catch the bad guys.  The pain of Strauss’s death hadn’t subsided for either of the men but they knew that the job of stopping evil was nonstop and when duty called they had to set aside any and everything; they both had become quite good at doing so and at great cost; for Rossi failed marriage after failed marriage and for Morgan he had not until now considered letting anyone into his life. But in the end they loved what they did and it was days like this that convinced them it had all been worth it.

Morgan and Rossi had gotten to the latest victim’s home just before Stone had killed her. The grateful tears and hugs expressed her thanks to them. Stone had taken his time collecting wedding pictures while his victim lay bound to her bed. He had gotten away with his killing spree for so long that he’d gotten over confident and sloppy. Garcia had discovered a pattern in his selection process that narrowed the possibilities down to three. The team split up and Stone was caught and his reign of terror ended.

Detective Marc Hubert stood among the team with a bright smile of relief spread across his face as he shook their hands. Morgan had slipped away from them and was standing a few feet away lost in thought. After saying good-bye Rossi noticed Morgan and headed toward him as the rest chatted with Hubert.

“That was great work out there.” Rossi broke into Derek’s thoughts.

Startled, Derek turned to face Rossi.

“It’ll be good to get home.” Morgan responded.

“Derek, I’m sorry I’ve been standoffish towards you…”

“…Dave you’re hurting, I get it. You don’t owe me an apology.” Derek interrupted.

“I know if you could have stopped her you would have. I have no doubt about that.”

“Thanks man, I appreciate that.” Derek’s voice trembled slightly. “I keep seeing her pointing that gun at me. I knew it wasn’t her but all I could do was hope I could say something or reach her in time to keep her from killing me.”

Derek didn’t want to break down not in front of Rossi. Derek didn’t do the weakness or crying thing, so he turned his back to compose himself before going on. Rossi watched him trying so hard to hold it together.

“I can’t imagine what you must have been feeling.”

“Five steps…I figured she was only five steps away…I remember counting them and I was right. Her hands were shaking and she had tears in her eyes…I made it…I reached out to take the gun and then in a split second she puts the gun to her head and without a second thought she pulled the trigger, Rossi!” Derek shouted.

“Derek, it’s okay. There was nothing you could have done to stop her! This isn’t your fault!”

“Why? Why did she do it? Why didn’t she just…”

“Just what? Shoot you? Is that it, Derek? You think it would have been better if she’d completed the mission Sykes gave her?”

Morgan didn’t answer the question. He couldn’t so he just stood silently looking out the window at nothing in particular. So much had happened in the past months and it seemed he was the common denominator to all of the pain and sorrow that others had suffered.  The loss of Ellie was still fresh in his spirit and he felt guilty for insisting that she move to California to live with her mother. Tamara was killed because of him and Garcia had nearly lost her life because she had fallen in love with him. How many more of his friends and family would have to suffer and even lose their lives because of him. So, no, he couldn’t answer Rossi’s question, he didn’t have the courage to say out loud what he knew in his heart to be the truth. Strauss deserved to be alive and as for himself he wasn’t sure what the purpose of him still being alive—maybe that was the true punishment.

“Answer me, Derek! If that’s what you’re saying then I’ll kick your ass myself! This is not your fault! Sykes is responsible for Erin’s death, not you! You didn’t even know Sykes until two weeks ago! Erin was a victim long before you came into the picture!”

“Rossi, if she had just pulled the trigger then everything would be as it should be.”

“There are some things…no most things we have no control over. I know this comes as a shock to you but you have enough to worry about controlling your own life and even that is not always a given. “

“What about Kevin Lynch, Tamara, Ellie, even Garcia…?”

“What about them? If you think that you could have changed any of that then you’re an arrogant son-of-a-bitch, Derek!”

“Rossi!”

“Only God has that kind of power and control and you sure in hell are not God!”

Morgan looked at Rossi wide-eyed wondering whether to be pissed or enlightened. One thing for sure he felt as if a light bulb had just come on…dull and in a distance but it was flickering just the same. Rossi was right, he’d been dragging so much guilt around and had been haunted by so many “what-ifs” that he felt sluggish and heavy. Now, his friend even in the midst of his own sorrow and grief had managed to yank him from the depths of despair that had nearly convinced him that his presence among the living was detrimental to the ones he loved dearly.

“Ouch! Tell me how you really feel, man.”

Rossi’s face and voice softened as he drew closer to his troubled friend.

“Derek, just because we fight evil, we see unimaginable things, things that most people don’t realize even exist. Just because we are out there fighting doesn’t mean that we are immune to the touch of evil. The closer we get to it, the closer it gets to us and we’re bound to get burned. We can’t make sense of it; it just is what it is.  All we can do is get up every day, willing and ready for battle.”

Derek knew what his friend was saying was true, Penelope had been saying the same things to him too, he was just too hardheaded to listen, but now he finally heard the message. He looked up at Rossi standing in front of him; the pain of loss was still there but he was not going to surrender to it. So he wouldn’t either. Rossi extended his hand his symbol of truce, friendship and new beginnings. Derek took his hand and the two drew each other into a warm embrace.

Now it was time to go home and all of them couldn’t wait to get back to familiar ground, their own beds, spouses and children. Morgan ached to wrap his arms around Penelope, and he wanted to tell her that he finally understood what she had been trying to tell him all along. He didn’t want to waste another day struggling and feeling weighted and guilty about the past. He wanted the future; their future filled with everything good and possible. He had spent too many years feeling ashamed for the actions of someone who had made him their victim. He knew he’d still grieve the losses of his father, and his childhood innocence and the people who he’d loved who had become victims of evil. More importantly he realized that he wasn’t the evil, no he was a fighter against evil and so he’d continue to fight the evil and evildoers. He’d also tell her that he would keep getting up when he was knocked down and he’d do everything in his power to fight the demons that visited him in his sleep and fight the good fight against the dark powers and in the end he’d relish and celebrate the victories of the precious sweet moments of peace.

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“Whatever we are waiting for - peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance - it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” - Sarah Ban Breathnach

The End…